Wednesday, December 28, 2005

"Yeah, the family had lots of buffas."

A few months back, I posted about the fact that there was absoultely no reason to leave the Northern Gaza settlements. Now I see that, now that the expected rocket attacks on Israel proper has begun, the IDF has declared a buffer zone in Northern Gaza. And it follows the exact boundaries of the settlements. Doesn't even go to the eastern border. Huh. Go figure. Now why did they pull out again?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

In 1966, the Transit Workers Union went on strike, shutting down New York City transit for twelve days. The leader of the union at the time was Michael J. Quill; when sent to jail, he famously remarked, in his Irish brogue, "The judge can drop dead in his black robes!"

Days after the strike ended, it was Quill who dropped dead. My father, in his wisdom, attributes his death to the accumulated curses of angry New Yorkers.

Roger Toussaint, to quote Patrick Henry, should profit from Quill's example.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Isn't staging a transit strike the wrong way to argue against automation of trains? Come tomorrow, lots of New Yorkers will likely be grumbling, "Replace 'em all with robots!"

Oh, and the "Miami Beach" is less funny the second time around. And when the driver might be on strike the next day.

Willaim Proxmire has died. "Oh, the Russians never got into space. Admiral Heinlein wouldn't allow it!"

I bash Artscroll a lot. So here's a bit of praise to them. I checked it out last night myself- not bad at all! Well, except for the last sentence (of Artscroll's), which is nonsense.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A short while back, a thought occured to me: In the old days, capital punishment used to be handed down for all sorts of things. Now that it's reserved (where it's given) for murder only- and then only in cases of certain murders- it seems wrong to give anything less. After all, if you're going to give a rapist 25 to life, how is it right to give a murderer the same?

Then, hearing a news report about Ken Lay this morning, it occured to me as well that the opposite is true: If we give 25 to life for murderers, it doesn't seem quite right to do the same for any other crime, particularly white collar ones.

Anyway, just a thought. Here's another: Who does Jesse Jackson think he is? Coming to New York to stir up a transit strike? Get lost, you poser!

Here's an email I just got:
As we approach the new year, may you and yours find peace and love among family
and friends as you celebrate the Solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, Ramadan, or
other holidays. ["And a Kwazee Kwanza!"- NL, channeling Krusty]
Sick. May I point out that Ramadan has been over for weeks? That's one renewal (it's from a journal I get) I'm not making.

Isn't it a bit chutzpadik for the son of a Nobel Prize winner who's traded on his name to write a book in defense of nepotism? Or is it just no-yichus me complaining?

Bus driver: "Union Turnpike subway station. Next stop, Miami Beach." If only.

Finally, Yay!

Just because...

...she's adorable. Posted by Picasa

"The Other Side"

The morning news brought a piece about yet another anti-Christmas lawsuit, this one up in Rockland County. Sickening as always, but then came one local woman's quote:

"They've got symbols for Christmas, so it's both sides!"

This was followed by a completely inane question from the reporter about Ramadan, no doubt because the Muslim masses of Rockland are demanding their ages-old custom public displays as well. (The answer was hard to figure out.)

The worst part, of course, was the word "sides." I wonder if the Jews pushing against these displays, and those pushing to include menorahs, realize what they've done:

1. Blown a minor Jewish holiday (one of my favorites) completely out of proportion, and for reasons that are obvious to anyone who realizes what the major Jewish holidays actually are. (We have as much of a tradition of public displays as Muslims do.)

2. As a result of both facts above, turned this fine holiday into "the Jewish Christmas" and reduced one of our oldest religious symbols to a secular one akin to a tree.

3. Performed this perversion ironically on the one Jewish holiday that stands the most opposed to perversions such as this.

4. Made two great religions, in most people's eyes, into nothing more than two "sides" of a fight.

5. Let's not fool ourselves: Made not a few people resent the Jews.

Public menorahs (especially with straight arms, a not unrelated point but which I have other problems with as well) increasingly disgust me. Put up a baby Jesus, put up a tree, put them on public property, and light a menorah in your window.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Shabbat Shalom!

Well, Artscroll's begun translating the Talmud Yerushalmi. Kol HaKavod. Their ads show a picture of the walls of Jerusalem. I sincerely hope that they realize that the Yerushalmi, name notwithstanding, was not written in Jerusalem.

Looks like the Red Cross piece, with some updates, will be published. Yay! Also looks like I'm not the only one who gets it, thank God. Read this and the comments here, for example.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Cutest. Baby. Ever. Just to soften you up for an inordinately long post.

Magen David Adom

Behold, a new rant! I'm submitting for this publication, by the way, but just in case it doesn't make it (as is likely)...

The Jewish newspapers of late have featured ads telling us to rejoice: A seventy-five year old error is about to be remedied, and the Magen David Adom (the MDA is Israel’s equivalent to the Red Cross) is about to be recognized by the international community. The ads were placed by the American Red Magen David for Israel (ARMDI), the organization’s fundraising arm in the United States, which has also sent out mass emails informing us of the same event. This week, there will be a world conference in Geneva, and all will go Israel’s way, for once.

Or will it? Leaving aside the question of whether the end of such a long-standing injustice shouldn’t instead call for some quiet reflection, we Jews have learned through bitter experience- especially over the last fifteen years- that when the world tells us to rejoice, we should instead take a cold, hard look at facts and history. And even looking at the face of the ads and emails, what we find is something quite troubling instead.

Let’s begin with history: Laws of warfare, concerning treatment of civilians, prisoners, the wounded, and so on, have existed for millennia, but until relatively recently were not formally codified or enforced. Of course, while they were generally respected, the laws were broken from time to time. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was founded in the 1860's in response to violations of these laws in wars of that era. Under its auspices, the Geneva Conventions were drawn up, and virtually every country on Earth is now a signatory.

The ICRC is not an international organization as we generally use the term: It consists, at its core, of a few dozen Swiss citizens, and runs relief efforts around the world. For its symbol, the organization simply reversed the colors of the flag of Switzerland, the country, even back then known for its neutrality, in which it was founded and is based. (Such "neutrality" is another well-known "fact" upon which Jews have learned to cast a jaundiced eye.) An equal-armed white cross on red thus became an equal-armed red cross on white.

While religious symbols shared by many nations may be rightly seen as neutral ones, the Red Cross was therefore not invented with a religious meaning in mind. The Swiss flag was seen as a secular symbol, itself based on an older flag of one of the Swiss cantons that itself may have chosen a cross more for its design than for its religious meaning. However, this idea was not to last.

In addition to the ICRC, all the countries of the world have created national aid societies based on its principles. In most cases, the symbol of these countries is the same Red Cross as the ICRC uses. However, when, in the 1870's, the Ottoman Empire became the first Muslim nation to establish such a society, it insisted on using a Red Crescent instead, stating that its Muslim sensibilities were offended by the Red Cross. The ICRC and the Geneva Conventions both recognized the Crescent, today used by dozens of countries. The various national societies are united in the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

With the establishment of the Red Crescent, the idea of the Red Cross as a religious image was firmly planted. The Soviet Union, with both Christian and Muslim populations, used both together. Countries in the Middle East with mixed populations, like Sudan, Syria, and Lebanon, tried to establish new symbols, but eventually settled on the Crescent; countries in Asia that were neither religion, like India and Japan, also tried to establish new symbols, but eventually settled on the Cross.

However, what worked for religions like Hinduism and Buddhism- not monotheistic and therefore not offended by another religion’s symbol- didn’t work for Jews. In the late 1920's, the Jewish community of Palestine established the Red Magen David.

To make a long story short, it’s been over seventy-five years since then, and the Red Magen David is still waiting for recognition. And following in the footsteps of international organizations on a host of issues, the Red Cross has dragged its feet. It’s brought out the old argument- now meaningless for 125 years- that the Red Cross is not a religious symbol. It’s protested that it worries that opening the door to any number of symbols.

This last might possibly be a good argument (although one may wonder why, if true, one symbol isn’t even better than two). However, there’s one ridiculous fact that exposes it as meaningless: In the 1920's, just as the Magen David Adom was being established, Persia, later Iran, established its own symbol, a Red Lion and Sun (based on the symbol of Persia). It was formally recognized by the Geneva Convention. After the Islamic revolution in Iran, though, that country switched to using a Crescent. And yet in a fine display of international inertia, the Red Lion and Sun continues to be recognized, although no one uses it, exactly the opposite situation as exists in Israel. (Countries that use both Cross and Crescent, like Kazakhstan and Eritrea, are also officially out of luck.)

Time has lately run out for the ICRC and IFRC. The MDA has proven itself time and again as an incredible organization worthy of recognition, not only in Israel but around the globe, as it sends relief missions to disasters worldwide. Perhaps more significantly, the American Red Cross has refused to pay its dues to the international organization- and that’s a significant chunk of their budget.

And so that brings us to the events coming up this week. At long last, we are assured, the MDA will be recognized. But look a little closely at the newspaper ads. Odd- there’s a diamond around the Magen David. Why?

Well, it appears that simply accepting the MDA would be too much of an effort for the ICRC. So, in a process that took years, and despite their stated fears of another new emblem, the Red Cross has decided to solve the problem by...adding yet another symbol! This will be the "Red Crystal" or Diamond or Lozenge. Any nation not using the Cross or Crescent will have to use this new symbol, adding (at times when it’s allowed, which won’t be always, making things even more complicated) their own symbol or symbols in the center.

And lest we think that the good old double standard the world applies to Israel is dead, rest assured that all nations currently using a Cross or Crescent will be able to continue to do so. Essentially, the "acceptance" of the MDA will come in such a way that Israel, and Israel alone, will have to change its emblem.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, last week brought the email from ARMDI. In it, we were proudly told that the MDA had recognized the Palestinian Red Crescent. (The Palestinians, not having a country, were also out of luck.) It doesn’t take an expert in international relations to read between the lines here: The MDA was told that to "correct" a problem that never should have existed in the first place, it would have to recognize "the other side." Yes, that Palestinian Red Crescent which, as you may have read, has been implicated in aiding terror attacks a number of times. To gain long-deserved recognition, the MDA has to change its emblem and grovel before its enemy.

Don’t get me wrong: The MDA, and, in its own way, the ARMDI, do fantastic work and deserve our continued support. I have no inside knowledge of whether there are any behind the scenes deals that will, say, gain total recognition for the MDA through this process. And I am well aware of real world implications of this deal: Israel has not fought an open war with another country in twenty years, but I wouldn’t put it past an Arab neighbor to attack Israeli field medics while claiming that the MDA isn’t internationally recognized.

As for the ARMDI, I can imagine that they do run into difficulty over this issue as well. Canada, that bastion of tolerance, recently ruled against fundraising for the MDA on grounds it was not recognized. So perhaps they have real reasons for pushing this change, distasteful as it may be, as well.

I’d like to close with one anecdote. In 1928, the dean of a Catholic law school in the United States wrote a letter to Rabbi Dr. Bernard Revel, first president of Yeshiva University. Apparently, he had a number of Jewish students who were uncomfortable with the cross depicted on the diploma the school awarded, and he wanted to know if there was a halakhic issue that would force them to decline it.

Rabbi Revel responded that there was likely no issue- the cross (particularly with no image on it) wasn’t meant as a religious symbol, just as a symbol of the school’s affiliation. The students could accept the diploma with no qualms. However, he concluded by praising the students whose concerns rose above the worldly, and mentioned the idea of equity- that there is more than just the letter of the law.

Certainly, the Red Cross is punctilious in adhering to the letter of the law. And perhaps we should have no legal or religious concern in adopting crystals or even crosses. But should we be happy about this process? All along, the Red Cross has had a very easy possibility before it: Issue a non-specific one sentence resolution along the lines of, "Any symbol in continuous use by a national aid society for the past seventy-five years, or any combination of these, is acceptable." That would solve any of the many concerns listed above. Better, they could be specific: "The Red Magen David is now acceptable," with perhaps an extra line saying that this is done in light of extraordinary circumstances and history, and any further changes will be much more carefully scrutinized. But issuing the first statement would give Israel the same rights as any other nation. To issue the second would be to make it even more official. And to do that- indeed, to recognize that it is a Jew who wears a Magen David who aids victims around the world regardless of origin, to grant Jews the same rights as any other human being- seems to be beyond the abilities of the world at large.

A quiet moment of brief satisfaction? Just maybe. Joy and gratitude? I see no reason for any such thing.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving!

Jeffrey Woolf brings us this touching story. After telling it to my father, one thought popped into my head: "And in Lakewood, they're banning the internet." Well, at least my alma mater comes out looking good in that article, the rantings of comment-deleting obsessives notwithstanding. (Don't take my word for the latter- just take a look at that blog, painful as that might be.)

Happy Thanksgiving, all! Maybe I'll work on a real article for a bit today- details to follow.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

It seems that everywhere one looks these days, there are ads for the History Channel's new series, "The Crusades: Crescent & The Cross".

As it happens, the crescent was a symbol, dating back to pagan antiquity, of the city of Byzantium/Constantinople. It became a symbol of Islam only after the Ottomans captured the city and made it the capital of their Empire. (See the learned comments of a Mr. Lamm, among others, at this link.) In the 15th Century. Hundreds of years after the last Crusade.

I'm thankful I don't get my history lessons from TV shows.

On a somewhat unrelated note, I found myself overhearing a somewhat overwrought conversation yesterday afternoon. It began with someone wondering about various points in Parshat Noach: "If, as the Midrash says, Noach's vine took one day to grow, where did Canaan come from?" "One day? What about Orlah?" "Did Noach keep the Mitzvos?" "Did he just know them?" It went on and on, constructing a house of cards whose only purpose was not even to reconcile the "facts" of various Midrashim but just to raise more questions.

Now, knowing the people talking, I didn't expect them to concede the obvious: That the first eleven or so chapters of Genesis are myth, perhaps a myth based on some historical fact, surely myth with deep and profound lessons to teach, myth with Divine inspiration or authorship. I didn't expect them to know that in the Epic of Gilgamesh, Utunapishtim brings many people- not just his family- onto the Ark with him. I didn't expect an admission that the presence of Canaan in the curse serves quite different purposes than an indication that he was really there.

But they weren't even touching the text itself- they were dealing with Midrashim. Years ago, I was quite the fan of Midrashim, devouring them and believing in them. But I was eight years old. Ten, tops. Then, my brother, bless him, let me in on the truth. Much as a Christian kid is told the truth about Santa (a point further reinforced today as I listened to a bit about Eliyahu visiting the Seder), he informed me that no, Moshe was not ten amot tall and Og's ankle (or, better, heel) was not thirty amot off the ground. And on and on.

I got pretty defensive, but I soon saw the light. Even later, I got to see the conflict between various Midrashim that negates the possibility that they may all be true. Also later, a Bible professor demonstrated the same about Aggadata (such as in the Talmud) in general. If I can be a bit smug, I've also come to see how Midrash can reflect (even if only inadvertently) some deeper truths. But around that table, there wasn't a hint of that. Just Midrash as fact, Midrash as fact.

Ah well. Chalk it up as another disillusionment. I got a few of those in the last few weeks, as incredible as they were- perhaps another day?

Have a great week, all!

Friday, November 04, 2005


(Yes, that's the proper pronounciation.)

I remember that back in elementary school- oh, this must have been the fifth grade- we were always disappointed when we got out of a long no-Tachanun period on a Monday or Thursday. Like, you're cruising along, jumping from Chazarat HaShatz to Kaddish, and suddenly- Bam!- you're hit (granted, often after a two-day Rosh Chodesh, and sometimes more) with VeHu Rachum.

I guess all these years later I should have a more mature attitude toward things...but hey, it's Friday! We just missed it! Would a "Yay!" be misplaced?

As to my amazing trip to Israel, I hope to have more later. (Sorry for not blogging from there.) Right now, I'll just note that I said Birkat Kohanim (no Yiddish terminology now!) thirty-three times. In three weeks. To be mathematical, that's more than 2.5 times as much as I do it in one entire year in Chutz LaAretz. It included two times at the Kotel, during the mass Birkat Kohanim, an amazing experience, and a full three times on Yom Kippur.

More later, I hope!

Monday, October 03, 2005

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Hunter

The sun, as it is wont to do in this season, has been rising later and later. And I having been rising earlier and earlier to get to Selichot this week.

This morning, as I ventured out in the dark at about 5:45, I turned a corner on the way to shul and happened to glance up at the moon, now in its last crescent. A bright object close to it (a star, a planet, a space station) caught my eye, and as I looked up, I realized that the sky was full of bright lights. It was remarkably clear, quite dark, and the usual city lights weren't as annoying for some reason, and I saw the stars like I haven't seen them in a few months or more. There, right above me, was my old buddy Orion, the only constellation I ever recognize.

In an early section of his posthumous Or HaRaayon, Rav Meir Kahane, zt'l, speaks of the fact that many of the founding figures of Israel- the Avot, the Shevatim, Moshe, David- were shepherds. (I believe he may have been citing others who point this out. And I wonder if it's a coincidence that Hevel, not Kayin, was a shepherd.) The job, Rav Kahane continues, is well suited for meditation, introspection, and the like. You're out there with the sheep, not too active, staying awake at night, just watching over them. You start to think, to wonder- and to look up at the stars, and marvel at the grandeur of creation. It's not surprising that such people thought about the big ideas, and the meaning of it all, and came to find God.

That was me, shortly before six this morning. All of a sudden, 72nd Drive melted away, there were all of the thousands of visible stars instead of New York's relative handful, and I was on some hilltop in the Fertile Crescent, leaning on a crook and thinking some deep thoughts as the new year approaches.

If only for a moment. It's cold, I'm tired, I must get to shul, to work...and I'm back on a sidewalk, with nary a sheep to be seen. But the feeling lingers for a while.

I begin to understand waking early for Selichot. The feeling may be gone now- or soon- but there's always tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

More penguins!

Sure enough, the point I made about the Central Park did not go unmentioned. In yesterday's Science Times (which, it turns out, is likely the last time I will get a Times for some time- perhaps ever), after an idiotic (and, of course, politicized- it's OK if you're a liberal) piece on the history of foul language, there were letters about the penguins and conservatives. Said letters ranged from the inane to...the more inane. Samples:
...after all the clearly documented (easily Google-able) cases worldwide of
long-term monogamous gay pair bonding and child rearing that occur among
Animals aren't "gay." People weren't "gay," or even "homosexual," until recently. There were people who engaged in homosexual acts*; there were no homosexuals. To take a concept so recently created for humans and apply it to animals that have no concept of it is ridiculous. And, of course, a long-term male relationship may well have nothing to do with sex. I strongly suspect that's the case with these penguins. As to "clearly documented"...really? One story, repeated over and over, can make it big on Google.
If those penguins huddle collectively to keep warm and survive a storm, does it
mean that Americans should support the welfare state and a well-financed FEMA?
Welfare and mutual cooperation are two different things. I hope to post a bit on this later.
...perhaps they will also embrace gay partnerships, since penguins around the
world have been observed living in monogamous, long-term same-sex
They will perhaps be surprised to read about gay male penguins of Central Park
Zoo, who happily set up home (fittingly) in Manhattan, though one couple
apparently ended their relationship recently.
Honesty! Make that, of course, "the one couple." And see above.

Then there's this from a "Dr.":
They are opportunistically pair bonded in the extremes of the Arctic winter to
maximize their reproductive success.
There are no penguins in the Arctic.

I used to think the non-news sections were one of the main reasons to read the Times. No more! Goodbye, Pinch!

Oh, before I do say a final goodbye: Clyde Haberman has joined the crowd that jokes about prison rape. You can't link to it, so here it is: In talking about Kozlowski, he says, "For one thing, Attica or wherever else he winds up may not be the best place for jokes about shower curtains." Even Eliot Spitzer's made some remarks in that direction. ("Oh, he's going to state prison.") Absolutely disgusting.

*Or none at all. Both an increased acceptance of homosexuality and a hypersexualizing of society (i.e., "You must have sex with someone. Not interested in women? Then you're gay!") has led to forced identifications, including self-indentifications, and situations such as we've just seen at the Catholic Church (on the seminaries issue) and at the Yeshiva of Flatbush.

Friday, September 16, 2005

I thought something was fishy... pun intended, when I read the Science Times article on "The March of the Penguins": There was no mention of the Central Park "gay" penguins! After all, if you're trying to claim that a movie loved by conservatives isn't so conservative after all (they've bemoaned this situation at least twice), why not point to the obvious? (I will leave untouched the fallacy that we can apply current defintions of "sexuality" to any other species- or era, for that matter.)

Well, today, I got my answer: The Central Park couple is no more. One's taken up with a female. My theory? The Times reporter called Central Park to get a quote, found out the truth, and decided it was too damaging to his (and his readers') tidy litte worldview, and supressed it. Paranoid? You betcha.

I do love this quote in the latter article, though:
"Liberals can find something in it too," he told me. "The male penguins take
care of their children. They sit on the eggs for days and days. They don't
complain that they're not allowed to drink a beer and watch the Bears game on
TV. They just do their duty. It's quite humbling, actually."
Oh, sure. Because that's what conservatism is all about. Neglecting your kids.

And now I just remembered: They even wrote a book about it! Oh, the humanity! Errr...penguin-ity.

Speaking of takes on movies, there's a little contrast here: The new movie "Just Like Heaven" seems to be well-reviewed, and seems to, somehow, come down on the pro-life side of the Terri Schiavo issue. How to deal? Well, the Washington Post savages it, potentially spoiling it, and the New York Times praises it, but dismisses the pro-life stuff, claiming that the movie "turns them into the stuff of farce." How odd. I had no plans to see the movie (hey, I don't even get around to seeing most of the movies I do plan on seeing, even on DVD), but now...

Eh. I'll just read it on The Movie Spoiler. That site saves me time and money: I read the end and no longer have the desire to see a movie.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Amid all the talk...

...of whether Bush will appoint the "first Hispanic justice," I thought I'd point out that that title was taken long ago by Benjamin Cardozo. Hey, if Bill Richardson (or Linda Chavez) can be "Hispanic," he certainly can be called that.

Of course, Democrats often do this. Lieberman was supposedly "the first Jew on a major party national ticket," and after Abraham Beame died, we were told how he was New York's "first Jewish mayor." Both, of course, were preceded by decades by others that at least had a claim to being Jewish, but who were, unfortunately, Republicans.

A few links before I fly off to Boston again:


And three excellent pieces on Katrina:

Mark Steyn.

Ben Stein.

And the Irish Times.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Today's New York Times op-ed page contains five separate sets of questions various thinkers would want to ask Judge Roberts for his confirmation hearings. For your convenience, I shall link them:

Jean Edward Smith's first question is odd. It's a classic "We could all get along if we were all liberals" sort of thing. Otherwise all is cool.

Glenn Reynolds is OK. He seems to be the only Normal-American of the bunch. [Correction below.] He's a bit fixated on his pet ideas, but that's what's expected here, I think.

Ron Klain can't spell his own name. He also seems never to have heard of the word "abortion" (note the euphemism repeated in question one); not to be able to imagine that others may have different starting principles on what should be law (question two); to too-cutely try to avoid labels, even for others (question three); and not to recognize the difference between private and government actions (question four). The last question is just stupid. Clearly a Kool-aid drinker.

Whoa, another Normal-American! Dick Thornburgh has normal questions, as we tend to. It's the others that go nuts.

However, it's Kathleen Sullivan's contribution that's the most troubling. This is a famous law professor, author of casebooks (I think I used one), maybe even a justice herself one day? Question one is cool; two is out of the box (I'll give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she's sincere). Four is a bit of a Kool-aid question. Five tries for the ridiculous "The real activists are conservatives!" line. (See here.) But three is the worst:
3. Do you believe that the Constitution contains commitments to any rights or
structural principles that are not expressly set forth in the text? If there are
tacit structural principles, like federalism, must there also be unenumerated
rights, live privacy?
Tacit? The great professor thinks that federalism is "tacit" in the Constitution? Has she ever read the thing? That's the whole point of the document! The entire Article IV is about that! Has she ever seen or thought about the Tenth Amendment? Does it mean anything to her?

As to her cute close, ha ha ha. I'd agree privacy is "tacit," but like Mr. Klain, she obviously means abortion.

Oh, so only crazy racists and right-wingers are trying to exploit the tragedy. No mention that the left has done nothing but that since it happened.

Aren't people who speak out against Bush so brave? So very, very, brave and daring? It's the last piece that's the most disgusting, painting those who wish for apolitical rememberance as politically driven, snidely pointing out that the government didn't shut down an "art" exhibit (as if it ever does, much as these "artists" wish they did), and, in general, having such a condescending tone toward other newspapers, family members of victims, and any of us who can't grasp how one might use bacterial cultures and rank juvenile stupidity as "art" that it just might drive me to cancel my subscription, even if that does leave me without my favorite blog whipping boy.

You know, in their ignorance of the private/government difference, their pretended bafflement over how terror works, and their rank incompetence in their chosen fields, the "artists" here and the professors above have quite a bit in common.

Sunday, September 11, 2005


It's (lovely) days like this, as literally hundreds (if not thousands) of bike riders pass my window in one of their grand citywide tours as I sit at the computer, that I really wish I knew how to ride a bike. As it is, the only thing with wheels I've ever learned to handle is a car, and that only recently and only barely. Bikes, skateboards, rollerskates- even anything for ice or snow- nada. Sigh.

I do wonder why they chose humble 141st Street, though. Well, I hope they enjoyed it.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Rav Kook, OBE?

I was flipping through a book on Rav Kook ("An Angel Among Men", by Simcha Raz), and came across something fascinating: A photo captioned "A letter from Herbert Samuel, the British High Commissioner, informing Rav Kook that King George V has decided to present the Rav with a medallion of honor".

The letter in the photo isn't clear*, but on the same page is another photo, showing Rav Kook wearing the "medallion" in question. The caption to that photo goes on to say, "Notice that it is partially covered, because of its cross shape." Indeed, a fold of Rav Kook's coat covers one arm of the cross**, but it's clear that it's an Order of the British Empire, probably a Commander's badge, based on the dark (in a black and white photo) ring at the center.

(Commander is the third of five levels. This badge might indicate a higher rank, in which case Rav Kook would be a Knight and thus "Sir Kook" if residents of Mandatory Palestine were British citizens or subjects- I don't know if they were.)

Anyway, I've searched, but can find nothing more on this. I'll admit I'm not the biggest student of Kook-studies, but does anyone else know?

*It's typed in Hebrew, signature in English. I can make out that it's dated June 11, 1922, and has words that would translate to "Order of the British Empire," ending with the word "BeYoter"- "high degree."

**Rav Kook is holding a book at the point where the coat folds over the cross. Is the fold inadvertent? Was he holding the book to cover up a deliberate fold? Is it possible an arm was broken (after all, a covered cross is still a cross) and he's covering that fact, not an actual arm?

William Rehnquist, R.I.P.

The President, of course, said it best. But I'd like to add this one bit, courtesy of Wikipedia. It was the first thing that came to mind:
Rehnquist also created a unique robe for himself as Chief Justice in 1994. It
has four golden bars on each sleeve. In the past, Chief Justices had not dressed
differently from any of the Associate Justices. Rehnquist's robe was modeled
after a robe he had seen in a production of Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta
Iolanthe, first staged in London in 1882. The costume that inspired Chief
Justice Rehnquist, an acknowledged Gilbert and Sullivan fan, is worn by the Lord
Chancellor, a character called upon to settle a dispute among a colony of
What a man. I'm glad I got to be welcomed to the Court by him.

I'm liking the Clement idea, provided, of course, that she really deserves it. (Hmm. All but race.) As well as NR's convention idea.

Hillel Goldberg has a nice piece in the latest Commentator about the JTS fire of '66. (Hat tip: El Presidente.) Since I heard about his story earlier in the year, though, I was a bit troubled by one point: Didn't they worry about how R. Lieberman would feel when two YU students came to him with the question: "We want to save your institution's sefarim, but lots of us think that JTS isn't worth working for. How do you pasken?" Offended? Hurt? Puzzled at the dichotomy?

I hope R. Goldberg was more diplomatic than that. Say, "Well, we have no problem, but some of the 'frummer' students do." Or, "We have no problem with JTS, but guys are wondering whether any sefer is worth the bittul torah/zman." At least I now know that the books weren't actually burning when they asked (I think).

Oh, as long as I'm on the Commie: It's nice to see that old tradition of IBC-bashing is alive and well. Not. And Norman Lamm proves how pessimistic he can get, so long as others can be blamed.

Nu. A happy Labor Day! Did you know that May Day originated in the US- and we're the only country whose Labor Day is at another time? I wonder if they were trying to limit the Commies.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

An IM conversation of yesterday:

She: Who's Kant?

Me: A German philosopher. [I show off a bit, partly with the help of Wikipedia.] He's pretty boring. I once suggested to a professor that it was the translation's fault, but he assured me that he was just as boring in German.

She: Great. I signed up for a course in that.

Me [Truthfully]: Oh, I'm sure you'll do very well.

We talk a while more, while I Google and search Amazon a bit. Then:

Me: Oh, no! It's not Kant who's boring- it's Hegel! Hegel is boring! Kant rocks!

She: Yeah! Go Kant!

I have weird conversations. Thank God.

Well, I declared the entire August to be my birth-month. As it ends today, I think I'll extend a bit more. Maybe through Labor Day? Maybe through December 31st? Maybe through my next birthday?

Eh, I'll pick the first.

I'm always struck by how the Times editorializes advice to parties of the Right- as if they're really concerned that those parties improve their chances. Usually, of course, that advice is simply for them to be more left-wing. Then there's this beaut today, which bemoans the likelihood that Bibi will take over the Likud. Horrors! the Times sighs. The Likud won the last election only because Sharon became such a left-winger! How will they ever win again?

Well, um, yeah. Except the Likud did so well in the last election running on precisely the platform that Bibi is now proposing, and on which Sharon did a 180 degree reversal. I'm not concerned.

Speaking of Times editorials, you have to love this. Really, the behavior of the liberals during this awful tragedy has been disgusting. (And just to be even-handed, that goes for all the politicos at The Corner who won't shut up about political play. Spend enough time in wonk-land and you begin to think everyone thinks like you. This holds doubly true for the leader of the attack, who've I've referenced before, on whom I can always count on to depress me in any matter, when he's not disgusting me by his seeming need to use insults to get across what otherwise would be a valid point. Shut up, Pod.) Prayers to all affected.

Off to Boston for a deposition! See y'all later!

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

"Like every good heretic, I believe that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare..."

(The above is a quote from the first issue of National Review, 1955. Great article by Morrie Ryskind.)

OK, it's time to drop all my petty concerns about politics, Israel, my personal life and feelings, and rush to a full-court defense of my main man Will Shakespeare, victim of a hatchet job in today's New York Times.

The piece starts reasonably enough, discussing recent books on Shakespeare and how they relate to the whole authorship issue. Now, this is fair game: I saw the new book on the Earl of Oxford in Barnes & Noble myself recently, and just groaned. And the whole Catholic question can be interesting: I once wrote a paper (or part of one) on it myself. But when I got done with this piece, I let out an audible "Disgusting!"

The article's main problem is that it deals with recently published books, and uses their admittedly wacky theories as a strawman: "See? The Oxford theories may be weird, but so are the Stratfordians!" There is a simple solution: Point out that there's more than the strawmen, as I will do shortly. But first, let's address some of the points made in the article.
To begin with, there is the question of Shakepeare's source materials.
Shakespeare had to have read a lot of books. Books were valuable. But in his
will, where he was very specific about a second-best bed for his wife and about
who should get plate, a sword and various rings, there is no mention of books.
Of course, that will has been much discussed. There's no mention of a best bed, for one. Most likely, Shakespeare simply didn't dictate the deposition of many items which would pass to his family (or which had already been given to his friends) anyway. To pretend this is the first time anyone thought about the books is disingenuous.
In an article in the current TLS about another new crop of Shakespeare
authorship books, Brian Vickers - the dean of Shakespeare scholars, who a year
and a half ago in TLS argued for the attribution of a Shakespeare poem, "A
Lover's Complaint," to John Davies of Hereford - gives a kind of
fire-and-brimstone academic sermon attacking the
Shakespeare-must-have-been-someone-else scholars.
I suppose the reference to the poem is a sort of "Gotcha!" point- see, even he has issues. Of course, as anyone who knows Shakespeare knows, that poem and others have long been problematic. So? It's like saying "Shakespeare didn't write the whole Passionate Pilgrim! So there!"
For instance, how could a writer of such stature leave no evidence of his ever
having made money for his work? In a folio edition that preceded Shakespeare's,
Ben Jonson published his plays, floridly dedicating them, each to a different
patron; Shakespeare did nothing of the kind.
Of course Ben Jonson did that. Ben Jonson was full of himself, and people laughed at him for doing that. It was a very uncommon practice. You just didn't publish plays: You acted them out. Shakespeare, of course, published and dedicated poems, but there's no mention of that.

Speaking of Ben Jonson, he was a person who loved to throw wrenches into the works. He knew Shakespeare well- and nowhere does he hint that he wasn't the author. Of all people, he'd be the one to let the cat out of the bag, and yet he wrote essays on how great Shakespeare was.
Many of the plays languished unpublished until seven years after his death,
finally to be assembled by others and published, but not for the profit of
Shakespeare's heirs. And none of the descendants of Shakespeare left a word
about his literary achievement.
Again, see above for how usual it would be for "others" (actually Shakespeare's company, which probably owned the copyright anyway) to publish the plays. Oh, and Jonson contributed introductions. The bits about "heirs" and "descendants" is one of the piece's most awful deceptions: For all intents and purposes, Shakespeare had none. Only daughters survived, and we know their status back then. And he had no descendants past one daughter's children. (One daughter had a son named Shaxper. Make of that what you will- I see in it an affirmation of his grandfather's fame.)
For example, the youngest of de Vere's three daughters, Susan, whom Mr. Anderson
finds to be associated in a contemporary epigram with King Lear's youngest
daughter, Cordelia, married Philip Herbert, the Earl of Montgomery, after an
effort to marry her older sister Bridget to William Herbert, the Earl of
Pembroke, failed. The compilers of the First Folio, the original source of many
Shakespeare plays, dedicated it to these two earls.
Oh, that's a powerful argument. Of course, the First Folio is full of dedications and poems stating that Shakespeare wrote the plays. But let's ignore text for subtext, eh?
For instance, he wholly accepts "Sir Thomas More" as de Vere's - not only the
parts of Scene 6 that traditional scholars claim for Shakespeare, but the entire
play. Most of the manuscript is in the handwriting of Anthony Munday, an author
of the period who for a time, Mr. Anderson says, was de Vere's secretary.
Of course most of the manuscript is in another hand. And yet part of it is in Shakespeare's. So? No one claims Shakespeare wrote the whole thing.
On both sides of the authorship controversy, the arguments are conjectural.
Each case rests on a story, and not on hard evidence.
Of course: There's no hard evidence if you only set up strawmen!

The "hard evidence" is so simple it almost seems absurd: There's no evidence anyone other than Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare. There's no evidence Shakespeare himself didn't. On the other hand, there's much evidence that the varied other candidates did not write the plays. (One absurdly simple point: De Vere died well before many of Shakespeare's plays were written. No mention of that here.) And there's much evidence that Shakespeare himself did. (Outside of the external stuff, there is, for example, the author of the Sonnets referring to himself as "Will." De Vere's first name was, um, Edward. Shakespeare's first name was, um, Will. The line is clear enough to be proof, and subtle enough to avoid conspiracy theories.)

So let's go back to the beginning of the piece:
The traditional theory that Shakespeare was Shakespeare has the passive to
active acceptance of the vast majority of English professors and scholars, but
it also has had its skeptics, including major authors, independent scholars,
lawyers, Supreme Court justices, academics and even prominent Shakespearean
actors. Those who see a likelihood that someone other than Shakespeare wrote the
plays and poems attributed to him have grown from a handful to a thriving
community with its own publications, organizations, lively online discussion
groups and annual conferences.
Leaving aside the fact that all sorts of kooks have online groups, and that actors are...actors, let's look at one "major author", Mark Twain. Twain believed- as have snobs since Shakespeare's own time- that he wasn't worthy of having written them, with his (relative) lack of education. (He didn't go to college! Horrors! Of course, grammar school back then was pretty impressive.) One wonders, of course, why Twain himself, with less education than Shakespeare, wasn't similarly hampered in writing the classics of his time. Or how Abraham Lincoln, with virtually no formal education at all, became our greatest president.

And so the article ends:
What if authorship studies were made part of the standard Shakespeare
Sure. Why not intelligent design, as long as we're at it? Or all the other things in Derb's piece today?

I hate irrationalism (and its sister, obscurantism) above all.

Then again, this is the same Times who joyously reviewed the new Central Park production (revival, actually- and loose adaptation) of "The Two Gentlemen of Verona" thusly yesterday:
They also scaled down Shakespeare's passages of poetic pain for an approach that
emphasized an easygoing, multicultural exuberance over wistful poetry and
nonsense over sensibility.
Poetic Pain? Sensibility? Sensibility is bad? If they don't kill Shakespeare by denying he existed altogether, they kill him by promoting "the lotus-eating youth of the post-Woodstock years" as being better than him.

Of course, it should surprise no one that a song perceived as being anti-Bush (although written over thirty years ago, as anti-Vietnam War) is "greeted with knowing laughter by the audience." Another article tells us that only one person walked out during the previews. Only a few miles from Ground Zero, the ingrates.

See? It all comes back to Times-bashing and politics. I'm back!

Sunday, August 28, 2005

...and again

My Hebrew birthday today! I get to turn thirty all over again!

Well, the last few days, the papers have been full of all sorts of emotional stories about possible base closings. I wonder if any of these left-wing troublemakers in the press (I exclude those actually affected) really put two and two together: Don't they realize that their desire to keep bases open is dependent on there being wars? That's why we have armed forces! We're at war now and we can't keep them open- if we followed the advice of their other favorite story, we'd have no military, and no bases, at all.

In all likelihood, they simply see bases and the military as some huge social services program. And, like the other programs they support (and even more so here), they don't really expect them to actually do anything, just dole out money and look good. Listen to Derb Radio, particularly his bit about the USS Iowa.

Man, you put off posting too long and things cease to be posting-worthy. As to my neocon bit, let's just say that I officially distrust anything that comes from a Murdoch property, now that I know that his major concern is what politician, American or Chinese, will make him richer, not ideology. No fault of his, but no reason to believe anything he says. I don't think that it's a coincidence that one of his employees is the person at National Review most intent on playing down the Able Danger story.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The New Addition

Check out my brother's photos on his blog here! Mazal Tov!

An unrelated thought: If, as the hypocritical liberals claim, only those who've lost offspring in Iraq have "moral authority" to speak, did all those people who turned out last night even have kids serving there? Somehow I doubt it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Today I am an uncle!

Mazel tov to my brother and sister-in-law, proud parents of a baby girl, as of about noon EDT today. (Problem is, they're in England.) And mazel tov to all of us, and to me!

I'm growing disenchanted with blogs that block, edit, or delete comments. Just thought I'd say.

Lifting this from The Corner:

August 17, 2005 –U.S. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) tells U.S. News exclusively
that tomorrow he will call for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq by
December 31, 2006. Feingold, who is exploring a run for the presidency in 2008,
is now offering a real alternative to Bush’s policy of “staying the course.”

While Feingold has previously steered away from setting a timetable for
getting U.S. troops out of Iraq, he told U.S. News that the war in Iraq has made
America less safe so a deadline needed to be set. “The president’s policy in
Iraq has played into the hands of the terrorists,” he said. “Iraq is now the
principal training ground for terrorists.”

While Feingold is proposing a deadline for American troop withdrawal of December 31, 2006, he says it can be a flexible deadline. “It’s a target date,” he said. “If we believe we need a little more time we may have to continue (in Iraq).”

1. By calling for a pullout date, it's Feingold who's playing into the hands of terrorists. To accuse Bush of doing that is just plain chutzpah. And, of course, if Iraq is "now" the training ground for terrorists, well, then, why would we leave?

2. The last paragraph completely negates the rest of the piece. If we need to pull out, we need to pull out. If we can extend the deadline, well, that's not a pullout. If we need to be there, we don't need to pull out.

The whole announcement, come to think, makes no sense at all. Another trying to have his cake and eat it Democrat, in thrall to a crazy woman in a ditch.

Monday, August 08, 2005

And a bit more...

First: So long as their lives were in danger, I didn't want to crack wise. But now that the Russian sailors have thankfully been saved, perhaps I can ask: Am I the only American who, upon hearing about Kamchatka, thinks, "Risk! Cool!"?

(Actually, I don't think I've ever played Risk. We have an old set in the basement somewhere, but it's a bit too complicated for me. Says the Stratego-lover.)

Anyway, I wanted to follow up a bit on the OU stuff below. But two interesting related points caught my eye:

The Forward this week featured a letter from someone named David Blatt, in Chicago. No problem there- it's a national paper. Mr. Blatt has issues with anti-withdrawal people, especially as those nasty Orthodox kids have no respect for property and put up orange ribbons everywhere. OK, perhaps a bit impolitic or un-PC, but understandable.

But then: The Jewish Week, which despite our lapsed subscription, won't stop sending us issues, also featured a letter from a David Blatt in Chicago (and in a local New York paper!). This time, Mr. Blatt was a good deal less PC. In fact, this time, he actually called for anti-disengagement soldiers to be lined up and shot. I kid you not- check it out. And the Jewish Week published it.

But I lost faith in that paper last week, when I discovered they'd run a cover story (and two pages inside) puff piece on a band headed by the editor in chief's son. Did they mention that fact? Ha!

Anyway, point two: I looked at a map of Gaza and noticed something interesting. There are three "isolated" Jewish settlements, one a bit close to a bloc. The rest of the settlements are in a large bloc in the south, and another, smaller bloc, in the north, right on the Israeli border. One may then ask: Why withdraw from the northern ones at all? Just extend the border a bit south! But no: You see, that's where Sharon's buddy and his Saudi investors will be building their casino. I guess they don't expect Jews to travel all the way across Gaza for it.

Disgusting. And the neocons at National Review (about whom much more later) are cynical about Bibi. Ha. Bibi isn't perfect, but at least he's not a crook.

Anyway, a couple of points about the OU situation:

In the previous post, I mentioned my idea that religion, in theory, is supposed to inform most political stances- certainly for a religious organization. Now you can posit that Orthodoxy doesn't have a definite point of view on, say, taxes. I'd disagree, but that's a valid position. But certainly there are others where religion has a great deal to say.

And yet the OU shies away from such matters. Why? Well, there's this bigwig there- let's call him Mem Aleph, which aren't his initials but seem to be his favorites. He's a polisci professor, and seems to value process above results. He's the type who loves to play with Robert's Rules of Order and resolutions and seconding and all that- even in the youth division. So why come to a resolution on Gaza if we can just argue about it? Nor is it just him: This seems endemic to a number of those responsible for such matters at the OU.

However, he's more dangerous in another way: He's hopelessly committed to liberalism or, to be generous, perhaps to just the Democratic Party. (Granted, he used to work for them.) His positions on a number of issues, both domestic and foreign (most notably the matter of Pollard) are quite at odds with that of much of the membership. And yet he seems to have kissed the Blarney Stone or talked to a genie or something, because his hold over the organization is quite firm. And so we get pareve declarations and responses.

(Parenthetically, I've long observed that many of the biggest Democratic partisans- not necessarily liberals, but often so- in the Orthodox world are also the most parochial and racist kikes. Ask them to defend their stance on abortion, for example, and more often than not [and probably not because they wrongly think they're sinking to your level] the most vile things about non-Jews will come to their lips.)

Where was I? Oh, yeah: One more problem. It seems to me that the most active members of the RCA, at least for communal issues like these, tend to be the oldest, the ones educated in the 40's and 50's and still in love with FDR, and, by extension, Howard Dean. Conservatism from these people? Ha!

And, as it happens, you often see a real attachment to labor Zionism (including socialist religious Zionism) among these folk. That's all they really knew growing up, and all there was until the late 70's. This may spill over to their views on the US (or vice versa), and may be partially due to a siege mentality defense of Israel at all costs (again, or vice versa), but I think a good deal of the "It's not our place to criticize"- which, granted, is sometimes correct- can be tied to these views. Again, I'll try to elaborate on my neocon post, which I hope to have up shortly.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The OU, Gaza, and Charedi-enamoration

Well, my inside information at the OU has been informing me of employee unrest over that organization's non-stance over the disengagement for a while. Yesterday, there was yet another meeting at which the Powers That Be (hereinafter PTB) again hid behind the "we resolved X at the convention," etc. etc.

Well, I was one of the people who resolved X at said convention, and it seems there's a bit of disingenuousness going on here. Thursday night, there was a big resolutions session. All those accredited as delegates (including yours truly) were there, in a big ballroom. When we got to Gaza issues, emotions started running high. Eventually, it was decided to leave this and a few other issues for the next morning.

The meeting the next morning was held in a much smaller room, with much less people. Various shiurim were going on at the same time. With regards to Gaza, we were presented with a "consensus" resolution that the PTB, especially the usual sus... the more political ones among them, had, we were told, stayed up late to hammer out. We would be able to vote on that or nothing would be passed as regards to the issue.

Now, I'm not saying the OU need have passed an "anti" resolution. I don't even know if it's the OU's place. But that was certainly the mood of the delegates.

Eh. Maybe it's my memory that's failing. But there does seem to be a deal of pussy-footing going on here. To be honest, the one issue I didn't vote for and protested was the stem-cell one. This one just makes me mad. Isn't being Orthodox all about having halacha touch on all aspects of life? To say, as the OU has, "There are well-meaning people on all sides, so how can we judge?" makes one wonder why they don't just say the same thing about Shabbos. Or Kashrus.

And now I fear that cousin of mine is about to stir things up further.

Anyway, the more shocking revelation about yesterday's meeting was that the OU's Exec. VP actually cited the Brisker Rav as support for non-action. How an ardently anti-Zionist gadol has authority over a Zionist group like the OU on matters like this is beyond me. But it brings up something I've been wanting to blog about for a while.

Some time back, I saw a book in the office called "Memories of a Giant." Essentially, it's a collection obituaries and eulogies for the Rav, published by the Institute in Boston. I flipped through it, and saw that one was by R. Yaakov Weinberg of Ner Israel. (The book was published after he passed on, so there was a "zt'l" after his name.) Considering the treatment the Rav's death had gotten from the Charedi world (Exhibit A: The infamous Jewish Observer piece), I found this intriguing, and read on. And was shocked.

Let's simply lay it out: In a eulogy that covered about five or six pages, R. Weinberg had not seen fit to mention the name of the subject once. There's no mention of "the Rav" or anything similar, either. All we have is vague Torah points and occasional direct references to "this man". (Yes, that's exactly the only way the Rav is referred to.) Didn't think that was possible? I guess I'll just cite R. Tendler's criticism of the JO obit and say that such things require planning.

So what's really going on here? Well, simply flip the page to the eulogy by the aforementioned Exec. VP, "Weinreb" coming after "Weinberg." R. Weinreb was, at the time, a Rav in Baltimore, and he opens his piece with a bit on how unlike in New York, where people don't get along, people in Baltimore do. As proof, we can see that all segments of the community- he doesn't spell it out, but he clearly means Modern Orthodox and Charedim- have come together for these hespedim.

Clearly, R. Weinberg was drawn along into this event, perhaps against his will, leading to R. Weinreb's reference. And he likely wasn't too happy about it, and so did something "cute" with his speech. And R. Weinreb was either too dim, or too elated about "unity," to notice.

Or, more likely, is too in thrall to ultra-Orthodoxy. Hence the Brisker reference.

So this leads me to the point: It's about time that Modern Orthodoxy stopped being led by people with such blinders on. We saw this in the praise of Frumteens in Jewish Action; we see it in Young Israels and other shuls led by Chafetz Chaim graduates who can't relate (or secretly despise) their congregants; we see it in the rebeiim teaching at various day schools and yeshivot; we see it in leadership of various organizations. And we have to start calling people on it, at least.
Perhaps I'm so worked up because the hatred seems so widespread. It's not just R. Weinberg and the JO on the Rav. Artscroll is clearly guilty of this, smacking their donors in the face when they can. Note the sly non-thanks given to R. Lamm, without whom most of their projects wouldn't have happened. Or note their "World That Was: America."

Ah, where to start of that piece of dreck? To mention that as a twentieth century work, and thus one that must mention such unmentionables as Zionism and Modern Orthodoxy, Artscroll doesn't grace it with it's own seal, rather choosing- as it does for other such works- the Shaar Press one? (Even though earlier volumes in the same series weren't so branded. In any event, those were texts, this is a coffee table book.)

Worse, the book was made with money from the Claims Conference. Ultra-orthodoxy proudly disdains working with non-Orthodox organizations, as we can witness from their constant badgering of the OU and RCA in the Synagogue Council days. Well, they're not so proud when money is being thrown around, whether it's from Sharon or from the Conference. I even recall them proudly mentioning, on R. Sherer's death (more on him below), how much money he got from the Conference.

So, the money having been gotten from them, the book must somehow touch on the Holocaust. It does, in a pro forma way, and then gets to the bulk of the book, short biographies of gedolim. Most post-date the 1940 cut off date of the book's title. The premise of the book is odd- the other books of the series show pre-war Europe. This one purports to show pre-war America (not that the Holocaust touched the US), but then goes on about post-war. There's even barbed wire over a map of the US on the cover. Very odd. Maybe it's a Holocaust-recovery book or something. Or maybe it's just a moneymaker. (Witness their new "Aleppo" book. Or the wonder of their women's siddur, all nice and purty and un-halachic and ahistorical.)

The worst part is the treatment of YU. After all, they have a large section on yeshivot, so how can they ignore the oldest one in the US? Easy: They give the history up until 1920 or so, then conclude with a line about how a college was founded, unnamed (as they are nonexistent) Roshei Yeshiva turn the page, and you're on a new yeshiva. Turn to the bio of R. David, you'd barely know he taught there. Turn to the bio of the Rav, and you'll see a few wildly out-of-context lines criticizing modern Orthodoxy, lifted straight from R. Rakeffet's book.

So why is there this hate and deligitimization? I think it goes back to the movement's founding: It was founded to be against things- Zionism, modernity, and so on. There simply isn't a positive program. Back in the 1950's, a book defending mechitza, called The Sanctity of the Synagogue, was published. Many rabbanim contributed essays. R. Sherer did, in Yiddish. Most of the essays, well, defend the mechitza. R. Sherer takes the opportunity to bash Modern Orthodoxy.

Oh, the OU republished the book in the 1980's. R. Sherer's essay was duly translated and included. You see, the Modern Orthodox world doesn't respond to such attacks in kind. That's left to bloggers like me.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Ben Shloshim L'Koach

"At the age of thirty, one attains strength," say the rabbis. I'm not sure what precise meaning they had in mind, but here's a short prayer that they're right.

Thirty! Wow! Never trust me anymore! Here's a special thanks to my siblings overseas, who outdid themselves with the packages. Happy birthday, as well, to J.K. Rowling (and, not coincidentally, Harry Potter).

Anyway, here's an unrelated thought: When in San Diego two weeks ago (pictures below), I saw The Wedding Crashers. (Yeah, I really take advantage of these trips.) It's a hilarious movie, and I highly recommend it to my faithful readers (all two or three of you). Yesterday, I realized something: The elaborate preparations the two leading characters go through to crash said weddings (that's not a spoiler, but a premise) would be really unnecessary in the Orthodox world. Just think how easy it would be to crash some of the mob scenes that pass for "kiddushin" these days. I never have, but it's giving me ideas.

Let us hope, among other things, that this post gets me back to blogging regularly. I have lots more to say.

Happy Birthday to me! Want to see a nice, albeit unintentional, gift? Go here and search for "A reader". That's me!

I couldn't visit San Diego without seeing the Coronado Bridge, from which Lynn Echolls took her final leap (after sending a note via her Blackberry). Here's the view from the top of the Hyatt hotel, forty stories up. Posted by Picasa

Here's one taken from the ground, before I went up to the roof. Posted by Picasa

Monday, July 18, 2005

Vayisu Vayachanu

Just wanted to check in with all my peeps on the way back from DC and the way to San Diego. Lots to say, but it can keep!

Later, y'all!

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Well, last night's event went off quite well (Ken Mehlman, RNC chairman, at the local chapter of the Federalist Society). They had to keep bringing in more seats. At first I thought it'd just be a stump speech, but he ended up being quite in depth, focusing on judges- because it's a lawyer's organization, after all. (When did this male/female thing at the political parties get started? Just wondering.)

The questions weren't bad either, and it got interesting when one kook arose and started screaming about gays in Jerusalem and Pat Buchanan and "Israeli-occupied" territory and how the FBI should be investigating all the Zionists in the US. I guess he thought he was at a Democratic meeting; fortunately, the largely upper-crust WASPy audience was having none of it and booed him down. We conservatives and Republicans don't go for that garbage, thankyouverymuch. Try Howard Dean next time. Mehlman, meanwhile, had a nice snappy response: "Well, if the FBI's going to investigate Zionists, I hope they start with me."

The guy said that he was a "proud Jew" and that he had been foreign correspondent for the Manchester Union-Leader. That state is so full of extremes, and yet we flatter them, making that paper the most important in the country every four years. Ah well. And...but I'm spending far too much space on what was a tiny part of the event. Good times.

Professor McGinnis was there (I welcomed him back to New York), as was Deroy Murdock. I actually spoke to the latter about the new tower design- we agreed it was better than before. He was giving out a list he compiled of Islamic bombings of mosques, along with this excellent piece. Alas, I didn't get to ask the Fabiani honcho what was up with that.

Speaking of the tower, the Times critic doesn't like it. As if I needed more reason to be happy.

Speaking of the Times, this story is...well, interesting. I'd say "funny," but it's not really, especially when you see who Bloomberg called to kowtow to.

As long as I'm linking articles, here are two nice ones: One from the Times of London on Bush, and one from Peggy Noonan on politicians.

In his latest, Mugger really puts the latest "takings" case in perspective. I've seen this attitude ("We'll [re]compensate you! Why not?") elsewhere, but in private industry. You don't like it, leave. Here, you don't have a choice. Seriously, you shouldn't need a reason. "I don't want to" should be good enough for the government. Yuck. (Another NY Press piece on this here. Looks like some people are finally waking up as to which party is on the side of the "little guy".)

Nicest part of getting a haircut is how nicely your tefillin fits after. (Speaking of tefillin, see my comments here.)

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

I really think that reporters should report. But is there, perhaps, room for fact stating? In other words, when someone says something completely wrong, the reporter can chime in afterward to correct it?

Howard Dean: The sky is green.

Reporter: As it happens, it isn't.

I suppose it would be too easy to abuse in numerous ways. Still, when hearing Durbin, on the radio this morning, declare that "Bush is trying to link Saddam Hussein to 9/11," it would have been nice to hear a "Actually, he did nothing of the sort" afterwards.

Anyway, it was a grand speech. Once again, I'm glad I voted for the man- twice. (All qualifiers aside.)

In other news, another MTA grand plan bites the dust. At this rate, we're never going to see a Second Avenue Line, are we? (It's already off the main page.) Newsflash to MTA: We don't need a dome. We don't expect one. Install good old fashioned light bulbs and use the money you save to connect to the other lines. Your job is subways, not architecture.

That said, I'm very pleasantly surprised with the tower redesign. (Also here.)

Friday, June 24, 2005

Barukh Dayan Ha-emet

Nahum Sarna has passed away. A great loss. Say something of his this Shabbat if you can.

Via Menachem (I do hope YU means YUdaica when they talk about this new book).

Of course, speaking of the kikes, they've come out (see the comments).

Speaking of my favorite J-blogs, see my comments here. I'm going to dan the author l'chaf z'chut and assume the rag's editor added the snide comments. But lay down with dogs...

On the other hand, I really don't like sites (not the two above) which have lots of Java. OK, we're impressed. But we'd like to load here. And why, when you stick a CD in a computer, doesn't a simple CD player pop up like it used to? Instead you get all these music download things, which only really work with fast connections. Bleah.

In other news, if Yahoo Mail wants to include headlines, they should update them. I'm getting tired of "Dead passes 1,700 mark." And why 1700? It's making me suspicious.

Finally, are the deaf now the "Deaf?"
The Weekly Standard has a funny parody of Abramoff's latest. But they left out the hilarious last line of the memo, which you can see at the end here.
As to the flag-burning amendment: My big objection has always been that it concedes the Left's point. "Well, yeah, it's allowed under the First Amendment [which may, in fact, be true], which is why we need an amendment to prevent it." This leads us to try to sully a fine document with endless responses to individual cases (most notably abortion) instead of putting the courts in their place.

Of course, here, the law does not say states may outlaw it, it says it is illegal, which is even worse. Federalism, anyone? Of course, that ties in to the whole emiment domain discussion now going on in light of this latest decision. But I see that's more complicated, it seems, thanks to the legal minds at National Review. (Speaking of which: God bless Victor Davis Hanson. And again.)
So apparently, the kikes are upset with Bush over the Gaza thing. Let me say this:

1) To quote Sharansky, you can't expect Bush to be "more Zionist than Sharon." If Arik-savior-of-Israel is so eager to pull out, do you want Bush to be a Kahanist? (Newsflash: No president will ever be a Kahanist, alas.) Sharansky, by the way, has become a victim- a second time- of the Sharon juggernaut, and yet has once again proven himself the better man. A Great Man he remains.

2) It's not like Bush didn't make his feelings clear when he ran. The man has an overly-optimistic view of people, which can be nice, except when you're dealing with loons like the Palestinians (and divine law). He thinks everyone can get along. The kikes chose to ignore him. (Similar to the choices we all make when we vote.)

3) Um, how shall I put this? When I voted last year, I voted to President of the United States! Not of Israel! I voted on issues important in this great land of ours! Why don't these people grow up? (OK, want a parochial reason? Bush's party isn't blaming Israel for 9/11.)

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

You know life isn't so bad when, while you're on your way to Shacharis, a car passes you playing "Dragostea Din Tei"- and after all this time, you still feel like breaking out in a dance.

Speaking of Shacharis: Isn't it odd that certain portions (like at the end) were added just so there could be an extra Kaddish (or two or three or more), and now sometimes Kaddish is added when no one's really saying it because we say those portions?

OK. I'm a big sap. Check out this site.

Not for the easily offended- but laugh-out-loud funny. I wish I could find the page that focused only on old cereals.

I also wish IFilm still had Triumph insulting Jackson fans up. Now he's funny. Check out some of his other stuff there.

A Bad News Bears remake? Has Hollywood completely run out of ideas this summer?

Later, all! Off to a less-cold office tomorrow (perhaps).

Monday, June 20, 2005

Note to self... time you eat Chinese, do it early in the morning, so you can sleep that night.

Well, the bro and sis-in-law are off to Merrie Olde England, after a lovely good-bye weekend (see above). And on the same day, the rabbi hands me, at Shacharit, a letter attesting to my "Israeli" sister's Jewishness. Sniff. They're clearing out, y'all. Keep in touch! Start photoblogging! (And today, I come across a document about flights to Manchester.)

The funniest line to come out of the various bouts of Democratic chutzpah (and outright anti-Semitism) of the last few weeks- you know the drill, say something outrageous and then blame the Republicans when they call you on it (lookin' at you, little Chuckie Schumer)- was RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman's reaction to ever-so-white Howard Dean's remark that the Republicans are "white Christians": "All the people at my bar mitzvah would be surprised to learn they're 'white Christians'!"

I just now noticed that Shavuot fell on 6/13 this year. Wow!

Isn't it funny that the "gossip" pages in Israeli papers are "rechilut"?

Some interesting links:

Ordinary mom and American Gloria Steinem. Sure, and I see "all my friends" in the movies too!

A very cool Tom Cruise. I wonder if it was staged, though.

Do people really find Jon Stewart funny? I've never seen him before I saw this clip. All I see is him beating an obvious point to death, a stunningly inappropriate punchline, and an audience that cracks up for no apparent reason. Jon Stewart moves his head, they laugh. He stands up, they laugh. "There is only one thing in the world worse than playing squash together..."

We rock. We truly do.

Friday, June 10, 2005

"Every new religion needs a symbol."

So Rabbi Dov Levanoni is a member of this new "Sanhedrin," eh? That alone is enough to make me sick to my stomach (and add scare quotes where I otherwise wouldn't have). Straight-armed menorahs and ugly temples in crazy locations (and, God save us, enforced thinking), here we come!

Thursday, May 19, 2005

A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing.
-Oscar Wilde

I was just thinking about that quote yesterday, about someone I know, but today's New York Times brought it fresh to mind. A few days ago, I went to Ground Zero to take the subway. The way the station is built there, you get a full view of what's going on down there. Or what's not going on down there, rather: After almost four years, there's nothing at all. A disgrace.

So I was quite heartened to see this by Deroy Murdock. He's been pushing this plan for a while, and I've been coming around to his point of view, especially in light of the scandals involving Pataki and friends. Donald Trump is a very good shot in the arm for this.

Of course, the Times had to weigh in with a rather snide piece. And that's where the cynicism comes in. I'll admit that the details of building, leasing, and so on are tough. But where's the vision, the idea of the value of a plan? As far as I can see, the Donald has that much more than the Times.

A few choice quotes to fisk from the article:
Donald J. Trump, reality television star, fragrance entrepreneur and developer
of tall buildings, revealed his answer to the problems at the World Trade Center
site yesterday. That answer, perhaps unsurprising, was himself.
The greatest architects and builders have all been ruthless self-promoters. That's how great projects get done.
Mr. Trump's model was designed by his structural engineer, Kenneth Gardner
Also a designer of the original Twin Towers. No mention of that here.

"If he has such grand ideas and imaginative thoughts," said Thomas Rogér, whose daughter Jean was a flight attendant on the plane that hit the north tower, "where was he three years ago when the master planning was going on?"

He called Mr. Trump's proposal and timing "in poor taste," and said they did not reflect the wishes of the majority of families. "The towers are not a memorial to the people who died there," he said. "If anything it is a bitter reminder of how people died."

Joanna Rose, the spokeswoman for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, said in an e-mail message: "Donald Trump is entitled to his opinion, just like the millions of people who actually involved themselves in the public planning process, which resulted in the master plan."

Involved? No one was "involved." The whole design was settled in a backroom process. And you know how I feel about the professional victims.
But other projects have fallen short or have been plagued with financial
problems. He built the tallest residential building in the world on the East
Side, but not, as once promised, "the tallest building in the world" on the West
Side, nor the spaceship-shaped skyscraper he proposed for Columbus Circle, where
the Time-Warner Center now stands.
The last "two" projects are one and the same, and were not built not due to any fault of Trump, but due to opposition of community groups. You know what they can be like.

And hey, they brought it up, so I'll ask this: What's Libeskind's record? Did you know he's never built a tall building in his life? And he's the architect, not someone with an idea.

Anyway. Good luck to all pushing this idea.

As long as I'm linking New York Times and National Review articles, take a look at the first item at Impromptus- second paragraph, and then the third paragraph here. My reaction was exactly the same as Nordlinger's when I saw the latter. Funny how predictable these people can be.

One more piece from the Times, and on to better things. Do you notice the word "Jew" in this piece, or any other on the subject? Do you think it should be there? Do you notice that every time they talk about this issue, they have to bring up a Russian with an obviously Jewish name to justify themselves? ("We have lots of Jewish friends!")

Eh. I'm with the guy at the end: Soccer is "the world's foremost collection of men in their underwear playing the most boring sport on the face of the planet." Although he can afford to lay off the Trekkies- we've had a tough week.

Speaking of which, here's Lileks' column on the end of Enterprise. (Update: Another piece by him here.) Magnificient. Keckler's recap is also amazing, particularly her last line. Yeah, I'm a softie.

Finally, Kol HaKavod to Menachem Butler for the year of YUdaica in the Commentator. Well appreciated by the Lamms. Chazak V'Ematz! SOY's gain is our loss.

Off to the reunion soon! Later, y'all!

Sunday, May 08, 2005

A nice, quiet, relaxing Shabbat. What more can one ask for? During the Carlebach davening at the Barris', I closed my eyes for a second and was transported to the NCSY Shabbatonim of my past. Ah, "Truly youth is wasted," etc. And a lovely kiddush the next day, to top it all off. A bit of a silly moment during said kiddush, but I shan't post it here- ask me if you must know.

Now this is quite silly, from a generally silly source (with a lousy website, as long as I'm piling on them):
There could be the sense that here you have the two most visible representatives
of Southern religious conservatism both being taken down at least a peg and maybe just taken down — because of their relationship with Abramoff...There will be some who will paint with a broad brush and say, this is what happens when you make coalitions with these cursed people, the Jews."
Huh? What's this constant desire to find disaster for the Jews? (Abe Foxman, I'm lookin' at you.)The religious right actually disliked Clinton, and he was surrounded by Jews. Did we ever hear a peep about that? Perhaps the warm feelings toward Israel and Jews are genuine- did they never consider that?

Man, am I gald we decided not to get that paper anymore. I bet they keep sending it, though.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

We're told that a Columbia professor asked a student who had been in the IDF, "How many Palestinians have you killed?"

Wouldn't it be delicious to be able to answer, "Not nearly enough, apparently!" Sure, that'd be an outrageous reply, but people in ivory towers, academic or otherwise, sometimes need a good firm jolt into reality, I think.

The Times' new dead horse to be beaten is women in the sciences. It seems like not a Science or Education section goes by without a glowing piece about how, "See, woman do succeed in science!" Of course, the arguments are irrelevant and completely off point to what Summers said, but hey.

Speaking of the Times, there's this winner of a column today. Most troubling bit, outside of its ridiculous premise and assumptions? The way that even the "educated" Democrats have bought into the hate-Bush lingo- "shrub" and whatnot being used automatically. I'd expect some of them to have intelligible arguments, just as many Republicans didn't go around for eight years talking about "Slick Willie."

Monday, May 02, 2005

Isru Chag Sameach!

Kaputnik (a.k.a Dave Berg o.b.m.): Doctor, don't tell me I'm going to
have to give up wine, women, and song.

Doctor: Not all three, Kaputnik. You can sing your
fool head off!

Walking home from shul yesterday, my father mentioned in passing that his uncle (my brother's namesake) was never much impressed by high-falootin' American rabbis, considering that the rabbi in Brody when he was growing up (late 19th Century) was R. Yitzchak'l Chayes, whose house had a dirt floor. The name "Chayes" set off all sorts of alarms in my head, and when we got home, I checked out the Encyclopaedia Judaica, and sure enough, he was the son of the Maharatz Chajes (who was born in Brody himself). And my great-uncle knew him. How cool is that?

Now I'm considering buying Gil's latest. Hmmm.

Speaking of Hirhurim, it's good to see that someone's started this blog.

I saw this story when it first happened, but I like the coda they add at this site. "Magic gypsy machines." Hee!

Looks like a crazy day tomorrow, because of inflexible scheduling. Lovely. Puts me right in the mood for this meeting. I looks like it'll end a little better, though. Please God.

Edited to add: One more funny link. What it links to...not so much.

Friday, April 29, 2005

A New York Question

If, at a newsstand, you bump into the editor of a journal to which you subscribe, is it polite to ask why the latest issue is taking so long in showing up in your mailbox? This is a real situation, people.

Good thing I long ago decided not to place my faith in people. Buncha crooks, all of them.

On the other hand, the President never gives me a reason to be disappointed. Well, outside of the odd (and I do mean odd) policy issue. However, Alessandra Stanley, who I'm swiftly growing to hate (nevermind my praise of a couple of posts back) has to get this dig in today, at the very beginning of what is (even considering its subject, the great and sainted FDR) a horribly biased review:
It is hard to remember a time when politicians tried to hide handicaps and
hardship. Nowadays, even struggles that were once viewed as shameful are
flaunted as a sign of character, from President Bush vanquishing his drinking
problem to Bill Clinton overcoming a tempestuous childhood. Physical disability
is worn proudly: Bob Dole made his long, difficult recovery from a World War II
injury the crux of his 1988 presidential campaign.
Clinton, of course. Dole, maybe. (I only remember his 1996 campaign.) But Bush has never once talked about his issues as a ploy for sympathy. Never.

But hey, FDR: By your anti-Semitism shall they know thee. I've made this point at least once before here: Sometimes (albeit rarely, when going against convention), a parochial view of history is the one that gives you the best picture. (I do wonder, however, how you call something like FDR's paralysis that, it sometimes seems, 90% of the country knew about, a "secret.")

This is a very strange review. Aside from the blatant error in the second sentence (East Jerusalem?), it's written as if there's some deep buried secret or something- when that simply makes no sense. Maybe they're looking for drama. Or maybe they're influenced by the fact that the film and its creator seem to be wacky to begin with.

Anyway, a chag sameach (what remains of it) to one and all!

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

"The regulars are out!"

That's what Paul Revere actually said 230 years ago today. (Concord was, in fact, at this very hour.) "The British are coming!" would have made no sense, considering how they all were British, at least for the next year.

Interesting how things play out. Last night, I mentioned the papal election scene in Godfather III ("Comes with the set" is a bit too cruel, but close), and today I see this in the newspaper. (Better late- 23 years- than never!) I knew there was some fact behind the movie, but never realized it was that close.

New York taxes are too high? Well, you could always cut them...nah. Too simple. Here's a whale of a typical liberal solution: Make the tax code even more complicated! Make the people even more indebted to our largesse! (UPDATE: Here's a relevant article from a much better source.)

Monday, April 18, 2005

Listen, my children, and you shall hear...

As long as I'm missing mentions of historic events, here's a link to "O Captain! My Captain!" That is, of course, connected to the previous events. Which makes me wonder: Do you think they instituted Tax Day on April 15th so we'd be in the right mood to mark Lincoln's Death?

Eh. Probably not. Anyway, today is the 18th of April, so here's another link. (Read the whole thing, in fact. And you find the most amazing things on Google.) And because the upcoming week promises to be busy, here's a link for tomorrow (see the left of the page) too.

Maybe it's the Met fan in me, but I find Steinbrenner's whining to be oh-so-funny.

Here's a nice line from an unexpected source:
Addiction is considered a disease, but to the untrained eye it looks a little
more self-inflicted than multiple sclerosis or cancer.

In case you'd think I'm going easy on the Times, here's a link to see how they coddle, once again, graffiti "artists." The funniest part? That the central picture (in the print edition, and the only one online) shows an "art" work that's been defaced with, yup, graffiti. At least the subject doesn't take himself too seriously, saying he doesn't mind what happens to his junk, now legally (for the most part) installed.

Oh, and after hearing about FDR's notorious "Second Bill of Rights," Bob Herbert's friend says, "Wow, I can't believe a president would say that." My reaction: It's a good thing he died when he did.

One last thing: Walking to the office from the train today, I saw a pigeon sipping water from a puddle in the gutter. It turned my heart to mush. I think things are looking up. (And, it seems, PZil thought the same thing the day before. As to her second point...well, maybe I'll comment next week. I hope I don't have to.)

Update: Seems like I have to, and it's not even next week. Well, one little point: "Hachnusus Kalluh" ain't what we all think it is.