Monday, December 17, 2007

Strike! Do the right thing

The writers strike is still going on. BY the way, this is a Jewish issue. Not just because many of the writers are Jewish - and are being ripped off by co-religionists on the other side of the table - there's always been Jews who are managers negotiating against Jewish workers who are getting bupkes - that's significant chunks of history of the labor movement in the US, nothing new. Justice is a principle of employer-employee relations throughout the talmud. We are obligated to pay a just wage, to pay it promptly and by the way, collective bargaining has precedents in the talmud. Hoggishness is not kosher!

The update: the Companies agreed to meet and negotiate, then tried to pawn off a completely ridiculous resolution to the strike - how ridiculous?
They figured that now that the strike has been going on a while, the writers would be desperate to settle, so they came to the table with the same old proposals. I kid you not. They still categorically refused to consider payments to writers for profit-making material posted on the internet.
Since the writers weren't sufficiently softened up to be bowled over by this (sarcasm on) extremely generous offer(sarcasm off), the companies walked.

Please don't quit pressuring! Everyone, please continue (or start)to write to keep the heat on. Hey it's cold out there, don't let those greedy hogs win.

Sites like Fans4Writers, through UnitedHollywood's Pencils 2 Media Moguls campaign, can help you keep up the good work.

Writers deserve a fair share of the profits that companies make from their work.Where would these gargantuan companies be without their writers? Well, Writer (of novels, I don't know that she's ever written for TV) Emma Bull notes that during the last strike, "the Companies came up with reality TV. Do you want to reward behavior like that?"
Just imagine a world where people who come up with that crapola are writing everything available. DOn't you want the writers back?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Still thinking about the schechita...

One only kid; one.
In the beginning is the rush
of blood, and in the end.
My father bought for two zuzim
from the shepherd at the dairy.
Then came the shochet who slaughtered
in his bare arms and fur hat.
In his beard and his silence.
Only one.
The shepherd kneels
Lifts the goat in his arms
and carries him offstage.
Only one, and one, and one.
Then comes the malach hamavet
who killed the Shochet who slaughtered.
Only one. Only one. Only one.
The water quenched the fire that
tempered the steel.
Then came the Holy One, blessed be He,
and slew the malach hamavet
that killed the Shochet who slaughtered
the one only kid.
What was the Holy One waiting for?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Monday, December 10, 2007

The ghost of Adam Sandler

OK, so he's not dead yet, but it's clear that the one thing that he will be remembered for forever is the Chanukah Song. I have heard that song, however enough times already.

Still, I can't help but recommend this version. Possibly the only one I'll be able to still listen to by the 25th of this month. The lyrics are better too.

Yidcore - Punk Rock Chanukah Song

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I'm glad there are people out there writing more and better Chanukah songs though.

Flying Spaghetti Monster

It's a very funny post on BoingBoing, but you have to be familiar with the FSM phenomenon.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

a nice chanukah story

For those of us who live in the diaspora and have to suffer through endless atmospheric muzak Christmas carols, wishes of merry Christmas and questions of "What do you mean you don't celebrate Christmas?" Lemony Snicket - the, er, children's writer, has written a story just for us.

It is about a latke who could not stop screaming - in fact, the latke feels more or less as all of us have at one winter season or another. The story features, in addition, a pine tree, a string of lights, a candy cane and an axe, but really, it's about Chanukah and hey, it does a pretty good job. You might consider getting it for non-Jewish friends, but I'd advise reading the book to make sure first.

Chad Gadya

Liveblogging from the Hazon Food Conference (for more see Jewschool's posts from YehuditBrachah).

We all have a huge amount to say about the goats. I'm not sure that this was planned, but in some ways, this topic has nearly taken over the Hazon Food Conference. And I do not think that this is necessarily a bad thing. The questions that have arisen throughout the past years, regarding the ethics of eating meat - especially kosher meat produced in factory farms, slaughtered in places like Agriprocessors, where the heart of kashrut seems to have bled right out are questions which are just right for the people of this new Jewish sustainable food movement to address.

And while there is a lot going on at this conference, your intrepid livebloggers (YehuditBrachah, KungFu Jew and KRG) have set aside an entire post to talk about the shchita and the conversations surrounding it.

Thursday night, the first night of the conference, Nigel Savage of Hazon started out by explaining how it came about that it was decided to shecht a goat this year at the food conference. Last year during the conference, Nigel asked meat eaters if they would still eat meat if they had to participate in the death of the animal: some said yes, others: no; he then asked the veggies if they would eat meat if they were part of its slaughtering: again, some said no, but others, yes. From this arose the idea to try to humanely schecht a goat at the Hazon Food conference.
That is how Nigel introduced the first panel of the conference: a panel including a shochet, Rabbi Yehuda ben Chemhoun, Rabbi Seth Mandel of the Orthodox Union, who oversees all American slaughterhouses, the shepherd who raised the goats Aitan Mizrahi, the woman who continued to shepherd them when the shepherd separated them from their dams (he is a dairy farmer, and this is how female goats are kept giving milk) Rachel Gall, Dr. Shamu Sadeh of Adamah and Simon Feil.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Chanukah for bad girls and boys

I love a man with a motorcycle menorah. Vroom vroom!
I'll take a real one, though, for myself.

Miss Brown to you

It seems to me that every time I go into a store and pull out a credit card to pay for something, the person looks at the name on the card and addresses me by my first name - or a variant of it. I am sure that they think that they are being friendly. Maybe it's even a store policy for its employees, but I have one thing to say about this: stop!

It doesn't just happen in stores. I have had this happen in doctors' and dentists' offices, at ticket counters, at University - in fact, any place where people have access to some amount of my personal information - even if it's a very small piece.
Perhaps it is a reaction to some real or imagined problem with the "how do you address a woman" after the reintroduction of the perfectly reasonable title of Ms. which like, Mrs. and Miss, are all abbreviations of the the term "mistress" meaning the same thing as Ma'am, short, of course, for "madam." I'm telling, you, just go with "ms." Believe me, you'll be corrected, if that's not what Mrs. Vanderbilt-Smythe prefers, and she'll still be less offended than if you addressed her as Amelia.

All this is actually a mask for a non-etiquette, or at least a different sort of etiquette, problem: Why Americans can't be formal. Yes, we seem to have lost the ability to have any sense of formality. Those folks who know me in person are no doubt wondering if I was hit on the head shortly before writing this post, but the truth is, even though my preferred style of dress is jeans and a t-shirt, maybe with a sweater when it gets cold, and high-tops pretty much year round, I think that we as a nation have really lost something. Not because I think we should all be wearing suits and ties and dinner dresses if we go out to a restaurant, or dressing up to go traveling on a train, but because our much loved "informality" is a cover-up for a loss of the ability to be intimate.

We believe that if we just call each other by first names all the time, we must be buds. It's just not true. What we have lost is the opportunity to get to know one another over time, to be granted the permission to call each other by gradations of intimacy as we get to know one another, the reproval of moving too quickly in a friendship and saying, "that's Miss Brown to you."

And informality covers up other ills, too. If you call your boss by his first name, we must be friends right? So then he has the right to call on you day or night, invite you to parties that aren't really parties, and which you must attend, and go on retreats in which you spend your weekend with people whom you may or may not like, but in any case you haven't the opportunity to choose, since you're obligated to be there on time you could spend with your family or friends. And if we're friends, then we don't need to engage in quarrelsome discussions about parental leave - why would you need that in your contract, we're all friends here - we can work that out when the time comes -unless of course, I don't want to, because it's not in your contract - why don't you take two weeks vacation, or just settle for FMLA unpaid? See you when you run out of money. And of course, there are plenty of workplaces where the "intimacy" goes only one way; the boss is Mr. Winston-Franklin, but everyone who is supervised is Joe and Janet. Don't you resent that, Jan?

In fact, I think that a certain level of business formality at work, and personal formality in acquaintances might very well go far to solving some of the problems we have with people not knowing how to behave in a variety of social and work situations.

I want to throw in, in my own defense, an exchange I had with someone some time ago. I was working on a cover letter for a job, or something like that, and my very good friend was helping me. I think that he had said that I should put some sort of statement in the letter that someone had made about me to show the kind of person I was and my qualities as an employee. So I put in the statement that a secretary (not my own) had said, that I treat everyone exactly the same, whether they were a president or a secretary. My friend responded along the lines of, "That's the best thing anyone has ever said about you?" I was kind of embarrassed, and took it out. But in retrospect, I wish I hadn't. I think that, actually, it is the best thing anyone has ever said about me. I can't imagine a better thing to say about someone.
And it's not like I'm super-formal in my work relationships, either. But it seems to me that among those who are informal, that informality tends to run only one way.

I have noticed that among many of my colleagues, informality is a tool used to promote one's own authority. And, God knows, we could use a little more kavod haRav - I do not begrudge my colleagues one bit of it. I don't know any shuls (outside of ultra-Orthodoxy) where when the rabbi comes to a room to teach, those being taught rise out of respect. It seems to me that to rise for those we claim to respect might be a good thing. Why? I know it seems kind of arrogant to ask people to rise for a person. But let's say we are rising for the role, which is teacher (for that matter, I'd love to see students taught to rise for all their teachers when class begins, but I don't see that getting past the first day of school before the parents call in screaming), rather than for the person. But perhaps there might be some way to show that calling the rabbi by her title and last name are better for the role than Rabbi first name - especially since some rabbis end up called by one thing and some by another, and just in case you were wondering, there does seem to be a large gender component to who gets called what. But perhaps the person teaching your community, who was respected enough to be hired for that purpose, ought to be given a modicum of distance (Thankfully this does leave me out, since I don't work in that kind of arrangement. Please continue to not call me by my title unless you're asking me for a psak). Because as rabbis know, the distance is there, whether it is acknowledged or not.

I guess what I am saying is that when we confuse informality with intimacy, we all lose, because actual intimacy gets brushed aside for a cheap substitute. I would rather spend a few years getting to know someone, and then having them say, "Oh, please call me Fred," then call them Fred right off, and not know whether or not we're really friends. Not to mention the scads of in-laws who can now stop wondering what to call their partner's parents, and settle for "Um," and "Ah," since they can't bring themselves to call their in-laws either Mom and Pop, as if their own had abandoned them and they'd been adopted by some kindly strangers, or John and Mary (or since I'm Jewish, let's say, Jonah and Miriam) but just also can't bring themselves to be "too formal" and call them Mr and Ms. because then the spouse's parents will think that the bride doesn't like them. If we could just acknowledge that sometimes there are roles we play to smooth our way in life, and that if we want friendships and more, we have to wait for them, we could start using more formal terms without making it seem as if we were rejecting the people we are addressing. Let's just make it a rule. And it seems to me also, that especially in terms of work, I'd really much rather call the janitor Mr. Johnson, than "Joe," -why should he have to suffer from being addressed as if he were my buddy, rather than my colleague in the work of making a certain place function?

And by the way, you at the salescounter, with the badge that says, "Sarah," can I call you Miss Brown, please?

Thursday, November 29, 2007


I know this will come as a surprise to many, but I actually like meat. I mean, I like to eat it, anyway. This Thanksgiving, I had a bunch of friends coming whom I really wanted to see who are very carnivorous, and so I agreed that there would be a turkey at the festivities.
This is not as simple as it sounds, since I have a kosher dairy/veggie kitchen, making it somewhat complicated to cook and serve the meat. We have glass dishes, which makes it a bit easier, but I spent oh so many ages kashering pans and getting aluminum tins, and kashering serving utensils, and of course, it's been some time since I prepared meat. SO I ended up looking up cooking times and so on, and in the end did a fine job. There was enough food for everyone, I didn't treif anything up (although I did have to borrow a carving knife from a friend. It survived the experience) and people seemed to think everything was tasty.
I have to say though, I don't think I'll do it again. It's not that it was a pain. I actually didn't mind that so much, and I still like the taste of meat, as rarely as I eat it. And it's not that difficult in this area to find non-Rubashkin's kosher meat, if one is careful ( Check the Trader Joe's labels - some of them are sublabels of Rubashkin's). It was the smell.

For several says after I prepared the turkey, no matter how or with what I scrubbed my hands, I couldn't get the smell of - well, there's no nice way to say it- corpse off my hands.
It was really pretty nauseating.
So, I guess I'll just have to live with not eating meat, or the occasional night out at a kosher place. Not so many in this area, so mostly when I travel to LA, NYC or Israel, I guess.

90s nostaligia momentt

Which, remembering the 90's as I do, must be rare as hen's teeth.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Rubashkin's: will it never end?

The latest from the Forward: United Food and Commercial Workers are now entering the fray over Rubashkin's skeezy practices in their plants. As the Forward reported, "Activists with United Food and Commercial Workers stood outside kosher supermarkets and Trader Joe’s stores around the country last Wednesday, distributing fliers that purported to be a 'Kosher Food Safety Alert.' The fliers cited controversial reports — many of them published in the Forward — about food-safety issues at the Postville, Iowa, slaughterhouse." They also made automated phone calls to households in Orthodox neighborhoods and placed full-page advertisements in Jewish newspapers.

Most of these will be violations that if you read Jewschool or Failed Messiah's excellent coverage, you will already know about - the bribery, the unsafe food handling practices, and of course the mistreatment of non-Jewish workers, prompting the Conservative Movement's creation (at least in theory) of the Hechsher Tzedek. I want to emphasize a citation from Failed Messiah's post on the topic which comes from the USDA's inspector:

There were also at least five instances in which AgriProcessors was cited for not taking the required measures to fend off Mad Cow disease. In one instance, an inspector says he asked for a suspicious cow to be taken off the line and later discovered that the cow had been slaughtered with the rest of the animals. The inspector says he informed someone at the company of the “very serious noncompliance that had occurred.”

I emphasize these words because, of course, Agriprocessor's response, published on its Web site and in Yeshiva World News, was simply to deny, deny deny. “Concerns about Mad Cow disease are simply wrong,” the letter said. “We have never had product from any suspect animals leave our plant.” they claim.

Astonishingly, according to KosherToday,a trade publication that has defended AgriProcessors, none of this has hurt Agriprocessor sales. In fact, they claim that to the contrary, “The net effect of the onslaught against Agri was that sales of its products in some stores have risen by as much as 30% and it has opened an unprecedented number of new accounts.”

Money is the name of the game

Just in case you've been vacationing in outer Mongolia and missed the fact that the Writer's Guild of America is striking, here's a short brought to you by the writers of the Daily Show to outline the very salient points of why we should all be supporting them. It's actually pretty simple. The major corporations who employ them want tofail to compensate them for their work when they use it in another medium, such as say, DVD residuals and internet downloads. The best part, of course, is how they talk outof both sides of their mouths about what such work is worth. It's worth nothing, if they have to pay, but a billion per year, if they're not getting paid. Hmmm.

Just to add, for those who are not familiar - corporate CEOs: not hurting for money. Writers whose humor, insight and sweat produce those shows: not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination.

How can you help?
Click here.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Giving Thanks

I know that everyone is very hyped on the now viral information that Thanksgiving is actually based on the biblical holiday of Sukkot. Nu, so gesuntaheit.
IN the meantime, I've been thinking for some time about some things for which I am thankful that people don't normally get to hear. Everyone, of course, is thankful for their imas and abbas (mothers and fathers) but how many people get to say that they're thankful for their mother and father in law?
I'm not claiming they change clothing to tights in a phonebooth or anything, but I think it's worthwhile to say that I am very grateful for all kinds of things about them - beyond the fact that they produced the guy whom I married almost 13 years ago. For example, I am grateful that my mother in law is interesting and often funny and tells great stories about her work. I am grateful that she is an unabashed liberal who puts her time where her mouth is defending girls who need an abortion and can't tell their parents and so have to go to court. I am grateful that both she and my father in law, while interested in my and DH's lives, have never tried to interfere with bizarre child rearing practices that I must do on fear of displeasure, nor have they expressed any opinion ever about how many children we ought to have - and I can't even imagine their doing so. I am grateful that my FIL is interested in genealogy, and that he likes to hang out with his GS. I am grateful that they both like to travel and send us postcards from wherever they go. And sometimes even when they don't go.

On an unrelated gratitude note:
I'm also grateful for my former classmates and now colleagues and all their love and support and friendship, which I continue to be blessed by years after we mostly all have moved to cities far from one another.

Happy thanksgiving, or perhaps we should call it Sukkot Sheni.
הודו ליי כי טוב
Turkey for God, because it is good! (or perhaps, give thanks to God, because God is good; polecat/woodkitty)

Monday, November 19, 2007

Up and down the ladder

I know that this portion is over and we're on to the next thing, but perhaps since my travels overlapped with it a little, I can squeeze just a little more juice out of it this week before I put it away.

It's nothing profound really, just that this week I find myself ba'aretz. Usually, I suppose, we must identify ourselves with Yakov, but unlike Yakov, I already knew that God was in this place; I did not need to dream to see the angels, nor to understand that God protects us in all our travels to Jerusalem, and of course, that as Rebbe Nachman said, that wherever I travel, I travel to Jerusalem.
But this time, perhaps I feel a bit more like the angels going up and down on that ladder. I have a purpose for being here, and I pray that as a servant of the HKBH, I will be able to fullfil it, but only God can ensure that end, ultimately.
And I have been the angel going up the ladder, and soon I will be the angel going down. And perhaps it is well to remember that even if I am unlike the angels in that I spend more time at the foot of the ladder, than its top, that in order to carry out one's mission, one has to go down. And that one can love even places that one goes to carry out, rather than those to which one will return.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Holiday PR brainstorming ideas gone awry

Jones soda, which produces some normally pretty tasty flavors, and which I normally like for their failure to use High Fructose Corn Syrup, has apparently decided that all press is good press, and all flavors are good flavors. For the winter holiday season this year they have impartially produced (respectively) a Christmas and a Chanukah soda flavors pack.
The Christmas flavors include Christmas Ham Soda, Christmas Tree Soda, Egg Nog Soda and Sugar Plum Soda; the Chanuka flavors Latke Soda, Apple Sauce Soda, Chocolate Coins Soda and Sufganiya, which they call "Jelly Doughnut Soda."

I note that they have decided that it would be amusing to horrify one's friends by allowing observant Jews to snarf ham flavored soda at their Chanuka parties by making it kosher. SInce it is not yet Thanksgiving, this is at least an episode of Christmas creep, although I note with relief that at least they did not bring it out before Halloween. Shopping at a number of stores this year, I found myself inundated by rows of red and green items and Christmas carols (Which, by and large, I detest) before the end of October. Significantly before. I expect before the end of the decade to stock up on earplugs before August begins.

xp Jewschool

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Effortlessly skinny people, I fart in your general direction...

According to a recent article in the New York Times,"overweight people have a lower death rate because they are much less likely to die from a grab bag of diseases that includes Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, infections and lung disease. And that lower risk is not counteracted by increased risks of dying from any other disease, including cancer, diabetes or heart disease."

This isn't exactly a carte blanche to snork out at the trough, since obese people still die at a higher rate - as do underweight people. But interestingly what we consider to be "overweight" may actually be a more appropriate weight level, as long as people are eating well and exercising and otherwise generally healthy (what the fat activists have been saying for some time, BTW). Despite the fact that culturally, Americans think that even normal weight people are actually somewhat unattractive (cf the slightly stale collection of snarkery over Britney Spears unflattering outfit at some awards event, when it is perfectly clear that the woman, whatever else is wrong with her, is NOT overweight), it turns out that our ideas of what is attractive may not be what is healthy - uh, well, duh. Any other surprises out there?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Best PSA ever! Warning: NSFW!

Possibly also the longest, but this should be required viewing for every 13 year old. Hopefully they won't need it yet, but if they do, it covers all the bases: for women, men, het or homo, and does it all with a catchy tune and amusing choreography.

All of today's posts brought to you HT BoingBoing
Warning NSFW! Explicit!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Talmud Tools

Jen Taylor Friedman (of Barbie davenner fame) gives a spiffy little overview of daf commentators


Another Bitch-Slap to the Rabbinate

According to Ha'aretz, another challenge to the Chief Rabbinate has popped up. Last month I blogged on the reaction to the scandalous no-heter for shmitta matter(and here); a group called Tzohar had announced that it would simply go around the Rabbinate. Well, they're at it again.
45 rabbis from Tzohar and an unspecified smattering of the Religious Kibbutz Movement in response to the chief rabbinate's policy of making conversion ridiculously difficult have said that they will simply go around it in this as well.

According to Ha'aretz,

That position ignores the plight of the more than 300,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union who are not Jewish according to halakha. If the recommendations of the interministerial committee on conversion to expedite the process are not implemented soon, the rabbis are expected to establish the proposed conversion courts. That would represent another stage in the undermining of religious-Zionist rabbis of the Rabbinate, following struggles over marriage, kashrut and shmita in the past several months.
The latest steps began about six months ago with a conference of the Joint Conversion Institute, which prepares most prospective converts in civilian and military frameworks. After the head of the institute, Prof. Benjamin Ish-Shalom, announced that the requirements of the religious courts kept many graduates from completing their conversion, 45 rabbis agreed to officiate in religious courts that would convert the graduates, even without recognition from the Rabbinate. Most of the rabbis, the majority of whom who prefer not to be identified, are associated with with Religious Kibbutz Movement and the Tzohar rabbis' organization.

Of course, it will be interesting to see how this plays out int he marriage arena, since the Chief Rabbinate is almost certain to refuse to allow these converts to be married in Israel - causing these folks to suffer fromthe same problems that Reform and Conservative/Masorti converts have had to deal with for years.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

An Interesting Letter

Dr. David Berger, recently appointed director of YU's Yeshiva College's Jewish Studies Department, writes a response to the accusation that he excludes a major Jewish group from Orthodoxy (the Lubavitchers) and requires members of the Chabad-Lubavitch communityat YU to "take some sort of oath declaring they do not believe the Rebbe is the Messiah to be considered accepted within Orthodoxy." This accusation, appearing in the Commentator
challenges Berger to be more open-minded - I suppose about whether or not it's okay to believe that the Lubavitch rebbe is either the messiah or divine.
The gist of his response is that "a large majority of Lubavitch hasidim believe that the Rebbe is the Messiah while a very substantial number believe that he is pure divinity. (For a succinct presentation of the evidence, see," suggests that parties interested in the matter read his book, The Rebbe, the Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference, states that he is not calling for excommunication - comparing his call to be similar to that of moderate Orthodox to Conservative and Reform Jews, which tickles me in oh, so many ways.

He concludes, more or less,

We live in an olam hafukh, an upside-down world, where spokespersons for a movement permeated by Christian-style posthumous false messianism and even avodah zarah can accuse Jews who deny them automatic Orthodox legitimacy of violating Jewish values. This is how I formulated the point in the Hebrew book: "Chabad hasidim have largely succeeded in silencing their critics with the accusation that those critics are fomenters of strife who undermine Jewish unity and disdain the supreme value of ahavat Yisrael. Permission is thus granted to the destroyer (nittenah reshut la-mashchit) to hijack your religion as you watch, while you remain helpless-because you are a decent person who loves the Jewish people and shuns divisiveness."

Students in my Bernard Revel Graduate School course on messianism will testify that although I assigned some of my writings on Chabad-along with the works of Lubavitch hasidim-I kept classroom discussion as analytical and non-polemical as possible. As to Yeshiva College, it no doubt contains students who are not fully committed to Orthodox Judaism, and I do not see the need to ask questions of Lubavitch applicants that are not asked of others. But attending Yeshiva College is not the same as serving as a rabbi, a dayyan, a Jewish Studies principal, and, in the context of avodah zarah, a shochet, a sofer, and a wine producer.

Wow, and they say I'm blunt.

I'm curious to see what people think of all this - I'll probably update this post later to say more of what I think... the comments over on Jewschool have not at all been what I expected.

xp Jewschool

Supreme Court refuses to hear birthcontrol challenge

On Monday, the Supreme Court refused to reexamine a new York court ruling upholding a state law that forces religious-based social service agencies to subsidize contraceptives as part of prescription drug coverage they offer employees.

Since New York is one of 23 states that require employers that offer prescription benefits to employees to cover birth control pills as well,this refusal to hear the case will actually have quite wide effect. I suppose I should mention that I am very surprised by this, given the current makeup of the court. The original law was made in 2002, called the "Women's Health and Wellness Act" and requires health plans to cover a number of services aimed at women, including contraception, mammography, cervical cancer screenings and bone density exams.

According to AP,

Catholic Charities and other religious groups argued New York's law violates their First Amendment right to practice their religion because it forces them to violate religious teachings that regard contraception as sinful.

"If the state can compel church entities to subsidize contraceptives in violation of their religious beliefs, it can compel them to subsidize abortions as well," the groups said in urging the court to take their case. "And if it can compel church entities to subsidize abortions, it can require hospitals owned by churches to provide them."

Other Catholic and Baptist organizations are part of the lawsuit. Seventh-Day Adventist and Orthodox Jewish groups signed onto a brief filed in support of Catholic Charities.

Three years ago the court rejected a challenge to a similar law in California....
The New York law contains an exemption for churches, seminaries and other institutions with a mainly religious mission that primarily serve followers of that religion. Catholic Charities and the other groups sought the exemption, but they hire and serve people of different faiths

This is all pretty amazing in my eyes, but a welcome respite from the usual (at least recently) hijinks of the high court. While, I sympathize with the religious organizations that don't want to offer services that their faith group opposes, I have to say frankly, that if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Catholic hospitals are now a juggernaut in the American health care system, and if they decide tomorrow that arterial plaque is holy, I don't want to have travel possibly to another state to get treatment for heart disease. This reminds me of the entire brou-ha-ha over the D&X procedure, in which Congresspersons were shown doctors performing dilation and extraction abortions, and obviously it looked yucky; well, that's because when you do surgery, there's blood. Open heart surgery isn't all that pretty either. Nevertheless, sometimes people's lives are at stake, and according to Jewish law, when one's life is at stake one not only may, but must, take action. Thus, if I live in a place where I can't get services because all the hospitals are run by Catholic institutions, my religious beliefs are being violated. And that holds, according to the groups pursuing this case, even if I can find a Jewish doctor to perform my bypass surgery, or whatever.

Yay to New York, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia (the other states with similar laws).

If you don't live in one of these states, consider it a good idea to get a law like this passed in yours. One should be able to consult one's own religious teachers and guides for instruction on what is permissible, and not have to obey someone else's. Your doctor and you should be making your health care decisions, not the pope, or some reverend so-and-so somewhere.

xp Jewschool

How to make Oak gall ink

For all you aspiring sofrim out there...

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Arbitration expose by former judge

Former chief justice of the West Virgina supreme court, to be exact.
warning: the image at the top is really, really disgusting. Almost as disgusting as the arbitration firms the article is about.

ht to

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Polish Hip Hop Bhangra: Best. Vid. Ever.

Yes, you read that right, Polish Hip Hop Bhangra. With Bollywood dancing.
Just in case anyone thinks I mock, I happen to love Bollywood and Bhangra (and Hip Hop, too, for that matter).
Happy Post-YK Music!

HT to BoingBoing

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Quick, Before the day is over....

More pirate festivities!

My pirate name is:

Captain Anne Bonney

Even though there's no legal rank on a pirate ship, everyone recognizes you're the one in charge. You can be a little bit unpredictable, but a pirate's life is far from full of certainties, so that fits in pretty well. Arr!

Get your own pirate name from
part of the network

Oh, yes!
Anne Bonney, you bet! Arrrrrr!
The other site offered that I was likely to be Grainne O'Malley, which is an even better choice (and she was, actually, a captain, ut likely, "Arrrr," never passed her lips).

And here's the name of my ship:
Sea's Damned Cannon

Monday, September 17, 2007

Movie Review of the day

Courtesy of the Onion's AV Club.
I don't usually do movie reviews, but this one has an appropriate Judaic reference. OK. Not really, but still. Hilarious:

Of course if a preeminent figure in my faith had a lucrative sideline writing ridiculous pulp fiction I’d probably downplay that aspect of his life and teachings. If, for example, Moses used his downtime writing the Torah to hastily compose a series of fantasy novels exploring the lives, loves and adventures of Thoretta, She-Ogre of The Barbarian Realm, I’d probably steer clear of publicizing his side-gig too aggressively. I certainly wouldn’t try to lure Bridgette Nielsen into starring in a feature-film adaptation of Thoretta, She Ogre Of The Barbarian Realm as a way of bringing converts to Judaism....

Battlefield Earth opens in a future dystopia where mankind has been defeated by a race of nine-foot-tall aliens from the planet Psychlo whose gnarled appearance suggests what Klingons might look like if they took their fashion cues from the leather daddies in Cruising. Humanity has finally shaken off the high-falutin’ plague of book-learning and stuff-knowing and lingers in a caveman-like state of superstition and ignorance. Rather than invoke the wrath of demons and monsters, men hide in caves and eschew all but the faintest traces of civilization. They’re like gullible souls waiting for a second-rate sci-fi writer to reveal all the mysteries of the universe to them in pseudo-religion form and charge them dearly for the privilege.

Why America is great

Unfortunately, this is not embeddable, but check it out.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Take a Break from Repenting...

And hoist the mainsail! Aaarrggh!!!

If repentance isn't your strong point, luckily for you, this year, talk like a pirate day falls right between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (September 19th, every year).
SO, feel no regrets! Take no prisoners! Buckle your swashes!

See here for a tutorial, in case your pirate speaking skills are rusty. Alas, they do seem to lack instruction on the proper way to address a female pirate, or pirate captain (Such as:
Queen Artemisia of Halicarnassus (in Greece) — 480 B.C.
Princess Rusla — Norwegian Viking.
Grace O’Malley, a.k.a. Granuaile, Grainne O'Malley —1500s, Atlantic, commanded three galleys and 200 men. (My personal favorite, having bested Queen Elizabeth in a personal meeting by use of a handkerchief))
Lady Killigrew — 1530-1570, Atlantic.
Anne Dieu-le-veut — 1660s, Caribbean buccaneer.
Anne Bonny, aliases Ann Bonn and Fulford, 1719-1720, Caribbean.
Mary Read, alias Mark Read — 1718-1720, Caribbean.
Sadie the Goat — 1800s, New York State.
Qi Sao (Seventh Elder Sister-in-law) — South China Sea, commanded a fleet of 20 ships.
Shi Xainggu (better known as Cheng I Sao, Ching Yih Saou, or Zheng Yi Sao) — 1801-1810, South China Sea, commanded either five or six squadrons consisting of 800 large junks, about 1,000 smaller vessels, and between 70,000 and 80,000 men and women.
Gertrude Imogene Stubbs — alias "Gunpowder Gertie, the Pirate Queen of the Kootenays", 1898-1903, Kootenay Lake and river system of British Columbia, Canada.)

These are from the great "Uppity Women" book series, but a quick google search will no doubt turn out even more. YOu can find a couple of short bios hereand here. This list also includes women privateers.
Nevertheless, while you are being a pirate, be sure that others will find a way to address you respectfully. A long sharp sword, an attitude and a few nasty scars from swordfighting will provoke it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Shanah Tovah!

It's a little more er, electronic than the one I remember (M'nah m'nah, with the blue squishy things...these looks sort of like I dunno, cows) but all the same....

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Converts? Not really...

Thought your overseas conversion would serve to get you into Israel? Hah! Turns out the Interior Ministry is rarin' at the bit to kick yer tushie back to galus. And it doesn't even matter exactly which movement you cotton to... yes, apparently even some Orthodox converts will no longer qualify.

According to the JPost, this past Monday distributed a preliminary draft of new citizenship criteria. The new rules would no longer grant citizenship to converts from abroad, instead,

the convert would be asked to fulfill requirements that include: a minimum of nine months in a preparatory course in Judaism; proof of participation in the activities of a Jewish community abroad for at least nine months after conversion; and residing in the Jewish community that performs the conversion for at least three months prior to conversion.

In addition, converts who converted abroad and apply for Israeli citizenship would face rejection for a number of reasons: The convert applied previously, before conversion, for Israeli citizenship and was rejected; the convert stayed in Israel illegally for a period of at least six months; the convert has relatives in Israel [who he or she wishes to join]; and the convert applied for citizenship immediately after converting and family members, who did not convert, want to come too.

So, if you have Jewish relatives, and you want to join them, your conversion is automatically suspect. Nice. Got relatives who aren't Jewish who want to come? Conversion doesn't count. Sweet!

The Ministry claims this is to "prevent exploitation of the conversion process to obtain Israeli citizenship."

As one rabbi stated, there are some obvious problems with this new set of restrictions, first,

the Interior Ministry has no right to be involved in determining the length of time it is necessary to prepare for a conversion. There is nothing in the law, neither Jewish nor civil, stating a minimum period of time.

"Second, it is unfair to disqualify a convert from citizenship simply because a previous request for citizenship was rejected or because he or she has relatives in Israel.

Then, as the article itself says, this new set of regulations seems to be trying to do an end run around the Supreme Court's ruling that the ministry may not set criteria defining a religious act such as conversion; if this isn't an attempt to do just that, I'll eat my fuzzy purple Borsalino.

This whole thing is disgraceful. Mishpat echad yihiyeh lachem. yeah, right.

*HOT* tip of the day

How to bake cookies in your car, as the posterto Boingboing noted, "Best car freshener smell ever."

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Kibbutz revival?

A few days ago, the New York Times ran an article describing the apparent renewal of kibbutzim in Israel. After years of decline, beginning inthe 1980's, recently, people are again lining up to get into kibbutzim.
The article points out a couple of interesting things, one of which is explicit: that the renewed kibbutzim are not quite (for the most part) run inthe way that traditional kibbutzim were run, but rather as, "a kind of suburbanized version of it."
The article continues, explaining,

On most kibbutzim, food and laundry services are now privatized; on many, houses may be transferred to individual members, and newcomers can buy in. While the major assets of the kibbutzim are still collectively owned, the communities are now largely run by professional managers rather than by popular vote. And, most important, not everyone is paid the same.

kibbutz life

Now, granted the old, purely socialist system didn't really work all that well. We all know human nature, and in Israel, as anywhere else that this particular ideology was exercised, all kinds of unfortunate consequences resulted, the mildest of which is the obvious: that many people just didn't pull their weight. Not to mention all the later reported problems with the communal children's houses: the bullying and sexual abuse that sometimes resulted.

Nevertheless, I can't help but wonder about some things that weren't said: the recent changes in Israeli (following American) society such as the "greed is good" mentality of the 1980's resulting in the dismantling of Israeli social support systems - and how that process perhaps actually contributed to the current revitaization of the kibbutzim, as people tire of a society in which everyone is completely out for themselves, and the future is economically very uncertain. I also wonder if the suburbanization of the kibbutzim is any kind of success story. Aren't there other ways of attracting people into a community?
In some ways, it seems to me that this question is the exact same one facing Jews in communal institutions all over the place: how do you entice people into building communities in which people are actually part of a community and not just a fee for service relationship? The sad thing is, that this is indeed what most people are craving, but at the same time, our societies are currently so individualistic that we see any kind of responsibilty to others over the long term as inconvenient. And let's not even get started on the subject of intergenerational responsibilty. Of all the various shuls and independant minyans out there, how many are genuinely welcoming of people of very different backgrounds and places in their lives?

How have we come to this? -"young professionals" minyans, 20 something minyans, old fart minyans, whatever... where is the sense that we need to sacrifice having things our way some of the time? And I am not targetting any particular group when I say this. In my opinon, there is no one who isn't a culprit. From wealthy older folks holding onto services which barely anyone attends, to younger groups who are unwilling to make any kind of provisions for people who might not love the all-Carlebach channel. I suppose I could list on forever all the diferent niches who aren't talking to one another. And lest I leave it out, that includes the various "movements" as well.

I suppose I have wandered a bit astray from the point of the article, but I often wonder, when we talk about renewal, if the things we are renewing have the value and the solidity to really be communities for the long term, because what I don't see in many of these renewed communities, is obligation, love, or community.

xp to Jewschool

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Yes, men can do the dishes too. As long as they aren't married .

Study here
New study finds married men do less housework than live-in boyfriends

The age-old stereotype that women do more housework than men has gotten more credibility with a George Mason University study co-written by sociologist Shannon Davis.

The study of more than 17,000 people in 28 countries found that married men report doing less housework than men who are live-in boyfriends.

This study was recently published in the Journal of Family Issues by Davis and co-authors Theodore Greenstein and Jennifer Gerteisen Marks of North Carolina State University.

According to Davis, the key finding of the study is that it suggests the institution of marriage changes the division of labor. Couples with an egalitarian view on gender—seeing men and women as equal—are more likely to divide the household chores equally. However, in married relationships, even if an egalitarian viewpoint is present, men still report doing less housework than their wives.

“Marriage as an institution seems to have a traditionalizing effect on couples—even couples who see men and women as equal,” says Davis.

While the researchers did not follow cohabitating couples over time to see if their division of housework changed after marriage, their study provides a “snapshot” in time of couples all over the world.

“Our research suggests that couples across many countries are influenced by similar factors when deciding how to divide the housework,” she says. “It’s the way the society has defined what being married means, the institution itself, that affects behavior.”

I find this study very interesting, but not surprising. I am a feminist as is my partner, and so are most of our friends. Yet, I recall when I got married, all of a sudden, I really ceased to be a separate person. It took me years to get used to the fact that a simple change of householding arrangements made most of the world see me in an entirely different way. People would be astonished that we still maintaied entirely separate bank accounts (at the time). More astonishing to people was that I did not take his name. It remains a source of perpetual astonishment to me that women still do this - in fact, it seems to me, that most women still do this; why one would erase one's own identity in favor of someone else's is bizarre to me, especially given all the baggage that goes along with it societally. If I were a man, I think it would be less of a problem for me, beause all the nonsense that goes with it is absent (other than people simply failing to believe that you've done it. The one couple I know where the man took the wife's name, no matter how many times they explain it to people, people simply write it out of their minds. Of course, that's a general human mental failing, I think. I note that with my DS, simply because he has longish hair and wears pink tackies (sometimes), almost all white people assume automatically that he's a girl - and will persist in calling him "she" even if he corrects them (neither of us do usually, because after all, who really cares? Especially pre-puberty?).

So, back the the real question though: I know that people really love and are tied to their notion of highly differentiated gender as "natural," despite the scientific evidence - most people will take bad anecdotal evidence over it all the time - and truthfully even scientists aren't immune, cf. Dr. Carol Tavris excellent book The Mismeasure of Woman. But this study is one of many that really belies the psychology of how women get stuck with the dishes, as it were. How do we move beyond this - and as a rabbi, a question we need to ask: with the agunah question looming over us still, maybe it's time to reevaluate what marriage is; How it's done; Perhaps we need a new seder nashim, with commentary.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

More on kittypidgin


The image macro is born out of this cycle.

Forums typically put new posts underneath older ones. So, a direct response to someone’s rant about the coming police state in America may be immediately followed by an image of Captain America crying. Everyone gets the reference and the idea. This is a very high-level, metacommunication format.

Consider how difficult is its for computers to identify faces. Consider how confirmation keys are now images so computers can’t understand what is being communicated. Consider the new confirmation keys where a series of images are displayed and the user must pick which one of these is not like the other. Computers have a terrible time with this kind of task.

Communication through images is a powerful way to pass complex ideas back and forth. You see Captain America crying, and you understand a concept that would take several paragraphs of exposition.

So, image macros have really blossomed online in the last few years. Many of them take a slant on an existing meme circulating across the Internet. Of course, most of them are also designed to make you laugh along with solidifying in group status and also getting a point across.

For instance:

<– Someone is being overly dramatic.

Thank God I'm a geek.

At no time in my life would anyone ever mistake me for a hipster.
This is pretty funny.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

More from Consumerist on getting the better of corporations who are trying to ignore you

from Consumerist

Giant corporation ignoring your repeated and valid pleas? After exhausting traditional methods of complaint resolution, including, but not limited to, at least calling at least once and escalating to a supervisor, try "Faxing For Dollars," another get-em-by-the-balls technique described by Ron Burley in his book, Unscrewed: The Consumer's Guide To Getting What You Paid For.

1) Draft a good, cogent, spell-checked, grammar-checked one-page complaint letter (here's how), with your full contact information.

2) Find the fax numbers for executives. These can be found by Googling for: SEC filings, Financial documents, often found in company's investor relations section, press releases, Internal promotional events, like charity auctions and golf tournaments, sales materials, contracts, other legal documents...

Be sure to look at the roster of executive officers on the company website, and cross-reference it with the management information available for most companies under

3) After harvesting as many executive fax numbers as you can, fax them all copies of your complaint letter, again, again, and over again, until you receive a call on your telephone. If you don't have a fax machine, you can send faxes online with a service like eFax.

4) When that happens, keep your head screwed on, and your voice even and professional. Burley says say something like, "Thank you for calling. I realize that you are a busy person, so I hope that we can come to a quick resolution of the matter."

Peculiar video of the day

Not that I disagree with the sentiment, exactly ("Wimmin can do anything!") and I have liked the song for some years, but....


from our friends at the "Maoist Internationalist Movement."
No, really.

Warning: brief flash of women's undies for those at work.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

My newest hat

My chaver and teacher just returned from Israel with a gift for me.

As he said, it's our team hat (Can you guess what we study? Yes, Emet v'emunah).
He has one too of course.

“The heart should be broken; both shoulders would be crushed and heaven and earth would be ground up and yet one must not depart from one’s own." -Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotsk
(trans R. Moshe Faierstein)

Plastic water bottles

Have been in the news a lot lately. First, we read about how actually bottled water may well be less safe than tap water, as it isn't covered by the same regulations. Then, we had the reports on plastic seeping into our edibles and drinkables - and thus into us - causing possibly generations of fertility problems, among other health effects, and of course there's the environmental problem - in san francisco, plastic water bottles are no longer permitted to municipal employees on the city's budget - and kudos to them, I say, since they have some of the best water in the country (in D.C., this would probably not be such a good idea. Here in MD, where the water is quite fine, thank you, I think it would be a good idea). So, if you haven't had all you can take about plastic and especially plastic water bottles, here's one more take on them - use of oil:
From Reason Magazine

Every Little Bit Helps... Right?

Juliet Samuel | August 14, 2007, 11:09am

Conscientious greens fix their sights on plastic water bottles:

In the last few months, bottled water — generally considered a benign, even beneficial, product — has been increasingly portrayed as an environmental villain by city leaders, activist groups and the media. The argument centers not on water, but oil. It takes 1.5 million barrels a year just to make the plastic water bottles Americans use, according to the Earth Policy Institute in Washington, plus countless barrels to transport it from as far as Fiji and refrigerate it. ...

The US currently uses 20 million barrels of oil per day. First we’re going to ban plastic bags, slicing away a giant 0.16% of that consumption. Now, bring on the plastic bottle ban, slashing a full 0.02% from the oil guzzling. Take that, global warming!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

JTA Comments on its own new hires, goodbye to Jewschool ed, Dan "Mobius" Sieradski

OK, granted, it's a little bit navelly-gazey, but one does have to give them credit for whom they hired. Congratulations to my, well, we don't really know one another well enough to say friend, but it's more than just regular-old "I've heard of him," since I've been writing for Dan "Mobius" Sieradski's blog Jewschool for a few years now (as well as another of his blogs, Radical Torah).

The editors of Jewschool have posted this as our goodbye to our fearless leader Dan, and an explanation of who and what the current leadership of Jewschool will be.

In any case, congratulations Dan, you'll be fab in your new job as director of digital media for JTA, which I hope you enjoy.

As Dan says in his final post on Jewschool as editor,
The greatest gift I could hope to have given?

Who owns Judaism?

It’s like the old Zen kōan, “Who is the master who makes the grass green?”

The answer is “You.”

If I’ve accomplished anything meritorious in my tenure, I hope it has been imparting that knowledge to at least one person.

...Since December 2002: 12,552 posts. 38,959 comments. 78 contributors. 5 servers. 1 hell of a ride.

and we'll keep Jewschool fresh for ya'

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

An UNrelated, but very useful post to the last one

HOw to Be a Customer Service Ninja

From one of my favorite sites, The Consumerist. Everyone should have this blog on their must read list:

... Austin writes in a hot tip for all of looking to pole vault low-level CSR and reach the Valhalla of customer service.

"Most all large companies have some sort of executive customer service staff, made up of individuals who have the power to cut through all sorts of red tape," he writes. "The key is knowing how to access these wonderful people who can make things right when everything else has gone wrong."

• For public companies, put the stock ticker symbol in Google Finance and pull up the profile page. The corporate office should be listed under Company Facts.
• Call the corporate office.
• Ask for a transfer to the office of the CEO.
• You will likely get an exec. assistant but that's good. Voice mail is ok, too.
• Give succinct summary, including identifying details like order numbers and confirmation numbers.
• Remain nice.

"Within a day, you should get the phone call equivalent to the holy grail--a call back by someone on the executive service team."

How to de-RFID your credit card

WHY there is such a craze for sticking RFID chips in everything in these days in which we are supposedly trying to be more alert about security, I have no idea. Not to mention the unparalleled level of identity theft. Yes, let's do put our credit card numbers out there for any hacker with a hankering to find.
Luckily, Consumerist has been keeping up with this foul trend:

Credit card companies are putting magical radio chips inside your credit cards to allow for "touch n go" "contact-less" payments, but if for some reason the idea of a miniature beacon transmitting your credit card information, albeit however encrypted the companies feel like making them, there is something you can do about, blogs Cody: Dremel!

1. Google your specfic credit card name and type (i.e. Chase Freedom Card) + RFID. If you get some hits of people saying there's an RFID chip inside, it's probably got one.
2. Hold your credit card up into the light and see if you can spot the raised bump. That's the RFID chip.
3. Drill a hole in the spot.
4. Voila! You're off the grid.

As long as you don't make huge gashes and tear through your magnetic strip, this should in no way affect your ability to swipe at the store or use ATMs.

Three related posts for the paranoid:

From BoingBoing:
Hacked passport crashes readers

A hacker has demonstrated an exploit against the RFID tags in the new US passports that allows him to clone a passport and modify the RFID with bad code that will crash the passport readers.
... "If you're able to crash something you are most likely able to exploit it," says Grunwald, who's scheduled to discuss the vulnerabilities this weekend at the annual DefCon hacker conference in Las Vegas.

Also from BoingBoing:
UK security experts have cracked the sooper sekure new UK biometric passports. It took 48 hours. With £174 worth of sniffer hardware, attackers can read all the personal information off of any of the three million new UK passports in circulation -- and if combined with demonstrated hacks for reading RFIDs at a distance, this could happen from across the room, or even farther. You can then clone the RFID and stick it in another passport (surprise! your identity is now owned by a terrorist!).

If this worries you, perhaps you'll want to read this (But I am not advocating breaking the law by tampering with your passport). From Wired:
All passports issued by the US State Department after January 1 will have always-on radio frequency identification chips, making it easy for officials – and hackers – to grab your personal stats. Getting paranoid about strangers slurping up your identity? Here’s what you can do about it. But be careful – tampering with a passport is punishable by 25 years in prison. Not to mention the “special” customs search, with rubber gloves. Bon voyage!

1) RFID-tagged passports have a distinctive logo on the front cover; the chip is embedded in the back.

2) Sorry, “accidentally” leaving your passport in the jeans you just put in the washer won’t work. You’re more likely to ruin the passport itself than the chip.

3) Forget about nuking it in the microwave – the chip could burst into flames, leaving telltale scorch marks. Besides, have you ever smelled burnt passport?

4) The best approach? Hammer time. Hitting the chip with a blunt, hard object should disable it. A nonworking RFID doesn’t invalidate the passport, so you can still use it.

– Jenna Wortham

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Quote of the Day

IT's funny, I don't really read fantasy much anymore. I don't know why exactly, maybe it's just the library I now live near not having much of a selection and not disposable income to waste on buying books - I've mostly been reading mysteries. But recently a few volumes came in and I picked them up, and I found myself in the second volume of what is apparently an in-progess trilogy. The book is called Fugitives of Chaos and is more erudite than fantasy is normally credited with (or, for that matter, actually is), most of the time.
I like the book, and am sorry to have begun in the middle, but will almost certainly read the third book when it is finished. I was very taken by one quote:

When I was young, I thought the act of getting older meant, year by year, getting more sophisticated, more hard, more cool, and unpitying. Less innocent.

Maybe that was a childish idea of what getting older was about. Maybe adults, mature adults, get more innocent with time, not less. Because the word "innocent" does not mean "naive," it means "not guilty."

Children do small evils to each other, schoolyard fights and insults, not because their hearts are pure, but because their powers are small. Grownups have more power. Some of them do great evil with that power. But what about the ones who don't? Aren't they more innocent than children, not less?

Now, having a toddler at least gives me a pretty close view on how purehearted children are. I think that when we use that term, it's probably inapprorpiate for children - especially very young ones. When they're angry, they would happily kill you. But that's also largely because they have no sense of consequence. They are little storms of emotion, and in five minutes, they will forget they were ever angry at you, and will sob like theatre actors if you go to the bathroom and shut the door with them on the outside. But there is something to Wright's comment: We act as if adults are somehow not innocent, but truthfully, most of us, even when we indulge in our baser enotions and thoughts, are relatively innocent. Most of us at least attempt not to harm others, most of them time. Even when we're thwarted, or angry.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

A non-cranky entry

Both about the same local tv show. Hey, if anyone from Pancake MOuntain is reading, how I can get my kid involved with this? We don't watch TV, but it sounds like it would be fun for him to go and he loves to dance...

For the last several years, a Washington D.C. area local cable access station has run the hippest kids show on earth: Pancake Mountain. The central theme to the show has been the “dance parties”, which involves inviting hot indie groups,and occasionally higher profile acts (The White Stripes were recent guests) to play music for the excited tots. In addition, a clever and mildly sarcastic stuffed-goat interviewer by the name of Rufus Leaking is a recurring sight, with his humorous asides and inane questions for guests. A fine example:

At last year’s HFStival, Leaking interviewed two clearly perplexed members of the rock-rap group Cypress Hill about their biggest hit, “Insane in the Brain.”

“Uh, yes, I have a question for you,” said Leaking. “What is my membrane, and how do I know that it’s actually insane?”

The show has, deservedly, generated a cult following and become a magnet for visiting celebrities. And it’s great for kids.


Boy, I'm feeling cranky today. Is it the news, or just the weather?

Yes, indeed, we are all to stand in awe of another Bronfman project to lead the Jewish world into the Future. According to JTA, "three dozen Jewish intellectuals are put in a swank ski resort for 48 hours and let loose on the question 'Why be Jewish?'"

From July 29-31 the Samuel Bronfman Foundation ran a conference hosted by the foundation's managing director, Adam Bronfman, son of philanthropist Edgar Bronfman, that "included French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion President David Ellenson, writer Anita Diamant and other rabbis, professors, artists, philanthropists and communal professionals."

But even JTA itself noticed, "These rarefied, all-expenses-paid gatherings beg the question: 'So what?' What does it matter if a bunch of smart Jews sit around talking? Some in Park City wondered the same thing. 'The take-away is there's no take-away,' said former Under Secretary of Defense Dov Zakheim of Washington. Some participants questioned the top-down premise. 'There's a presumption that we get to answer the question "Why be Jewish" on behalf of the "amcha," ' or Jewish people, said Idit Klein, executive director of Keshet, an advocacy group for gay inclusion."

In other words, even the grand old daddies (well, not Keshet, exactly) of institutional life are beginning to wonder, along with the rest of us, why there are all these conferences in which "important people" chosen by other "important people" sit around yakking about what the rest of us ought to do. I suppose it's news that, at least in this case,

If some participants grumbled about the conference's lack of tangible goals, organizers insisted that was the point.

"We're not looking for 'an answer,' " explained the foundation's executive director, Dana Raucher. "We've gathered a rather eclectic mix of people, each of whom has something to offer. Each of these people has influence somewhere. Each of them will hopefully have been enriched by this and will take the conversation home with them."

In other words, they didn't come out of the conference with another program that doesn't change anything, or more instructions that have nothing to do with actually living a Jewish life that we're all to fall in behind with cash in hand. Perhaps that's an improvement. Although I do have to draw breath at such pronouncements as, "In fact, as more than one conference attendee pointed out, the Talmud, the seminal text of rabbinic Judaism, emerged out of just such open-ended conversations among Jewish leaders." Wow. I think our old friends the Greeks might have referred to this as hubris.

I think, though that the most important comment in the article is this:

Arthur Gross-Schaefer, a professor of business law and ethics at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, said the American Jewish community "needs a new myth" that can appeal to the younger, largely unaffiliated generation. That's something this group, and others like it, can realistically tackle, he said.

It seems to me that this nicely sums up the attitude that hasn't shifted amongst the cohort that is failing to engage those whom they ostensibly wish to engage. In other words, there's you young people out there, not doing what we want you to do; we need to make up a nice story for you (yes, I'm aware of the Gillman idea of myth, eh.), so that you'll fall in line with our priorities. Instead of actually talking to the young, affiliated, engaged people in their teens, twenties, thirties and forties - and even older folks who have helped build these alternative organzations, groups, minyans and institutions- who have built an entirely different way of relating to Judaism, just as vibrant (actually, IMO, more vibrant, and also healthier and more Jewish) as the old Holocaust, peoplehood, anti-semitism emphasis of the last thirty-five years.
There's no shortage of young Jews engaging as "more observant" than their elders, of independant minyanim, trichitzas, potlucks for eating habits across the spectrum, social justice Judaism as an outgrowth of halachah, and organizations that are helping build these new foundations out of what are really, the old bricks that we had forgotten about for oh, so long while we were busy becoming American: how about JFSJ, JUFJ, JFREJ - well, you all know the drill, we talk about them all the time here.

Bronfmans: we're waiting on you.

Crossposted to Jewschool

AgriProcessors: When abusing people and animals isn't enough

What? Again? Can't these people get it together?
Believe it or not, AgriProcessors is in the news again.

According to the Forward, in March and September of 2006 the USDA sent the AgriProcessors plant manager a “Letter of Warning” reviewing a series of problems, including: receiving 250 non-compliance records from the United States Department of Agriculture during 2006, five of them for inadequate safeguards against Mad Cow disease, and at least 18 records for fecal matter in the food production area (Including one, on December 26, in which the inspector wrote that during multiple checks of 10 chickens “fecal contamination varied between 70 and 80%.” and another, similar, citation a day later).
Oh, yeah! MMM. Take that, all you folks who buy kosher "because it's healthier." Granted, IMO, this is not a place whose products I would be sanguine about calling kosher, as we've seen reported here on Jewschool several rounds of violations of actual kashrut, as well as violations of other halachic obligations, including the acceptable treatment of workers. See: צִיּוֹן בְּמִשְׁפָּט תִּפָּדֶה וְשָׁבֶיהָ בִּצְדָקָה, Where’s the beef now? Kashrut update on Rubashkin’s, Another beef with kashrut in the news, and Kashrut Brouhaha Has Legs; just one month ago, Mobius added this gem to the treasury: Agriprocessors: Still trayfin’ it up,
and Failed Messiah continues to do a wonderful job documenting this unbelieveable, interminable scandal.

In case that all hasn't turned you veggie yet, just compare: the entire beef, poultry and egg industry had 34 recalls in 2006, AgriProcessors had two during the last eight months, both of them Class I, the highest risk level.

In case there's any doubt, I'd like to note that these items are not disconnected. As the Forward reports,

The documents were released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the United Food and Commercial Workers, which has been attempting to unionize the workers at the Postville plant. The documents all stem from incidents between January 1, 2006 and January 24, 2007. They are being released to the public by the UFCW at a press conference later today...
Jim Blau, assistant director of strategic resources at the United Food and Commercial Workers, said that workers at the plant tipped the union off to food safety problems. Blau said his organization, which represents close to 300,000 food production workers, was interested in dealing with the issues at AgriProcessors as a matter of protecting the industry.

“When you see things like this — it’s not good for the industry that there is a company that’s out there behaving like this,” Blau said.
Way back when, I spent some time working to organize workers in another industry. I want to emphasize that one of the reasons that it's so important to do so is because unions don't just protect the workers themselves. Unionized workers are able to report problems with lesser fear of reprisal. I myself know of several individuals who after whistle blowing, were protected by unions when their employer tried to fire them. It's not just a matter of some people you didn't really care about all that much who you'll never meet, and maybe who don't even speak your language.
That's pretty important according to Jewish law: they are to be protected, and paid honestly, and treated with respect. It's a Jewish obligation, and one which a kosher slaughterhouse ought to be obliged to meet before it can call itself in compliance with Jewish law. And let's not even review the problems of the slaughter itself, which fails to follow the law it claims to follow in order to make its ginormous profit off the wallets of Jews who are, essentially a captive audience (just try to find an independant shochet these days. I know of one, I'm sure there must be a few others - is there one in your city?).
But since self-interest is the cornerstone of progress, let's just say what's really going on: these folks have no qualms about doing whatever they want to increase profit. The limitations don't seem to be laws of kashrut directly pertaining to the meat itself, nor to the laws pertaining to the treatment of workers. Now it's apparent, they don't even care about the safety of the people eating the meat. It's in the best interest of the Jewish community to make sure that workers are safe and able to report on what's going on behind the scenes without threat of reprisal.
I don't know when the Tzedek Hechsher will be making its now long-promised appearance, but Baruch Hashem, it couldn't be too soon.
But don't worry, I'm sure this will all be brushed off as a plot by the liberal Jews or the anti-semites to harm Orthodoxy.

Whoa. I think steam is coming out of my eyeballs. Wait, I need to go have some sweet tea or something. Hold the burger, willya?

hattip to Arieh Lebowitz at the JLC
Cross-posted to Jewschool

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Let me be the first to say...

to my chavera and fellow blogger Danya Ruttenberg, who is getting married tomorrow. Wish I could be there chabiba!
A thousand years of happiness, and
אֲחֹתֵנוּ אַתְּ הֲיִי לְאַלְפֵי רְבָבָה וְיִירַשׁ זַרְעֵךְ אֵת שַׁעַר שֹֽנְאָֽיו

(Gen 24:60)

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Weird (music) science!

Hattipped by Boingboing, I zipped over to this page to view an rather interesting music product demonstration video (below) which I heartily recommend to anyone who is a fan of weirdness, robots, music ...or the 80's. Really, all that kept running through my head during the video was flashes from that movie "Weird Science."
The 80's live!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Whee! MoCo sticks it to the man!

Yes, we love living here in Montgomery County MD, where, as The Consumerist reports:
Montgomery County, MD, also known as the county that fined Comcast $12,281.84 for not answering the phone quickly enough, has issued a press release warning consumers to opt-out of Comcast's unfair arbitration clause.

Boy, they are mad! From Montgomery County:

The Comcast Arbitration Notice - which was sent out without County approval - attempts to change the terms of the subscriber agreement and limit subscriber rights. The subscriber's best protection is to "opt out" of the policy within 30 days from the date of receipt of the bill.

"We are concerned about this Arbitration Notice because it uses a negative option technique to deny consumers the opportunity to affirmatively accept the change in their service agreement with Comcast," said County Executive Isiah Leggett. "Vendors should not change the terms of service without first receiving the consent of the consumer, and the fact that Comcast has not done this is disturbing."

"The County Council has always been a strong advocate for consumers and there should be no exceptions with the cable industry. It is important that customers know and exercise their rights," said Marilyn Praisner, President of the Montgomery County Council.

"Comcast's unilateral action to change the subscriber agreement, with an artificial 30-day deadline, is simply anti-consumer," said County Council member Duchy Trachtenberg, Chair of the Management and Fiscal Policy Committee. "The Management and Fiscal Policy Committee continues to scrutinize Comcast's performance, but in this case, we already know what urgent action needs to be taken. To preserve your legal rights, go online to and opt out now."

Consumerist doesn't like arbitration clauses, because a recent study by the Christian Science Monitor shows that arbitrators rule for the companies that are responsible for their paychecks a disproportionate amount of the time. We think opting out is good advice.

Don't mess with Montgomery County!

Which would be great and all (we got the notice!) if only there was another option. Say, we could get some other company than Comcast at our address. We can't. We hate Comcast. They stink. They charge for all kinds of narishkeit. They made us get a more expensive account because we were downloading -note: within the terms of our contract with them - in the top five percent of downloaders. They told us they would terminate our contract - they didn't even say, "unless you stop downloading so much," it was just - we were downloading more than they liked, even though it was what we were paying for, so we had to get a business account, which we shouldn't have needed. By the terms of the contract we had. It was final, they were terminating our contract with them. Oh, BTW, unless...
SO yeah. Yeah for monopolies.

Life at Minimum Wage

I suspect no one who reads this blog is going to be shocked by the news that money buys less than it used to. Yes, its' true what the old fogies say, everything really is more expensive.
But for a moment, let's consider what that means to not only those of us who work for minimum wage, but also most of the rest of us - that is to say, everyone except the small number of people who have gotten exponentially wealtheri due to Republican efforts to give welfare to the well off (and take it away from the undeserving poor - that is: you)

The center for American Progress has created a chart showing how this breaks out:
For example: "A week of hamburger dinners for a family of four, for example, is roughly $20 more expensive today than it was in 1997—an increase of nearly 40 percent."

Today's wage increase is long-overdue progress: before today, the minimum wage was at its lowest level in 50 years. A family of three supported by one minimum-wage earner lived roughly $5,400 below the federal poverty line—earning just $10,700 every year. Now that family will bring in $12,168 before taxes, and when the wage reaches $7.25 in 2009, they'll earn a little over $15,000. It's a start, but it's not enough: the federal poverty level for a family of three is $17,170. More and more generous increases are required to ensure that every American worker earns enough to support his or her family. The United States is the wealthiest country in the world—one in which the phrase "working poor" should not apply to anyone.

Full story here

Those of us who are owners of businesses need to do less fighting against efforts to even out the income disparities. I realise that, in fact, many business owners are struggling too, but good ethics are good business. Let your workers unionize, give them benefits, work out ways for the parents to have flex time or other ways that they can care adequately for their children. And don't forget about your maids.

More ammunition for the (pro) circumcision wars

According to Reuters, a new study from researchers at McGill University, published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, have revealed what lots of people have known all along: circumcision has no effect on sexual sensation.

There's lots of things I could say here, but the truth is, this study doesn't much matter. For those who are determined to stop circumcision, this won't make any difference - they'll go on touting the flawed studies they've been using (one big problem that I noted a while back with those studies- they relied on men circumcised as adults, and also several of them on men who were unhappy with their circumcisions. Um, durr) and for those who are commanded to circumcise, well as they ought, they'll go on circumcisiing. Because in the end, that's the reason one does it. Not because it's healthier for their sexual partners, or because it lowers the (relatively miniscule anyway) risk of penile cancer. Circumcision for Muslims and Jews is because God commanded it. That's it. Move along now.

The "Status Quo" is a state of woe

According to the Jpost, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called Sunday on religious and secular cabinet ministers to reach a compromise on legislation that would expand Rabbinic Court jurisdiction in divorce cases. "Feminists," which apparently means any women with a grain of sense, are protesting this bill as discriminatory against women.
It seems to me that this is somewhat of an understatement. The Rabbinic Courts have long been er, discriminatory against women; that is to say, they tend to arbitrate in favor of the husband, and extort money (that is, money that would normally be part of her financial rights in the divorce, such as child support) from a woman before granting her release from her husband. That is, in cases where he will grant her a divorce at all, since by and large the religious courts don't much force the issue (there have been a few exceptional cases where the husband has been jailed for failing to give a get, but by and large, this problem - which could be halachically solved, and has been by the Masorti movement, and will not be, by the Orthodox, because the options that they once considered acceptable were adopted by the Masorti movement, making them treif by association- remains an enormous one for Orthodox women, in which the courts demand that she submit to all sorts of craziness in order for them to pressure the husband to give her a divorce).

According to the JPost article

Rabbinic Courts Administration spokeswoman Efrat Orbach said the proposed legislation would simply maintain the status quo.

"The Supreme Court recently overturned decades of precedent during which the Rabbinic Courts litigated in monetary matters connected with the divorce process, even after the husband gave his ex the divorce writ," Orbach said.

"This bill simply anchors in law what has been common practice for a long time now."

Because Israeli law needs to have more religious control. the hegemony not being yet complete. This is a terrible idea. The status quo is not such a beautiful thing that it needs to be "anchored in law." To the contrary, the status quo is quite broken and needs to be fixed.

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