Thursday, December 28, 2006

Torah in the Air

Ilan Ramon took a scroll up into space on the ill-fated Columbia mission in 2003. Then, Henry Fenichel and Steve Maclean brought up another on the Atlantis. Israir Israel Airlines has now announed plans to permanently install a sefer on one of its commercial airliners on the New York - Tel Aviv route. Israir's claim that it's Sky Torah is "making aviation history" may be somewhat inflated, but it will be a service welcomed by religious Jewish passengers and further weaken ElAl's grip on the religous market. (article)

Gerald Ford (former US president) dies at 93.
Jewish rapper Y-Love's blog: This Is Babylon.
Yeshiva World News.

For those of you who have been keeping up:

Monday, December 25, 2006

The Pope Tries to Help

He's been in the news a lot lately. Appeared on my Google Homepage in 3 out of 17 stories:

The Pope urged Middle-East peace efforts (BBC)
The Pope appeals for help for the world's abused children (CNN)
Worship God not technology, Pope says (Google News from MSNBC)

The NYT, meanwhile, led of with a story about Archbishop Akinola, but its tone was less preachy. A number of American churches left the Episcopal Church after it consecrated a gay bishop. The Nigerian Achbishop Peter Akinola created a North American branch to accomodate the American churches. "In doing so, he has made himself the kingpin of a remarkable alliance between theological conservatives in North America and the developing world..."

Oh! I'm surprised I didn't make the connection sooner: It's Christmas. I guess people want some religious stuff in the news for the holidays. Maybe next time, just report: Happy Christmas, say Pope! and spare us his politics. Reminds me of the Christmas dinner in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Joyce) where Dad, Dante, and the Uncles couldn't stop fighting over church and politics the whole meal and everyone's holiday was ruined. Let's just celebrate and forget why we do, okay? It's so much simpler.

It's the end of the year, and you know what that means. Year-end specials! Every newspaper, magazine, and periodical worth chopping down trees to publish will roll out their predictions for next year, their year-in-review, this-year-in-pictures, etc.. The Economist led off early, with its annual The World in [2007] special. Look for these wrap-ups in your favorite media source (or don't). If you find any especially interesting or informative ones, please let me know. It might be fun to put together a ranking. But why bother? And who has time?

Speaking of time, it is almost Finals season (I know many of you are on vacation now, but the European academic calendar is different (and Israel is a little different even from the rest of Europe (yes, Israel is part of Europe. Or Asia. Or Africa (but Africa less so). Or the Middle-East. Whatever that means. (Yes, I know well what the Middle East is, but it isn't its own continent, you know)) because it doesn't officially celebrate Christmas or New Year's) from the American one) so I'm going to be more busy studying and have less time to post.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Would You Like a Green Card?

The weirdness of the US government: I got a spam e-mail that looked like an offer for a free sample of Crest WhiteStrips, so I figured why not and clicked on it. Up pops a form to apply for the Green Card lottery. I'll forgive their forgetting that I am already an American citizen but have they become so desperate for foreign workers that they need to hide the Green Card lottery in a spam mail from Crest? And this amid all of Bush's talk of stricter immigration laws!

Civil Rights for Robots?

It may be the wave of the future, at least according to the the UK Office of Science. The BBC reports that in the next 20 to 50 years robots may become entitled to suffrage, Social Security benefits, and other rights of citizens. I hope Asimov's 3 cardinal Laws of Robotics are preserved:

1) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2) A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

0) A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.

In an unrelated story: Jesus Christ the next King of Poland? 46 MPs voted for the bill last week. Don't fret, the Virgin Mary is already their honorary Queen. It might look funny to have a mother and son as King and Queen. Maybe they'll demote the blessed virgin to Queen Mother... The BBC manages to come up with the strangest news.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Aaron Carter is with Kaci Brown

See, this is why Aaron Carter's life is so much fun to follow. He's a papparazzi dream. A good looking guy who hangs with hot girls; different girls all the time. And what's more is that he has this cute, naive way of saying this is the girl with each one, after knowing them for just a week.

Reasons to Love NY, from New York Magazine

Pondering the Future

The whole nasty question of my future has begun to rear its ugly head again. I am trying to decide where to finish college, what to do after, etc. When I think, "What do I want to do with my life?" My first response is usually, "I don't." There is nothing to which I really want to devote my life; nothing I want to do day in and day out. Certainly nothing practical. So when I think these thoughts, suicide becomes the obvious choice. But I have problems with that course as well and haven't seriously considered it.

I heard other ways to look at the decision: How do you see yourself five years from now?* What do you have to do now to avoid regrets down the road? So I'm thinking about it. Basically I'm thinking finish college, start going out (shidduchim), go to yeshiva full time for a few years, maybe work in the summers and bein hazmanim, then go to grad school, and get a job. It's time to start applying for summer jobs/internships. So much to do: it's almost time to study for finals, register for Spring classes, GRE and whatnot. It's confusing.

I spoke to a friend who has left yeshiva to work full time, and he expressed regrets that he could not be learning. It got me thinking about the opportunity of being in yeshiva. Chanukah seems a good time to "get back into it". Start taking my Judaism** more seriously, start learning better, davening better, being more careful about halakha. Would you be surprised if I said I am considering Lakewood (aka BMG)? It is getting harder to get accepted there, so many people want to go. It has become the de facto yeshiva for serious bochurim returning from Israel. Few large yeshivos can match the high level of learning there. Maybe I won't be accepted? Maybe I won't fit in? I don't know. If I decide to continue learning it would be hard to do it anywhere else.

*"Married with one kid and one on the way" is a classic answer to this question. Isn't that funny?

**Technically, there is no such thing as Juda ism. But I don't have time to explain the theory, for now I use the term in its colloquial sense.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Attack on Freedom: Hell is Other People

The Rabbi came into my room 3 days in a row now. Uninvited. Just got a key from the landlord and marched in. Opened my closet, and looked around. I inquired as to whether he has taken anything of mine. He answered in the negative, but added that he had thrown out something that he found under my bed. I asked what that might have been, and he replied that it is disgraceful to talk about it, that my room lacks the "look" of a yeshiva, that I can't possibly understand a Tosfos if I read secular books, and that I shouldn't allow my corruption to spread to the other guys in the apartment. I responded that my intention was never to influence others or entice them to sin. He said there are guys who wouldn't read these things, but will if I put it under their faces. I tried to explain that the inside of my closet is not, under normal circumstances, under anyone else's face unless they have violated my space. He didn't want to discuss it. Told me to gather all my books and hide them where no one will see them. He did offer to pay for what he took, at least (v'heishiv es hag'zeila asher gazahl).

My best guess is that the book he tossed as objectionable was a collection of plays by existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. Sartre was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1964 "for his work which, rich in ideas and filled with the spirit of freedom and the quest for truth, has exerted a far-reaching influence on our age." Sartre refused to accept the prize for "personal and objective reasons". The collection previously in my possession included No Exit, a scene from hell; The Flies, the story of Orestes and Electra's quest to avenge the death of their father Agamemnon; Dirty Hands, a political drama about an assassination; and The Respectful Prostitute, about a black man framed for a white man's crime.

I imagine it was this last that drew the Rabbi's ire for its uncouth maintenance of the word prostitute in the title. Though the story concerns itself with the universal values of freedom and cruelty, and is far from vulgar, any author who could use this word is assuredly incapable of writing anything but trash. Nachon? Ideas, the spirit of freedom, and the quest for truth just doesn't jive in haredi society. Note, I hate bashing people like this, but I am upset about a personal afront.

My problem is not that he disapproves, or wants to run his yeshiva a certain way. That's ok, but deal with it like a mentsch. Discuss with me what problems you have; we can agree to disagree or maybe compromise. Or maybe I'll have to accede, or maybe you'll convince me, but at least we will understand and maybe even respect each other. And that way I would learn something: it can be an educational experience, instead of a display of bigotry.

Looking Forward to Vista

I'm looking forward to Microsoft's next-gen OS Windows Vista, whose delayed launch has been scheduled for January 2007. I don't mind the delay, though. If it's still buggy and you need to fix things, by all means delay it again: Launch it when it is ready. Nobody benefits from a bug-infested product, even if it's loaded with great features. That said, there is much to anticipate in Vista. One major advance is multiple-screen support. You can hook up several monitors and have programs running in each. So you can have your e-mail always open on one monitor, without cluttering your other monitor on which you are typing or whatnot. Many cool products are on the way to take advantage of this feature, including all manner of Bluetooth-enabled gadgets that sync to your computer. A photo frame (if anyone starts calling these things phrames, you saw it here first) that gets pics from your comp (or from your friends on flickr, picassa, etc.) and also runs a stock ticker on the bottom. Here's a scenario from the not-so-distant future: You are at your desk at work, when your Bluetooth wristwatch alerts you that someone rang your doorbell at home. You use your cell phone to speak with the visitor, realize it's your brother, and let him in by typing a code in your phone.

If You Wake Up

If you wake up in a red room without windows or doors... don't panic. You're just in my heart.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Some Random Stuff From My Life

Shabbos was great. Friday night we made a meal in the dira, and I had a really cute guy from Florida sleep over in my room. He was a cousin of a cousin of another guy in the dira and was in the neigborhood visiting his grandparents and needed a place to stay. My roommate was away and I was more than happy to oblige. Next day I ate at a cousin and then went to visit a friend nearby. Saturday night I was introduced to Family Guy, but did not get hooked. I also saw The Last Kiss and The Departed. Not major breakthroughs but entertaining, both. Dicaprio was better than Damon in The Departed, though I'm usually a big Matt Damon fan.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

SMS Peeping

A: Hi
B: Hi Im at the tachanah merkazit
A: You want me to meet you at the tachana?
B: Sure, when?
A: Now?
B: Well just read ur email from this morning if it can lead somewhere ill meet
A: Where it will go depends a lot on u
B: What do u mean? I think u know where i want it to go
A: Tell me about it
B: So do u want that also? If so lets make it happen!
A: Idk what u want and idk what i want until i meet u
A: So u dont want 2 meet unless u can fuck me? What if i'm fat and ugly?
B: I said lets meet i just want the sex to be a possibility dont want to meet if u only want to talk and thats it
A: Ok where r u?
A: Whats the deal?
B: Net cafe on 3rd flr
B: Where are u?
A: Tower
B: Where? Come into the tachana

Remember Candid Camera? Well, smile, you're on Candid Texting! You think people would behave better if they knew who was watching? You think this makes people loook absurdly shallow and/or dumb? You think this is made up?

Let's take the opportunity to point out some of the pitfalls of the medium. Notice that when B said "you know where I want it to go," A replied, "Tell me about it." Then B assumed that, "You want that too." To which A answered, "I don't know what you or I want." Apparently, A's "Tell me about it" was not intended as a sarcastic synonym for "Of course that is what I want," but was a sincere request for information.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Kolko Blogs, YU Radio, and Paris

There is this J-blog that talks incessantly about the Kolko case and bashes everyone. You know who I am talking about, so I won't do him the service of another link. I understand that this blogger has complaints against the system and several individuals. He lodges serious grievances about things that must be dealt with. But his impudence is astonishing and shows a great lack of compassion or even rational thought. He uses incendiary language and is wholly single-minded.

Get this:
News blog of note.
Someone who thinks?
World's Best Mayor contest.
Muqata writes.
Cross Currents or Cross-Currents? It's the battle of religioblogs.
Is this comedy site a "Things that make you say huh"?

Listened to YU Radio. They play some weird sh**. Bunch of song parodies, I caught a line about someone sleeping with a goat. Oddball radio. Is all campus radio like this? I suppose they can't play Top 40 because of copyright infringement. Here's another lyric sample: We got no class, We got no principles. No more pencils, No more books, No more teacher's dirty looks.

Once I was happy, once I was sappy, Nylons are green, Like an old goat, To sleep with a snore, Betrayed by a maid in her teens, Noodles you're hair is getting thin, Well who wants fat hair, Did you put the cat out, I didn't know he was on fire, Horizontal bars, His actions are horrible, No he's very good, Did you hear about the owl who married a goat? They had a hootenanny.

Potato cakes, Hash browns, There's no kind you haven't tried, You planned a trip to Idaho, Just to watch potatoes grow, You like them whether they're plain or stuffed, You're addicted to spuds, Late at night you always dream, Of potato chips and sour cream, Might as well face it, You're addicted to spuds. I used to hate 'em, Now they're all that I eat, Might as well face it, I'm addicted to spuds.

They made everybody green, I really wish they'd cut it out, They wasted everybody on my block, There goes the neighborhood, They're not nice to the human race, And they just won't go away, And the evil look and grin, And they sure could use a manicure, I sure hope they don't come in here, Run for your life, They're really making a mess of this place, Look out here come flying creatures from outer space, They're making a big fat mess of this place.

I also meant to mention the Mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoe. He was in Jerusalem last week to announce the gift of the city of Paris to Jerusalem, a 25 meter high 1/12 scale replica of the Eiffel tower. He also gave 30,000 Euro to a child development center in Qiryat Shemona.

No Indents and Borat Blamed for Racist Blunders

Standard html doesn't allow for indenting. It is one of those odd little quirks of computer programming that is the bane of any webmaster. Lucky me just discovered it; my belated condolences to all those who have had to put up with this garbage for years.

Two unnamed (and apparently racist) students have sued Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat) for comments they made that appeared in Baron Cohen's recent movie Borat: Cultural Learnings from America for Make Benefit Glorious Kazakhstan Nation. That's right, he's being sued over comments they made. The claim is that they were drunk when they signed the release forms, so they cannot be held responsible. The plaintiffs demand that Borat not be released on DVD and they be reimbursed for physical and emotional damages resulting from the exposure of their privately held beliefs and attitudes. They further claim to have been tricked into making the comments that aired in the movie.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Saturday Night

Showered, getting dressed last night. Wasn't sure what my plans would be, just decided to go out, maybe take in a movie or something. Guy comes by, asks, "You have any plans for tonight?"
"Nothing specific."
"You want to go out?"
"Alright. What do you have in mind?"
"Your call."
"I dunno. You wouldn't go to town, right?
"No. How about taking a stroll, we can go to the old city."
"Pick me up on your way out, then."

Had a feeling this was one of those "Save His Soul" missions, but figured wth. So we went. Got down to the old city, picked up a few beers, and sat down to chat.

"So, who's the odd man out it your family: you or your brother?"
"I wouldn't say either of us are. I guess we are different, but we get along well and respect each other."
"It just seems, he's well, I don't know him too well, but he doesn't seem like the professional type. He is not in college like you are."
"So? He's working hard and accomplishing in his field and I in mine. We don't have to compare."
"Fair enough. What do your parents think?"
"About our lifestyle choices? My parents don't insist on any given way of life for us. Just that we should be working hard toward something we want and be successful at it."
"So if you're happy, they're happy?"
"I guess you might say that."
"And if you're not happy they are not happy."
"I suppose that kind of follows."
"So what?"
"So are ya happy?
"But you're not... You... Well, a while back I switched schools. I got to the new school wearing my jeans, sneakers, colored shirt. My father's a butcher, I didn't know better. The school didn't announce its dress code, and I wasn't trying to make a statement, but I realized I stood out from everyone else - the way they were dressed. It took me three years, but I learned that you don't have to flaunt your differences."
"It's a shame you learnt your lesson so well."
"Why is that?"
"Well, it might not be fun to always flaunt your differences and have to fend off all the flack you get, but it is also uncomfortable to stay in hiding about yourself."
"There's a middle ground between flaunting and hiding. Let me take for example the pictures you hung up on your wall. Especially that one with the - I can't even tell if it's a boy or a girl - with the bleeding eye and skull ring. What is that for?"
"I thought it was interesting."
"It looks like you want to make a statement."
"What statement do you think it makes?"
"I thought it just looks like you are trying to make a statement. That's the statement."
"Really? I just thought it would be nice to have some decorations on my walls. Instead of them just being bland. It's like a conversation-starter."

We walked around a bit more, found a restroom, and then continued. Passed a bagel shop, and went in for a bite to eat.

"You want to get a bagel?" he asked.
"Not really, but I don't mind if you do," I answered.
"Alright, how about a poppyseed with cream cheese and lox. You think they speak English?"
"Yah, but not well."
"I see I got you, you're having a bagel too."
"Yah, while we're here anyway."
"You know, it's been several months since I quit smoking. I smoked for 7 years. Wouldn't mind a cigarette now, but it's not what I really want."
"I shouldn't understand what you said, but I do."
"Yah. Quitting smoking is like life: what you think you want for the moment is sometimes not what you really want."

Gotta go. I'll try to continue this sometime. Any comments?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Words, Words, and More Words

The nice thing about modern media is that it allows you to use outdated words. To name a few: dernful (sad; lonesone), molestful (troublesome, but nobody today is going to believe you; they'll think it means a molester or something), aborning (in the act of being born), Averroism (a late 13th century philosophy), Artemovsk (a city in Ukraine), Angelystor (creature from Welsh mythology), zafirlukast (an asthma drug), paraphrastic (having the nature of a paraphrase), biblioclast (a person who burns or destroys books; we are familiar with those), ecdysiast (stripper), accoast (to sail along the coast), epanorthosis (correction of one's statement as one is making it; immediate rephrasing for emphasis), fysigunkus (if you don't look this one up, you might just be one), apodyopsis (the act of mentally undresing someone), insalubrious (unhealthy; unwholesome), zinjanthropus (what they used to call the australopithecus), catawampus (diagonal; askew).

What an amazing language! Now, your homework is to write a story using at least 10 of this week's spelling words. Extra credit if you use them all.

Worth a look. I just noticed someone found my blog after searching for "conscription government tearing." I am curious about this. Don't you just love search engines. For that matter, there were some hits from Einstein College of Medicine, the National Institutes of Health, Covad Communications (is that who I think it is?). Cool. And yikes, I won't say where a NYC government employee was surfing on the job. Just a friendly reminder that no one is truly anonymous online; another reason to oppose the Fed's right to subpoena private information. Or was this employee perhaps working on just such a government scandal - er, I mean, project? Big Brother is watching. Anyway, I think it's time for a big thank you to all my readers. Did I just give away too much? Too little? Go Baltimore! (Baltimore?)

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Leftovers Were Good

Some who didn't make the song: Mayor of Paris Bertrand Delanoe, former Yeshiva of Far Rockaway head Alan Stadtmauer, Doogie Howser star Neil Patrick Harris, singer Lesley Gore ("It's My Party"), singer George Michael, Grey's Anatomy star T. R. Knight.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Hanukka Song, Revised

With Hanukka around the corner (I know it must be because all the bakeries in Israel have just begun selling doughnuts; growing up in NY, we never had a "doughnut season", you could invite obesity, ruin your heart, and titillate your tastebuds with a fresh deep-fried pastry any day of the year - but here, doughnut season is Hanukka-time.) I started thinking, as I always do when Hanukka comes around, of Adam Sandler's Hanukka song.

Here's the gay version, part II. See Follow the Yellow Brick Road, April 11 for the first listing.

Time to take out the manora
Put on your Yamaka
Its time for Chanukah
So much funnaka
To celebrate Chanukah

Chanukah is the festival of lights
Instead of one day of presents
We get eight crazy nights
So when you feel like the only kid in town
Without a girl or three
Here's a new list of people who are gay
Just like you and me

Rosie O'Donnell, watches QAF
Then spins a Dreidle with E.M. Forster and Edmund White
Guess who gives and receives
Loads of Chanukah toys
Computer genius Alan Turing and three of the Scissor Sisters
We got Congressman Mark Foley
And governor Jim McGreevey
Leo DiCaprio, isn't gay
But he plays one on TV

Put on that yarmulka
Its time for Chanukah
Pablo Picasso's matron Gerstrude Stein
Played for the other team

O.J. Simpson still not a homo
But guess who is, Pavel Tchelitev whose work hangs in MOMA
Sir Elton John was born that way
He likes it from the back,
Lance Bass of 'N Sync is gay too 'Cause we're pretty good in the sack.

Guess who got bar-mitzvahed
On the fashion runway
No I'm not talking about BEP's Fergie
I'm talkin' about Mr. Carson Kressley.

So many gay people in the show biz
Vladimir Nabokov isn't gay
But they say his brother is.
Tell the world-amanaka
It's time to celebrate Chanukah
It's not pronounced Ch-nakah
The C is silent in Chanukah
So read your hooked on phonica
Get drunk in Tijuanaka
If you really really wannaka
Have a happy happy happy happy Chanukah