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Brookline, MA, United States
I'll post rants here, and musings; articles and thoughts about articles. I'll keep it quite complex and yet astoundingly simple: whatever it is I am interested in at any given moment.

Friday, November 28, 2008

ואכלת ושבעת

I still miss the days of eating a large pizza in one setting (Imo's, preferably) and can, on occasion, still put many to shame. But in honor of Thanksgiving weekend and my impending all-you-can-eat birthday party, check this out.

A shout-out to copious food:
- the Copper Kettle (ז"ל) (I never went for the pancakes, but there was that $20.00 breakfast with Ben Lewis)
- any meal at 3-28 Kenneth Ave, 07410
- Marilynn Zimmerman (ז"ל) catering
- cheap barbeques on Nativ 19
- the deep-fryer at Eagle River Lanes
- Imo's, Little Caesar's, Pizza Hut (lunch buffet, of course), Coronet's, et al.
- breakfast buffet at a reputable Best Western
- any table with a bunch of נבונות and you in (חדר אוכל החדש (הישן זצ"ל תנצב"ה
- Monday night's at Eden Wok (though it's revolting)
- the Krispy Kreme bakery during Wausau - נבונים '04
- lunch with Guy in תל אביב
- Decks
- Scott and Rebecca's room at camp, at any moment in time
- my mini-fridge in Goldberg, 2000-2001
- dining at Penn (favorites: Late Night in Stouffer; King's Court/English House; Irv's)
- the dinner buffet at New Delhi (w/ Zachary)
- צדקיהו's (ז"ל - the 2nd go-round just isn't the first)
- the Harrises' fridge, and anything Nina makes
- Walker Bros.' Pancake House
- that Irish buffet place we used to eat at in St. Louis
- Friendly's
- Perkin's
- Shoney's breakfast bar (ערב פסח in New Orleans with the Finkelsteins)
- post-summer meals at Riverstone

Added November 28

- קיבוץ סעד
- the כפר עזה Subway - especially the 6+-foot version enjoyed by Kessler, Milgrom-Ellcot, Schwartz, Cella, Caplan, and me - anyone wanna guess who ate everyone else into oblivion?
- Norman's (ז"ל)
- Prime Grill
- Mr. Broadway's (I love the pastrami-plus-chopped liver sandwich: heart-attack surrounded by rye)
- bottomless bowl of fruit, כיכר
- Pappagaio (though it hurts the next morning)

The memories.

Two oversights:
Uncle Bill's (SAC)
Allegro's (props to RML)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Madame Prime Minister, Your Hijab is Askew

JAR asked me the other night if I feel stifled in Jerusalem, where "there's no culture," as opposed to Tel Aviv. I responded that I don't really need "high" culture per se (I was raised mostly in that bastion of avant-gardism, suburban St. Louis) and that Jerusalem provides me precisely what I most lacked as a child: a rich intellectual culture.

That being said, Jerusalem's traffic jams and endless uphill climbs are not my only pet peeves; I also struggle as a Liberal (that's of the Lockean, post-Enlightenment variety, not the draft card/bra-burning, Karl Rove-pidgeon-holing type [though I'm also one of those]) in a city that with some regularity shows signs that more than the extent walls of the Old City are from the Middle Ages.

A certain two-time former counselor of mine told me shortly before the recent municipal elections that a party he supported - התעוררות (awakening) - consisting of six relatively youthful candidates (in contrast, I suppose, to the three plutocrats running for mayor) were told that their campaign posters, featuring pictures of their three female candidates, could not be posted on buses (it was unclear, according to aforementioned 2x former counselor of mine, if this was the policy of the bus company, אגד, or of the city itself) because there is a policy not to put women's faces on buses. Considering that the largest political bloc in the country (at least until the election), the sort-of-centrist Kadimah, is running a woman as their candidate for Prime Minister (after said woman, Tzipi Livni, could not put together a governing coalition), and that political advertisements with the candidate's picture (or a cartoon version of that picture) are omnipresent, this could be big news.

A few days later, I saw a woman's face on the side of a bus, so I dismissed the rumor, but now it seems like maybe it's a little more complicated than either my former counselor or I thought. Because this morning Ha'aretz reports that Livni has had problems with her billboards in Jerusalem being defaced.

Not to open a Pandora's can of worms (yes, I just mixed metaphors) but I'll restate: A significant problem with the notion of Jewish peoplehood is that the polarization and crystallization of the culture wars make me feel like I have more in common with secular liberals all over the world than religious fanatics - in Israel and elsewhere - who make my skin crawl. To put it glibly - I am not sure how cultures handled the disappearance of common enemies (fascists, Lenin-Stalinists) in the past - but we clearly have not achieved that. And it is still not clear to me, seven years after what was to be a Pearl Harbor moment in the clash between Jihadism and America, if the enemy is monolothic enough and scary enough to unite us behind a common approach to defeating that enemy.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Shaking in their Boots ... on the Sidelines

Ha'aretz reports that, for the first time since pre-Teddy Kollek Jerusalem (i.e., divided Jerusalem), ultra-Orthodox political parties are not a part of the municipal governing coalition.

Though no one ever responds to my cute little questions, here's a pop-quiz for all your smarty-folk out there: Why is this week so appropriate for news about our favorite wanna-be 17th Century Polish nobels?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


I never knew one would even think of shampooing with soap (I mean, I guess, technically, that every time I wash any part of my body I'm "shampooing" - and I do use soap, but anyway) until this Peter King doozy in "Aggravating Travel Note of the Week:"
Thumbs up and thumbs down for big Marriotts, like the Marriott Westshore in Tampa. The Good: High-def TVs in the rooms are very welcome. Thank you. Nice to be able to watch the Browns-Bills with a great picture last Monday, even if I only lasted 'til midway through the second quarter.

The Bad: Marriotts simply have to change their shampoo. On overnight trips I often don't bring my full toiletry kit, so I can skate through security and not check a bag. So I find myself using whatever shampoo is in the hotel. Marriotts have been using some Bath and Body Works girly shampoo for the past year or so, and when I get out of the shower, the perfume smell is revolting. Shampooing with soap is the only option -- a grotesque one, but a necessary evil now -- to avoid smelling like a woman.

Can't you put no-smell or low-smell shampoo in the rooms, Mr. Marriott? I know you'll scoff at the toiletries in Hampton Inns, but the freebie Purity shampoo there, relatively scentless, is the way to go.

I want to be Peter King when I grow up.

(5 minutes later)

But wait, there's more goofy goodness:

I think one of the big problems with the NFL's system of fines is this: Jared Allen was tolled $25,000 the other day for a late hit on Green Bay quarterback Rodgers. I'm sure when he got the notice of the fine, he immediately went to his coaches and said, "Guys, this fine money is out of control. I've got to tone down my hits on the quarterback. Don't expect me to be so aggressive from now on.'' Not.

Allen's total compensation this year, in salary and bonuses, is $21,119,256. The 25K fine is around one-tenth of one percent of his 2008 pay. To put that in terms you will understand: If you make $40,000 and were to get fined a similar percentage, you'd be out $48. My point is Allen will not spend three seconds thinking about changing the way he plays football, because the fine is no motivation to do so.

Maybe I want to be Jared Allen?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Apocalypse Approaching, What Would Jesus Say?

Two not-so-related stories:

Worth of being a "Sign of the Apocalypse" (and just awfully sad), note the poll results that 70+% of Israeli Arab Women don't think being slapped by the men in their life is a form of domestic abuse.

Turn the other cheek?

In other news, I listened to a fabulous set of interviews that aired in mid-May on Fresh Air which were themselves a reprise of a 2006 show featuring Wexner pimp-daddy Gershom Gorenberg and (the Reverend) John Hagee who pretty much likes John McCain, comparing New Orleans to Sodom, and refusing to think with any logic about peace in the Middle East, in one order or another. If you haven't heard the full interviews, listen to them - and then ask yourself if you're still comfortable with Christian Zionists as "friends" of "Israel" or "the Jews." I'd take Ayers and Said over these guys any day of the week.

Is He Good Enough? Smart Enough? Do People Really Like Him

I haven't posted in too long, which is both a שבולימ"ה and a result of over-scheduling insanities. I've got a lot lined up, but not sure when I'll have a chance to post most of it, let alone keeping up to date with current events as they come through.

But, to get back on the bandwagon, I give you the following nerd-to-the-max analysis of Minnesota's still-uncertain Senate Race, which may also be masquerading as the book by one of my former student's fathers, Jew vs. Jew.

Here's hoping for Franken to pull it off; it's starting to feel like late-September, 1961, for Roger Maris.

Special prize to he who can properly address the (relatively simple, for this crowd) allusion immediately above and the (far more difficult, unless you spend a lot of time with me) allusion in Hebrew at the top of the post.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Sometimes, When it Rains, it Pours

There are days when either my mind or journalists' output just makes everything seem so interesting. So, instead of posting a dozen times today (the day is young, we still might have time for that), I thought I'd just help publicize some fascinating things that have caught my eye these past few days.

Slate explores the pompous absurdity of we Americans being so proud of ourselves for electing a minority, ignoring Disraeli (19th C, England), Sonia Gandhi (India), Daniel arap Moi (Kenya), and Alberto Fujimori (Peru), evidently leaving out Mandela because of the formality (as we might call it) of his election. I like the conclusion here, that, based on this particular criterion, Obama's lack of uniqueness need not be seen as detracting from the achievement, or his promise for the future.

Noam Schreiber, writing in the New Republic, makes an argument that choosing Emanuel (and how he chose Emanuel) portends a significant departure from the "No Drama Obama" of the campaign to a more chaotic administration, dominated by oversized personalities who will not make life easy for anyone (except, perhaps, Huckabee, Gingrich, Jindal, et al.). Schreiber relaxes, a tad, in the second half of the article, where he admits that, perhaps some types of drama might be good, particularly if they help to challenge the intellectually curious law-professor President who likes being challenged.

Also in the New Republic (which I don't usually read but I found the first article through an RCP link and this article through a sidebar from the first one), David W. Rohde encourages us to embrace Kerry's defeat in 2004 as the best thing to happen to the Democratic party since 1964. Of course, the first comment on the article notes that Rohde, therefore, is embracing Kennedy's assassination and the travesty of G. W. Bush's second term as the last two "best things" to happen to us. Could be a compelling historical read; still a sick one.

Patrick Smith, Salon's resident pilot-columnist outlines what Obama should do with the airline industry, including delays, congestion, air traffic control, and the TSA, which is reserved for some special lambasting. Smith notes here, as elsewhere, the immediate irrelevance of the 9/11 threat even by noon on 9/11, and the TSA's insistence (though, admittedly, it makes me feel better) on focusing nearly exclusively on that threat. And Smith suggests that one way Obama can indicate America's move back towards enlightenment and sanity is a reform of the TSA. As someone who is petrified of flying - I didn't do it for nearly four-and-a-half years - and who is likely to be flying a lot more in the next few years than I ever have - I hope someone else is listening to Smith.

Ha'aretz reported recently on the creation of an alternative to the Rabbinical conversion courts in Israel, a massive victory for sanity in this country (and the Reform and Conservative movements). As my dear friend Charlie Schwartz said yesterday (in a different context entirely), it is difficult for Israel not to be seen as a complicating factor for liberal Jews' Jewish identities (most of all the leadership of the liberal streams - their Rabbis) when the only country willing to exert the energy to declare that Conservative and Reform Rabbis are not actually Rabbis is, well, Israel. I hope the creation of this alternate path to conversion (and marriage) allows for a real alternative, and the realization of the long-gestating but as-yet-unfulfilled hope: יש יותר מדרך אחת להיות יהודי.

Drake Bennet, writing for, imagines what a new Depression would look like for America. Haunting and scary. But I do love TV.

The Washington Post identifies five myths (as in falsehoods) from the recent mythic (as in narrative-establishing) election. I have to say, I agree; though I think that Obama did receive a mandate, I do not think that the obituaries for the Republican Party are in place, nor necessarily those for conservativism in the U.S. I am, however, relatively compelled that Reaganism, as we know it, has been replaced - but more, I imagine, by a pragmatic Rooseveltianism than the imagined liberal extremism embodied by the Kennedys. I do, however, disagree with myth #4 - implying that a Republican candidate - the right one - could have won the Presidency. I think too many of McCain's mistakes down the stretch contributed to Obama's win and had the right candidate (even the real McCain) ran a near-perfect campaign (as Obama did), properly distancing themselves from Bush while indicating competency on the economy and enthralling the Republican base, then they could indeed have won. (Does this make me a run-of-the-mill Democrat who has a significant inferiority complex? Perhaps.)

The following video tour, from Slate's spin-off The Big Money, confirms what I've always known: I wish I worked for Google. Unbelievable. Could I work somewhere like that? Shouldn't schools be set-up like that? Camps? Universities? WOWZER.

JTA published the only report I have yet to see of the Independent Minyan conference at Brandeis last week. (As I think I keep saying on the blog, though haven't yet begun formally to write,) I'm working on an article about indpendent minyanim and find the analysis and observations that this article (and others in the past) raises to be nothing short of fascinating.

And, on the הכרת הטוב front, note the similarity of emotions that Obama and the Giants can evoke in my brother-in-law.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Two Reasons Why Sports Journalism Rules

An interesting meta-post on this morning about the media. Of particular note is Nate's condemnation of the MSM for verifying it's sources (reproduced below). Nate, a former sabermetrician working in baseball and now a massively renowned political statistician, lauds Sports Illustrated as being the most thorough fact-checker of the dozen-or-so news producers for whom he's worked.
CBS's underlying problem -- and the commonality between the three items that I described above -- is the arbitrary and largely ineffectual nature of the fact-checking process employed by the mainstream media. I have written for perhaps a dozen major publications over the span of my career, and the one with the most thorough fact-checking process is by some margin Sports Illustrated. Although this is an indication of the respect with which SI accords its brand, it does not speak so well of the mainstream political media that you are more likely to see an unverified claim repeated on the evening news than you are to see in the pages of your favorite sports periodical.
Is this shocking? I actually think not so much. I was listening to a show on NPR (maybe TOTN, or Day-to-Day) once last year when someone suggested that newsmagazines and such should broadcast the clear factual mistakes they make on the air. To my great joy, one of the interviewees responded by saying that the only show he knew of that did this was ESPN's Pardon The Interruption.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

הכרת הטוב

Mad props to three friends:

Laura Elkayam, who makes me laugh, won the award for Best Oralist at an Appellate Advocacy Competition. I don't know what that means, but I think it means that some impressive lawyer-y folks found out that Laura speaks like I've always known she speaks since we met c. 8 years ago.

Rabbi Morris Allen, of the אוהל-esque Beth Jacob Congregation in Mendota Heights (don't you dare call it Minneapolis), Minnesota, husband of the incomparable Dr. Phyllis Gorin, and father of firebrand Avraham (double T) Allen, zinger Leora Allen, and major firebrand Adina (nice birthday) Allen, was named to the Forward 50, most likely for his groundbreaking and important work with Heksher Tzedek (and, perhaps even cooler, now puts in him in a club with Sarah Silverman).

Micah Klein, best friend, prodigious drooler, has allegedly begun to crawl.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Tempering AIDS Optimism

For a while in the mid-90's, around the time I was in middle school, incurable diseases were the subject of some great media attention, notably in HBO's brilliant And the Band Played On and the Dustin Hoffman-Renee Russo Outbreak. I was obsessed with these stories at the time.

Today, I read this piece from CNN, alluding to something I never knew before:

1% of the Caucasian population evidently carries at least one version of a genetic mutation that prevents HIV from penetrating our cells. (The article isn't clear if 1% carries at least one version or if they carry both versions.)

This man's example does not seem to be an AIDS cure, but with advances on AIDS research being not exactly front-cover news recently, it's good to know work is still progressing, and there are leads.

Apocalypse is Nigh

Someone get this woman some help.

Friday, November 14, 2008

הסתפרות בעיר הקודש

Those of you who know me well (and hey, who else is reading this thing?) are well aware that I'm a little protective of my hair. This, of course, is quite ironic, being that the purpose of the Jacob Cytryn hair style is, theoretically, to demonstrate how little I care about the situation in the first place. All of this - and the peculiar state of what gets called "Israeli fashion sensibility" - has made me quite reticent to get my hair cut in this country, much to my wife's chagrin. Today, Tamar made appointments for us to get our hair cut, well within comforting sight lines to סבבה, מרבד הקסמים, and שניצי, on the corner of רחל אמנו and עמק רפאים.

My heart-rate went up as I sat down in the chair, though the three young Arsim-esque guys who manned the store should have put me at ease. Why did my heart rate go up? Not because the guy about to cut my hair had the 'do of Yul Brener in the Ten Commandments with a little Pharaoh beard, but because my lovely, wonderful wife told him that she wanted my hair to look like his. Have no fear, fans of mine, he kindly told her that my hair looks awesome, and he went about giving me a great haircut.

Blogger is not letting me format these pictures in a way that makes sense (i.e., for maximal dramatic impact), and that's way annoying (if anyone has any insight on this, please pass it along).

Above (on the bottom) is a before picture, with me on the beach - this one should be pretty obvious ( and it is almost a full month before - I'll let you extrapolate what I looked like this morning).

Then there's the after (obviously), in my faded staff T-shirt from '05(?) on one of our red couches (no applause necessary).

I liked this guy; I'm going back to him again.

My only remaining fear: will my two best friends, Dov (with the ears - also a good before picture, taken c. 2 weeks pre-trimming) and Micah (with the mini-mouth), still recognize me?

Great Movie

Last night T and I saw Then She Found Me, an excellent movie written, directed, and starring Helen Hunt (also stars: Bette Midler, Colin Firth, and Matthew Broderick). Cute guest appearance by Salman Rushdie, who evidently can't be tracked down in the midst of a movie set to enact the fatwa. The movie is based on Then She Found Me by Elinor Lipman. Lots of good Jewish scenes too; and by good I mean awkward.

Great movie; we loved it.

I first heard about the movie through Terri Gross's interview with Hunt from the Spring. You can listen to it here.

One Point for Intellectuals

Thanks to Katie for directing me to this op-ed in the Times. As an intellectual snob, all I can say is: אמן, כן יהי רצון.

I'll let a rant on anti-intellectualism wait 'til later.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Crazy Mental Floss Quiz

Today's Mental Floss lunchtime quiz is a doozy: name all 20 current animals in the Barnum & Bailey animal crackers' box. My wife and I got 19/20 in the allotted time, and let us just say: these are preposterous choices for animal crackers. PREPOSTEROUS.

I'll give you the following hints:
1) Circuses like mammals;
2) Assume they've gotten very good at distinguishing between similar species;
3) The one T and I couldn't get can be found in an Egocentric blogpost.

Good luck - and let us know how you do.

One of the Great First Paragraphs of All-Time

One of my favorite parts of Albert Camus's The Plague (which I haven't read since high school so forgive me if I'm messing this up) is one character's obsession with writing the best first sentence that has ever been written for a novel. We (and by we I mean I) all long to be Dickens or Ginsberg on this front, so I appreciate it when a zinger like the paragraph below starts what may otherwise be a mediocre article (I'll finish reading it when I'm done posting). Enjoy.
At long last, my people have an answer to the question "When will we have a Jewish president?" The answer, it turns out, is "Not before we have a black president." I imagine that all ethnic groups play this game of "when will one of ours get there?" (The question is especially common among Jews, since we're sort of white and used to success at other jobs—law, medicine, swimming.) But now that a half-African man with Muslim ancestors has defeated, for the presidency, an Episcopalian with a Roman numeral after his name, the bookmakers have to move the odds for all of us.

Losing 6-0 in a Tennis Match

Slate today has a fascinating article on the history and popularization of the stereotypical American Jew-food, the bagel. Though the article alludes to the recent book recounting the history of the bagel written by a half-Jewish, Poland-born, BBC-employed Londoner, it at least adds to it (note the discovery of bagel-hieroglyphics by the Slate-author, Joan Nathan), though most of it seems to be an epitome of the book itself.

As a contrarian on so many levels, I don't like bagels much at all. Though I miss the frozen Lender's of my New Orleanian and St. Louisian youth, microwaved and then toasted. And I do sort of like pumpernickel ones. But they're never my first choice. (And lox best comes in sushi.)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Mad Props to John Olerud, Timothy Leary, Ryan Leaf, Craig Ehlo, Edward R. Murrow, Dolph Lundgren, and some Prominent Figures in Animal Husbandry

What do all of the aforementioned people have in common?

They attended Washington State University, home of the Cougars (not the Stifler's mom-type).

I learned today that WAZZU (as its known colloquially in the sports world every few years when either its football or basketball team is somewhat relevant) has one of the coolest things going for it in the insanity that is college football culture:

Stewart: Over the years, I've watched ESPN's GameDay most Saturdays and can't help but notice one unusual thing: No matter where they are in the country, there is always someone waving a giant Washington State flag in the background. What's the deal with that? Its not as if Wazzu has been competitive year in and year out. Is this just some crazed, dedicated fan who will go anywhere no matter what?
-- Hermant Makan, Austin, Texas

The Washington State "flag relay" is actually a pretty cool little tradition. It started about five years ago. An online network of Wazzu alums around the country coordinates it so that somebody is there to wave the school's flag each week at whatever campus GameDay goes to that weekend. (Presumably, this week will mark the flag's first trip to Florida A&M.) The group raises money to pay for the flag's delivery from one person to the next each week.

What's amazing is that they're still putting in the effort even amidst this, the worst season in school history. You can read more about the origins of the tradition in this USA Today article.

That's reporting from Steward Mandel of

Eloquence Runs in the Family

A beautiful article about Obama's sister - worth the read.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Realignment? I Think Not

The wave of love that has cascaded over the internet (at least) since Obama's election is warm and cuddly. So are predictions that reek of the Republicans not-so-long-ago predictions of a permanent majority in their favor. The question of whether this past election was a "realignment" or not won't be known for, well, at least four years (and probably quite longer than that) but the data does not look good. A great study of the realignment phenomenon and its historical relevance can be found here. Note, for example, the flip-flopping of New York State as shifting the power balance for Grover Cleveland in 1884, 1888, and 1892, and the fundamentally massive shifts (fueled by ideological distinctions) that took place in these pivot-point elections that appear to be nowhere to be seen today.

Even so, the closeness of the Bush victories means that a relatively minor shift could have lasting import for national politics. For example, if North Carolina and Virginia are bellweathers of a long-term shift in the South back towards Democrats, then that would be significant (though I'm not sure what, exactly, that would say about the Democratic party). But remember that Clinton won Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Georgia - and of such victories did not a permanent majority make.

It seems, in this age, that electoral decisions are made more on the basis of personality and the national mood (and, therefore, how each candidate becomes stereotyped through a not-too-complicated dance between the media and their campaign) than on the types of issues that divided the nation during the realignment elections. Such might be, as it were, the difference between living in Rome during its ascent (i.e., the tale-end of the Republic and the beginning of the Pax Romana - c. 133 BCE-106 CE), as opposed to its long and glorious heyday (c. 106 CE - 376). Maybe when those distinctions return, we shall truly know we are living in the twilight of the American Empire. I severely doubt I will live to see the setting of the American sun, however; and until then, though "the dawning of a new day for America" is a (drawn out) circumlocution for hope, it need not actually indicate anything substantial. We ride a pendulum back and forth, back and forth.

And on that pendulum, we hope for continued demographic gains and stability in states with large blocs in the electoral college. Yet as we do so, I also fear the excess baggage of those who join us on our team, like the Obama bumpers who also seemed to effect the passing of Proposition 8 in California.

Paging Billy Crystal, Paging Billy Crystal

Maybe Mandy Patinkin and Carey Elwes can serve as expert witnesses in this case about to go to court in Washington, D.C. And maybe it will be the subject of a project in the Jewish Ethics elective at Heschel I once taught (bad memories of that class - the material, not the students).

Looks like the Ultra-Orthodox need to get a move on emending the halachah on this one.

Educational Outliers

I'm reading through Slate's articles from the last week, something I thought not-so-long-ago (c. 90 minutes) would become a weekly thing where I would post here something like a "Top 5 Things I Think You Should Read This Week" post. Turns out I can't get through most of the articles, and I need to go back to reading Slate (and Salon) every day, as I do SI and CNN (multiple times a day for each).

But, that aside, I just came across this article on how parental expectation is bad for children, which made me think about, well, camp. (What doesn't, you are likely to be asking yourself if you know me well?)

The article suggest (quite properly, I imagine) that the reason parents' expectations are bad for their children is that, usually, those expectations are way too high and wholly unrealistic. It is important, of course, to note that we are speaking here about developmental expectations - toilet training; speaking; focusing for an hour on studying homework; et c. This makes sense to me.

But I am wondering how - or even if - it flies in the face of some of my most precious educational belief: that high expectations are inherently good for both classes (in school) and עדות (at camp) - though my dissertation will hopefully begin the work of breaking down the need to distinguish between the two quite similar settings (assuming similar goals by the teacher/counselor/ראש עדה, of course). On this front, I am quite arrogant and place a phenomenal amount of faith and responsibility in the hands of the educator who will lead this group, assuming that, with the right skills (and such skills might differ for different groups) anyone can do amazing things with the group, especially if s/he does a good job in both calibrating and expressing expectation beforehand.

Now, I long ago learned that it was foolish to use my own educational experiences to generalize for anyone else (let alone everyone else), though it is still quite tempting to do so at every turn. Am I making a similar mistake here? More importantly, might I be setting up certain groups for failure?

In short - and I will keep pondering this, likely interminably - I think not. Because my definition of "greatness" from the groups is so fluid and subject to individual assessment, and because the core aspirations for the group are likely quite low.

In other words - and I will end here - if parents would just hope that their children would do something amazing by age X, Y, or Z, then they would likely be much more satisfied with the multiple great things their children will do. The educational takeaway for this is that if you write the test before the students start learning, the test will fail if it expects too much. But if we expect a great result on an assessment from children (or, even better, a class - there are issues here of individual vs. group that I'll have to flesh out later, though they might be patently obvious) and then allow that assessment to speak to their strengths (while still maintaining content standards, of course) then they will be able to do it.

Someone remind me of this post when I become a parent.

Are Writers Really Underappreciated? or "Just" a Newscycle Casualty?

There was an historic election going on, but Michael Crichton's early and surprising death got very little press coverage last week, which makes me wonder:

Does being a massively popular writer and novelist, and helping to create nothing less than two of the great popular culture phenomena of the 1990s (ER and Jurassic Park) mean nothing? Or did Crichton's late-career right-wing preposterousity knock him out of the public's eye? I hope that Stephen King lives a long and productive life, but don't we think more will be made of King's legacy when he dies? Or was Crichton just not that good? Or not that productive?

The other option, of course, is that the lack of attention Crichton's death received is emblematic of the phenomenon of being swallowed up in a newscycle that only has so much room, especially one as gargantuan as Obama's election to the Presidency, coupled with gazillions of other races that also mattered.


Monday, November 10, 2008

Two Great Obama Sites

Thanks to Sliver and the alleged Papa Narsh for the following awesome sites worth your perusing for sheer awes-Obama-ness:



When an Interview Can Make You Cry

For the past few months - really since I left camp but especially since I got to Israel - I've been catching up on Fresh Air episodes from early last year. I'm currently listening to the late-April ones and have been treated to Terri Gross's intellectual curiosity opening up conversations with Helen Hunt, Dr. Dan Gottlieb (best-selling author of Letters to Sam and a pretty impressive therapist), Kyle Chandler (of Early Edition and Friday Night Lights), Bishop Eugene Robinson (the gay Episcopalian), and many, many more. It is one of the things that makes the interminable commute back-and-forth to Hebrew U. a bit more tolerable.

Today, two things caught my mind/eye:

1. In an interview about the late Elizabeth Bishop's poetry, with Fresh Air classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz (who bears an uncanny family resemblance) who was a close friend of Bishop's and has written about her, they discussed Bishop's poem "Breakfast Song." Both Terri (I use Terri's first name because she feels to me like something of an old-family friend as I grew up listening to her interviews in the car with my dad, whenever we weren't listening to the Grateful Dead, Nanci Griffith, or other crazy classic rock/folk music) and Schwartz, who rescued the poem from oblivion before Bishop died (that's another fascinating story on its own), take the poem as referring explicitly to one of Bishop's lovers. I disagree. Instead, I think the poem is really about her love affair with what I imagine to be a blue mug that holds her morning coffee. This would explain both the title of the poem, and Bishop's use of such peculiar phrasing as "I kiss your funny face/ your coffee-flavored mouth" and "awfully blue/ early and instant blue" as well as a less peculiar image of "easy breath" and "nightlong, limblong warmth" that embrace Bishop. I've e-mailed Fresh Air; we'll see if I get a response.

2. In a second interview, with Marine Colonel Steve Beck and journalist Jim Sheeler, we hear of the haunting and moving task that Beck performs for the Marine Core: informing next-of-kin (usually wives or parents) of the death of their loved one in Iraq. I found myself, ricocheting around uncomfortably on the slow-moving and chareidi-filled 4-aleph bus this afternoon, crying as I heard about one particularly powerful story, of a pregnant woman who had lost her husband. As Sheeler describes (in my paraphrase), the following anecdote was all he needed to know about the late Marine: "The night before he left for Iraq, he slept with a baby blanket his wife had knitted for the baby, knowing that he would no be back in time for the baby's birth. But he wanted the baby to know from its first days how its father smelled." I am tempted to transcribe the entire interview that so moved me today.

Sheeler wrote a book about Beck's work; the podcast and book should be must-buys.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Re-examined: The Apocalypse is Nigh

A few days ago, I observed that "The Apocalypse is Far, Far Away." I just changed my mind:

Say what you will about Jewish denominations (which I just typoed as demoninations); and the Muslims surely have some quality Sunni vs. Shi'ite tension. But this one takes the cake. Welcome to Jerusalem, a city that is on the verge of resurrecting Camus and Beckett so as to have someone to appropriately document our absurd existence.

Photo Arithmetic from Jerusalem

On Tuesday Jerusalem will elect a new mayor, and all the options are pretty absurd.

Someone with no chance whatsoever of winning the election is the "Green-leaf" party
candidate, Dan Birron.

Seeing this guy in posters made me instantly recognize him as a mash-up of two certifiable American psychos:
Howard Stern and John Hurt.

The Future of Fox News - a Positive Spin

Check out the following "he said what?!?!" post from Diane Werts, one of David Bianculli's co-writers for his website TV Worth David (known to me from his great work on NPR's Fresh Air) is a phenomenal reviewer, and the site is quite worthwhile, especially if it keeps producing these doozies that should cause Ralph Nader to be banned from the game of life.

Friday, November 7, 2008

West Philadelphia, Born and Raised

Perhaps my most influential teacher, a great colleague, and a dear friend, Al Filreis tells a powerful story from Tuesday morning in West Philadelphia.

This Week's Sign that the Apocalypse Is Far, Far Away

Things feel good in the wake of Obama's victory. So good that a football player from FSU (alma mater of my dear friend and chevrutah, Rabbi Joel Seltzer) - not the most academically-oriented of schools and one with a less-than-stellar reputation for the behavior of its football players - will be skipping a hugely important game to interview for a Rhodes scholarship.

As someone who fell short of even the interview phase of the process, and who would have loved the opportunity to take advantage of all the Rhodes' has to offer (though God only knows how it would have impacted my life - for better and worse), good look Myron.

"Timeless Truth" Upturned?

One of the tried and true pride-points of living in America is that we are a nation that has only expanded rights over the course of our history, never having moved backwards to limit individual rights more than they were before.

In the light of our good friends in California, now bringing the passed-Proposition 8 to court, I ask the following questions:

1. Is the "tried and true pride-point" actually historically correct?

2. Does the passing of Proposition 8 and other similar measures in other states disrupt the pride-point, or are we just referring to the liberal move of the federal government, not individual states?

My our children have the pleasure of laughing in our generation's collective face by overturning blow-harded attempts to "protect the institution of marriage." All-Stars

For what it's worth, I much prefer to I prefer the layout, but mostly I feel an allegiance to a great magazine that I adore reading every week. I remember quite clearly the moment in a former romantic relationship when my then girlfriend opened up SI for the first time to see what all the fuss was about with me and sports. It didn't take her long to acknowledge - I imagine quite begrudgingly - that there was a tremendous amount of data being thrown at her in its pages. Sports, it turned out, was something a little more heavy, a little more legitimate, perhaps, than she had previously imagined.

I know Bill Simmons is great, and sometimes ESPN has good stuff, but I prefer the reporting, rhythms, and style of the SI folk, especially my two All-Stars: Peter King and Joe Posnanski. King's MMQB is the best regular read I have on the web: a phenomenal writer, writing about something he loves, and never afraid to poke fun at himself or at his topic. Posnanski is relatively new to SI, but his columns are routinely the most interesting, down-to-earth, and fun reads - perhaps he's a little-more-down-to-earth version of Frank Deford.

Currently, Posnanski has a column on Buck O'Neil, whom Posnanski has been thinking about in light of Obama's victory (though King Kaufman, at Salon, lambasts those who would compare O'Neil, Jackie Robinson, et c. to Obama in this light). King's blog/columns post around 9 a.m. (on the East Coast) Monday and Tuesday mornings - they're a must read.

Plymouth Rock Ain't Gonna Cut It

Real pilgrims go to some damned cool places.

Sick Sick Liturgical Move

Wednesday morning, at the Conservative Yeshivah, Josh Laydon, a good man and a good ש"ץ, sang Ps 150 (the last "הללויה") to "We Shall Overcome." Powerful. People cried. (And I can't quite figure out how it works.)

I wasn't there.

This probably beats singing it to Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," though anything that reminds me of the best West Wing episode ever is pretty money (and props to Goldberg).

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Daily Lunchtime Quiz from Mental Floss

I've fallen in love with, especially their trivia quizzes.

Today's quiz: name all the NBA teams in less than 5 minutes.

I had almost all of them within three minutes, and finished up just short, rather embarrassed with my 29/30. How well did you do?

Shout Out and Alaskan Absurdity Analysis

Especially since leaving for Israel (though I think also before) I became obsessively interested in the election, most likely I imagine as a way of not feeling like I'm "missing" a lot by spending the year away from the US. (More on this in another post.) The last time I was here for a year, I definitely felt that, perhaps only highlighted by the then necessary tactics of my father sending me massive shipments of VHS tapes with our favorite television shows (including a brand new show that had caught his attention, The West Wing) and me watching the Rams' improbably playoff triumphs via a slowly connected desktop in the basement of the old Beit Nativ (זצ"ל).

This obsession has picked up over the last few weeks, and did not disappear in spite of the formidable lead Obama had in the polls. In fact, I had profound fears that the polls would be wrong, that the Bradley effect might actually exist (more on this in a second), and that the right-wing anti-science base would now be able to include statistician/pollsters in with evolutionary biologists, geneticists, and astrophysicists as practitioners of, as it were, patently false crafts. Nothing has been a greater relief to me (and will, hopefully, assuage future fears or disillusioned hopes, depending on polls' predictions in future elections) than to see that the polls were, with almost no exceptions, pretty dead-on.

So I wanted to take a moment to "publically" thank the website that (in partnership with Slate) brought me through the last few months,, and two other sites I became aware of (thanks to JAR and Jason Rubinstein, respectively) only in the last ten days before the election: (claimed by JAR to be even-keeled but revealed by another site to be oddly in favor of polls that showed McCain was doing better, not worse) and I will check them all regularly in the future and look forward to continuing to benefit from their insightful reporting and statistical awesomeness.

On that note, 538 reports today about one of the only polls that did not match up with the outcome, in Alaska, and sheds fascinating light on a variety of things, including the likely 10s of 1000s of outstanding ballots, McCain dominance far outside how he was polling, the strange (and, possibly and hopefully, soon to be rectified) lead by the incumbent convicted felon in the state Senate race, a suggestion that "convicted felons are the new Black" vis-a-vis a possible converse-Bradley effect, and the quite real ramifications of Alaska being so far away from the rest of the country. Great website; great post.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Fromm's next step?

I'm just shopping for courses at Hebrew U. right now, and tonight I sat in on a course taught by Jonathan Cohen, one of the great scholars of Jewish educational philosophy (and he kind of looks like one of the Star Trek aliens from DS9 though I can't find the link - and a little less like this one).

Here's the line of thinking that might be worth sharing. According to Cohen, Erich Fromm (most famous for The Art of Loving, though I'm quite sure this thinking is not found there), believed in a progressive approach to the development of human civilization based on three stages in an individual's human development, from a baby reliant on its mother emotionally, to a child who makes a deal [covenant] with his father cognitively, to an autonomous young-adult/teen who rejects his relationship with his parents. This is interesting in and off itself, and has implications for thinking about the development of maternal goddesses (who may have just given of themselves and of the earth) and paternal gods (who could get angry) and helps to explain the throwing off of God by civilization since the Scientific Revolution (or Enlightenment, take your pick). But Fromm, again according to Cohen, did not take this one step further - evidently, philosophers (like Fromm, Marx, and more), not being prophets, stop at explaining the history of the world in their own era.

Here's my חידוש:

If we hold by Fromm (loosely, at least), then it would make sense that the fourth stage is not a return to reliance on other individuals (i.e., moving back into your parents' house post-college) but instead the acceptance of your own responsibility for more than yourself - what we might call parenthood. Under such a read, imagine the 3rd era of development (which, under my theory, is quickly moving into our rear-view mirror) as encompassing the last five hundred years or so, when humanity ran roughshod over each other, the planet, and everything that came in our way. Civilization, then, has acted as the irresponsible teenager, obsessed with his own autonomy but negligent of the responsibilities that should be associated with it. Then, the next stage of human history should involve us getting our act together, moving from the orgiastic instincts of the past to a shepherding of each other and the rest of the world (including endangered animals and the environment, chiefly). Is such a move in the offing? Perhaps. But I think, from a Frommian perspective, this is a compelling read towards the type of social entrepreneurship and return to caring about environmental issues we've seen in the past little slice of history.

Here's hoping we're ready to be parents.

Emily's Brother Rules

My best friend Emily has an awesome brother.

Powerful Testimony

Few pre-result pieces moved me as much as this one.

Historical Coincidences

Because I never got that blog up and running (still a project for the future, like compiling my poetry and trying to publish it, and reviewing those end-of-summer evaluations our two-hundred staff members filled out, and more), and I actually felt overwhelmed enough to write something, we'll call you my audience.

Sarah forwarded to me a comment by Av Sinenski (sp?), suggesting something that my breakfast-date this morning, an Israeli, found particularly fascinating: less than fifty years after Jim Crow found himself lynched (unceremoniously), there are many African Americans alive today who have just seen something that they literally (and figuratively) thought impossible - if not yesterday, then two years ago, or when the NFL instituted the Rooney Rule, or when Rodney King found himself beaten senseless, or when Strom Thurmond made news for fathering children with a Black woman (he, of course, was 'treading' in the previously tilled-fields of the father of all belief vs. behavior contradictions, Jefferson), or one of the other obvious, blatant moments that demonstrated how the American world sees blacks not as invisible (we reserve that for women, as the feminist movement claims) but as unlikely to be positively visible. Av suggested that, what that 106-year-old Atlanta woman is experiencing right now, having been born into a world where women did not have the vote and where Democrats were the party that would yet give birth to a post-Reconstruction backlash, is likely the best stand-in, for our generation (and our parents generation), for what the Jewish community worldwide (and especially in Israel) must have experienced in 1947, 1948, if not also in 1967.

There is more to this connection, however - at least in my little intellectual-cultural bubble, there is a rebirth of hope.

We have not yet entered a world where contemporary events have effectively entered the world of ritual (we may never), and there are challenges to the observance of even the politicized, conflicting commemorations that exist. But I'd like to suggest that there are now three events in my life with classic historical significance which I will not only never forget, but that reach the "Kennedy assasination" threshold of large chunks of our generation knowing precisely where they were when they first heard (please excuse the definitely grammatically incorrect use of verb tense in the previous sentence). The two obvious ones are tonight's historical step into a new future and that morning I woke up to Besty Chanales informing me that "a plane hit the World Trade Center." The third creates a wonderful bookend, having occured thirteen years ago yesterday; putting 9/11 in a virtual center-point; and having been experienced - by me, at least - as far away from the event itself as Obama's victory last night. (Brief aside: It is a powerful statement of the victory of individualization that we now remember events of global significance not because of the events themselves [which modern communication and post-modern hermeneutics of information problematize profoundly] but on my own individual experience of learning of the event. Since November 22, 1963, where I was when I learned that the world changed is much more important than the fact that the world changed; the alteration of my experience, rooted in the context at which the paradigm shift began to affect me, is essential, while the paradigm shift itself is relegated to a distant second place.)

On November 4, 1995, Yitzhak Rabin was killed. I will call that date an inflection point at which hope began to slow, though it did not began to diminish, perhaps, until 9/11. Yesterday was a double inflection point: hope began to rise, and quickly. (Calculus implications of the previous sentence, if obvious to you, should be appreciated; if not obvious, I'd suggest not worrying about it.)

But there's more.

For though we do not yet (though I believe we will) possess texts that will come to be associated with Obama's rise in the cultural way that we have a rich library to describe Rabin's life, tragedy, and legacy, note the following textual similarities:

Some of Rabin's last words:
תנו לשמש לחזור, מבעד לפרחים,
אל תביטו לאחור, הניחו להולכים,
שעו עיניים בתקווה, לא דרך כוונות, וכו'

Rabin, who must have looked up at Yigal Amir - and at the barrel of the handgun - before or after he was shot, demanded that, in the face of war and violence (the theme of the rally that night was די לאלימות), we insist on hoping; we be audacious (as it were) enough to hope.

The song continues:
אל תגידו יום יבוא, הביאו את היום,
כי לא חלום הוא

Or, in the words and theme of Obama's rally tonight (and oh how I longed to be a Chicago resident), "yes we can," must become "yes we did;" that which was potential must be realized - such is the fuel of hope.

Pessimism is a de facto state for much of the Jewish community. Note my grandmother's question after Lieberman was selected as Vice Presidential candidate: "But is it good for the Jews?" Note the lack of belief in much of Israel for a better future - with either our external neighbors or our internal (Jewish) ones. And so I understand, perhaps, what is so scary about Obama's optimism. But isn't that also the absurdity of the Israelis' (and some Jews, though not as many as we - or Sarah Silverman - might have feared) fear of Obama? He is not (at least not yet) a fear-mongerer or a blamer. He is not motivated by spreading people apart, by inciting one against the other (the prerequisites, as far as I can tell, for genocide). He is a hoper, and he understands its power. The application of the tune we sing to HaTikvah (just as absurdly Polish as charedi outfits) to the end of the last ברכה before קריאת שמע is an actual theological statement about its meaning. A religious tradition that nursed itself for two millennia on the idea of והביאנו לשלום מארבע כנפות הארץ ותוליכינו קוממיות לארצינו is a nation that should better understand hope's underlying power over us, over the world, and over any struggle for survival. (Perhaps the social and security difficulties of the last sixty years have dampened that hope, more than the Crusades, Inquisition, Blood Libels, Pogroms, or Holocaust could.) For me, at least, Obama could not be more in-line with my Judaism - or with Rabin's (not that Rabin would serve as any type of role model to those who do not support Obama); he embodies the central tenet of (my) post-modern Judaism: עוד לא אבדה תקוותנו.

And so, the gargantuan task that faces Obama and his team in the days and weeks to come, the likelihood that he cannot live up to our expectations for him, and the lingering question of even the possibility of fundamentally altering the habits of a ship as old as the United States (not to mention the elevation to נביא בישראל of the writers of the West Wing, and oh how I wish a Josh Lyman had found me and taken me to this higher calling), we shall leave for another day. For today, in the world that exists inside my head, that which was lost thirteen years ago yesterday was redeemed, somehow, last night. And I do mean redeemed - brought back to what it was - for the time being, at least, no more. Hope has returned. And the symbolic exorcism of that old ship's greatest sin includes the assumption of a mantle once held by Lincoln (who began the ראשית צמיחה of that exorcism) and Roosevelt by someone who has dared us to hope. Which is a reminder that, in our darkest moments (and only history will tell us, when we are old and gray, if this is indeed one of them), our ship of a nation has found the best captain to navigate the choppiest of seas. JAR's tongue-in-cheek hope-poem of this summer, placing Obama in the captain's chair from which Booth forcefully removed Lincoln, is an opening foray into the writing of cultural artifacts to represent this new age. At least, I hope it is an opening foray, though less than I hope that it is a new age.

Maybe I'll start that blog now.
מערי יהודה וחוצות ירושלים,

A Meta-Post

I spent part of the flight over here reading Time's annual "Making of America" issue that features an inspirational American and frames their life and legacy in a contemporary relevant way . After featuring everybody's favorite Presidents (GW, TJ, AL, FDR, JFK), the uber-alumnus of my alma mater (Franklin), and the namesake (and his non-domestic partner) of my father's middle school (Lewis & Clark), Time chose this year to feature Mark Twain. The most interesting reason the magazine stated as influencing Twain's selection was his position as the metaphorical creator of that role so beloved in today's political culture (and even more beloved by the media) of the sarcastic political commentator (see: Stewart, John; Colbert, Stephen; Maher, Bill; et al.). b

But that, I am afraid, is quite beside the point. b

I begin with Twain because Time reminded me - again and again - that Twain was, at first and, one could argue, essentially, a travel writer. He published no fewer than four travel books (if memory serves correctly.)

And so, a little more than two months late, I open this blog, to be all about me. Many of the first impressions of being back in Israel after 9 years have fled, though some important ones remain:
- that feeling that everyone you see looks familiar (most likely due to the limited genetic pool from which all of us are formed)
- being harassed by guys in kippot and tzitziot for money everywhere I go.

But with the familiar come also the flat-out weird:
- a New York state license plate on an SUV parked in Rechavia
- evidence that Egged does teach their bus drivers how to drive, i.e., the nearly-empty bus labeled with the words "Egged Drivers' School" on the side
- a black panthers chapter of Jerusalem banner in San Martin
- individuals who appear to be ethnically Thai dressed as Chareidim.

And I couple with the strange the strange-feeling, the many moments I was asked, by cab drivers, shuk salesmen, or post office workers (as I was mailing our absentee ballots), for whom I was voting in the presidential election, and the look of incredulity on their faces when I said Obama -- while wearing my kippah. Or the moment the gabbai at Yakar shouted, on a particularly packed Friday night with the men spilling over into the women's side: "chevrei, anachnu shivyoni'im, aval adayin ortodoxi'im!" - "People, we are egalitarian [read: we care about gender equity, though not in a religious way] but we're still Orthodox!" Such is life in Jerusalem, where grey is often a little lacking.

And so, on this historic morning that two young black women will wake-up with the knowledge that their father is to be the 44th President of the most successful design experiment in the history of the world, I kick off my blog which will be, again, in case you forgot, all about me.

I'll post rants here, and musings; articles and thoughts about articles. I'll keep it quite complex and yet astoundingly simple: whatever it is I am interested in at any given moment.

Hope you stay around for the ride.