Monday, June 28, 2004

Yesterday was the yahrtzeit of my maternal grandfather and namesake. T'hei nishmato tzruya b'tzror hachaim.

Getting busy around my house. Preparations for wedding, other big changes, etc. etc. Looks like an interesting summer coming up.

The Friends of the Israel Defense Forces is certainly a worthy group (in all seriousness). Every year, they send out a calendar. This year's has a blurb about the IDF ensemble:

Mao Zedong [double emphasis theirs], founder of the People's Republic, said, "An army without culture is a dull-witted army, and a dull-witted army cannot defeat the enemy."

Ummmm...Excuse me? MAO?!? "People's Republic"? Yeah- a "People's Republic" that had about sixty million less people when he was done with it! They lend credence to the communists' little conceit that they ran "people's republics?" They even quote Mao? Would they quote Stalin? Hitler?

Friday, June 18, 2004

"How are you doing?" one fellow Cardozo grad asked another before our alumni meeting last night. "Oh, fine," he answered sarcastically. "The President is lying to the people..." and then he, and she, and the woman next to me, all took off on an anti-Bush rant. (Since we're all educated and New Yorkers, we must be Democrats, right?) My God, these people are hateful. (I love how all the online Kerry ads I see show Bush, not Kerry.) But that's not my point.

Leaving aside that he had all his "facts" wrong, leaving aside all political arguments- and leave aside for a moment that I like Bush very much myself- is this how people respond to a simple "How are you doing?" Are their lives so bound up by who's running a government? I didn't like Clinton at all, but if someone asked me how I was back in his years, I wouldn't have answered "Clinton is an awful president."

The meeting was very nice, by the way.

Where else but the "We're so Catholic we can't stand it" National Review would you find an article praising the Inquisition? Search for the word "Jew" in the article; you won't find it. I somehow doubt you will in this author's upcoming book on the Crusades.

I'm not sure if I've posted this here, but I once remarked to a friend that maybe it's wrong that all I think about when the Roman Empire is discussed is how they treated the Jews. Weren't they more glorious than that? Of course not, he answered- because you're Jewish you have a better view on what history was really like, warts and all. That's how I feel about this piece. He can argue all he wants about burning heretics to save them, but I know better. (Yeah, I know that technically, Jews weren't killed- Marranos [oh, give it a rest, people] were. That really helps improve the Inquisition's image in my eyes.) Of course, these people weren't really heretics, but practitioners of older faiths, whether European paganism or older forms of Christianity. My God, these people are delusional when it comes to protecting their Church.

Of course, he assures us, the Inquisition didn't really kill anyone, the state did. Oh, that's nice. Of course, the church didn't want blood on its hands, so they handed people over to the state. That's why William the Conqueror's illegitimate brother-in-law, Odo, used a club to kill people at Hastings- he was a bishop, and didn't want to "spill blood." Come to think, that's why the heretics were burned, not beheaded or the like. To repeat, my God, these people are delusional when it comes to protecting their Church.
"When I think of Martin, I can't help but see the dogs and the sticks and the little girls in the church," said Paul Herring, who has organized Juneteenth celebrations in Flint, Mich., for 10 years. "But when I think of Juneteenth, I see an old codger kicking up his heels and running down the road to tell everyone the happy news."

That quote choked me up on the train this morning. Happy Juneteenth, everyone.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Leonard Fein sez: "I stand with Mao".

Disgusting. Even more disgusting- if that's possible- is that he apparently takes Mao at his word that he's a free-minded guy.

OK, maybe he's being ironic. Maybe. But the Left has forfeited its right to be judged favorably when it comes to how they treat their murderous brethren.

I'm afraid I'm going to make one particular person, with whom I had a lovely time yesterday, (and, come to think, maybe my mother too) upset with this, but I don't like Maureen Dowd. I really don't. She's long been criticized for citing pop culture in her columns, but today's really takes the cake. Look, citing pop culture is good- Lord knows I do it quite a bit. But then again, I'm not asked to write a thougthful column for the all-mighty Times. She is. Instead, we get a blatant distortion of a 9/11 Commission (leaving aside questions of whether that body should have any relevance at all) finding (the Times itself does this in a headline, but I'd expect Mo to have her own research), dressed up in latest-movie speak. The Stepford Wives. My God. Oh, there's another source- fashionable DC parties she goes to. Fashionable parties without any of those nasty Republicans, that is. People at those parties (and Mo) are amazed that Bush is a nice guy, as if he never gave any signs of that before.

Speaking of Times columns, another wonders why pro-abortion Catholic Republicans aren't being hit by the bishops the way Democrats are. Of course, they are: National Review, for example, says the same exact situation applies to members of both parties. Search long and hard in the article, but you won't find anyone saying that.

One more Times point: This article contains this beaut of a line:
Otto J. Reich, President Bush's special envoy to Latin America, resigned on Wednesday, taking with him a lifetime of experience fighting Fidel Castro and other opponents of American foreign policy.

Oh, so that's what Fidel Castro is. An "opponent of American foreign policy." Not a bloody dictator or anything like that. Oh no.

Off to check Houseofhock. Java should be banned.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Summer in New York
Asphalt is getting sticky
Has Strand got AC?

Maybe I'll swing by tomorrow to find out.

"Classical Carlebach." I think they mean "Classic," which it isn't, anyway.

I think the Dome of the Rock is a test. As time goes on, it becomes clear that even if the power to redeem ourselves is in our hands, we still have a ways (in degree, and likely in time) to go psychologically before we do so- and before we should do so. If there was nothing on the Har Habayit, it's possible we would've rebuilt the Mikdash already- but are we really ready to have one? I'd hope so- and, halakhically, it may not matter- but the Dome sits there, proving that we still have issues. So by its presence, it keeps us from doing something we shouldn't, and if it is removed, that would be a sign that we've grown past certain mindsets. Some may argue that it's a political growth, but that's important too. And it may go hand-in-hand- or follow- a spiritual growth and increased belief.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Today is the hundredth anniversary of the General Slocum disaster.

Of course, that means that tomorrow is the hundredth anniversary of Bloomsday.

For a while, the picture on my desktop was of Bush and Schwarzenegger. I thought it was cute (and, of course, in sync with my political beliefs). With a new computer, I lost the picture. Now my background is this beaut of a shot.

By the way, I'm shocked- shocked!- that I let yesterday pass without mentioning that it was Flag Day. Sure, I was busy, but me not mention flags? Unheard of. Check out this site, to which I contribute via their Yahoo group.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Recent events have led me to reconsider ba'alei teshuva. Oh, sure, we're supposed to be all rah-rah about them, and talk about how great it is that people are finding Judaism, etc. But I think we avoid a crucial point, and that is how many of the reasons people become ba'alei teshuva (especially as adults, although some people I've sounded off on this to have extended it to teenagers as well) are not so positive, and the effects of disruption can be disastrous. (Literally. This is why I bring this up.) On the former point, to put it simply, well-adjusted, stable people do not often decide to change their entire lives. (OK, if you're reading this and are offended, there are obviously exceptions.) My father once spoke with an older man (a shrink, I believe), traditional but non-religious, about the adult ba'alei teshuva he saw. He asked if this man's children had ever considered becoming frum, and the response was, "No. They had a solid upbringing and are comfortable with that."

So I'm conflicted. Obviously (?), religion is good. And cheers and support are due to those who take it on. But I think we delude ourselves if we don't concern ourselves with possible ramifications- not only for the state of mind of the ba'al teshuva, but more importantly, for children of those adults changing.

When I brought this up to the Seminarian, he added a point which, to me, is even more troubling. He said that Orthodox support ba'alei teshuva because, in effect, they are being validated. When I thought about this for a bit, I was troubled, because that would mean that Orthodox Jews feel as if they need validation. I brought it up to the Seminarian, a wiser man than I, and he confirmed my fear. It's not easy being frum (in the world at large? on one's own?), and many- most?- need something telling them that they're doing the right thing. It makes you wonder exactly who kiruv is supposed to benefit. (Of course, this is no fault of the ba'alei teshuva themselves.)

On another topic: The Jewish Week informs us that The Passion (the Gibson movie) "sparked a crisis in Jewish-Christian relations." What crisis? I must've missed that. But hey, Abe Foxman has to stay in the news somehow, and justify his obscene salary somehow, and so he brings it up again. Of course, any spark was from him.

I wonder how much of Foxman's Christian-bashing is residual guilt over his own Catholic upbringing. Hmmm.

A day late, a happy Brooklyn-Queens Day to all! It's one of my favorite holidays. Of course, Abe Foxman wouldn't be happy with that. Ask for details if you want.

Carlebach tonight again! It seems like every other week now.

A Reagan and me story: When I was about ten or so, I read an article (in Reader's Digest, I think) about the homeless. Reagan was being blamed for their sudden and unexplained appearance then. (The Forward used this language this week. If it was such a mystery, they could've asked where they came from, but whatever. Of course, they disappeared in 1993 only to reappear, as Rush predicted, in 2001.) The point of the article was that much of the "problem" (if it really existed, or was new) was due to the ACLU and courts forcibly deinstitutionalizing mentally ill people at that point. But once it blew up, well, blame Reagan.

Anyway, some time after, I heard a news story on the radio about how the courts and ACLU had overruled laws forcing tuberculosis patients to take their medication. "Just wait," I thought. "TB will break out, and they'll blame Reagan." Sure enough, a few years later (late 80's or so), I was listening to the same station report about TB outbreaks, drug-resistant strains, and so on. Whose fault was it? Reagan's (nonexistent) "budget cuts," of course. Another thing that turned me onto the man- when attacks are lies, I naturally side with the person being attacked.

A joke Reagan, it is said, told Gorbachev:

A Russian man goes to buy bread, and has to wait on line for quite a while. Finally, he gets fed up and starts yelling about how bad the system is, etc. etc. A man in a coat steps out of the line and says, "We're watching you, and warning you: You'd better stop that. This is your last warning." The man, fed up, says he doesn't care, and keeps yelling about everything, but nothing happens to him.

Eventually, he gets home and is met by his wife. "You were out two hours and didn't get bread!" she says. "That's not the worst of it," he answers. "They've run out of bullets, too!"

Shabbat Shalom, y'all.

Last night's dinner did not go well.

Moving right along...

I'm really missing Elvis Mitchell. I do every Friday, almost. Here're some excerpts from A.O. Scott's review of the new Garfield movie today, my comments interspersed:

"If this is the only newspaper you read, then a bit of explanation might be in order."

[NL: i.e., he has to explain what that strange thing called "comics" is. Can you get any more condescending/snooty?]

"You've spent 50 cents, and you still have the Jumble and the box scores to see you through your morning coffee."

[NL: First, in New York, Garfield appears in the Post, which is 25 cents. Second, Scott is such an intellectual snob that he doesn't even realize that Seinfeld has already exposed the fact that snobs use the Jumble as a way of denigrating the lower classes. Throw in the sheer snobbery of talking about the box scores and he's got three or more strikes. You're out, Scott. Good riddance.]

"Jon (Breckin Meyer), the hapless, dateless owner, now has a love interest, a kindly veterinarian named Liz..."

[Of course, he does in the comics too.]

Grrr. Scott even tries to argue that the behavior of Garfield in the movie (learning a lesson, which he does on the TV shows) is not true to actual cat behavior. Uh, A.O.? He's a cartoon. Ah well. Look, I'm not saying it's a good movie- who knows? But this is stupid and mean.

There's also an op-ed piece by some liberal who, as has been happening recently, tries to repaint Reagan in his image. He tries to show how Reagan beat the "neoconservatives," misusing that word, as those of his ilk do, as a synonym for "ultraconservative," or, better, "conservative I really don't like." His main point? We didn't "beat" the Soviet Union (as the "neocons" supposedly wanted), but, rather, Reagan and Gorbachev worked together to bring peace.

This claim is being made a lot now. It has one basic, and huge, flaw, though: The Soviet Union doesn't exist anymore, and Gorbachev lost his job as soon as it ceased to exist. So somebody won, and somebody lost. And Reagan was quite happy with what happened.

The funeral removed this from my mind. It was quite good- I heard it on Rush's show, with video by Yahoo. The ceremony, the speeches, everything. I should point out that I now know why Jews aren't supposed to attend these things- I would've felt really uncomfortable at the end. But Thatcher put the nonsense above to rest once and for all, the Bushes and Mulroney spoke very well, and it was very dignified, meaningful, and appropriate.

Rest in peace, President Reagan, and God bless you.

I'll have a bit more on other topics later, I hope.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

This is a funny story. I especially liked this line:
“There’s, like, a huge disturbance on the other side of town! We need all the police!”

Speaking of lifestyles of the rich and famous: Yesterday, on the train heading in, two young women got on at 63rd and Lex. This is the Upper East Side, home of New York's upper class WASPs, and these were representative samples of such. Dressed just so, for June 8th, inflections just so (think of how J.D. Salinger's characters speak). Eventually, the (loud) discussion gets to whether they'll have off from work on Friday because the stock markets will be closed (because of Reagan's funeral). "Oh, I so hope we are!" says one. I'm expecting to be disgusted any moment, but she goes on: "My cousin is getting married in the Berkshires this weekend." And then come the kicker: "Oh, Mazel Tov!" says the other, and they go on talking about camps and so on. I love this city. Never what you expect.

If I can get a more regular sleeping schedule, I think I'll start showering in the mornings for the summer. Much better.

I went to hear Ari Fleischer at the Park East Synagogue last night, courtesy of the Republican Jewish Coalition. It wasn't bad- he spoke well, and the place was packed. I still have the same issues from the last time I was there. First, they talk as if the only factors that should go into American Jews' decisions on how to vote are Jewish ones (especially Israel), as if American Jews are written off as doctrinaire liberals who'll never be convinced by anything else (well, maybe they're right). Also, he got the same frickin' question opposing withdrawal from Gaza. COME ON already. Do you want America to tell Israel what to do- only when you disagree with Israel, of course? (Leave aside the fact that Fleischer is not currently in government and had no power when he was.) I wish people would realize that they're Americans, and voting for an American president. Ah well.

Still, like I said, a good time. He's a funny, well-spoken guy. I didn't stick around for the collation. (Edited to add: Some people seemed so down about Bush's chances. Again, come on!)

I had an interesting mental jog this morning: The E train, across the platform from the F in which I was sitting, started moving first- but I looked up only after it started, and my brain told me- and I got the definite sensation- that it was still, and the F was moving backwards. It took a second or two for my addled brain to figure that out. It was too early.

Then again, it's "too early" for me even late into the day. I actually said "got to get printer for the paper" to myself today. And forget about having gantze kavanos during Shacharit, like a friend wants me to, so I can join "the spiritual elite." I can't even piece out what I should do. In discussions now.

Am I mixing Ashkenaz and Sephard pronunciation? You betcha. For a while at my morning minyan, the chazzan (who must've been told- corrected?- that Hebrew stresses the last syllable in general) pronounced every word mi'lera. It got to me after a while, and I found myself doing it. Now, the current chazzan mixes accents. I hope I don't pick that up.

More later, folks.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

OK, this is just funny. The UN General Assembly has finally decided to discuss Israel's bombing of the Iraqi reactor. This brings to mind Reagan's comment on the matter, amid all the condemnation: "But what a terrific piece of bombing!"

Saddam is gone, Iraq has changed, Begin and Reagan are dead, Ilan Ramon became famous for quite other matters and then tragically passed on himself- but bureaucracy moves along at its own pace.

Moving right along, I was watching the original Fantasia this Sunday. Apart from the thought that this movie was made for DVD- who wants to hear introductions?- the thought occurred to me that it's a bit, well, risque. Certainly modern Disney movies wouldn't feature topless female centaurs being chased (OK, once they cover up a bit) by a leering Bacchus (for that matter, I doubt they'd be as mythology-heavy at all these days), or prominent buttocks on animals and pan-figures, or, for that matter, a cupid peeking at a centaur couple between curtains, his bare buttocks, facing the camera head-on, turned into a heart shape. And that's just on the surface- my filthy mind could find much more, I'm sure, if I so desired (which I most emphatically do not).

Maybe I'll check out Fantasia 2000 again to see what goes on there. It does have my favorite sequence of both films- Donald Duck herding animals onto Noah's Ark to the tune of Pomp and Circumstance, losing and then finding Daisy. I guess I'm a mushy romantic way down, fixation on naked mythological creatures notwithstanding. Then again, the Rhapsody in Blue "Hirschfeld" sequence is another favorite. And seeing Roy Disney on the commentary always brings a bit of a laugh, considering his recent history with Eisner.

P.S.: Pausing to consider, it makes me wonder about our standards. I think Wendy Shalit points out the distinction between nudity and immodesty (being sexy when fully dressed, boring or, conversely, modest when nude), and that seems to be at work here. Our tour guide at the V&A pointed out that, contrary to popular belief, Queen Victoria didn't add figleaves to, say, Michelangelo's David (the copy at the museum, of course)- some princess did. Perhaps it's our standards- seeing prurience in actually innocent classical images- that have grown perverse. I'm not saying that people should run around in the nude, but perhaps we should consider art- and even Fantasia- in a different light. Of course, I don't trust modern artists to have that much tact.

A friend has made a similar point about the publicization of homosexuality- it's ruined male friendships. Now that we've been conditioned into seeing such things as "normal," we can no longer look at, say, Holmes and Watson- and the real love they shared- without sex coming to mind. Nor can we establish such relationships today. And we are the less for that.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Ronald Reagan has died. R.I.P. Do drop a note to the family of this great man and great president.

Well, among all the classy messages (leaving aside Kerry's subtle dig against Bush's stem-call policy), someone's got to be a jerk, right? So here's part of Danny Glover's statement: (I know, who cares? Who is he, anyway?) "We all know Reagan's legacy, from the Iran-Contra affair to the funding of the Nicaraguan military..."

Of course, Reagan didn't fund the Nicaraguan military. That was the whole point. But Hollywood? Brains? Did we expect better?

Someone at TWoP (a sophisticated European, I think) just criticized Reagan's worldview for being simplistic. Well, of course. That was the beauty of it. When you're dealing with a regime that's killed tens of millions, it helps to break things down simply.

What a great man. One story: When he was running for office, someone came up to him at a campaign stop and told him a group of kids from a school for the blind were there. So after the speeches were done, he escaped from the cameras (when any other politician would have killed for this coverage), went over to the kids, kneeled in front of them, and let them run their hands over his face so they could "see" him. That says something. As does eveything else he did.

Hmm. In other news, I made another call today, and will have to be patient for at least a few more days. I can manage, not that I have a choice. Fortunately, I have many other (very nice) things to occupy my time.

And in yet other news, it seems I should have held off on my post of Friday. Well, too late. Act surprised, y'all.


Friday, June 04, 2004

My brother's engaged! Mazel Tov to all!

Ah, too many possibilities last night, so I stuck to the most enjoyable and missed the rest. Good time, but I'm afraid I was really out of it. Ah well. One day we're gonna have to have a good relaxing one. And then another and another...

And, regarding my issue below, I made the call today and got through. A few words, but I think we'll talk more. Thus far I am satisfied there.

Sometimes life is good.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Hmmm. That post may have violated skbw's advice below. I'll have to learn to walk a fine line, I guess.

I guess it's a good thing (from a selfish POV) that I didn't get that email until I got back. I would have worried more there (not that I could do much here anyway).

So. (Copied from TWoP, mostly.) London rocked! Almost immediately after I checked in to the hotel, I dashed off to the pub and we had a TWoPCon. It was great! Well, maybe a bit much to drink; not sure of the protocol, I'm afraid I got drinks bought for me without doing the same for others. But people kept coming, and talking, and...good times. And a tape featuring our Fearless Leader and her consort was duly delivered.

Weather held up, so the wedding was outside and lovely. And there was a massive post-wedding reception (come to think, there was a pre-wedding reception too). And then came the my cousin Scott put it, "This isn't the type of wedding where they blow all the money on the shmorg and don't have anything left for a meal." Duck, people. Duck. (Among much else.) I don't know about y'all, but this is a big deal for kosher-observers. And a string octet. And champagn-ya, as Christopher Walken would say. And there was a sheva brachot the night after.

The aforementioned Scott talked about his "trifectas"- attending the brit, bar mitzvah, and wedding of each (male, of course) cousin. I promised him he'd get one from me, too.

It was great seeing the relations again. I'm finally starting to relate to cousins who are all "Oh, I remember when you were yea old" to me. I remember when lots of the younger ones were born. Hell, I remember attending the wedding of the parents of the groom (oldest of seven, second to marry). I'm getting old, kids.

All that and sightseeing! I even got my old Jack the Ripper guide on a Inns of Court walk. Again, good times. And now back to the grindstone. Maybe I'll have some more later. Photos are back, too!

I'm baaaaaack!

London rocked. It just did. Let me dig up my TWoP post on the subject and copy it here. (Because I'm lazy. And jetlagged. I'm finally on London time, ironically.)

I was online a bit there, so I got to see the rather strange comment below. I also corresponded with someone who, I am advised by someone more conversant with Orthodox dating mores than I, I may soon have a "relationship" with (I hope). Upon getting back, I checked my mail to see if she wrote (affirmative- yay!), but among my other messages, I got quite the shock. Good thing I was dead tired or I'd have lain awake all night worrying. As it is, I dreamt about it, and spent a bit of time this morning making calls.

Consensus opinion among my buddies and on the aforementioned TWoP is that as frustrating as it may be to know little or nothing (I still am not sure I know the truth), in a situation like this, it's best to hang back. So a card it will be. I hate to sound mean, but I have to finally admit to myself that I...can't. I just can't. And through no choice of my own- it's not that I'm tired of it, but I literally cannot.

Damn. I just realized that that post made no sense unless I explain it offline. It's just of a nature that (especially if my [unfounded, please God] deep seated worries about the "real story" prove true) it's nothing I can publish online for the world to see. And I can't even get close enough to find out if those fears are true...grrrr. Deal with it, Nach, deal with it. Sorry, folks- I guess I just have to get it out of my system somehow.

Life offers more, thank God- much more. I hope I have a good excuse not to go to the Civic Association tonight, much as I'd regret missing it. It depends on whether I get a call. I hope so.

So: Why is it not OK for an inflight shopping magazine to show photos of the tobacco it's selling when they show photos of everything else? PC gone mad, I tell ya. But then again, PC always was.