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Women and men on the Internet

This article from Red Herring is interesting. Findings from the study on which the article is based include:
Here is the 54-page report (PDF) on which the article is based. The report was released yesterday by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.


It's a Wonderful Internet and other funny stuff

It really is, isn't it? This is a clever remake of Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life, which I finally saw a few years ago when I decided to become culturally literate (or start, anyway).

I also thought this, "Christmastime for the Jews," was kind of funny, especially the part about playing for the Lakers.



Shira, a"h

Shira's fifth yahrzeit is today, the 25th of Kislev. She was twenty when she died, five days after being struck by a car while crossing the street. I would so love to know what she would have done in the past five years, had she been granted them. I look at photos of her at 20 and I want to get to know the 25 year old Shira and the 35 year old Shira and the 45 year old Shira, and the fact that I never will hurts so damned much.

That old tired saying about not knowing what you have until you've lost it applied to Shira and my relationship to her. We were juniors in college when she died, but I had known her since freshman year. We didn't really travel in the exact same social circles, but I knew her from Hillel and some mutual friends and spoke with her when I saw her. We were assigned to the same dorm sophomore year, so we got to see more of each other that way. During our junior year, we were assigned to the same floor in the same dorm, so I saw even more of her. That fall, we had some interesting conversations about egalitarianism and Judaism. As anyone who knew her can attest, she was a staunch and fierce proponent of egalitarian Judaism, and I was a somewhat jaded Orthodox Jew. One morning on the shuttle between our far-flung dorm and the main campus, we spoke about selichot, and the difficulty of going to them in the mornings preceding Rosh Hashanah. We sometimes shared a meal in the dining hall and spoke about papers we were writing. She once performed a miraculous feat and edited a paper for me sometime between 2 am and 9 am. I sometimes ran into her in the computer lab, when we were both working feverishly. The last conversation I had with Shira was in the computer lab, a day or so before the accident, commiserating over work and the sloped dormer ceilings we both had--she had accidentally scraped her hand on the rough plaster. When she died, I was deep into the process of becoming friends with her. Loss of the past, present, and future of my growing friendship with Shira intermingled in my mind.

I don't know what to do, what to do with this old, tired pain, and with the anger, too. Grief. It's so damned unpredictable. One minute you're calmly reflecting on the life of someone you've lost, and the next minute, the cruel heartless unpredictability of her life hits you hard. Does the grief and anger ever go away? Why do 20 year olds die? Ever? Why are 20 year olds struck in the street by a driver who is not drunk, just briefly distracted?

The first year, the year of her death, was horrific, but numbing. It's all a mess in my head--the latke bash at Hillel, a rainy night, the news in the morning, disbelief, visiting her and holding her hand and telling her I loved her and willing wishing hoping life into her in the intensive care unit, seeing her grief-stricken strong loving crushed parents and sister, seeing my friends walking around shocked and empty, being utterly alone in the dorm at the beginning of winter break and seeing no one except the security guard and Shira's ever-present friends and relatives at the hospital, going to my grandmother in New York not knowing what was happening to Shira, hearing of her death the first day of Chanukah, going to the funeral, seeing hundreds and hundreds of people there, hearing people's memories of Shira before we had even really grasped the finality of her death, going to the grave, seeing dirt being put onto the coffin by Shira's grandmother and parents and thinking that no grandmother should ever have to bury her granddaughter, going to the shiva house, the long silent drive back from New Jersey to Cambridge, and the shock and disbelief and incredulity at the horror of the world in all of those 20 and 21-year-old faces.

It was Chanukah and I wanted to yell at God. I didn't want to sing God's praises in the form of Hallel for almost a week following her funeral. Such a thought was absurd. I love Hallel, but that Chanukah, Hallel seemed like one cosmic joke gone horribly awry. How do you sing the praises of One who let a 20 year old die?

The day after the funeral, I flew to California to spend the end of Chanukah with my other grandparents, because I had already made plans and the alternative was spending a week alone in the dorm where Shira and I had both lived. I was so sad and empty and lonely. Going back to school and try to finish up the fall semester with all of its attendant finals and papers was hell on multiple levels.

That was Shira's death to me. Everyone had their own experience of it.

Shira's first yahrzeit, we were all seniors in college, and it was the first anniversary of her death. It was the first time we were remembering her death--not experiencing it as bystanders. We were removed from her death by a year, and from her life by a year. There was a memorial service at Hillel, and we learned beautiful texts in her memory. It also signified the end of a very painful year. After this, it would no longer, in any way, be "the year Shira died." A year during which whenever I turned around on campus, I saw Shira standing there. I shook my head and she would be gone, replaced by some other petite, beautiful, smiling student. I had a very powerful dream about Shira during that first year after her death. We had an important conversation and it was as real to me as any conversation I've had with anyone in life, and it helped me move on in many ways.

What does one do with the memories of Shira, the memories of the pain of her death, and the residual grief? What do you do with grief? It sometimes seems, as the years go by, that the grief recedes. I would hope that there might come a time when I would be less angry and more accepting of all of the gifts that Shira bestowed upon us: smiles, happiness, music, dance...the list, of course, goes on... I sit here on the first night of Chanukah listening to the soundtrack from Guys & Dolls in Shira's memory, and it seems right and appropriate. But sometimes I worry that I am not sad enough, not grief-stricken enough. Or else I worry that I am too sad, too grief-stricken, and have not moved on or gained enough appreciation for all of the good things of Shira's life that live on through us, her friends. And I worry that I have not done enough to remember her.

What does it all mean, five years later?

I'm really not sure.

I miss you, Shira. I miss you so much.



I Like Christmas the Best

Of all of the holidays that I don't celebrate, I like Christmas the best. I really have a dislike of Halloween and Easter does absolutely nothing for me. I don't even really pay attention to Easter, and am always surprised to see so many people dressed up that Sunday.

But I kind of like all of the lights and kitsch of Christmas. First of all, I adore the smell of fresh pine trees that line the streets of New York. It reminds me of the holiday of Sukkot, back in the day, when people used evergreen boughs for schach instead of that roll-out bamboo stuff, and the smell would fill the yard. (At least in my neck of the woods--I imagine people in other parts of the world use whatever is native there. But that piney stuff sure smells nice, even if it does sometimes make those little green wormy things float on silken threads, dangling right over your hot soup. Anyone know what those are? Yech...) I like the cheerful, peppy music, and almost nothing beats the Gingerbread Latte and Peppermint Hot Chocolate drinks that Starbucks concocts every December. And, finally, I like it that everyone brightens up for just a little while in what sometimes feels like the dead of winter but is really just the beginning of a very long slog through the cold, short, heartless days of winter.

One more thing about Christmas--as much as I enjoy it from afar, I am very glad that I don't celebrate it. I am so glad that I don't feel all this pressure to buy stuff. I know that the buybuybuy mentality it not what Christmas really is, or should be, about for Christians, but it does overwhelm the holiday and the country at this time of year. And I am quite happy saving my money this time of year, and finding things on sale at other times of year (or right after Christmas). I don't have to brave the crowds or buy gifts for anyone. I tend not to be a big gift-giver (or gift receiver), including on Chanukah and birthdays, but I think most people feel that they have to give gifts to all of their friends and relatives on Christmas, and I don't. Which is quite nice. Plus, I never had to believe or not believe in Santa Claus. I always knew it was all a big lie. (Now the Tooth Fairy, that's another thing entirely!)

Please note that all of this is not to disparage Chanukah, which has nothing in common with Christmas except the time of year in which it occurs. Chanukah is one of my favorite holidays that I do celebrate! It's a nice one, and fairly low-key (in a good way), although it really hasn't been the same since I lost a dear friend on the first night of Chanukah. Tomorrow night, the first night of Chanukah, is her fifth yahrtzheit. I still miss her. Maybe that will be another post if I feel up to it.


Someone was listening...

As you all surely must know by now, the strike is over! And not a moment too soon!


Strike (day) three! I've had enough!

No more observations from the field. The novelty has worn off. Completely. The party's over. I am ready for this transit strike to be done. Okay? Do you hear me? It's messing with my weeknight plans, my weekend plans, and my Chanukah plans, not to mention my workday. I have a very long workday and I really didn't enjoy walking home at 8 pm last night in the cold and dark. I thought about walking through the park but was told by three or four people that that would be stupid and very dangerous (Cop on 5th Ave.: "I wouldn't let my mother or my sister walk through the park alone, even with a transit strike."), so I walked around, lengthening my 2 mile walk to 2.5 miles.

You hear? Good. Thanks for listening.

UPDATE: I heard a train running this morning! The B or C! Running uptown! (You can't hear the downtown trains from the street.) Then I read this in the New York Times: "Supervisors have been running empty trains over the rails to keep the rails polished and prevent rust." Oh, well. I'm glad they're keeping the rails polished and rust-free.



Strike (day) two! More observations from the field

(Image courtesy of the NYT.)

I walked to work again this morning. As I started out, I was thinking, "This was fun once, but doing this every day could get old mighty fast." It's two miles and it was 26 degrees outside this morning. Luckily, I managed to get a ride home from work last night, which was much appreciated. It's one thing to walk two miles in the morning, and quite another to walk them at night.

However, I really like sunshine and walking, both of which were in abundance this morning. Once I put on a little Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington and went on my merry way, I was happy as a clam. It felt so good to be outside in the fresh air, or what passes for fresh air in these parts. I gained a renewed appreciation for Central Park.

Along the way, I observed:
I want to bring a camera with me tomorrow morning, if the strike is still on.

Also, this graphic from today's New York Times, especially "The Worst Affected" graphic, supports my assertion that the worst affected by this strike are the people who live the farthest out and rely on the transit system the most.


Strike (day) two! American Jewish women and the history of the American labor movement

Of course this would interest me!

Rose Schneiderman (1882-1972) and all of that. The Jewish Labor Committee has a list of interesting readings on the American Jewish labor movement.

I can recommend this terrific book, called Common Sense and a Little Fire, if you're interested in the history of American Jewish women in the labor movement at the turn of the last century. It's about Rose Schneiderman, Pauline Newman, Clara Lemlich Shavelson, and Fannia Cohn, and I read it for a class my freshman year (I think). It was this class, taken as part of my history requirement in college, that convinced me that I needed to major in History and Women's Studies.

I kind of miss this stuff. This stuff being the the history of women in reform movements in the United States from the 1880s through the end of WW I and the granting of woman suffrage. It used to fascinate me, and in some ways, it still does. I think I am especially interested in the visual media from that period, and in the use of images, especially of women, to both sell and denounce ideas.

I don't miss it enough to do anything about it right now, because I'm too busy just living my life such as it is at the moment...

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Strike (day) one! Observations from the field

(Image courtesy of the NYT.)

Yeah, so the strike that didn't happen on Friday happened today. I walked to work this morning. Along the way, I observed a lot of irate people stuck in traffic, one very busy bicycle shop, and many, many more pedestrians than usual. It was kind of nice (except for the honking cars with irate drivers). The street that weren't full of angry people in cars were empty and quiet and lovely, because they were being saved as routes for emergency vehicles. People were jollier than usual (doesn't take much in New York!), and it was nice to see so many people out and about. There was a sort of pioneer spirit in the air--"I usually take the subway downtown, but dognabit, today I'm going to walk!" It felt like everyone was in the same boat, more or less.

Except, of course, wealthier people who lived and worked in Manhattan had an easier time than people who had to come in from outlying areas (I don't mean Westchester County or Greenwich, I mean Brooklyn or Queens or the Bronx). I heard one man on a bicycle saying that something sucked (I couldn't hear what) and that someone or other didn't care about the poor people. One of the reasons that I live where I live is because, in a pinch (or even not a pinch--on a day when I get up early enough), I can walk to work. I pay excessive rent for this privilege. I am lucky that way.


Public libraries and the Internet

It's no joke--I haven't been to a public library in six weeks, which is a very long dry stretch for me! (Except for a month or so before I move, when I don't set foot in a library for fear of losing a book in the move, I usually go to the library regularly.) It's just that lately, the library is never open when I have time to go. The local library is open from 10 am to 6 pm most days, and until 8 pm on Tuesdays. That's still too early for me to get there most weeks. It's not open on Sunday at all, and the Saturday hours don't help me much. I don't blame the library, though. They don't have enough money to stay open more. I blame the state and the city for not providing better funding. I would pay $5/month more in taxes if it meant that the library was (were?) open more.

That's it! I'm becoming an associate of the library! There, now I feel much better. At least I'm doing something...

So I don't go to the library much these days. I do most of my reading on the Internet. Even when I wrote a paper for my library science class, we were supposed to get all of our sources from various electronic databases--I didn't do any research in the physical library, although the resources were provided by the library. The New York Public Library is no different in terms of resources available online. In addition to their Digital Library, they have all of these electronic databases. You can even search their entire catalog in Hebrew, from your very own home! (I think that's mostly for searching for things from their Dorot Division.)

It's an interesting philosophical question--where is the library if so many of its resources are available online and if working people can't go because it's never open? Will the brick and mortar library be replaced by the library-on-the-Internet? It sometimes appears that way. Would that be a good thing? I think I would miss physical libraries if they disappeared. I once went into the NYPL to use one of their electronic resources and I sat in a room full of computers, with other people tip-tapping away next to me...and it was kind of sad. Not like the somber, stately reading rooms of yore. I'm no luddite by any means, but I sure do love paper books.



Why I have to leave this city before I get sucked into the vortex

Over the weekend, I heard three or four little boys, probably in the 8-10 year old range (although I find that the older I get, the harder it is for me to estimate these things), having an argument. They were talking about real estate. One said to the other, "Your father doesn't even own any real estate!" Then the landed gentry among them (not the poor fellow whose father didn't own any real estate) continued to argue over whose father owned more buildings.


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Chayyei Sarah's Appreciation Wednesdays

Chayyei Sarah started something she calls "Appreciation Wednesdays." So far, she's appreciated Jeff Finger and Zev Stub (the moderators of the Janglo group on Yahoo), her ability to see, Richard Simmons, and families who invite single people to Shabbat meals. I think it's a terrific idea. So terrific that I wanted to blog about it. I would even copy her if that wasn't blatantly stealing someone else's idea.

On this Wednesday, however, she wants to know what we appreciate. So, go tell her! And tell me! And tell the person, people, or creatures you appreciate! If it's an inaminate object, you can tell it, too, but people might look at you like you're crazy.


The nation's most literate cities, 2005

As someone who loves to read, this study interested me. The study was done by the president of Central Connecticut State University, and the results--the top ten most literate American cities, in order--are:

Seattle, WA
Minneapolis, MN
Washington, DC
Atlanta, GA
San Francisco, CA
Denver, CO
Boston, MA
Pittsburgh, PA
Cincinnati, OH
St. Paul, MN

I am actually not so surprised that Boston made it but New York did not. Of course, an anecdote does not make a fact, but during my working days in Boston, I noticed that almost everyone on the T* was reading (either a book or a newspaper). The same was not true on the buses, for various reasons. Fewer people read on the subway in New York City, even though there are still a fair number of people reading. I also noticed that six of the ten cities get really cold in the winter, although they are not the coldest cities in the US by any means. I wonder if that has anything to do with it?

The ranking was slightly different in 2004, when the previous study on this subject was done.

If you go to the links on the left side of the page for the 2005 study, you'll also find out interesting things like the ten American cities with the most booksellers. I was very surprised that Boston did not make that list, or New York, for that matter. (Even though fewer people seem to read here, there are a lot of bookstores. Or so I thought. I guess if it's calculated per capita that probably works against New York.) On the same page, you'll find this associated "factoid":
The presence of retail book stores is positively associated with quality of libraries. So, it is not a question of whether people buy books or check them out: they do both or neither.
Anyway, I'll leave the rest for you to explore. Hint: All the fun factoids are gathered in one place here.

Hat tip to CNet News, a.k.a. news.com.com!

*When I first moved to New York City, I kept calling the subway the "T," much to the amusement of my native New York friends. I still sometimes do, when I'm tired enough.



Cutting down on junk mail

For my American readers, some helpful advice below.

This has gotten particularly bad for me. I mean, I like getting the Lands End catalog since they sometimes have good prices on things and that reminds me to go online and check their overstock website. Although even they are going overboard lately, what with three catalogs arriving in the past month. But I also get several charity solicitations a day (my fault--I give charity) and tons of credit card offers or those annoying "checks" from credit card companies. The latter two categories go right into the shredder for me, since I'm not keen on dealing with the aftermath of identity theft. But it's time-consuming and annoying as hell. Plus, it makes me into a bad roommate. I come home, see the stack of 10 envelopes from the day, and can't deal with separating out the one or two important ones from the rest, so I let them pile up on the shelf and they eventually become mountainous and messy. I try to clear them away once a week, by which time I almost have enough to fill a paper grocery sack. Or so it seems.

So this is what I did today, and as soon as I have the energy, I will call my credit card companies and see if they will stop sending me things besides my statements.

Direct Marketing Association's Mail Preference Service: you can pay $5 and do it online or pay 37 cents and mail them a letter (guess which option I chose!)

Opt-Out of pre-approved credit card and insurance offers with the three credit bureaus: You can choose to opt-in, opt-out for five years, or opt-out permanently. It takes two seconds.

I found these two options above here. These were the two easiest, quickest, online options. They should make a difference over the next 1-6 months. There are other options, but they seem to involve placing actual phone calls.

You can also try junkmailstopper.com, and this website, although I haven't really looked at them in any depth, though, so use their advice at your own risk.

Let me know if you have any other tips or thoughts. Thanks!


Several good reasons not to wear makeup

can be found here. It's a bit sensationalist/angry for my taste, but it makes good points, especially about that ridiculous business of plucking off eyebrows and drawing them back on.

Aside from all that, though, the main issues I have with makeup are the time it takes to put on (which could better be spent sleeping or reading or pretty much anything else), and the fact that it's sometimes really uncomfortable (like you feel like your face is caked with...something). And if you have anything near your eyes, and you rub them, you look ridiculous. And that if you get makeup that doesn't smear around your eyes then it takes a serious chemical wash to remove. But, hey, aside from that...!

P.S. I still find it fun to wear makeup sometimes. Why?


It's good to know what you don't like

I don't know if it's kosher to blog about one's relatives without their permission. Probably not. But I will share this one vignette, if you'll pardon me. If the aforementioned relatives object, I'll take down the post.

This particular young relative had wanted to be a fire fighter for a very long time, at least in "young people's time." (A year for me is like almost nothing now, it's scary. When I was little, an hour seemed like f o r e v e r...) She recently told her mother that she had decided that she didn't want to be a fire fighter. Her mother asked her why and she said, "Because I don't like smoke."

The End

It's good to know what you don't like. In college one semester I found the several-hundred-page course guide so overwhelming that I cut out all the pages from the departments that I knew I wasn't interested in (Physics, Earth and Planetary Sciences, East Asian Studies), so it wouldn't be so hard to choose from what was left.

I also went to a career fair there once and discovered a plethora of careers that I was emphatically not interested in. That was something of a relief--no need to go through the recruiting wringer, etc.



First Snow

New York City had its first snow on Sunday. At least, I assume it was on Sunday. I went outside at 3 pm on Sunday and was shocked to see snow on the ground, since I didn't notice it as it was coming down.

Funniest overheard comment, from a mother to her young child, on the streets of New York, "I never, ever want to see you putting snow in your mouth! Do you understand?"

I found this to be sad, since I used to eat snow as a kid. Of course, only from my yard, snow that hadn't been walked on, etc. Do city kids at least get to eat snow in Central Park? Not that it tastes that good, but it's so irresistible that I imagine any kid needs to try it at least once.

Funniest visual moment: Seeing a 4-ish-year-old girl carrying a chunk of snow in her mittened hands, all the way up Broadway, with her dad. I saw them at one point, and then saw them again about a mile further north, snow still gently cradled in mittened hands. So cute! And funny!

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Happy Monday Story: Colored Bubbles

Here you go.

This really makes a great story--it has intrigue, mishaps, dedicated scientists working 'round the clock, and a happy ending.

Three cheers for inventor Tim Kehoe!

It reminds me a bit of the original flubber movie, which I remember enjoying as a kid shortly after we got a VCR. Especially the part about accidentally discovering a bouncing bubble!



Do you love your Mac?

For your listening pleasure--"I Love My Mac."

Chodesh tov!

Chodesh Kislev tov, everyone. Woo hoo! 25 days until Chanukah! I have no deeper thoughts than that at the moment, but maybe I will if I get some sleep this weekend...? One can always hope.

Enjoy the directions for lighting Chanukah candles in American Sign Language, to the left here, couresy of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations (most commonly known as the "OU," the people who supervise food production and then put kosher symbols on packaged food).

Addendum: Why is a male child depicted on the card? I should think, even in 1981, that (at least Ashkenazi) Jewish girls were lighting Chanukah candles along with their brethren. (See Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 23a for a reason why. See Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 17:2 and 589:6 for why Sephardi women don't make brachot over time-bound mitzvot, even ones they are obligated in, if there is a man around to fulfill their obligation. See this for some elucidation on this esoteric topic.)

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Ha, ha! No, I can't relate at all!

to this. This (below) is the sidebar to the article, which is about Internet addiction.

December 1, 2005
Danger Signs for Too Much of a Good Thing

FIFTEEN signs of an addiction to using the Internet and computers, according to Internet/Computer Addiction Services in Redmond, Wash., follow:

  1. Inability to predict the amount of time spent on computer.
  2. Failed attempts to control personal use for an extended period of time.
  3. Having a sense of euphoria while on the computer.
  4. Craving more computer time.
  5. Neglecting family and friends.
  6. Feeling restless, irritable and discontent when not on the computer.
  7. Lying to employers and family about computer activity.
  8. Problems with school or job performance as a result of time spent on the computer.
  9. Feelings of guilt, shame, anxiety or depression as a result of time spent on the computer.
  10. Changes in sleep patterns.
  11. Health problems like carpal tunnel syndrome, eye strain, weight changes, backaches and chronic sleep deprivation.
  12. Denying, rationalizing and minimizing adverse consequences stemming from computer use.
  13. Withdrawal from real-life hobbies and social interactions.
  14. Obsessing about sexual acting out through the use of the Internet.
  15. Creation of enhanced personae to find cyberlove or cybersex.

I found the article itself to be interesting and somewhat amusing. To some extent, I think the time people now spend on computers used to be spent watching TV or reading books or something. I've certainly been accused of "burying myself in a book," as if that was unhealthy or anti-social or something, whereas nowadays, the anti-social activity that's most popular is going online. You could say that it's worse because it's possible that you think more while reading books or that books cause less eyestrain (except for certain people who think that reading with a 40 watt bulb is "reading in the dark"). Or you could say that it's better because being online and chatting, e-mailing, commenting on blogs, etc., is more social than reading a book alone. Up for debate, I would say.

In any case, there is no doubt in my mind that people are spending more and more time online, possibly to the detriment of other things, and that people who have other addiction issues to things that are readily available online (fill in the blank yourself) would have more of a problem with overuse of the Internet than other people. That's basically what the article said. There--now you don't have to read it yourself!


AP story about new CPR guidelines

From my mother. (Thanks!)

The AP article said that it can be taught effectively in half an hour. Who knew?

You can find CPR classes in the US through the American Heart Association website, here. I learned CPR for infants and kids when I took a babysitting class when I was 12, but since they recommend taking a class every couple of years (and not, say, every fourteen years), and since I never learned CPR for adults, this seems like a worthwhile thing to do.


Eretz Acheret

I've seen this journal on sale in Israel, but my Hebrew isn't good enough to read it without great angst and much dictionary-usage. So I was glad when Lisa translated an article from the May-June 2005 edition. Go here to read it. Wow. Like a breath of fresh air, in many ways. And if your Hebrew is any good, you can read more recent editions of Eretz Acheret here.



Letter from George Washington to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport

The United States, the values upon which it was founded (well, most of the values), and the home it's been for my family for the past 100 years are just a few of the things that I'm thankful for today.

I thought this was appropriate for Thanksgiving.

While I received with much satisfaction your address replete with expressions of esteem, I rejoice in the opportunity of assuring you that I shall always retain grateful remembrance of the cordial welcome I experienced on my visit to New Port from all classes of citizens.

The reflection on the days of difficulty and danger which are past is rendered the more sweet from a consciousness that they are succeeded by days of uncommon prosperity and security.

If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored (1), we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good government, to become a great and happy people (2).

The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy—a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights (3), for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my administration and fervent wishes for my felicity.

May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid (4).

May the Father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy (5).

G. Washington
August 1, 1790

(1) I think that having the "wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored" is the hardest thing in the world. Or one of them, at least. But it's so important! So why is it so hard?

(2) The mention of "a great and happy people" draws a smile. Are Americans a "happy people"? I'm not so sure. It's also interesting to remember that "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," I think started out as "life, liberty, and the pursuit of property" or "wealth" or something like that. Is the pursuit of happiness a value? What about just going for "contentedness" or "peacefulness" or "calm"? I think that making the best use of advantages is more important than seeking happiness, but mostly because I think that making the best use of advantages can lead to happiness. I think... Gotta' think about this one some more.

(3) "It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights..." I wish this had been true in 1790. Alas, it was not. I wonder what things we believe are true now will be shown, in retrospect, to be painfully false in 2220?

(4) This messianic imagery is interesting. I believe that early colonial writings and early American writings are full of it. I can't remember any specific examples now. It would be interesting to study, and to compare messianic earmy American imagery with messianic early Israeli imagery. That's my second dissertation, after I write one about the history of the 2nd Avenue subway line...

(5) I just love this last paragraph. LOVE it. "Father of all mercies" seems to be a direct translation of "av harachamim," which appears in Jewish liturgy. I love the image of God scattering light upon our paths--isn't that what we all want, really? Some light along the way? And then the plea to be useful--I think that this is something else that we ultimately all want out of life--to make some kind of contribution to the world. (Let me know when you figure out what mine should be, okay? Because I'm still in the dark over here.) And then back to the happiness--which I'm not so sure is an ultimate goal of mine, but tempered with "in his own due time and way" is a pleasant thought. I guess what I have an issue with is not happiness, because I do truly want that, but this "happiness NOW" phenomenon that I see around me, that seems kind of short-sighted.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving! I am off to a long-awaited, scrumptious meal with extended family!



amateur etymology

On a bus the other day, I overheard the following statement from a young man who was talking to his girlfriend about her Thanksgiving plans. The context was a longer conversation about her family that has, in the past, celebrated Thanksgiving without her on Thursday, rather than wait until the folllowing weekend when people are more available. (Not sure the context is necessary, but there you have it. I side with her family, by the way--no moving holidays to make it convenient. Probably comes from years of observing all those Jewish holidays that fall at the most inconvenient times.)

"That's crazy. That's not what Thanksgiving is about. Just think about what it means. Thanks. Giving. Thanks for what we've been given."

Funny. I always thought Thanksgiving was about "giving thanks," not about thanks for what we've been given. What's the difference? Well, "giving thanks" implies giving thanks regardless of what we've been given, while "thanks for what we've been given" is very tied to what we actually have.



2nd Avenue subway line and predictions from the past

Cool article in today's New York Times.

There is a particularly interesting graphic comparing the number of people who held and currently hold various jobs in New York. Some aren't surprising--there were 624 blacksmiths in NYC in 1955 and there are 0 today. (Where there still horses in NYC in 1955? I mean, besides the touristy/Central Park ones? I assume there were, even though that seems kind of weird to me.)

Another interesting thing is that they predicted a 2nd Avenue subway line, which we are, of course, still waiting for. (In 1973, this was published in a brief history of the 2nd Avenue Subway Line by the Urban Mass Transportation Administration:
By 1942, the Second Avenue Elevated which was badly deteriorated and obsolete was demolished. This led to severe overcrowding on the Lexington Avenue Subway Line and the Third Avenue Elevated, and greatly increased the need for a new subway.
And it's still true today. I mean, the Lexington Avenue Subway Line is severely overcrowded.)

Has anyone written a dissertation on the history of the 2nd Avenue Subway Line? I feel like someone should. And anyone else interested in the history of the New York City subway system should take a look at this website with lots of old subway maps.

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On Feeling Old

Okay, not really.

But I was recently reminded of the Sesame Street skit where a bunch of Muppets are singing in a rocking telephone booth, and when I went to look up the lyrics (God bless Google), I discovered (a) that it was called "Telephone Rock" and (b) just how much has changed since I watched Sesame Street (1982-1985, I think, and longer if you count watching it with younger siblings or while babysitting). Before I even get to deconstructing the lyrics, there are a few obvious differences:

(1) There are very few telephone boothes these days. Most people use cell phones.

(2) When there are phone boothes, they do not have accordion-fold doors. I thought this was to deter homeless people from sleeping in them, but someone else wisely pointed out that this is also an ADA issue. People in wheelchairs can't get into phone boothes with doors.

And now, on to the lyrics!
(lead singer picks up phone in phone booth)

Operator: Number please

I'm saying hey operator, please give us a hand
Ya gotta help us out 'cause we're the telephone band
We're calling all people that are sittin' at home
With some rocking and rolling on the telephone
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah....
(3) There is no more picking up the phone and reaching an operator immediately. I don't think there was in 1980, either. I don't know what happens if you pick up the phone and press "0" now, but I doubt a person (i.e., "operator") answers. A computer probably answers.
Please operator, please give us a chance
The people are waiting so please dial us this dance
They want to hear our music yeah they want us to sing
So operator please make their telephone ring.
(4) There's no more dialing. This doesn't really count, though, since I think people still refer to "dialing" in connection with a telephone. Even though they mean "pressing little buttons."
Rock rock rock
The telephone rock
Let's hear it one more time
Rock rock rock
The telephone rock
You know it only costs a dime yeah
Rock rock rock
The telephone rock
(5) It does not only "cost a dime." It costs at least 50 cents, I think. Although, really, it's been years since I've made a call from a public payphone with actual coins. Before I had a cell phone I used a calling card, because it was cheaper. But still not ten cents for the whole call.

Note: Originally released on the album Signs (1977), Children's Television Workshop.


Which raises the question--did operators "pick up the phone" and place calls for people in 1977?

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On Being Young

Time: Yesterday.

Place: In the woods.

Him: So, when did you graduate college?

Me: January 2003.

Him: Oh, you're young!

Me [thinking, this guy doesn't look so old]: Why, how old are you?

Him: I'm 27.

Me: Well, I'm 26.

Him: Oh.

Me: When did you graduate college?

Him: 1998.

Life is neither a contest nor a race, but if it were, he would win.

P.S. He's a year older and graduated four and a half years before me. Being me, I had to figure out exactly how that was possible. It turns out that his birthday is in February and he was very young for his grade, so he graduated high school two years before me, went to Israel for a year, and then did college in two years.



wheat, barley, vines, fig-trees, pomegranates, olive-trees, and [date] honey

Hi, everyone!

Do you have thoughts about wheat, barley, vines (or grapes), fig-trees, pomegranates, olive-trees (or olive oil or olives), and [date] honey (or dates--the fruit, not the other kind)? Any thoughts at all? Jewish thoughts? General thoughts? Literary thoughts? Musical thoughts? Quotes of any kind? Send them my way, at abacaximamao@gmail.com, or my regular e-mail address, should you be so lucky as to have it. This is critically important! The sooner the better! I am expecting an overflowing cornucopia (heh!) of response. Thanks!

If you could send this to all of your friends and associates, or, better yet, link to it/copy it onto your blog, all the better. Thanks!

These are some of thoughts that others have had about these items to get you started...

“R. Hanina ben Pazzi said: Thorns need not be hoed nor sown—they sprout on their own, rise straight up, and grow. But wheat—how much pain, how much labor is needed before it can be made to grow!”
–Genesis Rabbah 45:4

“When a man sees barley in a dream, it is a sign that his iniquities are removed, for it is said, ‘Thine iniquity is removed and thy sin is expiated.’ (Isaiah 6:7). R. Zera said: I did not decide to go up from Babylonia to the Land of Israel until I saw barley in a dream.”
–B. Berachot 57a

A man makes no noise over a good deed, but passes on to another as a vine to bear grapes again in season.”
–Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. v. 6.

No great thing is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.”
–Epictetus, Discourses. Chap. xv

“Why did you bring the LORD's community into this desert, that we and our livestock should die here? Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!"
–Numbers 20:4-6

“Rabbi Yehoshuah Ben Levi said: ‘Why is Israel compared to an olive tree? Because just as the leaves of an olive tree do not fall off either in summer or winter. So too, the Jewish people shall not be cast off - neither in this world nor in the World to Come.’”
–Talmud, Menachot 53b

“The righteous will flourish like a [date] palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, ‘The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.’”

–Psalms 92:2-5

(It's times like this that I wish I could just fire off an e-mail to Pfoho-Open... Alas, Harvard-NYC and the like just don't match the quick, multivaried, and brilliant responses of a bunch of undergrads with copious amounts of time on their hands.)

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Goodnight Moon goes smokeless

See this article in today's New York Times.

I have had Goodnight Moon read to me, or I've read it to others, countless times in the past 2+ decades. I never, ever recall looking at the photo of the illustrator, Clement Hurd, that was apparently somewhere on the jacket. If I looked at the photo, I certainly never noticed that he was holding a cigarette. And had I noticed, I'm pretty sure that would not have increased the liklihood of my taking up cigarettes. I think you have to be a movie star for that kind of peer pressure to work. (Click here to see a not-very-good-webpage about the American Lung Association's "Hackademy Awards" for movies targeted towards kids and teens that glamorize smoking. I have a feeling that someone, somewhere, has shown that more kids start smoking when more movie stars smoke, either in the movies or in real life, but I haven't been able to find anything about it on the Web.)

In any case, I think that the altered photo is kind of ridiculous looking. This bookstore owner has a website where you can vote on whether you think Clement Hurd should keep his cigarette or hold nothing between his thumb and finger. I don't see why they didn't just find a different photo of him. He apparently stopped smoking sometime in the 1950s and didn't die until the 1980s.


My blog is apparently worth $2,000+

Huh. This is interesting, although I don't really understand how it's computed. Any way that I can cash in?

My blog is worth $2,822.70.
How much is your blog worth?



Word of the day: Abecedary

I was reading the New York Times this morning and I discovered a cool word that I'd never heard before: abecedary. The New York Times defines it as "the letters of the alphabet written out in their traditional sequence," and the article is about the 10th century BCE abecedary they just found in Tel Zayit, Israel. It's the oldest reliably-dated abecedary found to date, which is pretty cool in and of itself. But back to the word! I found these other definitions of abecedary online:
  1. Noun. (Rare): A primer; the first principle or rudiment of anything. (open-dictionary.com)
  2. n. book arranged in alphabetical order; elementary text-book. abecedarian, n. member of 16th-century German Anabaptist sect who refused to learn to read. a. alphabetically arranged. (Dictionary of Difficult Words)
  3. Main Entry: 1abe·ce·dar·i·an
    Pronunciation: "A-bE-(")sE-'der-E-&n
    Function: noun
    Etymology: Middle English abecedary, from Medieval Latin abecedarium alphabet, from Late Latin, neuter of abecedarius of the alphabet, from the letters a + b + c + d: one learning the rudiments of something (as the alphabet) (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary)
  4. abecedary
    Abecedarian \A`be*ce*da"ri*an\, Abecedary \A`be*ce"da*ry\, a. Pertaining to, or formed by, the letters of the alphabet; alphabetic; hence, rudimentary.
    Abecedarian psalms
    , hymns, etc., compositions in which (like the 119th psalm in Hebrew) distinct portions or verses commence with successive letters of the alphabet. --Hook. (Dictionary.com)
I like the word because its origin is obvious (abecedary), once you know its meaning. And because it reminds me of Big Bird's Alphabet Song.



Israel trip wrap-up

I'm home! I've actually been home for eight days now. More on that later.

Since I last wrote from Jerusalem on Friday afternoon, I:
I think that's about it for Israel. It was nice. I can't say it was 100% relaxing and fun, but it was really nice to not be in New York and to not be working.

Anyway, so you know how I said that my life looked like this before I got to Israel?
Accepted new job, feverishly cleaned room for subletter, feverishly packed, had bittersweet last day at old job, took overnight flight to Athens, saw Jewish Museum, Acropolis, and National Archaeological Museum, took 2 am flight to Israel, crashed with family...
Well, my departure looked like this: Observed Shabbat, packed, showered, went out for a "toast" and chocolate milk with my sister, packed some more, wasted time, packed, slept one and a half hours, took taxi to airport, checked out new duty-free area while waiting for 6 am flight to plane (is "plane" the opposite of "deplane"? is "deplane" even a word? I see to recall hearing it from flight attendants. Took off. Arrived in Athens airport. Walked around for a few hours, sat and read, walked around some more. Bought Lindt chocolate. (Yum!) Got onto plane to New York. Sat between largish man and aisle. Across the aisle was a very talkative woman. I learned all about her life. Slept four hours. Audio on the TVs wasn't working, so watched and heard part of Hitch (entertaining enough for a ten hour plane trip), and then watched the whole thing again once the audio was back on. Ate the most nasty meals possible. (These "extra long life" meals from some godforsaken place in Europe--like mushy, freeze-dried, reconstituted, I don't know what. Turkey, tuna, cake in a nasty pudding thing.) Arrived in New York. Took Supershuttle home. Went to bed. Got up. Showered. Unpacked. Went to first day of work at new job!

Whew... Since then, I've been working almost nonstop on non-Shabbat days and I hosted a meal on Shabbat. The new job is good. Very good. More on that, perhaps, another time.

Thanks for tuning in to the non-stop exciting adventures of ALG!

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Blogging from Jerusalem

Ahhh...... Very nice, although I am having some of the usual Israel-related agitas. Maybe I can try to make this just a vacation, not a heart-wrenching inquiry into where I am in my life path and where I'm going. Wouldn't that be nice?

Brief summary of events of past few weeks: Accepted new job, feverishly cleaned room for subletter, feverishly packed, had bittersweet last day at old job, took overnight flight to Athens, saw Jewish Museum, Acropolis, and National Archaeological Museum, took 2 am flight to Israel, crashed with family, observed Yom Kippur. Now, Shabbat in Jerusalem. After that? Who knows!

If you want details about the change of job, feel free to e-mail me and if I know you, I may divulge.

I will likely write about Athens and Israel in more detail at some later point. Thus far, my Hebrew does not seem to have atrophied as terribly as it usually does between trips.

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Because we are your flock

I liked this pre-Yom Kippur dvar Torah from my friend shamirpower, in part, because "Ki Anu Amecha" is one of my all-time favorite parts of the Yom Kippur liturgy. Enjoy!



It was Like a Dream

(I'm going back and blogging about earlier parts of my trip now, when I have time. I'm predating these so they make sense and are in order and all that. Sorry for the historical revisionism. I hope no one has serious objections.)

Athens was like a dream. Seriously! I got on an airplane at around 5:45 pm on Sunday in New York, and got off around 11 am in Athens, Greece. I only slept three or four hours on the plane, I think. For one thing, they kept serving meals. Also, I just couldn't sleep. Even though I had two seats to myself, which is unheard of on most NY-Israel flights. (I guess Athens is a less popular destination, or I usually travel closer to the summer when there are more tourists.) From 11 am until around 10 pm, I did a whole bunch of cool stuff in Athens with my father, and then we got onto another airplane and flew to Israel.

After my father picked me up at the airport and we took the very nice commuter rail thing into Athens, we went to the Jewish Museum of Greece. It was very small, but nice. I learned a little bit about the history of the various Jewish communities in Greece (Athens, Salonika, Ioannina, and other places). The thing that I learned the most about, which I had known the least about before, was the Greek response to the Holocaust. Greece was the only country besides Denmark that did anything to try to stop the wholesale slaughter of Jews by the Nazis. In particular, there was one clergy member in Greece who spoke out against the Holocaust--I believe that he was the only Christian clergy member to do so. I'm sorry that I don't remember his name. I will try to look it up when I have more time and will edit this, or blog about it again.

Then we went to the Acropolis, where we saw the Temple of Athena Nike (about and photos--not mine, which haven't been developed yet), the Propylaia, and a few other assorted temples and things, as well as the Parthenon. The Parthenon was pretty impressive, despite being covered with scaffolding. Actually, the whole Acropolis was kind of impressive. It was huge. It was on a big hill in the middle of Athens and overlooking it. The museum there was also nice.

After that, we went to the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, which had been redone since my father last visited in 1970. I enjoyed both museums, but the main thing I felt was joy that I do not live in ancient Greece. Given the theological problems I sometimes have with Judaism, which I largely believe to be a logical, smart, and good religion, imagine the problems I would have had with the ancient Greek gods! It was bad enough trying to sort out who was who in all of the statues in the museums...

After dinner with a friend of my father's from college and his wife, we went back to the airport. I couldn't really sleep in the airport until our 2 am flight, so I sat in a dazed stupor until we boarded the plane. Then I slept a bit, then we got to Israel! Then I finally went to bed, after saying "hi" to my sister, who was already up and about at 5 am, on her way to her army service.

Phew! So, really, it was like a dream. I can't believe I did all that stuff on so little sleep, and I can't believe I remember so much of it. It was really crazy--sightseeing in Greece sandwiched between two nights of very little sleep. If I did it again with another city (Rome? I'd love to see Rome), I think I would probably try to stay over for a night or two.



Another Rosh Hashanah drash

Hi. Still largely content-less here, but I thought that this post by Zackary Sholem Berger was terrific. And some other year, perhaps I'll even be motivated enough to take its message to heart, and shock myself into action with early-morning wake ups in Elul, and possibly parts of Tishrei as well.

I went to shacharit yesterday morning in honor of the Fast of Gedalia and, in some strange way, because I felt bad for being such a massively unfocused davener on Rosh Hashanah, to the point of missing communal shacharit and Torah reading and nodding off during musaf both mornings. Shacharit yesterday morning was lovely. I made it in time to say one regular piyut of selichot with the congregation, and managed to stay through Torah reading. I am bone-tired today, though, and may have to sleep through Shabbat to make up for it. It's always a trade-off, isn't it?

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Rosh Hashanah drash

In an ideal world, I'd have come up with something original to share for Rosh Hashanah (or the day after), but luckily for us, there remains much to repair in this world before it's ideal. (Can you imagine how boring life would be if we were born in utopia?) So, instead, I share someone else's words instead.

This is from Nafka Mina, whose blog I sometimes read. I really liked it. It resonated.

Shana tova umituka! May you be inscribed for a sweet, fulfilling, healthy, and happy year. (Or if not happy, at least growth-oriented.)

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Source of Lulavim

Does anyone else see the irony in this article? The ironic thing (I think, although I may misunderstand irony like most English-speakers do) is that Egypt is the main source of lulavim.

Sukkot [Tabernacles?] is mostly an agricultural, Land of Israel-based holiday, I think, unlike Pesach, for which I think the historic event of the Exodus is the main focus. But there are those historical, "camping in the dessert on the way out of Egypt" and "cloud of God over our heads in the dessert on the way out of Egypt" things for Sukkot, too. The Egypt connection is what I think is ironic about lulavim coming from Egypt now. At least a little. Plus the Israel-based agricultural stuff, too, I guess, but that, less so.

I feel like I'm slowly losing my grasp of the English language. Chaval.


"Why Girls are Bored with Math"

I thought that the idea presented in this article was interesting, although it's fairly short and doesn't contain enough (any?) supporting data. There is more and more evidence that girls are as good as boys at math, certainly through high school, but don't pursue careers in math/science as much as boys. The article, however, says nothing about whether that's because of societal pressure or hard wiring in the brain or what. I'm not convinced there's any way to figure out which of those it is, though. I mean, short of raising a generation of girls in isolation, free from gender-specific social pressures, I don't see how it could be done. Even if parents are sensitive to these issues, there's no telling what kids will pick up in school from teachers and peers.



"Attack of the Listless Lads"

Read. Discuss. It's kind of related to this post.

I don't have that much original to say about it, although I found it interesting. I disagree with some of the main points of the article, but think that some of what it says is very true. Also, I recognize that my disagreement may be born of the sub-culture that I live in (basically, 20- and 30-something Upper West Siders affiliated with Jewish prayer communities). (Sorry for ending with a preposition. It's been that kind of day.)

Here are some letters (published in Salon) generated by the article.

Other bloggers react:
Pandagon I
Pandagon II
Hugo Schwyzer



Is Church More Fun than Shul?

This article from the Atlanta Jewish Life Magazine tries to answer that.

I thought it was an interesting article. I especially liked this bit:
My interactions with God, while I often see them as formulaic, always have underlying themes of hope and redemption. The desire for true repentance, an integral part of our religion, motivates my prayers. It’s a personal experience.

And, truth be told, it’s not the house of worship but the worship itself that brings people closer to God. No matter how mesmerizing a minister (or dull in this case), his minions move towards a more religious life because of their own faith, their own inner dialogue with God, in whatever shape that takes.

I went to church once, mostly because I was curious and it was so convenient. I kind of liked it, although possibly only because it was different than shul. I really liked the singing. It was excellent. I also enjoyed the decorum of the congregation, and the church itself was very pretty and light inside. And I liked reading the plaques on the wall, especially the one that was related to the thesis that I was writing at the time.

Anyway, the article is interesting on several levels, although I thought it was a bit too long. Thanks to Esther for pointing it out.


Post-Shabbat update

So, the defenestrated pot was recovered. (I feel like defenestrate is a more active verb that would apply to the pot incident, but it's a word that I get to use so rarely that I couldn't resist. Even if the use was imperfect.) I asked the super about it on Friday morning (he speaks English), and he said that the only way to get it back was to have the construction crew go after it. Which they did! It was waiting by the door to my apartment when I got home from work on Friday afternoon. It was slightly dented and oval instead of circular, so the lid no longer fits, but it's okay for boiling things, for the time being. Or for making stir fry or something. I guess I'll have to replace it eventually. How irritating!

And the meal, in the end, was fine. The lasagne wasn't as sour as I had feared. I'm not sure why, but it came out okay. Not my finest effort yet, but passable. The company, however, was excellent!



What I Learned Today

So I attempted to cook a Shabbat meal tonight, for the first time in a long time. And what I learned is that (1) cooking is totally exhausting, especially after a full day of work and (2) tomato puree is a similar consistency to tomato sauce, but it's a lot more acidic. I can't figure out why. It seems like there's the same amount of tomato in it as tomato sauce--I mean, it's not thicker in any noticeable way. So why did it make the lasagna so sour? (And will any one of my eight guests notice? Should I apologize ahead of time? Not mention it? Will they think that the cheese was bad or something? It wasn't. It was brand new.)

Did you know that lasagna can also be spelled lasagne? For years I thought it was spelled lasagne and then whenever I checked, it seemed that lasagna was the correct spelling. So the third thing I learned tonight is that it can, indeed, be spelled lasagna or lasagne.

One other thing I learned tonight: If you put too much in the dish drainer, and the window is open, your good milchig pot will fly right out that window and down to the ground. And because of the side of the building you are on, it won't go all the way down to the basement level, where you could exit near the laundry room and retrieve it. No. It will go down to the upper level of the inner courtyard, and when you ask the doorman if he can help you retrieve it, and have difficulty communicating with him (how do you say "my pot fell out the window" in Spanish? all he understood was window and he came up to the apartment and shut the window in the steaming hot kitchen and the window fell of its track and he couldn't put it back), and not be able to get the pot back at all. It was a nice pot. May it rest in peace.

In the ridiculous lingo that I am sometimes, unfortunately, exposed to, "There were four learnings tonight." Three pretty negative ones and one neutral one (that would be the proper spelling of lasagne/lasagna).



A New Brand of Disaffected Youth

I just read this article from this past Sunday's New York Times Magazine, and some parts of it seemed familiar. Especially the first two paragraphs, reprinted below (links are my own):

"Among the Believers"
Published: September 11, 2005

Benjamin Kunkel's first novel, Indecision, published last month, concerns a young man living in Manhattan and trying, as the title suggests, to figure out what to do with his life. He has a B.A. in philosophy and an active, if confusing, romantic life; he gets by on a combination of office work and parental subsidy. In his author's affectionate estimation, offered over a beer on a recent evening at a Brooklyn bar, this young man, whose name is Dwight Wilmerding, is "kind of an idiot." Perhaps, but he may also be - the critical response to "Indecision" suggests as much - an especially representative kind of idiot. His plight, after all, is - for people of his age and background - a familiar one: an alienation from his own experience brought about by too much knowledge, too many easy, inconsequential choices, too much self-consciousness. Bred in a culture consecrated to the entitled primacy of the individual, he discovers that he lacks a self, a coherent identity, maybe a soul. He feels that he could be anyone. "It wasn't very unusual for me to lie awake at night," he confesses, "feeling like a scrap of sociology blown into its designated corner of the world. But knowing the cliches are cliches doesn't help you to escape them. You still have to go on experiencing your experience as if no one else has ever done it."

Of course, one aspect of that experience is the impulse to rebel against it - the desire to rescue thought, feeling and ambition from the quotation marks that seem perpetually affixed to them, to recover the possibility of earnest emotion, ethical commitment and serious thought. That desire can find any number of outlets, one of which might be - why not? - starting a literary journal, a small magazine.

No, no, I'm not starting a literary magazine or anything. But the article was interesting. People around my age who are over-educated and not sure what to do with their lives. Maybe it's wrong to use the term "over-educated." Maybe nobody can be over-educated, especially just with a measly BA. But it does seem, at 26, that life ought to have more overarching purpose or meaning than mine seems to. Not that I think that a BA gives life any kind of overarching purpose or meaning. Maybe, as some have suggested, it's just a matter of doing and seeing more, and then things will become clearer. Maybe it's too much to expect any kind of clarity at 26. But some people seem to have it...!



I have a fairly strict policy of not blogging about work, but I couldn't help sharing this quote, uttered by a venerable, somewhat-older-than-average coworker this afternoon: "She's the Man!" I thought that this was linguistically interesting for several reasons.

1.) For one, of course, the fact that a woman can be "the Man" might not be self-evident. But, of course, a woman can.

2.) Secondly, how would our understanding of this phrase change if it was, instead, "She's the Woman!" or, perhaps more interestingly, "He's the Woman!"? If you think that sexism is dead, consider this last question fairfully. Any and all answers are welcome, of course, from all three of my readers.

3.) Thirdly, I found it interesting that someone a bit older than average would use this expression. Now, this somewhat-older-than-average coworker is generally quite with-it, and I think that this is particularly true linguistically. (This, unlike some people, whose aquisition of slang seems to have stopped when they were in their 20s, whatever decade that was.) But I still found it interesting, and wondered when that expression became common. Anyone know? Or have access to a reliable idiomatic dictionary?

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Yankees Suck!

So, I went to the Red Sox-Yankees game today. It was fun, although, of course, the wrong team won. And, it was September 11, which can never again be a completely happy day. On the up side, it was a gorgeous day and I got to hang out with SNSM, who explained (several times, in some cases), just who was out on the field and what he was doing there (there were no "she"s on the field, as far as I could tell--are there any female umpires in MLB?).

Having had my second live baseball-viewing tutorial this year, I may begin to understand the game. Thank God. It's a good thing that I moved to NYC in August 2003, or I might never have discovered the fun of baseball at all! (I could not, in good conscience, be a Bostoner living in New York in 2003 or 2004 and not follow baseball, at least once the regular season ended.) (Apologies to AS, for all my scoffing in high school and after when he rhapsodied on and on about the wonder of baseball and I said it was boring and stupid. I was at least partly wrong.) Although I imagine it depends a lot on who you go to the game with. Like, I don't think it would be any fun to go with someone stupid or drunk, or with a Yankees fan. I'm sure there are lots of other people with whom it would not be fun to attend a baseball game.

Enough rambling for now. To all a good night! (The garbage truck pulls up under my window in a little over an hour, and I'd like to be fast asleep before it comes. Otherwise, it sometimes keeps me awake. Ah, the joys of New York! And--can you believe it--they were shouting "Boston sucks!" at the game! I never had my sleep stolen from me by garbage trucks in the Greater Boston area--I can't speak first-hand about Boston proper.)



What I Did Last Night

This. I have never successfully learned Gemara without a teacher, so we'll see how it goes.

In other news, I found my keys today. They had gone into hiding for several months, and I had, in the meantime, made copies from other people's keys, but it was still nice to find them. (I knew they were in my apartment, since the last time I used them was to let myself into the apartment.) The key-finding is part of a larger operation to clean my room and file lots and lots of papers. I think that I may be keeping too many papers, but I don't know what to throw out. Thoughts, anyone? Paid cell phone bills? Paid cable-modem bills? The same from last year? I feel like I must have paid bills going back several years, along with credit card statements, bank statements, receipts, etc. I can probably toss most of it. Or maybe I should toss the box of old New Yorkers that I never read. Or I can toss all of it! After the papers are more or less sorted out, I plan on finally going through all of the boxes of miscellaneous things that I haven't unpacked since I last moved. (Don't ask when that was. It was awhile ago.)

Also, today is the second day of Rosh Chodesh Elul, aka 1 Elul. I don't feel spiritually ready for Elul at all. I kind of wish we could skip it and Tishrei this year. What are the odds?



A Lament for New Orleans

Chayyei Sarah once again hits the nail on the head. And I quote, in its entirety:

A Lament for New Orleans*

Oh, how she sits in solitude.
The city that teemed with people has become like a widow.
She that was great among the nations, the princess among provinces, has become a tributary.
She weeps bitterly in the night, and her tear is on her cheek . . .

*with thanks to the prophet Jeremiah, who put it better than I ever could.


Before this happened, I don't think I could have comprehended what the destruction of an entire city meant. I can't believe that everything can be taken away from so many people, so quickly. (Of course, this is the voice of privilege, from my perch in middle class America. In many places in the world, everything is taken away quickly.) And, like Moxie, I don't understand why people are still without food and water. Why did it take four days for National Guard trucks to arrive with supplies? I am aghast. And sad.

Shabbat shalom...


Grading the World's Flags

Sorry for the lack of original content. This is amusing.


Vintage drug ads

While I sit here contemplating nothing, here are some vintage drug ads for your viewing pleasure. (From Wandering Jew.) I especially like the Thorazine ad. Most of them seem to be for various forms of anesthesia, sleeping pills, or pain relief.


Moonshine and Sunshine

No, not that kind of moonshine! The original kind. Last night, as I was falling asleep, I saw something bright out my window, at a height appropriate to the moon. I assumed that it was a light on in the building across the street. Why? Because right after I moved in, I got all excited and happy one night, thinking that the moon was shining through my window, and it was really the person across the street who leaves his/her/their very bright overhead light on all night. And it shines right into my eyes. (I should get heavier curtains.) So I resolved never to make that mistake again. Too disappointing.

But last night, it really was the moon! It had a face! Unless the across-the-street neighbors put a face on their living room light, it was the actual moon! This is very exciting because there is only a small piece of the sky visible from my bedroom window, and the moon is usually not in that part of the sky when I am going to sleep.

And the sun. How could I, in New York, ever see the sun? And during working hours! Here's how: At certain times of year, the sun reflects of the shiny high-rise buildings across from my office, straight into my window. (Yes, I am lucky and grateful to have an office window, although all I see out of it are the windows on the building across the street.) Anyway, this week has been one of those times. It's not reflecting off the building directly opposite my office, so it's kind of, well, diluted sunlight, but it is sunlight nonetheless! I think it might reflect into my office more directly in the winter. I will let you know.


Health insurance in America, or lack thereof

This is a pretty horrifying article from this week's New Yorker about the state of health in America today. I was not surprised by what a lot of what it said. I took a class on the economics of health care when I was a senior in college and learned a lot of the same things. I was a bit surprised by the magnitude of the problem, and by the position of the Bush Administration, which I fully admit to paying little attention to. Some of the highlights (okay, a bit more than highlights) below:

The bad idea behind our failed health-care system.

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