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.