Friday, February 29, 2008

More 'dangers of a multi-ethnic state' hogwash

From everyone's favorite mutt:

Muller contends that this is a myth, that peace came to the Old Continent only after the triumph of ethnonationalism, after the peoples of Europe had sorted themselves out and each achieved its own home.
At the beginning of the 20th century, there were three multi-ethnic empires in Europe: the Ottoman, Russian and Austro-Hungarian. The ethnonationalist Balkan wars of 1912 and 1913 tore at the first.
World War I was ignited by Serbs seeking to rip Bosnia away from Austria-Hungary. After four years of slaughter, the Serbs succeeded, and ethnonationalism triumphed in Europe.
Out of the dead Ottoman Empire came the ethnonationalist state of Turkey and an ethnic transfer of populations between Ankara and Athens. Armenians were massacred and expelled from Turkey.
Out of the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires came Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. In the latter three nations, however, a majority ethnic group ruled minorities that wished either their own national home, or to join lost kinsmen.
In Poland, there were Ukrainians, Germans, Lithuanians and Jews. In Czechoslovakia, half the population was German, Slovak, Hungarian, Polish, Ruthenian or Jewish. In Yugoslavia were Slovenes, Croats, Bosnians, Serbs, Macedonians, Montenegrins and Albanians.
The Second World War came out of Hitler's attempt to unite all Germans in one ethnonational home – thus the Anschluss with Austria, the demand for return of the Sudeten Deutsch, and the pressure on Poland to return the Germans' lost city of Danzig, and for Lithuania to give back German Memel and the Memelland it seized in 1923.
World War II advanced the process in the most horrible of ways.
The Jews of Europe, with no national home, perished, or fled to create one, in Israel. The Germans of the Baltic states, Prussia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, the Balkans and their own eastern provinces, almost to Berlin, were expelled in the most brutal act of ethnic cleansing in history – 13 million to 15 million Germans, of whom 2 million perished in the exodus.
At the end of World War II, Europe's nations were more ethnically homogenous than they had ever been, at a horrendous cost in blood.
After 45 years of Cold War, the remaining multi-ethnic states – the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia – broke up into more than two dozen nation-states, all rooted in ethnonationlism.
...Perhaps the wisest counsel for the United States may be to get out of the way of this elemental force. Rather than seek to halt the inexorable, we should seek to accommodate it and ameliorate its sometimes awful consequences.
And we should look to our own land. According to Pew Research, there will be 127 million Hispanics here by mid-century, tripling today's 45 million – and almost 100 million new immigrants. No nation faces a graver threat from this resurgence of ethnonationalism than does our own.

Pat, most of you will recall, is more mixed than a double chocolate Ovaltine, but presumably this doesn't matter because all of his Hun/Celtic forebears were white. Well, sort of.

Incidentally, isn't the Hispanic separatist movement most prevalent among Mexicans? I have a hard time understanding how someone from Honduras or Puerto Rico is going to seriously claim that they have some ancestral connection to Arizona or Texas. And if uber-ethnonationalism is so extreme (precluding even longtime regional neighbors like Basques and Spaniards or Serbs and Croats from coexisting), I'm not sure how it fits in with Pat's alarmist specter of massive (and supposedly unified) Hispanic hordes. The Hispanic community is no less monolithic- or, it seems, organized- than the Germans or Irish were before them ("You're from County Kerry? I'm from County Cork, you bastard! Now where did I leave my gun...?").

If anything, ethnonationalism should help split up the greater Hispanic separatist movement by reminding Hispanics that there's no place in a pure Atzlan for those dirty Guatemalans.

Can't have it both ways, Patty.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

We have officially run out of ideas

Brandeis U. and the Bronfman collective have apparently found "the next big idea" in Judaism. As someone who's marginally interested in where Judaism is going in the next century, I read this article with bated breath. Imagine my shock when I spotted this:

Brandeis and the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies offered a two-year visiting professorship and a book deal to the person who could come up with the best proposal for a book that would transform the way Jews think about themselves and Judaism.

Kurtzer's book would be a combined history, theological statement and prescription for programming that can help Jews access their history through text study to create meaningful Jewish experiences, Kurtzer said Sunday at a Brandeis symposium for the five finalists in the competition. The open competition garnered 231 applicants.

That's right, text study! Because that idea is totally different from almost every other book that every other Jew has ever written. Ever.

Or, to quote my good friend Sam: "The problem with [insert would-be revolutionary Jewish thinker here] is that they think text study is going to save the Jewish people. It won't."

This is particularly irritating because it sounds like they actually had some interesting-and, God forbid- different finalists making the rounds in this contest:

The finalists and the titles of their proposals are:
- Ariel Beery, founder and publisher of PresenTense magazine, “Translating Judaism for the Post-Digital Age.”
- Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, founder and executive director of the Jewish Values Network, “Bring Judaism to the Mainstream.”
- Anita Diamant, writer, “Minhag America.”
- Yehuda Kurtzer, doctoral candidate in Jewish studies at Harvard University, “The Sacred Task of Rebuilding Jewish Memory.”
- Saul Singer, Jerusalem Post editorial page editor and columnist, “From Survival to Purpose.”

Beery calls his proposal “an extension and a reflection” of work he does at PresenTense, including a consulting group and an institute for social entrepreneurs. Dividing his time between Israel and the U.S., he sees a similarity between the challenges of Jewish life “in the information age” and those posed by political sovereignty. “How does one define community in an age when communication is instant and not geographically based?

Rabbi Boteach’s proposal is an extension of his prior work in England and this country — bringing Jewish values and practices to wider society, for the sake of Jews and non-Jews. An extant Jewish perspective “perpetuates the lie that there is a Jewish community and a non-Jewish community,” he says. “The truth is that Jewish wisdom is for all people, that Jewish values are universal. We have to make Judaism mainstream.”

The proposal of Diamant, best known for her novel “The Red Tent,” focuses on what she considers the unique accomplishments — such as the equality of women in organized Jewish life, the growing role of arts and culture, the increased value of advanced Jewish learning — in the American Jewish community. She says she seeks to document, to “articulate,” the importance of “this chapter in Jewish history.”

Kurtzer’s proposal focuses on “a new paradigm” — the role that Jewish memory plays in the revitalization of Jewish life in contemporary America, particularly how “progressive” parts of the community draw on “traditional Jewish models” like prayer and textual study. “Jews are reclaiming the mantle of memory,” he says. “The Gemara [the main part of the Talmud] has never been more popular in the liberal [Jewish] world.”

Singer, who made aliyah from the U.S. in 1994, proposes that Jews actively seek converts, to increase the size of the Jewish community and to stress Jews’ role as a “Light Unto the Nations." Conversion was an accepted and successful part of Jewish life until Jews went into extended exile 2,000 years ago. “We have to realize we’re not in exile anymore,” he says. “Jews need to switch from survival to purpose.”

The ideas of the finalists, Sarna says, reflect “a breadth and depth” of thinking. The proposals may eventually lead to changes in how the Jewish community conducts itself or spends its funds, he says. For example, Birthright Israel, which brings tens of thousands of young Jews to Israel annually and is credited with strengthening the participants’ Jewish identity, “came out of years of [academic] research between American Jews and Israel.”

Seriously, I understand why you may not want Shmuley or Anita Diamant to be your posterchild for a new Judaism (especially since some of their "new ideas" sound like transparent rehashings of old books of theirs), but how on earth is text study anything new?

I'm happy liberal Jews like Talmud. But Beery and Singer actually bring up ideas that are new and exciting. As a blogger, Beery's point about digital community is a very insightful one. And Singer's thoughts about Judaism expanding beyond "the tribe" is pretty thought-provoking, as well. (You can listen to all five finalists give their presentations at Brandeis a while ago- go check it out and see which one you would have picked. Thanks to Ariel Beery for the link. For what it's worth, I'd buy your book- though I'd obviously prefer to read it for free on a blog.)

Don't get me wrong, Jewish memory is a cool thought-nugget to chew on. But text study is most certainly NOT a "new paradigm." This isn't revolutionary. This isn't even particularly creative. No offense to Mr. Kurtzer, who I'm sure is a great guy. But all he's doing is taking a look out his window and selling Brandeis what's going on now (if not a little dated), not something actually NEW. That's like saying what we really need for the 21st century is something "brilliant" like havurot or, gasp, partnership minyans.

Wait, I've got it! Maybe something like a Bar Mitzvah... but for girls! We could call them... Girl Mitzvahs! Quick, get Sarna on the phone. I could use a book deal.

Edit: Ye gods, it's worse than I imagined. Here is Kurtzer's proposal, if you can stand 5 pages of the wankiest grad-student-speak imaginable. I wrote college papers on Jewish history over three years and I can barely tell what he's talking about. Something about how something doesn't need to be historically true to be authentic and how "New Jewish Culture" isn't really new because people are totally modeling themselves on and reclaiming things like shteibls and yeshivot. Yeah, those are generally neutral terms. How many people are reclaiming things like "ghetto" or "shtetl" or "tiny poorly-lit cheder where we got beaten 5 times a day?" As for the impressed assessment that Jews tend to like allusions to, rather than elusions of, tradition, I'm dying to know of how one can have any kind of Jewish event without SOME allusion to tradition. Judaism (or Jewish activities) without some tradition, somewhere, are by definition, not very Jewish. Incidentally, no one should ever use the terms "hip," "cutting-edge," or "fresh" in their position papers; it makes me think you're trying to sell me something, most likely gum.

I'm very annoyed. Not only because they picked the only academic out of the finalists (why not choose someone that, I don't know, is actually DOING something instead of just writing about it?), and because they're basically rewarding his mainly academic credentials by giving him a platform in academia. This isn't even that much of a prize for Kurtzer since he was probably ALREADY going to be a professor somewhere!

Frankly, I'm amazed this won anything. I can only pity whatever poor students take this guy's class. I'd like to say I'll read his book for the intellectual curiosity, but after reading his proposal, I'm almost sure I won't. Congrats, Jewish Establishment, once again you've missed the point.

Hat-tip: Jewschool.

Did he seriously just say that?

The other day Mr. O'Dipshit said that Arianna Huffington was a Nazi- not, apparently because of anything she herself actually said (that would make way too much sense), but because some moron commenters on her blog said some pretty tasteless things about Nancy Reagan. Bill then immediately backtracked, saying he didn't call Ms. Huffington a Nazi, he was saying there was no difference between what she and the Nazis did. Got that? Ok.

Now, I've previously written to Mr. O'Moron personally explaining that, as someone who lost several dozen family members (that I know of) to the Nazis, I find it rather offensive when he compares people who say or do things he finds odious to the murderers of my family. I have never received a response. However this evening another gentleman, who wrote a similar email, did.

O'Schmuckles' response:

First of all, I appreciate your letter, sir, and have thought about it. If you look back at what happened in Germany -- you cannot escape the similarities between what Hitler and his cut-throats did back then ... and what the hate-filled blogs are doing now.

From the late 1920's to 1933...when Hitler became Chancellor...the Nazis used vile propaganda to demonize Jews and others in the eyes of the German people. They used newspapers, radio, leaflets and rallies to build up enormous hatred towards your family. Today, we are seeing the same thing on the 'net. There is no difference. When Arianna Huffington allows people to say that Nancy Reagan should suffer terribly and then die -- that is completely unacceptable and no different than what Dr. Joseph Goebbels and others were putting out there. Again, I thank you for your thoughtful letter.

There are several things I want to say. First of all, as reprehensible or offensive as any speech is, it cannot hold a candle to actual physical actions that lead to the pain, suffering or death of innocent people. That's logic 101. Writing an editorial, or giving a speech, or performing a godamn interpretive dance about killing children may be in bad taste, but it is NOT EVEN CLOSE to, say, this scene from Spiegelman's MAUS. There's no comparison. On that basis alone, Bill's lame attempt at apologetics (and at moving the goalposts so that he's comparing "hate speech" to Nazi propaganda, as opposed to Huffington to Nazis) should embarrass him to the point that his mouth, humiliated and ashamed, decides to take one for the team and bites off his tongue. The Nazis are most well known for one particular thing, Bill, and it isn't hurtful leaflets. The "when I say 'Nazis,' what I really mean is 'mean and nasty propaganda'" argument is like me comparing someone to Vlad Dracula, then saying that I'm really talking about how they both have cool mustaches. Either you think we're all really stupid or you don't care that you look like an idiot by inventing your own coded language.

Second, there is a difference between allowing one's organization or medium to become a forum for some distasteful speech and encouraging or promoting that speech. In this case, Huffington is not Goebbels because Huffington is not telling her readers that she thinks Nancy Reagan should die. At most, she is a lazy (or hands-off) owner/editor who refuses- or opts out- of the associated responsibilities by saying she puts freedom of speech above all. (An argument that, in this case, I'm not sure I disagree with.) If merely not censoring or removing distasteful or offensive comments on a blog is the sole criteria by which people can be compared with Nazis and Goebbels, then guess what, Billy? There are thousands of "Nazi" blogs out there, including the Free Republic, Little Green Footballs, and Arutz Sheva, to name a few. Being a "free-speech-uber-alles" zealot may not be the most realistic position to hold, but it doesn't make you Joseph Goebbels, you jackass.

Lastly, unlike Goebbels and his compatriots, there is little here to suggest any causality between some moron writing something hurtful about a former first lady on a blog and it leading to anything concrete, either in action or even in "intellectual radicalism." Nor is there any reason to suspect that this one doofus' goal in writing his screed was to make someone hurt Mrs. Reagan or join his crusade of wishing her ill.

These things aren't equivalent. They aren't in the ballpark. They aren't even in the same moral universe.

The Nazis murdered my family. They shot, gassed, starved, poisoned, and burned them alive. They killed 80 year-olds, and 8-year olds. They took everyday people like butchers, peddlers, midwives, greengrocers, along with the most educated members of our family, dentists and doctors, people that had spent their lives working to help people. The Nazis killed as many as they could, along with all their families and friends. And if they'd had their way, they never would have stopped.

To say that one idiot writing something stupid on the internet is anywhere close to this is myopic and insane. It is unfair to the people you are criticizing and demeaning to the victims of the Holocaust and their families. Sticks and stones, Bill. Somehow, Mrs. Reagan will survive the hurtful slings and arrows of idiots on the internet. My family, and the other victims of ACTUAL Nazis, were not so lucky.

You should be ashamed. For them. And for yourself.

In Nigeria, we don't have Irony

A female politician named Habiba Garba was badly beaten by a hired mob paid by an MP from the party she recently defected from. Recently a local paper published pictures of her injuries:

On Monday, the Triumph published the picture of Mrs Garba's injuries showing the area just under her armpit and the scars on her torso.

Except, funnily enough, the public reaction is not to condemn the MP (presently sitting in jail), but rather for some government agencies to start investigating the paper. Why?

The picture shows part of her naked torso, and as publishing nudity is forbidden under Sharia law it violates rights to privacy.

Oh God. You and your painful, brain-bleeding sense of humor.

Friday, February 22, 2008

More questions

Courtesy of Arthur:

1- How can you separate Jewish Culture from Jewish Religion?

Are we talking about theory or practice? I would say that Culture and Religion are not separate entities unto themselves; they borrow and transmutate back and forth. Jewish folk-legends, for instance, is extremely rich and adds a great deal to Jewish culture and history. Yet, they cannot be said to clearly or exclusively belong to "religion" in the way that text study, halacha or mitzvot can. Jewish culture is made up of themes, stories, ideas, the arts, etc... Culture and Religion do not exists independently; rather, both operate as quasi-independent spheres.

For my own personal practice, I would say that I follow a very literary or psychological method, an approach borrowed from the lives and thinking of the Yiddish modernists did in the 20th century, and which the Haskalah movement did in the 19th. I live with a very Jewish consciousness and see the world through a heavily Jewish sensibility. I study Jewish history and am at least somewhat versed in certain Jewish texts.

Yet I would not describe myself as particularly "observant." I keep very few ritual mitzvot, and whatever ethical ones I do practice are more an accident of coincidence with basic modern secular humanist values than anything else (this is why, as I told a friend, I refrain from putting a Chofetz Chaim button on my blog- not only am I not familiar with the nitty-gritty of his teachings, but they are not source for my conduct).

I would argue that I think and feel in a very culturally Jewish way, while periodically dabbling with whatever elements of Jewish religion I find interesting or meaningful at the moment.

2- Why do you think Senator McCain will be any better or different from the current President Bush?

Well, for starters I don't intend to vote for McCain, so as far as I'm concerned, hopefully we won't get the chance to compare them. However I am optimistic that, should McCain win the election, there are some reasons to be hopeful.

First of all, McCain's success indicates that a sizable number of Americans, both Republicans as well as independents/swing voters, are plain sick of what Bush has reduced the Republican Party and/or Conservative movement to. Most of Bush's domestic policies tended to stick closely to whatever social issues were carrying the day for the Conservatives. McCain, for most of Bush's administration, did a decent job of rising above this. As some of the louder pundits are now reminding us, on a lot of issues, McCain has tended to hold the wackier elements of his party at arm's length. These are all good things. While I disagree with McCain on plenty, including the scope and plans for Iraq, one might hope that, as a veteran, he might at least bring a more realistic and personal view to the war, both in terms of how better to fight it as well as understanding the true costs it creates for soldiers and their families.

Reasons to be concerned: these days, McCain seems more interested in winning than sticking to his principles. His turn-around on wack-jobs like Jerry Falwell and his recent turn towards playing "gotcha" politics with Romney and Mrs. Obama makes me worry that the old McCain might be easily supplanted by a new, super-pragmatic one, who is more interested in trying to position himself as the GOP Messiah (by pandering to the same crazy elements) than in trying to reposition the party itself to be more centrist. Basically, it comes down to which direction McCain is going to jump- to the right, to appease Limbaugh, Coulter and Dobson, or the left, to try to undercut moderate support for the Dems and remind saner Republicans what their party used to be before the evangelicals and neocons cut in.

3- Why do you not want to live for a long time - not SHLIT"A?

I have nothing against longevity. But, as Ohr Somayach's Internet Rav explains:

The term "Shlita" is actually an acronym, and stands for the words "Sheyichye L'orech Yamim Tovim Aruchim." This means that we pray that he "will live many long and good days." As a word, "Shlita" means that the Rabbi is a person of "leadership."

I'm just trying to preemptively discourage anyone from mistaking me for a leader. (I don't think I need to worry.)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Hope you're all taking notes

...Because there will be a quiz. A stupid, stupid quiz.

Breaking news from some bozo in Shas: Gays cause earthquakes.

Shas MK Shlomo Benizri blamed gays Wednesday for the earthquakes that have shaken the region in recent months, telling a Knesset plenum debate on local authorities' earthquake preparedness that government action on homosexuality would do much to prevent the tremors.

Benizri said the government should not make do with reinforcing buildings, but should instead pass less legislation that encourages homosexuality and other "perversions like adoptions by lesbian couples."

..."Why do earthquakes happen?" said Benizri. "One of the reasons is the things to which the Knesset gives legitimacy, to sodomy."

"A cost-effective way of averting earthquake damage," he added, "would be to stop passing legislation on how to encourage homosexual activity in the State of Israel, which anyways causes earthquakes."

Yes, and apparently Shas causes brain damage. Who knew?

According to those in the know (sometimes called "reporters,") Benizri is annoyed that Israel is letting gays adopt kids. I always wanted to know how to say "Bill O'Reilly" in Hebrew...

But wait! According to Rav Lazer Brody, the recent earthquakes are a sign that the Messiah is coming. I'm confused. Are earthquakes good or bad?

Wait, I know! Gay adoptions are actually a tool of Hashem that he is using to CAUSE earthquakes, because then the Dome of the Rock will fall apart and the Third Temple will magically ascend in its place... um... because, uh, the Third Temple has already been rebuilt, it's just stuck under the mountain, and so the gays are acting like... uh... God's blasting powder! Yeah!

(Wow, being a psycho is harder than it looks.)

But wait, there's more:

"God says you shake your genitals where you are not supposed to and I will shake my world in order to wake you up," he added.

Wow, I didn't realize there was so much cock in the Gemara. How dirty.

For those in the know, Benizri's nuttiness apparently has a long history. Rooftopper Rav at Jewschool notes that Benizri has previously complained about "slant-eyes" serving him in restaurants. Oh, and he's under indictment for receiving millions of shekels in kickbacks. Thank you, Shas for showing us the Torah-true way to be a jackass.

At least the gay community in Israel knows how to deliver a snappy comeback:

Mike Hammel, who chairs Israel's Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Association said in response that "religious MKs are apparently competing to see who can disparage [the gay] community more."

"This is a sad competition that shows how dark Shas MKs are," he said.

"On one had, it is sad that a religious MK doesn't believe that earthquakes are caused by God," he added. "On the other hand, it is flattering that he attributes supernatural powers to us

Zing! They don't teach you the fine art of the "burn" in yeshiva.

All this theodicy reminds me of a conversation I had recently over at Sultan Knish's place.

Steve- Listen to the voice of HaShem. Look what He is doing to our economy recently. HaShem is speaking, if Americans would only listen.

Friar- Economic theodicy; I have to say, that's a new one. So what, the Great Depression happened because God was annoyed with the US? (Maybe he didn't like Prohibition? We are supposed to get drunk on Purim, after all...) And the economy boom during Clinton's years in office indicates what, that God's all about the oral sex?

You bring up a good point, me. If gays make God so angry how come the past few Gay Pride brou-ha-has have all been earthquake free?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Long Time Coming

"Trephenation." Because in this time of economic uncertainty, drilling a hole in your skull just makes sense.

"Obama Gematria." You know, that's one thing I don't think I've yet explored. Thanks.

"Failed Messiah." Wrong blog. Jerk.

"Ashley Murray." Who?

"Finding my basherte in Boston." Um, good luck?

"Photo Friar Beard." Ah, but where does the beard end and the friar begin?

"Narishkeit." Yeah, we're pretty much ground zero for that.

"Zayde made us laugh." Yep, right up until he went to jail. Then, not so much.

"Songs of the Irgun." "Hail the mighty Begin, he stands so straight and tall..." What, militia groups take poetic licenses all the time.

"Abir Warrior Arts." Can't talk about it. Made a solemn vow. But you know who might be able to help you out?

"Abir is bullshit martial art." This must be what it's like to have children. *Satisfied chuckle*

"Turban of Yosef Chaim." One of the lesser known artifacts in the Hidden Temple.

"Words for posthumous plaque." "Here lies plaque."

"Yemeni funny." If you though Sefer Hasidim was funny, just wait until you check out Yihhyah Qaffah's Milhamot Hashem. Freaking hysterical.

"Crusades Cossacks." Not to be confused with the Cossack Crusade, a short-lived attempt at liberating Jerusalem by way of Ukraine that ended after about a month when the entire army dropped dead from heat stroke (damn you, fur hats!)

"McCain is a Zionist stooge." No, fool. Metzger's the stooge. Don't you read?

"Did the friar know about the women's baby." I can categorically state that I had NOTHING to do with that woman's baby.

"Crank that Jew." I don't know what this is, but it can't be good.

"free sex" Either this is the greatest sage ever, or someone misspelled an advertisement for a harmonica.

"buy Benny Hinn the tabernacle." You mean he doesn't already have his own? Slacker.

"Circumcision bumps." Worst birthday present ever.

"Jewish faith wearing hats young boys." Actually, the correct form is, "Young Jewish faith boys wearing hats." Stupid.

"Da Vid San Francisco Medical Research Foundation." Why don't we just deport him to Alcatraz and see what he does with it? I predict within a day he will be found in a fetal position curled up inside the water tower.

"Friar wears a cross." You lying bastard. Stop ruining my rep.

Monday, February 18, 2008

So good it's fattening

Ah, WND. My faithful idiot-patch.


[McCain] wants to force us to fund medical experimentation on human beings like Joshua and Rachel Hubbard – who were themselves once frozen embryos. Real human beings. Just older than they were when they were shoved in a freezer and vulnerable to policies like those of Sen. John McCain. Just because someone shoves children in the freezer doesn't mean they're no longer human beings in need of adoption. "Thou shalt not kill" doesn't say "unless they're really small and discarded by people who don't want them." If you found a kid locked in a closet, would you justify performing medical experiments on him before taking his life because he "was going to die if nobody let him out of that closet anyway?"
And also...

I must admit that there is another side which, in fairness to liberal history, must be examined. Historically, the Democrat Party has done everything in their power to suppress blacks, including and most notably during the 80-plus years they controlled Congress. One of the principle participants in said suppression was former Ku Klux Klan officer Robert Byrd, D-W.Va. His record of opposing blacks and civil rights initiatives is unequalled in American politics. Will he today put away his prejudice and freely support an Obama administration?


Media also avoid Obama's religion. He was born a Muslim. According to Muslim beliefs, you cannot change religions. He claims to be a Christian. What does that mean? What are the ramifications? Some Muslims say he should defend Islam.

Americans have a right to ask and demand answers, given that the sworn enemy of this country is militant Islam. What influence it may have on a birthright Muslim president, regardless of what religion he claims to have now, is something that must be addressed.

Ow, ow, ow.

Pat Boone's Old Timey Prayer Therapy

Every time I forget to check Pat Boone's column archive at WND, a small part of me hopes he's gotten the help he so desperately needs. Then I actually read what he's writing, and I realize that's never going to happen.

This week
Pat was talking about how America is sick. He started off, as he so often does, with a line that was unintentionally hilarious.

Friend, I hope you'll bear with me; today, I feel the need to think out loud, in broad and general terms.

Because it's not like you've ever done that before.
In business, the emphasis seems more and more to be on the "bottom line," profits and compensations – some of which are absolutely obscene – and less on actual service and benefits to consumers. In education, a vitally important area of our national life, there are also very disturbing trends, with national test scores in almost every subject dropping, often alarmingly, in spite of programs like "No Child Left Behind" and other well intentioned efforts. Liberal professors and teachers unions seem intent on reshaping America's history, traditions and moral guidelines.

Moral guidelines? Exactly which classes should those be inserted into? Shakespeare?Algebra? And here's a clue, Pat- NCLB isn't all you think it's cracked up to be. And if you don't like big business raping everyone up the butt, you might want to let the Republican Party know, since they're like, sleeping with them.
Meanwhile, the halls and school rooms have been invaded with drug use, sex "education," cheating, violence and disrespect, to an alarming degree – creating an environment Cotton Mather and our early teachers would consider an impossible nightmare.

Because Cotton Mather, he's relevant to the discussion. You know who also would have been pissed off by kids cheating on tests? Nat King Cole. That man took the SATs seriously, dammit.
Society at large has begun to resemble a biopsy of a cancerous liver. The protective boundaries are breaking down, the circulation of health-giving nutrients is clogging, the cells that are designed to work together effectively are becoming rebellious and even destructive, and the prognosis for recovery isn't hopeful.

Why stop there? There's also illegal immigrants, which we could say are like, say, HIV that some deranged escaped prison convict are injecting directly into the liver, and then they're multiplying while inviting other HIV cells in, and then before you know it they're hanging out with baggy pants and refuse to learn how to speak English... our liver was not meant to be bilingual!

But don't worry, because Pat has a plan. You see, he once visited a magical place called a "hospital" where people named doctors and scientists actually tried to fight things like cancer. And what was Pat's reaction? Did it give him a better understanding of the nobility of the medical profession? Did it make him understand that science and medicine are more complicated than the life/choice binary we so often hear? Did it leave him with an appreciation for the development of the European Enlightenment which led to an increase in medical knowledge upon which we all benefit every day?

Well, not quite. It seems it made Pat think of church... and Star Wars.

As we walked down one of the halls, Dr. Fred introduced me to a patient passing by in his hospital gown, a charming older man named Nels. When Nels moved on by, I was told that he didn't have long to live … that the cancer had progressed too far for him to beat it.

And then, in the lab, I was shown living cancer cells from Nels' body under a microscope. I saw, progressively, how these evil-looking, black, almost iridescent, Darth Vader-resembling rebel cells moved in among healthy cells and began to destroy the organs they invaded. Like other, healthy cells, the renegades reproduce – by employing a broken, alien DNA. I asked Dr. Fred, "Is there anything that can combat these evil things?" He said, "Yes. Let me show you." He produced other slides that showed, again progressively, how other cells, lymphocytes, that to me looked like the comic character Little Orphan Annie's eyes (harmless, blank white circles), surrounded and enveloped the Darth Vader cancer cells and slowly absorbed them out of existence! It seemed like a Disney movie, and in my mind's eye I saw a subtitled line underneath scenes in the slides: "Be not overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good!"

Little Orphan Annie cells? Darth Vader cells? Geez, Pat. You've got ADD written all over you.

[Shiska Girlfriend adds: "Also, it's totally ok to share private medical information about patients as long as it's with Pat Fucking Boone."]

So, Pat sees biology in action and thinks it's just like the Bible. Ok, fair enough. Sometimes weird things go through my head, too. Then again, I don't usually take them as a sign that I should go harass cancer patients.

I was so impacted by what I'd seen that I felt compelled to call my new friend Nels later, after I'd returned to L.A., and tell him what I'd seen. And then I urged him, as a Christian believer, to spiritually take charge of his own body and order, literally, his white blood cells to confront and dissolve the renegade cancer in his body. He said he would. And we agreed we'd both pray that God would underscore Nels' authority over his own body and every part of it.

Um, excuse me! I believe you need a licensed faith healer to do this sort of thing over the television airwaves for it to work. Also, you have to send them money for their telethon.

Also, if you're praying for GOD to "OK" Nels' authority over his body, then it's not really Nels doing anything, now is it?

The next year, when I went back to Seattle for the tournament, I saw Dr. Fred and hesitantly asked him about Nels. He looked startled, and said, "You know, it's amazing. Nels went into total remission some time after you saw him, and we sent him home. He's apparently cancer-free!"

Three years later, his wife wrote me a sweet letter, informing me her husband had "… gone to be with the Lord. But these last three years have been the happiest of our lives. Nels felt wonderful; we've spent time with kids and grandkids, and loved every minute. Just thought you'd want to know."

Question: What did Nels die of? I suspect this might be relevant. It wasn't, say, cancer, was it?

This experience is still so vivid to me. And I see our society plagued and corrupted in much the same way – infiltrated on so many levels by fellow citizens who work, and teach, and represent us in government and in the courts, perhaps unaware that they are carriers of a broken, alien DNA. They're often militant, angry that their views are opposed and determined to almost violently reshape our mores and attitudes in their own mold.

Yeah, not at all like those super-individualistic and oh-so tolerant evangelical Conservatives. Silly me. Also, "alien DNA" sounds super-bad-ass.

So what are we to do? At the risk of sounding simplistically religious, I propose that we all get back into our churches, our synagogues; that we dust off our Bibles and read them devoutly; and that we sit our kids down and share Bible truth with them, as if our individual and collective destiny is hanging in the balance. I believe it is.

So... reading is the answer. Specifically reading the Bible. Well, thanks so much for playing. We'll have to do this again sometime.

Edit: Check out Sam's post about an authentically Jewish attempt at faith-healing. At least this one involves actual ingredients.

A Political Family Reunion

For those who remember, politics in my father's family is a contact sport. My great-grandparents were honest to goodness Yiddish Communist-Socialists who used to read every edition of the Forverts (Forward, Socialist) and Morgen Freiheit (Morning Freedom, Communist) and then fight about which one was right. In the 1950s, my grandparents were paranoid that Baba's ravings about the Revolution might be repeated by some of der kinderlach at school and get us all deported or Rosenberged, so she was banned from speaking to her grandchildren unless an adult was present.

The relatives also had a fun practice of renting a meeting hall for family gatherings where my great-grandfather and his younger brother would sit opposite each other across a table on a stage, calmly prepare themselves, and then scream at each other in Yiddish over various political points. Whoever won the "debate" determined how the family would vote in that election cycle.

My grandparents were more moderate Democrats. FDR was good, Nixon, not so good. Vietnam was a necessary evil, etc. My father came of age during the 60s and absorbed a lot of its values, to a point, at least (he had friends who once tried to stage a sit-in and take-over of some CUNY facilities; Abbot got the hell out of there. "I draw the line at getting maced or bashed in the face"). This attitude filtered down to me and my bitterly apathetic brother as well, incidentally.

My father's brothers, however, are a different story. For the purposes of this post, I will call them Moe and Milt (yes, the same Milt I previously said was a great-uncle. I lied). Moe is the oldest child. He is a retired engineer and could technically qualify to be a senior citizen. He identifies as Libertarian, but Abbot says that he's really just a "selfish putz." When he found out I was studying Vietnam in high school, Uncle Moe mentioned to me that he thought Goldwater had the right idea. "One nuke and the war would have been over." I wanted to point out that, aside from moral issues, Vietnam was large enough that it probably would have taken more than a single bomb, but my parents thought it would be better if I just dropped the issue. Since then my occasional interactions with Moe have often proven to be just as bizarre. At a bar mitzvah a few years ago he mentioned that he wanted to create a book of biographies about the various "dictators" of all the different Muslim nations in the world. I told him that the CIA Factbook already had a lot of that info. He then offered to pay me to write his book. I ultimately turned him down; creating a Mein Kampf for Muslims really isn't something I need on my conscience. Incidentally, Moe was drafted to go to Vietnam but failed the physical because he had wrecked his knees playing football, the lucky jock. Moe lives in Texas on a large swatch of land and enjoys crazy things like scuba diving and mountain climbing.

Milt is the youngest sibling and was a Reagan Republican in college, scandalizing the rest of the family. Apparently he was quite the schmuck back in the day; my mother can recall him making a lot of barefoot and pregnant jokes in her presence- back when she was pregnant with me. Milt has since settled down and has three young children, which seems to have mellowed him considerably. Milt supported McCain back in 2000 and has held his nose on Bush ever since. He is very hawkish on Israel and is part of the Right-Wing Jew phenomenon so common to Southern California. His family belongs to a Reform congregation and are very committed to having a Jewish family, unbothered by his children's non-halachic status- something for SG and me to aspire to.

It's always interesting to talk politics with my uncles. (Though Abbot tends to get in over his head, which is too bad, since he's also always the one who initiates the political detours away from discussions of Milt Jr.'s Little League Game or the latest bizarre vacation Moe has been on.) The last time I saw them the big issue was illegal immigration. While the two of them railed against illegals, I pointed out that I had issues with people saying things like, "round them all up and ship them out on trains" given our own family's mixed history with boxcars and unplanned trips. Similarly, I mentioned that not all of OUR ancestors had come over legally; the truth was that Poland was a shit-hole, sometimes violent, often brutally poor, and so our family got over any way they could, and upon arriving, continued to do whatever they could do, to make money, whether it was entirely above-board or not. Isn't it just a tad hypocritical to chuckle over a black sheep great-uncle's probable mob connections and then say that any illegal immigrants who commit crimes should be deported? Needless to say, Moe and Milt looked like they wished I could still be forced to sit at the kids' table. They also didn't like it when I said that all the blame for the Middle East couldn't be laid solely at the feet of the Arabs. "It's not like colonialism didn't happen, guys. Look at the map. There's a reason those lines are so straight." More death glares.

Now Abbot Yid is at it again. He sent an email out to the family (Grandma, Moe, Milt, and my aunt, who I'll call Sally) wondering, oh-so- innocently, who they were voting for? The exact wording was slightly more inflammatory (all original verbiage preserved):

Among you die hard Republicans who brought Bush's war, economic disaster, etc is there any way I could convince you to vote Democratic & get some new leadership & hope for our poor beleaguered country?

Oy. Off to a good start, right?

Moe gave a rather terse reply:

My advice is do not drink the Obama Cool Aid.

And Abbot took the bait:

Better than an old washed up war hawk who will drive us into bankruptcy - I really would like to see my retirement investments mean something & I'm sure that will not happen with more Bush policies! ...I finally voted for Obama but of course I represent the progressive wing of the family. When there are no jobs, food lines, etc maybe you will wake up & see that years & years of the old guard Republican "values" are entirely bankrupt. While I have concerns about both Hillary & Obama I cannot live with another Republican administration that panders to the rich getting richer; big business abusing consumers, foreign policy that sinks the US into a quagmire just like Vietnam, etc, etc.! McCain is more of the same - how can you not see that? How is he going to do anything that will represent your interests?

Then Milt joined in:
McCain is more than capable and of course he has his baggage. Best thing he can do is pick Ms. Rice to be his running mate. The problem is not partisan, it’s all about “values”. We sold this country out 30 years ago when we started giving our jobs away. Today, a 15 year old kid on welfare will find $50 to hire a gardener rather than start the mower himself. CEO’s being rewarded $115M after they drive their business into the dirt is not what I call capitalism. Sure lets raise taxes and support another welfare generation! I say bring the troops back and build borders, close down the obsolete military bases, require all 20 year olds to do gov service - four years, modify the health system, don’t trade with countries who do not allow us to buy land in their countries and require any expenditure over $100M to be approved by the tax payers not their representatives. Oh, a law stating English is our national language...

Abbot responded:

Who has the monopoly on "values"? From a "family values" perspective I have a traditional family, raised 2 kids, pay my taxes, always worked. So, I'm not religious & I believe that social safety nets are important & I am pro-choice & support legalization of pot & support gay marriage - so what! More importantly, I value that my country should not be the world's police but rather should be a force to demonstrate the values of democracy, free speech, etc.

We are facing a ton of very difficult issues with no easy solutions. "Close the borders" - maybe but there is no easy fix to immigration issues esp. when trying to live out "values" that say we are a country of immigrants where those seeking a"better life" have always been welcome... How important is having English as the national mandated language in the grand scheme of things?

Then my ever-elusive Aunt Sally chimed in:

I would rather see a Clinton/Obama ticket even if it means drinking cool aid, than a McCain/Rice ticket and another 4 years of Republican abuse disguised under the name of " values".

Finally, even I had to toss in my 2 cents regarding Milt's "4 years of mandatory national service" quip:

Not to be a jerk, but why should any of us young ones be required to fulfill ANY sort of national service when not a SINGLE one of you guys did?

Milt came back with this:

If they had called me I would have gone! And, its great training for our youth. And I never said it had to be military! ...Plenty of other countries do the same, Israel for one! It's a great training ground for most people to learn to become more independent. Given the jobless rate in this country I think a lot of young people would flock to something like this.

Which is pretty funny, since national service has ALWAYS been voluntary, and no one in our family has EVER done it. The closest we got was WWI, where one great-uncle volunteered to be in the Jewish Legion (fighting for the UK, of all things, in Jordan), and another for the Marines right after the end of the war, where he spent 2 years guarding banana fields in Cuba while drinking himself into a stupor to self-medicate the constant tension of worrying about guerrillas taking potshots at his buddies. By and large, my family does not consist of the "volunteering" type. And maybe that's a failing of ours. But it's pretty damn assholish of my uncle, who spent his 20s in college, then the rest of his life in the private sector, lecturing me about how all young people should be REQUIRED to give four years to national service. Don't get me wrong, I'm not opposed to national service. But something tells me he won't be broken up if none of his kids wind up in the Peace Corps.

Lastly, just as the inferno was dying down, Moe tossed one last grenade on the smoldering flame:

Obama has come from total obscurity. I do not know of a single speech, sound byte or utterance where he has said or done anything about the situation of blacks in thiscountry. The minute that the words 'should' roll out of his mouth about black illegitimate birth rates, black on black crime, black prison population, black high school drop out rates, the black version of English, rap music, etc he will become a pariah among blacks... If he cannot address the issues of his own people how is he going to help the nation? Stay away from the Cool Aid because that is all that Obama has.

Bill Cosby should run for president at least he recognize the problem. If Obama cannot even deal with black issues, how can he deal with the economy, Islamic terrorism, or reform health care? ... He is not a John F. Kennedy and certainly not a Martin Luther King.

Yes, that's right: Moe, who my father suspects might actually have some black issues traipsing around somewhere in his psyche, doesn't like Obama because he isn't a responsible "King of the Blacks." Because, of course, that's totally been what he's campaigned on, right? No word from Moe as to whether his support for McCain will hinge on how much "straight talk" he intends on dishing out to his own ethnic group, near-octogenarians who live in Pueblos and suffer from occasional goiter issues. I emailed Moe back and asked him why it was reasonable to hold Obama responsible for fixing all "black America" issues but not charge McCain with, say, having to fix all of the woes associated with Vietnam vets (homelessness, addiction, mental illness, sometimes even- gasp!- crime). I also pointed out that as annoying or personally insulting he may think they are, rap music and Ebonics are not, in fact, existential threats to the United States.

He said he didn't want to talk about this anymore. Hmm.

The family passion for politics is alive and well. But something tells me this would all have been more fun in Yiddish.

Kids are Funny

I've spent several weeks working and volunteering in local schools, many of which have hefty Chinese populations. In the course of doing this, I have had the privilege of interacting with quite a few very cute kids, as well as some who, truth be told, I would like nothing better to do than give a good whack to. (Perhaps teaching really is in my future...)

Anyway, here is a short list of some of the best quotes I've assembled over the past month. Names have been changed, ages have not:

1- "Are you 50?" Cindy, 4th grade.

My response: "No, I'm in my 20s."

Her: (Staring at my beard.) "Really? My parents are older than that!"

Me: *Shrug*

2- "Why don't you shave?" Cindy and Brooke, 4th grade.

Me: "I wouldn't have time to do anything else."

Them: "Hmm." (Petting my hairy knuckles.) "It's so soft!"

Me: "No touching, please."

3- "My Dad has a big nose. It is big like... a Jew's nose!" Thomas, 5th grade, after being instructed to use a metaphor in his written description of someone's face. [This one just sort of confused me. Thomas lives in the middle of a Chinese neighborhood and I highly doubt he even really knows what a Jew is. I didn't want to get mad, so I just asked him some questions.]

Me: "Thomas, can you explain this to me? What does that mean?"

Thomas: "Um... that it's big?"

Me: "So, Jews' noses are big?"

Thomas: "Yeah."

Me: (Staring at him.) "Is my nose that big?"

Thomas' eyes get a little bigger. "UM..."

Me: "Why don't you rethink this sentence. Maybe say, 'big like Pinocchio's nose', ok?"

When he left the class, I waved goodbye and then made a Pinocchio imitation with my finger and nose. In retrospect, that might have been inappropriate.

4- And lastly, a few days ago I gave a short (30 minute) presentation on "someone I admire" (as a model for a report the 4th graders will be writing next month). I chose to talk about one of my immigrant ancestors who came over from Poland after his father got married at 40 and died at 60, leaving a gaggle of orphans in his wake.

Afterwards, one little Chinese boy, Dallas (his real name was another well-known Texas city, and just as incongruous), had some questions:

A: "Do you speak Jewish?" (This led to a series of explanations about Hebrew and Yiddish. Turns out they just wanted to know some funny words. I had to struggle to think of some Yiddish that was rated G and finally came up with shpilkes and zeitsflesch (which apparently I both pronounced and spelled incorrectly).

B: "So, in your homeland, people have to get married early and die early?"

Me: "Well, you didn't have to get married early or die early, that was just what tended to happen."

Dallas: "Your homeland is weird."

Me: "Actually, this is my homeland."

Him: "Me too!"

Asked and Answered

Sam asks,

"Given your displeasure with many things about the American government, do you ever wish you could move to some other country than the United States?"

Although I enjoy traveling and hate idiocy, to be honest, when I picture my "dream life," I picture living in a moderately-sized house (complete with the required fun add-ons, of course, like slides, secret passages, and whatever the heck a "conservatory" is) somewhere in the US with reasonable access to the (relatively) unspoiled outdoors. In an ideal world, maybe I'd have friends or timeshare opportunities to spend parts of the year in other countries- preferably in a few continents. I can't decide if this is because I'm too entrenched in my conveniences here ("I can't picture my life without my favorite Dim Sum restaurant") or if it's just because I'm lazy. Also, I don't want to have to learn about a whole new series of political issues and spectrums. I'm still trying to figure out the "Natural Law Party."

Anonymous wants to know, "What is the meaning of life?"

I am happy to report that I successfully solved this at the semi-precocious age of seventeen as part of a high school assignment, in which I summed up the meaning of life in the wonderfully individualistic "everyone has to create their own meaning." To be fair, this was mostly ripped off from Jean-Paul Sartre and Chaim Potok.

Tzipporah wonders, "What is your name?"

I was named after my grandmother, whose Hebrew name was Channah. However my English name (which happens to be a patron saint of several European countries, bizarrely enough) has no good Hebrew equivalent. If I wanted to be a stickler for my parents' intent I suppose I could go by Chananiah, but let's be honest; that just sounds weird. As it is, I'm presently mulling over "Yisrael," after a g.g.uncle, and whose meaning seems to jive fairly well with my personality.

Sam's curious: "What are your feelings on the whole Archbishop Rowan Williams brouhaha?", and tries to sneak an embedded link past my watchful eyes. Just for that, Sam, I will link to many other sources for information to spite you. So there!

Anyway, as I understand it, people are mad because Williams made a fairly realistic statement that, given the present population trends in Britain (and the precedence of Orthodox batei din), it seems fairly likely that Sharia courts will, at some point, have some legal standing within British common law. Some right-wingers say this represents the abandonment of Western culture and jurisprudence because Islam, unlike Judaism, is conquest-oriented. I'm not so convinced that this is the end of the world, especially if the ground rules from the get-go are, as Williams suggested, firmly established to ensure and protect human rights. On the other hand, there are other more practical reasons this might be unworkable- like the fact that different groups of Muslims don't agree on how Sharia is or should be interpreted. That said, I am also aware of the tricky issues surrounding the mixture of church and state (then again, the UK doesn't have the same approach to this as the US).

Anonymous queries: "Do you believe that "a small number of extremists" is to blame for radical Islam today, or is this a more widespread problem?"

I think that assigning all the blame for radical Islam today to a "small number" is a little too myopic/optimistic. The problem is that radical Islam is an ideology and a system, and really represents a large cross-section of the Muslim world, not unlike (forgive the expression) Zionism in the Jewish world. This is the same reason it is so tricky and challenging to track exactly who is friend and foe in the Islamic world, much less identify and distinguish real threats from mere blowhards. The real question is how does one classify the shape and boundaries of radical Islam: where are the limits of authority/responsibility/culpability, how should governments and civilians deal with these groups, and perhaps most importantly, how do you engage with their more moderate co-religionists and work with them to make sure that the radicals (whether small, medium or large) remain contained, or at least keep from growing? Size is not the issue as much as influence. The challenging thing is that as an ideology, radical Islam has a reach far beyond its most loyal members- you don't have to be willing to kill or die in order to give the idea support, which in turn allows it to reach ever farther to other potential supporters.

Tzipporah wants to know: "What is your favorite color?"

As a kid, it was red. Then, blue. I've been in a "brown and green phase" for a number of years now (I anticipate this will be useful when the revolution comes and I have to play Survivorman).

Sam: "What price glory?"

One's soul.

Anon: "Will Israel survive the next century?"

Only if it's very, very careful. Frankly, I'm far more worried about all of Israel's internal problems (forever relegated to back-burners) than terrorism issues.

Tzipporah: "What is the average flight speed of an unladen swallow?"

I'm going to say five. Furlongs. Per cubic meter. Yeah.

Thanks for the good questions.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Ask me anything

No, seriously. Any three questions. I'll do my utmost to answer them, humorously if not honestly.

Especially all you lurkers. I know you're here.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Ann Coulter's Food for Thought

Ann, not unlike various other Conservative commentators this week, is fairly keening now that McCain is the shoo-in candidate for the GOP.

Nominating McCain is the gesture of a desperate party.

Republicans are so shell-shocked and demoralized by the success of the Bush Derangement Syndrome, they think they can fool the voters by nominating an open-borders, anti-tax cut, anti-free speech, global-warming hysteric, pro-human experimentation "Republican." Which is to say, a Democrat.

As the expression goes, given a choice between a Democrat and a Democrat, voters will always choose the Democrat. The only question remaining is: Hillary or Obama?

On the litmus test issues of our time, only partially excluding Iraq, McCain is a liberal.

  • He excoriated Samuel Alito as too "conservative."
  • He promoted amnesty for 20 million illegal immigrants.
  • He abridged citizens' free speech (in favor of the media) with McCain-Feingold.
  • He hysterically opposes waterboarding terrorists and wants to shut down Guantanamo.

Can I take a breath now?

  • He denounced the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
  • He opposes ANWR and supports the global warming cult, even posturing with fellow mountebank Arnold Schwarzenegger in front of solar panels.

I have to say, I just might print this out and carry it around in my wallet. It will make me feel pretty good over the next few months, even more than the prospect that tons of angry right-wing Republicans like James Dobson will sit this election out and hand it to the Democrats automatically.

But Ann does have a very interesting point- which candidate's election would actually benefit the Democrats and American liberals more?

If Hillary is elected president, we'll have a four-year disaster, with Republicans ferociously opposing her, followed by Republicans zooming back into power, as we did in 1980 and 1994, and 2000. (I also predict more Oval Office incidents with female interns.)

If McCain is elected president, we'll have a four-year disaster, with the Republicans in Congress co-opted by "our" president, followed by 30 years of Democratic rule.

There's your choice, America.

Hmm. I will admit, this is something I had not considered. On the one hand, Ann sort of has a point. On the other hand, I can't help but wonder if she hasn't made some sort of deal with McCain (running-mate?) to try to get super-strategic libs to vote for him. Ow, all this double-back-tracking is hurting my head. It's almost as bad as RISK.

I will have to give this more thought (but, knowing me, it probably won't be much).

In which my ears rebel and my brain goes home

I just got to experience a painfully masturbatory (and stereotypical Northern California) conversation on the train.

Weird portly hippy woman: "Hey there, want to sign my petition?"

Polite college student sitting next to me (I was next to the window): "What for?"

Smelly hippy midget: "Solar energy."

College twit: "Sure!"

Hippy: "Great. I also have one for drug treatment for non-violent offenders."

Ditzy: "Ok!"

Hippy: "Oh, and here's one for more humane treatment of farm animals."

Ditzy: "Um... no."

(Long pause.)

Hippy: "Ok, that's fine. I'm just curious... how come you don't want to stop cruelty to animals?"

Ditzy: "I don't believe in farming. I think we should end the entire institution, or at least how it's done in this country. This would just make people more complacent about it."

Hippy: "Ah. Well, look, I understand, I'm a vegetarian..."

Ditzy: "I'm a vegan."

(Icy stare-off)

Hippy: "Anyway, so I get what you're saying. I also object to the petition; I don't think it goes far enough... but living around meat-eaters (she put a really great disgusted *oomph* into it; maybe she could smell the salmon pasta I had for lunch? Is salmon a cute enough fish for animal lovers to care about?), I just don't know how realistic that is, and in the meantime, all these animals..."

Ditzy: "I understand, but it's a philosophical issue. It's something that actually causes some friction between me and my friends."

Hippy (still not convinced): "Well... ok." [Starts to walk away. Turns and looks in my direction.]

Me (Feigning sleep): "Um... snore."

Hooray, she left me alone. Crazy weirdo.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Am I Missing Something?

Lately I've taken to indulging in some guilty pleasures. One of this is a real piece of reality-tv schlock known as Paranormal State. More info is available here, but the basic recipe is a combination of Blair Witch Project and Saved By the Bell: The College Years. The premise is that a group of students at Penn State started their own Ghostbusters society after their fearless leader Ryan had a traumatic demon-abuse-related childhood. If the suspension of belief machine is to be believed, it then follows that A&E is so convinced by their mission that they underwrite all their travel expenses, high tech camera equipment and the like.

Most episodes consist of the "team" (which, I noticed, is mostly composed of attractive Freshmen interns) going to supposedly haunted houses where nothing conclusive ever happens. Most of the effects are obviously done by the producers, but there have been quite a few unintentionally hilarious moments. The best one occurred when the team leader was in a house being possessed and a psychic came up with a name for the demon- which apparently was the precise name of the demon that haunted Ryan's room for ages. They spent two episodes milking this, along with him running around warning everyone against saying "the name," lest they empower the demon further. In the meantime, the producers run dripping red letters, one-by-one, in rapid-motion across the screen. For two freaking episodes. I hope Ryan didn't see that one. I know I'd be pissed.

Anyway, one thing I noticed pretty quickly is that when the team feels like they're over their heads, they usually resort to two things. First, they bring in a psychic, and next, they have a "house cleansing"/blessing ceremony. Of the mercifully few episodes I have been able to stay awake through, most of these have invariably involved either a Catholic or Episcopal Priest, or occasionally, a "lay blessing" in the name of ol' JC done by a member of the team, who then usually dab holy water around and possibly pass out medals of St. Jude or somebody. One time they had a "third-generation Wiccan" classmate do a covert blessing, which consisted of nothing more than reciting the Guardian Angel paragraph of Kriat Shema, while mispronouncing everyone's names: "Mick-eye-el", etc. It was painful. Also, being a third-generation Wiccan (really?) qualifies you to be the resident "Occult Expert" the same way that being third-generation Irish makes you an expert on Leprechauns. (If, like my neighbor, you are lucky enough to be half Irish and half Italian, then your Leprechaun knowledge decreases by half, but on the plus side, you are now half an expert on organized crime, you versatile multi-tasker.)

The Discovery Channel isn't much better- what little I've seen of its series "A Haunting" seems to include a revolving door of Catholics, Methodists, and the occasional Shambala healer (I'll admit it, for a haunted barn in Indiana, that one is pretty diverse).

I guess my question is, assuming that there actually is something to this supernatural stuff (by which I mean actual supernatural activity, not wonderful moments like, "my reflection! A ghost! No, wait, a lens flare! A ghost! My sock! A ghost!"), doesn't it seem mighty convenient that the vast majority of them in North America seem to respond to specifically Christian rites of expulsion? And I wonder how many people that try to get their house blessed wind up picking a clergy member of the same denomination as them? What do people do in Israel, or Saudi Arabia? Do they call the local rabbi or imam?

I'm just saying, how come all the ghosts A&E and the Discovery channel seem to find turn out Christian? What, do I have to wait for Shalom TV to come out with its own version of "Paranormal Yeshiva" to start hearing about some Jewish ghosts?

Come on, A&E. Get it together and just go poke Meyer Lansky's grave. I'm sure something will happen.

Well that's Ironic

The notorious screwball Haredi sect Neturei Karta has accused Chief Askenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger of being a "well-paid Zionist stooge."

The strongly anti-Zionist Neturei Karta sect of ultra-Orthodox Jews has attacked Ashkennazi [sic] Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger as a "very well paid Zionist stooge" and a "a wicked emissary of evil" who should be expelled from Israel, following Metzger's reported comments proposing that poor Gazans be moved to a Palestinian state established in the Sinai.

Referring to Zionism as an "idolatrous cult," Neturei Karta called for Metzger to "removed from the Holy Land," describing him as "a wicked emissary of evil".

This, of course, is hilarious, because anyone who has done any research into Metzger knows he is actually a well-paid HAREDI stooge, a vassal of Lithuanian king-maker Rabbi Yosef Elyashiv. Not unlike Shas' Rabbi Yosef, Elyashiv is not a Zionist, just an opportunist interested in milking the government (and government ministries) for all they're worth, be that money, benefits, or power. Most of Elyashiv's people don't even believe the institution of Chief Rabbi of Israel has any authority, but he still placed Metzger (who comes from a National Religious background) into the post ahead of the Modern Orthodox camp's own candidates, not just for a power grab, but also to be a petty jackass.

So yeah. Way to be accidentally entertaining, Neturei Karta. Again.

Also kudos to Haaretz for misspelling Ashkenazi. Doing a great job, guys.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Best (Unintentional) Backhanded Compliment Ever

I found this gem in a passage about Elimelekh of Lezajsk's book, Noam Elimelekh:

[The book] is one of the classics of Hasidic literature...It was instantly acclaimed for its power and profundity, and has since appeared in over forty editions. Rabbi Mendel of Rymanov used to say that only on the eve of Sabbath, after emerging from the ritual bath, was he able to grasp the meaning of Noam Elimelekh. Rabbi Hayim of Kossov went further, declaring that only "a person who is able to revive the dead is able to understand this book."

There's a back matter quote to aspire to.

(From The World of Hasidim, by Tzvi Rabinowicz, back when he still went by Harry).