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.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Brent Bozell, Give Me a Break

As someone who grew up without a TV, I have to say I have very little sympathy for the various campaigns to clean up shows, lawsuits against networks, letter-writing to the FCC, etc. Sure, TV can be nasty. But you simply don't have to have one in your house. It was your choice to bring it in. And once you did, there's always the "Off" switch and channel changer. I guess it doesn't help matters that my political bent makes me wonder why the government has power to regulate airwaves in the first place.

Speaking of TV, go to the Seinfeld site and see their Barney Martin retrospective. R.I.P., Morty.

I can't believe I let last weekend go by without mentioning Wilbur McLean, Ely S. Parker, or, of course, Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee. Remind me again next year. Meanwhile, I'll try to remember Lexington and Concord next week.

It's always a good time to quote Wilde (this time on Dickens): "One must have a heart of stone to read the death of Little Nell without laughing." I feel that way often when I hear a particularly bombastic pulpit rabbi. I had to muffle my cackles and groans last Monday, at what ended up being quite a good presentation at the YU Museum (another one, yes). Ironically, yesterday's paper brought us news of Neusner (hee), whose theories (thankfully not accepted) would challenge Professor Elman's. The presentations were remarkable, and my brother, who asked the only questions, rocks. But, again, I'm glad I don't go to a synagogue with a rabbi who speaks like that.

One ironic point about the Museum exhibition. There's a section that shows Talmuds and related books that were printed for anti-Semitic purposes- to "prove" how evil it is, to convert the Jews, etc. I found a nice symmetry in the computers at one end of the exhibit that allowed you to surf various Talmud-related sites. One link was to a site with large sections of the Soncino translation transcribed- and it's a vicious anti-Semitic site.

Let me close with a quote from Mugger. I think I've commented on this phenomenon (acceptance of homosexuality "ruining" male friendship, and our view of it) before, but he puts it quite well:

You can flip to almost any page of The New York Times and find an objectionable article—Cranky Frank Rich is the gold standard—but it's been at least a week since I've read anything as stupid as Jennifer 8. Lee's [Gag- NL] April 10 piece about "man dates." Lee explains that a "man date" is when two heterosexual men get together for an activity in which neither sports or business is involved.

She writes: "Anyone who finds a date with a potential romantic partner to be a minefield of unspoken rules should consider the man date, a rendezvous between two straight men that is even more socially perilous."

Why is this "socially perilous"? Apparently, in today's culture, at least according to this dippy writer, two men going to a movie or dinner together could lead to the conclusion that they're gay.

It wasn't so long ago that such an excursion was called "hanging out."

Later, y'all. And if I don't see you before the weekend, have a good one!

Sunday, April 10, 2005

In a review of the new movie "Fever Pitch," Manohla Dargis writes:
Other than the fact that she looks like Drew Barrymore and is impossibly
beautiful, Lindsey is just like any other overworked single woman who has ever
turned a blind eye to a beer gut, a receding hair line and years of indulgent
mothering for a date.
Now, Ms. Dargis may be revealing a bit too much of herself here. But my reaction came from an ancient Greek epigram, courtesy of an old National Geographic volume: The Cnidians bought a statue of Aphrodite sculpted by Praxiteles, who used the courtesan Phryne as a model. (The statue had been made for the people of Cos, but they rejected it because it was, shockingly, nude.) The statue was said to be so true to "life" that the saying arose:
"The Cyprian (Aphrodite) said when she saw the Cyprian of Cnidus, 'Alas, where
did Praxiteles see me naked?'"
As long as I'm revealing some of myself, today I attended an event that marked the opening of the YU Museum's new exhibit on the Talmud. (I highly- highly- recommend it, by the way). In any event, this event was a tribute to the late Jerome Schottenstein, with speeches by Richard Joel, Norman Lamm, Nosson Sherman, Adin Steinsaltz, and many others, and it once again led me to a topic I've been considering the last few days. (Obsessive? Moi?) Basically, how is it that people accomplish so much in their lives? I see hugely accomplished and knowledgeable CEOs, for example, taking over in their mid forties or early fifties. And to imagine- to take this a step further- that all of that will be gone from the world, through retirement and, eventually, death, in no time at all!

Eh. I'm soon to turn thirty. (And have accomplished...) The morbid thoughts will pass. In the meantime, here are some more cheerful photos. Have a great week, all!

In light of the events of today, I figured I'd finally post some shots from my trip to Israel (as part of the OU Convention) last November. The whole week was awesome, but the capper was the last day (or was it? it's been too long), with Shacharit at sunrise at the Kotel (a cacophony multiple and diverse minyanim all going silent at once), touring the new Southern Wall excavations, and more as the day continued. Oh, and in between those two mentioned events, a walk around the Har HaBayit. I have many shots, but this, I think, is the best, and the closest we got to the actual Makom HaMikdash. Posted by Hello

Here's a nice shot of Masada taken from our bus as we approached it (a few days before the previous). Posted by Hello

Here's a closer shot. The top, of course, more than lived up to the view from below. Come to think, that whole day was pretty good. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

News Roundup

Arutz-7 email news yesterday led off with a story which, interestingly, does not appear on their website. In all likelihood, they got the story from here, explaining the delay. In any event, I wanted to take the opportunity to debunk a bunch of tired cliches used by the distinguished rabbonim here:

1. "Elevating the Land into an Avodah Zara" is a despicable argument, akin to Godwin's Law. I won't bother with it.

2. "There's no mitzvah to risk one's life for the Land" is just stupid. Even if we accept the bloodless fantasies of various midrashim, war, by definition, involves risk to life. And war is commanded to conquer the Land. (One can argue if it applied pre-1948, but with five million Jews in Israel, it's academic.) If this argument was true, there'd be no justification for any of the wars of Moshe, Yehoshua, the Shoftim, the Kings, Nechemiah, the Maccabim, Bat Kochba...or the IDF, to this day. After all, we can just leave. While Yehoshua is the most obvious example, I find Yiftach even more compelling, as he's dealing with another nation that has a semi-legitimate claim on land that's not even Biblical Israel and is offering true peace for it. He rejects the offer. (Don't say I can't quote Nakh. R. Lamm does.) Finally, all of this happens to have implications for practical halakha, in the Shulchan Aruch.

3. "Yishuv HaAretz isn't a yehareg v'al ya'avor." This is the most tired cliche of all, and the stupidest. After all, it's comparing apples and oranges (leaving aside the argument above). (For starters: One is Aseh, the other refers, by definition, to Lo Ta'aseh.) The concept of yehareg v'al ya'avor means, "Don't do this even under threat of death." The question here is so far removed from that, I don't know how to begin to respond.

4. "The Rav said..." Uh-huh. The Rav assumed rationality and lack of conflict of interest or other factors in decision-making. Ha. A true Brisker.

5. A new one, "Dina d'malchuta dina." Sure, that's good if you think Israel is just another [non-Jewish] country. And, of course, if you assume this isn't anti-halakha. (And as has been pointed out, when making claims of elevating things to avoda zara...)

6. "What's your alternative?" Well, this is a good one, inasmuch as the opposition, much to my frustration, can't muster up a good answer to it. I can: Kahanism. Learn it, love it, live it.

Moving along, I can't stand the phrase "fervently Orthodox." Not that it's not more accurate than "ultra-Orthodox," but it's a complete creation of Agudah lobbying of secular Jewish newspapers. I don't like artificial labels. Stick with what people use.

Moving along again, you know what's weird here? If I had to guess, "Rabbi Gruber" isn't involved at all, and just relies on the OU. But people want a "heimishe hashgacha" or it's a no-go. I doubt such people even know who he is. I do know the OU actually has a "heimish-style" symbol they sometimes use.

In the follow-up to the Slifkin controversy, people wondered about Leo Levi's new book. I took a look at it over the weekend, and was quite underwhelmed. He basically posits far-out, but quite modern, scientific theories- which would have been completely alien to chazal anyway- to explain "scientific" ideas of the latter. Eh. It's apologetics, not at all "brave." And then I saw his credentials...huh? It confirms what I've long thought of the AOJS, who they pay homage to, and what kind of "scientists" they are.

Like clockwork, every year the New York Times runs a series of articles that clearly and shamelessly screams "OUR PULITZER PIECE." And every year, like clockwork, they win. And every year, the Times proudly (and, once again, shamelessly) promotes the "victory."

Speaking of the Times, there's this. Kills two birds with one stone for them- "No Social Security crises!" and "Illegal aliens good!" To which I reply, even if true, who cares? Illegal is illegal, as Sonny Bono would say. Isn't it?

As to Social Security, I'm not saying Bush wants to eliminate it, but having just mailed my taxes, which included 100% of my payment to the "Trust Fund," I wish he did.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

An Officer of the Supreme Court

This past week was especially eventful; the highlight for me came on Tuesday, when I was sworn in as a member of the Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States. Kudos especially go to the Alumni Office of Cardozo Law School, which set the whole thing up- breakfast, sponsorship, and all. We got to see all the justices in action, as we sat right up front through the reading of decisions and oral arguments. (Sorry, no pictures allowed in the courtroom.) An amazing time all around.

As long as I'm photoblogging, I include a few other pictures which, as Dr. Watson would say, "have lain long in my portfolio." (Looking through my files, I see I've never posted my Israel photos from November. Some day, perhaps.)

Here's most of the Cardozo delegation from that day. There were about fifteen of us total on Tuesday, and a similar number Wednesday as well, plus a few other groups. I'm at the upper right; click to enlarge this or any other picture, if you so desire. Note the crowd on the steps; the Grokster case was argued that day, and drew a lot of press, protesters (rather colorful ones, at that), and, of course, lawyers. Lawyers who are members of the Supreme Court Bar, as, I should point out, I am now as well. (Sorry- I'm not quite over it yet.)

Here's me alone in front of the Court, pre-ceremony and pre-crowds. Posted by Hello

Since I was in the neighborhood, I took advantage of a lull in the action to visit the Folger Shakespeare Library (right behind the Court) and take pictures of all the bas-reliefs of the various plays they have on one wall, as I've long wanted to do. Here's my favorite play. Tom Stoppard's, too, as he once told some girls ahead of me in line at a book signing.

Ah, why not give the whole story? He was discusing, and signing copies of, the screenplay of Shakespeare in Love, a movie I saw who knows how many times. I brought along my copy of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead for him to sign as well. (That reminds me- I have to order the new DVD.) Anyway, on line ahead of me were two teenagers, who asked him what his favorite Shakespeare play was. "I'm not sure, but it's certainly not 'The Winter's Tale,'" he cracked, before saying it was probably Hamlet. I had a nice little chat with him myself.

Shakespeare's coat of arms is a repeated motif on a fence outside the library. That is waaaay cool, as I involuntarily blurted while snapping this shot. Posted by Hello

As long as I'm showing you pictures of DC, here's a few I took when I was there on business a couple of months back. One night, I did the tourist bit, as you can see. The Lincoln Memorial, true to cliche (remember Lisa Simpson?) is beautiful, and very moving, at night. Here's the shot I like the best. Posted by Hello

To be honest, I was a bit worried about the new World War II Memorial. I needn't have been- it's magnificent, appropriately so. I liked this quote especially; sorry it's a bit fuzzy. Posted by Hello

This is the Washington Monument as seen from the Memorial. I think it's a nice shot. Posted by Hello

As part of a busy Purim last week, I read the Megilla at Goldwater Hospital on Roosevelt Island. I found this plaque, tucked in a side room of the Jewish Chapel, particularly interesting. The island as a whole is an interesting place, loaded with history. And as Al Lewis once pointed out in a documentary about the "other islands" of New York, all the people overlooking the river on the East Side pay a fortune and get a view of Queens, while residents of the island pay much less and get an amazing view of the Manhattan skyline.