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 www.comcast.com/arbitrationoptout 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.

xp to Jewschool

Weird video - white noise

I kinda like the idea, but...it's pretty weird. It's how to make white noise at a protest to drown out a speaker. Pretty simple to do....

Monday, July 30, 2007

I don't need one of these yet, but....

I'm sure in a few years, I will (gleefully?) drop something like this over my DS's head.
As reported by Muqata: "Israel passed a law that all company cars need a sign on them with a phone number to report vehicular traffic violations."

Translation: How am I behaving? Connect Here....{number]

Full post at Muqata

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Welcome to the Jungle

Over on Salon, there's an article about how the quinceanera has become an over-the-top extravaganza which lacks its traditional meaning, and often causes parents to "throw the house out the window." Sound familiar to anyone here?

Let's just say,m the stories that I've heard as a rabbi about parents hiring strippers, having a girl celebrating her bat-mitzvah with a gambling theme and being carried in on the shoulders of two African American men, the Titanic debacle, and so forth, simply makes me wish all those Mexicano parents - good luck, and, be glad you don't have to have one for your sons, too.

And just on that note, I'd like to remind folks that there is a campaign to make bnei mitzvah (as well as other Jewish celebrations) more meaningful and less vulgar, called the ethical smachot campaign.

Why I love credit unions

Okay, I have no idea what BC credit union is, but I belong to several myself other than that one, and it's true, credit unions jsut give better sevice. See below:

A couple of weeks ago, I visited the BC credit union website to search for an ATM close by. The search found 4 that I went looking for, only to find that one didn’t exist at all, two were much further south than shown on the map, and the other one was 10 minutes east of where the map showed it to be. The experience was pretty frustrating, so I sent them an email to let them know what had happened. I gave them details on my search parameters, the results, and the ensuing frustration.

This reply came from Alana a few days later … “Thank you very much for bringing this matter to our attention. I can understand your frustration of being misdirected by us. We were unaware of any problems with the ATM mapping feature on our website, and upon receiving your email have been in contact with our technology partners to ensure that all mapping errors are corrected as quickly as possible. The specific information you have provided us with has definitely helped us narrow down where the issue exists, and we truly appreciate the time you have taken to send us this information.”

Now, that’s a sincere response (not like the duck complaint). She asked for my mailing address … I assumed to send me a card. What arrived knocked our socks off! On Friday, while we were in the city, we got a call from a courier to arrange a delivery time for a pie. Cool - just what we needed, because we were having company for dinner and Patrick didn’t have time to make dessert.

But this was no ordinary pie! It was GI-NOR-MOUS!!! Imagine a 4.5 lb pie in a reusable pie plate, packed in a wooden crate filled with strips of “thank you” paper, with the note of thanks I had been expecting. The pie’s ingredients were also listed with instructions … it was so fresh that it is recommended to finish it within 5 days. It will definitely be finished by Wednesday, if not before! Although that will require us to eat some fairly large pieces - life is rough .

Can you say “customer service”?!? I have two kudos to send out here - one to the BC Credit Union for sending the pie and one for person who started The Acme Humble Pie Co - what a great business concept! If you EVER need to send an apology or thank you, please consider using this company - you will definitely earn some brownie points in the process from the recipient!

from Mommy musings Hattip to The Consumerist

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

This even tops the last post

From the blog "For your entertainment"

"If you only watch one YouTube movie today featuring dancing country farmer's daughters contortionists singing about potato salad, it should be this one."

I really have nothing to add to that.

Hattip to Boingboing

No! No!

From SFScope

Weekly World News Shutting Down
By Ian Randal Strock July 21, 2007

While it isn't strictly a genre publication, and it does bill itself as "The World's Only Reliable Newspaper," the editor has decided that this announcement does fall within SFScope's purview:

American Media has decided to suspend publication of Weekly World News, both the print publication and the web site. No reason was given at press time, although reliable sources do tell us that management turned down at least one offer to buy the publication.

The weekly supermarket tabloid—known as the home of "Bat Boy" and other less-than-probable stories—has long had staffing connections with the science fiction, fantasy, and horror fields.

And don't miss the WaPo take on this devastating tragedy. The guy in the picture is George Bush. Maybe the aliens feel guilty.

From where am I going to get horoscopes like my all time favorite: "Beware of Door knobs," now? For that matter what am I going to read on plane trips now?
Say it ain't so! I am devastated!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Ridiculous test of the week

Your Score: Akkadian

You scored

You are Akkadian, a blend of the incomprehensible symbols of the Sumerians with the unwritable sounds of the early Semitic peoples. However, the writing just doesn't suit the words and doesn't represent everything needed, so you end up a schizoid mess. Invented in Babylon, you're probably to blame for that tower story. However, crazy as you are, you're much loved and appreciated, and remain actively in use by records keepers long after schools have switched to other languages.

Link: The Which Ancient Language Are You Test written by imipak on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the The Dating Persona Test

Kamtza, Bar Kamtza, the nine days, and a robber

I had actually planned to blog about this last week, when the article appeared in a local newspaper, but forgot about it until I stumbled across it again in a friend's blog.

I'm glad, though, that I ended up waiting, because now I'm in Tisha B'Av mode, and this is a story that in some ways is perfectly suited for that day. Probably everyone has already readthis story, but just in case you somehow missed it:

A grand feast of marinated steaks and jumbo shrimp was winding down, and a group of friends was sitting on the back patio of a Capitol Hill home, sipping red wine. Suddenly, a hooded man slid in through an open gate and put the barrel of a handgun to the head of a 14-year-old guest.

"Give me your money, or I'll start shooting," he demanded, according to D.C. police and witness accounts.

The five other guests, including the girls' parents, froze -- and then one spoke.

"We were just finishing dinner," Cristina "Cha Cha" Rowan, 43, blurted out. "Why don't you have a glass of wine with us?"

The intruder took a sip of their Chateau Malescot St-Exupéry and said, "Damn, that's good wine."

The girl's father, Michael Rabdau, 51, who described the harrowing evening in an interview, told the intruder, described as being in his 20s, to take the whole glass. Rowan offered him the bottle. The would-be robber, his hood now down, took another sip and had a bite of Camembert cheese that was on the table.

Then he tucked the gun into the pocket of his nylon sweatpants.

"I think I may have come to the wrong house," he said, looking around the patio of the home in the 1300 block of Constitution Avenue NE.

"I'm sorry," he told the group. "Can I get a hug?"

So, this is not a particularly unusual story these days, is it? At least, not up until the end.

This is a story about how people can affect their fate through the way they treat one another. Tisha B’av, too, is a story of how human interaction can have profound consequences. Many people ask to day what relevance Tisha B’av has, why we still observe a holiday about the destruction of Jerusalem. I think though, that in looking through what the rabbis themselves have to say about Tisha B’Av, it will become clear just how relevant it remains.

The rabbis exlain the fall of the second temple in
T. Bavli Gittin 55b-56a ff.

Rabbi Yohanan said: What is illustrative of the verse, Happy is the man that feareth always, but he that hardeneth his heart shall fall into mischief? [Prov 28:14] The destruction of Jerusalem came through a Kamtza and a Bar Kamtza [lit.'locust and son of locust' The meaning is that a very trivial cause set in motion the train of events which led to the destruction of Jerusalem] …. The destruction of Jerusalem came through a Kamtza and a Bar Kamtza in this way. A certain man had a friend, Kamtza and an enemy, Bar Kamtza. He once made a party and said to his servant, Go and bring Kamtza. The man went and brought Bar Kamtza. When the man [who gave the party] found him there he said, See, you tell tales about me; what are you doing here? Get out. Said the other: Since I am here, let me stay, and I will pay you for whatever I eat and drink.

He said, I won't. Then let me give you half the cost of the party. No, said the other. Then let me pay for the whole party. He still said, No, and he took him by the hand and put him out. Said the other, Since the Rabbis were sitting there and did not stop him, this shows that they agreed with him. I will go and inform against them, to the Government. He went and said to the Emperor, The Jews are rebelling against you. He said, How can I tell? He said to him: Send them an offering and see whether they will offer it [on the altar]. So he sent with him a fine calf. While on the way he made a blemish on its upper lip, or as some say on the white of its eye, in a place where we [Jews] count it a blemish but they do not. The Rabbis were inclined to offer it in order not to offend the Government. Said Rabbi Zechariah ben Abkulas to them: People will say that blemished animals are offered on the altar. They then proposed to kill Bar Kamtza so that he should not go and inform against them, but R. Zechariah b. Abkulas said to them, Is one who makes a blemish on consecrated animals to be put to death? R. Yohanan thereupon remarked: Through the scrupulousness of R. Zechariah b. Abkulas our House has been destroyed, our Temple burnt and we ourselves exiled from our land....

(page 57a). It has been taught: Rabbi Elazar said, Come and see [from this incident] how serious a thing it is to put a man to shame, for God espoused the cause of Bar Kamtza and destroyed His House and burnt His Temple. גיטין דף נה.ב

אמר רבי יוחנן, מאי דכתיב: )משלי כ"ח( אשרי אדם מפחד תמיד ומקשה לבו יפול ברעה? אקמצא ובר קמצא חרוב ירושלים, אתרנגולא ותרנגולתא חרוב טור מלכא, אשקא דריספק חרוב ביתר. אקמצא ובר קמצא חרוב ירושלים, דההוא גברא דרחמיה קמצא ובעל דבביה בר קמצא, עבד סעודתא, אמר ליה לשמעיה: זיל אייתי לי קמצא, אזל אייתי ליה בר קמצא. אתא אשכחיה דהוה יתיב, אמר ליה: מכדי ההוא גברא בעל דבבא דההוא גברא הוא, מאי בעית הכא? קום פוקִ אמר ליה: הואיל ואתאי שבקן, ויהיבנא לך דמי מה דאכילנא ושתינא,

גיטין דף נו.א

אמר ליה: לא. אמר ליה: יהיבנא לך דמי פלגא דסעודתיךִ אמר ליה: לא. אמר ליה: יהיבנא לך דמי כולה סעודתיךִ א"ל: לא. נקטיה בידיה ואוקמיה ואפקיה. אמר: הואיל והוו יתבי רבנן ולא מחו ביה, ש"מ קא ניחא להו, איזיל איכול בהו קורצא בי מלכא. אזל אמר ליה לקיסר: מרדו בך יהודאיִ א"ל: מי יימר? א"ל: שדר להו קורבנא, חזית אי מקרבין ליה. אזל שדר בידיה עגלא תלתא. בהדי דקאתי שדא ביה מומא בניב שפתים, ואמרי לה ־ בדוקין שבעין, דוכתא דלדידן הוה מומא ולדידהו לאו מומא הוא. סבור רבנן לקרוביה משום שלום מלכות, אמר להו רבי זכריה בן אבקולס, יאמרו: בעלי מומין קריבין לגבי מזבחִ סבור למיקטליה, דלא ליזיל ולימא, אמר להו רבי זכריה, יאמרו: מטיל מום בקדשים יהרגִ אמר רבי יוחנן: ענוותנותו של רבי זכריה בן אבקולס, החריבה את ביתנו, ושרפה את היכלנו, והגליתנו מארצנו.

תניא, אמר רבי אלעזר: בא וראה כמה גדולה כחה של בושה, שהרי סייע הקב"ה את בר קמצא, והחריב את ביתו ושרף את היכלו.

In midrash rabbah, there is another version of this story in which bar Kamtza specifically asks not to be put to shame by being thrown out, and which also places Rabbi Zechariyah ben Avkulos at the party, saying: ’ R. Zechariah ben Avkulos, who was present, could have prevented [the host from treating the man in this manner] but did not intervene.

So what exactly is the flaw here? It's clear from the rabbis' comments, that the sin that levelled Jerusalem was the shaming of bar kamtza. But was it? The rabbis go on, and we see this rounded out by the additional telling in the midrash, to sy that really, the fall of Jerusalem was on their shoulders, not because of the shaming of bar kamtza, but beasue the rabbis stood by and did nothing (or at least one rabbi, R. Zechariah Ben Avkulos) while bar kamtza was publically shamed.

Curiously, though, the Maharal points out that in fact, the introduction says that Kamtza and Bar Kamtza both caused the fall of Jerusalem. But how can this be? Kamtza, after all, was not even present.

Maharal explains that when the atmosphere is one of hatred, people seek allies in their disputes with their many enemies and call them their friends. Such a friendship reflects not true human warmth, but rather the calculating partnership of the hostile. If so, even the host's friendship with Kamtza was part of the corruption that characterized the Jewish society of the time. (The excellent translation was by Dovid Gottlieb and comes from Amit Magazine, Summer 2007).

The rabbi say elsewhere in the Talmud in Yoma 9b

Why was the first Sanctuary destroyed? Because of three [evil] things which prevailed there: idolatry, immorality, bloodshed. Idolatry, …

…But why was the second Sanctuary destroyed, seeing that in its time they were occupying themselves with Torah, [observance of] precepts, and the practice of charity? Because therein prevailed sinat chinam - hatred without cause. That teaches you that groundless hatred is considered as of even gravity with the three sins of idolatry, immorality, and bloodshed together . מקדש ראשון מפני מה חרב? מפני שלשה דברים שהיו בו: עבודה זרה, וגלוי עריות, ושפיכות דמים.

... אבל מקדש שני, שהיו עוסקין בתורה ובמצות וגמילות חסדים מפני מה חרב? מפני שהיתה בו שנאת חנם. ללמדך ששקולה שנאת חנם כנגד שלש עבירות: עבודה זרה, גלוי עריות, ושפיכות דמים. רשעים היו, אלא שתלו בטחונם בהקדוש ברוך הוא.

What are the sins that we have addressed here: shaming another person, seeing someone put to shame and not acting, baseless hatred.
R. Yosef Chayyim of Baghdad (the Ben Ish Chai, in his work, Ben Yehoyada) says that the gemara is purposeful in saying that what appears to be a minor event is ultimately the cause for the destruction. Unlike in the destruction of the first Temple, sinat chinam often seems to be a low-key matter and not a mojr sin - perhaps because they are sins of omission, rather than commission - passive, rather than active in nature.
But from these seemingly tiny little gestures, come enormous consequences. We often think that we are too small to effect great change to make society change for the better on a large scale, and yet, these acts, which we can affect are cumulative acts – and their outcome can affect entire societies.
As a final question, I ask: why do we continue to mourn the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem while we have regained sovereignty over the land of Israel?
Consider the following:
What is our responsibility in American acts of torture against captives at places like Guantanamo?
Have we protested the $450 million-a-year prostitution industry centered around Tel Aviv, the .trafficking of women in Israel?
When we pass by a homeless person in the street, do we look him in the face and greet him, do we give him money or assistance?
Have we acted to alleviate poverty in this country and in Israel, where, since the implementation of the Wisconsin plan, thousands of Jews (and many non-Jews as well) have lost social welfare benefits, and go hungry along with their children?

Tisha B’Av is not only the low point of our year, it is a marker of the next season to come – that of repentance. But as we know, repentance is meaningless without action. And Tisha B’Av in particular is a reminder of the sins beneath the surface, the ones that we think are okay because they are passive: hatred, failure to act.

The tamlud states (in Shabbat): Whoever can forbid his household [to commit a sin] but does not, is seized for [the sins of] his household; [if he can forbid] his fellow citizens, he is seized for [the sins of] his fellow citizens; if the whole world, he is seized for [the sins of] the whole world.

Sinat chinam seems like it might be a huge sin, but when we fail to act on the everyday wrongs that we know of, we are considered by God to be responsible, just as the rabbis of Jerusalem were held responsible - held themselves responsible- for seeing bar kamtza shamed at the hands of his enemy.
The commentary at the end, which scolds Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulos for then following up by failing to take either a stand by sacrificing a blemished animal or killing bar Kamtza is a hint that the rabbis thought that he should have a. foreseen t e consequences of allowing one enemy to shame another - the escalation of a personal grievance to one that will take over society, and b. that they were subtly telling us that when we consider what Jewish law , halakhah, requires of us, we too often - among those of us who take it seriously, or believe we do- weight ritual matters far more greatly than ethical ones. This isn't to say, of course, that the rabbis thought that ignoring ethical matters is in any way acceptible, but rather the opposite, that we can't possibly be taking either ritual or ethical matters seriously, unless we count them both as equal; that we do not really worship God, unless we worship by considering our actions ben adam l'cahvero- betwen human beings- as part and parcel as those of ben adam l'makom - between humans and God. For, after all, if we don't take our responsibilties to those who are like us, whom we can see, and with whom we have the ability to interact, and somewtimes over whom we have power, then our worship of God isn't ahavat hashem - love of God, but at best a kind of cringing yirat shamayim - but not in a good sense, but rather, more like a "you have power over me, please don't hurt me, even though I don't take that caution to care for others when I am in the position of acting as the image of God in having power over others" B'tzelem elohim in its meaning of a shadow of God, having some of the powers of God.
And I would ask us to think of even our enemies, those whom we have written off as people whom we cannot speak to, who will not negotiate with us, who hate us without reason. The Talmud never explains why bar kamtza is the man’s enemy – it makes a suggestion (you carry tales) but that clearly isn't the whole story - but the Talmud doesn't fill us in because it doesn’t matter. What matters is bar kamtza suffering humiliation at his enemy’s hands.
We are not excused from responsibility for shaming even our enemies, and it is worthwhile to consider what that may mean: if for nothing else than the practical reason that shaming one’s enemies my lead to one’s own destruction.

But the opposite may be true too. I end with a story from the Holocaust:

By Yaffa Eliach
(from Yaffa Eliach, Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust. New York: Avon Books, 1982. Pages 129-30. Used by permission of the author. Dr. Eliach writes that this story was "based on my conversation with an elderly Hasidic personality."
Near the city of Danzig lived a well-to-do Hasidic Rabbi, scion of prominent Hasidic dynasties. Dressed in a tailored black suit, wearing a top hat, and carrying a silver walking cane, the rabbi would take his daily morning stroll, accompanied by his tall, handsome son-in-law.
During his morning walk it was the rabbi's custom to greet every man, woman, and child whom he met on his way with a warm smile and a cordial "Good morning." Over the years the rabbi became acquainted with many of his fellow townspeople this way and would always greet them by their proper title and name.
Near the outskirts of town, in the fields, he would exchange greetings with Herr Mueller, a Polish Volksdeutsche (ethnic German). "Good morning, Herr Mueller!" the rabbi would hasten to greet the man who worked in the fields. "Good morning, Herr Rabbiner!" would come the response with a good-natured smile.
Then the war began. The rabbi's strolls stopped abruptly. Herr Mueller donned an S.S. uniform and disappeared from the fields.(*) The fate of the rabbi was like that of much of the rest of Polish Jewry. He lost his family in the death camp of Treblinka, and, after great suffering, was deported to Auschwitz.
One day, during a selection at Auschwitz, the rabbi stood on line with hundreds of other Jews awaiting the moment when their fates would be decided, for life or death. Dressed in a striped camp uniform, head and beard shaven and eyes feverish from starvation and disease, the rabbi looked like a walking skeleton.
"Right! Left, left, left!" The voice in the distance drew nearer. Suddenly the rabbi had a great urge to see the face of the man with the snow-white gloves, small baton, and steely voice who played God and decide who should live and who should die. His lifted his eyes and heard his own voice speaking:
"Good morning, Herr Mueller!"
"Good morning, Herr Rabbiner!" responded a human voice beneath the S.S. cap adorned with skull and bones. "What are you doing here?" A faint smile appeared on the rabbi's lips. The baton moved to the right - to life. The following day, the rabbi was transferred to a safer camp.
The rabbi, now in his eighties, told me in his gentle voice, "This is the power of a good-morning greeting. A man must always greet his fellow man."
(*)After the German occupation of Poland, many Volksdeutschen were eager to serve the Nazi cause. They joined the Nazis and took revenge upon their Polish neighbors in reprisal for the alleged anti-Volksdeutschen pogroms that took place in Poland in the late 1930's. See Hans Schadeaaldt, comp., Polish Acts of Atrocity against the German Minority in Poland: Documenting Evidence, published for the German Foreign Office (Berlin/New York, 1940).

And if he does not even respond to a greeting, he is called a robber, as it says, “That which was robbed from the poor is in your houses.” (Isaiah 3:14) [Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 6b]"

Why women get classes

Check out this post from Treppenwitz on discovering why his local macho lumberyard only offered carpentry classes to women.

I think this is a rippingly funny story: In my house, though, I'm pleased to say, we're both pretty handy. My spouse used to fix cars for a living (at one short period of his life. He did lots of other stuff, too) and is pretty knowledgeable about computers.

I, OTOH, whenever I work in an office, am always designated the person to call before calling tech, because I can usually fix just about any office appliance by poking at it long enough. of course, the danger with that is that I occasionally break them, too.
Which is my third point: part of the reason guys are so hard to re-teach is because they have experience and are taught from very young that it's okay to fool with things, whereas girls tend to be taught to call someone or find out how to fix it by asking someone or reading a book, and better get it right the first time, or give up and ask someone "more knowledgeable."

In my house, though, my father was always starting projects ...and leaving them unfinished, whereas my mother, although not particularly handy with large tools, at least as far as I've ever seen, used to sculpt and do crafty things, so I was never afraid of handling tools,albeit small ones, and graduated up to large ones in high school because I was too shy to act, and I sucked at acting, anyway (If only they could see me up on the bimah now).
SO, tools? No problem. I went from soldering irons and chisels and screwdrivers, to jigsaws, hammers, and well, pulling fax machines apart.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A blog to check out

My chaver, The Radical Cleric, has started a new blog in which he documents and muses about life in J'slm and the west coast of the USA. I'm adding him to my blogroll, and I encourage you to check him out. And by the by, he has up a great post on the tragic deportation of the Sudanese from Israel - not to mention what they're doing with them in the meantime ...prison. Without, at the moment, water, electricity or plumbing.

Check it out

Real life uses of high school math

OK, I have to admit that I don't actually eat at Subway, but still this is pretty rippingly funny:

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Beware waldemart, they've got your number

This reminds me of a bumpersticker I saw a long time ago equating a certain presidential candidate to Voldemort.

But seriously, this is a serious issue, well treated in a funny way. They who shall not be mentioned destroy economies, mistreat employees, and rip off our national support systems so that we can pay higher taxes for them to pay lower wages.

Hattip to Danya

Eerie 1952 comic on Iran situation

I just make it available, I don't invent this stuff.

From a 1952 T-Man comic, courtesy of Boingboing

Thursday, July 12, 2007

A hoary old joke...

One Saturday Morning, a mother went into the bedroom to wake her son and tell him it was time to get ready to go to the Synagogue, to which he replied : "I'm... not... going."

"Why not?" she asked sternly.

"I'll give you two good reasons," he said. "One, they don't like me,
and two, I don't like them."

His mother replied:

"I'll give YOU two good reasons why you MUST go to the Synagogue.
ONE you're 54 years old, and TWO, you're the Rabbi..."

I'm sorry, I.... just can't help myself

From Salon

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

my very favorite song ever

No really. I love this song!

Fish heads, fish heads, roly poly fish heads
fish heads, fish heads, eat them up, yum!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Um, ....eeeeeeew.

All Nippon Airways. ANA's CEO Mineo Yamamoto confirmed that the new jets will feature warm jets - of water, that is - in their restrooms. Yamamoto proudly stated that the washlets will "refresh the parts other airlines cannot reach"... Wouldn't that look great on a billboard?

Apparently ANA is now going to feature potties that spray you with jets of warm water. Is it just me, or doesit give you the creepy crawlies to think of being sprayed in the nether parts by a public appliance?

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Gratitude, 4th of July issue

I don't usually, I admit, post July 4th patriotic whatevers. But this year, I've spent some of the past week going to the Smithsonian Folk life Festival on the Mall, and some of what I saw there moved me to reflect (if perhaps a bit belatedly) on being an American.
One of the things that I have found myself thinking over the years, when I try to reflect on being an American, is something that has its roots in a trip I took just before I began rabbinical school.
My in-laws had decided to do a stint in the Peace Corp, and ended up assigned to Ukraine. We took a trip there that summer, before I began, to visit them there. Ukraine, as you may recall has had an anti-Semitism problem for some time. They were pretty bad in the Shoah, and even now, they are not problem free. While I was there, though I had a bit of a revelation. As an American, I am used to looking around and not necessarily knowing by looking, anything about the people I see on the street. I can't guess what religion (if any) what nationality (except the occasionally really Irish-looking person or the like) and so on, a person is. In Ukraine, though, that's not the case. My in-laws told a story about a Peace Corp volunteer stationed there who, if I recall correctly, eventually had to be restationed elsewhere. It turns out that everywhere he went he was followed with suspicion. People were always concerned about what he might do. Now, you'd think in a country where there was precisely one black person in pretty much all the nation, the general thought would be that he wouldn't be able to get away with anything, so why worry, but this turns out not to be the case. But the truth is that even if he had not been that particularly outstandingly different, he might well be subjected to similar treatment: you see, in Ukraine, people really look rather alike. I kid you not.
I noticed very quickly that there were a short list of features and complexions available to native Ukrainians, and people in general tended to look rather similar to one another -even from one region to another. All of a sudden, I realised why anti-semitism was so easy there. Jews probably really did look different from everyone else. In a nation of pink-cheeked, heart-shaped faces (although not all blonde) the occasional slightly sallower complexion or pair of brown eyes really does stand out significantly. Not that that means is okay or good to persecute others because they look different, but it at least makes sense how easy it is to do.
Growing up in the USA, even in relatively isolated parts of this country, people have a variety of skin tones and colors. Even in isolated Appalachia and the Ozarks there were/are the "Portuguese," Native Americans and a variety of mixtures between these folks and the descendants of Africans, and let's face it, of Jews as well, who wandered out as single traders and often ended up married in to some isolated place some where (I'll never forget the first midwestern Levy I met who hadn't had a Jew in her family for five generations. Quite an interesting story).
Americans ultimately, are really from all over; we look it, too. There are few communities so isolated that they don't regularly see people who come in at least a couple of different shades. And truthfully, many of the really isolated communities in the USA really are great followers of the mind yer business school of thought about neighbors, anyway.
And that brings me to the Folklife Festival. I happen to really like this festival. I haven't been in a number of years, but I managed to get there this year. And being there reminded me so much of how different we really are in some ways: I love the people watching best of all, and in people watching, I got to admit to myself that there really wasn't much way to tell while watching, who I saw that was an American, who was a visitor, who was a guest of the festival there to perform of craft or demonstrate. Because we are and remain a country of immigrants. My little blonde-haired blue-eyed son loved to wander into the music tents, and while we were sitting listening to the music of Northern Ireland, we sat next to a family who appeared to be Indian or Pakistani -at some point- in origin - probably the grandparents weren't born here. The kids wore shorts, the mother wore a sort of adapted sari, Dad wore jeans, too. None of them had accents. While we were in the kids tent, and my DS was dancing some sort of dance to drums from a Vietnamese music group, we ran into another family from our shul; next to us was sitting a family headed by a matriarch wearing a lovely tignon who was clearly from the Caribbean, and there were a host of Asian families sitting around enjoying the music: all of us were videoing our kids with our phones as they danced together. While DS and I sat and listened the other day to a Virginia band play Warren Zevon (Again, I kid you not. Was Warren Zevon Virginian? They were playing Lawyers, Guns And Money) he charmed the anglo-looking guy with tats and bandanna, sitting on the top row of the bleachers , and the grandfathery looking African American guy sitting in front of him.

The state this year was Virginia. Along with the African heritage booth, the First Nations booths, the booths on peanuts and horses, there was a little section laid out for the Guatemalan heritage of Virginia. I didn't see any Guatemalans there, but certainly there were some Latinos enjoying spring rolls over my the Mekong delta food area.

I find it hard to believe that the conversation about immigration here proceeds in quite the way it does these days. I mean, I suppose way back when, the First Nations had similar conversations, but I believe that now we're a bit too far into it to go there. All I can say is thank God for this land where I can't look at anyone and tell whether there "one of us" or not. That way any of us can be "One of us." And b'tzelem elohim, really, we all are.
God bless America.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Bush commutes sentence of Scooter Libby

According to CNN:
"In a written statement commuting the jail sentence, issued hours after Monday's ruling, Bush called the sentence "excessive," and suggested that Libby will pay a big enough price for his conviction."

Strangely, Bush has made no attempt to commute other overly harsh sentences, such as those charged on the so-called "three-strikes" laws, or for that matter, people being held without charges, at all.

Added later, the astute comments of my old friend Paul:
Bush Commutes Libby's Sentence: 2.5 Years too Much for Rich, White Man

Scooter Libby won't be going to jail. President Bush commuted his sentence last night, leaving the conviction intact, but excising the punishement.

"I respect the jury's verdict," Bush said in a statement. "But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Libby is excessive."

Critics are crying foul, but Bush's record of opposing harsh and excessive sentencing is strong. As Governor of Texas, he presided over 152 executions in 6 years, all preceded by a review, and many by a full fledged clemency request. He granted clemency only once. Executee retarded or possibly innocent? Didn't matter.


And his record on pardons is similarly sterling:

"Bush granted 19 of the 149 pardons "for innocence" or compassion that were urged by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, an official review body for such requests. Scholars at the University of Pittsburgh have said that was the lowest number by any Texas governor since the 1940s."


UPDATE 10:43 PM 7/5: See this wonderful rant by Keith Olbermann hattip to Merde