Monday, December 29, 2008

L'Hodot U'LeHallel

Just said the last Al HaNisim until Purim. The last day of Chanukkah is always a little anticlimactic- you've lit the last candle the night before, and then...not much else. A nice long layning in the morning, and then, we have one more Mincha (and bentching, at least in my case) to remind us of what a nice Chag it was. Very good times indeed with friends and family, and now on to the last week of the year.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

I just really like this photo. (Thanks to Keren.) That's R' Seth Mandel, one of the greats, standing in the same spot as his rebbe did when he delivered his famous drashot (Lamport Auditorium- note the especially appropriate legend on the front of the lectern), speaking at the Kosher Bird conference sponsored by the OU and YU this past Thanksgiving. (A fitting date.) His co-star (one of many) in the cage next to him is a Silkie Chicken.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Alek Hidell

A co-worker brought in a package of shower curtain rods today. Those with a knowledge of certain esoterica of American history (see the title of this post) will know why I "nervously" confirmed that neither the President nor the President-elect was in town today.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

"What's the difference between Robert and Ted Kennedy?"

I was asked after Mincha yesterday. "Um, Ted Kennedy is alive? Robert Kennedy wore his own pants to JFK's funeral?" I guessed. Both correct, of course, but the answer my (quite liberal!) questioner was looking for was far funnier:

"They won't be naming a bridge after Ted!"

Leaving aside the question of whether RFK deserves the honor, what a waste of money this is. Here's one person who'll keep using "Triboro," thankyouverymuch.

Speaking of legacies, of course, the One- not even in office yet- is solidifying his. The Iraqi parliament approved of this new forces agreement, and it calls for US forces to go back to their bases this June, and to leave Iraq by 2011. How con-VEN-i-ent! The One can claim credit for the former shortly after assuming office, and can claim credit for the latter as he runs for reelection, having had nothing to do with either. Bush, of course, will get no credit at all.

Well, on to brighter reports. I still have some things to do, and yet this has been a grand Thanksgiving weekend. It began Wednesday night with a lovely dinner at Sarah B.'s- good food, company, and conversation, and a CD of the Shat leading an Exodus Oratorio from my good friend Yonatan K. (whoa, beginning to sound like Kafka here), who also alerted me to Evacuation Day ceremonies last week. Thursday was a fascinating program about birds courtesy of the OU and YU, and the rest, thus far...has been lots of sleep. Good times. Onward!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Now They Tell Us (part infinity)

Spotted today: ad for a TV special on the side of a bus: "How the media keeps you stupid."

As we used to say in elementary school, no-duh.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Steep learning curve

This move by Russia is very clever, isn't it? John J. Miller has a good point, but I have another: They know Obama doesn't like missile defense, so he's sort of trapped: If he follows his instincts, it'll look like he's bowing to Russia's demands anyway- or, at least, they can claim "victory." The only way he "wins" is by doing something he doesn't want to do in the first place.

That is, if he wants to win at all, or even believes in the concept. I don't have high hopes, but, while we may not like war, it likes us very much. Welcome to the big leagues, junior.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

"...normally a very sensible constituency with a high proportion of people who aren't a bit silly, has gone completely ga-ga."

"And so it's beginning to look like a Silly landslide..."

(Let's pause a moment in appreciation of the people who actually typed all this stuff out, here and on other sites.)

Me, I'm just waiting for the oceans to start receding. :-) And no, I'm not about to jump on the gooey-syrupy "Isn't it so nice" feeling that seems to have infected many at NRO.

On a more serious (and parochial) note, one thing I'm concerned about is something the Rav said, about how secular American Jewish support for Israel early on proved that they were still part of the k'hal. Now...I'm not so sure. (Also see here.) The Jews I know were all (OK, mostly) saying the same (frightening) thing going in. The vast majority of American Jews, usually oh-so-sensitive? Not so much.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

With the election upon us, it seems the media has decided to let their guard down a bit. (h/t) Why, just yesterday, the reporter on WCBS-AM who's been breathlessly pushing a bad economy for quite a while, perhaps forgetting that it was only Monday, allowed (somewhat improbably, IMHO) that the economy might be improving somewhat. Expect such stories to proliferate come tomorrow. (Ah, someone beat me to it.)

Remember when I posted this about big-L Libertarians? (Small-l myself, which is why I a) always vote Republican and b) never third party.) Anyway, this confirms it in spades, especially the disgusting last question. (Where else do my h/t's come from? Or my news, for that matter.)

Anyway, my good friend Sussman can always be depended upon to sum it up best:
‘. . . our God whom we serve is able to save us from the burning fiery furnace,
and He will save us from your power, O king. But even if He does not, be it
known to you, O king, that we will not serve your god or worship the statue of
gold that you have set up.’ – Daniel 3:17-18

Monday, October 27, 2008

Gettin' on a jet plane...

(I think that's an old song. Sounds like one.)

Well, another Cheshvan, another trip back to the Golah. The cycle will break next year, please God. Still, it was a wonderful time here. Last night with the Molchos was particularly nice, as it always is. More details to come, I hope.

This line:
However, during the court sitting, several policemen testified that Federman was
hand-cuffed at the time when he allegedly assaulted and injured their
reminded me of this Monty Python routine:
Usher: He can't hold the Bible m'lud.

Judge: Well screw the Bible! Let's get on with this bleeding trial,
I've got a Gay Lib meeting at 6 o'clock. Superintendent Lufthansa will you
please read the charge.

Superintendent: Is a charge strictly necessary, m'lud?

Judge: (heavy aside) The press is here.

Superintendent: Oh sorry! Right, here we go. You are hereby charged.
One, that you did, on or about 1126, conspire to publicize a London Borough in
the course of a BBC saga; two, that you were wilfully and persistently a
foreigner; three, that you conspired to do things not normally considered
illegal; four, that you were caught in possession of an offensive weapon, viz,
the big brown table down at the police station.

Judge: The big brown table down at the police station?

Superintendent: It's the best we could find, m'lud ... and five... all
together now...

The whole court shout together.

Court: Assaulting a police officer!

Prosecuting Counsel: Call Police Constable Pan-Am. (Pan-Am runs
into court and starts beating Njorl with a truncheon)
Into the witness box,
constable ... there'll be plenty of time for that later on. (the policeman
gets into box hitting at anyone within range; his colleagues restrain him)

Now, you are Police Constable Pan-Am?

Constable: No, I shall deny that to the last breath in my body. (superintendent nods) Oh. Sorry, yes.

Prosecuting Counsel: Police constable, do you recognize the

Constable: No. Never seen him before in my life. (superintendent
Oh , yes, yes he's the one. He done it. I'd recognize him anywhere,
sorry, super. (the superintendent looks embarrassed)

Prosecuting Counsel: Constable, will you please tell the court in your
own words what happened?

Constable: Oh yes! (refers to his notebook) I was proceeding in a
northerly direction up Alitalia
Street when I saw the deceased (points at Njorl) standing at an
upstairs window, baring her bosom at the general public. She then took off her
... wait a tick. Wrong story. (refers to his notebook) Ho yes! There
were three nuns in a railway compartment and the ticket inspector says to one of
them. (the superintendent shakes his head) No, anyway I clearly saw the

Clerk: Defendant.

Constable: Defendant! Sorry. Sorry, super. I clearly saw the defendant
... doing whatever he's accused of...Red-handed. When kicked... he said: 'It's a
fair ... cop, I done it all ... Right... no doubt about... that'. Then, bound as
he was to the chair, he assaulted myself and three other constables while
bouncing around the cell. The end.

Spontaneous applause from the court. Shouts of 'more! more!'.
Pan-am raises his hands and the clapping and shouting dies down.

Constable: Thank you, thank you... and for my next piece of

Superintendent: I think you'd better leave it there, constable.

Prosecuting Counsel: Excellent evidence, constable (the constable
is removed, flailing his truncheon the while) ...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The rule is that when something is changed in tefillah, you have to say it a month before you can be sure, in a doubtful case, that you've really said it. Funny thing is, nine days into the Aseret Yemei Teshuva, I still have to consciously remember to add and change things for that period. The day after Yom Kippur, I have to consciously remember not to say or change them. Seems like ten days is the limit for me, at least here. I'll have to remember to notice where I am at the end of Chanukkah.

Well, Christopher Buckley has endorsed Mr. Obama. I have a few thoughts:

1. Uncharitable of me, I don't doubt for a second that he (or those like him) would never have done it had Obama not been in the lead. (Although I still have much hope.)

2. Like his old man, he seems well insulated from things most conservatives are knowledgable of. Internet? Blogs? Huh? Also like his old man, he seems to crave leftist acceptance, or at least not mind when it's heaped on him. Uncharitable again, but I don't feel like being charitable to his type. (Speaking of his father, I think it's just plain unseemly for a grown man to use the words "mum" and "pup" in referring to his parents. Above the age of, say, ten, "mother" and "father" should be used in the third person unless some personal point is being made, and a few years past that, second person should be restricted to something not so childish, like "mom" and "dad." But I digress.)

3. He betrays a real negative attitude toward hoi polloi. Sarah Palin, case in point.

4. I don't like his use of "Sanhedrin" to describe conservative thinkers who, well, disagree with him. I've noticed his use of such terms in the past. It's troubling, especially in light of the left's obssession with (ahem) "neo-cons."

5. Good thing I didn't buy his latest book. Or the one before that. The last one I did buy was no good anyway. (His writing tends not to be conservative at all, by the way, just cyncial.) Fortunately the NR crew seems a lot more level headed than him, or I'd chuck them too.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Mea Culpa

An appropriate title for a post about Yom Kippur, I think...

I'll be honest- I don't have much patience for long tefillot. I once read that the maximum time a human being can sit still (so to speak; I often walk about during tefilla) is about two hours; even Shakespeare's plays lasted that long (as he writes in some of them), as do most movies today. Shacharit on Shabbat should be about that long if not less; I prefer a short drasha if there's one at all, no extra Mi Sheberachs, and so on.

Of course, my patience is most sorely tested at the worst time of the year- the Yamim Noraim season. The last few years (as this year) I've been in Israel, and among the many wonderful things you can say about Israel is that its view of tefillah meshes with mine. The typical Shabbat morning starts a lot earlier than the US and takes a lot less time. I still haven't found a Simchat Torah minyan of the type we used to have in Queens ("hakafah" means once around, only five aliyot, out in less than two hours), but when you're starting at 6:30 AM, what's the rush?

That last point, of course, is important for the actual Yamim Noraim itself. Where are you going, especially on Yom Kippur? I guess that's important to bear in mind, as I daven those days with my family in the Yeshurun Synagogue, which (unlike most places in the US, as the Jerusalem Post [impossible to find articles there] reminds us) has real cantors, who like to perform. (Hey, they get paid for it- why not? It's like why Dickens wrote the way he did.) I don't like ay-yay-yays. I'd like a chazzan who reads the words.

Or so I thought. Erev Yom Kippur I heard part of a shiur on YU Torah (which seems to be down as I write this) by the Chazzan of Yeshurun, Asher Heinowitz, in which he described how the chazzan can get people into the mood of tefilla. For Kol Nidrei, after a the usual terrific meal at my cousins' place, I went to the Inbal hotel, where there was a small minyan being set up (by, it seemed, some American tourists) in a room in the basement. (The same room where my brother-in-law had his "tisch." The main room, where my sister's wedding meal was, was occupied by a service for hundreds and hundreds of French people, olim I suppose.)

The email posting for the minyan looked interesting- "serious, YU style" (nothing quicker than usual) was how it was described. And it was nice- nice people, no mucking about, and so on. But it suddenly hit me that, yes, a grand looking shul does help. And a chazzan who knows his way around the nusach does help as well. A lot. God bless the Inbal people, but the next morning I was back at Yeshurun. (It started much earlier and I was up anyway.)

Like I said, where are you going on Yom Kippur anyway? They started at seven and were done with Musaf around 1:30. I couldn't really go anywhere, so I sat (and stood) and read and talked until three, when Mincha began. I even got kohen, because things are always a little sparse at the beginning of Mincha. And, thanks to Israel's daylight time policies, the fast was over before six, and we even got in another Birkat Kohanim during Neilah. All in all, a good Yom Kippur.

Of course, the important question was, did I accomplish what Yom Kippur is intended for? Well, that's the toughie. At least I can say I tried a bit- we all try a bit. Something struck me toward the end: The bracha for Yom Kippur in the Amida ends "Maavir ashmotenu b'chol shana v'shana"- he removes our sins every single year. It's sort of saying, "Yeah, we're not going to be perfect in the coming year either, and God is going to have to forgive us again. (And thanks for doing it last year and this, too.) But we're trying- thanks for the opportunity."

So a big "thanks" goes to God himself. But let's also include the whole crew at Yeshurun, including, of course, Chazzan Heinowitz, but also Chazzan Brilliant (the Shacharit and Mincha chazzan), the gabbaim, the officers, and the Chief Rabbi, who davens there. Chazzan Heinowitz is a kohen, by the way, and as the day went on, and as I saw him (and duchaned with him, and complimented him) during, in between, and after prayers- he's a wonderful person off the bimah too- I couldn't help but be struck how the piyut "Mareh Kohen" which he sings so beautifully is quite applicable to him as well.

A good and healthy year to everyone out there.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Ramblings for Monday, Monday

I like it when bus drivers try to be funny- they often succeed. This morning, as the Q74 came to the end of its route, the driver picked up his microphone: "Union Turnpike subway station, last stop. Remember to take your belongings with you, and have a nice day." A pause. "Oh. By the way, it's Monday." The entire bus cracked up.

Speaking of buses, I've learned that my humble, heavily-Orthodox neighborhood has some reputation. For example, a few months back, I overheard a passenger on the Q44 on the phone: "Yeah, I'm in Queens now. I'll be in the Bronx in, oh, twenty minutes or so? Where am I now? Hmmm." (Looks out the windows.) "Oh, on Main Street. You know, the kosher neighborhood." Ha! Too true.

Then, a couple of Fridays ago, one woman wanted to know where the local library branch was. "Just a block past the bus stop," she was told. "But will it be open? It closes at sundown in this neighborhood." This led to a discussion, which concluded that sundown (of course) was still a ways off, so she was OK. (Needless to say, the local library does not close at sundown, although it is the only branch in the city open on Sunday instead of Saturday.)

Anything else to report? Well, a brochure going around tells us that if you give money to one of those "Gedolim in Israel" charities (there are two- I think this is the lesser one, nebach), they'll daven for you at the spot directly opposite the exact spot of the Kodesh HaKadoshim. (I guess they mean at the Kotel Katan, or maybe in the tunnels.) Of course, if you asked one of these "gedolim" if you were allowed to go up to the Har HaBayit, they'd tell you, "Oh no! We don't know the exact spot of the Kodesh HaKadoshim!" Ha.

On to politics. Does anyone remember a movie from a number of years back ("The Contender"?), about some woman nominated for- I think- vice president- and how she's smeared and attacked by- you guessed it- the evil Republicans? Remember Geena Davis's blink-and-you-missed-it series, in which a relatively inexperienced woman succeeds to the presidency and is attacked by- you guessed it- evil Republicans? Who'da thunk that when the situation would arise in real life, it would be the Andrew Sullivans of the world (including one idiot in shul this morning) who'd be doing the attacking?

Ah, it's not all bad news. Barry and his crew are running scared, it's clear, and from conversations I've had, I daresay even many of the people behind those movies and TV shows may be swayed toward Palin. (Certainly hoi polloi are. And boy, I don't even have to be swayed.) Even the Metro News this morning seemed to prefer her and McCain over the One. The media runs in a herd, I think- who knows where it will lead? (Yeah, I shouldn't like that either. But it is sweet.) MSNBC yesterday, the Times today, in its article on her baby, maybe even, tomorrow, Snopes, which, I'm sorry to say, has really been in the tank for Obama this year. (I've seen claims they were like this four years ago as well, but I don't recall it.)

Ah, and speaking of young'uns, the best piece of news of all- I have a new nephew! Whoo-hoo! Mazal tovs all around!

Monday, August 25, 2008


I saw the funniest thing today:
"This is a stunt and a distraction," she said. "It's not about reaching
voters but simply about reaching the media and promoting a story line…You and I
know that at the end of the day they're not going to run these ads…they're
simply putting them out as video press releases."
Wait a sec. This is the supposedly high-tech, Gen X/Y, YouTube candidate's campaign saying McCain's ads are illegitimate because he's only running them online? Geez, these people get upset when someone bests them on what is supposedly their own turf. Come to think, considering the tone of their campaign so far, they're probably offended the Presidency (if not Divinity) hasn't simply been handed to them. (There are actually some lines from the One himself to that effect.)

And now we have this massive blunder in the form of their responses to the Ayers thing. Groovy.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


I still remember how it went down eight years ago: Bush announced that his running mate would be Cheney (who was, in fact, running the veep search committee), and the MSM went into their usual on-cue talking point repetition. That is, almost as if they'd all gotten the same memo (and the way this often happens, as it happened here, you'd be hard pressed to say they hadn't), they began going on and on about how Cheney added "gravitas" to the ticket. Gravitas, gravitas, gravitas, as Bush (who'd only been governor of one of the Union's largest states for six years) apparently didn't have enough experience, as opposed to the former SecDef, or as Bush was too immature and needed an older figure (all of five and a half years older) "balancing" the ticket. Gravitas, gravitas, gravitas.

Actually, I used the phrase "MSM" above when, in fact, there wasn't much else. There was Rush, of course, and he did his patented MSM Talking Points thing, stringing together clips of all the "gravitas"es that were bouncing around.

Of course, whatever the truth was back then, there's no denying that a suddenly worried Obama (cue world's smallest violin) has definitely gone with what he thinks is the "gravitas" pick here. I happen to think it isn't, and that it'll just make things worse for him, but it's certainly what he's thinking. I just wonder if the MSM will start bellowing about "gravitas" now and what an empty suit the crazed Democrats settled on.

Speaking of those crazed Democrats, I wonder how many of them are actually delegates. Very few, I'd imagine, which would mean there's going to be some disappointment when (if) the excitement level at the convention isn't what it was on the trail. That's probably why he's using the stadium. That, and reasons best left to Jonah Goldberg.

By the way, have you heard Warren Buffett's latest genius pronouncement? That he doesn't think the government should manage the economy, but should just let people earn money and only then "tax the heck" out of them? Is this man such a moron that he doesn't realize that taxes is a major way the government runs (in a somewhat passive way, at least as opposed to, say, interest rates) the economy? Is he such an economic illiterate that he doesn't realize how damaging high taxes are? Is he so insulated by his wealth and closed circle that he doesn't realize that people don't like paying taxes (the people who end up paying them, that is), and that they usually accomplish diddly squat? Is he so corrupted by his vested interests in insurance that he just doesn't care, as he comes out on top anyway? And some idiot Chinaman (I know, wrong nomenclature, dude) paid over two million bucks to be able to bask in his wisdom for one lunchtime? (Well, China...yeah, I can see it.)

Of course, the reason Buffett's line is in the news is because the One, the One who needs gravitas, thinks there's something to that idea. Unlike Buffett, though, I really don't wonder about why Obama is so ignorant.

Ah, summer's almost over. I had quite a grand one. This is a good week to recount some of it, and I hope I'll be able to. Till then!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Shut yo' mouth!

I don't know much about Isaac Hayes, RIP, but how can I not post a link to this video?

Yes, that's Jesse Jackson, with the sideburns and dashiki, screaming at the beginning. I don't judge- it was the 70's, after all. But you gotta love the bit where he whispers something, presumably really important, into Hayes' ear.

Friday, August 01, 2008

"Vus iz 'bacon?'"

Heh. Check this out, especially the link the bio at the end.

Will it hurt him? Of course not: They know who's on their side, much like a politician telling them (as in the classic story about the old Rebbe) that he loves Israel. (The title of this post is a joke, but there may be a point for him there too.)

Of course, that's part of the problem: That a politician can talk so openly about pork, and that people are so dependent (or greedy) that they eat that stuff up. I thought people (although probably not these people) were outraged- outraged!- about earmarks. I guess it's only other people's earmarks that's the issue.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

"Eight year olds, Dude."

I have to say, I found the comment thread here very troubling, probably because I don't have much to do with the unhinged Left. You see, when I first read the absolutely hilarious bit it references, here, the same exact thing popped into my mind as popped into Mr. Douthat's. I mean, it's pretty logical, isn't it? Isn't it?

And yet just take a gander at the pure vitriol directed at him- and at all conservatives- for making such an innocent point in response to such a loony one. These are the supporters of one of the two candidates for president- the leading one, if only by a bit?

After mulling it over for a bit, though, the possible truth suddenly occurred to me: In the great words of Walter Sobchak, they're cracking. Oh, yeah, they're cracking. What a lovely birthday present.

Oh, and thanks to all the family and friends that made it such a pleasant day. God bless you all.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Messiah Puts His Foot In His Mouth

I noticed something very interesting about this video: After saying "And then we go [jive word?] Europe," the crowd starts to laugh, and Barry realizes that most of his audience ain't going to Europe anytime soon. So he quickly cover with yet more phony jive, which sounds about as good from him as it does from Hillary: "All's we's can say is..."

It's amazing people don't see through this shyster. Ah well. (See these two troubling columns.)

Why is it that organizations so typically tilt left? Did these people never hear of drilling? Nuclear? Even the "industry analyst" on the radio was in favor of more regulation.

And then there's this piece (h/t): Is this guy actually so clueless that he doesn't realize why the MSM stopped reporting on the Iraq War just when it started going well, and why there's a sudden glut of economic stories unseen even in the actual recession years of 2001-2002? Please.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Deep Thoughts on a Parade

Well, yesterday was the annual Salute to Israel Parade, and it couldn't have been nicer. The weather was perfect, the crowd of spectators huge (and full up earlier than usual), and the marchers endless and enthusiastic. As I've done for the past eight years or so, I volunteered for the parade staff, and while things can always look hectic "backstage" (and boy, did they this year). I've gotten good reports from disinterested observers, and that's what counts. Even I, in the midst of directing groups and assisting announcers, enjoyed it immensely.

It was especially nice seeing my various "alma maters" on show. The New York Region of NCSY is now headed by an old talmid-chaver of mine who, draped in an Israeli flag, was enthusiastically leaping about with his kids, leading them in the old classic songs, and took a breather to inform me he had 250 kids from the region with him (in addition to everyone else from NCSY, Yachad, and the OU). Go (R') Zak!

YU had quite the impressive showing as well, heading up the last section of the parade. (It was well represented among the parade staff too.) Here it was especially nice to see Roshei Yeshiva marching with the students. After the parade was over, Richard Joel literally offered me the shirt off his back- and I do mean literally, actually pulling off his t-shirt and holding it out to me when I casually mentioned I'd been hoping for one. I couldn't accept it, of course, but he's a wonderful person. (This was also in evidence at the YU graduation two weeks back, at which my father celebrated his fiftieth anniversary. I'll have to post some photos of that.)

Ah, and much, much more- lots of big names, celebrities, new and colorful groups, familiar faces...I'll have to review my photos to see what else merits mentioning and, hopefully, post some here. And I see that the UK is planning its own parades for later this month- Kol HaKavod!

Anyway, if its not too much out of place, I have two more significant (a bit half-baked, but this is a blog, after all) thoughts about the parade:

On the way home, I got on the bus to Kew Gardens Hills with a bunch of people who'd been to the parade as well. One man said to another, "Why this type of unity only once a year?" Indeed, the display of achdut is extremely impressive. (As I like to joke, even the Neturei Karta come out, in their own way, much as they'd deny it.) You've got a huge spectrum, even the occasional black hat and chassid (and not just as spectators). Later last night, a friend asked me, "Did the gays march?" I thought for a moment before answering- I guess they may march as part of the "Downtown Alliance"- but told him that shortly after the original brouhaha over their inclusion (or exclusion), I recall that there was some serious problem in Israel- the outbreak of the second intifada or something- and people quickly wised up to what's important, at least in this context. There've been no issues since then. Everyone comes, everyone supports Israel, another generation feels for it and supports it (and in today's age, that's a big deal, considering the growing popularity of the alternative among young Jews, but a brief conversation today has given me hope there as well), and not-insignificant numbers even move there.

So that's one lovely aspect of the parade. I've long said that after seeing it in action, it becomes very hard to maintain the old "Forbidden to cooperate with non-Orthodox Jews!" trope one hears from the right. Well, maybe that's just the softie in me speaking, but we all need that feeling at least once a year.

The second thought is, I'm afraid, somewhat more parochial than the previous grander one, but it has to be said: All of the fears and griping about Orthodoxy's "turn to the right" or the growing dominance of the Haredi world is at least somewhat dissipated after observing this parade. From the New York area alone, there are quite a few day schools and high schools that I've never even heard of whose students turn out for the parade in the hundreds. And there are many more I know of whose sheer size is overwhelming. I can't play numbers games or anything like that, but one thing I see here (as a subset of the parade as a whole, of course) is a vibrant, growing Modern Orthodoxy. Ken Yirbu.

Anyway, this Jew is, in fact, off to Israel later this week. I should have a great time- lots of things coming up in only a short period- and will report as possible. Till then!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Psalm 104

Today is the first day of the Hebrew month of Iyyar (Happy Birthday, Nechama!), and thus the second day of Rosh Chodesh, the New Moon. Every Rosh Chodesh, Psalm 104 (verse 19a: "He made the moon for the appointed times") is recited at the end of morning services, and whenever it is, I remember this story:

November 30, 2000 was the one-hundredth yahrtzeit of Oscar Wilde, an event marked as the day approached by a number of events around New York. I recall attending an exhibit at the (then unrenovated) Morgan Library, and I also attended the culminating event, a series of readings on the day itself at the Jefferson Market Library. (I seem to recall it being mentioned at the event that the building had some connection to Wilde's famous visit to America.) Presenting were such luminaries as the renowned playwrights Peter Shaffer and Edward Albee, the actresses Cherry Jones and the late Kim Hunter, and others, including the not-yet-Speaker Christine Quinn.

Shaffer preceded his readings with a personal story: When he first came to America, he worked at the New York Public Library on 42nd Street in a low-level position. (I was just there yesterday to see their exhibits, thus further provoking the memory.) Then, he heard of an opening in the Library at the Arents Tobacco Collection. "One of those rooms off to the side of the main reading room, open only to those with special permission, soft chairs, quiet surroundings- you've passed those rooms, you know what I mean," as he put it. The audience, mostly literary types, nodded in agreement. The job was easier, more prestigious, and paid better than his current position, so he applied for it, and was told to be there at 1:00 of an afternoon to be interviewed by George Arents himself.

Arents, who had made his money in tobacco, had then turned his attention to collecting every single work he could find that mentioned the plant- certainly including books, pictures and the like about tobacco, but even works notable for other reasons that mentioned it only in passing. Shaffer figured that he might never have a chance to enter the room again, and so took his lunch break at twelve and came to the appointment an hour early.

The librarian let him in, and allowed him to look over the collection. Shaffer began flipping through the card catalog and came to one entry: "The Importance of Being Earnest, a Play in Four Acts". Wanting to impress the librarian with his knowledge, he said, "But The Importance of Being Earnest has three acts!"

"Ah, no," said the librarian, and he opened a special drawer and removed four plain-looking school-type notebooks. It was the original manuscript of the play, in Wilde's handwriting, one act per notebook. Wilde had been asked to shorten it to three acts by the play's producer before it was first put on. The play had earned its place in the Arents Collection because of the following lines:
Lady Bracknell: Do you smoke?

Jack: Well, yes, I must admit I smoke.

Lady Bracknell: I am glad to hear it. A man should always have an occupation of some kind. There are far too many idle men in London as it is.
The four act version was not then widely available (it's now published in some versions of the complete works), and Shaffer spent the next hour reading the treasure. "And," he concluded, "It's nowhere nearly as good as the three-act version. Wilde was wise to revise it." (I've seen this sentiment in a number of places.)

Just as he was finishing the play and putting it back in its drawer, the door opened, and George Arents himself was there, a somewhat...crotchety elderly man in a wheelchair. "Wheel me," he said simply. And so Shaffer began wheeling him down the long corridor leading to the main reading room. (Another knowing nod from the audience.)

The trip was quiet, and Shaffer could tell that things weren't going well. Trying to make a good impression, he leaned over and asked, "Mr. Arents, would you happen to have a copy of the Guttenberg Bible in your collection?" (The Library does, indeed, have a copy, which I saw yesterday, exhibited next to the original Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends, of all things.)

Arents favored Shaffer with a sidelong glance and then replied curtly, "The tobacco weed is not mentioned in the Holy Writ."

Shaffer then sheepishly told us, "I knew I shouldn't have said anything, but I...just...couldn' it. And so I leaned over again and said, 'But surely it is written in the Book of Psalms [104:32b- today's Psalm- NL], "He toucheth the mountains, and maketh them smoke"?'"

Arents turned and gave him a good, hard look, then simply said, "Wheel me back."

Ruefully, Shaffer finished, before starting his readings for us, "I didn't get the job."


Mildred Loving, the plaintiff (one of two, of course) in Loving v. Virginia, has passed away. R.I.P.

I always thought that case was about as perfectly named as you could hope.

Monday, May 05, 2008


I like labels, and have always championed them. They're helpful and (almost?) always correct.

And yet frum dating sites have turned me off of them more and more. Trying to sign up to YUConnects, I have hit a brick wall trying to figure out if I am "Modern Orthodox (Machmir)" or "Modern Orthodox (Liberal)". In fact, I have no idea what those terms mean, and here I'm supposed to decide my future based on them.

OK, I suppose I have features of both. So let me rephrase: I still like labels, so long as they don't get too minute. Why is there no simple "Modern Orthodox" option?

As long as I'm linking to YU's page, this story really makes me shake my head.
The Sistine Secrets posits that the paintings covering the Sistine Chapel, the
largest fresco painting on earth in the holiest of Christianity’s chapels, does
not contain a single Christian image.
Whaaa? First, there are two frescoes on the walls (of four total) entitled "Christ Giving the Keys to St. Peter" and "The Temptation of Christ".

OK, so maybe they mean (based on context) "frescoes by Michelangelo." Well, OK, except, um, an entire wall is covered by "The Last Judgment", by Michelangelo, which has a huge depiction of Jesus front and center.

OK, so maybe they mean (again based on context) the ceiling. Well, OK, except for the depiction of the ancestors of Jesus lining the I said, it's a bit of a head-shaker. Michelangelo did lots of Christian works: The Doni Holy Family, the Pieta...I give up. R' Blech is a great guy and a great author, but books like these don't do much for Judaism.

Can you have ga'avah for doing a mitzvah?

Today I had the zekhut of tearing down two posters featuring gedolim. One was just offensive because of what it said, and the other just came off with it. (Although I've got issues with the actual person on the second.)

Actually, I think all posters tacked on walls in my neighborhood need to be torn down, regardless of content. This ain't Geulah. In addition, I was worrying about chillul Hashem, seeing someone reading it this morning. So I'm just sure if my motives were 100% pure, that is, fighting for kavod haTorah in the face of attacks from the Right, or whether neighborhood beautification and defense of God's name played a part as well. But the latter two are nice things as well, so we all win.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Ugly Comedy

A bunch of political points today, mostly courtesy of National Review:

A bunch of Hawaiian secessionists take over a palace and allow entry only to natives (in the racial sense) and some others. I don't mean to be unkind (ah, who'm I kidding? Of course I do), but I wonder how many ordinary people would have been able to enter the palace back in the "glory days" of the monarchy. (h/t)

The CIA reports that to make up for its population decline, Russian will have to import massive amounts of people, including "Russians from the former Soviet states." (h/t) My first thought on reading that was, "Well, maybe Russia has problems ("Maybe?"), but that'll certainly improve matters in the Baltics, Ukraine, etc." I can certainly see Russia, in the not-too-distant-future, bounded by the Urals and the Don-Volga. Let's hope it goes well.

Hillary, alas, is getting charming. Holding out hope for an Obama convention victory now. One upside I heard for a Hillary victory is that black turnout will be depressed and the Congressional picture will look better for Republicans. Unfortunately for that scenario, congressional districts are so racially gerrymandered that it wouldn't make much of a difference. Of course, such a scenario would affect the presidential race, but if Obama would lose more decisively than Hillary anyway, why bother?

One thought did pop into my head this morning: Doesn't the whole Democratic primary setup- proportionally divided states side-by-side with superdelegates- perfectly symbolize the Democrats faux-populism combined with condescending elitism?

Anyway, speaking of Hillary, I came across this: Asked who she'd go out with, she says Lincoln. (h/t) Now, I can't really blame her (see what I mean?)- when faced with those who say that he's achieved mythical status, I respond, "Because he deserves it." Problem is, it looks like the too-easy answer. Ah well, the tradeoffs we make.

When conservatives get pet projects, it's time to look out. See this, for example. It reminds me of something Jonah Goldberg pointed out about reaction to his book: "Sure, those people were all fascists- all except the one guy (philosopher, usually) that I like!" (I've seen it regarding philosophers in general, when people get their hobbyhorses. And causes in general- see the sad case of D. Klinghoffer, for example.) Rod Dreher basically left conservatism (I don't care what he says) over the issue of asthma or something. And now we have ethanol. (Also, I'm not saying it applies here, but often there are big-business funding fingerprints over these things.) And evolution. And more. It's time to put the foot down: "Small government means small government. No exceptions."

Finally, a bit of ugliness. I have to disagree with Ramesh Ponnuru here. When I see Sullivan use a line like that, I don't think theology (I imagine those who think of theology more themselves would, and it's a logical conclusion); rather, I read it as "Evil [Jewish] neo-cons manipulated us into a war in Iraq." No, I wouldn't put it past Sullivan- he's amply demonstrated that he is driven to madness by his hobbyhorses. As to "little" and "boy", well, the former is clearly along the lines of "You've got a nice Army base here, Colonel...we wouldn't want anything to happen to it." The latter is perfectly appropriate for a fawning fanboy like Sullivan- who, in any event, is a poofter. An anti-Semitic poofter. So there.

Anyway, that's what I thought of when I saw this, linked from here. Sorry, but I really can't see the (double) use of "neoconservative" (you remember Brooks' line- "con" short for "conservative", "neo" short for "Jew"- and its frenzied reaction, and Rush stresses this as well) and the reference to the American Enterprise Institute as being accidental, even more so in light of this church's actions towards Israel. Like I said, ugly. And which side of the spectrum is it coming from?

Oh, and speaking of the Religious Left, how funny is it that every Tom, Dick, and Harry on that end thinks they're qualified to say what's "grounded in Biblical tradition"? From a theologian, maybe, but who is this guy? (h/t)

Enough for today. Peace out, all!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Chasal Siddur Pesach... what did I just have for my first real (aside from a bowl of cereal this morning) post-Pesach chametz meal? A laffa with schwarma and veggies, some of them pretty hot. (Quite excellent. From here.)

Wait a sec. That's not really chametz- in point of fact, it precisely describes a Temple-era seder. You know what? It brought me back to those days, even though I'm eating hurriedly at my desk instead of in luxury (and it was luxury this year, as every year) at the family table.

Actually, that also pretty much describes an original seder as well. Go figure. I'm looking forward to the conference I linked to above, even though it'll likely be pretty bloodless. A malady of the MO, I'll admit, and O in general, especially in Temple-related matters. And one thing I'm not bloodless about is the Mikdash. Ah well. It should still be good. The "seder" certainly was.

(OK, I had fries and a corn muffin too. Neither are chametz either, but they didn't have either back then.)

A couple of politics-related points: I'm listening to Rush online today and, at the top of the hour, get a weird disconnect, as the station switches to Sean Hannity having a conversation- clearly from today- about Jeremiah Wright with Juan Williams and Niger Innis. I actually checked my watch a couple of times- Hannity doesn't come on until later- and then shrugged it off when El Rushbo returned.

Then Hannity comes on and tells us that, in the upcoming show, he'll be talking with...Juan Williams and Niger Innis, about Jeremiah Wright. Now, I know this goes on in radio all the time, and I don't really blame them for it. But it was still interesting to hear.

(I can pick out a host asked a guest questions to elicit pre-recorded answers in a second; I can easily tell when a host hasn't really read the book the author of which he is interviewing. The former is less cool; the latter is really less cool. And unforgivable is reading another's newspaper piece as your own: I've heard hosts- not those mentioned above- do all of these.)

Speaking of Wright, he's been bellowing all over the last couple of days, which means I've gotten to hear him as never before. One thing strikes me: The man seems to operate best with a peanut gallery that he appears to carry along with him. (It reminds me of the "claque" at the end of The Bonfire of the Vanities.) He even brought a bunch to the National Press Club, to cheer on every insane comment he makes. He's probably used to this based on his job, but it strikes me as demagogic, as if I needed any more evidence. I already knew he was a nutcase, and that doesn't speak well for his protege, does it?

Well, that was one rambling post. I chalk it up to a full stomach and a relaxed mind from the last week plus. Onward through Sefirah, all!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Peaceful Coexistence, as the first issue of National Review told us, bunk. But I got a request below for more New York stories, so here goes:

Down the block from my office is a very good kosher lunch-type place (these definitions don't really apply to kosher places) called "Milk and Honey." Right next door is a Lebanese lunch-type place called "Bread and Olive." I always thought the juxtaposition notable, especially during the last war.

Anyway, I passed Milk and Honey today and noticed the windows were all papered over. Not to worry: They're simply closed for Passover, as a sign in the window informs passers-by. And, with horrible grammar (this is, after all, a store that advertises "Hot Bagles" out front), asks the postman to deliver all mail this week to...Bread and Olive, next door.

Either it's the city or food that brings us together. Who knows, but me likey.

Monday, April 14, 2008


Do you think Philologos had any idea what he was getting into with this column? (See the comments.)

This is really some piece by Kristol. This one is pretty good too.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Cindy Adams Time

Last night, as the F train pulls out of the Roosevelt Island station, a voice comes over the intercom: "Officer! Grab the kid in the green shirt!" We're in the tunnel and the voice repeats: "The kid in the green shirt! Grab him!"

A few seconds later, the kid apparently caught, the voice (I think it was the engineer, not the conductor) can't resist one more dig: "Oh, you're real smart, aren't you? Spit on the window and then get on the train? Reeeaaaal smart."

Today I'm on the 5 train going down to court. Middle of the day, packed. A couple of gaggles of young German tourists. A couple of men with antipodean accents asking directions to Ellis Island of an older woman. A middle-aged, small Chinese woman screaming about "your Messiah and Savior" in heavily accented English as she walks through the car. And in the middle of it all, a fully-costumed Mariachi band- beaded vests, cowboy hats, and all, at least two guitars and an accordion- playing and singing at the top of their lungs as the train weaves through the tunnel.

Only in New York, kids.

Monday, March 31, 2008

The Problem With Posthumous Haggadot

Before I get to the point, I think it's funny that Bill Clinton can give a speech in which he makes the remark that this primary is allowing a lot debate in the Democratic Party, which is a good thing, "And Republicans are participating in it, too!" he adds in that annoying joking-reproving way he has. The crowd, of course, eats it up- anything to bash Republicans and, of course, Rush.

Leave aside that there isn't much of a debate here- the candidates have pretty much identical views and are just fighting out identity politics, nevermind that neither is really a member of their "group"- but isn't the ex-President being just a wee bit ungrateful, considering that the primary beneficiary of Rush's "Operation Chaos" and Republicans voting in Democratic primaries is, well, his wife?

Anyway, to the point. I visited the local Judaica store today to check out new Haggadot, and one in particular I'd heard about. (I won't name it, to protect the innocent, but you should be able to figure it out.) First, I saw an interesting one: A sort of "Seder Leader" edition of the IDF Haggadah I really like. But then I found the one I was looking for. And although I'd really been planning on getting it, after flipping through it, I decided not to. The simple reason? It's basically a plain-vanilla Haggadah with a comment or two every few pages. I counted it all up, and it's about two dozen total pages of commentary with lots of pages with just the standard Hebrew/English text.

Now, don't get me wrong- you can pack a lot of good stuff into those pages, and there are many worthwhile Haggadot that are similar to this (I own some). But I have a sefer of Pesach thoughts, including Haggadah insights, from the same author, so why get this as well? And therein, I think, lies the issue: Some people do Haggadah commentaries when they're alive. They're specifically going through it, line by line, delivering insights that can fill a whole book.

But another type of Haggadah is one done posthumously. Very often, someone will die without ever making a formal Haggadah, and one of their talmidim will do it for them. Problem is, they have to hunt and pick for insights. Often, they're not even giving Haggadah insights, but Pesach insights they're fitting into a line from the Haggadah. And, in cases like that, there's going to be a lot- and sometimes not quite so much- on Maggid, and virtually nothing on the rest of the Haggadah. Worth it? Yeah, sure, sometimes very much so, but it wasn't enough for me today.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Cognitive Dissonance, Funny and Not

How's this one? Two tiny experimental electric cars, festooned with the logo of the manufacturer, parked on a side street. People walking by pause to admire them. One is still sitting on the back of a large flatbed truck; the other seems to have just been offloaded. The truck is just sitting there, engine idling.

News (paraphrased): Obama called for an end to racial obsession. Obama's voice itself: "We can't ignore the issues of racism." (Okay, again paraphrased.) Maybe I'm too much of a libertarian on this (and most other) issues, but am I the only one who notes the difference here?

More on Obama and his crazy uncle later, I hope.

Finally: You're sitting at work, relaxed, not a worry to the world. (OK, maybe a few.) The case involves a product made in Israel. (The Israeli company is in no way at fault, don't worry- quite the opposite, in fact. But the fact that that entered my mind when the case came up should tell me something.) And then you come across a document: "Jerusalem, Israel marked on labels might cause marketing problem in Emerging Markets [i.e., the Third World- NL]. Overlabelling program to be implemented."

That one really got to me. They still hate us. Boy, do they ever.

The product in question, by the way, is an implanted live-saving medical device. Oh, they'll take the help, but God forbid they should know where it's from. I hope the Israelis carved a tiny Magen David into them, so whichever fat, terror-supporting Saudi prince is benefiting can have a tiny visible piece of Israel inside him, whether he knows it or not. And hey, an Israeli company- and Israel and its economy- benefit anyway. Nyah nyah.

Thursday, March 06, 2008


I have to admit, I was pretty annoyed at the primaries this year: For a while, I've felt that it's simply illogical to allow people to vote in the primary of a party they never bothered registering for- isn't that the whole point of registering? (The same goes even more so for those registered for another party.) This year, with the guy(s) I wanted losing due to this very practice, I was doubly annoyed.

But now that Republicans have turned this on Democrats- in Texas, for example- and helped keep the Dems going through the convention (come what may, that can't be good for them), I'm a little more positively disposed toward it. Selfish of me, perhaps, but I'm even seeing the logic of subjecting candidates to a wide range of voters early and getting the one with the widest appeal come November. Well, we will see. Onward...

P.S. Why does the Amazon certificate always come right after I've ordered something from them?

P.P.S. That was some winter, huh? Global warming my foot.

P.P.P.S. Much more to come soon, I hope, including many reflections on Jonah's book.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Overheard at the Sefarim Sale:

Woman: Should I really be buying books that I'm never going to read?

Man: Well, it's not so much the buy books as an expression of your values.

Woman: What values are those?

Man: The value of buying books, of course.

Circular, but my feelings exactly.

The #1 item on this list is a bit unfair (for one, I don't think it's exactly true), so I figure I can be a bit unfair in response: What eventually happened to Brando? What's up with Steven Hill today? I can't speak for him, of course, but leaving fame and money aside...who'd you rather be?

Finally, nothing against the Giants, of course, but look at this list and tell me what it says about the development of our society. Eh, I guess it's not so bad. Three cheers...

Speaking of the Super Bowl, I recently saw the following, in this book. After writing the last Peanuts cartoon, Charles M. Schulz thought: "You know, that poor kid, he never even got to kick the football. What a dirty trick- he never had a chance to kick the football." With that in mind, this ad was actually kind of touching.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Book notes

Well, the first item isn't relating to books, but in general: I placed an order Thursday morning, choosing the free shipping, not the two-day. The item shipped Friday morning. It arrived Saturday morning. Granted this doesn't happen all the time, but that's pretty durn good.

Yesterday I checked out an antiquarian Jewish book fair at the Workman's Circle. Wow! I got a first-edition Pathways Through the Bible, illustrations by Szyk, for a few bucks (the other Szyk items were too much), and from Dan Wyman Books- Dan Wyman himself, in fact- I got a Mesillat Yesharim (I just heard R' Schwartz mention it this weekend), published in the 30's, translated by Mordecai Kaplan- for the novelty value, I guess- and a 1940's Yiddish photo magazine with an article on YU. He had lots of other stuff to rich for my blood- a 1937 Israeli phonebook (of course, I looked up, and found, my cousins), a complete set of Leeser siddurim, seven volumes, $750, a Mishnayot from the 1700's, and much more. I've rediscovered, at least for one day, my love of old books.

Oh, and then I went to Jim Hanley's Universe and found a nearly (Abebooks filling in the gap, and more) complete set of Star Trek Fotonovels for a steal. The guy at the counter gasped and said, "We have these?" "Well, they were on the shelf," I smiled.

And next week...the Sefarim Sale!

Of course, books, as I'm learning, are nothing compared to the important things that make you happy in life.

By their stars ye shall know them

I have to confess that the only part of the daily "Iran News Round Up" on The Corner that I click on regularly is the photo. Today's, as it happens, is a doozy. It's the defense ministers of Senegal and Iran meeting, and just consider: The Senegalese one is a civilian, in a suit. The Iranian is the one wearing a uniform. Kind of telling, I think.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Scenes from 47th and 6th

Scene: Rockefeller Center subway station. Two cops are standing in front of what we used to call the "token booth" when a third cop walks over to them from the Metrocard machines, where some tourists are standing.

Third Cop, calling: "Spanish, anyone speak Spanish?"

First cop: "Not fluently..."

Third cop, making a face: "Good enough, I guess..."

They all had a good laugh and headed over to help.

Then I headed upstairs and witnessed a scene I've never seen in real life: Someone yelling, "Hey, I'm walkin' here!" at a car. Didn't look native, but hey, someone's got to say it at least once in a while to remind us of Ratso. I know I've wanted to, but never really had the chance, thankfully.

Starving Artists

You know how you can tell the economy is getting bad? Well, WCBS-AM has been pushing a bad economy for months now, and this morning they found the perfect example: A very recent college graduate, a fine arts major, who'd like to move to Brooklyn to "pursue her painting" or something, isn't at it straight out of the gate, instead "living with a family friend" upstate somewheres. Oh, it's bad out there. Cry me a river. (As to the title of this post, it was used as a headline recently, and I couldn't pick up any irony.)

Me, I notice what I always notice: At the beginning of any crisis, there's a blip of a mention of some wacky liberal cause that led to it, and then nothing. Remember the to-do a year or so back about discrimination in lending? Anyone think that led to over-generous lending? Well, it was floated. Maybe once. And then disappeared off the radar. (To be honest, I'm no economist, so I may be completely wrong there.) Oddly, in all this, I haven't heard Bush blamed, although I'm sure they'd love to and are implying it. I guess they have their hands full hating him for other reasons, or no reason at all.

I chanced across a video of the famous Buckley-Gore Vidal debate. I gotta say, Buckley's famous line looks a lot better in writing than it does live, with him hemming and hawing and talking through his nose in some pompous accent, and the two of them grinning at each other like it's a big joke. In his defense, the various videos are of poor quality, with lots of three-way crosstalk, and Vidal certainly seemed offended later (much as Buckley felt bad about it later). So, again, it may just be me. It is a beautiful line.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

So long, Fred...

Only a few days after I put one of his stickers on my bag, Fred Thompson dropped out. Ah well. It was a nice dream. My choice in the New York primary is a little easier now, though.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Speaking of Chutzpah...

"Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, fresh off a visit to Kassam rocket-besieged Sderot this past Thursday, says he found in the city - as well as the agricultural communities in the vicinity - 'impressive determination, staying power, and less complaining.'"

Less complaining? There are no words.

Friday, January 18, 2008

"They're not wiping the grin off this face!"

(Title is lifted from David Gerrold's introduction to the novelization of "Trials and Tribble-ations".)

Last night, I went to hear Jonah Goldberg speak about his new book, into which I am already making headway. He was sponsored by the local Young Republicans (one of the clubs, apparently, and I recall Jonah's Republican/conservative dichotomy as well) at the Women's Republican Club, and, as always, it was great hearing him. I've heard him a few times already, but it struck me this time what a great mind he has. He's really up on the topic, and his delivery just makes it better.

As he spoke, I remembered something I posted here a few days ago: He mentioned how fascist movements were popular, and I recalled that I had wondered what was wrong with people electing who they want- and, by extension, deserve. (This was, indeed, Jonah's point when the California Gubernatorial recall was going on, but that wasn't Nazi Germany.) But as he spoke, and implied his overall point about freedom being important, it hit me that I was making a left-wing error. (The horror! The horror!) Just because the people- a majority, a plurality in this case- want something, there'll always be at least one person they're trampling on. And even if there isn't, lack of freedom is objectively wrong. Thus I am enlightened.

But the best was yet to come. I went up to him to get the book signed...allow me to digress. Jonah has his "guys" (and some "gals")- people who fill him in on various details, about the military, medicine, odd links, business, and so on, that he's not up on as much. A few weeks back, I wrote to him with some flag information appropriate to a point he was making and added that I'd love to be his "flag guy." Last night, as it happened, he made a point about the Nazi flag, red so as to deliberately match the Soviet flag, and so when I went up to him, I mentioned my previous email(s). He remembered me- "'L-a-m-m,' right?" (I wanted to give a yell, but simply told him I was flattered)- and signed (he was personalizing everyone's), "Nathan- You are my probationary flag guy! Congrats. Wear it proudly. Jonah Goldberg".

I will, Jonah. You rock. I told him how much I enjoyed the talk, got some Thompson '08 stickers, and walked out there floating on air, giving an occasional hoot of joy aloud.

And the best part of the evening was yet to come, but that's for another day. Shabbat Shalom, y'all!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Can you say "chutzpah", boys and girls?

The surge is working because of the 2006 election? Because of Democratic threats to withdraw? Please.

John Edwards actually said "Those who believe that real change starts with Washington politicians have been in Washington too long and are living a fairy tale"? Wow. Well, read it in context: I guess it's OK if we're talking about liberal achievements in their own endeavors (and in this case, at least, it's fine with me too), not about ordinary Americans doing their thing. Otherwise we need the Breck Girl.

Yesterday, I mentioned living in a normal country like the US. Then I read pieces like this (in the Washington Post/Newsweek! And don't even ask about the comments!) and start to worry. Ben Hecht said much the same thing about making pronouncements about anti-Semitism in the US. Sure, it's a Gandhi, and we know about them. But I've always known that the camps in this country (and let's not even bring up Canada) would come from the Left rather than the Right. Thank God their power is still limited, for now.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Soutine's Lost Masterpiece

A wide-ranging conversation this past Shabbat began with family, moved to technology, then Philistine cities and their modern equivalents, before settling on, of all things, tattoos. (Don't ask.) I then took the opportunity to mention a story I've recently seen for the second time, Roald Dahl's "Skin." (Available in this collection.) Basically, it's about a man who discovers that his back is worth a fortune because it was tattooed by Chaim Soutine (an unknown when they were acquainted), whose paintings have skyrocketed in value after his death during World War II. A typically macabre Dahl story, I didn't supply the ending. (I did correct the plot in the Wikipedia entry; also provided handy-dandy wiki links for Jewish terms below for those who need them.)

Now, I've always known that my maternal grandfather and Soutine knew each other- they were from the same shtetl, and my grandfather used to write him, after Soutine had hit the big time in Paris, to ask him to help out his siblings back in Eastern Europe. (Soutine apparently responded generously.) We've always had a few Soutine books and prints around the house, and there's a certain hometown pride when there's an exhibit or article about him.

"Ah," I said, talking of my grandfather, "He should have asked him for a picture! Imagine what it would be worth today!"

"Oh, but he did!" my mother answered. "You don't know the story?" I didn't. It's really something.

Apparently, my grandfather, true to his later calling as a melamed, was retained, in his late teens, as a sort of tutor to Soutine, who was about the same age but, rebellious already, not to apt in his religious studies. Soutine had begun painting by this time, and my grandfather asked him if he could paint a portrait (from a photograph) of his eldest brother Leibe, who he admired greatly. (Leibe actually delivered a drasha, a discourse, before the Chafetz Chaim when the latter's yeshiva relocated to Shmilovitz- we have letters from the yeshiva's secretary attesting to this- and was known in the family as the one who, in a time and place when education typically stopped at around Bar Mitzvah age, made it further, to the "Gemara melamed.")

Soutine took the photo and painted the portrait. Later, my grandfather came to see him, and saw the portrait on the floor, leaning against the wall. He admired it, but Soutine, who was a perfectionist, said, "You think this is a good painting? Look at this! Look at that!" pointing out various (in his eyes) flaws. He then proceeded to rip the painting up.

Ahhh, a lost masterpiece. And an amazing story.

A few more random thoughts:

Speaking of young accomplished people, see this amazing story. (The first column is here.) I had a classmate in law school- actually my partner in one course- who was a World War II veteran. He once showed me a picture of himself in uniform and said, "I was, oh, about your age when this was taken." Still, as Rush and Clarence Thomas both had pointed out to them by veterans of the current war, we all do our part. I hope I am doing mine.

I just finished this book. I have to say, I began it somewhat disappointed- the author states that he's no expert in science, religion, or history, which makes it kind of tough to accept a book he writes about, well, science, religion, and history- and, sure enough, his points on the first subject are not clearly written, and his points on the second two subjects are often hopelessly wrong, often with a mistake in each paragraph on a page. Add to that a cliche-ridden style, and I was wondering if the book was worth it.

Fortunately, it really picks up as it progresses. The problems get less and less egregious and the information gets more and more interesting, so while I mostly skimmed the last chapter, I found most the rest of the book very satisfying indeed. It's a brave new world, and books and articles like this are helping us understand it well.

Now on to Jonah, I hope, whose whole book makes a point I've long argued, about the left-wing nature of fascism. I think the local bookstore is hiding it. Oh, and Zev's. I hope there's a Sefarim Sale event for it, his ideas about IBC notwithstanding. (That's the second time I've replaced an "o" in a link with an "a," by the way. Yay!)

Oh, speaking of Jonah, I had a bit of a thought recently- just a bit, mind. There's a constant refrain along the lines of "Hitler came to power with democratic elections," blah blah. (True or not, relevant or not, let's leave that aside.) Often it's used to suppress unpopular parties and the like. But the thought finally struck- so what? If that's what they wanted... (UPDATE: See above. I was wrong, of course, as I suspected.)

OK, a bit Oliver Wendell Holmes-ish of me, and maybe because I don't live in a country where people do that sort of thing. But the thought occurred to me, and I don't block that out.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


Interesting article linked to at The Corner today. (You can also try here if that link doesn't work.) Now, you can believe me or not, but this is actually something I've thought of a few times as Obama has ascended. (I posted on a similar situation once.) Good to see it's getting wider play- I even posted it to my Trek group.

Well, the "holidays" are over, and things are settling down. I like that some areas have left the lights up for a bit longer, sue me. Many places did leave the menorahs up all the way through, a matter about which I've complained in the past, but, wonder of wonders, the building I work in took it down as soon as Chanukkah was over. (The Christmas stuff came down quickly too, come to think.) Yay! The title of the post applies to both halves.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The World We Live In

Well, 2008 is here. And, while it's arriving as quite a good year, I got a grim reminder of the world we live in last night.

I work only a couple of blocks from Times Square (although I rarely go there), and I pick up the subway to go home even closer nearby. Yesterday evening, well before midnight but with the crowds already arriving, I walked to the train along West 43rd Street, where the local firehouse is. And the entire block, Fifth Avenue to Sixth Avenue, was packed with Fire Department vehicles of all sorts. There was something that looked like a shipping container, painted red, being offloaded off a flatbed truck, marked "Mobile Decontamination Unit". There was truck after truck- huge ones- from the Hazardous Materials unit. Command cars, Emergency Service trucks, ambulances, police cars, more. A large crowd in uniform being briefed outside the firehouse itself. Thank God it all went well, but it was one of the scariest things I've seen. (I was at Ground Zero a few days after 9/11, but it had already happened there, if you take my meaning.)

It used to be they only had to worry about people getting drunk and rowdy in Times Square. Now crime has dropped- all the news outlets are touting the "less than 500 murders" number (of course, so long as a Republican is president, the Times will find the dark lining in the silver cloud), but what strikes me, as good news, is the "400 of those knew their killer" number- and now we have to worry about people who, at least officially, don't get drunk and still get rowdy, in a deadly way.

That said, it's important to note that things are cheery. (Well, things are cheery anyway, but I'm talking about the War here.) The radio informed me yesterday that this was the deadliest year for American troops in Iraq. (We never hear about the other side, of course, but I'm sure it wasn't a picnic for them.) Now, this is technically true, but it's outright dishonesty if...well, I was waiting for the next sentence to begin "But..." as in, "But this month saw the least deaths since the beginning of the war," and it never came. They just went on to the next story. Twenty-two deaths, about eight of them not even combat related, and they went on to the next story, and the AP simply reported the overall numbers as well. Disgusting. This morning, yet again, "New Year's in Iraq is just another day for soldiers...The war griiinds on." (I'm typing it exactly as he said it.) I suppose it'll keep "grinding on" until President Hillary, r'l, can take credit for a victory and be declared Woman of the Year, but it's good to know things have much improved, and we've taken the fight to them instead of having it come to Times Square, c'v. (Sorry for the Hebrew abbreviations.)

Anyway, a Happy New Year to all. I was wishing people (jocularly) a "Happy Sylvester" (yes, I ignore their note on spelling) yesterday, and only realized too late that I should be wishing them a "Happy Hirsch Day." Ah well, I'll do it next- whoops, this- year, for his 120th, if I can remember for 365- whoops, 366- days. Yup, it's a leap-Olympics-election year. Full of fun, excitement, and good times, for all of us, I hope, wish, and bless.