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.