Friday, November 30, 2007

Vindication of History

A few random thoughts before I get to my main point:

-Well, first, about random thoughts: There are some good Jewish blogs out there, and I find myself exhausting all I have to say on certain topics in their comments sections, and then unwilling to go through all of it again here. Unfair advantage for them, perhaps, but they deserve it for posting more often (somewhat akin to my old point of stuff I want to post about sitting around and getting stale)- and hey, more people will read me over there, alas. Onward...

-The Straight Dope posts a new piece (usually one from the archives) every day. Do you see a progression in the choices for this last week? Cults and then...Christianity?

Speaking of religion, the latest National Geographic made me take notice of something very interesting. (And no, it wasn't their cliche-filled article on Bethlehem.) I'm the last person to start crowing about intelligent design and the like, but just reading their article on dinosaurs, I couldn't help but notice that virtually every mention of the word "evolution" and "nature" could have been very easily been replaced by "God," and the article would have flowed just as easily if not better.

And, speaking of National Geographic, I guess I've read it for so long that when I saw a mock image of Spitzer in a pilgrim hat, I thought the buckle was the Geographic logo at first.

-Today is Oscar Wilde's 107th yahrtzeit. I have to mention that here now, and hopefully will be able to post a funny related story later.

-So Katie Couric, I hear on the radio, interviewed Rudy Giuliani last night about these allegations he charged visits to his paramour or whatever. He denies it- convincingly enough- but Katie also asked if he feels that even if these specific allegations are not true, they get noticed because the undeniable parts of the story (i.e., adultery) are tawdry, "something [he]'d be sorry about." Rudy didn't respond to that part, perhaps because he wanted to get to the substance, but Katie's going to have to learn something: Rudy regrets nothing. He is not sorry for anything he ever did. Now, this may be good in some contexts (and I've always liked Rudy, just not decided if he's "my man"), but it can be pretty bad in others.

-Well, thank God for little favors. Of course, as always with such things, I wonder about their exact language: If she had meant it, punishing her would be OK?

-Apparently, the street on which I work (45th) was once known as the model train capital, lined with stores selling equipment for them. I read an article about it some time ago (Yay for free archives!), and walked past the two remaining stores for years without going in. I finally went into both one day a couple of months back when I had a free moment. Now, I see one of them (the one that seemed half-dead when I went in) has closed as well. Dor holekh...

-Michael Miller, of the Jewish Community Relations Council, spoke at the event last night which I describe below. When I got home, I looked him up in my YU Alumni book (yes, I do have one), and, as long as I was at it, looked up his brother as well. It was odd- there were two entries- and one of them read, "Gruss Institute, RIETS Jarvis Island." Surprisingly (premature senior moment? Or as Helen Marshall put it last night, "intellectual overload"?), it took me a few moments to remind myself what Jarvis Island is. And when I remembered, I laughed long and hard.

Speaking of intellectual overload (see how these posts work?), it's funny how the brain controls the brain, as Holmes would say. To this day, in order to remember which is Medicare and which is Medicaid, I remember and old Tom Lehrer lyric I first heard as a kid: "Just go out for a breath of air, and you'll be ready for Medicare..."

OK, enough of this gay banter. Yesterday was November 29th, the sixtieth anniversary of the U.N. resolution partitioning Palestine. The vote took place in Flushing Meadows Park, not far from where I live- the Israeli government made a little grove there in honor of the event- and there was an event last night at the Young Israel of Hillcrest, one neighborhood over, commemorating it. It was nice- some good speeches, lots of politicians pumping Queens, and a rare video of the actual vote was shown.

But one thing really struck me. You see, the State of Israel has a new line. "Are you willing to accept Israel as a Jewish state?" What they mean is, "OK, we'll give you your state in the territories. But it's not enough for you to recognize us. You have to recognize us as Jewish- that is, you can't keep hoping to flood what's left of Israel with refugees and/or babies and vote us out of existence." Now, personally, I think it's a good line. Does Olmert mean it? Knowing him, probably not, but his people are saying it for some reason I can't figure out, try as I might, so good. Do all the American politicians who've latched onto it- including one prominent one from last night- mean it? Probably, if only to keep delaying having to make a deal with people they know, deep down (even if they don't admit it, even to themselves), shouldn't be dealt with. Do all the Jews who've latched onto it- including one prominent one from last night- mean it? Again, probably, if only to keep from having to hand over land they don't really want to hand over but don't want to sound "messianic" and "fanatic" about. But, again, I like it, even though I'm perfectly willing to add the idea that Israel should give up nothing and there should be no state, and it would still be true.

And there's the irony, and the vindication. You see, the same Young Israel of Hillcrest was the only place I ever heard Meir Kahane speak, almost exactly eighteen years ago. It was that speech that turned me into a Kahanist. And, of course, this was his single major theme: How you can't call Israel a "Jewish State" and still be unwaveringly committed to democracy. And here, with a slight twist, are all these people who wouldn't look at him, then or now, saying the same thing. Are they thinking it through? Probably not. Would they admit in a million years he was right? Of course not. (See the post below, about which one of my valued readers has shared outrage.) But like I said to that correspondent, R' Kahane wasn't doing what he did for public recognition. He's probably satisfied enough that he's been proven right on so many issues, and laughing at the rest. Here's hoping it only keeps getting better.

Shabbat Shalom, y'all!

Friday, November 23, 2007

"Something's missing, all right."

Well, not that I expected it- in fact, I was expecting not to see someone's name on this list (pdf). But the absence is glaring nonetheless.

By the way, I find it entertaining to see how, now that the violent aspect of the Iraq situation has turned around, liberals have started to crow louder and more exclusively on the political aspect- no government or whatever. To which I respond, maybe we should apply the same logic to Belgium as well? True, no one's being killed there, but there's a country I'd say "good riddance" to faster, perhaps for that very reason.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

"1957 was a big year..."

"...The Russians put that Sputnik into outer space, the Dodgers played their last game at Ebbets Field to say goodbye to Brooklyn, that guy shot Frank Costello in the head, and missed, and the Gallo brothers whacked Albert Anastasia in the barber shop of the Sheraton View hotel. It was total chaos. With Anastasia out of the way, Vito Genovese figures he's the big boss. But Carlo Gambino and Joe Bananas, they had other ideas. So they called a meeting. A big meeting."

Well, the fiftieth anniversary of each one of the events in that monologue has passed. (I still find the sudden transition after the first two items hilarious. And I think it's ...and say goodbye...", or maybe just a verbalized pause. A trifle, but you know what Sherlock Holmes said about those.) And today, the radio brings us news that it is the fiftieth anniversary, today, of that "big meeting." Most people I tell are surprised it really happened.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Peace In Our Time

Well, with the coming end of another presidential term comes that old standby, the peculiar mental defect that convinces presidents and diplomats that they can solve all the problems of the "Middle East" (i.e., the Palestinian issue). (That this is indeed a mishegas I had confirmed for me by an old college buddy in, shall we say, a position to know.)

With the Annapolis Conference- we must already speak about it in near-mythical tones, I suppose- fast approaching, I've read about Shas and Lieberman possibly dropping out based on what comes back from there, thus dooming the government and process. This is but one of a number of possibilities- Olmert somehow not surviving his scandals is another- but seems the most likely. My sister and brother-in-law attended a lecture which concluded this as well, and you can read Michael's letter here.

But I have one sickening feeling- these things tend to become self-fulfilling. It's happened before- the Prime Minister comes back waving some paper, the United States and all the usual suspects have already gone into fits of joy over "peace finally breaking out" that it's almost as if the Knesset (or Cabinet) doesn't matter- who wants to be a "bad guy"? Was there ever any doubt that they would pass all the nonsense from the past?

I remember thinking this when watching, in his museum, footage of Begin coming back from Camp David. Oh, huge Knesset debates. Yelling, screaming. Was there any doubt it wasn't a fait accompli as soon as Jimmah "The Cat Killer" Carter was done with his strong-arming?

Of course, I must admit that it doesn't help that true Land of Israel Zionists are never really a majority, or close to it, in the Knesset. Leaving Arabs aside, one may also wonder what that says about the Israeli electorate, but that's democracy for ya.

Eh. I hope I'm not too pessimistic. Z'man l'mashiach, as Michael always says.

Oh, speaking of the Middle East, two more complaints: I overheard Ron Paul being interviewed on the radio the other day. The second time he trotted out the line, "The problem is not X [Iran, Iraq, etc.], the problem is our policy toward X," I shut it off. Aren't presidential candidates- the Republicans, at least- supposed to be patriots? The Democrats I don't expect anything of, but this was sickening. And people wonder where he gets his support.

Finally, as the not-so-bad news from Iraq continues to be ignored by the MSM, the reporters breathlessly announced "bloodshed in Afghanistan." Turns out we killed a bunch of terrorists. And that's bad news?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Veterans Day

In honor of Veterans Day, I thought I'd print two stories I've come across over the years. The first, a number of years old, comes from a TWoP message board, and, regrettably, I can't be sure who posted it (not that I know the real names of most of the people there anyway), and the original board has long since been deleted. I remember, however, realizing back then what a great story it was and getting the author's permission to repost it. In any event, it was posted as part of a discussion on heroism and altruism, and I present it here in its entirety, deleting only the immaterial section at the end dealing with the specifics of that discussion:
Okay, story time.

The camera store I worked at was located next door to a big hotel. They
frequently had conventions there, which made the location good for business,
especially since there was a popular restaurant two stores down from us. The
other thing that was good for business was our manager; the guy is, putting it
bluntly, one of the most impressive people I've ever known. He is brilliant at
reading and dealing with people and he understands that the key to success in
business is to give people the best service you can. This made the job fun, too,
because he treats his employees like family, and he likes to kid around. There
was no job he wouldn't do himself, including cleaning out the store's toilet or
going in on his day off to complete the inventory. The guy could (and still can)
schmooze with almost anyone. I learned to schmooze here, and it was easy to be
friendly with the quality customers we tended to have as a result.

So there we were, a specialty shop, specializing in being as nice as we
possibly could. One week, the hotel next door hosted the annual convention of
recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor. For those of you who are
unfamiliar with this, the CMH is the highest military award in the United
States. You can only get it in combat, can only get it by being nominated by the
men who are fighting next to you, and most of the men who receive it do so

Anyway, so we're selling film and stuff, and we start to notice these
guys walking around with these little blue pins with white stars on them. A lot
of the guys came in our store because they were taking pictures at the
convention. My boss, of course, schmoozes with them, and I and the others give
them the same good service we give to everyone. Prior to this, mind you, I had
encountered precisely one recipient of the CMH in my life (giving us a speech
for Pearl Harbor Day at my high school), so it was quite an experience to see
these guys in groups, wandering around. They were generally real nice, real
polite fellows.

Well, the last day of the convention comes along, and there I am, in
the store, and the CMH recipients were now running around in tuxedos, wearing
the full medal (it's a star, hanging from a ribbon worn around the neck) because
that night was the formal dinner for them and it was a big deal. This guy, not
dressed up, comes in the store and I go and ask him what I can do for him. He
reaches into his pocket and pulls out a Congressional Medal of Honor. The thing
was all wadded up and it looked like it had been in the bottom of a drawer for
years. He says to me:

"I need some help. I'm supposed to wear this tonight, but it's broken.
Anything you can do?"

I took the medal from him, and sure enough, one of the little rings
that held the star had bent open, and the star was hanging by only the other
ring. So I said:

"Let me give it a try."

I took a pair of needle nose pliers (we had lots of tools for minor
camera repairs in the store, you see) and I gently and carefully reattached the
star to the ring and bent it closed. My repair was successful, and I gave him
back his medal and he thanked me and went on his way, stuffing the CMH
unceremoniously back into his pocket. That's the story.

I remember this event vividly not simply because I fixed the medal,
which was really a pretty unique experience, but because I'll never forget the
man himself. I have no idea who he was, or what war he fought in (my guess based
on age would be WW II or Korea), but I do know that he was a hero.

Because I think about him, and about the other men we saw that week,
and what stays with me is the same thing that stays with me when I think about
all the heroes I've had the honor of knowing in my life. These guys with the CMH
were really pretty nondescript. They were polite and unassuming, and if you
passed them on the street you would never know that each one of them had done
something extraordinary.

But they are heroes. And this experience has helped me define for
myself just what a hero is. A hero, you see, is someone, anyone, who finds
themselves in a difficult, even an impossible situation, and who does what they
have to do, not just for themselves, but for the person next to them. And they
do it not because there is some glory in it, but because they simply can't
fathom the notion of doing anything else. It is simply a part of their makeup,
of who they are. Often, they are actually embarrassed by the attention they
receive later, because they don't really see themselves as having done anything
extraordinary. They simply did what they had to do.

Hence the CMH stuffed into a pocket or neglected in a drawer. I don't
think this man saw himself as being any more extraordinary than anyone else. I
don't think the passengers of Flight 93, or the firefighters who rushed into the
Twin Towers or the Pentagon, or my friend who gained the courage to lock out her
abusive husband and protect her two children from him would regard themselves as
heroes either. But they are.

The second story comes from a posting on the Flags of the World mailing list. It was contributed by Ron Lahav, one of the regulars there and an occasional correspondent of mine, in response to a discussion, with yours truly participating, about how Civil War campaign streamers (displayed above the flag of the particular armed service) and campaign ribbons (worn on the chest) are displayed: They are both divided blue/gray; units that fought on the Union side display the streamer blue side up, while units that fought on the Confederate side (there are a few, believe it or not) display the streamer gray side up. Similarly, Union veterans wore their ribbon with the blue on the right (their right), while Confederate veterans wore their ribbon with the gray on their right. It's about the last point that Mr. Lahav writes:
I am absolutely positive about the Civil War campaign ribbon being flipped. My father and uncle owned and operated for about thirty years a number of naval outfitters in Norfolk and other parts of Hampton Roads. In the mid-1950s (I am no longer certain of the exact year) the last Encampment of the United Confederate Veterans was held in Norfolk, with about fifteen of the surviving old soldiers who were able to travel attending. We had in each of our stores a large wall chart of all US service ribbons to date issued by Gemsco, the largest manufacturer of US military insignia at the time (these charts were updated every two or three years, but I don't know if the firm still exists). Using the chart, my Dad ordered fifteen of the Civil War ribbons; the company had to make up a special order for him. He then checked with the Public Relations Office of the Fifth Naval District, which referred him to the Office of Naval History, and they informed him at the time of the procedure for wearing the ribbons, which was as I described it [gray on right- NL]. My Dad, my uncle (his brother-in law), my Mom, her sister, and myself (then about 12/13), then attended the Encampment, where my Dad presented each of the old soldiers with their own campaign ribbon, which their relatives pinned on them. Many of the veterans were in tears, and most said that they never knew that they were entitled to a service ribbon at all, regardless of color. Now all of these men had served in the Confederate States Army and not its navy, so I suppose my Dad should have checked with the US Army rather than the naval authorities to see whether the same rules applied for them as well. We had several thank you letters from many of the veterans and their families afterwards, saying that receiving the ribbon was for them a final recognition of the service that they gave to their country. I think Mom threw all of these things out years ago when she got rid of a lot of 'junk', as she called it.
God bless all our veterans, and those fighting today.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

New York People, New York Dogs

So I'm walking to work this morning and pass a cute little dog tied up outside a store. He has a muzzle on, but when some guy passes by, he starts barking. Not really at the guy, just in general. And the guy goes, "Awww, get a job and s***!"

I still have no idea what it meant- and I know the dog didn't- but it was hilarious.

Speaking of hilarious, Derb on the Chinatown bus today is just that: laugh-out-loud funny. What he has to say about Watson, though, is just depressing, both in the content of what Watson had to say (if true) as well as the reaction to it.

What Do You Call a Star Wars Fan, Anyway?

First things first: A belated congrats to my cousin Boris on his performance in Mexico. (His menschlichkeit pours out of that interview.) It was nice seeing him in all the papers during our trip to Israel, which coincided with the tournament. May he go from success to success!

Did I ever mention the time he came by our house and played a game against yours truly? (I was about twelve.) Guess who won?

Yeah, he did, in about ten moves. I think he was going easy on me. :-)

Anyway, last night I was watching a bit of The Empire Strikes Back, and something occurred to me: If the Rebels have an ion cannon powerful and accurate enough to hit and disable an orbiting Star Destroyer from the surface, why can't they just rotate it (it is a giant ball, essentially) and just blow up those Walkers?

I imagine if I was a Star Wars fan, I'd have known the answer, or at least a few fanwanks, a long time ago. Being a Trekkie, I can recite as many fanwanks from memory as you want. I do not maintain a Holmes-like mind.

I keep intending to do long, serious posts- I have a few topics in mind- along with some photos, but procrastinate (and don't have much time). One day soon, I hope.