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Word of the Day: Pleonasm

Check out dictionary.com's Word of the Day for today!

pleonasm \PLEE-uh-naz-uhm\, noun:
1. The use of more words than are necessary to express an idea.
2. An instance or example of pleonasm.
3. A superfluous word or expression.

Dougan uses many words where few would do, as if pleonasm were a way of wringing every possibility out of the material he has, and stretching sentences a form of spreading the word.
-- Paula Cocozza, "Book review: How Dynamo Kiev beat the Luftwaffe", Independent, March 2, 2001

Such a phrase from President Nixon's era, much favored by politicians, is "at this moment in time." Presumably these five words mean "now." That pleonasm probably does little harm except, perhaps, to the reputation of the speaker.
-- Eoin McKiernan, "Last Word: Special Relationships", Irish America, August 31, 1994

What a terrific word! (Not quite as good as abecedary, but possibly a close second.) Not to be confused with neoplasm.

I know that I haven't posted in awhile, or at least in awhile by my standards of late. I've been working on a few big posts for awhile and I'm not sure I want to post them. I wrote both of them along time ago and have slowly been whipping them into shape, but I'm not entirely satisfied that they are blog-worthy or blog-advisable. I don't want to, you know, expose myself too much or risk embarrassing other people. One of them, in particular, is a pretty harsh critique of a community that I only view as an outsider or, at best, as occasional visitor. We'll see. Maybe I'll sleep on them for another few nights...or months.



Happy Yom Yerushalayim!

Today is the anniversary of the unification of Jerusalem during the Six Day War (1967), celebrated as Jerusalem Day or, in Hebrew, Yom Yerushalayim.

Whatever one thinks of Jerusalem in it's current state, praying for peace in Jerusalem is never a mistake. From Psalms 122:

6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; may they prosper that love thee.
7 Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces.
8 For my brethren and companions' sakes, I will now say: 'Peace be within thee.'

Here is the entire Psalm for your reading pleasure.

תהילים פרק קכב

א שיר המעלות, לדוד:
שמחתי, באמרים לי-- בית ה' נלך.
ב עמדות, היו רגלינו-- בשעריך, ירושלם.
ג ירושלם הבנויה-- כעיר, שחברה-לה יחדו.
ד ששם עלו שבטים, שבטי-יה--עדות לישראל: להדות, לשם ה'.
ה כי שמה, ישבו כסאות למשפט: כסאות, לבית דוד.
ו שאלו, שלום ירושלם; ישליו, אהביך.
ז יהי-שלום בחילך; שלוה, בארמנותיך.
ח למען, אחי ורעי-- אדברה-נא שלום בך.
ט למען, בית-יהוה אלהינו-- אבקשה טוב לך

Psalms Chapter 122

1 A Song of Ascents; of David.
I rejoiced when they said unto me: 'Let us go unto the house of the LORD.'
2 Our feet are standing within thy gates, O Jerusalem;
3 Jerusalem, that art builded as a city that is compact together;
4 Whither the tribes went up, even the tribes of the LORD, as a testimony unto Israel, to give thanks unto the name of the LORD.
5 For there were set thrones for judgment, the thrones of the house of David.
6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; may they prosper that love thee.
7 Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces.
8 For my brethren and companions' sakes, I will now say: 'Peace be within thee.'
9 For the sake of the house of the LORD our God I will seek thy good.

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Outrage and everything you ever wanted to know about man purses

Something utterly outrageous happened at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night, May 9, 2006, at around 7 pm. The Yankees screwed up big time. Oh, wait, that isn't outrageous--that's great! What was outrageous was that my brother was denied entrance to the stadium because of the small "man purse" he was carrying.

Come on, you all know what I mean by "man purse," don't you? In this case, it was a small, masculine messenger-bag. Non-American men carry them all the time. Some people apparently call it a "murse."

("Man purse" is a retronym, I think, because a purse, the second definition of which is "a small bag or pouch for carrying money," was probably at one time primarily used by men, assuming that men were, at one time, the primary holders of money. I'm not sure that's true about men being the primary users of purses, but it's clear that they once used the term without the prefix "man." See, for example, this quote from Benjamin Franklin: "If a man empties his purse into his head, no man can take it away from him. An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest." Unrelated note for the amateur etymologists among us: "Purse" comes from the Late Latin bursa.)

Anyway, back to the OUTRAGE! My brother was denied entrance with his man purse because he was a man. That's right, folks. Clear cut gender discrimination. He was willing to have it searched or metal-detected or whatever, but they said no. (They said, "Put it in your car." Who takes a car to Yankee Stadium?) So he had to (shhhh...don't tell anyone) get out of that line, stuff its contents into his pockets, fold it and adjust the straps so it looked even smaller than it's already small size, and try to get in via a different line. This time, they let him in.

Nobody is permitted to bring a backpack into Yankee Stadium. Fine. Rules are rules. But only women may bring in smaller bags. This seems to mean that anything that a woman calls a purse, which is not clearly a backpack--even if it might also be known as a "messenger bag," a "tote bag," or a "satchel"--can be brought into Yankee Stadium under the category "purse."

Okay, let's break this down. If the rule was that nobody could bring bags in, then many women would have no place for their wallets, even if they left their cell phones at home. This is because of the idiocy of clothing designers not putting pockets in women's clothing combined with the desire many women have not to increase the girth of their hips or butts by putting things into any pockets that they may have. So, fine, women should be allowed to bring in small bags.

But why not let men bring in small bags as well? Why not make a universal rule: nobody may bring in backpacks, and everybody may bring in small bags designed to carry a bottle of water, a wallet, a cell phone, and a PDA or iPod. Just the essentials, you know.

The only other thing that might be going through these people's heads is that men pose a greater risk of bringing something bad into Yankee Stadium, and thus, this is "gender profiling" of men. They already inspect all women's bags, while they send bag-carrying men away. It would probably be quicker just to take a quick look through everyone's bag, thus ensuring the security of Yankee Stadium.

Apparently, I'm not the first person who was outraged by this.

I don't want to violate any copyright issues by including this directly, but I thought that these man purse cartoons were worthwhile only because who knew that people were drawing cartoons about man purses?! (And the third cartoon does a good job of explaining why I carry a backpack with me every day, and why it's so full of stuff. For anyone who was curious.)



On bullying

Here is a great post by OrthoMom about bullying in day schools (applies to all schools). [Thanks to SSC for directing me to it.] Some of the comments were heart-breaking tales of adults who had been mercilessly bullied as children, some were from commenters who "got it" and were totally great, and some were unbelievable in the "ohmigod I can't believe anyone actually thinks that!" sort of way.

Read the post, and then check out the selection of comments below:
Anonymous said...
I threw like a girl. I was a failure in high school. Had to attend summer school every year and took Earth Science because I couldn't pass the bio regents. Now my classmates send me their rent checks monthly. what a bunch of asshles.
3:42 PM

With a slightly more positive spin (and one that I relate to better personally), this one was good, too:
Fox said...
With regard to those who point out that adult life also brings us people who are "bullies": YES! And that's precisely the problem.I was fortunate to grow up in a relatively small community, and people who were consistently unkind and obnoxious soon found themselves ostracized to greater or lesser degrees. Now I'm not claiming it was perfect, but there was a consequence for being a jerk.
While I've tried to find a similar community in which to raise my children, it's getting harder and harder. As long as we condone arrogance and bullying behavior by adults -- especially in our leaders -- we don't have a chance of changing children's behavior.
I don't go around like the "niceness police", but I do make it a point to support people and institutions that value kindness to others. I only shop where I am treated nicely, and I don't eat in homes where a well-known hechsher is served with a dose of unkindness. My husband, by the way, thinks I'm crazy. But why would I trust the kashrus of people to whom human dignity means so little?
4:02 PM
I agree. I don't give my business to, nor do I socialize with, people who aren't nice on a very basic human level, not just to their friends or their social clique.

This was my LEAST favorite comment, except for the humor value:
Anonymous said...

> “That is an unacceptable answer. Little bullies turn into big bullies. Especially in Yeshivas,
> where the emphasis should be on Middot Tovot, there should most certainly be a "zero
> tolerance" policy towards bullying.”
Rather naïve and presumptuous of you to think to think some policy idea can rid the world of bullies. Children and adults bully for a variety of reasons. There will always be bullies and there is nothing anyone can do to prevent this. If you want to try and minimize bullying in a school that’s fine and all but lets not pretend that this will reduce the number of people who turn into “big bullies”. No one views themselves as a bully, yet most of us are to some extent.
Bottom line, youre treating bullying far worse than it really is. You really DO need to get some prospective. Boys will be boys and girls will be girls. You shouldn’t try to socially engineer some kind of defenseless sissies who cant solve problems on their own.
I don’t know what kind of overprivileged life you and your kids have for you to think this is a big problem, but I should introduce you to people with real problems.
5:25 PM

With all due respect to this anonymous poster (that is, very little), I don't think that most of us are bullies "to some extent." The breadth in comments on the post was interesting, and I can't help but wonder if those who think OrthoMom is making "a big deal out of nothing" were mostly bullies as children, and if those who support her were mostly bullied as children. It seems clear that nobody who was actually bullied thinks that it's not a big deal!

My take on the issues:

I think that girls use cliques to bully in the same way that boys often use sports to bully.

I agree that there is a difference between teasing and bullying, but am not sure one hurts the victim in a different way than the other. Teasing and bullying are both wrong and I think that the difference may be more a matter of degree, persistence, or how many people are ganging up on the victim than any categorical distinction.

I think that it is the job of parents, teachers, administrators, and community leaders to teach right from wrong. Doing anything less than that is abdicating responsibility for moral education, and once you've done that, you're basically letting TV and popular media educate your kids. God knows we don't like the results of that!

I doubt there is any way to eradicate bullying entirely, so anyone who is worried about what a world without bullying would look like need not fear.

So what's the point if it's going to persist anyway? As the subject of much teasing and some bullying as a child, I feel that a strong "this is wrong and won't be tolerated" message from figures of authority would go a long way towards making victim's lives more bearable.

I agree with the last commenter that schoolchildren bullying one another is not the biggest problem in today's world, but sometimes you gotta' start with the problems that you can actually fix, in your own community, before trying to create world peace or eradicate poverty or halt the spread of AIDS in Africa. Also, I'm pretty sure that bullies who continue on their bullying paths through adulthood create some pretty nasty problems on an international level.


Taking responsibility for one's life

Here is a lovely post by Chayyei Sarah quoting a letter from Dr. David Bernstein (of Pardes), about taking responsibility for one's life upon reaching adulthood, inspired by the pidyon haben undertaken by one 27-year-old Pardes student.


100 Most Frequently Challenged Books, 1990-2000

"Banned Books Week" was most recently observed last September, but I say, never blog today what can be put off until tomorrow, so this is only appearing now. I thought that the list, below, of "most frequently challenged books" was interesting. Some of them kind of make sense to me in that they seem inappropriate for young children; others, not so much. I wonder how different the books from 2000-2010 will look. Will there be...ack!...science textbooks on the list? (Click here for the 10 most challenged books in 2005, including the ever-popular Catcher in the Rye.)

The ones that are in bold typeface are the ones that I remember reading, but I think I might have read more of these than that. There are definitely many authors listed here whose other books I've read.

The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000
  1. Scary Stories (Series) by Alvin Schwartz
  2. Daddy’s Roommate by Michael Willhoite
  3. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  4. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
  5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  6. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  7. Harry Potter (Series) by J.K. Rowling
  8. Forever by Judy Blume
  9. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
  10. Alice (Series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
  11. Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman
  12. My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
  13. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  14. The Giver by Lois Lowry
  15. It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris
  16. Goosebumps (Series) by R.L. Stine
  17. A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck
  18. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  19. Sex by Madonna
  20. Earth’s Children (Series) by Jean M. Auel
  21. The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
  22. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  23. Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
  24. Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
  25. In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
  26. The Stupids (Series) by Harry Allard
  27. The Witches by Roald Dahl
  28. The New Joy of Gay Sex by Charles Silverstein
  29. Anastasia Krupnik (Series) by Lois Lowry
  30. The Goats by Brock Cole
  31. Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane
  32. Blubber by Judy Blume
  33. Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan
  34. Halloween ABC by Eve Merriam
  35. We All Fall Down by Robert Cormier
  36. Final Exit by Derek Humphry
  37. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  38. Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
  39. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
  40. What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Girls: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Daughters by Lynda Madaras
  41. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  42. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  43. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
  44. The Pigman by Paul Zindel
  45. Bumps in the Night by Harry Allard
  46. Deenie by Judy Blume
  47. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
  48. Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden
  49. The Boy Who Lost His Face by Louis Sachar
  50. Cross Your Fingers, Spit in Your Hat by Alvin Schwartz
  51. A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
  52. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  53. Sleeping Beauty Trilogy by A.N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice)
  54. Asking About Sex and Growing Up by Joanna Cole
  55. Cujo by Stephen King
  56. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
  57. The Anarchist Cookbook by William Powell
  58. Boys and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy
  59. Ordinary People by Judith Guest
  60. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
  61. What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Boys: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Sons by Lynda Madaras
  62. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
  63. Crazy Lady by Jane Conly
  64. Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher
  65. Fade by Robert Cormier
  66. Guess What? by Mem Fox
  67. The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
  68. The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline Cooney
  69. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  70. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  71. Native Son by Richard Wright
  72. Women on Top: How Real Life Has Changed Women’s Fantasies by Nancy Friday
  73. Curses, Hexes and Spells by Daniel Cohen
  74. Jack by A.M. Homes
  75. Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo A. Anaya
  76. Where Did I Come From? by Peter Mayle
  77. Carrie by Stephen King
  78. Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume
  79. On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer
  80. Arizona Kid by Ron Koertge
  81. Family Secrets by Norma Klein
  82. Mommy Laid An Egg by Babette Cole
  83. The Dead Zone by Stephen King
  84. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
  85. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
  86. Always Running by Luis Rodriguez
  87. Private Parts by Howard Stern
  88. Where’s Waldo? by Martin Hanford
  89. Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene
  90. Little Black Sambo by Helen Bannerman
  91. Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
  92. Running Loose by Chris Crutcher
  93. Sex Education by Jenny Davis
  94. The Drowning of Stephen Jones by Bette Greene
  95. Girls and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy
  96. How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell
  97. View from the Cherry Tree by Willo Davis Roberts
  98. The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
  99. The Terrorist by Caroline Cooney
  100. Jump Ship to Freedom by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier



Israel, America, Home, and Homeland

Read this article from the latest issue of Zeek, by Sara Sherbill, titled "Leaving Homeland." I didn't live in Israel for seven years, but I did spend 10 months there, plus three summers, plus, I think, seven 2-3 week trips.

The reasons that Sara moved there are some of the reasons that I would move there (I also have others):
  • "I felt more at home than I had ever felt before: in America I had felt Jewish; in Israel, I felt like myself."
  • "Still, living there made me, if not a holier person, a wholer one."
And the reasons that she eventually came back to the States are some of the reasons that I think I could never live there permanently, at least not with a year or two back in the US every so often (I also have other reasons):
  • "The longer I lived in Israel, the more I came to feel an odd mix of belonging and not-belonging. After years of living there, I felt both utterly at home and foreign."
  • "But eventually, a part of me came to feel trapped. My world was small and circumscribed, and I started to wonder about all the parts of me that were going unexplored. I hadn't changed jobs in seven years because good English-speaking jobs are in short supply. I never found a group of writers with whom I could really share my work. I grew tired of everyone around me always talking about God and His books."
  • "So many Americans come to Israel to do their seeking, but I was tired of seeking. I wanted to talk about other things. Living in Israel, I always felt I was part of Jewish history unfolding, but eventually I came to see I wanted to feel my own life unfolding."
Even if you can't or don't identify with these sentiments, you should read the article because it is beautifully written. It also might help you understand why other people feel this way about Israel and why they feel this way about America. Perhaps I will write more about Israel and America another time.



Women who are wives, mothers, and employees are healthier at midlife

A journal recently reported the results of this British study, "Life course social roles and women’s health in mid-life: causation or selection?" The conclusion was not that healthy women were more likely to take on all three roles but that women who took on all three roles subsequently had better health, "although some health selection may occur for obesity." I wonder if any of the following are true:
I'm not sure and would be interested in studies that test these hypotheses and others.

In any case, while the study itself is somewhat interesting, what interested me more were the implicit value judgments in headlines from various newspapers that reported the results of this one study. (Interesting to note that because it was a study from the UK, most of the headlines on Google News were from the UK or from countries with stronger ties to the UK than the US has--Australia, Canada, etc.) It's not news to me that the media is always biased, but the extreme deviation in bias in these headlines surprised me. I guess I'm not used to being exposed to such a variety of news sources on something that people feel so strongly about in both directions. I'm not saying that I think all of these headlines are biased in one direction or another, and I think that some are not that biased at all. I haven't had time to read any of the articles, so I don't know about the biases of the articles or even the media sources they come from. I just think that the use of language here is very interesting, regardless of how you feel about the health of women who have all three of these roles (wife, mother, employee).

Take a look at the selection of headlines below.

'Supermoms' Tend to Be Slimmer
Why working is good for mothers
Being a working mum 'good for health'
Working mums are more likely to be fit, happy and slim
Juggling job, kids a healthy combo for women
A hectic lifestyle may be good for your health
Working Mothers Less Likely to Become Obese, British Study Says
Mums' healthy handful
Work healthier for moms than home
Working mothers are healthier than housewives
Women can have it all - and will be much healthier for it
Career + motherhood = healthy women
STAT Medical News: Stay-at-Home Moms More Likely to Be Obese
Women who do it all live a loved life
Career women make healthy mothers
Working mothers are fighting fit
Outside Jobs Reward Mothers with Paychecks and Good Health
Worker-mothers 'healthiest women'
Working moms less likely to be obese
Juggling work and family keeps you healthier, says study
Juggle that career mum, you'll be healthier in the long run!
Study: Working Moms Look and Feel Better

I especially noticed
Some of these headlines portray the marriage/motherhood/career path through life as a struggle or a balancing act, while others portray these women as people who "have it all." It is also interesting that the study also reported that married mothers enjoyed better health than single mothers, but that these articles, or at least their headlines, chose not to focus on that.

It seems that employed mothers is a much hotter topic these days than single vs. married mothers. (Hey, remember this? I can't believe it was almost 14 years ago. Feels like just yesterday. I actually have more to say about choosing single motherhood, but I'll save that for another post.)

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Check it out. (Via thegameiam.) Also check out Amy's Diary on the sidebar. I thought the diary that I kept around that age was special and unique, but it's eerily similar to this one by someone I've never even met who is ten years older than I. Remarkable.




I'm so, so sorry that this happened to Cecily, but I'm so glad that she had the courage to write about it.

And anyone who thinks that this couldn't happen to them in their insular community or nice, small, quiet town, or if they're modestly covered up from head to toe, hasn't been reading the papers lately.

It makes me sick. And angry.

Have a good day.

P.S. Read as many of the comments on Cecily's post as you can, and also her follow-up post.


Embracing the Nerd Within

Paul Graham's article, titled "Why Nerds are Unpopular," is a fun and fascinating read. (Thanks to thegameiam for pointing it out a long time ago. I'm way behind on reading blogs since I started blogging more and decided to replace coffee with sleep.) You should read it and think about what it says, especially if you interact with high school students a lot, or if you ever were or currently are a high school student.

His thesis is that the reason that nerds aren't popular is because they want to be smart more than they want to be popular. I agree and don't know why I didn't think of this myself! I just wish there was a way to prevent the sheer anguish of all of those years of rock-bottom unpopularity, or at least to tell kids in a way that they can understand that it won't be like that forever. Not that I, uh, know anything about that personally.

No. I was always the hippest chick1 around. I wasn't that girl who sat on the side of the playground reading books throughout third and fourth grade instead of jumping rope like the other girls. I wasn't that girl who only had one person show up to her 10th birthday party. (Thanks, SHP! How sad would it have been if no one had shown up?) I wasn't that girl who always got picked last for teams in gym class so often that the gym teacher felt bad and just assigned her to a team without waiting for her to be picked last.

No, really, from a social perspective, being me pretty much sucked from third grade through sixth grade. Totally sucked. It started, actually, in second grade when my freakin' banged up metal Sesame Street lunchbox (my God, how not cool is that?) fell open and its super not-cool contents, packed by my health-conscious mother, spilled out onto the lunchroom floor: peanut butter sandwich, carrot sticks, graham crackers, and home-popped popcorn.* Where were the artificial colors? The artificial flavors? The gooey gushy fruit snack wrinkle roll-ups? It only got better in 3rd grade, when a classmate asked me why I never got any new clothing. (I was wearing the purple corduroy jumper that I was quite fond of. I apparently wore it too often.) It's been 18 years and I still remember how that felt. The same girl invited every other girl in our class to her birthday party that year except me, and when I approached their lunch table one day she said, "Shhhhh! ALG's not invited." What I want to call her these many years later is not suitable for this family-friendly blog, and, anyway, I shouldn't be cursing at all. (I sometimes feel like people who curse a lot don't have better words to use, and I have much better words to use.)

For some reason, I had a very strong sense of self from a young age (which I only know because I started keeping a journal when I was nine years old, and when I reread the journals now, I very much see my current self in those childish yearnings2), and that helped me figured out that they only picked on me because it made them feel better. I didn't really understand why it made them feel better about themselves, but I saw that it did. I also figured out pretty early on that unless I stood up and tried to protect the other people3 that the cool cats picked on, I was no better than they. Of course, standing up for the even-less-popular-than-I girls only made it worse for me, but on some level, I didn't care. Some level deeper than that cried into my pillow at night. Not even for a millisecond do I regret any of the social decisions that I made then, despite the tear-stained pillows. I do wish that I had been able to make and execute those decisions and others without feeling like the social consequences were almost unbearable.

Things got better in 7th grade when all the not-cool girls banded together and decided to snub the cool girls. They wouldn't acknowledge us in the hallways? Fine, we wouldn't acknowledge them either. Somehow, we even managed to elect me 9th grade class president (generally a simple personality contest, but clearly not in this case). It was the vindication of the not-cool against the cool. Collective decision making at its best, really. A few years later, I also started becoming friends with some boys, which generally worked out much better than trying to be liked by the other girls.

By late in high school I had more close friends and was happier. I was still terribly uncoordinated and didn't wear the right clothing (at all) or do the right things with my hair (at all) or have the smoothest social skills around or get invited to all the parties, but it mattered less because I found things to keep me busy that didn't require those particular skills. Most nerds eventually discover those things that they enjoy that don't require the skills that make one popular in school. From the ages of 12-18, I worked on the school literary magazine and school newspaper and I read Joseph Soloveitchik and books on feminist linguistics and Mesechet Kilayim and Scientific American in my free time. I wrote a lot and became a very quick typist. I published short pieces in a regional teen newspaper almost monthly for almost six years, acquired two pen pals, won a book review contest at the local public library, played around on the computer, became good friends with the school librarian (who wrote me a letter of recommendation that helped me win a summer fellowship, where I was also nerdier than the average participant, but where I met some of the people who are my best friends and most trusted mentors today), and maintained correspondences with my grandmother and others. I wrote an essay about feminism and halacha that made its way around and that was commented upon favorably by Rabbi Professor Isadore Twersky, ztz"l, about a year before he passed away.

Several years later, in college, sitting around shooting the breeze over a lazy lunch in the dining hall, talk turned towards childhood social traumas, and we all had our stories about being the only kid not invited to a birthday party and being excluded at lunch tables. "Ha, ha, ha!" We all had a good laugh then, as if none of it had mattered. Of course it mattered. If it didn't, why were we talking about it so many years later, and why would I be writing about it now?

Back to Paul Graham's article, I know that I wanted to be smart far more than I wanted to be popular. Like most people, I always wanted to do whatever I was good at, and I was always much better at being smart than at being popular. I didn't think I would ever be good at being popular, so I didn't even try to be mediocre at it, really.4 I spent all of the time that I would have spent trying to become popular, thinking and writing.

I don't think I'm the worse off for it at all. Once I had more friends, I became more socialized and thus more sociable. I turned out fairly self-confident and mostly able to hold my own in the public sphere, despite years of reading books on the side of the schoolyard instead of playing with the other kids. I'm only really different from people who were popular as youngsters in that I carry around this memory of the trauma and that I don't work as hard as other people do at fitting in. And I use bigger words sometimes.

In fact, at this point in my life, I'm happy to embrace the nerd, the geek, and the person who questions the values of the majority culture, because those characteristics all come from a place deep inside that is inherently me.5 I am happy to be someone who finds the New York City electric grid interesting, someone who longs for Tuesday to come so she can read the Science Times, someone who knows more about pop culture from before 1950 than after, and someone who does serious research and finds out all there is to know about grain weevils when that's relevant to her life (don't worry, they're all gone now!). Feel free to think I'm weird if you want. I've made peace with the fact that the music I like tends towards jazz, reggae, showtunes, and folk, and away from most of what's on the radio. I've mostly made peace with the fact that when people talk about current movies and TV shows, I often have no idea what they're talking about. Sometimes I just keep quiet (that is, keep the nerd/geek/social misfit under wraps), because I can usually pass as a normal person these days...as long as I don't open my mouth. Mostly, though, I am a normal person these days, because the people I hang out with also don't know much about what's on TV or at the movies, and we all have fun discussing the New York City electric grid together.

Seriously, it's good to be a grown-up. Don't let anyone ever convince you otherwise.


* I will, God willing, one day send my future children to school with similar or even healthier snacks. What are parents who pack their kids chock full of sugar thinking? During the school day, no less! I am, indeed, turning into my mother.
1. As a feminist, I reserve the right to use words like "chick" and "girl" or "grrrl" self-referentially, but you can't use them to refer to anyone except yourself. No exceptions. I know how to use "chick" in a properly ironic way, whereas your use of the word "chick" might be drawing some kind of ridiculous equivalence between me and a baby chicken. Totally unacceptable!
2. I've kept a private journal continuously since I was 9. I originally wrote it in every day, but soon realized that I didn't have enough of interest to say to write in it everyday, and I also didn't want to write daily because then I'd feel guilty skipping a day. So I decided to only write in it when the mood struck, which means that I've sometimes written in it every two days, sometimes weekly, and sometimes only every six months, depending on what's been going on in my life. I think that years of journal writing made me a better writer of all things, not just journal entries. This hypothesis is supported by neurologist Alice Flaherty, who thinks that the reason that some people are better artists or better writers is because they enjoy doing it, so they do it a lot more than anyone else and then they become better at it than other people. One of the reasons that so many great writers and artists had mental illnesses such as manic-depression is because mania can make you produce a much greater output, which makes you better just because you do it more. Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt make a similar claim in this New York Times Magazine piece from this past Sunday.
3. Namely, the recent Russian immigrant girls. They were the only people who were the butt of more jokes than I was.
4. Or maybe I did try and I failed at it. But I don't think I tried too hard. I think, instead, I decided that the popular girls were idiots and so I was, um, self-righteous and dismissive, which obviously killed any chances I ever had of being popular.
5. I will admit that I'm largely happy doing that because I'm at a point now where I can mostly choose who I spend my time with, and I mostly spend my time with other people who are like me, that is, tending towards the geeky or the nerdy. That is, I spend my time with really smart people who are doing cool things with their lives. (I'm always surprised to discover someone among my friends who wasn't a social outcast at some point.)

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Just look at that face! Why are newborn chimpanzees way cuter than newborn humans? I thought cuteness in babies evolved as a way for us to want to care for them despite their incredibly high level of neediness. You would think that I would be genetically programmed to think that a newborn human (even one unrelated to me) would be a helluva lot cuter than a newborn chimpanzee, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Just look at that punim!

Find out if human beings are the only primates who cry here.

Compare the baby chimp to photos of newborn humans here, here, or here (and these aren't even such squashed-looking newborns).

Image: Kim Bard
Photo from: ScientificAmerican.com


Articulate as usual

That is, Chayyei Sarah has been articulate, as usual, on a difficult subject that the New York Times reported on today--the health crisis currently facing Palestinians in Gaza. If you read Chayyei Sarah's post, please read the comments as well, since they are bound to be interesting.

It sucks that people, many of them likely innocent to some degree, are dying due to lack of basic medical equipment, but it sucks more that Hamas is hiring and arming young men instead of putting that money towards health care and infrastructure. It sucks that Israel has to close the Karni crossing, thus preventing supplies from reaching hospitals, but it sucks even more than young Palestinians still aspire to become suicide bombers and kill Israeli civilians in the streets, shopping malls, and buses. I have sympathy towards those who are ill or dying, but I have to ask, "What do you expect will happen when you elect a government that, as the NYT put it, 'refuses to recognize Israel and forswear violence'?" This is democracy in action, people, and maybe when you elect self-declared terrorists they fund terrorism rather than schools and hospitals.

The fact that people like Chayyei Sarah live in Israel makes me want to live there more. She's so smart and shares many of my (stereotypically left-wing) values and she's articulate about them and puts herself out there in her political posts, again and again. She is also not afraid to admit when she is confused, which is more than I can say for many people. But last night, I saw Mekudeshet, and that made me want to live in Israel much less. It's a powerful film. You should see it if you get a chance, although it may make you want to forsake God*, Israel, and possibly the institution of marriage altogether.

* Or at least his manifestation in the current Orthodox halachic framework, and, no, I don't think that that is the only legitimate manifestation of God in this world. Heaven help us if it is.



Dr. Seuss Bible

This is funny! I would like to challenge others to write other parts of the Bible (especially Genesis and Exodus, and maybe Jeremiah or Isaiah, too) in Seussian verse. Anyone up for it?




If you don't read Esther Kustanowitz's column in The Jewish Week regularly, you should start. It's ostensibly a singles' column, but it usually contains messages that we could all stand to hear. Here is a recent one that I particularly enjoyed.

What I most enjoyed in the column was an idea that she hints at but I don't think mentions explicitly: Freedom isn't always as freeing as it first seems, and captivity or bondage aren't always as constrictive as they first seem.

That is also a possible interpretation of a somewhat cryptic midrashic passage from Exodus Rabbah, recently shared with me by LAM:

"And the writing was the writing of God, engraved (charut) upon the tablets." [Exodus 32:16] What is the meaning of engraved (charut)? Rabbi Judah and Rabbi Nehemiah each explained it. Rabbi Judah said: Free (chayrut) from captivity. Rabbi Nehemiah said: Free (chayrut) from the Angel of Death.
A less mysterious text that conveys the same idea is a mishna in Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers 6:2 (not always included in the traditional five chapter long Ethics of the Fathers):
R. Joshua, the son of Levi, said, "Every day a bat-kol goes forth from Mount Horeb, proclaiming and saying, 'Woe to mankind for contempt of the Torah, for whoever does not occupy himself in the Torah is said to be under the divine censure, as it...says, 'And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables.' Read not charut [engraved], but chayrut [freedom], for no man is free but he who occupies himself in the learning of Torah."

That idea is also hinted at in the following Robert Frost poem. Connecting Frost's poem to the freedom/bondage of the "writing of God" is not my idea. It is that of my dear friend MUL. (Check out an annotated interpretation here, which disagrees with MUL's understanding of the poem.)
"The Silken Tent" (1942)

She is as in a field a silken tent
At midday when the sunny summer breeze
Has dried the dew and all its ropes relent,
So that in guys it gently sways at ease,
And its supporting central cedar pole,
That is its pinnacle to heavenward
And signifies the sureness of the soul,
Seems to owe naught to any single cord,
But strictly held by none, is loosely bound
By countless silken ties of love and thought
To everything on earth the compass round,
And only by one's going slightly taut
In the capriciousness of summer air
Is of the slightest bondage made aware.
I used to chafe at the idea that bondage to either "silken ties of love and thought" or "the writing of God, engraved upon the tablets" could be freeing rather than constrictive. I thought that trying to make it so was a mind game; it was fooling oneself into voluntarily accepting constriction. I am no longer sure that it is such a mind game, and sometimes think that those who imagine themselves to be free from all external restrictions (a set of religious precepts, an employer, a long term relationship, or any others) are the ones who are actually playing mind games with themselves.

It's related to my feeling that we all worship something to some extent, so I might as well worship God. Some people worship money, prestige, intellectual achievementent, professionachievementent, their parents, their children, or food; I choose to worship God, instead.


General Anna's take on the Darfur Rally

Here. Go read it. It's interesting.


If you never want to eat in New York City again...

Check out your favorite restaurants on this website.

I don't know if the kosher* ones are worse than the others. (The word on the street is generally that kosher restaurants are worse than non-kosher restaurants in almost every way, including cleanliness and service, since they have a more captive audience.) I checked out a few and it didn't look like they necessarily were, but this is not a scientific study by any means. The kosher places I checked out ranged from 2, a very good score, to 34, which is a bad score. It goes from 1 up to 175, but a 28 or above requires a compliance inspection.

What was definitely true was that the cheaper the restaurant was, the higher (= worse) its score. ("Definitely true" in only the way that a non-scientific study can be.) Regardless of kashrut, the pizza places I checked out ranged from 0 to 88, with many hovering in the teens and 20s, but a not-insubstantial number in the 30s and higher. Restaurants with the word "steak" in their names, which might be assumed to be pricier, ranged from 0 to 37, but only two places were above 27, which is the cutoff for what is considered acceptable by the New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene. Restaurants with the word "bistro" in their names, also probably pricier, ranged from 0 to 51, but, again, only two scores were above 27.

I felt differently about different violations. Violations at some of the restaurants I eat at include (warning--not all items below are safe for the faint of heart):
  1. Evidence of mice or live mice present in facility's food and/or non-food areas.
  2. Facility not vermin proof. Harborage or conditions conducive to vermin exist.
  3. Sanitized equipment or utensil, including in-use food dispensing utensil, improperly used or stored.
  4. "Choking first aid" poster not posted. "Alcohol and Pregnancy" warning sign not posted. "Wash hands" sign not posted at hand wash facility. Resuscitation equipment: exhaled air resuscitation masks (adult & pediatric), latex gloves, sign not posted. Inspection report sign not posted.
  5. Food Protection Certificate not held by supervisor of food operations.
  6. Non-food contact surface improperly constructed. Unacceptable material used. Non-food contact surface or equipment improperly maintained.
  7. Sanitized equipment or utensil, including in-use food dispensing utensil, improperly used or stored.
#4 and even #5 don't bother me so much in my, um, gut, although I appreciate the need for such laws and wish to see them obeyed. As for the others--yuck! On the other hand, I haven't gotten sick yet, and a little bacteria never hurt anyone with a healthy immune system (which, thank God, I have, bli ayin hara [not to attract the evil eye], ptooey ptooey).

For the sake of, again, non-scientific comparison, here are some violations at restaurants I don't eat at (because they are not kosher):
  1. Thawing procedures improper.
  2. Wiping cloths dirty or not stored in sanitizing solution.
  3. Evidence of flying insects or live flying insects present in facility's food and/or non-food areas.
  4. Hot food not held at or above 140°F.
Oh, right, that makes me feel better. (I have seen a fly in the glass pastry case at Starbucks several times. Every time I see one, I alert the cashier who usually gets it out of the case. Once the person didn't do anything about it, which I thought was probably not a smart thing to do from a customer service perspective. I also once saw a cute little mouse at an independent coffee shop in Cambridge, and I quietly told the barista. They were glad to receive the information and said that they would take care of it.)

Why do I care? Well, there is the gross-out factor, of course. You know, interest in the sordid underbelly of the restaurant business, which is probably also why people read books like Upton Sinclair's The Jungle.

However, I also find this fascinating only in that it's something that I've never really thought about before (and it was probably better that way). It makes me wonder, though--what else is a part of my regular life here in New York that I never think about?

* Read: "hechshered" (or "hekhshered") if that suits you better. I am using them synonymously in this post, although I realize that not everyone does.




BZ, who has been posting clever posts for each day of the omer so far, has a somber one for today, Yom HaZikaron (Israeli memorial day for soldiers), the 19th day of the omer. It is so hard for me to think of 19 year olds dying... Yehi zichram baruch, indeed. May their memories be for a blessing.

Someone quoted this in a comment on Chayyei Sarah's blog and I thought it was beautiful enough to repost here.
"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them."
--Laurence Binyon, ""For the Fallen," September 1914
I find World War I elegies for fallen soldiers to be particularly beautiful and strikingly sad. (I first discovered them when I took a class on the history of World War I in college.)

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Good things that are happening in New York City and other parts of the world

Please keep the comments coming on my last post! I'm finding them interesting.

In the meantime, an article in yesterday's New York Times described something good that some people are trying to do in New York to provide affordable "first-step housing" for people who would otherwise be homeless.

The existence of Seminarians for Justice makes me happy. I personally know people from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, Yeshiva University's RIETS, and the Hebrew College rabbinical school who are involved.

And as a follow-up to this post, a few accounts of yesterday's rally to stop genocide in Darfur:
New York Times video clip from the rally
Washington Post rally coverage
Candy Sandwich(blog)
The Orthodox Paradox (blog)

I would be happy to add your first-person account to this list if you share it with me.

Interesting: This Reuter's article links (chronologically if not causally) the US sending it's #2 State Department official to Nigeria to try to influence Sudanese peace talks, which happened today, with yesterday's rallies in DC and elsewhere.

I don't have much to add about the rally. I'm glad that I went, even though I felt that I didn't bring much more than my body there. I'm not good at listening to speeches in large crowds (or small crowds, for that matter), so I didn't put that much effort into listening to the speakers, although what I did hear (mostly Elie Wiesel) was inspiring.

It was good to see the diversity in the crowd, although there were fewer people there than I expected. As expected, I saw many identifiable Jews (either of the kippot/skirts variety or wearing t-shirts that identified them as coming from specific synagogues, schools, or youth groups). I was proud that there were so many Jews there, but also happy that it wasn't only Jews, and that Jews had successfully worked with others to put the rally together. In addition to the Jewish groups, I saw some Sudanese groups, groups of union members (saw an AFT contingent), and people from all over the US. I saw signs from all over the Northeast, of course (as far North as Maine!), but also from Colorado, and I heard that people came from Texas and Ohio also.


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