Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Dwight Macdonald

I stumbled across this book review by Dwight Macdonald - who was described as a "critic's critic" - or something like that. Since (a) I'd never heard of this influential man of letters from the 40s and 50s and (b) I aspire to me a critic's critic's critic, I felt I should read more of the dude. I came across this essay, his evisceration of an attempt to create a definitive Great Books collection: "The Book-of-the-Millennium Club."

So, as a long delayed student of Master Dwight, I have to say that this guy is one-thousand percent spot on. I have spent many years trying to understand Greek philosophy (and only so I can try to understand Maimonides) and Macdonald gets the problem with books about the Ancient Smartguys correct:
A fifth of the volumes are all but impenetrable to the lay reader, or at least to this lay reader -- the four devoted to Aristotle and Aquinas and the six of scientific treatises, ranging from Hippocrates to Faraday. "There is a sense in which every great book is always over the head of the reader," airily writes [series editor] Dr. Hutchins. "He can never fully comprehend it. That is why the books in this set are infinitely rereadable." I found these ten volumes infinitely unreadable.

There is a difference between not fully comprehending Homer and Shakespeare (in that one is always discovering something new on rereading them) and not even getting to first base with either a writer's terminology or what he is driving at. Aristotle and Aquinas should have been included, I would say, but four volumes is excessive. Furthermore, no expository apparatus is provided, no introduction relating their Weltanschauung to our own, no notes on their very special use of terms and their concepts. Lacking such help, how can one be expected to take an interest in such problems, vivid enough to Aquinas, as "Whether an Inferior Angel Speaks to a Superior Angel?," "Whether We Should Distinguish Irascible and Concupiscible Parts in the Superior Appetite?," "Whether Heavenly Bodies Can Act on Demons?," and "Whether by Virtue of Its Subtlety a Glorified Body Will No Longer Need to Be in a Place Equal to Itself?" In fact, even with help, one's interest might remain moderate. In the case of a philosopher like Plato, essentially a literary man and so speaking a universal human language, the difficulty is far less acute, but Aquinas and Aristotle were engineers and technicians of philosophy, essentially system builders whose concepts and terminology are no longer familiar. [Italics mine]
Replace "Aquinas" with "Maimonides' Guide to the Perplexed" and I could have written that paragraph (and using, presumably, far fewer cigarettes or shots of Rye).

This is back from 4/25/07 & finished on 8/8/07 and all I had was the link and the blockquote.

Gore in '08?

There is constant speculation. I truly hope he doesn't enter the race. Gore had his chance and despite my affection for him, his policies, and his character - he botched an easily winnable election that turned out to be the botch heard 'round the world. No second chances for that big a botch.

That said, if he does run, I hope that it only serves to torpedo Hillary. In a larger sense, that's the role I want him to play in this momentous election season. If he were to back Obama or Edwards - strategically it would be best to do this the week before Iowa - then Hillary will be destroyed and the people would rejoice.

Then president Edwards/Obama can appoint him to the Supreme Court to replace Stevens.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Hallel on Yom Ha-Atzma'ut

See this awesome overview-shiur on the different opinions for saying Hallel today from Hirhurim (which has my vote for best Torah blog etc). Rav Student says he got this overview from Rav David Shabtai.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Material for the Gun Debate

In reaction to the Virginia Tech massacre many commentators wondered if a change in the gun laws would have made the tragedy worse, better or unchanged. One of the many websites I had been reading directed me to this online book that studied the relationship between gun laws and violence "Firearms and Violence" by Charles F. Wellford, John V. Pepper, and Carol V. Petrie from the [official sounding] Committee on Law and Justice of the National Research Council.

Backpost finished 8/9/07, and again just the link

Who Wants to be an Israeli?

Around Yom Ha-Atzmaut, the Israeli papers print their lists of statistics. And it great to see that Israel's population grew by 1.8 percent, reaching 7,150,000. The increase came from births (148,000) and an increase in immigration (yahoo): "18,400 new immigrants."

Also food for thought (fear) is the ratio of Non-Arab/Arab = 80/20.

And grist for a trivia question: Which are the five largest cities in Israel:
The country's five largest cities, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Rishon Lezion and Ashdod, account for a quarter of the population, or 1,810,300 people. Another 462,200, or 6%, live in small towns, while just 119,700 - less than 2% - live on kibbutzim.
Would not have guessed Rishon L'Tzion. Then again, in the past few trips to Israel I hardly stepped foot outside J'slem.

But the best part of the article was the survey of who would have preferred to have been born in Israel:
Approximately 47% of the population would, if born again, prefer for that to happen somewhere other than Israel, according to an "alternative survey" conducted by the Geocartographic Institute's iGeo subsidiary.

The survey, conducted in early April among 500 Israeli Jews, found that 70% of Israelis from the FSU would prefer to be reborn outside Israel, 19% of them specifying Russia as their country of choice and 15% the US.

Among wealthy local-born Israelis, 62% said they would like to be reborn abroad, 18% in the US or Canada, 8% in Switzerland and 6% in Sweden.
A few thoughts:
  1. 70% of Russian olim seem to hate living in Israel. Ingrates. Yet only half of those ingrates prefer Russia and the US. Suggesting that 36% either just hate Israel so much they can't think straight or would prefer to have been born in some undefined fanatasyland.
  2. The two subgroups quoted have either 70% or 62% preferring to have been born outside of Israel, yet the total number surveyed was 47%. What's bringing the number down?
In contrast, 83% of the modern Orthodox sector, 80% of those living in rural towns and kibbutzim, and 65% of Israel's well off pensioners said they would choose to be reborn in Israel.
83% of Modern Orthodox!

We're the backbone of Zionism, baby, and don't you forget it. When I read this statistics off in shul I quipped that the other 17% wanted to be born outside of Israel just so they could get the mitzvah of voluntary aliyah. Kol ha-kavod to the home team, eh.

Backpost finished 8/9/07. All I had was the link

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Movie Spoiler

This is not a bad website for those of us who want to know what's going to happen before we waste money and time to see a movie: The Movie Spoiler.

Pic from the website. Backposted from, you guessed it, 4/20/07 and finished on 8/10/07. I had just the link.

Hoax is Believed

See below about my debunking of the British Holocaust Education Hoax. Well, it turns out that the blog "Cross Currents" - written by the finest minds of the Chareidi world who have been trained in the forbidden art of typing and somehow allowed on the extremely forbidden internet - were duped by the hoax.

I learned the hard way - after falling for a few hoaxes in my early years - that before you post anything on a website, you need to do the research!

Backpost finished 8/10/07; started 4/20/07 - which appears to have been a big day for abandoned posts.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Best Moment of April 19 Gonzales Hearing

This is old news now but this short clip, 71 seconds, from the first day of the Judiciary committee testimony of Attorney General Gonzales is the most telling example of why "Fredo" is the epitome of these past 6 years of fiasco.

Some of the fiascoes are Rove created (e.g. the destruction of the wall between Church and State, the insane wedge issues, the ignorance of congressional corruption, the politicization of every nook and cranny of the executive branch), some are Cheney (e.g. every stitch of our disastrous foreign policy). But the most sordid are the Bush ones - because they aren't animated by greed (Cheney), or power (Rove) but from good-ole-boy incompetence.

This clip is from the very beginning of that day's testimony. After the Democratic chair (Sen. Leahy) comes the ranking Republican, Sen. Specter. Theoretically, this should be an ally, but in this clip we see Specter's thin veneer of friendliness to his party's executive branch employee shatter.

Ya see, Specter was just uttering pale bromides to ease General Fredo into the testimony, but Fredo can't resist mouthing off a belligerent self-defense.

Lessons to be Learned

Lesson #1: As far as I'd seen this was the first and last time that Fredo mouthed off. The rest of that day, and all subsequent appearances to the Judiciary, he has been eerily pliant. He's taking a savage ego beating. Over and over he needs to behave as a brain-dead buffoon. Yet commentators have been assuming that he is either (a) said pliant buffoon or (b) a superbly calm professional liar.

Thus, this clip shows that he does truly want to fight back and say, to quote his namesake: "It ain't the way I wanted it! I can handle things! I'm smart! Not like everybody says... like dumb... I'm smart and I want respect! "

Yet the demand for respect was ridiculous and shot down immediately by someone who was supposed to be an ally. I believe that Fredo is a clone-surrogate of Bush - note that they even sound alike, in accent & in whiny idiocy - and that after a token protest of their value they bend over and take their humiliation. I think that in every idiotic act of this administration, Bush puts up a Fredo-like protest, is shot down and shown to be a dolt, and then he swallows his meager bully pride and allows Uncle Dick or Aunt Karl to run the show.

Lesson #2: is that no other news agency pointed out this exchange! I reiterate that I believe it's the most important moment in this whole massive scandal. Oh well.

Backpost started April 19, 2007 finished 8/9/07. All I had was the Youtube link.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Halacha, Abortion and The Beginning of the End

Well, they did it. The Supreme Court has upheld the reactionary Congress' partial-birth abortion ban. The dissenting 4 justices (Breyer, Ginsburg, Stevens, Souter) explain how bad this decision is:
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, speaking in the courtroom for the dissenters, called the ruling "an alarming decision" that refuses "to take seriously" the Court's 1992 decision in Casey v. Planned Parenthood reaffirming most of Roe v. Wade and its 2000 decision in Stenberg v. Carhart striking down a state partial-birth abortion law.

Ginsburg, in a lengthy statement, said "the Court's opinion tolerates, indeed applauds, federal intervention to ban nationwide a procedure found necessary and proper in certain cases by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. For the first time since Roe, the Court blesses a prohibition with no exception protecting a woman's health." She said the federal ban "and the Court's defense of it cannot be understood as anything other than an effort to chip away at a right declared again and again by this Court -- and with increasing comprehension of its centrality to women's lives. A decision of the character the Court makes today should not have staying power." (emphasis mine)
Key line again: "For the first time since Roe, the Court blesses a prohibition with no exception protecting a woman's health." This is against halacha. Jewish law is pretty clear that late term abortions are forbidden when done for recreational purpose but are commanded to save the life of the mother.

For all you hard-right Republican Orthodox Jews, this is what you have allowed to happen: because you've been blinded by the false alarms of a liberal culture war, you voted and enabled right wing Christianists to take over government which has led to a direct opposition to halacha. Put another way, George Bush's supreme court has made it illegal to follow a cardinal ethic of Judaism: pikuach nefesh.

Let me be on record: it is better to allow gay marriage than to have a mother die because it's illegal to save her life.

Am I a Jewish Blog?

I wonder why I spend more time about regular subjects than Jewish ones. Israel don't count.

Meaning that there are developments in the Jewish world that I don't track and don't comment on. It could be from the paradox of a rabbi-blogger - that I have a non-anonymous pulpit wherein to talk about Jewish Stuff and I use my anonymous blog to cover the rest of my interests.

Or it could be that since a blog is available to the world, I don't want to air dirty laundry.

Sadly it could be because I'm not that much part of a hermetic Jewish community (like Brooklyn, Teaneck, Riverdale) and considering my wife's profession (college professor) there's a good chance for that situation to continue. As it is, topics like "proper behavior in summer bungalow colonies" is not part of my experience or interest.

Backpost finished 8/21/07, started 4/18/07. I had the first two sentences.

Israeli Pulitzer Winner

The 2007 Pulitzers were announced Monday and the photo prize went to an Israeli, Oded Balilty of the AP for his stunning pic of the struggle over the dismantling Amona.

The scene: an as yet unknown Israeli woman shown single-handedly holding off the police from behind a door without a wall. The official photo page is here.

Update: Sorry, that's not a door, but the shields of the riot police... I liked it better when it was the cartoonish image of a wall-less door.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Breakfast of the Gods: A Fun Online Comic

I came across this online comic book - which I may end up buying - "Breakfast of the Gods Book One: The Last Good Morning" by Brendan Douglas Jones.

The concept is to create a hard-boiled noir detective & superhero comic using breakfast cereal mascots as the cast of characters. Brilliant!

As you see from the cover, the two main protagonists are Captain Crunch and Tony the Tiger. Brilliant! And the grave they're walking away from is the Honey-Nut Cheerios Bee who was brutally murdered (a fate the author knows we in cereal eating land would enjoy the most).

Other known characters and where they fit in:
* Count Chokula and the rest of the undead marshmellow cereals are the main bad guys
* Snap Crackle and Pop are other victims of Chokula
* Dig 'Em, the Sugarcrisp mascot, is a conflicted superman type
* the Trix rabbit is a private eye

It's pretty well done and I am looking forward to the later issues.

Backpost finished 8/21/07.

British Holocaust Education Hoax

I've already received from a few people this news story from the British "Daily Mail":
Teachers drop the Holocaust to avoid offending Muslims


Schools are dropping the Holocaust from history lessons to avoid offending Muslim pupils, a Government backed study has revealed.

It found some teachers are reluctant to cover the atrocity for fear of upsetting students whose beliefs include Holocaust denial.
Yet, despite coming from the (never incorrect) Internet, I had the sneaking suspicion that this was a hoax.

First off, this sounds impossible in the real world but totally plausible to the deranged black-white extremism of bigots and/or tabloid readers. E.g. "Bill Clinton impregnates Panda!" Me: 'Impossible'; Tabloid/Bigot: 'Well of course he did, the randy bastige!'

The bigots somehow think that Muslims deny the Holocaust as a matter of faith. They don't; it's a socialization problem not something in the religion and only a right-wing-wacko would think the leftist wackos would be so self-sacrifically stupid to legislate Muslim hatred. This is Glenn Beck/Rush Limbaugh/Ann Coulter country. Stupid on as many levels as stupidity can be.

Second of all, I hadn't heard of this earth shattering news from any of the daily papers I read - mainstream Israeli and US stuff - who would pick up this atrocity rather quickly.

Third of all, after I searched for the original piece online, I saw that the article was dated "1/4/07"

Fourth, I search for the news story in a quick google-news search: nothing. Grand google search: only right wing wacko blogs.

Fifth (and what I should have done at the beginning): I went to the ADL website. Where they say this:
False E-Mail Claims UK Has Ended Holocaust Education

Friday, April 13, 2007

A much circulated e-mail claims that the United Kingdom has 'removed the Holocaust from its school curriculum because it 'offended' the Moslem population.' There is no truth to this claim. Holocaust education is mandatory in British schools and continues to be part of the national curriculum.
Thank you [deep bow], thank you.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Second Amendment

No, I didn't receive a memo ordering me to write about today's horrific massacre: (32 Shot Dead on Virginia Tech Campus - New York Times). These are just how the blogger personality type responds to tragedy. Some cry, some pray, most blog.

Naturally, this type of incident makes we bloggy types revisit the issue of guns in America and the interpretation of the second amendment. Just as all the anti-gun types look at this and say 'were there no easy access to guns, this type of thing wouldn't happen.' While pro-gun people see this as a perfect example of how having a whole mess of students with concealed weapons would have put a stop to this right then and there.

Look. Common sense and burning passion can only carry one so far in this type of debate. Let's get factual. Has there been a case where a civilian carrying a concealed handgun managed to subdue some mass murdering wacko? Israel doesn't count because almost everyone who packs heat also served in the army. What Michelle Malkin would want, doubtless, is for Virginia Tech freshmen to be able to tote around sidearms. So, again, any case where this worked?

We anti-gun types see the pro-gun people as not getting the point. If crazy wackos have a tough time getting guns and still manage to go on rampages every year or so, what would happen when we made getting guns EVEN EASIER?

Often, the two sides of a debate will disagree because they envision different cases in their heads. I use the example, often, of welfare. Conservatives see welfare as a way to perpetuate irresponsible crack-smoking single-mom baby machines while liberals see welfare as a way to protect noble hard-working people wronged by the system.

So too with guns. Conservatives - who in the previous example show a contempt for the majority of the country that is in financial difficulty - somehow believe that the people who can't handle the responsibility of a job will handle the responsibility of a gun.

Guns are one issue where liberals feel people are less capable, less responsible, than conservatives do. Weird, no?

But, the gun wackos will respond, who will defend you when the Islamic communists knock on your schoolroom door? The answer is the police. We liberals - and urban moderates - live in tightly packed city streets with thousands of neighbors. We don't everyone to have guns and we need to have a large, swift moving police force to protect us as a result. [This urban-rural split is the only decent argument I've heard to defend gun ownership; the same crime that would have police respond in 10 minutes in a city would be impossible to duplicate in a rural area.]

If you want to know how the Styx analyzes the current data on the Virginia massacre, it's because of a breakdown of the police. Not the police themselves, but because the moron of a school president didn't think of enforcing the law. If you see the above story, there was a first shooting at 7:15 am (killing 2) and then a second set at 9:45 am (killing 30+) from the same guy. Ample time to send in SWAT and lock down the campus. But that didn't happen. Why? As the above NYTimes story quotes:

"[School President] Mr. Steger defended the decision not to shut down or evacuate the campus after the first shootings, saying officials had believed the first incident was a self-contained event, which the campus police believed was a 'domestic' dispute. 'We had no reason to suspect any other incident was going to occur,' he said."

I'm going to perform a anthropology trick here: what type of person would describe some guy killing two people on a college campus as a 'domestic dispute' that doesn't require even a minimal enough police presence to arrest the murderer? The president is defending his decision to let a murderer run amok on campus because, hey, it was just a minor dispute.

I would say that this is the attitude of a gun owner. Virginia is gun country. Look at Democrat James Webb - caught sneaking a gun (unapologetically) into the Senate.

If this was a northern school, I believe they would've shut it down. And while this is a hearsay/circumstantial proof, I see no way of explaining the idiotic behavior of the Virginia Tech president … unless he was a Bush appointee.

Scott Horton Agrees with Me About Republicans

If you recall, back in February, I remarked that it's unfair to put Lincoln and George W. in the same political party. So Scott Horton took no time in his new blog ("Of Republicans and Banana-Republicans") to say I am correct.

[Disclaimer: he doesn't know me, I don't know him and as far as I know he doesn't read my blog... yet]:
I can’t suppress the question: how did it come to this? It’s hard to see even a trace of the party of Fremont and Lincoln in the party of Bush and Rove. Indeed, the values that Bush and Rove espouse and the constituencies to which they pander seem very much just what’s in the crosshairs for the Republicans of 1856 and 1860; a check of the electoral map in 2004 and 2006 shows the Republican constituencies of yore are, with very few exceptions, safely in the Democratic column, while Bush builds off a base starting with the old Confederacy.

French Politics

Without fear of later contradiction, I can say with confidence, that I have not been nor am currently, interested in the French or French politics. However, they are going to have an election soon (for president, premier, Frogger in Chief, what have you). I do know that there are three candidates, but it stops there. According to Martin Peretz, the Gaullist candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy, is supposed to be friendly to both the US and Israel. If so, then it'd be nice if he wins. If not, it just may not matter one way or the other.

[Update, 4-19-07]
Here are two stories to expand on this, from the New Republic and the New Yorker.

The Scrolls of Lankhmar

To while away the dreadful hours when my allergies or other sundry illness force my brain into stolid unproductivity, I can divert myself with some set amusements. One diversion is the Lankhmar book series by Fritz Lieber.

My diversion interest is arbitray; even though I have the books on a nearby bookshelf I won't feel like reading them until - boom - one day I do. Odd. For example, when I first made this post in April, I was into the books and 4 months later I wouldn't want to read them. For a while. Anyway, a good website of background info and other resources is here: The Scrolls of Lankhmar

Backpost finished 8/21/07.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Harper's Magazine Blog

There's a new news blog on the block and it's a good 'un. Harper's Magazine, which has been around for a loooong time, has some dude named Scott Horton (pic left) blogging things from a legal & political angel. It's a good read. See, for instance, what he has to say about the erasure of the emails:
It looks like the tactics of the White House in its response to the Congressional investigation have just entered a new phase. If a responsible prosecutor were presented with evidence suggesting even the possibility of the conscious destruction of evidence, he would take immediate steps: subpoena the relevant White House staffers' personal PCs, subpoena and depose the personnel involved in the alleged 'accidental' erasure, and send FBI agents to seize the RNC's servers which were 'erased.' Which explains the ever more urgent need for the appointment of a special prosecutor in this case.

Torah-Science Sources

A major interest of my recent rabbinate is the interface between Torah and Science. This blog - by an unknown guy who calls himself "He Who Must Not Be Named" - has accumulated a crazy impressive list of sources and their quotes about the topic. It's under his entry Sources Indicating That Chazal Did Not Possess Perfect Scientific Knowledge and while it hasn't been updated in a few months, I use his work and I encourage him to write a book. I'll help!

Pic from here. Backpost finished 8/21/07

Friday, April 13, 2007

Email-Gate Anyone?

Hey, remember Filegate? That was fun. Back in 1996, the rabid Republicans controlled congress and the press was playing along with their every single manufactured scandal against Bill Clinton.

Why? I have my theories. It's likely a mixture of commerce and contempt. Commerce = Bill Clinton was transformed - because of his innate charismatic celebrity, because he was poor white trash and because he was an inveterate horndog - into tabloid fodder. Just as Angelina Jolie can't cross the street without front-page tabloid coverage, so too everything Bill did became celebritous and shocking. He was interesting in all the tabloidy ways and the media stopped caring about journalism and all about selling themselves. Contempt = because Bill was a hillbilly cracker from a broken home and the press corps, even by the 90s, was filled with wannabe cultural elitists. They hated him for the same reason Rush hates blacks.

Anyway, filegate was a hoot. Naturally, there was absolutely no wrongdoing, but that didn't stop the media from flogging this dead horse for a big long while.

My question, though, about that "gate" is: how long did it take for the allegations to surface before the 'gate' was appended it? And, related to that, how many newspapers/cable news shows used the term thereafter?

I ask that especially now because the Bush administration has so many real honest-to-goodness unbelievable-in-this-modern-enlightened-age scandals yet I don't know of a single 'gate.'

True, they tried doing that to the Plame/Libby case (plamegate, libbygate) but not only didn't those names stick, they weren't really widely used. And, if that's all we can dredge up, then that just proves my point. Check out this index page . None of the scandals that should be going on have been bandied about enough to get 'gated.' Torture? WMDs? Katrina? Cheney shooting a guy?!

Well, we have a chance now. If you've been following the news recently, it appears that the White House has misplaced millions of emails that relate to, uh, everything. And it happens to be a big ol' law that the emails be kept. Forever. Not ever to be deleted.

Will this scandal take off? Will the fact that the government has been eliminating evidence of its behavior cause a 'gate' to be appended? Let's see how long it takes, if it even does.

Oh, and just in case you're one of those Rush Limbaugh type listeners who won't believe that Bush would do anything wrong because he's a by-golly tough talkin' Texan born-again Christer, then see this list of all the times Bush's pardners have lost evidence:

Greenwald: The Bush administration's terrible luck with finding documents

Wolfowitz in Trouble

OK, let me get this straight. Paul Wolfowitz, the neo-con know-nothing who was an architect of the debacle in Iraq was rewarded for his incompetence in the standard Bushie way: instead of a prison term and lifelong revulsion for his criminal bungling he was made president of the World Bank.

And because Paul is a brilliant political mastermind, instead of laying low - with a gasping realization that he has avoided the fate he richly deserves - he keeps doing dirty stupid things.

Yeah? Like what? Well, like this:
World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz acknowledged Thursday that he erred in helping a close female friend get transferred to a high-paying job, and said he was sorry. […] At issue are the generous compensation and pay raises of a bank employee, Shaha Riza, who has dated Wolfowitz.
This shkutz-bag divorced his wife in 2001 and started dating Shaha Ali Riza - an employee at the world bank - and then when he needed to escape the Bush Administration he got a job in the (wait for it) World Bank! As president! And then he got his shiksa girlfriend a massive raise in a sinecure at the State Department ($193,590 per year, tax-exempt) while still being paid at the World Bank!

Oh, and Shaha's new boss? Liz Cheney. Cough cough cough,

To review: very bad, very dumb man who created our Iraq policy miraculously escapes punishment, lands cushy job, and screws that up in a sex/money scandal.

This would be funny if so many people weren't dying because of this man and his pals in power.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut & Don Imus

Well Kurt Vonnegut died yesterday at 84. This happened the same day that Don Imus was fired by MSNBC (and suspended by CBS) for saying nasty stuff.

The contrast between these two is instructive. Vonnegut was (until yesterday) the most important living American writer - because he was imaginative, knew how to write true satire, and generally he knew right from wrong. He was often compared to Mark Twain - and that's a fine comparison because the two were fine-thinking humorists. As such, even though I often disagreed with Vonnegut's politics, he was a hero to those of us who try to see the world realistically and communicate that realia to others. He was successful while most of us aren't. Hence, a hero.

Seeing Vonnegut a few months ago on The Daily Show was a defining nexus of this moment in time's highest culture. It was like witnessing Einstein meeting Freud (which never happened) or Twain meeting Churchill (which did). True, Jon Stewart and Kurt Vonnegut aren't at the stature of the above four, but we take what we can get.

Then there's Don Imus. I have not listened to the show for any decent length. I first heard of him from a relative, back in the late 80s, who liked the show because Imus told sick, racist jokes. Since that description, I have steered away from anything to do with him. Which was why I was so surprised a couple of years ago when I heard that he was a powerful interviewer of the powerful political elite. Huh? The racist-joke slimeball interviews presidential candidates and NYTimes reporters?!

Naturally, I am happy that Imus has finally been hoisted by his own petard. But the more important question is why he had been able to continue for so very long? Related to that question is: why did this obviously noxious and racist bonehead get caught LAST WEEK for what he has been doing for years?

The same holds true for Ann Coulter. She has been saying unconscionable things for years. Yet she gets smacked down for calling Jon Edwards a bad word. Huh? Especially since, if you've seen the footage, she actually did not call Edwards the fg-word. It was actually a botched joke. [Which, when it's as obvious as it has been in the case of Kerry and Coulter is a valid defense; it also applies to a recent flap over Garrison Keillor and can even apply to Imus's last straw.]

Why does it take so long to catch on to the vile nature of people like Imus and Coulter and why does the tide turn, often, on a small action and not on a grand error?

The same is holding true for the current government, by the way. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, etc were obviously criminal incompetents from day one. Yet America only figured this out around September 2006. Not after Katrina, not after no WMD, not after the economic policies written by Daddy Warbucks. It was before the Foley scandal, too. It just kinda happened. And the big revulsion - the one that should be in place now - has yet to happen. What I mean is that just as Imus and Coulter are now exposed for being the kind of people I knew they were years ago, so too Bush & Cheney will be exposed... it's this freakish new law of perception... but I don't know how or when it happens.

It does fall under the Tipping Point kind of dynamics, for sure. It's frustrating to me because until the point tips, the slimeball in question is given honor and access. Imus and Coulter were given respect, Bush and Cheney still are, yet when the point tips people will see them and revile them just as I see them and revile them now. Yet my revulsion, before the point tips, is heretical and unacceptable.

This is why it's an irony that Vonnegut dies the day a slimeball is unfrocked. Because Vonnegut saw the truth and was able to tell people about it. Yet his books were often and still are banned and reviled. While people like Imus walked free, Vonnegut's books were even burned. But I, like Twain and Vonnegut, can look at these ironies, inconsistencies and infuriations and find solace in the attempt to tell the truth of it all.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Gallery of Regrettable Food

If you have a strong stomach, and like trenchant mockery, enjoy this: LILEKS (James) Gallery of Regrettable Food

My favorite? Knudsen's Very Best

Warning: do not read if you are currently eating things.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

New York Sun Breaks the Silence

This op-ed in the New York Sun ("Cheney's Chance") states something I've mentioned way down below: that we cannot rule out Cheney trying to run in 2008. The man is as much a menace to the nation as Richard Nixon, as compitent as Gerald Ford, as liked as Newt Gingrich, and just a smidgen healthier than Saddam Hussein. Yet "Sicky Dick" (as I want to label him, in homage to his mentor, the Tricky Dick) is a power-mad misanthrope. I reiterate my point from below: why would he not run? Now the New York Sun, in the fine neocon myopic tradition, has given grist to the mill.

Monday, April 02, 2007

More Kashrut Alerts

The first part is here, put together in time for Purim 5767. I was hoping to keep collecting them, but I was being disappointed by weeklong stretches of normal/rational kashrut alerts. But finally, my anonymous friends at give us this double-whammy:

The following health alert is from the editor on April 2, 2007: 2 cans of Lieber's macaroons that I purchased were moldy. Check this product before eating.

The following health and kashrus alert was from the NY state dept of food and agriculture/FDA on March 30, 2007: Healthy Corner Foods, 6005 16th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11204 is recalling certain Chicken and Turkey Salads; and Turkey, Turkey Salad and Chicken Salad Sandwiches due to undeclared milk ingredients.

And then a few more:

From the OU on April 20, 2007. Oscar Meyer Lunchables Maxed Out Deep Dish Pizza UPC #44700 63044, Kraft Foods- Northfield, IL: The graphics on the packaging of Oscar Meyer Lunchables Deep Dish Pizza, a product which is not certified kosher, portray a water bottle which is a component of the lunchbox. This water bottle bears the OU symbol. Consumers are advised not to accept Oscar Meyer Lunchables Deep Dish Pizza as kosher. The product packaging has been revised.

Then there's this from my friend and New Haven colleague:

From Rabbi Jason Rappaport on April 16, 2007. The following items from President's Choice brand (there may be others) have a Hashgacha which reads:
"Under the supervision of Rabbi Jason Rappaport, Rabbi of Oslo Norway" (and then in Hebrew) "tachat hashgachat Harav Yehoshua Eliezer Hacohen Rappaport": Peppered Smokey Trout Fillets, Honey Mustard Salmon Fillets, Atlantic Salmon Fillets.

Rabbi Jason Rappaport has left Norway nearly five years ago and have nothing to do with Kashrus there so there's no way these products can be supervised by me and states the following: "In fact I don't give any Hashgachas in my own name, so any product which has the label above should be treated with suspicion."

And here's where Kashrut and philosophy - in this case, Chocosophy - come together:

The following regulatory alert is from the Specialty Food News and Brandweek on April 12, 2007. A proposal submitted to the FDA by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, in collaboration with the Chocolate Manufacturers Association aims to change the standard for "pure chocolate" by allowing chocolate containing less expensive vegetable oils, which would require kosher supervision, rather than cocoa butter, and milk substitutes such as whey, only some of which are kosher, instead of milk. Guittard has set up a Website at to drum up opposition to the proposal. The petition is in the public consultation stage, and interested parties can submit comments about the changes until April 25. Additional information can be found at The official FDA website information is at and the official comment page is at FDA.

Pic from here. Backpost finished 2009-12-14.