Friday, September 30, 2011

How big of you

In keeping with my long tradition of being annoyed by silly Tzvi Fishman, I must announce a totally unsurprising update: he's at it again.

Tzvi starts off being pissy because only 35 Jews protested at the UN against a Palestinian state. He then uses this as a springboard to wax idiotic about how this demonstrates a complete lack of Jewish identity in the US. (Because we all know that Jewish identity is predicated on protesting at the UN. That's totally the 614th commandment- I don't care what that fancy-pants philosopher guy said.)

From there, we go deeper into the stupid pool. In case you're not convinced about the protesting-as-Jewish-litmus-test thing, fear not, Tzvi's got another test that's even more fool-ishproof.
 to spread the message of aliyah, I recently started to make friends on Facebook.  There, I discovered a very noteworthy thing. As everyone knows, Facebook lovers can write all about themselves and their interests on their “walls.” (How very different that wall is from ours.) There, they can tell all of their friends about their favorite books and movies and television shows, music and philosophy. Now here is the interesting thing. All of my new Facebook friends tend to be avid supporters of Israel and obviously proud to be Jews. They post all kinds of news stories, and blogs, and Youtube clips about Israel with great devotion and passion. But by and large, when you glance at their preferences in movies and music and books, they like all of the American garbage that the goyim love – the stupid celebrities and rock stars, and idiot TV shows, and sci-fi movies, and trash thrillers – all kinds of names, and groups, and books, and movies that I’ve never heard of, thank G-d.
Oh my God, he's right! How dare Jews enjoy things? Our holy ancestors didn't have any fun and look how great they turned out. Why do you think they invented things like gefilte fish and Slivovitz? To make them extra-dour, of course. And don't think the ban on fun is just in Israel. American Jews are doing their best to quash it here in the states, too. When it comes to working hard to not enjoy themselves, the couple from American Gothic has nothing on us.

But hang on, it gets better. After crapping all over US Jews for having the temerity to like TV, movies, and crappy books, Tzvi's next column announced that he was offering a fantastic prize to his millionth reader (not that he cares about silly worldly matters like popularity or anything). Can you guess what it is?
I am pleased to announce that the prize will be a copy of what may be the greatest Jewish novel ever written“Tevye in the Promised Land,” for which I won the Israel Ministry of Education Award for Creativity and Jewish Culture.
That's right, pathetic Diaspora exiles, make sure to burn all the crap you actually like, because if you're lucky enough, you just might get a free copy of Tzvi's kick-ass book. (Just thinking about leafing through its pages makes me go all squishy inside.)

Forget "Hollywood to the Holy Land." In honor of his millionth hit, I think Tzvi should change his blog name to better reflect his message. How about "Great Balls of Chutzpah?"

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Are we talking about the same place?

Jonathan Rosenblum wrote an article encouraging the mayor of Bet Shemesh to confront the Haredi wingnuts that keep attacking students at a Modern Orthodox girls' school because it's too close to their turf and because the girls aren't dressed quite modestly enough for their tastes. As often happens, my issue with Rosenblum is not so much with his main point, but rather the way he goes about arguing it.

Case in point: to illustrate that Haredim can live by their principles of modesty but also avoid becoming major jerks, Rosenblum discusses the fine folks of Kiryat Sanz:  

Last week, I found myself davening Mincha in Kiryat Sanz in Netanya, prior to spending a few hours at the separate beach across the road. Kiryat Sanz is a largely self-contained neighborhood of Klausenberger Chassidim, though late Klausenberger Rebbe insisted from the beginning that there be a Sephardi community within Kiryat Sanz. Laniado Hospital, which the Rebbe built, lies at the edge of the neighborhood.
While in Kiryat Sanz, I noticed one or two women in decidedly non-Chassidic dress walking through the neighborhood. No one paid them any attention. Just to make sure that my powers of observation are not waning, I called a doctor friend who lives in the neighborhood, and he told me a story of rabbi who once spent his summer vacation in Kiryat Sanz. After a week, he complained to the Klausenberger Rebbe, of blessed memory, that he was shocked by the presence of immodestly dressed women in Kiryat Sanz. The Rebbe replied, “That’s amazing. I’ve been here over ten years, and I never saw anything like that.”
My friend then told me another story that captures the ahavas Yisrael that the Rebbe made the animating value of his community, along with devotion to Torah study. Once the Rebbe heard that some Chassidim had shouted, “Shabbes,” at seaside bathers. He ordered them to cease and desist forever. “Nobody ever came closer to Torah because someone shouted at them,” he said. “Open your windows and sing Shabbos zemiros at the top of your lungs. That might have a positive effect.”

Many Mazel Tovs to the Klausenberger Hasidim, who apparently follow their rebbe's approach in not sweating the small stuff.

However, it's a little unfortunate that shortly after reading about the tolerant and open-minded people of Kiryat Sanz that I happened to stumble across this piece over at FailedMessiah:
Sanz hasidim are forced submit their mail, the land line phones, their cell phones and computers to censorship that includes banning all computer games for children and having a rabbinic committee certify that all laptops have their Internet capability permently disabled.
Hmm... Well, as long as they're only harassing themselves, I guess we're still cool. Rock on, Klausenberg.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Working Towards a Thoughtful Judaism

As longtime readers know, I was raised without any formal Jewish education. When I was around twelve, my grandfather died and I felt a deep longing to want to know more about Zayde in particular, my family history in general, and, somewhat out of left field, the religion and culture that so many of them had practiced to varying degrees. Initially I think I just wanted to get a better sense of what my grandfather's values and life would have been like, and learning about Orthodox Judaism, and Hasidim in particular, seemed like a good place to start.

It was a tough start. While initially my parents were on board with my request to have a Bar Mitzvah, that tanked pretty quickly after Abbot Yid got into a fight with a rabbi of one of the big Reform shuls in town (since I was already learning a second language, Abbot wanted to see if there was any possibility of me working with a private tutor and/or skipping some of the nonessentials of Hebrew school leading up to the Bar Mitzvah. The rabbi got offended and said "We don't do quickie Bar Mitzvahs here," which promptly got Abbot Yid offended and led to him storming out and never going back). From there I was basically on my own. I didn't get very far for a while until eighth grade when we happened to read Potok's The Chosen and it was like a fire got lit underneath me. There was something about seeing religious Jews in literature that crystalized Judaism for me in a very dramatic way. I don't know if it was the surprise of realizing that people wrote novels about Jews or the thrill of getting to discuss Jewish history and minutae in class, but it gave me a huge charge. I read the book in three days, and while I've long since grown to appreciate most of Potok's other books as more interesting or better written than The Chosen, it will always have a special place in my heart as the text that sparked my Jewish identity-- an identity which previously had been barely existent.

I started reading whatever I could about Hasidim-- mostly things printed from the internet. In high school, I found the religion section of my school library and started reading books on Judaism. And I found a friend whose family was gracious enough to invite me to High Holidays, which was how I started my first ambivalent forays into participating in Jewish ritual instead of just reading about it.

Which is where this post comes in. In the past sixteen years I have had a lot of spiritual development, but I feel like there's lots of things I still don't know and have yet to really think about when it comes to forging a spiritual path that's both comfortable as well as intellectually consistent with the kind of Jew I'd like to be and the kind of Jewish life and family I'd like to have with Mrs. Yid.

Mrs. Yid and I have some big Jewish goals for the year, one of which is to get back on the Hebrew wagon and another of which is to start studying some Jewish texts and commentary so we start getting a more solid grounding in this big Jew game we supposedly want to play in. I also have another personal spiritual goal for the year, which is to start taking a serious look at the mitzvot and decide which ones speak to me, which ones don't, and which ones I'm interesting in trying out a little more so I can decide. (Similar to how Mrs. Yid has been wearing headscarves for the past 2 months since our wedding, though me being the super observant sleuth I am, I did not make this connection until someone complimented her on her tichel at shul.)

As anyone who knows me (or has been reading me for a while) knows, there are some pretty definite red lines we have already established, so I don't have any expectations that I will be fruming out or that Mrs. Yid will be prepping herself for an Orthodox Bet Din. But at the same time, it seems dishonest for me to talk about the silliness of adhering to unexamined dogma, or advocate the concept of personal choice and autonomy when I haven't bothered to investigate the issues enough to really be in a position to make a judgment about these things one way or the other.

Here's looking forward to a meaningful, thoughtful, and engaged year.

Shana Tova.

Monday, September 26, 2011

A perfect example of what not to do

Every year Mrs. Yid and I throw a seder for family and friends, in which the vast majority of participants are not Jewish. (We also have a Hanukkah party complete with menorah lighting and many, many fried foods.) As such I have a little background about how to make Jewish ritual accessible to a non-Jewish, or non-religious audience.

Which is exactly why this video pains me so very much.

I'm going to put aside the dicey politics of Chabad mixing Judaism and politics by roping random public officials into self-serving media events, as well as the interesting fact that the mucky-mucks orchestrating this particular Hanukkah photo-op decided to have it during the day. Instead let's talk about the participation dynamics featured here.

Rick Perry, the only non-Jew in the bunch, stands awkwardly in the middle of five Chabad rabbis, as they have him light the shamash candle. From there, the rabbis go into auto-pilot. One of them chants the blessings as Perry looks around and fidgets, having no idea where to look or what to do. Other than firing up the candle, he has zero role whatsoever. There is no translation for him to follow, no transliteration to allow him to participate, he doesn't even get a lousy yarmulke. Instead he gets to be a captive audience, watching the rabbis do their thing and looking somewhere between bored and uncomfortable, not sure whether to look at the rabbis chanting, the flame flickering, or the cameras. He clearly has no idea what's going on and any opportunity of having an actual spiritual connection between him and rabbis is totally gone. From there the rabbis start singing a song in Yiddish, again, something Perry can't do, with none of them even looking at him. He keeps trying to at least help with the chorus (bum, bum, bum-biddy-bum), but since no one has given him the slightest bit of prep ahead of time, he's lost there, too. Finally the rabbis drag Perry into a hora, something which he also seems to be totally unprepared for.

I think maybe the most painful part is when one of the rabbis tries to explain what just happened, giving Perry the most dumbed-down gist of the blessings and meaning of Hanukkah humanly possible. Not surprisingly, Perry procedes to stare at the menorah as if it were a mutant egg-sack from Mars.

I totally understand why some people are so skeptical of "open-source Judaism" advocates like Douglas Rushkoff and R. Niles Goldstein. But looking at this video, seeing a group of educated Jews who have an explicit goal to reach out to non-Jews as a way of building their brand and ostensibly broadening non-Jews' awareness of Orthodox Judaism all but ignore and shut out a non-Jew who seems like he would at least be willing to pretend to care about what's going on if they gave him half a chance and some basic information, I can't help but conclude that top-down Judaism doesn't have all the answers, either.

Granted, Rick Perry is not Jewish, so he is not exactly Chabad's target audience. But seeing his discomfort, seeing how the rabbis speed on ahead totally oblivious to the fact that he cannot-- and has not been invited to-- participate, I can't help but think about how many times this has happened to Jews, as well.

If you're going to spend all your time with people who share your background, culture and education, I suppose things like this don't matter. But if part of your life or mission involves spending time with and reaching out to people from different backgrounds than yourself, it might be a good idea to rethink your approach.

If your idea of "sharing Hanukkah" with someone is "letting them watch while you pray," I don't think most people will be back. No matter how good your doughnuts are.

Hat-tip to Jeffrey Goldberg at the Atlantic.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Letter to a Megalomaniac: Stop Writing Letters

Remember our old friend Ellis Washington? The guy who wrote a letter to his pastor complaining that he was being persecuted by not being allowed to debate him at church? The guy who compared environmentalists to jihadists, Nazis, and communists?

Well he's got more to talk about. And this time, he's preaching to the youth. As a young-ish adult myself, I personally can't wait. I bet this will be wicked rad.

What's the dilly, Ellis?
Letter to Generation X
Um... you know that no one in generation X actually refers to themselves as generation X, right? Off to a lame start, fogey.

Ellis' column is truly bizarre. It's probably the only time I've read a political commentary piece framed as a novelization, complete with prologue, "dialogue" and epilogue headers. In the prologue, Ellis informs us that he's had a "recent correspondence" with "a young protégée." Or, as someone who wasn't pretending they just stepped out of Dead Poet's Society or The Emperor's Club might put it, he sent an email. Way to stay current and hip, Ellis.

Things only get more ridiculous and flowery from there. Apparently Ellis' letter had "an enduring leitmotiv" (that's a theme, for those of us who don't spend our free time rubbing our diplomas in other people's faces) discussing the many stages of slavery that black Americans have suffered through-- including, in Ellis' view, the most recent one of "voluntary slavery."

All of this is just in Ellis' prologue. Bring on the "correspondence," young page!

The email is in response to one from a young black man named Marcus saying he doesn't like the Republican party because it keeps the rich rich and the poor poor, and because he doesn't want to be associated with all the baggage of the GOP so he'd rather be a moderate or independent. Sounds reasonable enough, but the great Ellis will not let things stand:
Thanks for writing me, my friend. … Read my blog and follow up what I write with your own research.
That's right, no correspondence from Ellis would be complete without a gratuitous self-endorsement (still, don't you think mentioning it in your second sentence is a little on the nose?)
To help you, examine this simple syllogism below from the own mouths of the forefathers of communism, a totalitarian, atheistic ideology responsible for the brutal genocide of perhaps 150-200 million people in the twentieth century alone: 
...Marx: Democracy is the road to socialism;
Lenin: Democracy is indispensable to socialism. The goal of socialism is communism;
Marx: The meaning of peace is the absence of opposition to socialism.
Um... I don't get it. Marx and Lenin are saying that in their views, democracy (power by the people) is required to get to an eventual communist state. So? Suggesting that this damns democracy is like saying John Wayne Gacy ruined clowns forever. Besides, as a conservative, isn't it an article of faith for you that Marx and Lenin were full of crap?

Ellis deftly slaps down Marcus' concern about GOP policy regarding poor people, not by referring to any actual facts or policies, but by simply saying that it's a lie. Well played, I guess? And then he brings out the big guns:
Remember the Democratic Party was the party that gave black people 250 years of slavery, followed by the murderous Klu Klux Klan, racial segregation (de jure and de facto), ghettos, endemic poverty, eugenics (selective breeding), forced sterilization and abortion on demand, which kills millions of black babies every year.
This is a silly if culturally interesting argument which is often repeated on the right, particularly among the Fox News bozos. I am personally fascinated by the intellectual position, "Actions then and now don't matter at all; all that matters is the name of the party they're associated with." It's got a certain ridiculous cleverness to it. Never mind that no matter how often people like Ellis repeat the canard about the contemporary Democratic party somehow being responsible for the KKK, there is nothing more profoundly conservative than the slavery, racism and Jim Crow that was endemic in the Old South. It's particularly funny given that the Fox crowd also likes to crow about how it was Republicans who signed the Civil Rights Act into law over opposition from Dixiecrats. Ellis, of course, can't add this to the list of the Democratic party's evils since he considers the Civil Rights Movement part of "voluntary slavery."

This particular letter ends with Ellis wondering (apparently to himself) whether Generation X will be the saviors of our nation:
Can Generation X save America from voluntary slavery, from the madness of Social Darwinism, which is education atheism, from unsustainable debt and deficits, exploding welfare programs and pensions plans that are purposely causing states to shut down and global socialism?
Tune in for our next episode and find out!

Oh wait, there's more! A few weeks later, we had "Letter to Generation Y," and I'm sure this one's even hipper than ever, right? (Not if the format is any indication; we get the same ridiculous prologue, dialogue, epilogue structure as last time. What is this, a play? Let me guess, Greek tragedy?)

This time Ellis is writing to... a middle-aged college professor? Oh, but apparently he's recycling some of the same arguments he used to "rescue" the guy's college freshman son who had fallen in with the wrong crowd. Go for it, Ellis, what's your advice?
The problem with this young generation is that they have no moral code nor intellectual foundation other than hedonism; no knowledge of history or war strategies of the past like those outlined in Sun Tzu's classic treatise "Art of War."
Wow. I can honestly say that of all the things you might blame young people for, this is definitely not how I thought this was going to go.
Perhaps you can have your son do what I ask my college students to do, which is to read my WND articles or my blog and type a 2-3 page summary and opinion essay of each work.
HOLY CRAP, Ellis. Not everything is about you saving everyone's mind from the evils of... everyone else. Please, for the love of God, dial your ego down a bit before it blocks out the sun and all the trees die. Also, you have some balls to complain about schools brainwashing kids when you require your college students to read your blog and write summaries of everything you post. What's next, have them study your grocery lists so they know how a great and disciplined man stays on budget? Maybe they should be examining your Kindergarten finger painting, too? I'm sure there's something useful there.
This intellectual project will achieve several objectives almost instantaneously for your son, namely to:
1-Regularly follow directions from an authority figure;
2-Develop critical thinking and writing skills;
3-Get his intellect, body, soul, spirit ready to re-enter college again and this time to be successful;
4-Improve his writing/typing/computer skills.
You know, it's funny, Ellis, this kid could accomplish any or all of these things without having to read a single thing you've written. If all he needs to do to get back in the college mindset, he could do book reports on the Twilight series or write reviews of Star Trek episodes and it would essentially get him to the exact same place. What is it about your psyche in which you're convinced you're the antidote to a disease no one seems to be suffering from?
Results: By the end of the summer Rashaan will have a folder full of essays on diverse subjects that your son can then take to the dean, university officials and his professors to demonstrate his seriousness to high intellectual pursuits.
Wait, so your plan is to have him write mini-essays based on your random ideas and screeds, and then collate them into a manifesto portfolio, and that's supposed to impress the dean and his professors enough to let him back into class? I mean, I guess there's some merit there, but why on earth would you suggest that he write nothing but responses to your essays? Isn't there some issue of intellectual property involved? What are the professors supposed to make of his response to that time you said your pastor was a jerk because he wouldn't read your books? And again, are you so self-important that you think the only good writing this kid could create would be in response to something you wrote?
My son, Stone Washington, is 14 and will be entering high school this fall. Since he was about 8 I've had him read the great works of literature and book summaries of the classics and write his own summary analyses of those works in addition to reading them to me, correcting his sentence structure, and most importantly making him defend his thesis and arguments.
Three thoughts:

1- You seem like the most overbearing and obnoxious parent in the world.
2- There are "great works" besides your own master oeuvre? Lies, I tell you! I won't believe it!
3- You named your kid Stone? Why, was "Awesome" already taken? What about "Genius?" Then again, given how self-absorbed you are, I'm surprised you didn't name him after your blog.

Ellis says his son just finished writing 100 essays from an anthology of great books (see #1). He says his son needed to know that he needed to have an informed opinion before anyone would take his opinion seriously. True, of course, though again it begs the question of why Ellis only assigns random troubled youth and his college students his stuff to read.

Ellis concludes with a heart-warming anecdote about young Stone:
To demonstrate how knowledge is power and character is destiny, a few months ago when Stone was in the eighth grade he was chosen to be part of a special writing group. When the essays were written and collected, the teacher (Ms. Currier) by chance chose Stone's essay to read to the entire class and was stunned at his level of clarity, sentence structure and intellectual depth. She stated his writing was at the level of a 20-year-old, a college junior. 
Overnight Stone's reputation for writing and intellectualism spread across the school campus, including to the principal's office. I told Stone in addition to the bad letters in his file for being repeatedly tardy and bullying that little boy ("Jimmy") in the seventh grade, now you have a good paper in your permanent file to showcase your literary and philosophical side. Stone was visibly proud of this achievement, which made my fighting with him all that time in writing those 100 essays (772 days) worth every word, every sentence … every effort.
Ellis, I think I speak for everyone under 30 when I say, truly, you are the least cool person I know. I'm sure you consider it a compliment.

What to make of this?

I was filling out a registration form for an upcoming teacher's conference that is focused on social justice and ethnic diversity. Among the questions was, "Ethnic Group/Race". One of the options was, "White/European/Jewish."

Given the classic Jewish penchant for education, it's interesting that there have only been a few teachers in the family tree: my maternal grandfather worked as a bursar at Brooklyn College and occasionally gave lectures in New York history (he was working on his phD when he died of a heart attack); a great-great-uncle taught night school to immigrants until he died in the 1919 flu epidemic, and a distant cousin whose parents left Poland for Cuba put his bilingualism to good use and taught high school Spanish for 30 years.

I know that the liberal Jew going into the trenches of public education to work with minority kids has become a recurring educational trope from the past 100 years, but given that I didn't go to public school and, AFAIK, never had Jewish teachers, it's a little weird for me to run into little nuggets like this that show me that,

1- There really are a lot of Jews in education, and,
2- As much as we may want to claim a minority status, to everyone else, we're still just white.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

GOP Debate Reactions

I haven't had cable in almost a year, so my ability to watch live political theater is usually pretty limited. Last night I didn't have much to do, though, so I caught the debate through a live stream via politico. Here are my (belated) gut reactions, using combined transcripts from NBC and Roll Call.:

Ron Paul: Someone's senile paranoid grandfather has escaped from his spare room over the garage and thinks he's running for President. Quotes:
"With the airlines that are responsible for carrying their cargo and their passengers. I mean, why — why should we assume that a bureaucracy can do better? And look at the monstrosity we have at the airports. These TSA agents are abusive. Sometimes they’re accused of all kinds of sexual activities on the way they maul people at the airport."
So TSA should be abolished because its workers keep molesting people at airports. Wow, no poisoning the well here.
"We’re spending — believe it or not, this blew my mind when I read this — $20 billion a year for air conditioning in Afghanistan and Iraq in the tents over there and all the air conditioning. Cut that $20 billion out, bring in — take $10 off the debt, and put $10 into FEMA or whoever else needs it, child health care or whatever. But I’ll tell you what, if we did that and took the air conditioning out of the Green Zone, our troops would come home, and that would make me happy."
It's rare that a professional politician running for election makes a suggestion so totally divorced from any concept of reality or consequences. Ron Paul strikes me as the kind of guy who would watch The Little Mermaid and suggest that we should all just learn how to breathe underwater.
"I think this fence business is designed and may well be used against us and keep us in...And there's capital controls and there's people control. So, every time you think of fence keeping all those bad people out, think about those fences maybe being used against us, keeping us in."
Spoken like a man with a crazy newsletter, possibly hand-mimeographed.

Newt Gingrich: Football coach who thinks he's the quarterback. Not a good mix. Quotes:
"And if this president had any concern for working Americans, he’d walk in Thursday night and ask us to repeal [Obamacare] because it’s a monstrosity. Every person up here agrees with that."
How dare that bastard not ask us to repeal the legislation he spent most of his term fighting for and which our party keeps attacking via Congress and lawsuits? It must tell you he really hates Americans.
"We should make English the official language of government...We should insist that first-generation immigrants who come here learn American history in order to become citizens. We should also insist that American children learn American history. 
And then find a way to deal with folks who are already here, some of whom, frankly, have been here 25 years, are married with kids, live in our local neighborhood, go to our church."
Yeah, we can't deport the illegals we know... that's awkward! Those other guys, though, that's fair game.

Michele Bachmann: Comparable to someone who's already told everyone they're going to be in NASCAR and has ordered a celebration cake without bothering to learn to drive. Quotes:
"I was just last week down in Miami. I was visiting the Bay of Pigs Museum with Cuban-Americans. I was down at the Versailles Cafe. I met with a number of people, and it’s very interesting. The Hispanic-American community wants us to stop giving taxpayer- subsidized benefits to illegal aliens and benefits, and they want us to stop giving taxpayer-subsidized benefits to their children as well."
I like how when it comes to where she ate lunch, she'll give details down to the zip code, but when she starts discussing conversations which totally challenge the conventional wisdom of what the Hispanic community thinks about immigration and benefits, all we get is, "I met a guy." Way to bury the lead.
"But one thing that we do know, our immigration law worked beautifully back in the 1950s, up until the early 1960s, when people had to demonstrate that they had money in their pocket, they had no contagious diseases, they weren’t a felon. They had to agree to learn to speak the English language, they had to learn American history and the Constitution. And the one thing they had to promise is that they would not become a burden on the American taxpayer. That’s what we have to enforce."
Our immigration law worked "beautifully" until the 50s? Wow, how... WASPy of you. I'm going out on a limb and guessing you don't have a lot of Ellis Island connections in your family, Governor. Or, you know, that you don't read history books. One or the other. Incidentally, there's a huge difference between promising to do something (learn US history, for instance), and actually doing it. I say this as a descendant of immigrants-- some of who became Communists, and at least one of whom, yes, became a polygamist. Signing a piece of paper doesn't mean a thing.

Herman Cain: Desperate for someone to notice him, so he keeps squawking about business-themed solutions for everything. Unfortunately, most political issues cannot be solved by simply copying off Chile's playbook. Quote:
"I call it my 9-9-9 economic growth plan.Throw out the current tax code, a 9 percent tax on corporate income, our 9 percent tax on personal income and a 9 percent national sales tax. If 10 percent is good enough for God, 9 percent ought to be good enough for the federal government."
Yeah, let's pick random numbers out of a hat because they sound fun and alliterative and base government policy on them! Even better, let's pretend this makes sense by alluding to tithing. Way to sell the dream, sir. Still, I suppose 9-9-9 is better than 6-6-6-... unless, of course, someone turns your poster upside down. Be careful; this only has to happen once and you'll lose all the evangelicals.

Rick Santorum: Looked pained every time someone asked him a question. He doesn't really want this job, does he? Quote:
"I’ve done things. We’ve brought Democrat and Republicans together."
John Huntsman: Another guy that really, really, wants people to notice him, but has the unfortunate task of trying to make a reasonable, sane person seem exciting in a contest with a bunch of screaming chimps flinging their own poop at each other. It's also precious how he gets pissy at discussing homeland security and foreign policy because he prevents him from talking about jobs. Quote:
"we’ve spent about 15 minutes now on homeland security. The greatest gift we could give this country on the 10th year anniversary, Rick, is a Homeland Security Department... that doesn’t make us all feel like there’s a fortress security mentality that is not American... 
I’m guessing there are a whole lot of people tuned in around this country who are saying, why are we spending all this time talking about the smaller issues? We’ve got 14 million people unemployed. We’ve got millions more in this country who are so dispirited they’ve quit looking. This is a human tragedy that we’re talking about, moms and dads and families that completely go without. 
...While all these other issues are important, let’s not lose sight, folks, of the bottom line here. We’ve got to get back in the game as a country. We’ve got to make this economy work."
Mitt Romney: A vapid charmer. (He's welcome to use that as a campaign slogan, by the way. It's on the house.) If he was a little more cut-throat he might be able to get the charisma thing going, but as it is, he seems too nice, as in this quote where he had a great opportunity to slam his two biggest potential rivals, Perry and Obama, and winds up complimenting both of them:
"My guess is that Governor Perry would like to do it a different way second time through. ...we’ve each taken a mulligan or two. And — and my guess is that that’s something you’d probably do a little differently the second time. He just said he’d rather do it through legislation second time through... I think his heart was in the right place. 
Right now, we have people who on this stage care very deeply about this country. We love America. America is in crisis. We have some differences between us, but we agree that this president’s got to go. This president is a nice guy. He doesn’t have a clue how to get this country working again."
I have to say, I'm a little confused by this. Do Mormons just not know how to snipe at people? Is this another gap in the LDS educational system, along with evolution and archaelogy?

Rick Perry: Charismatic, even while saying crazy things. Kind of a scary combination. Reminds me quite a bit of George W. Bush with Josh Brolin's face (and I'm saying that as someone who never saw W.). I'm calling the nomination now-- I think Perry's it, with Romney as VP. It's going to be hilarious. Quotes:
you can secure the border, but it requires a commitment of the federal government of putting those boots on the ground, the aviation assets in the air. 
We think predator drones could be flown, that real-time information coming down to the local and the state and the federal law enforcement. And you can secure the border. And at that particular point in time, then you can have an intellectually appropriate discussion about immigration reform.
So, we can't have a conversation about immigration reform until we've got predator drones buzzing over Texas. Way to push that issue back a few decades.
"The idea that we would put Americans’ economy at — at — at jeopardy based on scientific theory that’s not settled yet, to me, is just — is nonsense. I mean, it — I mean — and I tell somebody, I said, just because you have a group of scientists that have stood up and said here is the fact, Galileo got outvoted for a spell. 
But the fact is, to put America’s economic future in jeopardy, asking us to cut back in areas that would have monstrous economic impact on this country is not good economics and I will suggest to you is not necessarily good science. Find out what the science truly is before you start putting the American economy in jeopardy."
So... you refuse to make any change in industry or business until we "find out what the science is"... while at the same time brushing aside scientific consensus on the grounds that scientists have been wrong about stuff before. Way to show some intellectual objectivity there, Governor. We can clearly tell you're just dying to get to the bottom of this great scientific mystery.

Also, double points for saying this while having recently made giant cuts to your education budget. Exactly where are we going to get these scientists to decide these questions? Or are you just betting on the fact that killing the planet will make you rich before it makes you dead?

Bonus- Brian Williams & John Harris: trying way too hard to play "gotcha" games. Sorry guys, it just makes you look like dipshits. Quotes:
"Tell us which one of these people are saying crazy or inane things." 
"You yourself have said the party is in danger of becoming anti- science. Who on this stage is anti-science?" 
"Just recently in New Hampshire, you said that weekly and even daily scientists are coming forward to question the idea that human activity is behind climate change. Which scientists have you found most credible on this subject?"
Guys, it stopped being cute after the first time. No one's going to answer, they don't even bother to respond or get flustered, so all you're doing is wasting time and looking like twits. That's supposed to be the candidates' job.

Monday, September 05, 2011

I dont get it

One of the things that continues to confuse me about conservative approaches to politics is the assumption that everything can be solved by emulating the business world, or that government regulations are unnecessary because "the market" can always be trusted to work itself out. Abbot Yid's job requires him to deal with many such "free market fundamentalists," and it's always rather frustrating to talk to people who are as indoctrinated in the idea of the Invisible Hand of the marketplace as any of the sacred cows on the Left that Beck, O'Reilly and Prager like to beat up on.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Presidential elections. Every election cycle, there is always at least one candidate who comes out of nowhere with basically zero political experience, and there are always a bunch of conservatives who think that's just fine and dandy, because they ran a successful business. Which, apparently, we're supposed to believe is the same thing.

Case in point: Little Miss High Horse Chrissy Slatterfield. She goes from bemoaning that her first choice with zero experience, Donald Trump, has bowed out of the race, to championing her new pick with zero political experience, Herman Cain. Why?
Because he's not a politician. 
Sorry, I call BS. He's running for the highest office in the country. You don't get to do that and say you're not a politician. It would be more accurate to say he's not an experienced politician. Which, of course, begs the question of why he's qualified...

He is a human being capable of understanding what people want and need.
Of course, a human being! It's so simple; why didn't anyone ever think of getting one of those?
Cain has beaten cancer, and now he'll take on America's sickness, Obama – and I believe he'll be two for two after the 2012 elections.
So wait, now surviving cancer qualifies you to be President? I thought it was having a successful pizza chain. I'm so confused.
Cain said during an interview on Fox, "America is ready for an unconventional candidate. … Whenever people say I don't have a chance because I've never held a public office – well, everybody in D.C. has held public office. How's that working out for you?" Amazingly well said.
What? No it's not! That's like saying we shouldn't pick generals to be Chief of Staff, we should pick kids who are really good at Call of Duty. The fact that Washington is dysfunctional is an example of how screwed up our political system is, not a sign that we need to get politicians out of politics. Politicians are ALWAYS going to be in politics. The better plan is try to have more transparency, more accountability, more youth engagement, more voter turnout, to develop better politicians, not hire random guys off the street.
It's time America had a businessman running this country. If it's not Trump, it might as well be Cain.
Um, we had two of those in the last 20 years, and they were both named Bush. Not, as I recall, the conservative movements' favorite pair. Depending on what kind of livelihood you consider to be a "business", you can throw in Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Polk, Harding, Hoover, Truman, and even Carter. The idea that this is such a fresh and exciting concept is, shall we say, not so true. Read some history.
What I see in Cain is that he won't let politics push him around. This is the same thing I saw in Trump. Neither of these men are willing to compromise their integrity or vision, which is exactly what I want in a president. Cain wants to be more than America's president; he wants to be our leader. He wants to set an example and put America back on track.
All I'm hearing are random oo-rah platitudes, Chrissy; given how energized you supposedly are about your candidate I find it very interesting you're not bothering to articulate a single element of his so-called "vision." What is it about Cain's vision for America that speaks to you versus, say, Rick Perry's, or Mitt Romney's? Why should Cain get someone's vote? Hello?
It won't be an easy campaign for Cain. He's running against some heavyweights that have the experience in government and know how to play the game. But I hope America can see past all of that. Seasoned politicians are old news, and America is looking for real change. As much as I respect Romney and Gingrich, I have to go with my gut on this one, and it's telling me Cain has what it takes to make America great again.
The fantastic irony in all this, of course, is that in enthusiastically supporting a political novice with little experience and dumping "seasoned politicians" in favor of charismatic promises of "change" Chrissy is basically following in the footsteps of the same voters and candidate she's spent the last three years harping on about.

Is this the sound of the universe laughing at its own joke?

The Pot Calling the Kettle a secret-Muslim-sleeper-agent

Townhall writer Michael Gerson is mad about media dishonesty. And really, who can blame him? He's defending some of the most maligned people of the past couple years: the Tea Party folks. To Gerson, it's gone on far enough.

Now the heroes of the tea party movement, it turns out, are also closet theocrats. "If you want to understand Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry," argues Michelle Goldberg in Newsweek/Daily Beast, "understanding Dominionism isn't optional." A recent New Yorker profile by Ryan Lizza contends that Bachmann has been influenced by a variety of theocratic thinkers who have preached Christian holy war.
As befits a shadowy religious sect, its followers go under a variety of names: Reconstructionists, Theonomists. The New Apostolic Reformation. Republicans. All apparently share a belief, in Goldberg's words, that "Christians have a God-given right to rule all earthly institutions."
The Dominionist goal is the imposition of a Christian version of Shariah law in which adulterers, homosexuals and perhaps recalcitrant children would be subject to capital punishment. It is enough to spoil the sleep of any subscriber to The New Yorker. But there is a problem: Dominionism, though possessing cosmic ambitions, is a movement that could fit in a phone booth. The followers of R.J. Rushdoony produce more books than converts.

Ok, so maybe Gerson has a legitimate point and the kneejerk liberal responses to Dominionism and Evangelical involvement in politics is overstated. No problem there.

But here's where things get really good.

So it becomes necessary to stretch the case a bit. Perry admittedly doesn't attend a Dominionist church, or make Dominionist arguments, but he once allowed himself to be prayed for by some suspicious characters. Bachmann once attended a school that had a law review that said some disturbing things. She assisted a professor who once spoke at a convention that included some alarming people. Her belief that federal tax rates should not be higher than 10 percent, Goldberg explains, is "common in Reconstructionist circles."
The evidence that Bachmann may countenance the death penalty for adulterers? Support for low marginal tax rates.
Bachmann is prone to tea party overstatement and religious right cliches. She opened herself to criticism by recommending a book that features southern Civil War revisionism. But there is no evidence from the careers of Bachmann or Perry that they wish to turn America into a theocratic prison camp.
If this kind of attack sounds familiar, it should. It is not just an argument but a style of argument. Critics of a public figure take a marginal association and turn it into a Gnostic insight -- an interpretive key that opens all doors. Barack Obama was once trained in a community organization that was associated with Saul Alinsky, whose organization was reportedly subject to communist influence. And we all know what that means. Or: Obama's father was a socialist, anti-colonial Luo tribesman, and, well, like father like son. Never mind that that there is no serious evidence of political philosophic influence of father on son.

Forget political philosophic influence of Obama Sr on Obama Jr. How about, say, any of the crazy fringe theories that mainstream conservative pundits and commentators have either said/written themselves about Obama or allowed to go on unchallenged by their friends, colleagues, coworkers, or allies? He's been called a Nazi, a Communist, a Socialist, a fascist, a radical, a jihadist, a Muslim, an African, and a sleeper agent. About the only things people haven't accused him of being are a lesbian, a member of Opus Dei, or a ninja.

Gerson's gripe about people "stretching their case" is particularly laughable given that he's writing in the virtual pages of Townhall, where his compatriots have been given free rein to say dopey things about Obama since he first ran for office. Where was Gerson then?

Are Gerson's points about conspiracy theories and exaggerated fear reasonable? Sure. But there's the sad irony: the same argument was reasonable three years ago, too. Only when Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann were getting the same conspiracy treatment did Gerson feel compelled to say anything. So I'm sorry, Michael, but you won't get much sympathy from me. Yeah, Perry and Bachmann are to dominionism as Obama is to Wahabbism (and Marxism, for the record). If you want to have a giant rally declaring that most politicians aren't actually as evil as their enemies claim they are, I'll be happy to come. Just make sure you invite Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, too.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

More from people who think they're things they aren't

I came across this interesting article by Zev Chafets (longtime admirer of John Hagee and the CUFI crowd) discussing explanations for Glenn Beck's recent semi-sudden realization that he is the would-be political savior that Israel so desperately needs.

Zev's guess? Beck might be jockeying to become the new Pope of the Evangelicals. Which, considering he is a Mormon, would indeed be quite a feat.

Following the Beck train we have a piece from Larry Klayman, a WND writer who tagged along with Glenn-ha-Maggid to show support, and of course, to show that he doesn't understand how identity works:
 I am an Israeli
Um, no you're not. You live in Cleveland. Wow, we're just on your title and you're already full of it, Larry. Not a good sign.
Let's be blunt. God gave this land to the Jews and by extension to all Christians. The followers of Jesus Christ were largely His fellow Jews, and we are one as a people. I am a Zionist and so, too, is anyone who takes the Bible and our God seriously. Israel is our land, and we must protect it.
Wait, so Israel belongs to all Jews and Christians worldwide, but not to any of its 1.5 million citizens who are Muslim, Druze or no religion? Yeah, let's be blunt, Larry: what the hell?
With great passion and yes courage, Glenn stood at the base of the Wailing Wall, the only remains of the Jewish temple built by King Solomon – the son of King David– and delivered an address that captivated the world and expressed the feelings of all. In essence, he dared those hostile to Israel and the Jews to "take him first," if their intent was to destroy Israel and the Jewish people. Pastor John Hagee, in an earlier address during the week, also summed it up, using an analogy to President John F. Kennedy's speech in Berlin during the Cold War. Kennedy, declaring that Berliners, with their opposition to the Berlin Wall, stood as the first line of defense against communism, also declared himself a Berliner. Hagee and Beck declared in effect that we are all Israelis in our fight for freedom against radical Islam – and to win this war and pay homage to our Lord, we must protect and cherish Israel.
Sigh. Solidarity is fine, but I'm sorry, I can't get behind this "we're you" thing they keep invoking. It's a nice idea, but it's just not true... and it's particularly dicey given that the theological history has involved many years of preachers explicitly saying, "We're you... and you're not! I don't know who the heck you are, but it's not you, I'll tell you that." After all the silliness Hagee has been associated with over the years dealing with replacement theology, he's really the last person I want to see claiming Israeli identity. Standing with someone is fine. Taking off their nametag and slapping it on yourself is just weird.

Larry leaves us with possibly the best throwaway line from Beck's Silly Summer-Stravaganza:
So it was that Glenn Beck set in motion a tidal wave that will catch fire.
Oh Larry, you silly man. How can a person attend a top university, to law school, work for the Justice Department, run unsuccessfully for Congress and be so desperate for name recognition that he hypes the fact that he was parodied on the West Wing in his official bio and still not know that tidal waves aren't flammable?

One last one for the road: We have Pastor Ken Hutcherson writing for WND. He thinks Blacks, Jews and the Poor do themselves a disservice by so predictably voting for the Democrats, even when, in his opinion, it's against their own interests. Hutcherson isn't the first person to point this out, and while I certainly lean left, I can appreciate the argument that if you pigeonhole yourself as always supporting "your party," there is the potential that they eventually start counting on your support and taking you for granted, as opposed to feeling like they need to work to earn your loyalty, like all the Presidential candidates do every four years when they start pandering to the legions of undecided voters.

As a black man who grew up poor, Hutcherson is certainly qualified to give his opinion about two of his three unfortunate groups-- groups he compares to abused women who keep going back to their husbands for one more slap. When it comes to Jews, however, his credentials are a little sparser. So the pastor decides to talk to a buddy of his.

Who does he choose?
Since I am not Jewish, I am going to depend heavily on the wisdom of my close friend and fellow warrior, Rabbi Daniel Lapin. In his book "America's Real War," Rabbi Lapin states, "Liberalism is the eternal search for 'liberation' from God's seemingly restrictive rules. There are those who will always seek – or if necessary, create the escape hatch through which those who find God's rules too limiting can flee. Liberalism, under many different names, has always found eager converts and is a very strong lure of the devils." Furthermore, Rabbi Lapin believes that Jews tend to be liberal because they have been persecuted for so long they choose to empathize with other downtrodden people. He writes, "They assume liberalism to be a kinder, gentler philosophy than conservatism. This leads to a feeling of moral superiority."
On the one hand, kudos to Hutcherson for at least recognizing that it's helpful to actually talk to a Jew (or two!) to be able to speak with any kind of authority about Jewish issues (as opposed to imagining, as per Beck & friends, that since he likes Jews or Israelis that that suddenly makes him one). On the other hand, I like how the rabbi he picks to back up his thesis is resident crackpot and pet-Jew of the right, Daniel Lapin. In the past few years, Lapin has never missed an opportunity to suck up to the Christian right at the expense of other Jews. Whether the topic is The Passion, Darwinism or how persecuted America's Christians are, Lapin's villains are always liberal Jews (though, to be fair, considering the kinds of Jews Lapin does like, I have to consider it kind of a compliment). It must be very comforting for Hutcherson to know there's a rabbi out there willing to be brave enough to stand with upstanding Christians and let them know it's all those "other Jews'" fault.

Incidentally, if Hutcherson thinks liberals are the only ones who espouse moral superiority, he should really read some of Lapin's stuff.

Know any good bibles?

As the new year is on its way, Mrs. Yid and I have been thinking about various personal and professional goals we have that we can try to work on during the coming year. One of the things we discussed was trying to get this Jew-thing more on the front burner. To that end, we're contemplating, among other things, finding a Hebrew tutor/class again (hopefully this time the guy will stay around for more than six weeks before deciding SF is too hard to live in and running back to Crown Heights), trying a new round of shul-hopping on Saturday mornings, and also trying to study a little on Shabbos.

I've been looking at various Chumashim (Bibles) and translations, and am trying to figure out which ones are worth getting, how many do we really need, etc. Here are my top picks below, along with a few others I'm curious about. Comments are welcome and appreciated. Am I missing something good? Are some of these redundant? Silly? Just plain bad? I don't know, so tell me.

The contenders are:


Five Books of Moses by Everett Fox. Everything I've heard about this guy and his work sounds amazing. Apparently he has retranslated the Tanakh to approximate the "poetic" quality of the original text.

Five Books of Moses by Robert Alter. I've heard of this guy, not too familiar with his work, but he gets good Amazon reviews.


JPS Jewish Study Bible. I've read bits and pieces in college and it seems like a nice resource that's grounded in both solid academic approaches but also in Jewish content and perspectives.

Etz Hayim, by the Conservative movement. The new standard CJ translation and commentary. I've seen it a few times and it would be interesting to contrast it with other commentaries.

The Torah: a Modern Commentary, by the Reform movement. A revised version of their classic commentary from the 80s. Never heard of it until researching Etz Hayim, but I figure it would be nice and fun to have a balance between it and Etz Hayim.


How to Read the Bible, by James Kugel. Dovbear and other smart people seem to like him.

Chumash/Tanakh Stone edition, by Artscroll. Is it worth getting just to have a counterpoint?

Koren Chumash, by Jonathan Sacks. I would be more interested in this if there was commentary.

I also know I have some commentaries by Nechama Leibowitz and Rav Hirsch somewhere at my folks' house that I should dig up, too...

Thursday, September 01, 2011

It's all about stupid

I wonder what it's like to feel the world actually revolves around you. Well, you and your pet causes.

Lazer's back with more stupid explanations about why the universe is still being mean to people. Which is to say, existing.

For instance, did you know that weather patterns happen? Apparently this is news to Lazer, who is convinced that the only explanation for a Hurricane hitting the Eastern seaboard is that God is mad. About what? We'll let the nutty nougatty goodness speak for itself:

Hashem doesn't do things at random. Why is hurricane Irene advancing toward the good and decent folks of North Carolina? It's simple - North Carolina has its own Jonah:Jonathan Pollard, rotting away in a cell in Butner for the last 26 years when his crime should have incurred no more than an 8-year sentence. Words can't describe the cruel utterly inhuman way that Pollard has been treated, not being allowed to see his dying father or even attend his funeral.
The USA could save itself billions of impending damage and lives as well by freeing Pollard right now. There's no doubt in my mind or heart that Irene will just disappear if Pollard walks out of Butner. There's proof to what I'm saying in the Gemara - see tractate Brachot 59a: When Hashem sees that his children in exile are in anguish, He sheds two tears in the sea. Hashem's two tears because of Pollard could be what's causing Hurricane Irene to be such a threat right now.

(I'm sorry to say that the unfortunate attempt at gematria-esque bolding is in the original.)

Honestly, what can I say about this? Is there even any point in mentioning that the hurricane affected 15 other states (as well as those pesky countries in the Caribbean) besides North Carolina? Or that of the 54 confirmed fatalities, only six occurred there? I mean, if you're going to try to come up with random rationalizations for weather patterns, at least do it after the fact when the numbers can back up your BS. I don't even see how Lazer can hold to his own theory in light of where the damage and deaths were most concentrated. Does God hate New York & New Jersey 2.5 times as much as North Carolina? Why didn't the prayers and mitzvot from all the pious Yidden in Lakewood and Boro Park save them from more of the wrathiness? It seems to me that if we're going to pretend Irene was all about punishing North Carolina then the only options are that either God doesn't know where North Carolina is or he got drunk and was just waving the hurricane wand around willy-nilly. I also like how Lazer believes that not only is God willing to kill a bunch of people (including a Jewish Holocaust survivor, whoopsies) to protest one guy's long prison sentence, but that apparently hurricanes can be turned off at the drop of a hat. On the other hand, as long as we're just making things up, I suppose there's no harm in being consistent in our silliness. Did I mention that volcanic eruptions are not caused by tectonic shifts but rather by giant mutant dolphins ramming head-first into each other like mountain goats, fighting over the hottest females? Look it up.

As painfully mind-warping as Lazer's ideas are, I kind of understand the urge to want to make disasters and natural phenomenon make sense and fit into some sort of plan. Unlike the theodicy crowd, I have spent lots of time recognizing that the world was not terribly concerned about me. I suppose in some ways I was always a little overly concerned with the "big picture." I remember having nightmares as a kid and my parents trying to console me by asking me what was wrong. "I dreamed the universe blew up!" I would wail (this was a recurring dream for several years). Baffled, they couldn't think of anything to say, other than, "Well, it didn't!"

In high school, college, and even occasionally today, I wrestle with the idea that, contrary to what various religions' theology teach, science has shown that the Earth is on a countdown with destiny, that eventually our sun will burn out and our planet will cease to be a place that can support life. Everything we do, everyone we know, all our future children and generations... there will be a time where it's all snuffed out.

That's very hard to take. It's a real challenge to look life in the face and not be a little scared by the recognition that we're all a little doomed, and that nothing will outlast our planet's destruction. That there is a finite end to our time here, and that there will be an end to humanity. It's pretty heavy, no question.

But I would still rather deal with those real dilemmas than make up stupid, offensive, and yes, EXTREMELY SELF-CENTERED reasons for why things happen in the world.

News flash, Lazer: hurricanes aren't Jewish. Volcanoes aren't Jewish. Earthquakes aren't Jewish. They really don't care about US-Israel relations, Jonathan Pollard, or a gay pride parade in holy Yerushelayim.

You may think the Earth cares about the Jews (both good and bad), but I'm pretty sure it's neutral. Just saying.

Edit: Double Theodicy score! Lazer adds R. Moshe Yosef Reichenberg, the Orthodox father of four who died rescuing a child and father from a downed power line to his list of tzaddikim taken away by God to... um, punish us into making teshuvah, I guess? Thanks?

Now, I know I'm not frum, so maybe I'm missing something, but I have to ask: Lazer, as an ostensibly "outreach-focused" rabbi, isn't your job supposed to be encouraging us to, you know, like God? Just wondering.