How Do You Jew An educational, informational, conversational blog and (someday) podcast about Judaism, Jewish practices, customs, and rituals, Israel, and whatever else we decide to talk about.

December 18, 2007

Baby steps

Filed under: Commentary,entertainment,fun,Life Online,Podcasting,technology — howdoyoujew @ 17:29

No, not Hadarya’s.. she’s way beyond that. In terms of podcasting, I’m still a fetus. But I think I’m approaching my delivery date. Consider this a swift kick: my inspiration for getting myself into this beautiful mess, Adam Curry, played my audio comment on his last show (DSC #701, posted Dec. 17 at curry.com). My comment begins at about 29:24 and it is decidedly NOT family friendly (specifically my comment about the TSA and Adam’s misadventures traveling into and out of his own country. Of course, I think his show is awesome to listen to the vast majority of the time, and you should give it a try. But it’s fun hearing people you know talk to celebrities on a massively popular show, isn’t it?

I find your lack of attribution disturbing

Filed under: Art,Commentary,entertainment,history,movies,sci-fi,technology — howdoyoujew @ 10:42

I was happy to catch this interview with Ridley Scott on NPR yesterday afternoon on the way home from work. Today is the release day for Blade Runner: The Final Cut, Scott’s latest (and allegedly last) reworking of his 1982 classic, so he talked to Michelle Norris about the movie and his inspirations for it. I was extremely disappointed that he never mentioned the source material, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, or its author, sci-fi master Philip K. Dick. I actually haven’t read that novel (I have a few PKD volumes at home, I have to check if it’s in any of them), so I don’t know how much of the visualization of 2019 LA is in it, but I would have expected Scott to at least give credit where it was due. Anyway, I’m still looking forward to revisiting the movie and seeing how it holds up.

One good anecdote from the interview: Norris asked about the point that Deckard (Harrison Ford’s character) was originally supposed to wear a hat, probably a fedora, in Blade Runner, and why he ended up without it. Scott said that when he first met Ford for the Blade Runner project, Ford came directly from a late shooting day on Raiders of the Lost Ark, still wearing the full Indiana Jones regalia. Knowing Ford would be sporting the wide-brimmed hat in that movie, Scott dispensed with it in his film. Good choice. The gumshoe effect in Blade Runner is still pronounced, without being overdone.

December 17, 2007

Can you tell it’s a slow work day?

Filed under: Commentary,fun,funny,Good News,News,Politics,productivity — howdoyoujew @ 12:37

Best news about Ann Coulter so far today (hey, the day is young, she could still get run over by a truck, which would eclipse this story):

direct lift from the Subversive Cross Stitch blog:

Seems that some truly subversive and possibly off-balance soul hand-delivered a card to Ms. Coulter’s mailbox in Florida and, according to police reports obtained by The Smoking Gun, the card they chose to express themselves with was our very own “Go Fuck Yourself” card from the set by Chronicle!

I love the NY Magazine piece’s title: But Ann Coulter Always Seemed So Nice! Bwahahahahaha!

edited to add: I looked at the police report at TSG, and was delighted to see the evidence photo showing the “two words unclear” on the inside of the card mentioned by the cop. “They” are easily (to me) discernible as the single word “solipsistic” (adj., one who holds that the self can know nothing but its own modifications and that the self is the only existent thing; also : extremely egocentric). It gives me hope and cheer to know that someone with the kind of vocabulary it takes to use “solipsistic” correctly in a sentence took the time to compose this card to Ms. Coulter and hand-deliver it. Thank you, my friend, and Merry Christmas to you!

Equal time, again: Christmas in Fallujah (x2)

My first concert was Billy Joel on (I think) The Bridge tour, so I’ve been a fan for a long time. I went to that concert with my mom, who’s also a big fan. She was kind enough to point me to Billy’s latest social commentary tune (following up on, just off the top of my head, Goodnight Saigon, Allentown, We Didn’t Start the Fire, The Downeaster Alexa, and others; videos of all these and more available here), Christmas in Fallujah (buy from iTunes). Here’s Billy introducing the song and the singer (Cass Dillon does the vocals), and here’s the performance itself.

The first comment on the Youtube page for the introduction references another song by the same name, released over two years ago by a different, independent artist named Jefferson Pepper. THAT youtube now comments on the Billy Joel track, and, while it’s easy to understand why it didn’t attract mainstream attention, it’s worth listening to/viewing. You can also download the song here (a couple more of his songs may be heard here).

November 26, 2007

Ignorance fuels violence

Filed under: Commentary,education,Islam,Politics,religion — howdoyoujew @ 14:42

Yes, I know this hasn’t gotten physically violent yet, but it easily could. When is this going to stop?

A British schoolteacher has been arrested in Sudan accused of insulting Islam’s Prophet, after she allowed her pupils to name a teddy bear Muhammad.

BBC story.

This whole business with images of the Prophet confuses me. Part of the issue in this story is the book the kids made with the picture of the bear and the name Muhammad on it. Does that mean that Muslim boys named Muhammad can’t get their picture taken? I wish I could figure it out, but the rules of logic and common sense don’t apply to fundamentalist religion. And until education becomes a higher value than blind devotion, things are only going to get worse.

November 22, 2007

On giving back, giving thanks, and not giving up

We got up bright and early this morning to walk 5K in downtown San Diego to raise money for Jewish Family Service and the San Diego Food Bank. Felt good. Ran into many people we know, and saw the power of grassroots passionate politics in action: two Ron Paul supporters I saw walked the entire route with extra promotional material showing their allegiance.

One carried a “Ron Paul – Hope for America” preprinted cardboard sign, raised in his right hand, the whole length of the walk/race, during parts of which he faced runners coming the other way. A few people offered cheers in response as they ran by, and one lady came up to him and asked him who Ron Paul was while I was walking next to him. In my opinion, he got into way too much technical detail and talked too much, and possibly lost the lady by the time she managed to extricate herself and walk on, but that’s the risk you take with a candidate who doesn’t have a well-oiled campaign spin machine with professionally distributed talking points, etc. This guy turned out to be a very recent convert to the cause (like one month ago recent), which also explains the rusty preaching. If it were me, the spiel would be something like:

  • He’s a strict constitutionalist
  • He’s the most principled, honest, straightforward congressman on the Hill
  • He wants to end the war in Iraq/bring the troops home immediately
  • He wants to reduce the size and power of the federal government, and
  • He wants to increase and protect your personal freedoms and liberty (by, among other things, repealing the Patriot Act)

But that’s just me. I’m not even sure I’m going to vote for the guy.

The second supporter ran the entire race while towing a Radio Flyer wagon plastered and stacked with Ron Paul stickers and signs. I didn’t talk to him, but seeing both these guys was eye-opening. No other candidate was visible in the race – I don’t recall ANY t-shirts, let alone anything more visible like what these guys did. It’s amazing to me how passionate Dr. Paul‘s supporters are, and it makes me sad that the entire electorate doesn’t share this passion.

Most people vote for one of two reasons, I think: 1) for convenience (how I used to vote), or 2) for who they think will win, as long as the candidate is within a very broad margin of where the voter’s interests lie. I decided several years ago to stop voting for convenience and start voting my conscience. I’ve thus technically “wasted” my vote a few times, voting for libertarian and other independent and other party candidates who have very little chance of winning the seats they’re running for. But I recognized at the time I made this decision that my vote is not really wasted – in fact, I’m getting more value out of my vote than most people, because… I was going to say because I can sleep at night, but I’m sure most other people don’t have sleeping problems based on their voting record, mostly because they’re too complacent and content to feed on the bullshit that the political machine and mainstream mass media feed them. They also probably think that, in the few cases where they actually do care about something and it’s not going the way they want, they can’t make a difference, so they don’t try, and resign themselves to the status quo. I want to raise my daughter to be a true critical thinker with advanced analytical skills applicable to all aspects of life, and to always know that she CAN, in fact, make a difference, so I will not be one of the mindless masses meandering about making do with meaningless materiality.

Where was I? Oh, yes, the 5K walk… Anyhow, after that we went home and all three of us took a nice nap, then got our day going getting ready for the family-and-friends feast at the Meltzers’, which didn’t disappoint. Among the highlights of the afternoon/evening was finally meeting and getting to know Rav Menashe East and his wife (and their adorable infant daughter). We’ll be spending a considerable amount of time next summer with them in Israel, so it was good (not surprising, but still good) to discover they’re cut from the finest quality menschlichkeit cloth.

November 21, 2007

It feels like Friday

Which means that since it got dark a few hours ago, I’ve felt like it’s Shabbat and I shouldn’t blog until after… but it’s not Shabbat, it’s Erev Thanksgiving, and there’s nothing to prevent me from writing, using the computer, etc.

Jenn spent much of the day cooking and baking for Thanksgiving, which we’ll be celebrating at the Meltzers’ with a bunch of extended family and friends. I successfully lobbied one of my favorite community organizations (in this case, Ohr Shalom Synagogue) to send out an email to the membership about the Give One Get One program I wrote about yesterday. Phyllis & Joel commented on Jenn’s post about the Bone Marrow Donor Appreciation event. Hadarya had a great day and a good evening, including when we went down to minyan.

This week’s parasha is Vayishlach, which includes the story of Yaakov’s struggle (commonly translated as “wrestling”) with… well, with someone – the Hebrew is ha-ish = the man, but this is usually understood as an angel of God. Tonight, though, we looked at four possibilities of who the struggle could have been with:

  1. God
  2. An Angel/messenger of God
  3. Yaakov himself
  4. Esav (Esau, Yaakov’s twin)

The discussion that ensued about each of these was the richest exploration of this story I’ve ever engaged in. My contributions included the following:

  • Assuming the struggle was with God, I thought of the conversation God has with Moses later in the Torah (verse 20) when Moses asks to see God’s face and God tells Moses that “no man can see my face and live.” That said, Yaakov may have gotten so close to God by engaging in this “struggle” that he came away with a physical wound (the hobbled leg, the limp).
  • If it was an Angel (and somewhat spanning the possibility of a struggle within himself): Yaakov remembered, of course, the dream he’d had some 20 years before of the ladder with angels climbing up and down. This time, rather than remaining passive and simply watching, he tried to engage his visitor. He was more mature, more ready this time, but it was still a serious spiritual and physical challenge, and he came away changed (spiritually with the name change, physically with the limp).
  • If the sparring partner was Esav, the thing that struck me most was the parallel of lower limbs in their history: at the beginning of their lives, Yaakov grasped at Esav’s heel, then engaged in some rather unsavory behavior to usurp his brother’s birthright. Here, decades later, HIS leg is injured, mirroring his brother’s “wound,” and the very next day, Yaakov and Esav meet and reconcile.

There was some very nice input (not mine; I think it was Rabbi Scott’s) on this last option, raising the possibility that Yaakov and Esav had to have a physical confrontation, a cathartic wrestling match, to get out their aggression and relieve their longstanding animosity, and that only after this fight could they embrace and kiss and weep.

All in all, a nice lead-in to the holiday. Tomorrow first thing in the morning we head downtown for the 5K Walk for the Hungry, then relax and eventually head to dinner to give thanks ourselves. Happy holiday!

July 24, 2007

It’s the Irony, Stupid: Hospitality and Spirituality in the Middle East, Then and Now

When I started writing this (Sunday, July 15 or thereabouts) I didn’t know where it was going, so I didn’t post it. It took about a week for the realization to sink in that the thing that brought these two subjects into relief for me was the irony and sadness over the powerful positive connotations I held based on history, our sacred texts, ands personal experience, and the terrible depths of hostility and spiritual corruption we’ve reached today in the region. I am leaving much of the piece intact as I first wrote it, with the addition of the link to my friend Scott’s powerful piece at the end.
***
Two aspects of Middle Eastern culture, and how they are played out today in the Middle East and here in the US, came into sharp relief for me recently: Hospitality and spirituality.

The hospitality I’m referring to is the “open door” policy extant in many Arab and Israeli homes – whereby friends, family, and sometimes even strangers are welcomed with open arms and well-stocked pantries, often with no advance notice. Last Sunday, after a lovely late morning playdate and light picnic at a park near our house, we invited a couple of the friends we were with back to our place for lunch. Eric & Shauna said they had to run a bunch of errands so they would take a rain check. Half an hour later, as we were noshing with Tamar, the one friend who’d come over initially, they called and said they were done, and would we mind some company. Without hesitation, we added two place settings to our dining room table, and our impromptu gathering lasted until the late afternoon. Once we’d started feeding them, Eric admitted that he’d only called because Shauna thought it’d be weird to just show up on our door unannounced. I assured her that it would not have been weird at all and that they are encouraged to do that sort of thing any time they feel like it. Jenn isn’t Israeli, but her subscription to this same philosophy is entirely unsurprising considering our compatibility with each other (which we discovered very early on – like on our first date).

When Jenn and I were looking for our first house together a couple of years ago, we walked into the abode we now call home and fell in love with it, largely because of the layout of the dining room/living room, which is really one enormous room divided only by the entryway from the front door, with no steps or walls separating the space. We immediately realized that this room could hold more than two dozen people at a festive meal, a scene we hoped to see brought to life in our home as often as possible.

Later that same night, as I was rocking Hadarya to sleep, I recognized (in the truest sense of that word: I revisited the knowledge, or cognition, of) the blessings she has brought into our lives. We are committed to giving something back in acknowledgment of and gratitude for those blessings. On her birthday, we want to do something to honor the sacrifice and bravery of her birth mother; and we also will continue to recognize the role my bone marrow donation played in the cosmic balance of our lives and our struggle to expand our family.

I don’t believe in an active God of history, a literal being of some sort that has a hand (outstretched or otherwise) in everyday events. My conception of a “higher being” is much more along the lines of a shared human trait of Godliness, a spark of divinity that each of us carries. The more people recognize that spark within themselves (and choose to follow its guidance rather than ignore it), the more God is present in the world.

All of these thoughts and experiences got me thinking about the geographical region where I was born, and the one I now reside in, and whether there’s some qualitative difference in how people relate to each other and to God in these two regions (and elsewhere). The whole cradle of civilization thing, and the old joke about the God hotline being a local call from there, make it clear that other people have thought about this before me (I’m not claiming originality here), and I don’t have any answers, but I’m thinking about it.

Modern history, unfortunately, puts hospitality and spirituality in a different light: A recent scene from the West Bank where the open door is specifically shut in the face of a neighbor (92 MB WMV – even with broadband, it’ll take a while, but it’s worth it here it is on YouTube), and the centuries of religion-based hostility and violence in the Middle East (um, read/watch the news?), highlight only the differences between the peoples and downplay (if not outright ignore) the positive aspects of these qualities.

I was aided in my move forward to post by this gut-wrenching recollection by my good friend Scott of his visit to Hebron. I was in Hebron for a couple of months – including the High Holy Days – while serving in the IDF in ’92, so I can sadly say that his characterization of that place is spot on.

Now I just need to figure out how to react and work for change.

July 16, 2007

Things that make me sad…

Filed under: Christianity,Commentary,SDSU,Torah Commentary,work — howdoyoujew @ 16:27

Sad in a cosmic, global way, not a “boo-hoo” way:

Evangelical/fundamentalist Christians who co-opt Hebrew, specifically Hebrew sacred texts and liturgy, without understanding or respecting their meanings.

I was prompted to post this by an example I ran into today, which itself reminded me of another from a couple of years ago.

Today I manned an information table on behalf of Career Services for incoming freshmen at SDSU as part of the orientation program that runs throughout the summer. At one point, two young ladies approached the table and my colleague and I asked them if they were interested in finding work on campus, thinking about their careers, etc. – the standard questions we ask to engage the uninitiated and create an opening to tell them about our services. The two immediately informed us that they weren’t, in fact, incoming students, but that they were from Minnesota and South Dakota, respectively. When I asked (politely) what they were doing on campus, they asked if we’d ever heard of Campus Crusade for Christ. My colleague Adam and I admitted that we had, and they told us they were here representing their respective campuses as part of a training program or some such.

This made the fact that one of them (the Minnesotan) was wearing a necklace with a silver pendant reading “אשת חיל” (Eshet Chayil – Woman of Valor) much more interesting to me. I’d noticed it before they’d identified themselves, and I commented that I liked it. When the wearer said she’d been told that it meant “Excellent woman” I noted the standard translation, and she balked, saying she didn’t want to be a woman of valor at all – that it implied things like courage (and a couple of other qualities she spit out) which she, apparently, either didn’t possess at all or didn’t aspire to. It turned out the other girl had an identical pendant (as did, presumably, all the other girls in their study group), and that they’d “studied” Proverbs 31 (Google search results, revealing thousands of pages of Christian reflections on this beautiful poem and nary a Jewish take; I guess all the Jewish web references to it refer to it by its title, as these searches for Eshet Chayil and Woman of Valor show) along with some other important women in the Bible, including Hannah and Rahab.

This exchange reminded me of one that occurred at the end of the 27 hours of parenting classes Jenn and I had to take when we signed up to adopt through the county a couple of years ago. During the last class session, we schmoozed a bit with the other “students” – all prospective adoptive parents. I don’t remember how, but I got to talking to a woman who was wearing a ring with “אני לדודי ודודי לי” (Ani l’dodi ve-dodi li – I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine). She rubbed me the wrong way to begin with by basically quizzing me on the phrase, not satisfied when I told her I knew what it meant in Hebrew; she had me recite the verse, then she showed off her knowledge by parroting the next couple of lines. When I asked about how she came to be wearing the ring, since she wasn’t Jewish, she said she’d gotten it through her church, and that she wore it around the house when she was doing chores and cleaning and stuff.

Wonderful. So our sacred texts are reduced to accompanying non-Jews on their chores and missions. Of course, we elevate the texts when we truly study them, reflect on them, and live by them, but should we be more possessive of them? Seriously, I’m asking.

p.s.: My favorite part of the exchange with the Campus Crusade girls was that the colleague I was at our table with is a practicing Muslim. He and I had a good chuckle at the irony of the whole situation after they left.

July 12, 2007

Random thoughts

I ought to be blogging more. edited to add: and I ought to fix/edit my sidebar contents.

I had a productive day at work today, with a “third time’s a charm” situation regarding videotaping a presentation given by our esteemed young employer relations specialist and a rep from SDG&E. Then the day was made more productive by a quick, off-the-cuff conversation with our bright associate director as I was on my way out of the office for the day. It’s very true that a great deal of learning (if not most of it) is accomplished outside the classroom, and that holds true for work as well – some of the most innovative, helpful ideas are reached not during formal “work” time, but in these side conversations, at informal networking happy hours, etc.

Hadarya was a little ornery this afternoon/evening, after a lovely time at the swimming pool. She was fine in the pool, but then didn’t have much of an appetite at dinner, then was very unhappy in the bath, which is extraordinarily odd for her. She went down for the night a little later than usual (with Ima), but has been sleeping soundly for the last couple of hours, so I’m looking forward to a good day tomorrow (end of her second week at the excellent SDSU Children’s Center).

I’m frustrated at the lack of time I think I have for things like updating our flickr site, blogging and podcasting, and other “leisure” activities, but I also know it’s more a matter of time management than actually not having the time. I wonder if Avraham’s sending me this link earlier today was a bit of divine intervention? I don’t know if I need the additional tool, having become a Bit Literacy junkie, but I’ll be examining my options more closely.

Having just written that (after a break for a family obligation that we’ll talk about another time), and having read a bit of Steve Pavlina’s stuff, I realize that this site and blog can serve as my vehicle for journaling, with the added benefit (?) of having other people chime in on my goals, activities, and writing, something that may serve as an additional incentive to improve myself.

I really want to go to Comic-Con this month. I’ve wanted to go for a few years, and this year, as a fan of a bunch of webcomics whose creators will be here in town for the festivities, I feel it’s the right first time. I want to take Hadarya, because I think it’ll be awesome-sauce to have some of the artists I enjoy so much sketch her now (and when we return in the coming years, as I hope to). So this weekend I’ll try to figure out if I can still get in, how much it’ll cost, and check with my better half as to the feasibility of this venture.

Most daunting part of this post? Going back and adding all the links.

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