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.