Monday, December 29, 2003

Greek Love

I spoke this Shabbas about Hellenism, Hanukkah and Gay Marriage. One of the sources that has informed my thinking about this issue is Dennis Prager's article(s) about homosexuality in general:
I recommend reading it.

Friday, December 26, 2003


To Josh Joseph on being named the new director of the Orthodox Caucus! (See the Jewish Press article: New Director Ushers In New Era For Orthodox Caucus)

A friend's online article

Rabbi Meir Soloveichik's latest piece in AZURE - Issue #16 - Redemption and the Power of Man

Friday, December 19, 2003

Review: The Return of the King, a.k.a. The Very Exciting Movie with 9 Endings

Saw Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, The (2003) last night with the wife. Very exciting action; unbelievable really. Takes massive battle scenes to a new level; a combination of "Empire Strikes Back" and "Braveheart." Scary, though; I wouldn't bring children under 13 to see it (of course it's *rated* PG-13, but parents need to take that seriously). It really should be rated R, but that's kept now for movies which used to be rated X.

The 9 endings were annoying (especially after I had drunk a medium soft-drink and needed to see Ewashrum, the Lord of Porcelin). The director, Jackson, just couldn't figure out when to end it. He should have just stopped with the "bow to the Hobbits" scene and left the last 20 minutes for the DVD special edition.

As it is, he probably cost himself the Oscar. And all for greed. Not money greed, but artistic greed - he felt he had the muscle to inflict his "vision" on the consumers. That type of hubris created stinkers like "Heaven's Gate" and Jackson may be robbed of his Best Picture, and even Director, because of it.

For instance, Mystic River (2003) is perfect Oscar fodder. I haven't seen it; I hope that I live my life well and will never be subjected to it. It's about four boys, one who was abducted and raped, and the adults they become and how they handle, uh, things. Sounds perfect. My man Clint directed, and bully for him, and it got a great review from (of all people) Stephen King. But its an Oscar cliché that the winner needs to be hyperbolic dramaturgic treacle. A great fantasy yarn, that evinced superlative directorial skills and a gifted narrative vision, stands little chance against a child molesting, slow paced drama with Sean Freakin Penn and (drum roll please) Kevin Bacon.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Moral Compass

The Times reports today that the Vatican Feels Compassion for Saddam. A direct quote: "Seeing him like this, a man in his tragedy, despite all the heavy blame he bears, I had a sense of compassion for him," by Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Vatican Council for Justice and Peace.

At least I understand why the Vatican, and I guess the Catholic religion, thinks that molesting children is OK - because if they think that a mass-murdering rapist dictator is being mistreated by simple arrest and medical inspection, then the moral bar is set pretty low. Unrepentant pedophiliac sexual predators don't even show up on God's radar if Saddam barely registers.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Saddam and Shul

I'd be interested to hear what people did in shul Sunday morning in response to the capture of Saddam. I'll relate what I would have done (and what we did).

How do we define, halakhicly, this occasion?

Let's compare it to (a) victory in war against an enemy who wishes to destroy us, (b) the death of an enemy of humanity, (c) death of an enemy of Jews, (d) capture of B or (e) capture of C.

This is the capture of an enemy of Jews (E) and, one can say, the end of a war (A). Even though there's still guerilla warfare in Iraq (e.g. the suicide-slay of 17 people on the very day of Saddam's capture), there's no pretext for the war anymore.

Saddam was a specific enemy of the Jews. Because of the Bush mumbo-jumbo, people forget that Saddam declared unilateral war against Israel in 1991. He was also an enemy of humanity (mass murderer, tyrant, rapist, you name it) but the fact that he particularly aimed his destruction against Jews creates a halakhic reality.

Even if we catch Osama, we won't treat that occasion in the same way. Osama is an enemy of humanity. If we had run in and captured Stalin, we could say he was a target of Jews (although he did vote for the formation of Israel, go figure).

Also, the fact that we captured the enemy alive is a big joy. Killing an enemy, of having the enemy die of other means, is not the same level of joy about God's help. When Arafat dies, bimheira b'yameinu, even if its at the hands of the good guys, doesn't make it a day of true simcha. If we capture him (and put him on trial) then maybe so.

My conclusion was that since Saddam was a specific, unrepentant, enemy of the Jews as well as an enemy of humanity, who was captured by the good guys to be brought to justice, I consider it a day to (a) say Hallel (without a bracha, because I lack that level of authority), and (b) not say tachanun.

No tachanun for the morning, not the day, as in a bris. The joy was of the moment, when we heard the news (even though it had taken place earlier). Tachanun would be back at mincha.

Hallel without a bracha is known as "Tehillim 113-118." A simple way to recognize and thank God.

What we did in shul was: (a) no tachanun, (b) we said aloud, in unison, Mizmor l'Todah and Ezrat Avoteinu (the bracha between Shema and Shemona Esrei), (c) before Shir shel Yom, Rabbi Lookstein told us that this is a day of joy mixed with the sadness that we arrived at the day only after many lives were lost - we were enjoined to give more tzedaka and do teshuva in recognition and thanks, we then added Pslams 121, 124, 125, 130, and 134.

Religious Weirdness Alert

Dave Barry, who has made a point of keeping the world abreast of all the stark craziness on the web, linked to this site at some freaky Baptist 'anti-triclavianist' church.

I roamed around this site for a few minutes and found myself getting seriously creeped out. Check out the kids' page (with Habu the Hindu elephant, Prof. Giraffenstein the Creation Scientist and, my favorite, Hopsiah the Jewish Kangaroo from the Middle East "where his ancestors and those of all the other animals and humans alive today exited Noah's Ark 4,000 years ago. But unlike the other Kangaroos who hopped to Australia, Hopsiah's family stayed behind to witness the coming of the Messiah!")

Back at the original link, the Pastor explains his anti-triclavianist standpoint. If someone can explain the following terms he uses in the following verbatim (schizophrenic?) posting, I'd much appreciate it:
August 13, 2003: Some have criticized my stance on triclavianism as being counterproductive, arguing that making a point of doctrinal contention over not making a point of doctrinal contention over adiaphora is itself non-salvific. However, my critics are overlooking the dangers of triclavianistic doctrines: allowing adiaphora to creep into our credenda -- while possibly pushing the theologoumenic envelope and providing exciting new opportunities for supererogative works -- will most often serve to muddy the soteriological foundation of Faith, leading in general to ultramontane excesses and, in extreme cases, ebaptization (which is unacceptable pastoral malpractice, however rare it may be.) Doctrinal integrity, and hence salvific effectiveness, is best served by working to end triclavianism and similar erroneous, or simply adiaphoric, doctrines.

Um, whoa

Thurmond Kin Acknowledge Black Daughter. I guess those stereotypes *are* true.

The Enola Gay

According to the New York Times story, anti-nuclear advocates and Japanese groups protest the ennoblement and display of the "Enola Gay" - the aircraft used to drop the nuclear weapons on Japan.

I agree that the Enola Gay shouldn't be displayed as just another aircraft. It is an ominous plane; the last remaining artifact of one of the most momentous events in human history. The scientists, the statesmen, the victims, of the only nuclear strikes ever inflicted on humanity will all fade with time. This vehicle is all that remains.

However, the First and Please Dear God Only nuclear attack on people must be enshrined somewhere. I suggest in the Holocaust museum. Because the Japanese were their allies and in their own way masters of evil that we in the Western world don't often encounter.

The Nazis were straight from the Christian anti-semitic tradition; using a protestant work ethic and Western technology. The Japanese were idol-worshiping criminals against humanity . Just ask the Chinese, the Koreans, the Philiphinos, and any MIA.

We dropped nuclear weapons on them to stop their vicious, noxious evil. Two words: Pearl Harbor. Three words: Rape of Nanking.

And, I would argue, that once we dropped a nuclear weapon on people, we know what it does, and we can never do it again. And if it had to happen, I could only think of one other group (Nazis) who deserved it more.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

God is Great, Hussein is captured.

I didn't think it would happen this soon, but Hussein: in the Dog House. Two questions:

(1) will they give the bounty to the soldiers who captured him (or at least a raise)?

(2) Do we say tachanun today?

Friday, December 12, 2003

Hell Hath Frozen Over

Sir Mick Jagger

Review: Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (2003)

Not bad. Not nearly as bad as the business it did. Ironically, after this movie tanked, the pundits claimed it was because nobody wants to see 'boat-adventure' movies. Then "Pirates of the Carribean" and "Master and Commander" made (ahem) boffo box office. So what gives?

Basically, it's cuz it's rated PG. G movies are very lucrative. G cartoons especially so. Why do PG?!

Animated movies (especially Pixar) are very expensive. If the PG is from gross-out humor (like Shrek) then you'll get an adult audience (I wouldn't show Shrek to a small kid). But if the PG is from adventure and frights, then you have no kids and not enough stoner adults.

G movies make so much money because hard-working latchkey babies need to be entertained by their nannies and divorced dads. Voila! G movies are a painless afternoon of not having to speak to the kid.

Anyhoo, I liked the film (I suspect I was the target audience). I didn't appreciate that they made Sinbad, of the Arabian Nights into a Greek. But thems the PC apples.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Netflix & Monkees

My wife and I use netflix to rent our DVDs. I've been using them for three years now and I have let my Blockbuster membership flag. Netflix has a much greater selection in all categories. No lines. I can have the disc out as long as I wish. Yummy.

We've been taking advantage of Netfilx's television DVD collection. We went through the first season of "Soap" (the second season ain't out yet... if anyone remembers who killed Peter Campbell, I'd appreciate it). We saw the entire first season of M*A*S*H. And we just rented the "Monkees."

Ugh. As an amateur critic and part-time buff, I must fully recognize the impact the Monkees had on culture and society. Ironically, I saw the past week the new DVD version of A Hard Days Night; which happens to be a necessary foil for the Beatles' cheap American knock-off cousin.

A Hard Days Night was revolutionary because the Beatles - four young men, unremarkable in appearance, background, intelligence; unremarkable in everything but musical talent - fictionalized their lives and captured their celebrity with a clever humility and bonhomie. The Beatles were huge superstars who could make young women screech and collapse (a fascinating psychological phenomenon that deserves study) and here they were, acting like regular blokes. Whatever a bloke is.

But life in the 50s and 60s produced a certain type of establishment thief. There was he "payola" scandal in the 50s (where record producers bribed DJs to expose trash records to increase revenue) and they got cagier in the 60s with the Monkees.

Its odd to watch them now, knowing the lie. They were presented as a heartthrob band, just like the Beatles, doing zany lovable things, like the Beatles, and demonstrating song-making & playing talent, like the Beatles. The songs were high quality, because they were written by the likes of Neal Diamond. They playing was mediocre (but so was early Beatles, face it).

And the show was innovative. They invented the concept of "absurd cutaways" (at least in American TV) and that is the staple of many recent clever shows (e.g. Ally McBeal). The show, for that alone, has merit.

So, while watching it, I wondered why I should care about the lie! Who cares if they duped millions of people into thinking they were watching an even cuter Beatles.

But the show stinks. It's annoying and puerile. And you could stand that if you felt they were doing the show as a lark, killing time between song-writing and singing . But two of them were actors (the funny ones), two were bad musicians. The only reason to watch it, back then, was to see second-rate Beatles do funny schtick.

The badness of the show became unbearable when I realized the true extent of the cynicism. That's why I am writing this now.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Movie: Ronin (1998)

Seeing this movie, Ronin (1998), around the same time I saw City of Industry (1997) birthed one of my theories of enlightened movie-watching: the best movies of stars are (usually) not their best known.

De Niro is the best I've ever seen him in Ronin; Keitel in City of Industry. Not their best performances as actors (that's probably Raging Bull for De Niro and From Dusk Till Dawn - no joke - for Keitel). But their best as character actors; the personae that make them so compelling to watch.

Keitel is so Keitel in Industry; same with de Niro in Ronin. They carry the respective movies and make them tours de force of what makes them attractive.

Using this theory, here are the other action heroes and their best character roles. In rare cases, are the movies their biggest.
  1. Schwarzenegger = Predator
  2. Eastwood = The Outlaw Josey Wales
  3. Mel Gibson = Road Warrior
  4. Sean Connery = Zardoz (just kidding: Hunt for Red October) - [although this is a close second with the Untouchables]
  5. Burt Reynolds = Sharkey's Machine
  6. Paul Newman = Slap Shot
  7. Jack Nicholson = Chinatown
  8. Bruce Willis = Last Boy Scout
Note, that I've not included Stallone. I have no idea why he ever made it big.

Wesley Clark

[I published this on Feb 16, 2005 but it was present in entirety at the below post date! I'm not changing anything - see if it makes sense]

Is Gen. Clark a viable candidate for President? According to the New York Times analysis, there are 10 democratic challengers to the Presidential incumbent:
  1. Wesley Clark, Retired 4-Star General, Arkansas
  2. Howard Dean, Former Governor, Vermont
  3. John Edwards, Senator, North Carolina
  4. Richard Gephardt, Representative, Missouri
  5. Bob Graham, Senator, Florida
  6. John Kerry, Senator, Massachusetts
  7. Dennis Kucinich, Representative, Ohio
  8. Joe Lieberman, Senator, Connecticut
  9. Carol Moseley Braun, Former Senator, Illinois
  10. Al Sharpton, ?, New York
I have heard about all 10 except for Kucinich (the bio says he is the former mayor of Cleveland, but why would anybody claim that? Obviously he doesn't actually exist).

Clark has never held elected office (neither has Sharpton, whom I mention only to say that according to the website he doesn't actually have a job right now; also, for you trivia buffs, the site states: "he began preaching at the age of four and was an ordained minister at the age of nine." )

Clark, despite not being a politician, has spent oodles of years in government work and has a tested record of leadership, administration, and shooting people.

This does feel like we're in the 1840s or so. Back then, and now, the leadership of the nation has old ideas of the new Age; and the best electoral hope comes from untested war 'heroes.' Tippecanoe and Clark Too!

I like leaders with capability and vision. People like Reagan and Clinton stood for distinct visions; Bush I & II stood and stand for bubkis; just whitebread, inbred, Old Money backward ignorance. It's sad. The slogan of Bush should be "Meet the Face of Backward!"

Clark is kinda the "Anti-Bush":
Clark: Rhodes scholar & general
Bush: AWOL dim-bulb.

Clark finished first in his class in West Point. Bush's family got him into Yale (remember, none of his siblings could get in after him, why? because the Ivies stated to open the doors to un-bush-types, like Women, minorities, Jews). Clark rose the top of a grueling, demanding profession. Bush's family got him every single job he's ever held (and lost).

Clark's views on Israel and the peace process need work. So far, he sounds like a mushy Clintonoid. Considering that he is the Klinton Kandidate, this makes sense. I'm glad to see that the Clintons have held off on foisting Hillary in '04. We shouldn't be surprised when she does become a candidate in the next few years - if Bush wins again then she's a lock for '08 (if the country still has elections by then).

My favorite candidate has been and still is Lieberman. He's about as electable as Adlai Stevenson, which worries me, but it's rare for me to actually like a candidate.

Matrix Reloaded (2003)

Movie Reviews

After many moons, I finally saw The Matrix Reloaded(2003). From this movie, I learned a great lesson: people are dumb. And petty.

The reviews for the movie were very bad. Why? It's not a bad movie. They were expecting something as earth-shattering as the original. A false hope, a stupid and untenable expectation. The complaints about the movie belied ignorance and a petty lowliness. I'm sorry to sound emotional or defensive about the movie, about which I don't really care that much, I am reflecting a proper backlash against idiocy.

"Matrix 2: The Matrix Sequel" suffers from "Empire Strikes Back" syndrome: in both cases the first movie altered the world (truly); it was made as a stand-alone prospect (even though the world it created allowed an open-ended story); it's meant to be all plot to lead the final resolution.

Certain fundamental flaws of sequels undermine both franchises, e.g. you need to get bigger and badder in sequels, but that destroys the continuity from the first film (see Terminator for the worst examples).

The philosophy is still good; the first film was about the reality of Reality and the mind-body problem, the second is about free-will & determinism and the essential definition of the human (as opposed to AI). The main concepts left in advanced metaphysics are: cloning and personal identity, moral philosophical issues of utilitarianism, the root connection between moral philosophy and metaphysics.

The movie is good, see it and understand it for what it is.

P.S. The same thing can't be said for all sequels; I finally saw "Charlie's Angels 2: The Crappening" which was poorly made, incoherent smut. And Bernie Mac should watch the dailies so he can modify his minstrel routine, I can't imagine he wanted to act that way.

Backpost finished 2/16/05 - I have no idea why it's been sitting here for so long...