Monday, July 30, 2007

Bridge to Corruption

From the New York Times:
WASHINGTON, July 30 — The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service raided the Alaska home of Senator Ted Stevens on Monday in search of evidence about his relationship to a businessman who oversaw a remodeling project that almost doubled the size of the senator’s house, federal law enforcement officials said.

The decision to raid the home suggests that the corruption investigation focused on Mr. Stevens, a long-serving Republican and former chairman, has taken on new urgency.

The businessman, Bill J. Allen, the founder of an oil fields service company that has won tens of millions of dollars in federal contracts with the senator’s help, has pleaded guilty to bribing state legislators.

Commence the bridge to no-where and group of tubes jokes now.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Shabbat Ideas - July 27, 2007

Readership is way down and now I know a few of the people I write about online and that is cool so here are my Shabbat Thoughts for July 27, 2007.

Playboy and Rambam, No Kidding.
$286 billion pie that is always cooked the same way
From Hillary for President: “Would you believe that The Washington Post wrote a 746-word article on Hillary's cleavage?” (But now they want to make money off her body too…)
Clothes? Make up? Cleavage? What's really important in this race?
Darfur Movie of the Week

I had a trying week for no good reason. Was in a crappy mood and not much has been able to change that. Work was tough, class was annoying, and I didn’t take advantage of restaurant week.

I was going to write about the Congo, but no one else does so I am not going to do the research to cover it. I was going to write about the YouTube debate but it seems like no one really cares about that either. Something about Israel? Depressing. Something about Jews? Boring. Something about New York? Nah. Relationship? No one wants to hear it.

So money. Everyone likes money. The stock market seems to be going down a bit and experts are saying the housing market is to blame…hmmmm where have I heard that before?

OH yeah I talked about it a few months ago.

The mortgage markets, because of drastically unregulated interest rates and lack of clear regulations, have started to crumble leading to defaults on record numbers of home loans, including Prime Rate holders. Here is to the American dream.

Now, I am just upset about these problems because they are not only costing people money, they are costing people their lives. I feel like if we are to set up a strong economy it must be based on some set of principles. I love economic theoretic principles ones as long as those implementing them remember that people are not fluid commodities.

People need to be connected to families who need to eat and live in shelter and go to school and the doctor. But this aspect of the economy will never be covered in the Wall Street Journal or Forbes. As we look at all the things we don’t want to talk about this week, remember that it usually has to do with people suffering because we are too busy or lazy to care. It is the American Dream on the line and people’s lives at stake. It is time to care about the impact of our economic choices.

Shabbat Shalom

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Jewish Lands for Jews

So this Bill in Israel is making a mess. The Jewish National Fund thinks it is a good idea, the Knesset clearly thinks it is a good idea and a bunch of right-wing nuts are always on board for Jews first legislation. But the rest of the Jewish world doesn't seem to like it very much. From Mobius to RabbiYoffie, people are not so happy.

I for one think it is silly to consider this a good idea in the first place. What are these people thinking? Fine, the JNF was set up to help Jews buy up land for a state in Palestine. That worked. When they handed over the land to the government of Israel it wasn't handing it over to the government of the Jews, but of the state of Israel. (In case we forgot there are non-Jews in Israel.) Now the land is Israeli not just Jewish.

Outside of all of these rational issues like the destruction of democracy, bad PR, racism and a few others, we also come to the problem of "who's a Jew" with such a law. If some shmo with a Jewish mom want to go and buy up some land great. But if a non-Halachic Jew, who lives a Jewish life wants to get a home in the Holy Land, then he is out of luck. Crappy. This law stinks from head to toe. JNF stick to planting trees.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Religious Market Economy

I have a very low regard for people who make money from selling religious objects to people looking for the trendy ,hip and new thing. It is sad that people exploit there fellow human beings who are looking for some sort of spiritual connection by selling them small trinkets; I am also pretty sure that is against the rules.

On that note there is an interesting conversation taking place on a Beliefnet discussion board about using Buddhism in marketing. This is all the more interesting considering the Tao restaurant/club/bar in Las Vegas made the most money out of any restaurant in the United States last year grossing $55.2 million.

The market is dictated by the desires of those with disposable income, but should there be some sort of values based understanding by those who create the products that are desired? It is similar with the Kabbalah movement. Red string or not, there isn't much more than what is marketed by paparazzi covering Madonna or whoever else is latest celebrity believer. Kabbalah as a religion onto itself isn't a religion but it is now seen as the New Age Hip Judaism. Buddhism now sells $55.2 million in food, drink and nightlife. Seems a bit against everything both of these religions are founded upon but very much inline with a market economy.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Shabbat Ideas - July 20, 2007

It is Friday and there is a HUGE hole in Midtown and I missed being on Lex and 41st by about 10 minutes and a bank visit, so here are my Shabbat Thoughts:

Awww Camp
Feds Ban Religious Books in Prisons
Nipping the Problem in the Bris
JJ on what’s next for Vorld Vide Yiddin’ and why we don’t know what it is

Marc Broussard and his band are the perfect creators of music. Last night I stood among about 1,000 others in The Fillmore at Irving Plaza. to listen to Marc belt out his NOLA inspired rock-n-roll. In an age of Wittgensteinian mechanical reproduction of art, it is refreshing to hear and see the creation of art in a space that will never be again.

Over the past few weeks there have been major events that speak to this destruction of the creative emotion in our culture. News Corp will own Dow Jones. Umbrella or whatever is still at the top of the charts. (ella ella ella) It could even be said that with the newest manifestation of the printing press, the Web2.0, there is nothing creative anymore. Nothing is created, only reproduced. Even the fantastic concert from last night was burned to CD and sold for $15 after the show. (I got one and it was well worth it)

Yet even without the creation of new and never-to-be-reproduced-with-the-same-emotional-energy art, is the experience of art, as Wittgenstein described (starting within an experience of religious connection and moving towards cultural foundation and then destroyed by the progress of industry, namely the printing press) gone? More importantly is the need for art, at its base non-essential to the survival of our culture?

I saw a very interesting piece on Roy Lichtenstein on some artsy TV station I found, it was in the high 100s on Digital Cable. I was devastated to find out that his master pieces, these explorations of smooth lines and out of context love scenes, were copied from comic books and the dots were printed on long reams of paper. There was great controversy surrounding this work but Lichtenstein likened his struggle to that of Picasso when he first started Cubism. No. Sorry Roy.

Picasso invented an art form that could be considered simplistic. But he created it. You were enlarging someone else’s creation and coloring by numbers. Yet no one else thought to do it, so maybe it is art. What perhaps is the most artistically ironic thing I have seen on the Lichtenstein website is the disclaimer, shadowed by a cartoon dog “grrrrrrr”ing at me: “The contents of this site are for personal and/or educational use only. Neither text nor photographs may be reproduced in any form with out the permission of the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation.” Come on Roy (and your financial backers).

As I listen to the recording of last night’s show, I am able to remember the energy I felt and the excitement of standing for the five hours of waiting and then show. However, regardless of volume this CD is not the art that was formed last night. I didn’t know what was coming next at the concert, I didn’t know all the words to all the songs, but now I know when to clap, when the girls scream “I love you Marc” and at what minute that sweet solo from the Soul Live guy starts.

We live in this time of CDs of live concerts replacing the concert itself and when artists simply copy another’s art as if original. This brings a conversation I had with DK to mind. What is the point of religion in a time when we know all the words to the song and the art is put up by construction workers. (Come after me RLF)

Religion is a reminder of the intent of artistic expression: the establishment of society and hopes for a better situation later on, in life or in death. So as we pause to remember the destruction of society this week, let us remember that it is more than just what a wonderful Shabbat I had with MY friends at OUR minyan this weekend. It should be what a wonderful Shabbat WE had with the all the PEOPLE in the COMMUNITY this weekend. If not we are only taking part in the mechanical reproduction of Shabbat.

Shabbat Shalom

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Sloved Solved the Problem

Velcro will save my Mezuzah!!!

Brilliant call of my wonderful woman!

Practical Mezuzah Question

While there have been a few really stupid emails going around about Mezuzot in the past few weeks, I have a problem that I hope the royal you can help me solve.

I live in an apartment where the front door jam is metal. I have hung my Mezuzah up with double sided tape. This morning after I found my beautiful hand crafted silver Mezuzah on ground in my hallway. I can not a fix the Mezuzah to the wall, because that is common space and it doesn't seem to hold with the tape. The metal door is not very magnetic, so small magnets are out of the question.

Anyone have ideas to keep my home Jewish? Thanks!

(editor's note: That isn't my Mezuzah but I thought the post needed a picture.)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

POLJM is Coming to Town

My mom is coming to town this week and I am happy to see her...I know this is a "and then my cat was soooooooooooooooo cute" kind of post but here is the deal. I have been working on this article for my writing class that centers on our relationship and it sometimes is hard to leave the feelings and bull I used to pull aside and live in the present. Between real work, classwork and blog-work, I have had no time to decompress let alone time not looking at a computer screen. So I am happy to put the quill aside and spend time with the real person as apposed to the literary character I have created.

I suggest you all take this time, the first few days of Av, to call your moms, dads and other such relations to say hello. Do not be sad or cause some ruckus just say hi and what is up.

I am very happy I get to do that with my mom who lands at in NYC in about three hours and I am excited to see her.

Monday, July 16, 2007

JTA is Funny again "JEW ON ICE"

From the JTA:
Jews on Ice
The first World Jewish Ice Hockey Tournament is being held in Metulla, Israel.

With outside temperatures reaching 90 degrees in Israel’s northernmost city, teams from the United States, France, Israel and Canada are competing on the ice at Metulla’s Canada Center, located just over the border from Lebanon.

In the first game the Americans trounced the French, 9-4. Games will continue all week, with the championship game on Friday.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Shabbat Ideas - July 13, 2007

It has been nine months since I started this thing, so here are my Shabbat Thoughts for July 13, 2007.

Self Defense Squads? Kinda like lower case t means time to leave
GI Jew, a real American Hero
Rabbis on Camp Pranks
Great Story on an Old Lady
And I stand by my statement that the Bitel Blog stole this idea from my Shabbat Ideas.

We read the beginning of Jeremiah this week. Jeremiah a prophet during the later part of the 7th century BCE was quite a downer. Nervous that no one would believe his prophecy because of his age, he asked how to prove it and he spoke with God. God told him “Do not say ‘I am only a youth,’ for wherever I send you, you must go; and whatever I command you, you must speak. Have no fear of them for I am with you to keep you safe!” (1:7-8)

Now I can understand that; speaking truth to power is very difficult, especially when you feel you have the mandate of God. As young people we regularly feel empowered to prove the world wrong in the name of the good and the right. How young people often do not let the hand of God touch their mouths and allow it to place words of wisdom upon their lips.

Each week, I read newspapers and blogs looking for things that upset me or drive me to express myself. It is a selfish exploration of my thoughts for the benefit of anyone who virtually stumbles across this blog. My words, in my opinion, are often well planed and to point. I try to stand up to the Kings of the North of our day, working to better our people. But sometimes that is not the case.

My biggest fear for my writing is to be hypocritical. This disgusting practice takes the forms of double standards, bent truth and right out lying. It is rampant in the media. But it is also found here in our little corner of the blogosphere. I worry that I might speak too fast, in favor of getting the story (not like I am source of news but still. I suffer from the instant gratification of self-publication.

I would like to take this opportunity, before we start the month of Av, and apologize for any brash or hypocritical remarks. Because it was because of sinat chinam that the Temple was destroyed (that and a stronger enemy army). I hope I have not added to the pain or anguish of the Jewish people by writing here. To paraphrase a guy I once read about, I will still worry that my blog posts will not be filled with the right words, for I am only a youth. I am still waiting for a response; I don’t think I am going to get one. I am just fine with the silence.

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, July 12, 2007

No Longer the 1890s

This week saw the closing of a Lower East Side kosher establishment. Joanna Smith Rakoff of Nextbook went down with her trusty digital voice recorder to take in the final hours of challah, cookies and other kosher goodies. After 90 years of serving the Jewish community, Gertel’s Bakery closed its doors.

One of the people on interviewed on the podcast, sounding to be middle aged, gave his opinion of the situation: progress is progress. With a very rudimentary analysis he said that the space that Gertel's occupied for the past century was worth more in real estate than in cookies. (No kidding) But what about the community?

As hipsters and Jews (and some hipster Jews) flock to the 10x10 box apartments on the Lower East Side, they are looking for the community that was there so many years ago. It is a nostalgic renaissance, people will want to live in the new condos, but they can do that anywhere. These tight jean wearing, slip-on shoe sporting, tote bag wilding folks want to walk in the "tenement" life-style but with a door man.

The Forward published a piece this week from a leading thinker of this nostalgic renaissance, Tony Michels. In the piece Michels calls the Forward, the leading left-leaning Yiddishist voice in the Jewish world, to "come home" to the Lower East Side. There is a rich history, Michels say. People take tours of the Lower East Side and need to see that the history is still alive, he calls to the socialist paper.

But what Michels and to some extent Smith Rakoff are missing here is that while our history is very important, it is the past. A majority of the Jewish community not only doesn't live on the Lower East Side, but they won't want to if they could. Most people, when able, like to move up in society and the Jews no exception. The over priced real estate in the City is stupid. Why pay nearly one million dollars to live is a smaller place in a dirty neighborhood like the LES when you could play less and live in a larger house just outside the city (or on the UWS or even the Park Slope); arguably there is a stronger Jewish community in the suburbs.

Now I am not one to say progress unabated is a good thing, but we also need to know when nostalgia for an earlier time is pulling us to Ludlow Street instead of a real need. Is it important to live and work there as Jewish people and organizations? I don't think so. Is is sad that Gertel's closed before I had one of the little challahs that was described in the podcast? Absolutely. But if it wasn't for that podcast produced by a Jewish cultural organization well above Delancy, I never would have heard about any of this. Is the cultural of neighborhood something we, as the American Jewish community, is looking for? Or does it need to stay alive for the very few living in another time? Good thing we are all able to blog about this...

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Fire the Fear

I have not liked the ADL and their alarmist "they-are-all-going-to-kill-us" attitudes for some time. Like my feelings for AIPAC they have been muted (not muzzled) out of respect for those who feel these organizations are important aspects of the Jewish community, namely my mom. People of my mother's generations grew up knowing about the horrors of the Holocaust by living with those who survived and understood the more disgusting forms of anti-Semitism in this country because they experienced them. But the time has come for our community to mature past the fear of our history.

Joey Kurtzman, senior editor at Jewcy and JTA Daily Briefing proclaimed "internet provocateur," explains all of this in regards to Abe Foxman with a little less respect for other's beliefs. In this particular case he is right to do so. The thesis of Kurtzman's piece is that Foxman needs to go. He is a relic of the fearful past.

According to Kurtzman, Foxman's support of the Turkish governments opposition to the US Congregational recognition of the Armenian genocide at the hands of the Turks was the last straw. He is self-serving and the wrong voice for the Jewish people. The ADL is not obsolete, but it is getting there, says Kurtzman and I agree. But please take a look at the piece (linked below) because it outlines a very interesting argument.

This general argument is new for the Jew.0 crowd. It isn't a "throw away everything and move to the country together and have indy-minnyanim" argument. It calls us to fix the problems of our system by working with our organizations to represent all of our needs, and I like that.

Bravo Mr. Kurtzman for the courage to stand up and write some truth on your website. Time will tell what will happen, but until then I look forward to hearing you called a self-hating Jew by the ADL.

In the News: Abolish Abe

Word on Conservation From the City of New York

I get emails from the City because I am just that cool. But this one came into my mailbox today and I was shocked to learn that the "bucolic" picture we hold of summer in the city--kids running through the fire hydrants--is extremely wasteful. Check this out:
DEP Announces Innovative Fire Hydrant Abuse Prevention Program

Keep Hydrants Closed - Free Spray Caps Available

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has partnered with Alianza Dominicana, the well known Washington Heights community organization, to create an innovative fire hydrant abuse prevention program called HEAT (Hydrant Education Action Team). Beginning today, 20 youth educators will distribute information outside subway stations and parks, at neighborhood events, and on local streets where residents open fire hydrants on hot days, often without realizing the possible consequences for fire-fighting, domestic water use, and the safety of young children. More

Free Hydrant Spray Caps Available

Hydrants can be opened legally if equipped with a City-approved spray cap. One illegally opened hydrant wastes up to 600 gallons of water per minute, while a hydrant with a spray cap only puts out around 25 gallons per minute. Spray caps can be obtained by an adult 18 or over, free of charge, at local firehouses. Call 311 for more information about how to keep cool and safe this summer.
600 gallons of water a minute. That is so much water it makes my thirsty. When it is super hot outside, it is important to drink water but also be able to play in it. These Hydrant Caps not only save water but make it the pressure available during a fire, even if kids were playing in the same hydrant.

I think that is cool. It is really hot out today.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Maps of the Middle East

This is very cool. This "Maps of War" interactive feature gives you the history of the power struggles and rulers of the Middle East for since the beginning of time.

Click here: Map of War - Middle East

Friday, July 6, 2007

Shabbat Ideas - July 6, 2007

It is hot and sticky in the city and I got dress up for work on a Friday so here are my Shabbat Thoughts for July 6, 2007.
Woman Rabbi Preach Alyiah...and it isn't the beginning of a joke
Besides the fact he isn't running (yet) he could be the first Jewish President
Log Cabin Republicans Outing California Cities
Boy-chicks of summer

I watch a lot of DYI and HGTV; it is relaxing and mindless. My favorite shows are the Flip This House and Real Estate Pros. The point of the show is to take a dilapidated house in a crappy part of town and make it really nice and flipping it for a huge profit in a very short amount of time. It is good fun and very much formula television.

Perhaps I like these show because in an hour (or 44 minutes if you set the DVR) you can see a piece of junk transformed into a work of art. It is so simple: investors invest a few hundred thousand dollars in the property, spend ten-thousand more than they wanted to on renovations and then sell the house for a about twenty-thousand less than they wanted to still making a profit of about fifty to a hundred thousand dollars in the span of a few weeks or months.

But something irks me about these shows as well. You never see who owned the home before the flippers buy the place. Many of the houses were bank owned foreclosures or police seized property. You don’t see the negative aspects of the gentrification of a neighborhood. Hundreds of hours of TV every week are spent on showing real estate to people around the country and a majority of these shows focus on the “up and coming” neighborhoods in major cities like Seattle, Chicago or Atlanta.

One person in particular really fits the mold of the issue of exacerbation of localized poverty. His name is Armando Montelongo. He is the owner and president of the Flip Team in San Antonio. His story is very compelling; pulling himself up out of poverty, Armando built a business and wrote a book about making it work. But what we don’t see is how his business in pseudo-rural areas around the city has relegated poor folks to the middle of nowhere. But he made it so there is a message of hard work and getting paid, which is good for the kids.

I was in Oakland last week on the BART on my way to the airport, when I noticed some new buildings below of the Coliseum/Airport stop on the train. I was shocked to see this because the last time I was on this particular piece of public transit, the entire area near the BART in Oakland was rusted warehouses. This is a sign of both economic strength in the East Bay but also more housing in an extremely competitive market. But that wasn’t the entire story.

I am sure someone made a boat load of money on creating this relatively affordable housing. While I have NO problem (really I don’t for the three rightwingers who read this) with people making boat loads of money. But when people are making money on the backs of poor folks, possibly by the creation of dept and the threat of foreclosure I care a lot.

In January 2005 President Bush called for the creation of an “ownership society” during his second inauguration. I was standing on Capital Hill on the frosty winter morning when he uttered those words. As a guest of a family friend, who is a recovering (I hope) Republican, I kept my mouth shut for most of the nauseating speech. However at this point I was a visibly upset. When asked I said what was wrong, I said this is going to be a huge problem and kill all kinds of public housing programs.

I was right then and I believe I am right now. The idea of an ownership society fueled the increase in sub-prime and predatory mortgage loans leading to the crash of these markets and increase in foreclosures on low and moderate income families. Even today the news agencies are a buzz with news of foreclosures and near foreclosures.(sorry got to pay for that one)

These shows, while entertaining and full of the do-good messages, seem to miss the darker side of an ownership society. Having every American own his or her home is a wonderful goal, but we will need to insure that there are sustainable incomes for people to pay for their investments and that we do not destroy every last bit of affordable housing in favor of good TV. Tradition teaches us that the highest level of Tzedakah is to provide the opportunity for someone to be able to take care of him or herself. Allowing for predatory loans and false promises of sustainability is not an ownership society; it is a society of debtors and collectors.

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Where Are You Rage Against the Machine?

I loved Rage when I was a kid. The message of pure radicalism while ignoring their multi-million dollar record contracts really spoke to a left-wing-upper-middle-class kid. But this video couldn't have said it better. (Click here if the embed doesn't work)

(Hat Tip: Annie of Jewbiq)

Only in America

In that today is July 5th, yesterday was July 4th, American Independence Day. The day that our forefathers throw the chains of British Tyranny out of the colonies and started taking over the world...or something to that effect. But regardless of our issues with remembering the bad parts of our history, the United States is the best country in the world. Its freedoms and liberties, even under the distress of the Bush Administration, make this country a beacon of hope, a city on the hill, a light onto the nations and other religious allusions as well.

Every year the Fourth of July sees a few regular occurrences: parades with out-of-tune marching bands, bbq with the family and the friends, fireworks and citizenship ceremonies. Only in the United States would a serious story about the surge in applications for citizenship because of fear of deportation be anchored by a picture at Disney World. This picture was taken just outside Cinderella’s Castle at Disney World where nearly 1,000 people from 75 countries became American citizens.

Happy Independence Day and Welcome Home New Americans!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The Sun Also Sets

The former residents of my apartment were conservatives. (I washed every surface of the apartment before I moved in my stuff and now I am happy I did.) I know this because I still receive Republican campaign materials (which I happily recycle) and the woman of the house ordered the New York Sun.

For a few months it came intermittently to my door in the mornings and I would simply read the headlines and toss it on the free for all pile in the mail room on my way out the door. However for the past few days it has come consistently and thinking I could cash in on a free paper I picked it up and brought it on the subway this morning.

What an awful newspaper.

This rag carried editorials commending Bush's pardon of Libby, a condemnation of the NYC Fire Codes because of the unpatriotic ban of fireworks for the Fourth of July and an endorsements of a fishing trip diplomacy at the Kennebunkport Summit. Wow.

Then to the op-eds. We have Hillel Halkin asking why women's groups won't just deal with the fact the President of Israel pleaded to a lower charge and got away with rape and Jay Akasie discussing the arcane rules regarding the correct use of the American Flag. Perhaps as a way to keep the mixed marriages (liberals and conservatives bonded in holy matrimonial) together Cal Thomas says his "liberal friends love America as much as I do." Isn't that nice a message of co-exsitance burried under a pile of hatred?

I have already called to cancel my non-subscription.

Monday, July 2, 2007

I don't care about it

Last night I was out to dinner with my parents. POLJM told me that most people don't care about the world because it makes them crazy and that she is refreshed that I still care about changing the world.

Now I do care about the world and would like to make it better, but a Red Eye from LAX to JFK can suck the life out of anyone. So today, I just don't care.

But for the record I am planing a post (or two) on the Supreme Court, England's Terrorism and other such fun things. However a night of sleep is needed for me to be thoughtful and caring with my treatment of the ills of the world.

So until then, I am drinking coffee.