Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Gay Marriage and Judaism

The issue of Orthodox Judaism and gay marriage was brought up recently when the only openly gay YU musmakh married two men the other day (see: here for the reaction from the Orthodox establishments.)

After spending a few years now studying American Jewish history, I can say that there are times when the non-Orthodox denominations are on the side of history and times when they are not. I can say that it's hard to defend a full anti-feminism in halakhah; this is one of those topics where halakhah has really seemed to mimic the cultural mores of the surrounding society.

What about gay marriage? Is this the future of American society? Maybe. But for while there are some moves by the Jewish reformers that were prescient move - e.g. introducing vernacular into the service - and some that are accepted by American society - e.g. jettisoning Sabbath observance and Kashrut - there are others that show a too slavish attachment to trends.

The best example is the attempt to move the Jewish sabbath to Sundays. Another was the virulent anti-Zionism of the 19th and early 20th Century Reform movement. The latter is actually coming back into vogue - and for the same reasons as a century ago: the rejection of Jewish choseness and nationality, coupled with a dire attachment to a Diaspora identity.

The Sunday thing? Maybe that will come back as well.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Cain's Race Card

Herman Cain as a good presidential name going for him. Single syllable names are great, see Gore v Bush, and Biblical last names even better, no matter the images evoked of a powerful man killing his weaker brother - which is a perfect description for the Republican Party in 2011, and for Cain's attitudes towards American Blacks as well.

However, he plays the race card like he was in Vegas. Most recently, he has needed to double-down (note my gambling metaphors!*) because he has been accused of sexually harrassing a bunch of employees. People have referenced Clarence Thomas. The implicit point of Cain is that black men will be accused of this if they are Right Wing. I don't assume he harassed the women because he was black. I assume he did it because (a) he's a rich businessman born between 1940-1960, (b) he's a patriarchal fool who treats everyone as an object. These are blanket assumptions for anyone of his ilk.

Anyway, Cain and his cronies are trying to portray him as the victim, which I just love in a gallows humor way. In this interview

you can see that he blames the liberal establishment for leading the charge against him. Basically, punishing him and his Black Republican Brethren for their maverickyness.

Aside from the fact that there's no proof for his assertion, and that it's a classic Strawman Defense for someone guilty as Cain, I'd like to use my trusty tools of (1) logic, and (2) precedent to understand the situation.

This is currently a Republican primary. Unlike 2000 and 2008, there's an incumbent and therefore only one primary. And as history will show that primaries are when the real knock-down attacks occur. Scandals are brought up by their own party-mates - and this is logical because once a person gets the nomination, then the process of election changes.

Biden's plagarism, Hart and Clinton's philandering**, McCain's black*** babies, Obama and Rev. Wright - all examples of devestating attacks that occured by their own party during the primaries.

There is no incentive, truly none, for the other party to being opposition research during the primaries. Why should the Democrats attack Cain 14 months before election day? It's illogical and has no precedent. The only people who care about Cain right now, and have the money to do oppo research, are Perry and Romney. I'd bet Romney did this.

*Gambling metaphors are steeped in US politics. The "New Deal" itself is a poker reference. So is "The Buck Stops Here" (Truman).
** Not with each other.
*** Black to a Republican means something totally different than what you think.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Low-Cost Bus Fatalities High

So, guess what, according to the Transportation Safety Board, the Low Cost Buses (e.g. Fung Wah, or as I call it, Fung Ow My Femur) are really dangerous. My reaction:

If you pay $15 for something that ordinarily costs 10 times as much, you should wonder where the money is saved. Evidently your life is worth about 80 bucks in savings.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Prominent Jewish Athletes

This is a very nice photo spread of a number of famous, and not so famous (to me) Prominent Jewish Athletes by Sports Illustrated in honor of Rosh Hashanah.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Shalit Free

We're very emotional about this in the Styx house. It's a hard price to pay, releasing vicious scum to save one Israeli, but it does send an important Torah message: that it's very easy to kill a terrorist, but very hard to save a life. And Israel, and Jews, value life over death. Unlike our enemies... and those Americans and Jews who support our enemies.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Still No Power

We live in Newton Center and we've been without power since 11am on Sunday, May 28th. Let me know if you hear somebody say that the pre-Irene warnings were all "hype" - I will track them down and throw them into the prison that is my house. Not only have we lost a certain amount of food, feeding a family of 5 is tough in this semi-kosher accessed place. I'm writing this in a "Panera" and I'm surrounded by other families without power, but they can bring their kids here to eat, we can't.

We're naturally out of hot water as well, and since I have a Motorola Droid phone - known by cognoscenti as a hunk of crap in a plastic case - my phone batteries have been burnt out. This was already after the phone became impossible to directly recharge because the silly little prongs in the recharge port became slightly bent. When that happens, a few cents of breakage, renders the hundreds of dollars phone useless.

Our power-company, NStar, is ignoring their customers, as far as I can tell. We're not even told when we will be scheduled to be visited by a friendly crew. I'd switch companies, but as far as I know they have a government mandated monopoly of my neighborhood.

My kids are doing a decent job in handling this stuff, but there's just so much three kids under 7 can understand.

The only silver lining in this lovely episode is that I can use the experience to convince my family, or anyone I know, to never ever go camping. Because everything I'm suffering through right now is what 'camping' people endure on purpose.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Life on Mars (US TV Series) - Wow

I just saw the whole run of Life on Mars - an absolutely awesome, yet doomed, sci-fi TV series. They canceled it after 17 episodes, but with enough time to allow a real finale. So, unlike it's kindred brother "Firefly," the story actually ends.

It's probable that you, no matter who you are, won't be affected in the same way that I am by the awesomeness of this TV show. You need to be equally obsessed with (a) 70s music, (b) 1973, (c) New York City, (d) red-headed boys who look like me (and my sons), (e) and time-travel stories that are also 70s cop shows.

The premise is that our hero is a cop in 2008 who after an accident wakes up as the same person in 1973. He meets his father and mother and other mentors when they are the same age as he was in '08. While the show depicts the drama of his home life, and his attempts to help out his mother and young self, the main greatness of the show comes from the depiction of policing, and NYC, in the early 70s - when cops were sexist, racist, and brutal. And so was the city.

The reason why cop shows were much better in the 70s is because the crime in NYC was insanely high. When Law & Order has a murder a week, they are inflating the crime statistics by like 800% - not so in 1973. Also, the music was so much better. When you see a leather jacketed, mustachioed, long haired cop striding around with a long rifle and snub-nosed pistol, there MUST be a funky bassline with a wa-wa pedal. See here for the visuals.

There's also the struggle the hero has in dealing with communications from the future, and what is possibly an attempt to remove him from life-support and other mysteries. Which makes the drama multi-leveled.

It's written very well and has an amazing cast of some of the best in Hollywood: Gretchen Mol, Michael Imperioli and the incomparable Harvey Keitel.

Naturally, it was canceled. Maybe it's for the best - the quality stayed great for the entire, short, run. Wow.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

GOP Nominee Predictions

According to the Times Pawlenty Drops Out of Republican Race. With Pawlenty gone, that means there's only one sane candidate in the race: Huntsman. However, the GOP is currently more insane than I've ever seen them. This is the crazy of Hoover + Nixon + McCarthy all rolled into one. Which means that the nominee is going to be Perry, Governor of Texas.

If you see the list of nominees, there's only 3 who had any chance: Romney, Perry and Huntsman. Bachmann is nuttier than peanut-brittle and while she's much smarter, and more articulate, than her alter-ego in dangerous psychosis - Sarah Palin - Bachmann is also a member of the House of Representatives. It's almost as laughable as being a mayor. And let's just forget Ron Paul for the rest of history, please? At best, he'll be another Perot (Texas breeds funny looking, creepy third party cranks).

So, this leaves the three governors, 2 of whom are Mormons - and both of those are tainted by rationality and good politics. Which leaves the mouth-breathing Perry. Here's a good primer about the presumptive nominee.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Good, the Bad and the Greedo

I stumbled across this amazing art site,, here's a fun example:

Upside Down House

What follows is a long, personal, shaggy dog story:

We've been having a few days of craziness in the house. It started two weeks ago when I smelled an acrid burning smell around midnight; I left my office and found that the smell was through the house; when I came upstairs I saw that there was smoke in the house. After evacuating my wife and three kids, all under 7, we entertained the fire department for an hour (my family went to stay in our minivan and watch DVDs until 1am when the all-clear was established). The FD was stumped as to the cause except that they found (using a cool heat/temp gun) that some ceiling lights were running very hot - nearly double the temp they were supposed to.

We were told to shut off the circuit-breaker for that part of the house, which in turn shut of my wife's office, our basement lights, downstairs bathroom, and electric stove. Since this was Thurs night, I couldn't get an electrician to come to the house until Monday. He arrived and said that he could see nothing amiss with our electricals. Which meant that we would need to follow the advice of the FD and tear the ceiling down to see why there was "heat buildup in the strapping."

Meanwhile, we noticed the smell persisted even with the electricity out. Moreover, we were told by our condo association that our drier's exhaust had been declared unsafe. So we simultaneously needed to get a contractor to demolish part of our ceiling, and get a dude to fix the drier hose. We were also due for a furnace checkup - and I suspected that the smell was from there anyway - so we needed all three done at once.

The furnace people claimed they couldn't come to see us for over a week. We did get the drier hose fixed but it didn't chance the problem of the smell that triggered this whole episode. We did tear the ceiling down - which rendered most of the first floor of the house inaccessible - and the electrician didn't find any reason for the smell-smoke-heat. I asked him to change all the wires and fixtures anyway - once we have the ceiling open - and he recommended we keep those new lights burning for a few days to see if there's any recurrence of the problem.

Meanwhile the furnace guy came and said - guess what - the furnace was busted. That's why we smelled the burning plastic and wires and - this is the best - why we saw the smoke! Because these punks didn't come to our house for 10 days after our calling them, we needed to pursue the electrician/contractor/ceiling route because until it was fixed we couldn't use our oven or basement.

Naturally the furnace guy said it would take most of the week to fix the furnace - he came Tuesday and the furnace is still not fixed... which is bad because Boston is freakin' cold in May.

In the midst of all this our drier - remember it, the one with the new hoses - broke. Just busted. And we managed to convince the contractor that he needed to put our ceiling up before the weekened (which I managed to do, and he did too, except it needs to be painted, so we still have no use of half of the first floor). But we do have electricity... and the drier and heat are to be fixed today...

All this happened at once. I do thank Hashem that we didn't lose all of the electricity, nor the hot-water heater (which, by dint of the pattern, should have gone belly-up).

And my daughter's second birthday is on Lag B'Omer and I'm leaving that day for a conference. Shabbas!

Obama's Speech

There's much to be said about Obama's speech (transcript) and I've been using Jeffrey Goldberg's blog as a center for my reading. While he and I disagree about the means of the Peace Process and about our ideas of Zionism, I respect his knowledge and his commitment to Israel (he served in IDF, I did not).

Some key points:
  1. The concept of using the '67 lines is not new at all. That it's considered a pro-Palestinain action by Obama is part of the media spin. In fact, according to some analysis, it was started by a distorted AP piece and then picked up by the anti-Obama forces (e.g. Fox News). See this Little Green Footballs piece to follow the trail: LGF: Instantaneous Outrageous Outrage: 'Obama Sides with Palestinians!' What I learn from the AP bias is that the media WANTS Obama to side with the Palestinians. So does the GOP. And many Jewish racists who hate Obama more than they love Israel.
  2. Obama did not call for a return to the '67 borders. He said (bold mine): "We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states." What did people expect, that Obama would call for Greater Israel from the Nile to the Euphrates? Or the fanatasy, that I shared before Oslo, that maybe we could keep until the River Jordan? He said there's be land swaps. Cool.
  3. No mention of: the Golan Heights (especially in the same week that we put sanctions on Assad/Syria).
  4. He also tabled the issues of Jerusalem and the Palestinian false claim of a 'right of return': "I am aware that these steps alone will not resolve the conflict, because two wrenching and emotional issues will remain: the future of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees."
  5. Most importantly, Obama smashed down two dangerous threats to Israel: the Hamas-Fatah coalition: "In particular, the recent announcement of an agreement between Fatah and Hamas raises profound and legitimate questions for Israel: How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist?"
  6. and the looming credible threat of a unilateral declaration of Hamas statehood: "For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure. Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won't create an independent state. Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection. And Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist."
People need to get over their hatred of Obama - or the GOP's twisted path to destroy the Democrats by destroying America and Israel.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Bin Laden is Dead

I have strong emotions about the news, which I read last night and woke up my wife to tell her. Three quick thoughts:

1. This is a real victory. He was shot to death, identified by experts, and buried at sea. He was being protected by Pakistan, and killed not on a battlefield but in his Wisteria Lane hidey-house. It's crucial to remember that for megalomaniac murderers, the most important goal is to be alive and in power. When Saddam and Bin-Laden are captured and killed it sends the message to other freak-show killers that their chosen path has a definite and predictable end. Moreover, as I learned in my studies of the Holocaust, the loss of a single charismatic leader is devastating. He was a symbol to terrorists that you can beat the Americans, he was a symbol to America that we could be beaten. No more. We caught him like a mad dog and put him down.

2. For that reason, I am hoping that this will have a long-term effect in raising American morale about our perceived feelings of decline. Bin-Laden's continued existence showed that we were weak. It also kept the 9/11 siege mentality alive; it was an unclosed grave. Now we've killed him - it can feel, and feelings are important here, that we can move on. And we really need to move on.

3. Lastly, I hope this will change the perception of Obama and of Democrats. The Press has been a disgusting promulgator of nonsense and dissent in our country. Obama released the long form of his birth certificate (the POTUS equivalent of a poll-tax) not because of Trump but because of the media's fascination with this complete nonsense. Because the Press is fickle and stupid, they can now have flashy evidence of what has been happening since January 21, 2009 - that Obama has been systematically and effectively cleaning up Bush's messes.

This is why it took 10 years to get bin Laden - because 8 of those years were under the complete schmucktard Bush.

That the killing of Bin-Laden happened 8 years to the day after Bush landed on the aircraft carrier, dressed up in a costume and acting like a blowhard punk, is icing on the cake.

Obama's ability to clean up for Bush helps with #2 above. As a social scientist, I can tell you that perception is very important for how a society will advance or decline. Killing bin Laden, I am hoping, will show America and the World that we have also cleaned up from Bush. Just last week, Obama's reaction to the tornadoes of Alabama was praised for it's swiftness and effectiveness. So he cleaned up Katrina and 9/11 in one week.

We'll see if the Press takes this ball and runs it in the right direction. We could be now getting out of our decade long malaise. Obama could announce we're drawing down in Afganistan, that we can wear shoes on airplanes, that we can be sane again!

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Grading Papers vs. Pulpit Rabbinate

I'm in the midst of grading papers as a TA (teaching assistant) and I remarked to my wife that I'm feeling the same tension that I had answering shylas while a pulpit rabbi. Often, knowing the standard halakha wasn't an issue: the tension came in when congregants would present a terrible scenario, where the clear result was forbidden, and I was tasked with finding out how there could be a possible leniency.

Note, this was a different process in NY than New Haven. While in NY, it was often a demand to find a loophole or wiggle room in the law, and I took up the challenge because (a) I was the assistant rabbi and that's my job, and (b) because I found it important to interpret Jewish law with kindness for people who could just run down the block and become Conservative and follow even less halakha. Most of the time I endeavored to explain the wisdom behind prohibitions, but the power-differential made this a loss-leader

In New Haven it was often the opposite - I had people who wanted to have prohibitions and I would seek legitamate leniencies because people were poor and it was my job as posek to help them halakhically and meta-halakhically.

In both cases, I couldn't just unload my halakha guns and say what the clear answer was. Truth, if it could be called that, was tempered with bent-backwards 'shalom.'

This is what I face while grading student papers. I'm an assistant again, so I can't exert my own will (which, for my personality, is a MAJOR struggle)... and I'm spending hours and hours on papers that the students will only react to for 30 seconds (a peek at the grade)... and I need to find some possible way not to give every one of these people a much more lenient result than the clear halakha would allow.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Steven Fry on Language Pedants

I agree with Steve Fry here, quite a bit. Ah, if I were able to simulate a British accent!

h.t. TNC


There's just been one normal day this whole chag (i.e. that wasn't Shabbas/Yuntif or erev thereof) so we're going ga-ga. As such, I'd just like to say how much I like the word Farfel. Farfel farfel farfel.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Pre-Pesach Matzah Ban

According to custom, we're not allowed to eat Matzah 30 days before Seder night. The stated rationale for the minhag is that we're to abstain from Matzah so we can eat it at the Seder with gusto. I used to think that this was Rabbinically enjoined cognitive dissonance - i.e. everyone knows that Matzah is terrible, so by telling us we can't 'spoil our appetite' we're to think that Matzah is actually decent food.

Then I got to thinking about what makes transitioning to a Hametz-Free house ("making Pesach" as I now call it) so hard. And, at least for me, it's the delicate balance of eating Hametz while the whole house has to be cleaned for Pesach - and that it would be so much easier to prepare for Pesach if I could just eat Matzah for the few days beforehand...

Then I realized with a bolt outa the blue why my Rabbinic brothers invented this minhag! If we were allowed to eat Matzah before Pesach then my wife, and doubtless every homemaker since Eishet Rashi, would have converted the whole house to Pesadik a week ago! Why not? It's almost logical in a humra sense - two weeks of Pesach instead of one.

This minhag allows me to eat my pop-tarts today. Thank you unnamed rabbis!

Pic from here.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Scalia and Thomas: The Pure GOP

Whenever I want to describe the true face of the Republican party, and what voting for them will bring, just remember this case: Connick v. Thompson: Clarence Thomas writes one of the cruelest Supreme Court decisions ever. - By Dahlia Lithwick - Slate Magazine, and specifically this line: "Both parties to this case have long agreed that an injustice had been done. Connick himself conceded that there had been a Brady violation, yet Scalia finds none. Everyone else concedes that egregious mistakes were made. Scalia struggles to rehabilitate them all."

A vote for a Republican, any Federal office but especially the presidency, will yield more evil like this case.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Late Purim Torah

I know this is making the rounds, and it's far after Purim, but this was a great video (h.t. my brother, BATman):

[Later Emendation]: You should really see the original (itself a self-parody) of what the Shtark Like Me guy is making fun of:

Now enjoy

NYTimes to Go Back Behind the Firewall

So the New York Times has decided to go back behind a paid firewall. I remember when they first did this (back in '05? it feels like yesterday)... And I got through it easily back then. The only person I cared about reading at the time was Krugman, mainly because he was the only sane voice during the terrible two years of 2005-2006 (when the GOP was unstoppable in their evil). Sadly the Times could have taken a leadership role and dubiously decided that they needed to make more money.

I'm on record saying that when the News acts as a for-profit business, everyone suffers. The news-agencies turn into lowest-common-denominator gutter entertainment organs (because that's where the money is), creating and perpetuating scandals, and - worst of all - distorting the news in order to sell sell sell. The best example (outside of the "Feeding Frenzies") was the very existence of Sarah Palin. In the modern for-profit journalist world, every election needs to be a 'horse race' and even when a violently unacceptable candidate for VP is chosen, the media needs to keep the sides even.

The Times, arrogant as ever, believes that they have survived the newspaper crunches and can demand that people will pay for their product. Were they accurate - i.e. were they truly a good news source - then maybe it would be a smart plan. But, pardon my French, the Times' sucks. Their news quality is poorly written (I remember when the Times was written at a 12th Grade level), ignorant and thus biased in the worst way, and not nearly as useful as a good blog collection will be.

They have no idea how badly they will get burned by this - because five lines of computer code will be able to collect news from around the web better than the Times. Competition in the infinite cyberspace makes one specific news source obsolete.

The only thing the Times could boast would be their columnists - and two have just bolted. Frank Rich, who was the best thing in the paper, and now Bob Herbert (who I couldn't care less about). They must be the smartest people there because they're getting out. Columnists are pundits, which makes them nickel academics. In the idea profession, it's far more important to have influence than shiny metal coins: an academic would gladly give academic books/papers out for free if that meant more people would read 'em.

What to Read Instead?

There are a few options. The best news agency out there is actually the old Knight-Ridder, now known as the unpronounceable McClatchy. Their main site is here and it's worth reading instead.

The other options are Yahoo News - which is the AP Wire, a very good option. AP is still biased, but by dint of necessity - they try to sell to as many papers as possible - they are as comprehensive as possible. It's business model is most likely to survive the internet.

And of course I'll just go to Jpost and Haaretz more.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

My Old Shteller on the Daily Show

Not a bad segment about my old stomping grounds (I was a summer intern back in the late 90s in Westhampton) and the opposition to an eruv by the Daily Show

Monday, March 21, 2011

Purim Roundup

A few thoughts on the after-eve of Purim:
  1. Recall last year's point about Quentin Tarantino's Purim-Shpiel. This year both my wife and I couldn't get the idea out of our heads while listening to the Megillah - and that's how the text should be read. I will write this up to a greater extent but it's a subtle razor's edge.

  2. We had the whole family over for the Seudah in our home (i.e. my parents + my brother and his kids) for the first time (we were together at shul seudahs before) and that's the way I like it. Wow, it's so much better. In future years, I look forward to the kids putting on skits.

  3. Sam Adams' Beer, even their Light Beer (which I drank this year) is really durn good!

  4. A sign of creeping assimilation, even amongst Orthodox Jews, is the identification of "Shlach-Manos" (the Yiddish form of Mishloach Manot... you can't really say "shlach-manot") as goyishe-style gift giving. It ain't. It's food. Two people I know gave me a note saying that they have given a donation in my honor to their favorite charity instead of giving me ShM. This may work for Xmas, Chanukah, or Festivus, but it's a totally ignorant way to deal with ShM. For two reasons.

    1. First of all, as my man Seinfeld also understood, giving to your own favorite charity is not a "gift" for another person. I guess it's striking out against materialism... but is it so bad to give people a plastic bag with some almonds and Hershey's Kisses? Moralists and Anthropologists have been through this: giving gifts are meant to be a sacrifice of yourself to bind yourself with another (cf. the korban olah). That's the meaning of generosity. If you invite someone to your home for dinner and say (with self-righteousness) that you have no food for them because, instead, the value of the food and entertainment was given to your favorite charity, Save the Spotted Sea Slug, then you have not been hospitable. You may have done a totally different mitzvah - charity - but you have simultaneously NOT done (in fact probably violated) the mitzvah of hospitality. It's unseemly, and actually not very generous, to commit an aveira on someone else's terms.

    2. What's really ignorant is that there's a whole other mitzvah to do on Purim which can fit this anti-materialistic/self-righteous impulse: it's called matanot l'evyonim. It's actually way more important mitzvah, and pretty hard to do, than ShM. If these people sent me the same card but saying that they gave MLE in my name then I'd feel much better about it.

  5. There's an odd phenomenon, noticed by my wife about Israelis in the US (parents of our kids' friends) who don't seem to celebrate Purim. I've noticed secular Jews ignore the holiday as well. My first reaction was: how could anyone not like Purim?! It's the day to legally/religiously eat junk food, get drunk, have fun at parties, dress in costume, mock your leaders, and learn Tanakh! It's the best day ever. So, yeah, after expressing that, I realized that all that greatness applies mainly to those who are religiously repressed for most of the year (it's one reason why people have applied Purim to Simchat Torah, because unlike other chagim, we have only 1 day of Purim - or as my rebbe in Hamivtar said, "you know Israel is better than Golus because in America you have two days of Pesach and one day of Purim and in Israel there's two days of Purim and one day of Pesach.")

    While it's possible that the secular Jews who scorn/ignore Purim are actually reacting to the messages of Purim - which is pretty anti-Zionist, anti-Diaspora, and anti-Secular - I don't think it's that deep. I think that secular Jews already celebrate Halloween, Mardi Gras, Saint Patricks, and - especially in free countries without state-sanctioned antisemitism - feel no need to have a Bakhtinian carnival. As such, I can make a dictum that the more secular the Jew, the more distant they are from Purim.

    And, true to the genius of the Megillah, is precisely the message of the book.
First pic from here of the Esther fresco from the Dura Europos Synagogue. Second pic from here.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Bracket Nonensense

I basically don't follow professional basketball, which I consider urban Nascar (i.e. both sports are about endurance and seem to only require the last 5 minutes to be even interesting) and I care even less about college sports. Considering that most of America considers college students valuable only when they are hitting each other with balls and sticks, and that I am a dedicated Academic type, you can see why I don't care a whit for college basketball.

That said, I do have some favorite teams. Now that Princeton has briefly flashed across the NCAA screen, so young so bright, The Styx loyalties are firmly with UNC. My father is an alum and as a family we've strongly supported public universities and the UNC-Duke rivalry is one of my favorite iconic battles of good and evil.

UNC is likely not to lose tonight and if Nate's right, UNC will next be against Ohio - which should actually be the best game of the whole Schmracket. Go 'Heels!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Two Pieces of Good News

OK, so in the search for some balance, I recall these pieces of decent news. Nothing to offset today's horror, but whatever works:

(1) Patrick and Israeli officials sign trade development agreement: "Governor Deval Patrick and his Israeli hosts today signed an agreement that will strengthen research and development links between the Bay State’s research consortiums and Israeli companies." This is nice.

and even better:

(2) Princeton Beats Harvard at Buzzer - according to the story:
Princeton's Douglas Davis hit a leaning jump shot at the buzzer to give the Tigers a trip to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2004 with a wild 63-62 win over Harvard. ... The league played the game on Yale's campus, about 130 miles from each school. Before the game, Harvard and Princeton students chanted "Yale sucks!"
Ah, unity even in the face of conflict.

Update Here's the video of the winning shot. Warning, Orange Alert (that specific alert here means there's a full on tush shot of a weird guy in skin-tight orange jumpsuit).

Terrible Day

So, going into Shabbas, there's the North Japanese Tsunami, but after Shabbas I find out that (1) the 'quake/tsunami damaged a nuclear reactor and they need to act quick to prevent a meltdown. Like one Godzilla wasn't enough!

Then, a small header on the Times front page, I read about (2) an absolute horror in Israel where terrorist slaughter a family - including a months old baby. I'm mute with rage over this. It's been a while since we've had this kind of attack and that's enough time for me to again be stupefied at the world's silence and/or complicity over the crimes of the (so-called) Palestinians and the cheapness of Jewish blood.

Then I read, in the same Times, in a minute's reading, about the terrible bus accident in the Bronx confirming most of my fears about these cheap Chinatown buses.

I need some good news quick.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Just in Time for Purim!

From Alerts: The following Tootsie Roll Industries, Inc. products are newly certified as kosher: Junior Mints, Blow Pops, Tootsie Roll Pops, Caramel Apple Pops, Charms, Sugar Daddy and Sugar Babies. These products must bear the OU symbol to be kosher and new packaging bearing the "OU" symbol will be distributed nationwide beginning in the next few months. Tootsie Rolls, Tootsie Fruit Rolls, Frooties and are kosher DAIRY even without the OU-D symbol. Dots are Kosher Pareve even without the OU symbol.

h.t. my local Orthodox Rabbi.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Degrees of Bigotry

The front page of the times had the arresting photo (see left) of some freak, John Gallano, who I assume is either an artist or a professional clown. It appears that the clown has emitted an anti-Semitic slur. Charlie Sheen, aka Carlos Estevez, has also been fired recently for making anti-Semitic comments. While I applaud any action that destroys bigots and scumbags, I do want to draw a distinction between 2 acts of bigotry.

Sheen, according to the Times, went on a radio show and railed against his boss, Chuck Lorre, all the while calling the boss "Hayim Levine." Yeah, it's odd that someone whose name was changed is mocking another ethnic name changer, but it also evinces anti-Semitism (so I'm told) and so he has been fired. Or something - to be honest, I never wanted to watch his show so I don't follow this too closely.

I'd like to point out, though, that as anti-Semitism goes, this is as mild as you can get. Consider that Sheen already has screamed anti-Black epithets in public, and that wasn't a firing offense. Why should anti-Semitism trump that?

Well, I don't think it did and I'm annoyed that it's being depicted that way. My presumption is that Sheen was fired because he was meant to clean up in rehab and instead he walked out of the 'hab and into a radio booth to insult his boss. Is it his bigotry or his aggressive stupidity at fault? I'd prefer to say it's the latter.

Especially in light of the Galliano clown. Here's what the Times says:
The video, posted on the Web site of the British tabloid The Sun, appears to show Mr. Galliano taunting other patrons at the bar, La Perle, declaring in a slurred voice that “I love Hitler” and that “people like you would be dead,” and “your mothers, your forefathers” would all be “gassed.” It was unclear when the video was recorded.
Do you see the difference? Sheen wasn't as much a bigot as a raving jackass. Galliano actually hates Jews. Because nobody but a true hater would even *think* of calling on Jews to be murdered by Hitler again. Seriously, folks.

This was the same case I made about Michael "Kramer" Richards who didn't *just* say the n-word, but actually talked wistfully about the bygone days when you could lynch blacks. Again, the difference is that using the n-word can be put in the category of using angry-talk (like the f-word, or any other word-words), but actively talking about committing specific murder is another category altogether.

Even though I am happy to continue exposing bigots and penalizing people who use racist slurs (which I have no urge to do myself, so I can comfortably condemn that class of scum), I do want to make a distinction between rage-words and actual bigots.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

No Oscar Predictions This Year

I decided that I won't make Oscar Predictions this year - the first time in Styx history. I've been heading this way for years but what put me over the edge was an article in Entertainment Weekly which described how Supporting Actress nominee Melissa Leo for The Fighter (2010), was hurting her Oscar chances because of self-paid ads she put in Variety. Get that? Not only was I predicting movies even though I had not seen them all, I felt that I could predict based on analyzing the buzz and yearly voting patterns. Yet, as I've complained before, we're not told (a) who the electorate is (who is in the academy? who voted? do they have the same turnout problems as the off-year national elections?) but also how the freakin' voting process even works. Yet I was willing to act the fool and predict my 'winners' despite my massive ignorance.

But along comes EW to say that despite Leo's performance, or the performances of her colleagues, she could lose an artistic award because people don't like how she campaigned.

Not only does this mean that to predict the awards, I would need to know the inside politics of cockamamie 'campaigns,' but that the Academy voters seem to actively admit that the awards have nothing to do with a particular performance or movie. It's insular politics that - quite honestly - insult art.

Yeah, there have been naysayers claiming this in the past, but they seem to base this assertion on the results of the Oscars - that crappy movies and people win over more deserving candidates. But *I'm* basing my nay on the fact that the Academy is de-facto admitting that their decisions are not based on quality whatsoever.

That there are idiot voters in the US electing reprobate Tea-baggers is a problem within the Democratic system. That there are idiot voters who claim to be artists judging aesthetic quality belies the nature of their so-called Academy.

I'll still track the winners, but I wash my hands of the predictions.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Comic: Ben Bailey on New York Smells

This could only be a male comedy thing - but I found this specific routine deeply hilarious. I needed to remove my chewing gum lest I choke from laughter. Yet, my wife did not even crack a smile. It's possibly because I lived in New York and had the exact same reactions he describes.

After watching this dude on Netflix I hoped that he would have been picked up by movies and TV and I see that he has (even winning an Emmy for Cash Cab). Good for him. As a big man comic, he's taken the Patrick Warburton route in his voice and pacing. It works.
Ben Bailey - Different Smells
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