Friday, November 28, 2008

Remembering the Light

Rest in Peace. For those lost in Mumbai. Over 130 Indians have been killed, along with people from Australia, America, Japan, Germany, France, Spain, Britain, Canada, China, Italy, Singapore, Mexico, Thailand, Singapore, Mauritius, Jordan, and Israel.

My great condolences to the people of India, whose reputation has been smeared by fanatics who gave no thought to the lives and welfare of those they would destroy in their mad drive to kill foreigners.

My thoughts and prayers with the families of the dead tourists, who were trying to enjoy their lives in a beautiful country.

And my tears for the rabbi and rebbetzin of the Mumbai Chabad House, a couple about my and SG's age. It is rare in this world, particularly in America, to find people in their early twenties be so devoted and dedicated to an ideal that they are willing to actually sacrifice for it. There is little doubt that in going to India, that is exactly what the Holtzbergs were doing.

I have little love for Chabad. But, as I have been arguing over at Failed Messiah, that is not what this is about. There is a world of difference in arguing over philosophical, religious, and moral failings of a movement (and there are definitely some in Chabad-- as there are in many others, Jewish an otherwise) and in wishing suffering or death on its individual members. One person at Failed Messiah made a disgusting claim that all of us mourning the Holtzbergs were hypocrites- that we were "like the terrorists" fighting to "shut down" Chabadnikim- be they the Rubashkins in Postville or the Holtzbergs in Mumbai. This person essentially argued that opponents or critics of Chabad "should feel pleased" that the Holtzbergs received "the same treatment" as the Rubashkins.

To me this is insanity. I do not want anyone to be murdered in cold blood, particularly Jews. That the Holtzbergs happened to be Chabad has nothing to do with it. I didn't agree with Meir Kahane but that doesn't mean I wanted him shot dead. Differences in ideolology does not equal wishing someone dead. That is true in general but especially when dealing with the extended Jewish family of the world.

There are plenty of things I dislike about Chabad. But I also admire the spirit of the movement, espeically their shlichim. I admire their conviction, though I disagree with it. I admire their willingness to put their money where their mouths are, to try to help people and not write off anyone not like them as beyond the pale. Chabad fights to stay relevant to the greater Jewish world instead of blanketly condemning it or shutting themselves off from it. If the Holtzbergs were members of most any other haredi group they never would have even been to India, much less have died there.

The Holtzbergs, like many Chabad schlichim, exemplified some of the best things about what Chabad can be-- what it IS, to many people in small pockets of Jewishness around the world. If they have nothing else, I hope their families can be proud of that legacy- for five years, they did what so many young people cannot-- not only were they self-sufficient, but they passed things on. They ran a Chabad House on their own, putting aside their own needs and helping others. For five years, they reached out to the world and made it better in small, little ways. They were rays of light in an age where many people tend to be closed, isolated, and self-absorbed.

Lastly, my hopes for the Holtzberg's son, who will turn two on Saturday. I hope their families will tell him their story. I hope he will know who his parents were, and not spend his days thinking about the terrible day that they died, but of the precious years that they lived.

In this world, many young people spend all their lives desperate to be consequential, signficiant. To matter. This drives a lot of selfish, even destructive, behavior. But by their example, the Holtzbergs show us another path, how we can matter by, in small ways and big, unselfishly making the world better.

Let their example- and memories- be for a blessing.

Baruch Dayan Emet.

Monday, November 17, 2008

O'Reilly's San Fran Schizophrenia

I was amused last week when O'Doofus declared my lovely city by the bay to be full of "patriots". Imagine my shock:

As you may know "The Factor" is no fan of San Francisco values, but last night some sanity prevailed. Voters said no to Proposition K legalizing prostitution in San Francisco, which would have given the pimps free reign. They said no to naming a sewage plant after President Bush. How insulting. And most importantly, they said no to banning ROTC recruiting in public schools.

So for all the voters who did the right thing in San Francisco, you're patriots.

Well, I did vote against Prop K and for Prop U, though I did vote for the Sewage Plant (my parents did not). I guess that makes me a 2/3rds patriot.

But, funny thing, Bill couldn't seem to stand not beating up on us for more than a few days, because he sent a producer out to produce a hit piece on us without any real focus other than pointing out that we have, OMG, stoners, homeless folks, and yes, a seedy red-light district, maybe even a couple. Totally, you know, unlike any other major-sized city. Right.

Highlights included the producer asking a teenaged pothead for their deep thoughts, chatting with homeless people who cheered our "progressive" police force (who have decided to spend their time fighting violent crime rather than busting fifteen year-olds with a couple of joints, crazy bastards), and getting some obligatory shots of some seedy strip clubs and a transgendered prostitute who cheered that the city allowed her to live the way she damn well pleased. The producer was also thoughtful enough to have several close-ups of intimidated-looking middle aged white women who fretfully commented that they feel too intimidated to walk on specific streets, or who were oh-so-irritated that their children's private schools happen to be near, ugh, homeless people. "It's not always pretty," one sniffed (with a noticeable French accent, I might add).

No mention was made of any of the city's recreational areas (over twenty-five parks and beaches that easily make up about 12 of the city's 49 square miles), landmarks, cultural or educational institutions (50-plus museums, 22 colleges), or even such useful and presumably relevant context as comparative crime rates. I also found it interesting that the only places they bothered to film were some of the dicier areas of downtown, the Mission, and of course the iconic Haight-Ashbury, where I, for one, have been to maybe ten times while living in the city for well over a decade. This is particualrly funny because most of the city's residents live nowhere near these areas (they couldn't even be bothered to find the residential slums!). To look at this footage, not a single person in the city lives in a house (only the park), and no one wears shoes. Yeah, real representative.

As one dipwad put it, "You got your hookers, your homeless people, your pimps. It's all here!" No one denies this is true, but again, this is hardly unusual in a big city. What does any of this have to do with SF values? (I was very surprised we didn't see much of the GLBT areas or personalities, unless you count the outspoken hooker.)

Then O'Reilly had a pow-wow with his producer and he tried to bring it back to culture. Sneering producer man said, "They don't want to make any judgment about people because they don't think it's politically correct. They've been worn down by this [homeless stuff?] and accept it as normal."

Wow, could it be because there are homeless people practically everywhere? And yet we're not calling for them to be locked up or have their genitals removed. Must be a PC thing.

When comparing SF to NY, produer-boy commented, "In New York you see a few homeless people at a time, but there they roam in packs." Now, I'm not happy about aggressive or intimidating groups of panhandlers, but this bozo was walking over and shoving his camera into groups of street people lying on the grass in a public park. Ooh, look out, a hippy pack!

There was also this lovely exchange:

Producer: "After Giuliani, you can go into Central Park at night. In San Francisco you don't go near one of these parks at night."

O'Reilly: "Yeah, you wouldn't go near the Presidio at night. I certainly wouldn't."

Really? The Presidio? You mean one of our national parks that has housed military families for decades, includes a historic fort, two museums and a popular sports field, and which until recently maintained several late night fast-food joints, a bowling alley and a movie theater (all popular with local kids)? The place where Lucas Film spent millions designing a brand-new design facility? The place that has rented temporary space to local schools for almost ten years (amazing the parents ever made it back from back-to-school-night, isn't it)? Oh, and the area that borders some of the most expensive real estate in the city?

Well, it's just as I thought, Bill is way too brave to let a little thing like not knowing what he's talking about ever stand in his way.

Best line from producer-fool: "Almost every neighborhood [in San Francisco] has a dark element that seeps into greater society."

Yes, bwa-ha-ha! Stare into our dark abyss, America, and see what horrible fate awaits your pathetic towns should you accept our Secular Progressive values!

Wait, what's that?


You know what, O'Schmuckface? I think we'll be ok. In fact, please keep dumping on us. We could use the money.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Veteran's Day Thoughts

"There is, I fear, a tendency to give to patriotism merely an interest in making our country unconquerable-- a feeling that our chief aim is to see that our army and our navy are sufficient for our protection. That is but a part of our patriotic duty.

Our country is, in a sense, continually at war. Against the ramparts of liberty, equality and justice, on which our Republic is founded, surge constantly the evil forces of greed, of materialism, of selfishness, headed by those who cynically deny that there is any prosperity or goodness that cannot be expressed in dollars and cents, or happiness except in bank balances.

Continually, they seek to sap, to undermine, to destroy finally those high ideals without which our nation can no more survive than could those great nations of the past-- those nations whose bodies died because their souls were dead.

It is your duty as good soldiers of the faith not merely to keep alive the memory of those who gave their lives for their country's safety, but to fight militantly, tirelessly, against the moral enemies of our Republic wherever and whenever they appear. Your flags have rallied around your country's banner. Make that no empty symbol."

- Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Nov 11, 1929.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


Baruch Atah Adonai,
Eloheinu Melech Ha Olam,
Shehecheyanu, Ve'Kiyemanu,
Laz'man Ha'Zeh.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Last Thoughts on the Election

I didn't quite manage to stick with my goal for an Obama post every day but I was pretty close (and besides what few readers I have are probably getting sick of this stuff anyway), but I wanted to close with some final thoughts.

I think the fact that Obama is an intellectual will be good for the country. As an educator, I've been saddened and embarassed throughout the past eight years as conservative media has made being educated or thinking things through into a negative thing by tarring them with the smear of "elitist." It's particularly ironic when you consider that the majority of our Presidents have been men of wealth, privilege, and yes, education. All but eight Presidents graduated college and nine received advanced degrees, mostly in law.

I like the fact that Obama would bring an intellectualism to the White House, particularly after so many years of the polar opposite from Bush. It has been suggested, particularly on foreign policy, that there is a danger in taking an academic and putting him into a position of great power and responsibility, because often times there is no "perfect answer," only a series of ever-worsening ones. There is also the argument that in some scenarios, a decisive leader is far more necessary than one who will waffle or stall trying to figure out the best thing to do.

This is a legitimate point, but Joe Klein from Time Magazine has written that Obama is learning to trust his instincts and become more confident in his decisions- without sacrificing a crucial ability to carefully think about what he's going to do before committing.
Barack Obama has prospered in this presidential campaign because of the steadiness of his temperament and the judicious quality of his decision-making. They are his best-known qualities. The most important decision he has made — the selection of a running mate — was done carefully, with an exhaustive attention to detail and contemplation of all the possible angles. Two months later, as John McCain's peremptory selection of Governor Sarah Palin has come to seem a liability, it could be argued that Obama's quiet selection of Joe Biden defined the public's choice in the general-election campaign. But not every decision can be made so carefully. There are a thousand instinctive, instantaneous decisions that a presidential candidate has to make in the course of a campaign — like whether to speak his mind to a General Petraeus — and this has been a more difficult journey for Obama, since he's far more comfortable when he's able to think things through. "He has learned to trust his gut," an Obama adviser told me. "He wasn't so confident in his instincts last year. It's been the biggest change I've seen in him."

On foreign policy, there are some areas where McCain might have more advantages than Obama. Being able to read foreign leaders and show them we mean what we say is certainly an area that comes to mind. On the other hand, seeming tough does us no good if we make bad decisions or do stupid things. Obviously the best scenario is a compromise where you can think fast on your feet AND make good gut decisions that are also based on actual analysis.

The value of Obama is in his temperment. He actually listens to people before he makes up his mind, whether he agrees with them or not (see Klein's article about Obama meeting with Petraeus). Again, compare this with what we've seen from the Bush White House. This is not to say that McCain is a Bush clone, but I definitely sense a stubborn streak from McCain. The same people that like McCain's refusal to back down should also think about what happens in cases where he might be wrong and decides, like Bush, to shut out anyone who tries to convince him otherwise. We've seen the disasters that brings. I have much more faith in Obama's ability to develop some street smarts and instincts when it comes to dealing with immediate foreign policy debacles than I do in McCain learning to listen to people who disagree with him- which includes when talking with people from foreign governments (or have we given up on that whole diplomacy thing altogether?)

Lastly, it is undeniable that the past eight years, and perhaps even the eight years before that, have seen an acceleration of the cultural divide to outrageous proportions. The Red/Blue state, Liberal/Conservative culture war nonsense continues unabated on TV, the Internet, Talk Radio and Print Media as people spend absurd amounts of effort ripping each other down and explaining why only their way is legitimate, patriotic, or sensical.

And yet there are areas we can come together. Most of us do care about poverty, even if we disagree on the best way to deal with it. We do care about healthcare and sustaining the most important government assistance programs. We all realize the necessity of a smart and efficient energy policy, as well as protecting ourselves from foreign enemies and making sure that our economy is stable and protected from speculators. And I think that the vast majority of us do believe in America's potential to make the world, and itself, a better place. The next President will inherit many problems, but perhaps one of the most serious ones is trying to bring us together on the core issues that unite us. I think Obama can do that, at least better than McCain.

To be totally honest, I also think that Obama's ability to speak past party lines would do not only the country, but also liberal values, a great service. Seeing Obama speak at Saddleback Church showed me that he can present the values of the Democratic party is a new and appealing way which challenge the stereotypes that we support abortion because killing babies is awesome or that we think religion should be banned or that we'd sooner let us all freeze to death than inconvenience a seal.

I don't need the Republicans to become Democrats. Having two parties is an essential part of our democracy and I actually wouldn't mind having more viable parties. But showing that there are real values, emotions and thought behind some of these positions that have been so pilloried (and distorted) for years would also, I believe, be a good start to making politics a little more civilized. Obama can bridge the gap. Not only don't I think McCain can do this, I'm not sure he'd even be interested.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Hooray for voting early

Two and a half hours standing next to an obnoxious old lady who wouldn't stop talking to me. But worth it.

Here were some of my better picks:

State propositions:

- Yes on a California bullet train;
- No on the new animal cages (sorry, chickens about to be eaten);
- Yes on Children's Hospitals;
- No on parental notification before abortions;
- No on the fake renewable energy initiative;
- No on banning gay marriage;
- No on forcing us all to start using alternative fuel vehicles;
- Yes on Veteran's Bond Act

City propositions:

- No on the poorly-thought-out prostitution decriminalization initiative (if you're going to legalize it, you also have to regulate and tax it);
- Yes on rethinking banning the JROTC;
- No on yelling about de-funding the War in Iraq (just not useful);

And, because it appeals to my humor streak, Yes on renaming the sewage treatment plant. (My parents disagreed: my mother said she didn't want to pay for it and my father said he doesn't want anything named after Bush.)

Sour Grapes and Checks and Balances

As conservative bloggers and pundits continue to wring their hands over the election, they're really starting to grasp at straws. Part of this last-ditch strategy is the use of their Dystopian "What-If" machines showing us just how terrible (or far-fetched) Obama's America will be. Some of the wackier ones include:

- Throwing the Constitution out the window (no suggestion of what we're supposedly replacing it with)

- Reparations for slavery and discrimination against gays (have they even asked for that?)

- Legalizing all forms of abortion and having them be available on demand ("I'd like to abort this one at two years, please. It's just not working out.")

- Shutting down Christian adoption agencies for not letting gay couples adopt; banning Christian radio for promoting "hate speech"; and stripping churches of their tax-exempt status for not performing gay weddings. (Show me where Obama has advocated any of this, please.)

- Firing all US attorneys and replacing them with right-thinking liberal activist lawyers. (See above. Also, didn't something like this, um, actually happen under Bush?)

- Christian publishers go out of business after large "liberal" bookstores refuse to sell their books (What happened to deferring to the free hand of the market? Why don't they just start a and sell their books there?)

- Removing any restrictions on showing pornography on TV or the Internet (yeah, that's us, the party of the Donkey screwing anything he can get close to).

- Letting gays serve openly in the military (Heaven forbid!) and firing chaplains or soldiers who protest (huh?)

- By appearing weak, Obama encourages Russia to occupy the entire former Soviet bloc; the Taliban invades Iraq; and suicide bombs go off in American cities. Iran nukes Tel Aviv.

- Fairness Doctrine is enstated; conservative talk radio is destroyed (shrug)

Now the really funny thing we're starting to hear is about how awful a Democratic "super-majority" would be. Not that I disagree in principle; the checks-and-balances thing is indeed a very important element of our government. On the other hand, the whole reason the Republicans are about to become a super-minority is through their own misuse and mis-management of power for the eight-plus years that THEY were in power. Sorry guys, it's your own damn fault. Will the Democrats necessarily be a whole lot better? My gut, and the sad facts since the Dems have taken back Congress, tells me probably not. On the other hand, there might at least be some good legislation passed through there in the first few years of the next term.

Let's also not forget that we weren't hearing any moaning about "Checks and Balances" from the right when they were the party in charge. They saw their opportunity to push their agenda and weren't afraid to take it and run with it (ironically, this took them in some fairly unconservative directions). Forgive me if I'm not super sympathetic.

Lastly, before anyone starts whining about an activist Executive branch, don't forget that under the Bush administration the powers of the Executive were dramatically expanded more than under any previous administration. If Obama does wind up aggressively using his Executive powers, his opponents will only have Bush to blame for creating the precedent.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Haveil Havalim 174

Over at Esser Aragoth. Thanks to Ben-Yehudah for including my post on Aggadot.

Edited to confirm that I can, in fact, count.