Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A Few More

OK, a few more posts from Facebook (links can be found there), because I have such loyal readers:

Whitey Bulger is the gangster they based Jack Nicholson's character in "The Departed" on. He was on the lam for over fifteen years, was caught a few years back, and is now serving two life terms. He's 85.

A bunch of kids wrote to him for a history project. Here's part of his response:

"My life was wasted and spent foolishly, brought shame and suffering on my parents and siblings and will end soon...Advice is a cheap commodity some seek it from me about crime — I know only one thing for sure — If you want to make crime pay — 'Go to Law School.'"
In honor of Art Garfunkel (a Kew Gardens Hills boy, like Paul Simon and myself- I only realize now that their childhood homes were a few blocks from mine) visiting Israel, it's time for Ali G:

Ali: What is Art Nouveau?

Professor Arthur Danto, Columbia University: [Explains.]

Ali: What is Art Deco?

Danto: [Explains.]

Ali: So what is Art Garfunkel?

Danto: ...a singer...

Ali: So ain't that confusing for young people?

Danto: It may be, but it would astonish me if it was.
 So they're filming the scene in "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" where Wormtongue kills Saruman (it's in the Extended Edition), and Peter Jackson is telling Christopher Lee (Saruman) what to do. Lee interrupts him to point out that that's not what people sound like when they're stabbed in the back.

During World War II, Lee had been in the Special Operations Executive, aka "the Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare," aka "Churchill's Secret Army," aka "the Baker Street Irregulars" (they were headquartered down the block from Sherlock Holmes' place). Also on the team was Ian Fleming, who based most of the James Bond characters (M, Q, Moneypenny, etc.) on people he'd worked with there.

So while Lee didn't talk about what he'd done as an agent, he knew of what he spoke when correcting Jackson. And then he went on to have another amazing life. RIP.

(I love this quote from him:

"When people say to me, you know, were you in this? Were you in that? Did you work in this? Did you work in that? I always used to say 'Can you keep a secret?' And they would say 'Yes, yes' and I would say 'So can I.'")

 Wow. I'm quoting Joe Biden:

After only four months in the United States Senate, as a 30-year-old kid, I was walking through the Senate floor to go to a meeting with Majority Leader Mike Mansfield. And I witnessed another newly elected senator, the extremely conservative Jesse Helms, excoriating Ted Kennedy and Bob Dole for promoting the precursor of the Americans with Disabilities Act. But I had to see the Leader, so I kept walking.

When I walked into Mansfield’s office, I must have looked as angry as I was. He was in his late ‘70s, lived to be 100. And he looked at me, he said, what’s bothering you, Joe?

I said, that guy, Helms, he has no social redeeming value. He doesn’t care — I really mean it — I was angry. He doesn’t care about people in need. He has a disregard for the disabled.

Majority Leader Mansfield then proceeded to tell me that three years earlier, Jesse and Dot Helms, sitting in their living room in early December before Christmas, reading an ad in the Raleigh Observer, the picture of a young man, 14-years-old with braces on his legs up to both hips, saying, all I want is someone to love me and adopt me. He looked at me and he said, and they adopted him, Joe.

I felt like a fool. He then went on to say, Joe, it’s always appropriate to question another man’s judgment, but never appropriate to question his motives because you simply don’t know his motives.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

ותבקע העיר

A couple of days late, but:

According to a plain reading of the account in Yirmiyahu (52:10, the only one in Tanach with a date), the walls of Jerusalem were breached on the 9 of Tammuz. (This is the event we mark on the 17th, a week from now; the Bavli and Yerushalmi reconcile the two dates in different ways, and I've heard others as well.)

That was in 586 BCE, exactly 2600 years ago. (2015+586=2601, but there was no year zero.) Not especially significant, except that things ending in "00" tend to make one think.

I'd have added more when I posted this on Facebook, but the world has grown frightening, unlawful, irrational, immoral, and somewhat sad (whew!), so I retreat to my blog- "the inner recesses of my home," as Justice Alito might say.

It's been over twenty-five years, but I still remember the flag burning case. What particularly sticks in my mind is the complete lack of a well-crafted response from the Right. No argument that the Court had got their moral case (e.g., that this wasn't "speech") or legal case (e.g., that state action wasn't protected) wrong; certainly no argument that this didn't come under the court's purview, and certainly no attempt to take practical steps to address any of that. No, all that came were populist calls for an amendment, something that would never happen and which implicitly conceded all of the Court's arguments. It merely was a good talking point, was good for stirring up crowds, and (taking a page from the Left) served only to tar those with a more nuanced view of the process (while having an identical view of the desired result), thanks to general ignorance of civics.

Yes, I think that concession has borne fruit, in too many ways.

As long as I've mention Facebook, here are some recent posts, for those who check in only here:
Tonight I participated in a wonderful reading of "The Tempest." I was Prospero, among others. A small number of attendees meant I had some heated discussions with myself.

I also had a piece of a Vegemite chocolate bar. It's actually quite good. (And to all those disbelieving souls, yes, despite not a drop of Commonwealth blood in me* and not having tasted it until I was well into adulthood, I actually very much enjoy Marmite.)

I should be used to it by now- whenever there's some big local sports victory, motorcades of fans come tearing down Aza beeping their horns. Even at 12:25 in the AM. When it started tonight, I didn't have to be told that Jerusalem won.

Maybe they want to make sure Bibi knows. One of them was screaming his name just now. Barkat knows, of course- he was down on the floor with the team.

Well, go Jerusalem!
For some reason, the Bar Association is sponsoring an evening of speeches on "Diabetes and Obesity: Plague of the Century."

Between presentations, there will be coffee and cake (and, I assume, bourekas), because, you know, Jews. And Israel.
I've just started a book I bought (thanks, Shavua Sefer!) about the archaeological excavation of the altar on Mount Ebal, in the Shomron, in the 1980's and 1990's.

At the end of a long list of acknowledgments- dig personnel, students, volunteers, institutions, local Jewish Shomron residents- the author writes (translation mine), "And we must mention our Palestinian friends, who for obvious reasons cannot be named." That's kind of sad.
Sometimes I feel like grabbing Israeli law firms (and others) looking to hire olim by their figurative lapels and pointing out that the types of people who *would* match their listed qualifications are not, ahem, the type of people who make aliyah.
Things that happen to me more often than you'd think, part whatever:

I'm in a city I'm not from, that I barely visit, that I know very little of apart from where I'm headed, and not even that, having gotten lost a bit earlier. I get stopped by a random citizen who asks me where X is. We are nowhere near X, but by sheer coincidence, I just came from the same block. I give directions and feel like a big-shot native.
I can be a real cynic, but last night, I attended a screening of Yehuda Avner's "The Prime Ministers" and the waterworks turned on. A good Zionist refresher. A well done event, Yeshiva University Israel Alumni!

Interestingly, it was the same day as I inquired as to his details so I could get a memorial plaque for him (one of my duties as gabbai). I never met him myself, but apparently he was a longtime mitpallel at Kehillat Renanim. And whaddya you, in the movie itself, he's describing learning of the Yom Kippur War while in shul, and there's a picture of our beit knesset's building. (Granted, Heichal Shlomo is one of the more prominent buildings in the State of Israel.)

I was thus able to tell his daughter, from whom I got the actual details, how much I enjoyed the film.
Today is the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. I'm reminded of the story of how Paris newspaper headliness tracked Napoleon's progress through the 100 Days (from when he left Elba until his final downfall):

The Tiger has broken out of his den!

The Ogre was three days at sea

The Wretch has landed at Frejus

The Brigand has arrived at Antibes

The Invader has reached Grenoble

The General has entered Lyons

Napoleon slept last night at Fontainebleau

The Emperor proceeds to the Tuileries today

His Imperial Majesty will address his loyal subjects tomorrow!
Many years ago my mom got me a Sherlock Holmes doll. The lad has grown quite interested in it lately, and only today did I notice that his coat buttons feature the symbol of the People's Liberation Army (Red China). Now how did I miss that?

(It's not a great mystery: The doll, like everything else these days, was made in China, and the factory probably had some military contract and so had spare buttons lying around. My grandfather worked in a place that made insignia during World War II and would sometimes bring my Dad spare US Army buttons. I don't think he still has any...)

I remember when we passed the toy store and I (already an adult, but a huge Sherlock Holmes fan) pointed it out in the window, not asking for it or anything, and then one day my Mom, bless her, brings it home. I think the place shut down not long after that. :-)