4.30.2007

What? Women don't work more hours than men?

According to this Slate article, which is based on this National Bureau of Economic Research research paper ("Total Work, Gender and Social Norms"), women and men in the United States do the same amount of work each day:
Throughout the world, men spend more time on market work, while women spend more time on homework. In the United States and other rich countries, men average 5.2 hours of market work a day and 2.7 hours of homework each day, while women average 3.4 hours of market work and 4.5 hours of homework per day. Adding these up, men work an average of 7.9 hours per day, while women work an average of—drum roll, please—7.9 hours per day. This is the first major finding of the new study. Whatever you may have heard on The View, when these economists accounted for market work and homework, men and women spent about the same amount of time each day working. The averages sound low because they include weekends and are based on a sample of adults that included stay-at-home parents as well as working ones, and other adults.
Okay, fine. But the article (and, I suppose, the study that inspired it), is a bit disingenuous and thus not as shocking as it intends to be. It does not distinguish between women who do "market work" (work that earns them money, as opposed to work they do at home for free) and women who don't, nor does it distinguish between mothers and non-mothers. The oft-cited claim that "women work more hours than men" (in total, not just housework or market work) is only in reference to women who do market work and have children at home (say, probably mostly married women between the ages of 30 and 50; I'm not sure how divorced women fit into this, although if they're the sole involved parent, they likely do more work than anyone). It makes sense to me that if you include all adults, including, say, lazy old me and women who are empty nesters, the "women work more hours than men" effect would disappear.

To me, the most interesting thing that the study found is that the poorer the country, the greater the difference between hours that men and women work. That is, women work longer hours than men in poor countries, longer than men but not by as much in medium countries, and the same amount as men in wealthy countries.

I imagine that this might be because housework takes more hours in poorer countries with less access to electricity and running water, or because housework takes fewer hours in countries where families hire non-related women to clean for them. (I am not sure that enough Americans hire cleaning help to make this much of a difference, though. I think it's more likely to be the washing machine, dishwasher, and cornucopia of frozen foods available here.1) However, among different segments of the American population (geographic and educational were the only ones I saw mentioned in the article, don't think they studied by race or class), men and women work about the same number of hours.

This was funny and somehow not surprising:
Although men in many rich countries do not work less than women, they do enjoy about 20 to 30 minutes more leisure per day (over an hour more in Italy) because they spend less time on sleep and other biological necessities. Men spend almost all of this additional leisure time watching television.

Other studies that I found to be more interesting than this one, because they don't lump all men and women together into massive, useless categories:
  • This linear study of how all members of a family spend their work and leisure time [PDF] from the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, shows that married women ages 25-64 who do market work (I'm assuming full time, although it doesn't specify) still do about three times as much housework as men:
    “In 1968, married women between the ages of 25 and 64 did an average of 2,000 hours of housework a year – basically as much time as a full-time job,” says Stafford. “Today, working women do an average of 25 hours a week of housework – that’s about 1,000 hours a year.” The amount of housework men do has also changed. Instead of doing about 3.5 hours a week, they’re now up to about 7 hours a week. But that’s still less than a third of the time working women spend.
    These statistics are much more similar to the ones that I'm used to hearing, which makes sense, since it's only talking about married women between 25-64 who work outside the home. They're also a bit misleading, since they don't quantify how many hours-outside-the-home these women and men work, respectively. That is, if the men do 2/3 less housework but work 1/3 more hours outside the home, then the inequality, while still real, is much smaller.
  • Here is an article about a 1999 study regarding "overlapping" (fancy term for multi-tasking) and gender. Not surprisingly, women tend to multi-task more than men.2

  • Here is a link to the Gender Research Network's main page, although it looks like they haven't published a newsletter since 1999. Here are their publications on gender and intrahousehold issues, which go through 2000. I wonder what happened to them? This is all a subset of the International Food Policy Research Institute.

  • Here is an article about a study that found something very interesting, which may explain why even in cases when men and women have the same amount of work and leisure time, women feel like they work more.
    A study found that men who have more free time feel less rushed than men with less leisure time. But even when women have more time free from paid work and household tasks, they don't feel less rushed.

    The results suggest that women--particularly mothers--may feel the pressures of childcare and housework even when they have time for relaxation, said Liana Sayer, co-author of the study and assistant professor of sociology at Ohio State University.

    ...the study found that men who were married and had children didn't feel more rushed in their daily lives than single, childless men. But the odds of feeling sometimes or always rushed were 2.2 times higher for married women with children than it was for single, childless women.3
Back to work!

-------------------------------------
1. I really have no idea how many Americans hire cleaning help. I tend to assume that no one except for "very rich" people hire cleaning help, but then I keep meeting people who hire cleaners or grew up with a housekeeper who came in every day to cook and clean, and I am continually forced to revise my assumptions about who is very rich or who hires cleaning help.)

2. Maria Sagrario Floro and Marjorie Miles. 1999. "Time Use and Overlapping Activities: An Econometric Analysis."

3. Mattingly, Marybeth and Liana C. Sayer. 2006. “Under Pressure: Trends and Gender Differences in the Relationship between Free Time and Feeling Rushed.” Journal of Marriage and Family 68(1): 205-221.

4.27.2007

Moi, defender of science? [UPDATED]

There is what I think is an interesting discussion going on in the comments of Passionate Life's blog, over here. He asked questions about evolution and I tried to answer them.

However, I have not learned squat about evolution since, um, 10th grade honors biology with Mrs. Schwartz. (It wasn't even AP. We didn't have AP Science classes.) I never took an evolutionary biology class in college at all. Seriously. Everything I wrote here I gleaned from 10th grade (I did do very well in that class) and, I guess, from reading the newspaper since then.

Are any of you biologists? Don't have BA's in History and Women's Studies? Smarter than me? Help a girl out here! Thanks.

I am going to copy just my comments here, since, well, I wrote them and I figured that I didn't need to ask permission to do that. (I did not ask permission to copy his words, so I didn't. Anyway, you can just go to his blog to read them.) I corrected a few typos in my comments in an attempt to save face, but otherwise, it's exactly as it appears on his blog, mistakes and all. Oh, I also added a few Wikipedia links for the heck of it. In my comments, I quoted his questions, so it should be fairly understandable even without P-Life's side of the debate.

The sane thing to do, of course, would just have been to recommend Natan Slifkin's books and to leave it at that. (He is only four years older than I! I had no idea until I looked at the Wikipedia article.) I have a feeling, though, that P-Life will never be convinced of the viability of science, no matter how many of Natan Slifkin's books he reads.

Without further ado...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
ALG said...

This is probably a waste of my time, but I feel that if you're going to attack evolution, at least attack it properly, not based on your own misunderstandings of the theory.

1. If we evolved from apes, why in the world are there still apes around? Why haven’t they evolved into humans like us?

We didn't evolve from modern apes. Modern evolutionary theory says that we and modern apes both evolved from a common primate species farther up the family tree. We're most closely related to chimpanzees, which are the species mentioned in the NY Times article. We both split off from a common ancestor about 5 million years ago. We're less related to gorillas, even less related to orangutans, and least related to other kinds of monkeys. We didn't descend from any of them.

2. If you are going to tell me that maybe only some apes evolved and not all, then how come ALL Neanderthals, Homo erectus, Homo sapiens, and Cro-Magnon species evolved and there are NONE left outside of Geico commercials?

Neanderthals evolved to some degree, but then became extinct. Homo erectus is less clear. They were an earlier kind of bipedal primate than homo sapiens, and they also became extinct. I'm not sure if there is consensus about whether homo sapiens descended from them or not. Cro-Magnons are an early kind of homo sapien, so they evolved into us, or, rather, we evolved from them. (See (in no particular order) http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/summary/299/5612/1525, http://www.mnh.si.edu/anthro/humanorigins/ha/cromagnon.html, http://www.mnh.si.edu/anthro/humanorigins/faq/Encarta/encarta.htm, http://www.bio.miami.edu/dana/106/106F06_18.html, and you might find this exhibit interesting.

Finally, I apologize for any errors in the above explanations. I think I have it right, but I am not a scientist of any sort, just an educated laywoman. Corrections are most welcome.

Wed Apr 18, 06:11:00 PM EDT


ALG said...

You can go to the New York Public Library (or any other public or academic library) and find the Science article there, or, if you have a NYPL card, you can get the full text online through the EBSCO database. Go to http://www.nypl.org/databases/index.cfm?act=2⊂=24, click on the "General Science Collection from EBSCO" and, after entering in your library card number, check off the science databases within that. I got it by checking off Academic Search Premier, Applied Science & Technology Abstracts, and General Science Collection. I'm not sure which one of those it came from.

There is no excuse for being ignorant in today's day and age, at least not if you're lucky enough to own a computer and live where with public libraries. (Your tax dollars at work!)

I didn't read the whole article--I just linked to it because it was from a reputable source and it said that the Neanderthals were extinct. That was my only point with that source. I'm not sure it's the best thing out there. If you go to the library, a reference librarian can help you find the best information on this topic.

Wed Apr 18, 08:51:00 PM EDT

ALG said...

Clearly, we have very different attitudes towards science and the pursuit of knowledge. I responded in a possibly nit-picky manner because I didn't want to respond to sweeping assertions that were full of errors without providing some guidance as to the actual scientific theory that is being debated. Does that make sense? I'm sorry if my frustration sounded like disrespect.

Also, the questions you asked in your original post indicated that you didn't understand the mechanism behind the theory of evolution, which is natural selection, and I thought you might learn it from reading the links that I provided. I hope I will do a better job explaining that this time.

You wrote:
It [the website I cited] then goes on to list the hypothesis and the challenges to the hypothesis. Conclusion - there is no universal understanding of what the heck happened back then to turn apes into humans other then some targeted "probably this or probably that" guessing....

The point is that its all hypothesis and theories that are not based on FACT rather EXTRAPOLATION and very inventive theories....They stretch and bend to try and come up with theories that fits.


Scientific hypotheses are not guessing. A hypothesis is a suggested explanation based on observations, which you can call "facts" if you want. You are correct that a hypothesis is an extrapolation from a fact, but so is much of what we do in this world. If we based every action we took on observed facts, we would be paralyzed. Also, I would have gotten very wet on the way to work this morning, since I could have sworn that it had stopped raining when I looked out the window. However, I extrapolated, based on recent and older experiences on rainy days, that as long as the sky is overcast I ought to carry an umbrella and wear boots. (That was probably a shoddy example. Providing examples aren't my strong point.)

If or when the hypothesis becomes verified through additional observations (fossils, DNA evidence, etc.), it turns into a theory, such as the theory of evolution.

Evolution, i.e., a broad term which includes that bit about modern human beings descended from an ape-like ancestor is the best--the only--way for science to explain how we came to be, based on existing scientific principles. (Note that these scientific principles do not say anything about an ultimate power behind the machinery. Evolution is NOT incompatible with the idea of an Ultimate Creator.)

So we have the theory of evolution, and several hypotheses about why some descendants of our common ape-like ancestor developed into Cro-magnon and why some developed into the modern modern kinds of chimpanzees. As evidence is uncovered, for example, about when savannas first developed in Africa and as more fossil evidence is uncovered, various hypotheses are strengthened and weakened. As the field progresses, one hypothesis might eventually take precedence over the others and become the accepted viewpoint, or there might always be several possibilities and we might never know the best answer. Such is the study of our past, which we can never fully replicate in a controlled lab environment. Science is okay with leaving some things as questions. I don't understand why you aren't.

Okay, on to your specific questions, which I now see that I did not answer directly in my previous response.

Why did the apes who were less intelligent then the various forms of humans survive while the various forms of humans didn't?

First of all, who knows how intelligent the earliest forms of human beings were? Maybe they walked on two legs but some of them (Neanderthals) weren't intelligent enough to survive, whereas chimpanzees had other advantages that allowed for their survival. Perhaps they were less intelligent, but better at swinging through trees, i.e., better-suited to the jungly forests where they lived.

It is clear that the "most intelligent" creatures don't win out over all others in the game of evolution, or everything would have evolved into human beings, or some other very smart creatures, and we wouldn't have bacteria and other stupid things like that around today. All kinds of creatures are important to this world--everything from the very, very stupid plankton to the more intelligent whale to the even more intelligent human being. (After all, God created and gave us stewardship over them all to care for them and ensure their survival.) There are benefits to being small and stupid (you can reproduce very quickly and don't need to eat a lot), large and stupid (it is physically difficult for other things to eat you), etc.

If there were a hundred thousand cro-magnan people did all their children start turning into full humans? Why didn't 25,000 continue to be cro-magnan the same way apes continue to be apes?

Here's a better example, because the Cro-magnons children didn't "turn into" humans. They were basically humans already, and their children who were born with characteristics suitable to life had more and more children. They did continue to be Cro-magnon, i.e., us, only with clothing and language and other nice things like that.

A better example is homo erectus, if we go according to one theory, which is that homo sapiens (us), descended from homo erectus, but the ones who didn't evolve into us died out.

The reason why some forms of human beings survived while others didn't is that the ones that had the best random mutations to survive in the time and place in which they existed survived and reproduced, and the others didn't. I don't know the specifics, and this is obviously a very, very simplified example, but say it is helpful to have a very strong jaw for eating raw meat. If your cousins all have small jaws, they will die. Why do your cousins have small jaws? Because they were smaller overall and could easily hide from predators. But if they can't eat enough food to stay strong and quick, they won't reproduce as much or as quickly, and your big jaw will ultimately win out over their small size. That is my understanding of natural selection. The homo erectus who had the best mutations for reproducing became us, and the ones who didn't--i.e., the ones who stayed homo erectus and didn't become homo sapiens--died.

I don't know if all apes evolved into modern apes (perhaps they also have dead ends in their family tree as we humans do). If they did, it was because being an ape worked for them, in their environment, and any random mutations were to their disadvantage, and the mutated apes died out before they became a separate sub-group. Or, the changes didn't make much difference in their survival rate so they didn't have more children and those mutations are now evenly distributed throughout the population. I'm not really sure. It also could be that they stayed in more-or-less the same general environment, whereas human beings migrated all over the place, which made their random mutations more relevant. Someone who knows more about evolution than I do can explain how all of these factors come into play.

Gotta' run. It is Friday afternoon, after all.

Fri Apr 27, 04:17:00 PM EDT

UPDATED
on May 10 to add that P-Life responded to some of my points here.

Chocolate: Do it for your health

Finally, some interesting chocolate news! According to this past Tuesday's New York Times:
Eating dark chocolate may be almost as effective at lowering blood pressure as taking the most common antihypertensive drugs, a review of studies has found.
Read the whole thing (it's short) here.

Here is the abstract of the paper, published in the April 9 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The sad news, for you tea-drinkers out there, is that tea does not share this effect. Also, for any of you who prefer milk chocolate (why? why? why?), the NYT reports:
"Milk proteins prevent the absorption of polyphenols, so milk chocolate is not effective."
Here is some more coverage of this study.

(Also, this: "Dark Chocolate Beats Fatigue." Duh. From a totally biased towards chocolate source, but I'll get confirmation wherever I can find it!)

On that note, even though my blood pressure is plenty low already, I went out and purchased a bar of Scharffenberger's 82% extra intense bittersweet chocolate. This is not for the faint of heart, but if you're a serious chocolate lover (and you know who you are), it is scrumptious. None of that sissy 62% semisweet or even 70% stuff for me! (Okay, I'll eat that, too.)

4.26.2007

New York Times quotes a mishna!

But, first, I got this lovely e-mail over one of the lists I'm on:
Garden in Transit is a historic community collaboration that will transform the streets of NY beginning in Sep. 2007 when up to 800,000 square feet (nearly 14 football fields!) of hand-painted floral panels created by up to 40,000 kids and volunteers cover up to 13,000 NYC taxis in what is possibly the largest ongoing public art project in the world.

Visit www.gardenintransit.org for more information on the project.
I actually found the more relevant website to be http://www.portraitsofhope.org/git/index.php, but the idea is still lovely. Wouldn't you like New York City to look a bit more like this?

Okay, so it's not quite as good as real flowers, but I think it's kind of nice. I really love public art. And public art that involves children is somehow even better.

Secondly (to further the suspense about the NYT quote from a mishna), here is a nice op-ed from Sunday's New York Times about the possibility of replacing New York City's 12-18 mpg Ford Crown Victorias with hybrid cars that average 39 mpg and will pay for themselves in gasoline savings within one year if you compare the cost of the hybrid cars with the current Ford Crown Victorias. According to the op-ed, "The city requires that most cabs be retired after three years," so something like 90% of taxis are going to be purchased anyway within three years. They might as well be low-emissions models.

Finally--oh, no! It's a Times Select thing and I can't find any way around this one. Anyway, the quote was from this column by Clyde Haberman this past Tuesday, and he quoted (only in English), regarding Mayor Bloomberg's plan to make New York City environmentally sustainable by 2030:
א,יד] הוא היה אומר, אם אין אני לי, מי לי; וכשאני לעצמי, מה אני; ואם לא עכשיו, אימתיי?
מסכת אבות, פרק א--
He [Hillel the Elder] used to say, "If I am not for myself, who will be? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?"
--Pirkei Avot 1:14
Anyway, it was a nice column, and if I could figure out a way to post it for y'all to read, I would. I thought it was nice that the New York Times quoted a mishna, and that they picked such a nice one. I wonder how often that happens?

I assume that the Bloomberg plan is the same one that I referenced here. I haven't paid much attention to the details, other than the suggestions that people who drive into Manhattan from other boroughs pay $8/car. As someone who relies on public transportation, I think it's a dandy idea. Buses are very slow here because of all of the congestion, which also makes it stink to high heaven a lot of the time (that, and the garbage that piles up on the streets as evening approaches). Taxis would not pay the fee, and cars driving within Manhattan would pay a lower fee. Also, it would only apply to cars driving below 86th St. Someone (I forget who, probably someone who writes for the NYT) suggested applying the $8 fee only below 60th St., and I'm fine with that as well. (Here is another article that discussed the idea before Bloomberg officially unveiled it.)

Someone (again, probably either an editorialist--is that a word?--or letter-writer to the New York Times) said that this amounts to a regressive tax. I'm not sure I buy that. I actually don't know if studies have been done, but I would assume that wealthier people drive into and around Manhattan more than poor people do, and if poor people live in areas without access to public transportation (much of Queens? Brooklyn?), then they probably carpool into the city (I know some people who do that), so it would not cost each person $8/day. It is terrible that some neighborhoods don't have good, quick, public transportation access into the parts of Manhattan where many people work and shop. Bloomberg addressed that, though, when he:

Mr. Bloomberg also called for improvements in express bus service and other public transportation in neighborhoods with little access to the subway, and where people are most inclined to drive into Manhattan for work or shopping. He said the city would complete those improvements before anyone is charged in the congestion pricing system.

That's all for now. I'm curious to see how this plan will play out.

4.25.2007

Belated Happy Earth Day!

Earth Day was this past Sunday, April 22. I was preoccupied with thoughts of Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha'atzmaut, though, so I haven't gotten around to writing about it until today.

On Earth Day, I was also busy washing the dishes from my Friday night dinner. I am a fairly adamant user of real "china" (or whatever passes for china in my household, i.e., various parts of various sets of dishes of various vintages) when I'm at home. I'm not so eco-conscious that I'll bring my own real dishes to a potluck meal at shul or something, but I always use real dishes and silverware when I eat at home, unless there are unusual circumstances. I can't even imagine what those circumstances might be, but I know that I have, occasionally, used paper plates and plastic utensils at home, and I don't want to give the impression that I never use them.

So, on Sunday afternoon, I was still doing dishes from Friday night's nine person, three course meal. (By "three course" I mean: appetizer, entree with several sides, and dessert.) I started the dishes after Shabbat ended (my bad, I should have done them Shabbat morning before shul or instead of taking a nap on Shabbat afternoon, since they, um, smelled a bit which impinged other people's oneg Shabbat but not mine since I was at shul and lunch for most of the day). I did a whole bunch on Saturday night. Two shifts. I filled the dish drainer twice. The third and fourth shifts happened on Sunday. So it was a lot of work. And there's nothing I hate as much as work. (Except maybe insomnia or genocide or something. But you know what I'm saying. I'm not the first person to jump up and offer to do the dishes.) But I do it for the Earth, and to do penance for what happened when I was in seventh grade.

What happened in seventh grade? We read this book for our Life Sciences class, and then I went home and told my mother that she was unnecessarily wasteful when she wanted to use paper plates once for a large gathering. So she said that if it bothered me, she would be happy to use china and I could wash it. I demurred. I backed down. I was not really an environmentalist because I wasn't willing to do the dishes.

Here's the thing. There are lots of nice environmental things that you can do without giving anything up, but the real changes, the real impact, won't happen unless and until we're willing to give something up, and, along the way, really change the way we live our lives. To clarify, let me add that I am definitely talking to myself here, really, not just to all of you. I am trying to say something along the lines of what Phelan said about what "green" means to her (here), or what Emme said that "green" means to her(here). Unless and until more people act like my thrifty grandparents, who reuse (and not through fancy products like these, some of which, I must say, are super cute) and reduce ad nauseum ("Waste not, want not," anyone?), all the recycling and the buying green-labeled products won't add up to enough change to stem the tide. Recycling is necessary, but buying is more a part of the problem than a part of the solution.

It has been suggested to me that washing real dishes is worse for the environment than using paper plates, or that washing out and recycling bottles and cans is worse for the environment than tossing them.

It doesn't really make sense to me.

For one thing, unless you're washing toxic chemicals off of your plates, that water is going to go right back into the ecosystem and be none the worse for the wear. There are water shortages in some places, but generally speaking, North America isn't one of them. I also don't believe that it takes an inordinate amount of energy to get water from upstate to New York City, or from the Sierra Nevadas to the coastal cities of California. Gravity does a lot of the work. I don't really know, but somehow, I don't think that per gallon of water, it takes a lot of energy to move water. Not as much as it takes to grow trees, chop down trees, process them into pulp and then paper, which is coated with some sort of wax, and ship them (probably via diesel-burning truck) to a store, where you buy it and bring it home. Said paper plates were probably also bleached with chlorine somewhere along the way, which is not the very worst thing for the world, but isn't great, either. ("It is estimated that one chlorine atom can destroy over 100,000 ozone molecules before it is removed from the stratosphere.")

This paper [PDF], written for a class in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at the University of British Columbia, has more information although it focuses on the environmental impact of production of porcelain and paper plates, rather than the environmental impact of washing plates vs. disposing of plates. Their important conclusion for my purposes is:
From the life cycle assessment of porcelain plates, the total CO2 and CO emissions are approximately 147.5kg and 0.3kg respectively for 400 plates, which gives approximately 148kg total carbon emission. For paper plates, the total carbon emission is 138kg/yr. Emissions other than carbon are ignored when comparing the global warming impact because they account for insignificant amounts compared to carbon emissions. This assumption is made since environmental impact from different species cannot be comparable if they are not uniform. From direct comparisons, paper plates have less global warming impact than using porcelain plates in the first year. However, assuming an average useful life of two years for each porcelain plate which is considerably conservative, using porcelain plates would still be a better choice in terms of global warming impact.
If your porcelain plates last longer than two years, that is even more true. Note, however, that "Emissions from composting, incineration, and landfilling are not been compared due to the complexity of the problem," and I'm not sure that the environmental impact of washing the dishes was included. If they're using dishwashers, which I think they are, then the water/energy per plate is minimal. I suppose that there are problems associated with detergent use. This paper is admittedly incomplete and may use too many assumptions, but it was the best comparison I could find. Actually, this paper [PDF], also apparently written for a class, looks better. It's conclusion is that "we would need to use a single paper plate ten times to make it comparable to a porcelain plate." The only source I found that even remotely suggested that paper plate and porcelain plates might have comparable environmental impacts was a study sponsored by the U.S. Foodservice and Packaging Institute, i.e., a group of paper-and-plastic-makers. ("The industry’s products consist of single-use cups, plates, bowls, bags, wraps, cutlery, trays, egg packaging, nested dairy and salad containers and other foodservice packaging items.")

The same thing with rinsing out plastic bottles and metal cans. Metal is one of the cheapest and easiest things to recycle because it can be melted down and reformed without releasing a lot of toxins, and one of the more energy-intensive things to produce, since it has to be hauled up out of the earth. In addition,
  • an aluminum beverage can is 100% recyclable into new beverage cans indefinitely [according to this possibly biased source]
  • The aluminum can is the only packaging material that more than covers the cost of collection and re-processing for itself. [same source]
  • recycling aluminum requires 95% less energy than making it from scratch [according to a possibly less biased and more generally reliable source]
Don't even get me started on plastics, which last forever in landfills, are made out of petroleum byproducts, and release toxins into the environment at several stages of their production. (Okay, fine, just one fact: "Plastics contain additives, however, such as colorants, stabilizers and plasticizers, that may include toxic constituents such as lead and cadmium. Plastics contribute 28 percent of all cadmium in municipal solid waste and approximately two percent of all lead.")

If anyone thinks that I'm wrong about any of these things, please let me know. I am always happy to learn more.

While I'm ranting, is it just my perception, or do Orthodox people recycle and reduce less than other Jews? Maybe it's just the Orthodox people I know, or the particularly crunchy non-Orthodox Jews I know?

One final thing and then I'll shut up. Go here and find out what your environmental "footprint" is. It might give you some ideas of things you can do to reduce said footprint. I found it to be very eye-opening. [Hat tip to mama o' the matrices at Breeding Imperfection.] As I said in a comment on m.o.m.'s blog:
Oh, man! I need 12 acres. And here I was, feeling so smug because I work two miles from my home, almost never travel via car (I walk to work a lot; otherwise, bus and subway), only eat meat 1-2 times a week (Shabbat), and live with three other people in a two-bedroom converted to a three-bedroom apartment. But, alas, I get organic spinach from California and red peppers from Mexico and tomatoes from Israel, all of which is really quite terrible for the environment.
In addition to washing dishes on Earth Day, I also spent more than three glorious hours outside with my father, taking photographs of birds in Central Park. I had a nice time, but part of what made it nice was watching little kids get excited about seeing egrets, cormorants, and turtles (you know how those look) in Turtle Pond. Maybe some of them will grow up to be biologists or environmental scientists!

4.23.2007

Yom HaZikaron

I don't have much to say, but I wanted to share this with my readers in honor of Yom HaZikaron, Israeli Memorial Day.

"A state is not given to a people on a silver platter."
--Dr. Chaim Weitzman, 1948

The Silver Platter

by Nathan Alterman

Translated from the Hebrew by David P. Stern

And the land will grow still
Crimson skies dimming, misting
Slowly paling again
Over smoking frontiers

As the nation stands up
Torn at heart but existing
To receive its first wonder
In two thousand years

As the moment draws near
It will rise, darkness facing
Stand straight in the moonlight
In terror and joy

When across from it step out
Towards it slowly pacing
In plain sight of all
A young girl and a boy

Dressed in battle gear, dirty
Shoes heavy with grime
On the path they will climb up
While their lips remain sealed

To change garb, to wipe brow
They have not yet found time
Still bone weary from days
And from nights in the field

Full of endless fatigue
And all drained of emotion
Yet the dew of their youth
Is still seen on their head

Thus like statues they stand
Stiff and still with no motion
And no sign that will show
If they live or are dead

Then a nation in tears
And amazed at this matter
Will ask: who are you?
And the two will then say

With soft voice: We--
Are the silver platter
On which the Jews' state
Was presented today

Then they fall back in darkness
As the dazed nation looks
And the rest can be found
In the history books.

מגש הכסף
מילים: נתן אלתרמן

...והארץ תשקוט עין שמיים אודמת
תעמעם לאיטה על גבולות עשנים
ואומה תעמוד קרועת לב אך נושמת...
לקבל את הנס האחד אין שני

היא לטקס תיכון היא תקום למול סהר
ועמדה למולם עוטה חג ואימה
אז מנגד ייצאו נער ונערה
ואט אט ייצעדו הם אל מול האומה

לובשי חול וחגור כבדי נעליים
בנתיב יצעדו הם הלוך והחרש
לא החליפו בגדם לא מחו עוד במים
את עקבות יום הפרך וליל קו האש

עייפים עד בלי קץ נזירים ממרגוע
ונוטפים טללי נעורים עבריים
דום השניים ייגשו ועמדו לבלי נוע
ואין אות אם חיים הם או ירויים

אז תשאל האומה שטופת דמע וקסם
ואמרה: מי אתם מי אתם
והשניים שוקטים יענו לה: אנחנו מגש הכסף
שעליו לך ניתנה מדינת היהודים

כך אמרו ונפלו לרגלה עוטי צל
והשאר יסופר בתולדות ישראל
[hat tip to My Obiter Dicta for the Hebrew text]

* * * * * *

On second thought, maybe I do have something else to say. In the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Brachot (5a), it says:

It has been taught: Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai says: "Three good gifts were given by God to Israel, all of them acquired through trial and pain. They are: The Torah, The Land of Israel, and the world to come."
תניא רבי שמעון בן יוחאי אומר: "שלש מתנות טובות נתן הקדוש ברוך הוא לישראל וכולן לא נתנן אלא ע"י יסורין אלו הן תורה וארץ ישראל והעולם הבא

What does it mean for me, or for American/Diaspora Jewry as a whole, that the State of Israel has been acquired through trial and pain, but not my own?

What sorts of "trial and pain" was Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai thinking of? He lived in what is now Israel after the Romans destroyed the Second Temple, after the end of Jewish autonomy in the Land of Israel (which would not return for almost 2000 years, and the return of which we celebrate later tonight and tomorrow). He got in trouble for criticizing the ruling Roman government of his time, and was forced to hide in a cave with his son for many years. Were those the sorts of trials and tribulations that he said were necessary to acquire the land of Israel?

What would he have thought of the sorts of trials and tribulations undertaken by the State of Israel and her soldiers today in order to acquire or hold onto the land of Israel?

I don't have answers today, just questions.

I'll be your bestest friend!

BZ was kind enough to nominate me for a third close-to-annual Jewish and Israeli Blog Awards award, in the category of "Best Personal Blog."

If you care about me or my well-being at all, you will vote for me in the first round, which opened this past Sunday and closes next Sunday, April 29. I'm in Group C in the category of "Best Personal Blog." Vote here. Now! (It is quick and easy. You don't need to register or anything.)

If you're coming from the JIB website and have never been here before, welcome! You can read what I consider some of my better posts by looking at the posts listed under "Best Posts" in the right sidebar there. You can also browse by labels, which I think are a fairly good representation of what gets a lot of press in this blog and what doesn't.

* * * * *

Ha, ha, ha! Just kidding! Not about the voting. You should totally do that. The "ha, ha, ha" was in reference to "if you care about me or my well-being at all." Don't worry. I'll still be your friend if you don't vote for me. Maybe just not your bestest friend or even your good friend, more like your "I like you enough to hang out with you if I don't have anything else to do" friend.

* * * * *

Other blogs you should check out and consider voting for are:
There are lots of other wonderful bloggers on the list, but I don't have time to mention all of them right now. If I have more time later today or tomorrow, I will add to this list. In the meantime, you can vote for me here (Best Personal Blog, Group C), and for all of them here.

Man, this self-promotion stuff is hard.

Vote for me here.

And have a great day!

4.19.2007

Chodesh tov!!חדש טוב

Today is the first day of the Hebrew month of Iyar (אִייָר), and the second day of Rosh Chodesh. Yesterday I was preoccupied with death and taxes. Today, we turn to (at least some) happier things.

Etymology

  • From Akkadian aaru, possibly meaning "rosette" or "blossom"
Biblical names
  • "the second month"
  • Called "Ziv" in I Kings 6:1
    א ויהי בשמונים שנה וארבע מאות שנה לצאת בני-ישראל מארץ-מצרים בשנה הרביעית בחדש זִו, הוא החדש השני, למלך שלמה, על-ישראל; ויבן הבית, לה. 1 And it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon's reign over Israel, in the month Ziv, which is the second month, that he began to build the house of the LORD.
Holidays
  • 5th of Iyar: Israel Independence Day, the anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel in 1948
  • 18th of Iyar: Lag B'Omer, the 33rd day of the Omer, traditionally considered a festive day, because on that day a plague that killed 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva's students ceased. The Talmud says that the plague occurred because they did not show proper respect to one another. (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Yevamot 62b)
    אמרו שנים עשר אלף זוגים תלמידים היו לו לרבי עקיבא מגבת עד אנטיפרס וכולן מתו בפרק אחד מפני שלא נהגו כבוד זה לזה
    :מסכת יבמות, דף סב--
What happened in Iyar? (More events here.)
  • The month during which the omer is counted from the second day of Passover until Shavuot.
  • 1st of Iyar: Moses conducted the census in the wilderness, Numbers 1:1-3:
    א וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה בְּמִדְבַּר סִינַי, בְּאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד: בְּאֶחָד לַחֹדֶשׁ הַשֵּׁנִי בַּשָּׁנָה הַשֵּׁנִית, לְצֵאתָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם--לֵאמֹר. 1 And the LORD spoke unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they were come out of the land of Egypt, saying:
    ב שְׂאוּ, אֶת-רֹאשׁ כָּל-עֲדַת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם, לְבֵית אֲבֹתָם--בְּמִסְפַּר שֵׁמוֹת, כָּל-זָכָר לְגֻלְגְּלֹתָם. 2 'Take ye the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, by their families, by their fathers' houses, according to the number of names, every male, by their polls;
    ג מִבֶּן עֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה וָמַעְלָה, כָּל-יֹצֵא צָבָא בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל--תִּפְקְדוּ אֹתָם לְצִבְאֹתָם, אַתָּה וְאַהֲרֹן. 3 from twenty years old and upward, all that are able to go forth to war in Israel: ye shall number them by their hosts, even thou and Aaron
  • 2nd of Iyar: completion of the building of the Second Temple by Solomon in Jerusalem (11 Chronicles 3:2) [This is where I stopped having time to put sources in. If I have time later I'll go back and finish this.]
  • 7th of Iyar: Hasmoneans dedicated the walls of Jerusalem after the repair of the breaches caused by the Greeks (Megillah Ta'anit 2)
  • 10th of Iyar: anniversary of the death of the High Priest Eli and his sons, capture of the Ark by the Phillistines; once observed as a fast
  • 14th of Iyar: "Little Passover" (Pesach Sheini) observed by those who could not get the Temple in time to offer the Pascal sacrifice on Passover
  • 23rd of Iyar: Hasmoneans kick the Hellenists from Jerusalem's Acra (fortified area) in 141 BCE (I Macc. 13:51-52; Megillah Ta'anit 2)
  • 28th of Iyar: anniversary of the death of the prophet Samuel, once observed as a fast (Megillah Ta'anit 13)
According to the Sefer Yetzirah, the following correspond to the month of Iyar:
  • Letter: vav (ו)
  • Zodiac sign: ox
  • Tribe: Isaachar (יִשָשׁכָר)
  • Sense: Thought. Thought here implies contemplation and introspection. It also signifies the power of calculation (as in the calculation of the calender). This is the month of counting ("sefirat haomer") from Passover to Shavuot.
  • Controlling organ/limb: right kidney

Third Annual Jewish and Israeli Blog Awards

Information about the third annual Jewish and Israeli Blog awards is here.

Their website says:
The "Jewish and Israel Blog Awards" are the J-blogosphere's informal annual award contest. The aim of the contest is to direct new readers towards Jewish, Israeli, and pro-Israel blogs. The JIBs begin with nominations, then a semifinal and final round. Good-natured rivalry and campaigning are associated with this event.
Nominations end tonight.

Those who have already been nominated in at least some of the categories are listed here.

4.18.2007

Death and Taxes

"Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes."
--Benjamin Franklin, in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy (November 13, 1789)
These are the two words that came to mind the most this week. Death and taxes. Both indefatigable. One much more terrifyingly so than the other.


About Death

I don't have much to say about death. This week's massacre at Virginia Tech was horrifying. Adolescents, Holocaust survivors--both horrific in their own terrible ways. There isn't really anything to say, except:
כל המאבד נפש אחת, מעלים עליו כאילו איבד עולם מלא
משנה סנהדרין, ד:ה--
"One who destroys one life, it is as if he destroyed an entire world."
--Mishnah, Tractate Sanhedrin 4:5
Thirty-two worlds were destroyed on Monday. The longer I live, the more people who die, the more I feel that in my gut. When a young person dies, the entire world of her potential, her possibility, her unknowable, glorious, limitless future dies with them. When a middle-aged person dies, it crushes his parents, who saw his limitless future, his spouse, who considered him her soul mate, and his children, who thought he would live forever. When an older person dies, all of her collective wisdom, her life experience, dies with her. All that she has learned on this earth is gone along with her. (I think that's why people write and tell stories. That guarantees that at least some small fraction of what a person knows and learns through her life is preserved after her death.)

Death sucks. I have been particularly thinking about cancer lately, which really sucks. So does being gunned down by a deranged fellow student. One can't rank these things.

On an almost wholly unrelated note, if this doesn't convince people that there need to be more restrictions on who can buy guns and where they can bring them, I don't know what would.

The New York Times reported:
Virginia restricts gun buyers to the purchase of one handgun a month, in an effort to prevent bulk re-sales; law enforcement officers must issue a concealed carry permit to almost anyone who applies.
Thomas Jefferson, a Virginia native, noted the following statement by criminologist Cesare Beccaria from his work On Crimes and Punishment (1764), in Jefferson's commonplace book (1774-1776):
"Laws that forbid the carrying of arms disarm only those who are neither
inclined nor determined to commit crimes. Such laws make things worse for the
assaulted and better for the assailants."
I wonder if Jefferson or Beccaria would still think this today, when a young person can rush into a classroom with a small handgun and, in a matter of minutes, gun down a few dozen people. It's not clear to me why any civilian in the United States today needs the kind of assault weapons that seem to be involved in these killing sprees.

Aside from the gun control issue, this killing spree might also remind people of the importance of security. You can't get onto the Hebrew University campus without having your bag checked. Americans don't want to have to deal with that hassle, but is the price of not having everyone's bags checked worth it? I doubt it.


About Taxes

I spoke with my maternal grandmother today, she of glorious, sunny Northern California. She told me that my grandfather, z"l, liked paying taxes. When I asked her why, she said that it was because if he was paying taxes, it meant he was making money, and that was a good thing. I found that to be a lovely sentiment. Much nicer than the usual claptrap that some people I know spew about being glad to pay their taxes because they support where the money goes. And it's true. If I'm paying taxes, enough to be whining about it, it means that I'm making enough money to pay taxes. And that is a very good thing, indeed. Yeah, employment!

Here are some more quotes about taxes. Some of them are clever.

Finally, this is a really cool poster that shows where your federal tax dollars go, based on President Bush's budget request for 2008. None of this is settled yet--still to be debated in the halls of Congress and elsewhere, I'm sure. Every time you click on it, it zooms in so you can actually read it.

Sigh... May next week bring better things to this world.

4.17.2007

Good for stalking people

dwallach of the Jungle Zone Bargain Blog writes:
To look up phone numbers, my search site of choice is AnyWho. One reason is that they offer reverse lookup, by phone number. I've now found a site that lets you perform a reverse lookup by address! It's offered by InfoSpace. If you happen to be looking for lots of search choices, visit The Ultimates.
Happy stalking!

4.16.2007

Cornering the Market on Datlash

I wanted to use the word datlash (acronym for דתי לשעבר, one who used to be religious but no longer is, sort of like "post-Orthodox" as I used it here) in an e-mail, and I wanted to point my correspondent to a website with a definition of the term. However, when I Googled "datlash" there were only eight hits, none of them particularly useful for my purposes.

Aha
! A niche where AbacaxiMamao can make herself famous at last! (Pardon the slippage into third person. I understand that it comes with the inflated ego that I'm about to acquire as a result of my newfound fame after cornering the datlash Google market.)

At first, I was surprised that there were only eight hits for "datlash," but then, brilliant woman that I am, I decided that Googling it in Hebrew (דתל"ש) would be a lot more sensible since it is fairly recent Hebrew slang. Ah, yes! 571 hits, including one pointing to the Hebrew Wiktionary (Vikimilon! how cute is that?), which may prove to be useful for other things as well. I also discovered, through my superior Googling skills, that when datlash is written in English, it is sometimes written as "dat-lash," or "dat'lash," and, indeed, Googling "dat-lash" (which also returns "dat lash" and "dat'lash" hits), produced 26 results, which is much better than eight.

So, what does datlash/דתל"ש mean? Why did the phrase arise? What are its socio-cultural connotations?

A 1999 article ("Let My Kippa Go") from the Jerusalem Post, reposted here, says:
While hard data are difficult to come by, the phenomenon is marked
enough to have spawned its own lingo; a lapsed religious youth is called
"datlash," the Hebrew acronym for "formerly religious." Fisherman found
fully 23 percent of those he surveyed to be "datlashim." Others place
the figure closer to 10% or 15%.

One recent study found that fully 12% of graduates of yeshiva high
schools define themselves as "not so religious" and 4% define themselves
as "not religious."

Regardless of the precise numbers, the phenomenon is sufficiently
widespread for national religious leaders, parents and educators to be
reexamining the way they are raising and teaching their youth.

Conferences and study days are devoted to the topic. Academics are
publishing studies. Yeshivot are shifting their emphasis from rote
observance of the commandments to a deeper exploration of the
wellsprings of faith - and allowing young people to question what they
are learning without being made to feel they are pushing the edge of
blasphemy.
Well, it's about time, I say. This should be done in the US, too. As noted at the end of this post, I think people are finally starting to think more seriously about Orthodox Jewish day school education in the US (and all that ails it), but it might be a matter of too little, too late for some people and some institutions. The rest of the article was interesting, but it might be dated at this point, being almost eight years old in a rapidly-changing society.

What else can I say about datlash/דתל"ש?
  • This Hebrew Wikipedia entry (on the topic of "יציאה בשאלה," with a big honking image of Spinoza on top) notes that this phrase is used mostly in National Religious and Masorti circles in Israel, not in Hareidi circles: " ביטוי שנפוץ כיום, לרוב בקרב החברה הדתית-לאומיתביטוי שנפוץ כיום, לרוב בקרב החברה הדתית-לאומית והמסורתית ולא לגבי החברה החרדית." Surely there are many lapsed hareidim. I wonder if they use a different phrase or if they just avoid talking about people who have left the faith.
מהו דתל"ש? דתי לשעבר. לכאורה, מי שגדל בבית דתי והפך לחילוני. בפועל מדובר במי שמזדהה עם מקורותיו, שאם לא כן, היה קורא לעצמו פשוט 'חילוני', כפי שעושים רבים הדומים לו. הוא אינו טיפוס של 'אנטי' ואפשר אף לתפוס אותו בקלקלתו, כאשר הוא משמש עשירי למניין. אין לו קושי להשתלב באירוע דתי, ואין לו התנגדות לכך.

The author, משה חזני, interestingly points out that a דתל"ש is a person who still identifies with their religious past. If he did not, he would just call himself secular (חילוני) and be done with it. The claim in this article is that a דתל"ש identifies with his/her religious upbringing in a positive way, the implication being that such people are "ripe" for re-religiousification (there has to be a better word than that, but I don't know what it is). (It sounds okay to say secularization and therefore resecularization--why does the opposite sound so terribly clumsy? Did I put an extra syllabul in by mistake?) I think it's probably true that a דתל"ש person identifies with his religious past, but I'm not sure it's always a positive identification as much as a "Thank God I'm not religious anymore!" I used the pronoun "he" throughout this paragraph because it was hard enough with the right-left-right English/Hebrew without also scattering s/he and him/herselves around willy nilly.
  • Minor linguistic aside: There is a discussion on this online Ben Gurion University-hosted forum (it seems to be for people who find themselves between the religious and secular world) about דתל"ש and from that, I learned that the way to say "thread" (as in one topic in an online forum) in Hebrew is שרשור, which I think literally means "chain." At least, שרשרת is how you say "necklace" in Hebrew.

  • On this forum (at Lifshiz College in Israel), someone jokingly suggests an alternative definition of דתל"ש which would be דעת תורה לא שוכחים. Clever.
I think that's all I've got now.


Related phrases

I heard the phrase "חוזר בשאלה" at least a few years before I ever heard דתל"ש. I wonder if it's actually older or if all of these phrases arose at the same time and I just heard them at different times depending on which Israelis I was speaking to when. Maybe different groups of Israelis (i.e., secular, religious, apathetic) use different phrases.

This one page Bnei Akiva article introduced me to a new phrase that I'd never heard before: דשמ"ש. It stands for "דתי שעושה מה שבא," which translates as "a religious person who does whatever he wants." I think it's funny. I wonder if anyone actually really uses it? It seems that such acronyms have proliferated in Israel over the past 5 years or so.

I miss Israel. I was in Starbucks tonight and two (to all appearances chiloni) Israeli guys sitting next to me were trying to figure out if Yom HaShoah was Saturday night-Sunday or Sunday night-Monday. I explained to them that it was Saturday night-Sunday in chu"l and Sunday night-Monday in Israel, because the rabbanut had moved it so it wouldn't start on motzai Shabbat, but they didn't get it. It is strange to move holidays like this, although I guess we do it to get three day weekends in the US all the time. One of them started giving me a hard time about my neon green rain boots (in a very Israeli way, i.e., we're all family so it's okay to comment about the apparel of a total stranger), and then his friend got embarrassed and said that they were just messing with me. I said I knew that they were and was fine. Then two of their friends showed up and suddenly it was four loud Israeli lads having a grand old time. One of them kept looking around with some embarrassment, trying to shush his boisterous friends, which reminded me of what I once saw printed on the outside of an El-Al plane. Something along the line of "Let's change the world's opinion so they no longer think we're the rudest tourists ever," only much more eloquent than that. It didn't help much. Once they left I started getting actual work done.

4.11.2007

An online dating first!

Someone who is 76 looked at my online profile. 76! Technically and possibly even sociologically old enough to be my grandfather!

I will no longer grumble when 45 year old men look at my profile. (At least not this week. I reserve my right to begin grumbling again next week.)

I'm not sure why he was looking at the profile of someone almost 50 years his junior. Also, he's Reform and is looking for a woman who is not religious.

In any case, it's...interesting? impressive? surprising? that a 76 year old who was married for 54 years is looking for new love online. Not that I think 76 means that it's time to throw in the towel or that you can't remarry just because your first marriage lasted 54 years and was presumably to the love of your life, just that I imagine he would have an easier time meeting people his age at social events that are face-to-face, rather than specifically online. Unless...maybe he wants a much younger woman?

Ewwww... Far be it from me to be ageist, all of my grandparents were delightful company when they were 76, but... ewwwww... a 76 year old man was looking at my profile.

P.S. See last Friday's San Francisco Chronicle article ("Online, no one knows you. Really?") about various kinds of software you can put into your MySpace (etc.) page by inserting some html code to see who has looked at it. This (the 76 year old man looking at my profile) is precisely the reason you don't necessarily want to do this. Sometimes these sorts of covert spy operations are less than flattering.

4.06.2007

"Maybe Eliyahu will come tomorrow..."

I hope that everyone is having a lovely Pesach. I heard that there's been some snow in New York and that there will be snow in Washington, DC tonight, but here in Northern California, it is beautiful! In the 70s, sunny, and dry!

Anyway, to sum up the first four days of Pesach Passover, I've compiled this list. This is one of those annoying blog posts to read, unless you're my parents, because it is basically a "What I did on my summer vacation" fifth grade style essay, only in list form. C'est la vie.
  • Most heartbreaking moment: Seeing a three-year-old's hopes and dreams get crushed as the grown-ups, once again, perpetuate a lie.
    At the second seder I attended, there was a three year old girl, SW. She and her two older brothers (ages 7 and 11) were all sweet and well-behaved, for the most part. I think it was the first seder in which SW could actively participate. All of the kids had taken long naps and were planning on staying up throughout most of the seder. SW just wanted to stay up until dessert. Then she wanted to stay up for bentching [Grace After Meals]. Finally, she said that she just wanted to stay up for Eliyahu [Elijah the Prophet]'s visit, only she kept calling him "Eliya" without the final sylable. Her 11 year old brother, AW, said to her as they went to the door, "You know that Eliyahu is invisible, don't you?" She nodded affirmatively. But she clearly didn't, because she went into hysterics as soon as the front door was closed and her parents cheerfully said, "Okay, Eliyahu came, now it's time for bed!" She wailed, "But I want to see Eliyahu! Eliyahu didn't come yet!" Shoot. No kidding. Her father bundled her up to bed and later reported that as she was falling asleep, she said, "Maybe Eliya will come tomorrow..."

  • Best overall Pesach-related Pesach experience: Leading the first seder.
    I led one seder last year, too, and what can I say? I like leading things. I like being in charge. Most of all, I liked the feeling of responsibility that it gave me. It pushed me to read Judith's Hauptman's "How Old is the Haggadah?" (JUDAISM, Winter 2002) and at least the first half of Joshua Kulp's "The Origins of the Seder and Haggadah" (Currents in Biblical Research, Vol. 4, No. 1, 109-134, 2005). I finished Kulp's article last night. I also read through selections from Midrash Rabbah on Shemot, looking for interesting things. I was able to share two or three short new ideas, which made me very happy.

  • Best consumer experience: Going to Cody's Books in San Francisco yesterday (the perfect day!).
    In short, I purchased
    R' Baruch Epstein's Haggadah/Commentary on Pirkei Avot (actually, it's a reprint of 2/3 of Baruch She'Amar) for $3.99. Alas, this morning's paper said that Cody's Books is going to have to close its San Francisco location (the second Berkeley store will stay open; the first closed last May). One more terrific independent bookstore bites the dust.
    There were a few great things about this experience. I was planning on walking from the CalTrain station to my friend EBC's apartment in Russian Hill, which is about a 2.5 mile walk according to publicroutes.com (new website I found that gives walking routes! but I would never plan a route ahead of time, since there are fewer things more lovely than traipsing around a moderately unfamiliar city with nothing but a map and my wits). It was absolutely gorgeous out. In a moment that will surely go down in history, I managed to resist the temptation to buy, oh, about five other books that I looked at (none of which were full price, but all of which were more than 50% of full price--i.e., an unreasonable amount to pay--and none of which I need, of course). Finally, I went to the remaindered table, and after looking through every other book there, I found this haggadah. And it's perfect not just because I happen to like haggadot, and not just because it cost $3.99 in a bookstore chock full of tempting $24.99 hardcovers and $13.99 paperbacks, but because it also includes a commentary on Pirkei Avot, which I studied (religiously) between Pesach and Shavuot for a year or two, but then grew tired of. In it's final perfectness, the outside of this haggadah is pretty--a light, cream-colored background with gold lettering. Who could ask for anything more?
    The rest of yesterday was also pretty fantastic. Before my lucky find at Cody's Books, I walked through the park at Yerba Buena Gardens. After my lucky find, I walked up Stockston Street to Union Square, and eventually made it to Grace Cathedral. From there, I walked up Leavenworth Street, which has some lovely views of the bay, including Alcatraz. Apparently, I also climbed Nob Hill. I knew it was very hilly, just not that it was Nob Hill. EBC told me. Anyway, it was a great San Francisco day. Once I got to EBC's place, I reacquainted myself with her daughter C by doing a puzzle with for her and by reading her two Madeline books while she cuddled up next to me, and met her new baby daughter H. Madeline books are the best! After the kids went down for their naps, I gave and received the annual update. Then I took the lazy route (bus) back to the CalTrain station through Chinatown and the train back to my grandmother's.

  • Most guilt-inducing eat: Veal.
    I don't buy veal. (Actually, I don't buy any red meat, but veal is the only red meat I won't buy out of principle. The rest I don't buy because it's expensive, fairly unhealthy, and I don't know how to cook it. Plus, I'd much rather get my saturated fat from ice cream than from beef. No contest.) You all know, of course, that veal is created by penning up baby animals in tight spaces and not letting them move around much so that their meat stays soft and tender and yummy for us to eat. It's not very nice. If you're going to kill an animal to eat it, you should at least treat it decently while it's alive. And it's true that I'm a bit of a hypocrite and don't only buy free-range eggs and chickens, which I would if I was a good person, but since I hardly buy any eggs or chickens these days, I think God will forgive me. All my kale, whole grains, and tofu are 100% free range. But the veal was served to me at one seder, and my God, was it delicious! And I will probably eat it again tonight. Once I've fallen, does it really matter if I fall again? Thank you to my kind aunt who made it and even made an alternative for those who don't eat veal (like me). Only I do eat veal, apparently. This is why I am a flexitarian instead of a vegetarian or even a pescatarian. Meat tastes too damn good.

  • Most guilt-inducing read: Cosmopolitan.
    The magazine. Yeah. I know. My excuse is that I bought it for my little sister, who put in a request from Israel. I wonder how many other people sat down the second day of Pesach with Midrash Rabbah, Cosmo, "The Origins of the Seder and Haggadah" (Currents in Biblical Research, Vol. 4, No. 1, 109-134, 2005), and a literary novel (as opposed to, say, romance novel or mystery)? I picked up The Worst Day of My Life, So Far from the hefker ("free stuff") table at my building. The novel is pretty depressing (it's about a woman who returns home to the rural South to care for her mother who has Alzheimer's), so I haven't gotten that far in it. I mean, look at what it's competing with! Cosmo and Midrash Rabbah!
I've gotta run. Have a wonderful rest-of-Pesach everyone! Maybe Eliyahu will come tomorrow!

4.02.2007

Chag kasher v'sameyach!

I think I said something pretty nice about Pesach (Passover) last year, so I'm going to link to that first.

Also apropos for the season, I wrote about freedom and halacha here, last May.

Something new for the chag this year. I randomly came across this website with a few quotes about freedom, many of them translated into Hebrew from English or French or Russian. I don't know why I find that amusing, but I do. It's sort of like I find the sight of young children speaking Hebrew as their native tongue amusing.

This was my favorite quote about freedom, presumably from the original Hebrew:
עבדי הזמן - עבדי עבדים הם,
עבד ה' הוא לבדו חופשי...
ר' יהודה הלוי--
Servants of time -- they are servants of servants.
...The servant of God, alone, is free.
--Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi [my translation]
I generally find Khalil Gilbran's works interesting, so when I saw a piece of his translated into Hebrew on that site, I set out to find the English. It is the chapter called "Freedom" from The Prophet:

And an orator said, "Speak to us of Freedom."

And he answered:

At the city gate and by your fireside I have seen you prostrate yourself and worship your own freedom,

Even as slaves humble themselves before a tyrant and praise him though he slays them.
Ay, in the grove of the temple and in the shadow of the citadel I have seen the freest among you wear their freedom as a yoke and a handcuff.
And my heart bled within me; for you can only be free when even the desire of seeking freedom becomes a harness to you, and when you cease to speak of freedom as a goal and a fulfilment.

You shall be free indeed when your days are not without a care nor your nights without a want and a grief,
But rather when these things girdle your life and yet you rise above them naked and unbound.

And how shall you rise beyond your days and nights unless you break the chains which you at the dawn of your understanding have fastened around your noon hour?
In truth that which you call freedom is the strongest of these chains, though its links glitter in the sun and dazzle your eyes.

And what is it but fragments of your own self you would discard that you may become free?
If it is an unjust law you would abolish, that law was written with your own hand upon your own forehead.
You cannot erase it by burning your law books nor by washing the foreheads of your judges, though you pour the sea upon them.
And if it is a despot you would dethrone, see first that his throne erected within you is destroyed.
For how can a tyrant rule the free and the proud, but for a tyranny in their own freedom and a shame in their own pride?
And if it is a care you would cast off, that care has been chosen by you rather than imposed upon you.
And if it is a fear you would dispel, the seat of that fear is in your heart and not in the hand of the feared.

Verily all things move within your being in constant half embrace, the desired and the dreaded, the repugnant and the cherished, the pursued and that which you would escape.
These things move within you as lights and shadows in pairs that cling.
And when the shadow fades and is no more, the light that lingers becomes a shadow to another light.
And thus your freedom when it loses its fetters becomes itself the fetter of a greater freedom.
I especially loves the lines "And if it is a care you would cast off, that care has been chosen by you rather than imposed upon you./And if it is a fear you would dispel, the seat of that fear is in your heart and not in the hand of the feared." I would write a bit more about them, but I have to go cook. Such is life. Chag sameyach!

P.S. On my flight here, I read Judith's Hauptman's "How Old is the Haggadah?" (JUDAISM, Winter 2002), which was quite interesting. It provided, as I hoped it would, something new to share at the seder. I also started reading Joshua Kulp's "The Origins of the Seder and Haggadah" (Currents in Biblical Research, Vol. 4, No. 1, 109-134, 2005), but, alas, I didn't
get very far, since it was competing first with much-desired sleep and then with some stupid television. (I don't have a TV at home, so I try to get my TV-time in whenever I can--at the gym, on the plane etc.) Let me tell you, the TV wasn't worth it. All I learned was What Not to Wear.