Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Avoid the Tritones!

My wife is taking an advanced course in Medieval Music Theory & Aesthetics (T&A as it's called). Every week, I need to quiz her for her weekly, uh, quiz. The course started with Greek Musical Theory and is now in deep Medieval - which means that the quizzes are about absolutely deranged material in a weird language.

Yet, quiz her I must! Except that I don't know what the questions, or answers, mean.

An actual question: "What musical process is the figure 'que vocatur sinemenon' and why might one need one?"

Answer: "A fictal, adding accidentals, to avoid the tritones."

And, by gum, it does!

West Bank Wall

Just in case you are as confused as the New York Times (Israel Expected to Approve Plan for New West Bank Barrier) - the "security fence" is for one purpose only: to create a border. All security experts, and even doofuses like me, know that fences keep terrorists out as well as screen-doors keep out flies. The wall is to be a fact on the ground that is more lasting, and more salient, than the settlements were - but without the human cost.

News about Nazis

The AP-wire just broadcast this headline: Report: Nazis Used Hospitals for Killings

Whoa! They found that out all by they-selves. And only 70 years after it happened!

Thank you AP. Next news flash: Nazis wore shiny black boots.

Why We Hate Bush?

Ted Rall demonstrates the danger of liberal philosophy; or at least the danger that poses if I get labeled a liberal. While I generally agree with him that it is moral to despise the government of G.W. Bush, he also despises the Israeli government – an act I consider immoral.

Most Orthodox Jews who support Bush do so because vis-à-vis Israel his government has been the best towards Israel in years. I disagree on principle but agree in action. Meaning that Clinton’s government was closest to Israel – they believed in Israel as a sovereign nation and as a friend – but only with the definition of Israel under the Labor government .

Bush’s crew supports Israel with a freaky neo-conservative, Christian Right, perspective which frightens me to death. But, so far, they support Likud (whom I support), so materially they are doing well for Israel.

Which, all told, is still not all that good. When the American government allows Israel to arrest Arafat, punish terrorists, and protect their citizens, then I will declare that government "good for Israel."

Liberals detest Israel largely because of bias and ignorance. The bias is against any government – the liberals think that individual citizens (especially unionized) are always correct when up against Big Interests (like governments and companies). Ironically, the best definition of a domestic liberal is someone who believes in big government, but that’s the Foreign Policy vs. Domestic Policy flip-flop that a lot of people suffer from (like me, I guess, hmmm).

The ignorance I refer to is the fact that these people are not acquainted with the facts. They see Arafat as a freedom fighter – which he would be if you only read headlines. It’s the same way I treat the Pakistan-Indian conflicts; that is, I don’t know any details and I make decisions based on gut.

So… why do I hate Bush. Rall says its not because Bush is an idiot. Nor because Bush is a hypocrite. Nor because of the fascism. Rather its because Bush stole the 2000 election.

I disagree. The stolen election is infuriating, but (alas) its History and not much we can do about it. I hate Bush because his government is using any excuse possible to mislead the nation as to their real objectives: making themselves rich and oppressing those who they dislike. The Bush administration is low, mean, and petty.

And because Bush & Co. are low, mean, and petty about Domestic issues – I fear that their attitude towards Israel is the same. As my man, Dave Barry, once said: "If he’s nice to you, and mean to the waiter, then he’s not a nice person."


For the second time, and on the same issue, somebody said that they were tempted to walk out of my sermon because I touched on a very, uh, touchy issue: teshuva as a reaction to tragedy.

Rambam, and subsequent Maimonophiles, state that our reaction to tragedy is to do teshuva. The Jewish people suffer tragedy because we sin. What sin? We don't know. The victims' sin? We too cannot say, but for our purposes, no. So, what's the point? The point is to do teshuva, dammit, and not argue. Do you need an excuse *not* to do teshuva? Evidently so!

These concepts sound too much like SFT (Stupid Frummie Thinking) which states that tragedy comes as a direct result of sin, or bad mezuzahs, whatever comes first.

Because it *sounds* like SFT, people think it is SFT. So they wanna walk out.

Naturally, I felt insulted by the insinuation. They think that I'm stupid! Yet, I have to apply the same rules to them as I want applied to me.

That is, I am blaming my listeners for not actually listening. I imagine them sitting there, thinking of cheese, and perking up only intermittently when a strange word hits their ear (or they run out of cheese). If what I say sounds like something they already know about, they assume that I said the familiar and not actually what I said.

But can I blame them for thinking that I'm stupid when I think that they are stupid? I need to be clearer in my sermons. I had a good excuse on Rosh Hashanah - some idiots were making a commotion in the front row (and eventually left the room) which thoroughly threw me off. I had to curtail my talk and I couldn't say what I wanted to say. But when someone misunderstands my sermon, I need to blame myself first.

Bottom line is still the same: tragedy is hitting us all around, do teshuva. Gmar Tov.

Monday, September 29, 2003

Elia Kazan, dead

The overrated hack director of unwatchable, hyperbolic melodramas, dead at 91

I forget my Dante; which circle of Hell is reserved for the betrayer of friends?

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Dave Barry was in New York

And I didn't get to switch identities with him!

Moose Alert!

As Nietzsche said, in the fight between you and the moose, back the moose

Differences Between Nigeria & America

Two headlines on the same page.
All I know about Nigeria, really, is that every person with an email account has had their mailbox filled with stone-cold-weirdos, claiming they are important Nigerian nationals, who need help with their fully legitimate but oddly structured money laundering programs. Since all these emails come from major businessmen and government officials, a close observer must come to the conclusion that the economy of Nigeria depends on successfully reaching some easy spending pudding-head. A.K.A. the Nigerian economy is based on Spam.

On the other hand, the above article claims that the laws of Nigeria demand that a woman who has extra-marital sex will be punished with stoning (the stone kind).

In America, extra-marital sex is considered a private matter and is so commonplace as to be seen as a national pastime. However, spam (the phone variety), is now against the law. And the email spam is soon to follow.

I like America's priorities better.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

The Cider is Back

If anyone wants to drink the bestest instant drink in the world. Alpine Spiced Cider lives again at Yourgrocer.

Monday, September 22, 2003

A Nice Warm Hello from the Scariest Guy in America

John "Huggy Bear" Ashcroft has struck again. First he insisted that Federal prosecutors seek the Death Penalty in any and all possible cases. Now, possibly after reading his own Bible, he extends that to insisting that all cases should seek the maximum penalty. Before, we thought he just liked people dying. Now we see its part of a larger "hate humanity" thing. Good for him. Lets give this guy another job, huh?


The single most important action has been accomplished by Yeshiva University President Joel... the beginning of the de-Socolization of YU. Bravo.

This bodes well for the future of the Institution.

Friday was 'Talk Like a Pirate Day

Last Friday, September 19, was the 8th Annual Talk Like a Pirate Day. I did, did you? (No, I did not give my sermon like a pirate, the day was wrong. And no, I don't know what I would have done if they coincided).

My favorite book buyer

For those who've asked, this website is my favorite to search for books: Anybook4less

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Met Game

A good friend and his wife treated my wife and me to a Met game today. He had a share in season tickets in a primo space: first section, behind home plate (netting above us). These were corporate boxes but for rinky-dink tri-state companies you'd never heard of ("Bob's Glass & Roofs," "The Jersey Clam Hut, LLC"). The day was sunny and in the 70s. Perfect! Except that the Mets play like sick nuns.

Note, my baseball knowledge is leaky and weak but I have a good "Sicknunnometer" and it was ringing so much I put it on vibrate. Still, I loaded up at the kosher food stand. One of each ... for under 30 dollars! Not bad for lunch for 2. Especially when lunch is oily and in earth tones.

Side note, ever think about what the team names would be like if you translated them into another language and then translated them back? It'd be the New York Municipals vs. the Montreal Trade Fairs! Or the New York Subways (which would make sense, mind you).

As usual with Met games, the peripherals were more entertaining than most of the gameplay. The fans getting whacked with foul balls, the best job in the world (the guys who shoot T-shirts from a cannon) followed by the worst job in the world (Mr. Met Ball Head). A wonderful time was had by all.

Friday, September 19, 2003

Tuna Fish

Friday is Tuna Fish day where I work. One rule of life, enforced by Bernie Mac (who will seek out violators personally to inflict "boot to rear" surgery), is to never disrespect those who give you food. Especially gratis. As part of my generous package at the shul, I get breakfast and lunch with the school. Yum.

But I will take some time to muse about the "what if" world where Tuna Fish was never invented. Why exactly it worked its way into mass production is a mystery. It's our number one item of strange lunch filler to compare with other countries. Like how in Europe they regularly eat bizarre foods (e.g. Sweden eats pickled moose doots on Kaiser rolls, the British eat Marmite which was developed during WWII as a epoxy substitute). So when a Swede or Brit comes to America, they must treat Tuna Fish as their "make fun of American foods back home" food.

Another food mystery is about Peanut Butter. The school can no longer serve it - even to faculty. Some kids, if there is a single molecule of Peanut Butter (periodic table symbol "Go" for "goober") in the atmosphere, will die on the spot. So bad is the situation that Peanut Butter has been declared a Weapon of Mass Destruction by Bush Jr. (because that's all they found so far; the Iraqi Brand of course, "Jihif").

We live in a strange world where weeks old fish soaked in raw egg paste is more benign than processed legumes.

Any of you Styxen who study epidemiology take a look at this peanut thing, please, for me. It's getting absurd. Lactose intolerance I understand - I mean, if people were meant to drink milk then God would have made milk spurt from the human body! But peanuts?? Maybe it’s a kitniyot thing.

Friday, September 12, 2003

Arafat Update

Here's a copy of the "Cabinet Communique"

**Cabinet Communique - Sept 11, 2003
Information Department, Israel Foreign Ministry - Jerusalem
Website: http://www.mfa.gov.il
E-mail: feedback@mfa.gov.il

Jerusalem, September 11, 2003

Cabinet Communique (Communicated by the Prime Minister's Media Adviser)

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has today (Thursday), 11.9.2003. instructed the security forces to act relentlessly, continuously and determinedly to eliminate the terrorist organizations and take all appropriate measures against their leaders, commanders and operatives until their criminal activity is halted.

The aforementioned activity will continue night and day, uninterruptedly, until such time as the Israeli government is satisfied that the Palestinian Authority is taking tangible steps to dismantle and eliminate the terrorist organizations.

Events of recent days have reiterated and proven again that Yasser Arafat is a complete obstacle to any process of reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel will work to remove this obstacle in a manner, and at a time, of its choosing.

Israel is not interested in the question of the identity of the Palestinian Prime Minister; however, Israel must underscore its position that it will negotiate only with a Prime Minister who acts immediately to dismantle and remove the terrorist organizations, implements and carries out full reforms of the Palestinian Authority, and fully upholds the other commitments that the Palestinian Authority has taken upon itself according to the roadmap, as it has been adopted by the Israeli government.

The Israeli government rejects any idea of a ceasefire as a way of dealing with terror; terror will stop only after the terrorist organizations have been dismantled and liquidated. This is the obligation of the Palestinian Authority and it will be judged solely by its actions and results, not by its statements and declarations.

To these ends, the Cabinet authorizes Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz to use such military forces as may be necessary for increased activity against the terrorist organizations; the Cabinet further directs that the necessary means for the foregoing be put at the disposal of the security forces.

The Cabinet has decided to accelerate the construction of the security fence.

John Ritter, 54

No kiddin'?

Johnny Cash, 71

Oh man, what a year it's been! Johnny Cash, dead at 71. Naturally, I feel a link with anyone known as "The Man in Black." I tried to listen to Cash, knowing that he was supposed to be the meat & bread of all cool people. But I found his music to be in the same category of his 'cool, black-clad' contemporaries - Roy Orbison & Elvis - to be palatable in small, measured doses.

But we feel the vacuum of the loss of a Cool Icon.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Kill Arafat?

According to the Times, Israel has authorized themselves (I guess) to take Arafat out, someday.

No doubt, the man deserves to die. But put him on trial first. Bring all of the evidence. Then bring out Old Sparky.

9/11 Retrospect

For all the movies I talk about, I am not a TV person at all. I never saw the images of 9/11 until much later and - like my attitude towards the Holocaust - I avoid the images as much as possible. I hold mass-graves and people jumping from buildings with the same feeling of taboo.

I remember sitting in our first weekly staff meeting and hearing a phone call over my senior rabbi's speakerphone that a plane had hit the Towers. We thought that it was a pilot error but then a second phone call came in and we knew it was big.

I sat in my office, listening to the radio, hearing about the Pentagon, about the towers falling. I saw the Hatzoloh guys rushing around, the mission in their eyes. The most vivid memory I have about the unique-ness of the day was the radio message that all police officers, no matter how long retired, were requested to go on active duty.

As clergy, I had a role to play. It was my first year running the Beginners Program and we tried to cope with the spiritual repercussions. However then, and now, I still don't find September 11th to be a day that changed my outlook of the world. Rather, I was part of the minority that felt it reinforced my existing, Stygian, worldview.

I keep a copy of the memo I had sent to the synagogue administrator on September 10th - asking him if he thought we were adequately prepared for a terrorist attack on the High Holidays. I felt in my bones that something horrible was going to happen. This is similar to the letter (which I cannot find) I sent a friend following Yom Kippur, 1995, when I was in Israel, when I remarked that the spiritual state of the nation was so noxious and bleak that I also expected the worst.

For the record, I don't feel the same premonitions now.

But let's be clear: the world has not changed one bit since September 11th. Israel is still a pariah and the world's favorite scapegoat. The world does not recognize that you can either be a friend of terrorists or against them.

My favorite part is that our fearless leader, Bush II, has burned away any and all diplomatic capital that came from our being the victim of a craven calamity. The war with Iraq was bungled from the beginning. The war with Afghanistan is still going on, last I checked. We have casualties daily from Viet-raq, sometimes from big suicide attacks.

My feeling about the war with Iraq is similar to mine about Oslo. The idea behind it was laudable (attack a terrorist state, Peace in Our Time) but the execution (haw) was so flawed as to undermine any of the positive ideas behind it.

What have we gotten from the war with Iraq? A peaceful population? A dead Saddam? A dead Osama?! An object lesson for the Arabs? Its hard to impress a camel-jockey when he's daily kicking your tailbone.

September 11th should remain in our memory, and one conclusion we can bring is that Bush and his sick gang of squinty-eyed thugs and thieves need to be voted away. Let him move in with his father; they can write their joint memoirs: "The Bush Years: What's the Difference?"

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

The Cafe Hillel Bombing

I was in Cafe Hillel at the end of May, when I was on my honeymoon. For the record, I hated the place. The food was not so good and the service bad and stupid (anyone who has been there understands why I say that). But it was very crowded. And we went there because it was the "in" place to go - especially in the in-est neighborhood in Jerusalem, Emek Refaim.

It doesn't get more ironic, and tragic, than the head of emergency medicine for the largest hospital in the largest Israeli city to be killed in an "ordinary" suicide bombing. Where else but Israel, right? And what the irony police won't allow in fiction is that his daughter - who died with him - was to be married the next day? This is where fiction cannot go.

Every time they commit an unpardonable tragedy, we say that the world cannot look at us with the same indifference or hatred. But we know that they will hate us forever - whether we're strong or pathetic. But I urge all of you to use the recent horror to be a litmus test for the media people. Maybe now some of them will tip into humanity.