Tuesday, July 31, 2007

This is basically magic

I love Japanese game shows.

Best. Commercial. Ever

While watching Shaq's new show (Shaq's Big Challenge) I saw the most awesome ad in the history of ever. For, of all things, Orange Juice.

I can't seem to find found the video, so I'll describe it:

The setting is a children's party, in a backyard complete with pinata. A small child hits the pinata with a bat (or stick), the pinata explodes, and celery comes pouring out. The children yell "celery" and rush towards it. Craziness ensues, and the children run away, clutching their celery, looking sort of like teeny savages, brandashing teeny green spears.

The voiceover says "if only it were this easy to get children to eat healthy. Since it isn't why not start the day with Florida Orange Juice." Or something like that.

I nearly fell out of my chair laughing.

Also, as an aside, I could not love workout/fitness shows more. Biggest Loser, Celebrity Fit Club, the new Shaq show. I love them all. Something is clearly wrong with me.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Music That I'm Listening to RIGHT NOW

With the end of the 9 days (thank G-d) I'm listening to music again, so here are the songs that I'm listening to over, and over again:

1. Hey There Delilah by Plain White Ts (and they're from Chicago!)

2. I Love You by Luka Bloom

3. Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk by Rufus Wainwright

4. Melt by Phil Roy (I love this song because some woman heard it, was so moved that she started a correspondence with Phil Roy, and now they're married)

5. That Time by Regina Spektor (it reminds me of many of my silly fads, although I never spent a month eating only tangerines)

That's all for now, but I'm taking suggestions.


6. Helen by Nizlopi- this is haunting and beautiful.

One Last Thought About Noah Feldman

I was away this weekend, and I attended services were the women's apparel ranged from dresses to short shorts and tied off t's. And for the record, this was an "Orthodox" service. At any rate, it really got me thinking about the choices we make and how they affect our community acceptance.

I realized that by living with several girls on the UWS, wearing pants, and choosing to work rather than marry young and produce children, that I have opted out of certain Jewish communities. I understand that they have certain norms, I don't conform to them, so I'm not really part of their community (although they'd probably be nice to me if I dropped into davening on a Saturday morning). I've chosen instead to observe in a "Modern" Orthodox way, and this informs my reception in different parts of different communities. Some people think that my observances are anti-Feminist, or outdated, or crazy, and others think that I live a sinful lifestyle. And I'm ok with that, because that's how it works.

Thing is, none of my (current) choices are permanent. I could always start dressing more modestly, start shidduch* dating again, quit my job to move in with relatives, etc, etc. But I've made some choices. Noah has made a choice that marks him as not being of the Modern Orthodox community. A pretty permanent one, I'd say. So while I'd hesitate to say that he's "ostracized" from the community, I'd say that when he chooses to interact with the Modern Orthodox community, that they view him as a visitor, not a member. He's welcome to stop by and chat, but his decisions have made it clear that he doesn't wish to take part in that lifestyle.

I still think that it was rather silly of the school to cut him out of a photo (he did, after all, attend the school and the event), but I can understand their desire not to publicize his marriage or subsequent children. I don't agree, but I can understand. Noah isn't "lost" to Judaism, but he has chosen to absent himself from Modern Orthodoxy, just as I've chosen to absent myself from the Conservative movement in which I was raised, or the Orthodox community I found in college. It doesn't mean that I am locked out forever, I could always make some changes and go back (as could Noah, and I DON'T mean by divorcing his wife), but I've made my bed, and now I have to lie in it. As should Noah. Except not my bed, because that would be weird.

*Shidduch dating is arranged dating for the express purpose of finding a spouse.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

America's Next Plop Model

I love America's Next Top Model. When it's mid-season, my flatmate, El Gigante, and I DVR it and watch it together. Some weeks, I cannot wait to watch it with him and so watch it on my own and then re-watch it when he has the time. He shows the same courtesy to me.

Given that ANTM's last season ended months ago, you may be asking yourself: why is Harley talking about it now, so long after Jaslene won Cycle 8 (over Natasha, whom I so totally loved that I periodically walked around speaking in a fake Russian accent and meowing into the phone to my much older, questionably arranged, husband)?

Well, while voicing a recent segment, Jim Vance, the anchorman for Channel 4 News in D.C., could not stop laughing at a model who didn't have what Miss Jay refers to as "The Walk."

News Anchor Cant Stop Laughing At Model - Watch more free videos

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Children and the Military

WashPo has an article about the baby boom on military bases. Two lines struck me:

1) According to one nurse ""We knew that any time the soldiers are deployed, we knew the one thing they liked to do best when they come home is get a little bit of loving." Amazing.

2) "New mothers are exempt from deployment for four months. But after that, husband-and-wife soldiers have to arrange for child care if they are both sent overseas. Often, relatives or close friends take care of the children."

If I am interpreting this second correctly, it means that the military does not provide aid or childcare for families with two parents deployed overseas. That is completely absurd. To have to rely entirely on the kindness of relatives or friends, for an unspecified amount of time? Really? That is unreasonable.

Yet another example of the army's subtle discrimination policies against women, those that keep them from enlisting, advancing, etc.

Harry Potter and the Lamesauce Ending


Ross Douthat of the Atlantic online (and greatest last name ever) explains why the last Harry Potter was pretty lame. He argues (and I agree) that Rowling took a lot of cop-outs, and hinted at complexities that might have made it a more interesting book.

In my personal opinion, Harry should have bought it when Voldemort killed him, not some stupid almost-death. Neville should have then killed Nagini AND Voldemort, in a nice ironic twist, showing that it was the prophesy that made Harry great, and that it could just as easily have been about Neville. After all, isn't the whole point that Harry isn't the greatest wizard? Just brave with good friends?

On Education, again

This concept fascinates me: according to NYTimes, College of the Ozarks has students work off their college tuition so that they can graduate debt-free or nearly so. Tuition is $15,900 per year, and all students must work 15 hours a week, so they earn about $12,000 a year, all of which goes towards their tuition.

I've been thinking about this issue a lot lately, mostly vis a vis grad schools. I have no interest in going $100k or so into debt, especially if the degree will not help me to gain a large enough salary increase to pay it back. You can't really work enough hours while attending school fulltime to pay it off. But you used to be able to. CJ's father worked his way through a (top-10) law school in a factory. I know people who waited tables, or did other minimum wage labor in order to pay for school.

But you can't anymore. Why? In part, at least, because minimum wage, while never very much, is, adjusted for inflation, lower than it used to be. Or at the very least, not increasing proportionately. There's been a great deal of research on how minimum-wage workers can't get by, for instance Nickle and Dimed, and that episode of 30 days with Morgan Spurlock and his girlfriend working for a fast food place.

The cost of college has risen disproportionate to inflation, at something like three times the regular rate. Add to that the recent college loan scandals, and we're in a real mess. The answer? Either serious education reform*, loan reform, minimum wage reform, or all of the above.

*Like encouraging more students to go to technical schools. The United States has an amazing Community College/Technical School system, and we don't do a great job of encouraging kids into those fields, or helping them to decide what fields they could succeed in.

You Are So Beautiful... To Me

I knew that the New York Times would out me eventually:

Harley Woos Female Bikers

(Hat tip: Mrs. Autodidact)


According to WashPo BET decided to rename its show "Hot Ghetto Mess" before tonight's debut.

I'm only surprised that it took this long.

Rockin' Rabbis

There's an odd kind of dissonance when you see one of your favorite professors from seminary on YouTube. Add to that the uncomfortable feeling that he may, in fact, be marginally cooler than you are. Marginally. But still cooler.

Rock out, Robbie!

Now that I think of it, maybe I need to reassess my ideation of what constitutes "cool."

Speaking of Education...

Today Jacob da Jew posted a defense of Touro College, his alma mater. He calls out two bloggers for "besmirching the name" of Touro without giving it, its full due.

Now I'm generally all for the benefit of the doubt, but unfortunately in this case, it is quite hard to manage. 10 individuals affiliated with Touro have been implicated in a cash-for-grades scandal. Now it is clear that not every student or employee is involved, and that, in fact, it was limited to a small minority of the population. But here's the issue, as reported by Adam Lawson of Modern Tribalist: "With the scope of a dollars-for-degrees scandal at Touro College widening, students are wondering if their diplomas might become worthless ."

The problem is that a university grants degrees, and by doing so it is certifying that the degree holder has fulfilled the necessary requirements. That is all a university has, a guarantee, so when it becomes clear that, that guarantee is untrustworthy, then all students, even those not involved, are subject to suspicion. If the university cannot be trusted to accurately report grades, or attendance, about what else can it not be trusted?

Tzvee's response to the scandal is the one that I have the most trouble with. He says "Remember the Hebrew National ads, "We answer to a Higher Authority"? I guess Touro College does not..." While it is mild by comparison to that of Failed Messiah or DK, both of whom use the scandal as a jumping off point to critique Touro as a whole. Although, to be fair, Failed Messiah lets the critique be implied in this case, he does however mention that, according to the Manhattan district attorney "hundreds, maybe even thousands, of transcripts may have been fabricated or altered."

But don't worry, a commenter on Yeshiva World News' coverage of the story says that "My nephew the lawyer tells me that the alleged scandal involves the Kings Highway division which is not the one used by the frum oilam. Just passing it on." As if that makes a difference how the school is perceived. Although, to Jews, maybe it does.

Mostly I'm just sad about this scandal. It means that many hard-working people, who, for whatever reason, chose to attend Touro, now have degrees that are worth less than they expected.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

These People Are Awful (HP7 Spoilers)

Tisha B'Av

I get stupid when I'm fasting (although not too hungry, so it isn't so bad from a meditation/prayer standpoint), so not so much blogging today. Also I'm not really sure how I feel about blogging today.

At any rate, I heard Eicha read last night, and it was pretty bad. The guys doing the reading didn't read loudly or clearly enough, and worst of all, from my standpoint, was the fact that they did it tonelessly. The trope used for Eicha is sad and haunting, and really sets the tone for the day. Between that and the Rabbi's assertion that this generation "doesn't feel anything" I left davening more in the mood to make snarky comments than mourn the temple.

If only I was back at camp, and standing outside watching the word "zachor" (remember) burn until it went out. Even reading by the light of candles/flashlights, or a single sad song (like Keli Tzion) might have helped. Or not being told that I don't have any feelings, and that I should cry for some guy with cancer. Yeah, synagogue was a bust for me last night.

Monday, July 23, 2007

What's better than Fred Astaire faking a Russian accent?


MO Schooling MO Problems

There's been much discussion about Noah Feldman's article in the New York Times over the weekend. Feeling vaguely left out, Annie and I joined in the fray (nothing will make you concise when blogging when you have lots and lots of deadlines breathing down your neck.):

Annie: You don't send your kids to Jewish day school to make them marry Jews, you send them to day school to teach them Jewish content: Talmud, Bible, Hebrew, maybe even some Aramaic. By any metric, Noah is a success: he is a well-respected academic, clearly not lost to the Jewish community and knowledgeable about Jewish texts. There are other aspects to sending your kids to a day school: different ideas about how to study texts often correlate to different practices (such as for modesty, kashrut, etc), but the straight up goal of sending your kid to day school is for the education. You send them to certain schools because they fit with your beliefs and lifestyle, but it is your responsibility as a parent to reinforce them at home.
Harley: [Playing devil’s advocate] Does Jewish education begin and end with Jewish texts? Wouldn't many argue that it's also as much about what happens between classes? You did mention, when we discussed this article earlier, that a private school has a right to make whatever policies it deems appropriate.
Annie: Vis a vis admission and during the school year
Harley: Surely, an Orthodox school, then, has a right to make policy that affects how it portrays alumni.
Annie: It just seems silly and bitter to cut him out of the picture
Harley: But consonant with their goals. Edogamy is a central Jewish value to them
Annie: Would they have done so if she'd been white and non-Jewish?
Harley: That's an extremely important question that we discussed earlier when I asked if they knew she wasn’t Jewish or assumed it because of her ethnicity.
Annie: [I think the fact] that it's all about appearances is silly. They don't actually reach out to him to encourage his wife to convert. They just pretend he never went to school there. That is an absurd policy. They can do what they want, but it isn't in their best interests. Are they going to cut out gay kids too? How about kids that don't keep strictly kosher? We are none of us done with our lives. It seems silly to cut someone off at this point
Harley: To be fair to everyone [ha! Irony!], they'll have to cut out anyone who doesn't overtly jive with their ideals. You know that it's more about what you appear to be doing than what you do (e.g., lined stockings to demonstrate that you are wearing stockings). I don't mean that it's about hypocrisy, but from their vantage point, it's about community solidarity. He's overtly transgressing with someone who can't pass, which goes back to the first part of our discussion and makes the racism overt.
Annie: I think that they still wouldn't have announced the marriage in their bulletins
Harley: : I wasn't suggesting they would. Would this be an issue if she had been dressed in a traditional orthodox manner?
Annie: The picture clearly has a race element, but yes, I think that if they were married, and she was wearing a sheitel or scarf,then she'd be in.
Harley: They were dating, though, so it's beside the point.
Annie: That is why this is so silly. what about couples that are touching (pre-marriage) are they in the picture? That's a clear transgression. The responses [on other blogs] clearly assume that by marrying a non-Jew he is totally and completely abandoning his Jewish heritage. I disagree. We each have our own lines in the sand of what we observe, don't observe, feel, believe, etc.
Harley: As you know, I agree with you about whether or not he's abandoning his Jewish heritage, but you cannot argue that the school isn't making a slew of determinations about what's appropriate within their walls that fall within the realm of family/personal observance choices, such as shomer negiah and sniut. Th alumni newsletter is another facet of something being in their school;it's an extension. I don't think they were right, but I also think exogamy is wrong and I don't agree with the tenets of orthodoxy, so...
Annie: M point isn't that it was incompatible with their beliefs, but with the responses. I think that Maimo can print whatever they want. I think that it is silly, and actually counterproductive, but their right. I'm instead disagreeing with the responses of people who say that he "failed" as a product of an Modern Orthodox school, either by outmarrying, or by not keeping kosher or abandoning Judaism, or whatever.
Harley: Ah, I got it. Then I'm playing devil's advocate past you. It it goes back to the question of what the purpose of Jewish day school is: is it having Jewish knowledge? Jewish content? Both? Is Jewish knowledge meaningful without the content. I say yes, of course, but I'm guessing these people would disagree and say that a successful pupil is one that knows and practices
Annie: But he might practice. Maybe they keep taharat ha mishpacha*. In the era of concubinage, marrying a non-Jew was less problematic, as long as she doesn't worship idols in their home. Maybe he keeps kosher and Shabbat and davens three times a day. Judaism can still provide the backbone of your life
Harley: The Autodidact (who also sent me a link to this article) had a really good comment on Noah’s article. He said (paraphrasing here) that most of the point of the article rings true, even if some of his arguments are sloppy (re: fundamentalism and how he connects Modern Orthodoxy to Baruch Goldstein), but what angered him the most was “this total disregard for liberal religion." In reference to the Emes Ve-Emunah blog, it's absurd to talk about a Jew "lost to Judaism," but that thinking is endemic to the endogamy discussion, which is a huge factor in Jews disengaging in Jewish life
Annie: Yeah, you can say that he's no longer Modern Orthodox, so if the school exists to indoctrinate kids into Modern Orthodoxy, then yeah, it failed. But if it exists to teach kids the Modern Orthodox hashkafa* so that they then have the tools to live in the modern world, it did fine. CJ and I hold hands, and I have a belly ring, and my Rav still talks to me on a regular basis. CJ even spent a summer trying unkosher meat, to see what it was like. We're still in the fold. If I got a tattoo, would I be "out?"
Harley: Think of the discussion that I've been having with Prettyboy about conversion. It would make sense in terms of raising our kids with Jewish ritual, if I chose that. I like the idea of him learning Judaism and being conversant in it, so if we do have a kid, he can help pass what I think are some good traditions and interesting history on to our kid (if we have one), but I'm totally uncomfortable with the idea that he has to convert for us to be acceptable and for our kids not to be mamzerim, apparently. That's huge and disturbing and enough to turn me off of the idea entirely, not to mention the community. As I said to my mom earlier today, the reasons for [Prettyboy] not to convert are mostly that I'm really uncomfortable with the idea of him taking on this identity when I don't think it should be necessary for us to marry and raise Jewish children (if we decide to have them).
Annie: I'd accept you. I'd even let my kids marry your kids if they wanted to, but that's because I'm pretty liberal and accept other types of Judaism as not only viable, but authentic; but I think that I'm actually not Modern Orthodox. I'm my own denomination. Let's call it "Jewish" and leave it there

*Taharat ha Mishpacha are the laws of family purity and refer to the laws governing sexual relations between two married people.

*Hashkafa are your personal beliefs and observances

Jews Love: Harry Potter

Except in Israel, which, as we all know by now, had some issues with the release date. You know, because it desecrated the holy sabbath.

I would like it to be known that I refrained from opening/reading my copy until the end of the holy sabbath. For reals, yo.

And now, the round-up (done quickly because I am super tired):

Jack liked the book, but didn't love it.

Pedant found it anti-climactic.

CK of Jewlicious reported on the Israel/release issue, and its coverage by Gawker (which I have been boycotting for a few months now, due to the increase in offensive content, and decrease in amusement value).

And, if only to make DK crazy, Rabbi Jack Abramowitz of NCSY has appropriated Harry Potter as a series that contains many Jewish values.

That last reminds me of a class I took in High School, it was "Biblical Themes in Film." Basically we watched a number of movies, and then the principal's wife (who served no other useful purpose in the school, as far as I can tell) stretched plot points and "symbols" to make them relevant to the New Testament.

Case in point: the movie Nell. Seriously? A woman who has lived alone in the woods after being raised by a woman with a stroke, and as a result cannot speak so well. What does this have to do with Christ? Nothing I could tell. Needless to say, I, and my other non-Christian classmate (Muhammed. No joke, that's his name.) objected to some of the theories. I did not do so awesomely in that class.

Apologies for the lack of Microsoft paint edited images of Harry Potter, but it's been done already. Both Jewschool and Jewlicious have images of Potter wearing a kippah, and anything more creative than that is really beyond me.

Every Book Should be Annotated

No, for real. I just finished reading The Annotated Pride and Prejudice (by Jane Austen, edited by David M Shapard) and it was awesome.

There is text on one page, and notes on the facing page. The notes are: "Explanations of historical context, Citations from Austen’s life, letters, and other writings, Definitions and clarifications, Literary comments and analyses, Maps and illustrations of places and objects mentioned in the novel, An introduction, a bibliography, and a detailed chronology of events."

Basically it was awesome. If I hadn't read the book before it might have been a bit distracting, but as I am familiar with the story it was terrific. I know so much more about Jane Austen, her life, and times than I did before.

"Dumb Laws?"

AM New York had a piece this morning about NY's "dumb laws." While I agree that there are many stupid laws out there (like the ones that prohibit swearing in front of women, or using donkeys on Sunday) many of these seemed to have a purpose. To wit:

"Dumb laws in New York City that have been passed (some have been repealed):

* A law restricting homeowners and storekeepers from using a hose to clean the sidewalk (these hoses can cause a slippery walkway, get pedestrians wet, and don't really "clean" the sidewalk, they just move the dirt into the street)

* A law requiring property owners to be responsible for keeping the street clean up to 18 inches in front of the curb in front of their property (in this case, clean probably means free of business-related debris. You know, to keep them from just discarding garbage out front, and obstructing the walkway.)

* A law requiring bars to obtain a license for a second pool table (this just seems like a way to raise revenue)

* A law requiring taverns to post 'no spitting' signs (part of a bygone era. But as anyone who has lived in an Asian city can testify, those people who do spit in public make it super-gross.)

* A law forbidding putting on puppet shows in windows (again, this could be to keep them from blocking the street, or to save children from poorly performed theater.)"

There are a couple other examples in the article, but most of them seemed to have a purpose. Yeah, it is probably annoying to obey them, but most are well-intentioned. The only one that really ticked me off is that the following was categorized as a "dumb" law:

"establish stiff fines for defacing U.S. flags on private property that are on par with those reserved for hate crimes against religious institutions."

What is the problem with that? Seriously? If someone were to deface the American flag outside my house it would feel invasive, offensive, and in general just upsetting. Any person who does such a thing is not only committing an act of vandalism, but is making a statement about my right to free speech.

Long story short? AM New York is dumb.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Since U Been Gone

Sorry for the long absence. I took 3 days off from work (to use up my vacation before moving to a new job), and managed to schedule them so that CJ did too. We basically spent the last three days playing in the city.

Things we did (mostly not so nine days appropriate, but I comforted myself with the fact that it was bittersweet, since I will never have time off again):

1) visited the Natural History Museum. The Butterfly Exhibit was closed, which sucked, and the Mythic Creatures "exhibit" is actually just a movie. That you have to pay extra for. LAME. We only went because it was too rainy to go to the Zoo.

2) visited Coney Island to walk the boardwalk, see the Cyclone (CJ hates roller coasters so we didn't actually ride it), and basically enjoy all of the seedy, run-down glory of yesteryear. It is a super-bizarre place, but the beach was beautiful (even if we didn't go in the water) and the aquarium was a lot of fun. Also fun? Watching CJ at the aquarium. He has two types of reaction to fish/aquatic animals:
a) Oooh, I would like to catch you and eat you, you are so delicious (he is a fisherman. Seriously. He has some major fishing poles). This was mostly said to snapper and groupers.
b) Look at how cool/beautiful/manueverable that thing is!

We spent about half an hour staring at the walruses (walrusi?), sadly none of them had a bucket. And I had to tear him away from the penguins. I actually thought that we were going to stand there watching that penguin hop from rock to rock for the rest of our natural lives.

3) Saw the Harry Potter movie. It was basically a mess. Beautifully shot, but super choppy, and missing CJ's favorite part of the book: when a brain attacks one of the death eaters. I am now impatiently waiting for 7 to come out so that my roommate can read it, and then I can steal it from her/one of my other friends. If anyone ruins it for me, I will kill them. No joke. I will actually kill them.

A Little Food Blogging

I was supposed to have a dinner date with my chevrusa*, so I made dinner. It's the nine days, and there is a paucity of good kosher vegetarian food, so it seemed the best option. Long story short, she didn't show up (due to a miscommunication with her mother), but I still made the dinner.

Vichyssoise (which always makes me think of the Vichy regime. Much tastier though):

Potato Leek Soup (Vichyssoise)
Recipe Courtesy of Cathy Lowe
I halved this recipe, and it turned out great. Thank G-d for immersion blenders.

3 tablespoons butter
3 cups leeks, sliced and washed
4 cups potatoes, peeled and diced
1 clove of garlic, diced
Salt and pepper
8 cups water
2 cup heavy cream (I used light cream, but you could also use whole milk)

In large pot melt butter. Add leeks (and garlic) and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Add potatoes and season with salt and pepper. Add water and bring to a simmer. Cook until vegetables are tender. Place 3/4 of soup into a blender and puree (or use an immersion blender, less mess and much easier), return to pot and stir in cream. Serve hot or cold.

I also made a salad Nicoise (it was "soise" night), and garlic bread. Since my chevrusa never showed, the roommate and I had a romantic dinner together. Mmm romance.

*a chevrusa is a learning partner, usually you study Jewish texts together.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Back, But Busy

Hey everyone!

I missed you a lot and I'll tell you all about my vacation, as I'm sure you're dying to know. But first, I have ten bazillion things to catch up on at work. Today: work! Tomorrow: blogging!


Absurdity of The Day

My younger brother and I don't really have a great relationship. He's going through what I call his "a**hole" phase.

Case in point? I called him to ask if he'd call our older brother to wish him a mazal tov on his engagement. This was the conversation:

Me: Hey kiddo, Pedant just got engaged. Can you give him a call to wish him a mazal tov?
Baby Brother: I'm really hung over (NB: this call was made at 10pm).
Me: Really? Now?
BB: Yeah, it's founders' day at my school. Can't I just send him a text message?
Me: NO! Seriously? Just give him a call.

He did eventually call. And then called back two hours later to ask if Pedant wanted to buy any magazine subscriptions for the fraternity fundraiser. Sweet.

At any rate, while cruising facebook, I found that my baby brother has added the 'top friends' function. It is very much like the section on MySpace where you list your top 5-10 friends. Lo, and behold, I have made it into his top 18 friends. I could not be more surprised.

Guess all my offers to help on papers/study for exams haven't gone awry after all.

In case you were wondering:

Leah Kauffman sang "Obama Girl" but the model in the video is Amber Lee Ettinger.

And according to WaPo there is a new "beef" video between Obama girl and Giuliani girl. Here's the trailer:

Shabbat Anecdote

One of my friends (and regular Shabbat guests) went out for drinks (with his coworkers) after work before coming to my Shabbat dinner.

He arrived a) drunk, b) with his shirt inside out, and c) bearing a chocolate babka.

It was basically amazing.

Know Your Jewish Community: The Nine Days

The nine days are the days between the beginning of the month of Av, and the date when the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed.

I read an interesting piece in the shul bulletin this past Shabbat. It said that usually, Jewish mourning rituals go from more intense to less, the funeral, the seven days of shiva (stay in the house, no laundry, etc), then the 30 days of shloshim (no live music, no parties, no shaving), and the eleven months of saying kaddish (the Jewish prayer for the deceased). However, in the case of mourning for the temple in Jerusalem our mourning gets more and more intense. We start with the three weeks, then the nine days (where eating meat is forbidden, as is listening to live music, laundry, bathing for pleasure), and then the 9th of Av (which is a fast day).

I observe the nine days pretty stringently. I don't eat meat, I don't do laundry, listen to live music (or any music for that matter), or swim (that sucked when I was at camp). One of the other observances is to "refrain from purchasing anything that lifts your spirits." Ben-Yehudah of Esser Agaroth suggests that this means that we shouldn't buy the Harry Potter book until after the 9 days. Which sucks.

JoeSettler posts on the Muqata blog suggesting that a good 9 days activity is to attend the Cohanim and Leviim conference in Israel. Sadly, I am neither. A Mother in Israel has a "kosher cooking carnival" of foods that are permissable (read: not meat) during the nine days. Reb Barry Leff suggests that if you live in Israel, now is a good time to go out to your favorite meat restaurants, as they will be mostly empty. While I get what he's saying, I don't really know of anyone who keeps strictly kosher but eats meat during the nine days. Also, don't most meat restaurants change their menus and charge absurd prices? (Ahem, Estihana)

At any rate, there are a lot of blog posts about biblical stuff relating to the 1st of Av (like when Ezra arrived in Jerusalem from the Babylonian exile) or the torah readings for this week (courtesy of DownHome Davar Torah), but I woke up feeling like I got hit by a train, so I'll let you find them yourself.

Friday, July 13, 2007

What to do when a friendship is over?

I have a "good" friend that I've known for years. We became friends at camp, re-connected at college, and have been fairly close. The problem is that for a long time, she hasn't been a good friend to me.

When we were in college, she told a number of people (really everyone of our acquaintance) that I'm not friendly. That's not actually true. I'm very friendly, I'll chat with anyone, and I try very hard to be civil on all occasions. However, just because I enjoy someone's company, does not mean that I consider them a friend. At any rate, I found this to be a very unpleasant experience, especially when people began to repeat it back to me. "Oh, I'm so surprised that you're nice, I heard that you weren't friendly."

This woman is also awful at listening. When we have one of our (infrequent) phone conversations, she never wants to listen to what I have to say, instead she insists on talking about her significant other, their problems, etc. She wants me to tell her that she's doing the right thing always, and refuses to hear any other advice. The reason that our phone calls are infrequent is that directly after college she moved to another city; for the first few months I called her regularly, and found that while she was happy to chat, she never called me/inquired about me. So I stopped.

Fast forward a bit, and now she's moving back to NYC. She hasn't really kept in touch with any of her friends, so she feels a bit cut adrift, and is now trying to rely on me for social opportunities. I haven't been so helpful. However, she basically invited herself to one of my Shabbat meals, and I couldn't get out of it.

What do I do? I don't enjoy spending time with her, I find her selfish and immature, and I hate her boyfriend. The upstairs neighbor suggested that I'm being "wenchy" for not just telling her that I don't like her anymore. But that seems unnecessarily cruel, when really I've just outgrown her.

I was phasing her out, but now that she's back in New York she's clinging to me like lichen. Do I just suck it up and see her occasionally? Or do I say something?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

This is Magic

This guy has a blog called "That's my girl, asshole" where he responds to craigslist missed connections with that basic phrase.

He might be my hero. At any rate, it's a new productivity assassin... enjoy!

The Censored Eleven

I just saw this for the first time (thanks Slate) and I was totally flabbergasted. After reading some of the reader commentary it seemed pretty clear that this cartoon (Coal Black and the Sebben Dwarves) was entirely racist.

But then I read the wikipedia article. It made a couple points of which I was unaware, which really put the cartoon into perspective:

1)It was made during wartime, and not for children (aka it was propaganda). This explains why the queen is hording coffee and sugar and tires, the anti-Japanese comment, and all of the army references.

2)Duke Ellington was one of the people who suggested an all-black musical cartoon to Bob Clampett and co.

3) It was one of the first cartoons to have black cast and crew involved in the creation. Dorothy Dandridge's mother and sister (popular radio actresses) voiced some characters.

4) The use of extreme stereotyping and absurdity is a common staple in cartoons. Think back to any Disney movie you've ever watched. Generally the male and female lead look pretty normal (if attractive). The supporting characters are often either ridiculously tall or short, or fat or thing, or strangely colored. So on and so forth. Bob Clampett used "darky iconography" a popular visual vernacular of the time, in the place of another extreme.

For the record, while I'm not saying that it isn't racist (it clearly is), but that it's clearly a product of its time, and within that context it is fascinating. It's a great historical document, in addition to being a great cartoon. By great I am referring to the direction, music, and skill of imagery, rather than the content itself.

If it were about Jews, would I be offended? Yeah. And that might hurt my ability to objectively judge the quality of the cartoon, or its historical importance. But that doesn't mean that it is valueless. Plenty of things offend me that have great value.

If you want another view of this, read Milton Gray's essay on the topic. He deconstructs the cartoon and gives some interesting background information.

Best Advice-Seeker EVER

From Margo Howard (daughter of Ann Landers):


I recently turned to the Christian religion out of a need to find solace, comfort and recovery from my past. It has helped me in more ways than I can count, more than any therapy or counseling, and I have come to take it quite seriously. The problem is my husband. I was once a stripper and call girl, plus I drank heavily, and ironically those were the very things he loved about me. Of course he loved me as a person, but because of my newfound convictions, I informed him that I would no longer engage in pornography, heavy drinking and partying with our friends.

I know this was a shock and a hurt to him, and he doesn't know where to go with it. (My conversion has not affected my desire for true intimacy or enjoying it with him.) Lately he has become hostile and makes fun of me, and encourages our friends to do so. He claims that I have been brainwashed and am no fun anymore. I guess I can see why.
We have been married 10 years and have no children, and I had hoped to have them soon, but if it looks like a divorce is in the cards, obviously, we shouldn't. I have also had to find another job, as my associates have not been able to handle "what has come over me." Though I am not ashamed, I want to leave it behind. My main concern is that I may have to leave my husband behind, also.



Actually, I think you do know what to do. The problem is that your husband married a stripper and call girl, and that person is no longer around. I think your new choices are commendable and will bring you a satisfying future (with someone who is not looking for a stripper and call girl).

It's a good thing Florida is a no-fault state when it comes to divorce, because naming Jesus as a co-respondent might have been a first.


I want to buy a hat

Not just any hat, but a specific one.

I met a friend for dinner last night, and since he works later than I do, I wandered around for a bit until it was time to take the subway (this was pre-Typhoon last night). During my meanderings I found a really cute hat. An inexpensive, really cute hat. I tried it on, and it looked terrific.

So, what's the problem? Hats are a loaded symbol in observant Judaism. Many women cover their hair after marriage, and choose to do so with hats or scarves or wigs (I will NOT be wearing a wig, I agree with Rabbi Riskin on this one). As a result of this, many young woman avoid wearing hats, because it might lead people to mistakenly assume that they are married (and what if you meet your soulmate, but you're wearing a hat, and he thinks that you're taken? You totally missed your chance. That was it, now you'll die alone.) Same thing with broad headbands (often used to secure wigs).

Also, it sends the statement "I am preparing for marriage." As in "I will get married soon, so I better stock up on hats."

So, to recap, I can't buy a cute hat because a) it might make people think that I'm married, or b) it'll freak out my boyfriend*.


* One of my soon-to-be-married friends offered to let me store hats at her house until the time comes.

Know Your Jewish Community: Grieving

Recently a number of people who have written in to Ask Amy (their first mistake) about grief etiquette. You see, they have lost someone, and some of their friends/family haven't said anything to them at all, or acknowledged the loss.

Amy says: "People don't intend to wound you or make your loss more difficult through their inaction. They're just doing what people do best: nothing."

I agree with her first point, that the people don't intend to hurt the mourner, but I firmly disagree with the second. I know (from personal experience) that often when someone makes an overture to a mourner the conversation ends up being about the overture maker. They want the mourner to acknowledge their grief, or to comfort them, or a million other things. Other people say nothing because they don't know what to say, or because they don't want to impose themselves on the mourner.

I fully support this last course of action. I'm fairly private about my emotions (blog notwithstanding), I don't like to show them in public, because I think that it shows a lack of control. I also don't like to be touched, so those hugs that some people think are helpful, really make uncomfortable. And I'm sure that I'm not the only one that feels this way. I'd rather be seen as cold than intrusive.

At any rate, I think that Judaism backs me up on this one. If you go to pay a shiva call*, you're supposed to wait until the mourner speaks to you, and then to let them take charge of the conversation. One of the worst things to do is to force them to talk about "their feelings." You can support them in other ways, by bringing food, so that they don't have to cook, by running their errands, or in some cases in-kind donations of labor or services.

I understand that this poor woman from Ask Amy has lost a great deal in the last few years, and that she is lonely and in need of support, but she should ask for it, as no one is a mind reader. And instead of assuming that the friends are lazy or careless, maybe that they are trying to give her some space and let her direct the relationship to fit her needs.

*Shiva call, during the first seven days after a funeral, the immediate family sits "shiva" (meaning seven) in a house. They don't leave, and the community is responsible for providing services for them (such as bringing food, providing enough people for a prayer quorum so that the mourners can recite the mourners' prayer) and visiting during this time. It is part of the very structured grief rituals of Judaism, which start with the funeral and go on for an entire year. Each designed to help the mourner re-acclimate to society, while recognizing their grief and loss.

One Year Later

They're still missing.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Know Your Jewish Community: Jewish Mothers

This post was sparked by one by Carolyn of Juggling Frogs, who talked about the idea of the "supermom." She links to A Mother in Israel's post on "The Truth about the Jewish Superwoman," which looked a little bit to me like a modern version of Eishet Chayil*.

Modern Jewish Mom is a website whose aim is to provide a space for modern Jewish women to talk about the issues in their lives, read articles and discuss. It's pretty cute, and much better designed than some of the new Jewish social networking stuff (ahem Jmerica).

On the standard mommyblogging side there is YoYenta, whose writing I generally find pretty interesting, and whose tags are pretty hilarious. Orieyenta, although not technically a mommyblogger, talks about her adorable daughter LO on a regular basis. For the record, if I had a kid that cute, I'd totally write about her all the time too.

Several other bloggers, while they talk about being a mother, it isn't the biggest part of their blog. For instance Alla Staroseletskaya of Cooking with Yiddishe Mama has a nice mixture of recipes. And probably something else, but I can't read Cyrillic.

I was going to flesh this out some more, but I've had a busy day, so I'll have to let it go.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Posted by Request

Blood and Platelet Donors Needed Posted by Farell Diamond

In April, Toby Pannone, a wonderful, smart, engaged 3 1/2 year old boy was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a very rare pediatric cancer. He is in the midst of a very long, grueling treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. He has just finished his fourth cycle of chemotherapy, and he had surgery at the end of June to remove his tumor. After his sixth cycle of chemo, he will move on to another phase of treatment which includes regular, painful injections and blood and platelet transfusions. The total length of his treatment will be at least 18 months.

Toby is a great kid. He tells jokes, loves trains of all sorts, adores riding the subway, has a great mischievous smile. He has approached every moment of his ordeal with grace and bravery - rarely complaining, finding amazing ways of playing, making connections and surviving what he is being asked to deal with. He chats with his doctors and nurses and loves the visits he has with his teachers, both at home and in the hospital. It's always important to remember that Toby is so much more than his disease.

Donating blood and platelets is perhaps the most concrete way that most people can participate directly in helping to save Toby's life. For the next six months, he is likely to need 2-3 units of blood and the same amount of platelets per week. Donations must be done at Sloan Kettering (First ave between 67th and 68th sts). They will accept blood of any type, and the Donor Room is open seven days a week. They will provide free parking for donors at the garage at 66th and York. Donating blood takes about an hour, donating platelets takes about 2 1/2 hours. There are certain restrictions about who can give blood, based upon questions of living or traveling abroad to certain places, or low iron levels. Any donations that are not used by Toby will be put into the general blood supply in the hospital, often going to other pediatric patients.

More information can be found on eligibility at www.mskcc.org/blooddonations. To make an appointment to donate, call Mary Thomas at 212-639-3335 or the Donor Room at 212-639-7648. Make sure to tell the person who gives you the appointment that you are donating for Toby Pannone.

For more information about Toby go to Toby's blog: www.tobypannone.blogspot.com.

Thank you in advance for any help you can give Toby and his family.

Writing About Women

This morning I read David Brooks' op-ed in the NYTimes (entitled "The Lone Ranger") which analyzed three current pop songs by three young women. One by Carrie Underwood, Before He Cheats, U+UR Hand by Pink, and Girlfriend by Avril Lavigne.

He uses them as a case study of the new terrain of dating, which stretches from 13-30. He suggests that songs like this wouldn't have been made 30, or even 10 years ago. I don't know that I agree, I think that they might have been recorded, just not as "pop," instead they'd be "country" or "alternative." I have no proof for this though.

I also read an article in Jewish Woman Magazine. The cover has the ever-attractive Lisa Loeb (she looks about 15), and a list of main articles, the first of which is "Bathing Suit Anxiety." I have to admit that I was prejudiced even before I picked up the magazine. While I by no means have a "perfect" body, I have no bathing suit anxiety. Trying them on doesn't make me anxious, nor cause me to question my sense of self. I love that racing suits have sizes whose numbers are essentially meaningless (I'm a 34 in speedo. 34 what? Who knows?), and for bikinis/tankinis/etc I have to use my bra size. There aren't really any major surprises.

I kind of think that anyone who is shocked by bathing suit shopping needs a strong dose of reality. Have you never seen yourself naked? Or in your underwear? That is basically how you look in a swimsuit. I can understand being stressed about wearing one in public, but it's been many years since I wore just a swimsuit. I almost always have basketball shorts or a t-shirt over it. Often both. I don't have an issue with this, and honestly, I don't think anyone else cares either.

Wendy Shanker, one of the authors who was interviewed for the piece said basically the same thing: "Ask yourself this question: If I do what I really want to do, which is take off my shirt and go swimming, how is that going to affect the lives of people who might be watching? It’s our dumb narcissism to believe that all these people are analyzing us."

The article is essentially a self-help, or how-to of bathing suit shopping, filled with lines like "go with a supportive partner." Good lord, I don't want a "supportive" partner, I want an honest one. A friend who will say "that is heinous, VETO." The piece has a number of pull quotes from bathing suit designers/retailers who basically say, "try lots of different swimsuits, everyone is built differently." Really? Are women this stupid? I think that every woman knows that certain styles of clothing flatter her, and certain ones don't. Why would it be different with bathing suits? Do our brains fall out of our heads as soon as we enter the dressing room?

Then again, what did I expect from a magazine whose cover articles ranged from "the history of cheesecake" to "the Holocaust's legacy of meaning?"

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Running Through My Mind

Two observations about going running:

1) I have awful asthma. I mean really awful. It's an actual handicap, I have to work much harder to maintain a jog than someone without asthma. Add to that the awful air quality and heat of this week, and I'm working really hard to go not very fast. Even knowing this it still stung when a guy who was, at the youngest, 70, lapped me. Ouch.

2) A more Jewish-themed issue. So, I wear shorts to work out in the summer. In this heat I can't make myself put on my sweats, no matter how much it might sanctify me in the eyes of G-d. Since I've made the decision to wear knee-length skirts (instead of full-length) I'll wear knee-length loose shorts, for the sake of modesty. But here's the rub: the shorts are actually men's clothing, from the men's section.

When I started wearing pants again (instead of just skirts) I rationalized it, saying that I was wearing women's pants, so it wasn't beged ish, men's clothing. Clearly no man would want to wear low-rise, flared pants, that I was buying clothing specifically designed and manufactured for women. Unfortunately, in the athletic apparel department the items for summer are a) short, b)tight, or c) both. As a result, to preserve my modesty, I have to buy men's basketball shorts (and by "buy" I mean "steal from my brother's closets"). So I'm breaking one rule to preserve another.

I'm not going to stop running, or start wearing skirts to run (that was an ill-fated experiment), and it is too hot to run in pants (unless I want heat stroke. Again.) so I'm not sure I see a way around this.

As this is a minor theological crisis, I should probably call Tamar.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Mikveh Revisited

I have pretty radical views about mikveh* and the laws of family purity. I was in the car coming back from a sheva brachot* and we began to discuss the prevalence, or not, of the observance of the laws of family purity on the part of the Modern Orthodox.

I voiced my belief that women should start going to the mikveh when they first get their period. I understand that this screws with shmirat negiah*, and causes some other issues, but here's my reasoning:

1) Men have a coming-of-age ritual. Instead of co-opting theirs, or maybe in addition to, women should have their own. After all, girls get bat mitzvahed at 12 generally, in a nod to the fact that a) their fathers can no longer sell them, and b) they physically mature faster than boys.

2) Marriage is a random time to take on a new mitzvah. Your life is already changing a lot. We, or at least I, am able to keep rituals because they become, well ritual. I'm used to them, I don't see them as disruptive. If you start younger, at a more natural point (when the possibility for keeping the mitzvah starts) you are more likely to integrate it into your life, and keep doing it.

3) By explicitly tying mikveh to sexuality and marriage (which I understand that it is, really) it comes with all sorts of baggage about being "dirty" and "male oppression" and many other issues. If we can separate mikveh into two distinct parts, one being about coming of age and womanhood, and the other being about sexuality, I think that it would be easier for the modern woman to observe, or be comfortable with observing.

This brings me to my nex point. David Kelsey, of blog-crush fame, posted on Jewschool about the issue of bnei niddah*. Basically saying that people who become more religiously observant should be told that as their mothers did not (presumably) observe the laws of family purity, that they are considered unclean, or unmarriageable. This explains, in part, some of my popularity during my brief foray into frumster.

At any rate, I'm pretty sure that I heard the following at a shiur* a year or so ago, and I'd like to know if that is my crazy imagination, or if I really heard it. Amit seems to think that it's my crazy imagination, but I'd like a second opinion:

Some sources hold that a shower can be considered in place of mikveh for women who do not observe the laws. It isn't permissible to observe in this way, but it is acceptable b'di eved*. This would mean that really very few people are bnei niddah*.

*Mikveh is the ritual bath, there are a number of restrictions on what qualifies. According to the laws of family purity, a woman must immerse herself in the mikveh seven days after her period has finished before she can resume relations with her husband.

*Sheva brachot is Hebrew for seven blessings and refers to the seven days after a couple is married, during which time friends and family hold celebrations for them, and at each of these gatherings the seven blessings are recited.

*Shmirat negiah, to observe the touch, meaning observance of the laws governing physical relations between men and women. Practically means not touching any non-related member of the opposite sex. Except one's spouse.

*B'di Eved is a Talmudic term, meaning that while an action isn't acceptable if you set out to do it, it is an acceptable alternative if it has already happened. For instance, it is preferable to keep meat and milk separate, but if you drop some meat (less than 1/60th of the total) into a boiling pot of milk product, you can still eat it. That doesn't mean that you should go around adding in 1/60th meat to everything, just that if you mess it up, it is ok.

*B'nei niddah, children who were concieved by parents who did not observe the laws of family purity.

An Open Letter: Gossip Rags

Dear Gossip Rags (superficial, go fug yourself, etc),

please stop using "paps" as an abbreviation for papparazzi. I realize in the former case that it is actually Britney Spears who used the abbreviation, but still. Do you know what pap means? Either "something resembling a teat or nipple," or "soft or liquid food," or "a material lacking substance."

At any rate, I keep thinking "pap smear," and that's just gross.

Please stop.


My Father is Hilarious

So when I was younger I lived in a very wealthy, but small Jewish community. At one point there was a rabbi search, and my father was on the synagogue's board during that time. This rabbi search was incredibly acrimonious with awful things being said about all of the board members. We even knew of board member's bosses receiving faxes about them saying libelous things. Really awful.

So, first of all, my father wasn't harassed because of a comment that I made (at the age of 12 or so) suggesting that he might work for the CIA. He doesn't. And never has. And really doesn't appreciate it when you suggest that he does. Secondly, a family with whom we had been very close prior to the search cut off all relations with us. At one point while walking to shul, my mother wished the woman a "good shabbes" and she just ignored us. Awful, right?

Ok, flash forward 7 years (or so). That family's eldest son is working for my father's company, and moving to the community where my family currently lives. My father has (graciously) offered to house this young man until he can find an apartment, as the move does not come with a moving allowance. This guy will be living with my parents for the foreseeable future. And for the record, he isn't even the cute son that continued to hang out with us after the break.

Why is my father doing this? So that he can either a) force the mother to acknowledge him, or b) show her that he is the better person.

Amazing. And FYI, my father isn't a spy. For reals. Seriously, he is the least spy-like person ever, and not so good at secret-keeping. I bought my mom a birthday present and told him to hide it until I got home, he instead delivered the package directly to her.

An Open Letter: Lululemon

Dear Lululemon Athletica,

I just passed your store in the Lincoln Square area, and was delighted to see that you were having a sale. This was exciting as I have just started jogging again, and am in desperate need of new running clothes. Specifically, new sports bras.

I went in to try some on, and before I say anything, I'd like to mention that I am a "traditionally built" Ashkenazi* woman (read: large-bosomed), so I have certain requirements in a sports bra. Like support. Unfortunately, you, lululemon, seem to be confused. You seem to think that sports bras work on proportional scale. This is not true. Just because a size is larger, and technically "fits" does not mean that it is useful to someone of that size.

For instance? I tried your "marathon" bra and laughed out loud. Any woman looking at it can tell that it will not provide the requisite support. It is a single piece of material, and only one layer of support. There is no mechanism to lift, or separate, it will necessarily give uniboob, and the only support provided is by means of strapping everything in.

Seriously? This is it?

Compare to your far superior "bounce breaker" which you did not have in my size. According to the site, the "marathon" bra provides maximum support. Really? Just look at the difference. The "bounce breaker" has an inner bra for extra support, mesh panels that separate different parts (and keep the bra from becoming a "two puppies, one bag" bra), and far less annoying straps. If by "support" you mean "covering as much of your chest as possible," then yes, the "marathon" is more supportive.

Basically, I have just discovered that while I may admire your style, you and I will never be friends. Sad for me.


*Ashkenazi Jews are Jews of Eastern European desecent.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Know Your Jewish Community: Wedding Shtick

I'm actually not so sure about the origins of this one. I'm pretty sure that wedding shtick has its basis in the mitzvah to make a bride happy on her wedding day. The actual language is to "mesameach" the bride, which I think translates to "enhappy."

In the name of "enhappying" the bride (and groom) their friends dress up/ do foolish things, usually inside joke related. This also serves the purpose of letting the bride and groom sit down in between sessions of dancing, which are usually pretty athletic. Especially considering that the bride and groom have been fasting until about 5 minutes before dancing starts.

At any rate, I've seen some bizarre things, including guys dressed up as food (I think Aqua Teen Hunger Force, but the costumes were pretty bad, so: unclear), girls carrying those molecular models you get in chemistry class (the bride is a chem PhD), and a bridesmaid that looked like a matador. Oh wait, her dress was just unfortunate, it wasn't part of the "bull and bullfighter" dance that is prevalent, and incongruous (you know, the one where one person waves a napkin, and the other runs towards it with fingers on their head like horns?).

This video has an example of the bullfighter about 10 seconds in.

Instead of dancing, you could wave flaming nunchucks, like this guy. Also, if you look at the comments below, I like how one of the commenters seems to believe that flaming nunchucks are traditional at a Jewish wedding, saying "I wanna go to an Orthodox wedding, so fun." To which someone responded: "yeah they r fun, at my sisters wedding some guys put their black hats on fire (old ones ofcourse) and they juggles fire and knives 2." Really? Flaming hats? Clearly I'm attending the wrong type of weddings.

Now, like many Jewish traditions, this one has been co-opted by the guys. What seems pretty clearly to be a mitvah for the benefit of the bride is often in practice a bunch of guys doing silly things, often an inside joke with the groom.

Like these guys with their "Riverdance." Not that it isn't funny, but after googling "Wedding Shtick" I only came up with male entries. This could be, in part, because shtick often involves singing and/or dancing, which can be religiously problematic if done by women (in front of men).

More guys dancing.

For my own (hypothetical) personal wedding, I expect the girls to bring the game. For serious yo. I'm talking to you, roommate. And my wedding can totally be an "arts and crafts project."

Better Political Songwriting

Condilicious. Fa sho.

From The Message, which has a lot of great material, including a hilarious critique of Rage Against the Machine by "Idi Amin Jr."

A Far Inferior Copy of Obama Girl

"Hott 4 Hill" by Taryn Southern

Awful. Truly Awful. Also does it always have to be women who engage in politics through crushes? I wanted to see a "Hillary Boy" or even an "Obama Guy."

Also, I realize that it's supposed to be campy, but the original had enough of that. It just ends up looking stupid.

Know Your Jewish Community: Liturgy

As I've already mentioned, I recently spent a weekend at a Jewish camp. It happens to be pluralistic, and Zionist, so although it is Sabbath observant, and entirely kosher, there are some interesting practices. One of which is the removal of all messianic references from the grace after meals. Aside from the issues with changing liturgy (I personally have very few, with a couple exceptions) I found it very hard to follow along with the modified version of the grace.

Treppenwitz also posted about removing pieces of the liturgy, but in that case it was about Catholics removing (then re-instating) a Good Friday mass "that contains language that is somewhat less than flattering towards the Jews." He makes two excellent points, which I will crudely try to summarize:

1) If Catholics believe that Jews are going to Hell (and they do) what difference does it make if they say so in the mass, or not? It is a part of their theology, so saying it, or not, shouldn't really be a big deal, and

2) We have passages of our own that are just as incendiary, as in the prayer Aleinu where we claim that "He has not made us like the nations of the lands and has not emplaced us like the families of the earth; for He has not assigned our portion like theirs nor our lot like all their multitudes. For they bow to vanity and emptiness and pray to a g-d which helps not."

Although, for the record, that last line has been deleted from many prayerbooks, and I didn't know it existed until I went to college. But that just proves Trep's (and my) point, that it is sort of silly to take out lines from prayers that correctly espouse a belief, if that belief is un-PC. Shouldn't we instead wrestle with the issue of how we feel about other nations, instead of just scrubbing our prayerbook?

My second thought on liturgy was also prompted by my stay at camp. During the Saturday morning prayer service, every single camper and counselor knew by heart the words to the prayer for the State of Israel. Terrific, but they didn't even know where to FIND the prayer for the government of the United States. Ari posted about the history of this prayer, which I found fascinating, and mentioned that he attended services in a place where "the gabbai read the names of thirty-seven American soldiers who were killed in action the previous week."

I love that practice. I grew up in a synagogue where the prayer for the State was said right after the prayer for the State of Israel. If we say prayers for the members of the IDF, should we not also say a prayer for those whose lives are on the line for our country of residence? Does George Bush really need wisdom and guidance* any less than Olmert?

*The prayer for our country, differently rendered in different sources, often contains a piece that says "may he deal compassionately with us, and with all Israel..."

Jews Love: Independence Day

Not too long ago I was visiting a Jewish camp, and I heard the following anecdote:

"I couldn't remember where in England one of the counselors was from, so I asked her, 'where are you from?' and she responded 'England, temporarily.' Why temporarily? 'Because my homeland is in Israel."

This type of statement makes me very uncomfortable unless you have immediate plans to make aliyah*. Now, I love Israel, but I'm also a pretty patriotic American. I recognize that this country has given me, and my ancestors (and hopefully my children) amazing opportunities that just weren't available anywhere else. It has allowed us religious and intellectual freedoms, and given us full citizenship and equal rights under the law. None of these are small things. I am by no means saying that America or its government are perfect, but that if you live here, you should recognize that it has probably been good to you.

My friend, another counselor, and I discussed how we hate that many young Jews are more than willing to run and serve in the IDF, but would NEVER consider serving in the American army. This wasn't always the case, in World War I Jews volunteered to serve in a much higher percentage than the rest of the population, in part because they wanted to prove their loyalty to America, but in part because the immigrant generation felt strongly that they were Americans and owed a debt of gratitude to the country that took them in. On that topic, Jameel posts some musings about July 4th, saying that he "didn't leave America and make aliya to Israel because of negative issues in the USA; it was the lure of the positive aspects of Israel that brought [him] here." And that is a position which I can respect, and get behind.

Snake Oil Sam of Snake Oil Sam's Radio Review just found out that " a Jew played a critical role in the early days of this nation in its fight for independence." Now I'm not sure who he is talking about, but I do know that almost every group currently in America has their "pet revolutionary" whose participation in the Revolutionary War establishes that group's authenticity as Americans. Dennis Prager of The Outraged Spleen of Zion also talks about the Revolutionary War, but he speaks in terms of remembrance. His suggestion is that we create a 'Fourth of July Seder' because ritual is one of the only ways to preserve a meaningful memory. However, the memories stirred by Jack's photo from September 11th are still fresh, as he suggests (I think) that we remember on July 4th that "Freedom isn't free."

On a "light"-er note, themiddle and Jacob DaJew both posted about fireworks displays. I'm actually not such a fan of fireworks on the 4th, mostly because I grew up with really impressive displays, after which the ones in New York seem pretty lame. Themiddle posted a photo of some fireworks, while Jacob talked about his experience with illegal fireworks and the local police. Some idiots on my block set off amateur fireworks in the middle of the street, which was sort of beautiful (also loud and dangerous) until the fire department came to put a stop to it. It seems like people forget that fireworks are actually airborne explosives, just because they produce a pretty show when they explode. While the fireworks were going off on my street last night it felt a little like being in a war zone between the bright flashes of light and loud explosion noises. I actually have a few friends who, after having been near rocket attacks, can no longer enjoy fireworks, and I can't say that I blame them. Similarly, Muse of Me-ander has a friend who can't enjoy them because they sound like "tanks exploding."

Jacob also posted about putting out his flag on Independence Day. Since I live in an apartment building, that isn't really an option for me, but I'm sure that my parents had theirs out. I'm sure of this mostly because our flag is out almost every day (barring rain). In my neighborhood flags are more common than not, in part because so many people are active duty, retired, or the parents of military service members.

Also, did anyone in the J-blogosphere go to a BBQ? Sadly, I didn't get a chance to, and from my first scan it doesn't seem like anyone else did either, but that's hard for me to believe.

*Aliyah means to go up, and to make aliyah means to emigrate immigrate to Israel.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Transformers are AWESOME

Last night CJ and I went to see Transformers with the upstairs neighbor. While I enjoyed the TV show as a child, I was a little concerned about this remake. There were some pretty awful reviews, but a friend of mine had seen it and described it as "two hours of robots fighting eachother." That description was absolutely apt.

If you cannot watch robots fighting/transforming/car chases/explosions for an extended period of time then Transformers is not for you. If it is, you should definitely go. Definitely. It was a great mix of action, fairly good comedy, and more action. And Josh Duhamel, who is beautiful.

Before the movie started there were a number of ads for The Army National Guard, about which we were pretty confused. Transformers does a great job of portraying the American military as made up of able, committed, and intelligent men and women who, even when working under difficult conditions, can achieve amazing things. It also showed how even when individual soldiers do their best how faulty logistics or communication problems can screw up even the best run of missions.

Also, Josh Duhamel is great publicity for any group. Just look what his presence on the show Las Vegas did for Vegas hotels. Or something.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Chickens Deserve to be Eaten

But no today (at least until sundown).

At any rate, The Spiked Review of Books has a review of Planet Chicken (review by Mike Hume) where the reviewer suggests that the book is a load of crap. I agree. The book is a PETA-like apologist tract about chickens, which claims that eating them is barbaric, inhumane, etc.

Now, I worked on a farm for a summer, and I can understand if you don't want to eat cows, or even pigs. They are to some degree sentient, interesting creatures. They can make good companions, have distinct personalities, and are cute. Not chickens. As Hume points out, chickens are "cannibalistic balls of faeces and feathers." Seriously. They are awful. Left to their own devices they rip each other to shreds, are mean to those providing food, dirty, noisy, disgusting, and well, just plain mean. For the record, that summer was the beginning of the end of my vegetarianism. I still have difficulty eating red meat, but I enjoy chicken and turkey. I really enjoy it. Which might be somewhat sadistic, but really, we're eating the flesh of another living being, we should be honest with ourselves about it.

At any rate, Hume writes about the difference between animals and humans, and says that "An unsentimental attitude towards farm animals is actually sensible and human. Those who have to work with them for a living have always been the most clear-eyed about these matters – at least until the advent of hobby farmers who give their hens names like ‘Chickpea’."

This reminded me of a piece that I saw in Slate (where else) a few weeks ago. One of their regular contributors (Jon Katz) is a farmer, and he wrote about the difference between naming and numbering farm animals, and how it signified a different philosophy about their worth and use. Basically, those who number their animals will only spend up to the cost of the animal on health care, whereas those who name them will generally spend as much as it takes to heal them. This is not to say that those who have numbered animals don't also have named animals. Katz has a hierarchy of animals from dogs on down to sheep in declining emotional importance.

I agree with Katz's philosophy. Some animals exist for companionship, and some for food. If you conflate the two it becomes impossible to deal humanely with the latter. I think that, in some cases, people extend the life of an animal beyond where it is humane, believing that life is valued above all else. I disagree. I think that in some cases there are things worse than death. I would hate to have a painful, lingering illness, and if I was in a comatose state I'd like to have someone pull the plug. Yeah, I could probably come back from it, but what about that guy, stuck in his shell of a body for years, able to hear but not communicate? That would be my personal hell. I'd rather be dead.

In conclusion: eat chickens, and don't bother feeling guilty about it. G-d told us that we can eat animals, and who are you to be more merciful than G-d?

Subway Awkward

So I was on the subway this morning, and a beautiful, and well dressed woman sat next to me. She was wearing nice, and clearly expensive clothing and jewelry. I know this because everything was clearly branded (Fendi bag, Prada earphones*, etc). She was also wearing some distinctive earrings. They looked like lapis or jade discs on a gold post. Not so sure.

Anyway, in the seat catty-corner to us was a woman dressed professionally, if not nicely. She was wearing a top that wasn't so pretty, a filmy brown/black/blue peasant-style blouse, plain black pants, and sandals that could best be described as "orthopedic." I usually don't care about what people wear on the subway, but the unfashionable woman asked the fashionable one (who had her earphones in, a clear sign that she didn't want to be disturbed) about her earrings:

U: Those earrings are beautiful.
F: Um, thanks.
U: They are so unusual, and I love unusual things.
F: (under her breath) Yeah, I can tell.

And there I was, wearing my outfit that cost about $35 total, wondering... what does she think of me?

* I didn't even know that Prada made earphones.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Dave Albo: Asshat

Basically he's sponsored a piece of legislation that is not only regressive (the burden falls much more heavily on those who can afford it the least), but also helps his personal law firm. The law raises the fines for traffic offenders.

This benefits Albo greatly, as Radley Balko of Reason explains in his piece: That's right. Albo's a lawyer. And not just any lawyer. The firm that bears his name specializes in traffic law, particularly in representing people charged with DWI and reckless driving. And yes, that's the firm's actual URL: virginiadui.com.

Reason number 583 why Albo is a douchebag.

On Happiness

Congratulations to Zie and her girlfriend, Mel, on their recent engagement (yesterday!).


I cannot wait to accompany you down the aisle, dressed in paisley, crying endless happy tears. As someone who has brought such love, joy, and true caring to other people's lives, I am so happy that you have found someone who brings those things into your life. Watching the way that you two love and care for each other is positively inspiring and I am grateful to know both of you.

Now, I'm all mushy and crying, again. Alright, enough. You're a blessing in my life.

Mazel Tov!


On Lashon Hara, Again

I know that I've talked about Lashon Hara* before, but something came up that made me think about it. And I apologize as this entry is sort of introspective, and therefore boring.

While in college I was shomeret negiah* for a significant period of time. After a while I changed my mind about what I was doing and why, and as part of my spiritual trade-off I decided that I'd shake hands, but that I'd focus on learning and observing the laws of lashon hara. So, my chevrusa* (a really terrific girl, who is one of the holiest people I've ever met. No joke, the light of G-d shines from her countenance) and I learned the major laws, and I've tried pretty hard to observe them. I had a sign in my room that said "Goal of the day: Don't speak lashon hara; defend others from the same."

I recognize that this is super-lame, but, hey, it worked for me. Or at least, for the most part. Yesterday I found myself doing something I rarely do: I repeated malicious gossip about a person, by name, to someone of their acquaintance. As soon as the words left my mouth I said "oh that was awful lashon hara," and begged the person's forgiveness for exposing them to it. You see, I, by my carelessness implicated the hearer, and caused him to sin as well. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I'm not good enough of a person to be kept from sleep by an event like this, but it made me think. Why did this happen? Why now?

One theory is as follows: a few days ago, a fellow bloggers' ex forwarded me an email full of malicious gossip. I was pretty taken aback by it, and responded that I didn't really want to be involved, but a day later I received another email with more of the same. This fellow blogger had warned me a week or two ago that I might get such an email, but the virulence, and absolute awful things said were still shocking. And I think that having read them, I was affected. I have only myself to blame for my behavior, but I don't think that I would have tended towards lashon hara if I hadn't been so recently exposed to it.

One of the reasons I became Modern Orthodox (my parents are fairly observant Conservative) is that I believe that the Torah is a great guide to life. The mitzvot* bein adam l'chavero (between man and his fellow) constitute a guide to behavior that I find very attractive. The laws of lashon hara are just a part of that.

I'd be the first person to tell you that I'm none to holy. I'm not as good at going to services as I used to be, or at blessing my foods, but there are certain things that I absolutely will not allow to fall by the wayside. One of those is my treatment of other human beings. It is absolutely crucial to me to see btzelem elokim* (the light of G-d) in every individual, and to use that to treat them with dignity and respect, no matter the situation. Yet, somehow I've managed to let some of that slip. I think that it's probably time to call my chevrusa...

*Lashon Hara literally means evil speech, but refers to gossip. In Jewish law gossip isn't just malicious gossip, but really any non-essential information passed from one person to another about a third party. There are a few exceptions where this type of speech is allowed, but very few, and very specific situations.

*Shomeret negiah is the feminine version of shomer negiah, to observe (against) the touch. It signifies the observance of a sometimes complex set of laws derived from a biblical commandment to not "come near a woman who is niddah (having her period)." Practically it is observed through the avoidance of physical contact of any kind with people of the opposite gender. The exceptions are your immediate family, and your husband/wife. Different traditions hold that it is either acceptable to shake hands, or not, acceptable to hug, or not, and so on and so forth.

*Mitzvot are commandments, or good deeds, sometimes both