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.