Thursday, September 27, 2007

Dear Women of New York,

Stop wearing tent dresses! They are unflattering and unattractive! Just STOP! Don't look at me all saucily like that. You know what I'm talking about and, secretly, you agree.

I know, I know. It's hard. When Fashion says it's right, it's so hard to say it's wrong. I feel your pain. I know the siren call of fashions that will never suit my body, of formal shorts and skinny jeans. I feel your pain, I do.
But here's a hint: if it makes the model look preggers, it's not going to look good on you.

See how her eyes are downcast, as if to say, "Oh no! What was I thinking when I put on this dress? You can't even tell I have a figure under here. I could be smuggling the Hindenburg under here."

It's time to stand up for yourselves, women of New York. Stand up for yourselves and shout from the rooftops: I refuse to wear something that someone could mistake for a muu-muu! I refuse to walk around in what may be misconstrued as camping equipment! I refuse to be mistaken for a giant toilet roll cover!

Thank you for your time. Damn the man; save the Empire [waist].


On Linguistic Irony

About a week ago, Eboo Patel, the creator of the Interfaith Youth Core, wrote a brief article for The Washington Post and Newsweek's On Faith project: On Muslim Antisemitism. In short, the piece discusses the voices in Islam condemning Anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.

The title of the article caused my brain juices to percolate (always dangerous and slightly messy): Muslim Anti-Semitism. It seemed to me that that phrase was linguistically ironic, at the very least, considering that the world's Muslim population are, by and large,* Semites themselves.

The use of "Anti-Semitism" as "Anti-Jewish," which was the term's original, if etiologically confusing, meaning, obscured the meaning of "Semite": a label that covers Jews and Arabs alike.

To clarify, a Semite is "A person belonging to the race of mankind which includes most of the peoples mentioned in Gen. x. as descended from Shem son of Noah, as the Hebrews, Arabs, Assyrians, and Aram├Žans. Also, a person speaking a Semitic language as his native tongue." (Thanks, OED)

So, technically, to be anti-Arab is also to be anti-Semitic.

The whole thing reminded me of the conversation that I had with the Afghani cab driver about the nature of modern anti-Semitism.

All of which just made me realize how the forms may appear to shift, but, functionally remain the same. Which is really to say: think carefully about those unfair epitaphs you before hurling them at others.

*I'm using a broad definition of Semitism extrapolated from the reach of Semitic languages in the late ancient period. Using that matrix, the Middle East and Asia Minor are both considered geographically Semitic areas, where Semitic languages are still in use. This area is also the geographic area where counties with a Muslim majority are concentrated. It should be noted, for the purposes of intellectual honesty, that by numbers, the highest populations of Muslims live in South and East Asia (which also includes Iran and Afghanastan), but constitute a minority, proportionately, in those regions.

Monday, September 24, 2007

A Revamped "On Atheist," AKA: Whatever Happened to Jared Leto?

You’re buzzing along and suddenly, one day, you look up and realize that you don’t recognize this place. Your parents have moved from their three bedroom house in Rockville to a condo in Potomac (zip code makes all the difference). Your siblings have paired off and procreated.

You’re living in Brooklyn and you’ve blinked and suddenly all your friends are moving away to pursue PhDs and law degrees and you realize that no one lives here anymore. You look in your closet and you realize that you own more shoes than Satan and not a single pair of them are anti-establishment Doc Martens. In fact, the closest you get to anti-establishment are a pair of Rocket Dogs you picked up on sale at DSW at the mall. It suddenly dawns on you that, without you recognizing the change, you are an adult, in your mid (not early) twenties, and you’re going to have to start getting serious about shit.

So you research PhD programs because you’ve always wanted to be a historian and doing programming at a non-profit is just not cutting it; you begin to discuss the M-word (it rhymes with carriage) with your significant other because it seems de rigueur for people in your age bracket; and you finally trash your well-worn collection of middle school papers that you’ve been schlepping from apartment to apartment for the last half decade, ever since your parents determined to sell the family house and move into the aforementioned condo.

Feeling all alone and finally reflecting on the myriad of insecurities that seem to have piled up on your doorstep while you were out at one of those Bryant Park summer movies drinking red wine from a plastic cup, you turn to the one thing that always helped center you in times of trouble (or in times of ennui): God. But something strange has happened here, too. Like your parents, like your friends, like your stability, God has packed up and moved away. You were so certain about God, but you realize that while you were learning other things, you unlearned God.

What do you do now? Is God like the PhD programs and apartment cleaning? Do you go out and try to recapture God, to reconnect with God like you reconnected with all of those random friends from high school whom you barely remember and with whom you now have to have a series of those vapid “remember when” conversations? Are you going to have “remember when” conversations with God?

What does the new, improved, grown up version of yourself do?

You hear all the time about people finding God, but rarely about them losing God. When you declare yourself an atheist, you proclaim that there is no God, but no one talks about the pain of that loss, a pain more deeply felt because it also entails losing those whom you’d consigned to heaven, now no longer extant. It’s the second loss of your mother, whose death was the impetus for your intractable belief in a higher power in the first place. And how do you respond to that loneliness, that loss, without the structures of the religion that had always been there to embrace and comfort you, that had provided a context for your relationship with God, that had given words to your still, silent pleas back when you didn’t have the words yet to ask the right questions or describe what you needed.

Does losing God mean losing religion? If you no longer have God, can you still benefit from the forms and rituals that religion provides? Paralleling your realization about the end of your childhood, once you realize that God is gone, can you retain the benefits that you felt when still in the innocence of youth?

I don’t know the answer to that. I do know that I continue to observe Shabbas, in my way, and to follow the rituals, to attend a shul that allows me to be myself religiously and politically, and to engage with Jews across the spectrum of observance and faith. I figure that, if there’s a God to be found, I’ll be in the right place to find God. And if not, then I’ll just be in the right place for me.

As for Jared Leto, I’m sure he’s out there, somewhere, along with other expunged remnants of my adolescence.

and we're back...

Occasionally, I forget to blog for a few days, then I get embarrassed that I've not blogged in several days and, confronted with the onus of "catching up," I illogically continue not to blog. It's like when you've forgotten to call your grandma for a couple weeks and, stupidly, discontinue calling her out of fear and embarrassment, thereby making the original sin far worse.

So, um, sorry! Hi, guys! I'm still here.

Friday, September 21, 2007

I Know Some People Who Have Some Repenting To Do

Besides myself of course. I have a lot of trouble with repentance, but that's not really the issue here.

1. Whoever it is that is trashing the bathroom at my new office: It is so absurd. On my first day of work I noticed the printed signs in every bathroom stall that encouraged employees to wash their hands and not leave a mess. This seemed totally absurd to me, until I noticed that despite TWICE daily cleanings, the bathroom is disgusting by 4pm. Once I walked in to see that someone had taken paper towels and strewn them all around and in a toilet.Why? There is plenty of toilet paper.

2. The inventor of the bagel: I've gained 10 lbs this past year, and it is in large part due to the delicious nature of bagels.

3. Whoever thought it was a good idea to keep office buildings freezing: It is wasteful, uncomfortable, and bad for the environment. What happened to 60 degrees?

4. Google: I have many issues with Google this year. Their refusal to not record searches/ say that they'll never turn them over to the government for one. But my most recent issue is with Google presentations. Google has made its name by providing simple services with many nifty features. Presentations doesn't even come close to PowerPoint (as much as I hate it), you can't build charts, or graphs, or really even images, and forget importing anything over 2mb. Google, way to raise my hopes and then dash them.

5. High Heels: They are awful. Expensive, uncomfortable, and cause lasting damage. Why again are they necessary in a business environment?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Law's the Law - But Should It Be?

Yesterday, the District of Columbia did not get the right to vote, and the Maryland Court of Appeals (which is the supreme court in Maryland) stated that the law of Maryland, as currently constituted, does not allow for same-sex marriage.

In both of these cases, the naysayers fell back on a position that was, basically, "what you've proposed sounds good, but that's not what the law says." This, I think, opens a fascinating question for Judaism as well, especially for those of us who do not want our religion to be like the Amish, wearing exclusively buttonless outfits and shunning most advances made after the Sixteenth Century.

We, of course, have The Law, which is divine (even if divinely inspired and not divinely written) but also speaks to a tribal early iron age people who can't just clone all the red heifers they need. When the law "says" something, assuming that we are not going to be tied into the most unchanging of dogma, how do we know when the law is able to change according to the time, and when something is supposed to be a principle for the ages?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Absit Invidia*

It feels wrong to let today go by without saying anything about the anniversary of September 11th. It also seems unlikely that I can say anything that hasn't already been said, and probably more eloquently.

I will say this: it's hard to think about that day, now, without also thinking about the war it spawned. And it's hard to think about that war and to look at the fallen soldiers, on either side, without seeing the faces of my friends. I would by lying if I said that I knew how the hell to get out of Iraq in any way that makes sense and opining about what should or shouldn't have been makes no sense at this stage.

I thought to look to history for guidance, but so many mitigating factors shape the course of a war, that it's nearly impossible to draw any worthwhile lessons. Historians speak of wars won and lost, but ultimately that only affects who dictates the terms of peace until the next war.

And so I feel irrevocably sad for all those lives lost in the towers and also for the lives lost in response. I pray, in my own way, that reason will triumph over idiocy, in all its many forms, on all sides of this war. And when I say "war," I want to be clear that I'm speaking globally.

As I said when the Queen of the World died, the only lesson you can take from a catastrophe of this magnitude is to work tirelessly to make the lives of those we love a little better, a little happier, because we will all be here together for so short a time. That seems relatively doable, right? Maybe we could also try to solve world hunger and poverty and end ignorance, too, but I don't like to get ahead of myself.

And if that sounds like contrived sentiment, I apologize.

*Absit Invidia, Latin, "Let ill will be absent"

Thursday, September 06, 2007


I really don't like defending politicians who do scummy things, but every time a (usually Republican) politician gets caught in a sex scandal, you get dozens of variants of this rant, including something like this sentence:

"There's nothing worse than a self righteous, moralizing hypocrite. "

Can we all agree that there are plenty of things worse than self righteous hypocrites?

People with scary ideologies who are completely consistent are probably worse. As are amoral people who seek only temporal power and authority.

Let me just throw out some world leaders whom we all can agree were not so good people (a list chosen to create minimal tangential controversy):
  • Idi Amin
  • Papa Doc Duvalier
  • Rafael Trujillo
  • Ferdinand Marcos

I don't think that any of these people, who collectively have caused huge amounts of human misery, could be accurately assessed as being self-righteous, moralizing hypocrites. To the extent that they said one thing and did another, it was because they personally felt exempt from the rules, or they were just disposed to lie to keep themselves in power.

Furthermore, hypocrisy is a cop-out accusation. It allows the accuser to duck the fact that he likely agrees with either what is said or what is done.

For example, let's say I take a vocal public position against random mass murder of people in restaurants. Then, for reasons unknown, I go to a local restaurant with a machine gun and shoot a lot of people. I am a hypocrite. But there's nothing wrong in my going around and saying that shooting people is bad, whether or not I shoot people. It's my shooting a bunch of people that is morally problematic.

But let's say, instead, that I belong to a religious sect that doesn't believe in reading newspapers. You catch me reading a newspaper. Reading a newspaper is not a horrible thing. There's nothing wrong with doing it, even if I'm not living up to my standards. It's just that my belief is silly and always was. It's, in some respects, intellectually bizarre to fault people for not living up to a moral code you find stupid and pointless.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Wedding Crashers

I just finished reading this article in The Washington Post about a Groomzilla. Now, before I spew some venom, let me clarify a few points:

1) I enjoy attending other people's weddings. I've now had the pleasure of seeing several of my friends marry and the honor of being in their wedding parties. Few moments are more beautiful than watching people who love each other pledge their fealty forever. (Crap, I can hear TR retching from here. Sorry, honey)

2) I am not against weddings as an institution, so long as the people getting married put as much thought in choosing the institution of marriage as they do in the color of their bouquet.

3) I am not cantankerous.

Alright, so putting aside the rampant gender generalizations sewn throughout the article ("Mike's the woman, because he does the cooking, cleaning and decorating" at home, says Atta.), and even pausing to concede that the stress of planning large events are enough to put anyone on edge, can we all join in a giant, impassioned "WTF?!?!?!?!" at the self-involved absurdity of this man's approach to planning his nuptials? Several months later they're "aggrieved" because they had to pour their own salad dressing and get their own drinks?!?

Maybe some perspective is due. Hey, Mike and Rita, you two found the person with whom you want to spend the rest of your life. Who cares if there was a wilted rose in one of the centerpieces?


On a related note, at my nephew's birthday party, I was discussing the exorbitant price of weddings with my brother's dad (my mom's first husband), his stepson, and another guest. The woman was bemoaning the price of her daughters' weddings, saying that the cheapest wedding you could have these days costs at least $20,000.

Me: Well, not quite. The cheapest wedding is two people and a judge.
Stepson (with whom I'm quite close): I'm surprised. I would imagine you to be a fairy princess wedding type.
Me: I'm actually quite low maintenance.
Brother's Dad: Well, then, you're the first woman ever to be low maintenance.
Me: [Stunned silence.]

Did I mention, "Sigh."?

Any takers?

Happy Birthday, Baby!

My nephew is so totally cuter than this baby

Last Saturday, September 1st, my family celebrated nephew's first birthday. My sister-in-law (SIL) is Korean, so we had a traditional Korean first birthday celebration, called a Tol. SIL's family came and loaded their home with Korean pears, apples, strawberries, pineapple, rice cake, small rice cake dumplings, and lots of sweets.

They dressed my nephew in the birthday clothes: pink jogori (jacket) with puple paji (pants), striped durumagi (long jacket), a blue vest printed with a gold pattern, a jonbok (long blue vest) with a gold pattern, and a hongsadae (traditional belt) over it. On his head he wore a bokgun (black hat with a long tail), on his toes he wore tarae-busun (traditional socks), and hanging off his belt was a yumnang (traditional round shaped pouch). He looked ridiculously cute.

So he stood (with aid from my brother and SIL) in front of the table and he had to choose one of the items placed in front of him, the choice of which would presage what he will one day become. According to, he was supposed to choose from

-bow and arrow: the child will become a warrior
-needle and thread: the child will live long
-jujube: the child will have many descendants
-book, pencil, or related items: the child will become a successful scholar
-rice or rice cake: the child will become rich (some resources say choosing a rice cake means the child is not smart)
-ruler, needle, scissors: the child will be talented with his/her
-knife: the child will be a good cook

My brother and SIL modified the list a bit (instead of a knife, they had a plastic fork, for example, and they had a $20 bill for prosperity). My nephew chose the fork, the pen, and then a book. His grandma (my SIL's mother) kept pushing the $20 bill at him, to encourage him to be prosperous. He picked up the sticky rice cakes and put them back 15 times before finally tasting one.

Mmmm... delicious rice cakes

Then we all ate ridiculous amounts of food. And then we went to a Korean restaurant and ate even more food. I happen to love Korean food, but my father is perhaps the most unadventurous eater in the history of ever. Here's a man who, at fifty-eight, has never chewed gum or eaten an olive. On Saturday, he not only tried sushi for the first time, but also willingly ate bulgogi and fish cake. He was pleasantly surprised; needless to say, we kept the kimchi and other chili-spiced food away from him (he thinks white bread is spicey, I'm not sure if he would survive wasabi).

By the end of the day, we were stuffed and exhausted, but my nephew, as always with that bubbly, happy, delightful child, offered us all smiles and giggles.

Happy Birthday, Nephew!