Monday, April 25, 2016

Man Helping Men

A list of things a man can say to defuse his wife’s anger and therefore avoid an imminent fight or end one:

It’s fine.
You have nothing to worry about.
Just do it my way.
It really isn’t fair to expect me to guess that.
Well, if you say nothing's wrong, I guess nothing's wrong.
I’d really, really prefer Italian.
Here, take this pill. You really do need a glass of wine.
I believe I paid for this by working.
Well, maybe YOU should sleep on the couch.
Yeah, with that dress on, you look huge.
They are just a couple of old girlfriends.
Why don’t you just let the man fix this?
I can’t see the TV.
In fact I DO think it is a good idea.
You are making too big a deal out of this.
Before you say your side, I need a drink.
I totally get that you think that.
It’s nice, I guess.
But I DO have a preference.
It can wait.
But in my defense.
I’d rather spend time with my friends.
Say that again – I was looking up the score.
Are you still talking?
That’s a cute opinion to have.
And if I said that same thing as an excuse, would you be ok with it?
“Blah blah blah” that’s what you sound like, “Blah blah blah”
Why don’t you just make me a sandwich and we will move on.
Hold that thought – this is important.

You're welcome.

Friday, April 8, 2016

A Ted talk

I'd like to write a letter to Mr. Ted Cruz, so if you aren't Ted Cruz, please get this to him. Thanks in advance.

Dear Mr. Cruz,

Recently, I watched a video in which you visited a factory/bakery and participated in the making of matzah, the ceremonial flat cracker tat Jews chow down on during the Passover holiday. You seemed the good sport, but I wanted to point out a few important ideas so that maybe you can understand some of what you were doing.

First off, you played the political game well. Jews everywhere can only tolerate a politician who is willing to make us dinner. It's like a thing. So by showing your skill, you have won our vote. We had a meeting. You're good.

Next, I apologize for the ridiculous singing perpetrated by the people at the factory while you rolled the dough. We generally do not sing while we work -- that was all a put on for you. And the song choice was egregious. Those of us who sing while we roll dough usually choose something more spiritual, like an Elvis tune from Blue Hawaii. It's in the Torah.

Then I watched as you tasted some of that matzah. You said one thing (at 12:50 or so) "superb."

If you want to be trusted as a politician, please don't lie. It was not superb. It isn't supposed to be superb. in fact, if the stuff you made was "superb" then you didn't make matzah, you made Snickers bars. Now THOSE are superb.

Matzah is the bread of afflicition. It symbolizes the haste with which we ran from bondage -- our dough had no time to rise. What this means is that, given a choice, we would have slowed down to a more manageable pace and let the dough rise so we could have the other traditional Jewish bread, bagels, for 8 days. We do NOT want to eat matzah. We complain bitterly (note the Passover joke) about what it does to our teeth, our rugs and our digestive systems. It is a conveyance for cream cheese, butter and sometimes maybe a bissel fish. All things a bagel could be used for. We make pizzas out of it and complain. We grind it up and use the meal as a flour substitute, and complain. Basically, we have an 8 day whine-fest because of matzah. For you to say it was superb simply strains credulity on every level.

Some call matzah a bread of freedom. Yes, only in the sense that no one should ever have to pay for matzah. We did reach freedom from Egyptian slavery but the matzah is symbolic. Freedom's just another word for nothing left to eat.

So please -- we know you choked it down. It was very sporting of you to try it. But every bit of pandering has a limit, a moment when becomes unbelievable. I expect a full statement, an apology and a retraction of the offending "superb" lest our children grow up with the expectation that matzah taste like something more than overcooked cardboard, or the sense that our politicians lack taste buds.

No matzah brei, that's something else.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Everyone should state his or her (or whatever) own Gender

It doesn't take a lot to annoy me and usually, that works to my advantage. When I am running low on things that annoy me, I pick up the New York Times. The paper of record has a real knack for printing something which riles me up. Today, I picked up the NYT Magazine section and couldn't make it past the table of contents. So here is the anger kicking in.

The article (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/03/magazine/whos-they.html) was about the evolution of English as a language and the specific concern for pronouns that are appropriate for each and every/any of the modern gender-choices. So far, while I am irked, I am not angry. The politics around the fluidity of self-identification as it relates to gender confuse me and do cause a knee jerk reactionary position, that isn't enough to get me worked into a lather. People want pronouns, give 'em pronouns! But the article's point was the discussion of the progression of the word "they" into a singular, gender-nonspecific pronouns.

This I found offensive.

The article went through many reasons why people might use "they" in this way -- some acknowledged as problematic and some seen as reasonable, but I want to stake my position as completely dinosaur-istic. Let me be blunt. This is NOT about gender and identity. This is about NUMBER. I was reassured that many people in the comments section agreed with my feelings on this. I was troubled that many others did not. Those people are wrong.

The word "they" is, simply put, a plural pronoun. You can't convince me otherwise. Whether as a plural it is useful in certain situations which call for the singular can be argued (though I will most probably deride you for making such an argument) but redefining the word to be singular simply because new pronouns haven't caught on and adapting an extant word is most convenient is a personal affront.

I repeat: "they" refers to more than one person or things, regardless of gender. It can refer to a bunch of men, a group of women, a cluster of transexuals, a pair of transgendered, a trio of puppies, a sack of oranges (heck, even a sack of puppies), a school of fish, a grove of trees and a lot of cars (get it? "Lot of cars", HA!). I am NOT against introducing a new word -- language evolves and that's great. But the solution isn't just changing words that have a particular meaning (and changing in a way which will introduce other grammatical nightmares) because we are too lazy to innovate something else.

Call me old fashioned. Say that I am being insensitive. Accuse me of not wanting to accommodate the needs of a certain population here, but as I see it, I'm the victim, and by "I" I mean me, champion of the English language and Easily Offended English Teacher.

Pronouns tell us gender so maybe we don't need a neutral one, but a whole slew of more precise singular ones (and plural extensions) so that we can speak more accurately, or understand meaning more properly by seeing the correct pronoun used. In the title of this entry, "Everyone" is singular and it requires a singular pronoun. The solution is not to retool what we have because it doesn't reflect reality, nor is it to deny reality. It is to expand what we say to more completely represent reality.

In this election year, I promise that, if elected, I will work to ensure that "they" remains a plural pronoun. And if not elected, I will do the same.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Apocalypse Sync your Portfolio

I have been thinking about global warming recently. it is tough not to when one reads headlines proclaiming this past February as the warmest one recorded ever, anywhere this side of Venus. Along with concerns about increased temperature, there are predictions about extreme storms and wild weather. Wild those of us who have to walk from the house to the car are concerned, documentary film makers are salivating all around.

Now here's the thing. I don't know if global warming is real. I don't know if there are normal fluctuations of temperature and if climate is cyclical or if the yeti is left handed. But I do know this -- it is better to prepare for the worst case and, if possible, figure out how to make money off it. In that pursuit, I present some of my thoughts of how one can cash in on the impending increase in temperature.

First off, if the temperature goes up, people will need less of certain fossil fuels. Fact is, we won't have to heat our houses so much so oil will be in less demand. To a lesser degree, natural gas will also be used less, at least in terms of heating. But don't sell off gas yet -- natural gas grills and outdoor ranges will become more popular because the weather will be nice enough to grill for more of the year. No one grills over cooking oil, you know. Further in that regard, invest in sun tan lotion refineries. The lands sitting on sun tan lotion deposits, and those countries which have established SPF reserves will be in prime condition.

Sell stock in tanning salons and ancillary materials like those dumb looking goggles.

More short sleeved products (including the fashionable short-sleeved men's suit) means less fabric being used, and lighter fabric. Do not invest in sheep. If we aren't eating them, their wool will become less useful in hot weather. Lanolin, though, will probably still be important. You can keep the sheep. Animals with fur will be less of a draw because the fur won't be needed to keep us warm. Mink futures will plummet. Adjust your portfolio accordingly.

Next, there will still be a call for electricity, probably even more than now. Air Conditioners will be made wearable so portable, rechargeable batteries will be a must. Increased sunlight will make solar power a necessary accessory built into most clothing, water reclamation suits will move from sci-fi to just sci, and there will be an increase in products that keep us dry and smelling yummy. Extreme weather means higher waves and winds. So wind power and tidal power generation farms are a must, but for the latter, because of melting polar ice, start establishing the tidal farms in what is currently land locked. Not only will prices be lower but there will be less competition for shore front property in Pennsylvania if you buy now. Remember -- exploiting a cataclysm requires planning.

Also, there has to be some sort of way of turning ambient heat into energy. Heat makes air expand, right? So if you fill balloons with air and they expand, then the pressure they generate when expanding can move some sort of thing which could do...um...whatever you do to make lightning which turns into nine volt batteries. Or something like that. The details are fuzzy but you get the idea: if there is more heat, then the energy burned to make the world hot has to be turned into another form of energy which we can use. Maybe we should make those "drinking birds" that keep bobbing up and down forever, except attach them to some sort of grid.

And why isn't there rain power? Those drops come down pretty good sometimes. Why isn't that force being harnessed to do some thing. Hey, science! Get on this.

Because of the heat, corn will start popping while still in the fields. There will be a reduced demand for microwave ovens, but people will notice a shortage of artificial butter, and that's a shortage you can take advantage of.

Cars will all be white so will everything, or at least the light colors of Bermuda. If you have a garage full of dark paint, you might as well just spill it all out into the nearest reservoir now because it is of no use to you. Ice cream will be the province of the rich and elite. Even eating it will be a rare treat -- owning any will be reserved for the 1% who can afford to keep it cool. I'm not sure how we make ice cream but, you know, that.

Penguins will need a place to live once the poles close so new "Cold Air B and B's" will need to open and whoever invents the tastiest Penguin Chow will corner the market. Same with Polar Bears but they might just eat the penguins.

More ugly people will wear less clothing. I can't do anything about this except advise you to buy lots of sunglasses or go blind. Either/or. There will be a lot more sand but with the increased temperature, it will often turn to glass spontaneously. Sand castles by the sea shore will all become glass houses, so develop a service which clears areas of stones so as to protect the new living quarters from throwing accidents. Volcanoes will stop being awesome as will hot springs. We will just call them "meltains" and "springs." Houses will stop having fireplaces but instead will have built in iceboxes where families will gather around and cool themselves by the crackling ice. Less mess, no smell.

People will stop caring about the rain forests because with more wild rain storms, every forest will become a rain forest. If you can find a company which monetizes the dank rot from between my toes, you are set for life.

A few prudent decisions regarding your current holdings can amount to an incredible windfall when things start to go sideways, like cows.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Making allowances

I think that one of the primary obligations I have as an "adult" is to question every single thing my parents did. I don't do this with the aim of discounting what they did, but only in the aim of understanding, predicated on the belief that everything was done for a good reason.

That practice bore fruit this morning. I was thinking about biblical sacrifice. Animals, grains, money...all of it given away by people on (to some degree) a daily basis. That must have been annoying. I can only imagine what things will be like when, in messianic days, we have to give of ourselves constantly. Why would God give me X amount of stuff if I have to turn around and give some of it right back? Why wouldn't God just hold on to it, or earmark it before it comes to me? The tithing and first born consecration makes some sense, but the random sacrifices every day? Isn't that weird?

When I was a boy I got an allowance. Want to guess what it was? I was given one dollar a week. A dollar. But don't think that that dollar was then put into my pocket as I headed out to Dom's to buy baseball cards. That dollar was broken into 3 sections:

50 cents for spending money
25 cents that get put away as savings
25 cents to be given to charity

Every week, that was how the money was apportioned. It never dawned on me how strange that was. Why didn't my parents just give me an allowance of 50 cents and put some money into a tzeddakah (box), themselves? Why not just tell me that they were giving money in my name (heck, why not just give me the whole dollar?) Why not contribute to my bank account and leave me out of the loop on that -- very few little kids truly appreciate the value of putting aside savings, so why make me have to go through the little performance each week of splitting the money up?

But it dawned on me that doing this is similar to the system of sacrifices. When someone gives a gift in your name or on your behalf, you can be happy about it but you don't feel it. It was never really yours, so you don't get the sense of "giving" when you donate it. When I had to be the one putting the quarter in the tzeddakah box I really understood that I was giving something that I might have wanted to keep. It was in my possession briefly and then I lost it. It was very real. The sacrifices have to be like that -- we have to know that we are giving up something that was ours because we have to be involved in that process. If it is only "on paper" then it has no real value.

It took a while, but now I understand it, and it is genius. So, thank you mom and dad. Sorry it took so long for me to get the message.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Choosing vs. Being

A more serious thought about my religion. Responses, sources and resources welcome.
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Free will is a knotty problem in Judaism. The way I understand it, what people think of as “free will” is more a “freedom of choice.” I do not have absolute free will because I cannot will myself to fly, or defy other laws of the universe. But in a case where there are a number of alternatives laid out in front of me, I have the freedom to make a choice between them.

This, though, is tempered by the knowledge that God knows what I will eventually choose. I cannot but choose what he knows I will. Does that mean that I have no freedom of that choice? I think not, because, at the moment, I don’t know what I will choose and to my own understanding, at the time when I choose, as far as I know, I could choose any of the alternatives. So freedom of choice is maintained from my perspective.

The question which develops is how the fullest expression of my Judaism should be considered in the light of that freedom. It seems that there are contradictory positions.

On one side there is the idea that the Edenic (pre-fall) notion of closeness to God comes with a complete subsuming of individual will to the point where we are unaware that there is any other way to be. This Romantic notion aspires to be a one-sided coin, where we are “good” but not in contrast with any “evil”; we act morally simply because that’s what we are. Isn’t the goal the removal of the yetzer harah so completely that we don’t realize we are making choices, as we are simply existing in such a pure and refined state that no other way of “being” can even enter our minds? When I am in the middle of my Amidah and my email notification on my phone beeps, I don’t have to think about whether I should check it. It isn’t that I flinch and then remind myself that I should be focused on my prayers. The idea of breaking to look at my phone simply does not rise to the level of my awareness. When I see a cell phone sitting on a desk, I do not have to resist any temptation to take it. It is so automatic in my moral sense that it seems as if the ethical code is synonymous with who I am. Isn’t this the highest form?

Should we be wishing for a state where the Torah is “written on our hearts” and doesn’t have to be taught? Don’t we want to be like the angels, with no thought other than “I am being the only thing that I know how to be” and that “being” is driven completely by our Jewish identity? I recall when a student asked the rebbe in high school, “will there be basketball in Olam Haba” and the answer was “there will be, but you won’t want to play it.” The urge, the want, will be removed. I don’t think twice about cutting my own arm off when I am holding a knife. It just isn’t part of my thought process – not as a temptation I have to resist or even recognize exists. Shouldn’t that be how we want our religion to be? Don’t I want my freedom to choose be a foregone conclusion so that my devotion is untainted?

But on the other hand, we have the cheese burger argument.

I was taught that one should not say “I won’t eat that cheese burger because it is disgusting.” One should say “I would like to, but the religious laws of Judaism prohibit it.” We are supposed to acknowledge the temptation and embrace our resisting of it. We are supposed to be aware of each mitzvah we do as an expression of our religion in order to point out the potential for our not having performed it. We rise higher than the angels because we have that choice. So is this the most sought after form of Judaism: the tortured soul who is constantly struggling but perseveres? Evil exists and it tempts me, but I rise above, and at every moment, know and acknowledge that my rising is as a result of my adherence to an external moral code. Shouldn’t I be exercising that free will/freedom of choice so that I can get credit for having done the right thing?

So which is it? Do I want to have to choose so I can choose right, or do I want to have my religion etched into my being so that I can express my connection with God in a perfect way? Should I, by dint of my religious core, choose good, or simply be good?

Sunday, February 28, 2016

A First Lady President

There is something wrong with the United States. Now, please don't get me wrong. I like this country. I have lived here for a while and I have to say, super to you, U.S.A. You have done right by me in general. But that doesn't mean that I can ignore some harsh truths about this place. And, no, this doesn't mean that I need to up and leave. I can point out problems and still think that this is a pretty awesome country.

The problem I have noted recently has to do with politics. I am NOT speaking about Donald Trump. While I might, at some point, develop some sort of opinion worthy of hinting to, that's not what I am getting at here. In fact, I am not even talking specifically about Hillary Clinton. Ms. Clinton, no doubt an avid reader of this blog, will be disappointed when she realizes that my screed does not speak to her particular candidacy. However, it does relate to an element of the upcoming election.

A bunch of years ago, a politician ran for the president and when he was elected, everyone pointed out that he was the "first African American president of the U.S.A." This, apparently, was a good thing. I shan't comment on that other than to segue into Ms. Clinton's potential nomination. Were she to win the general election, she would be "the first female president of the U.S.A." and we will all be able to pat ourselves on the back at our progressive nature. The year will be 2016. America will be about 240 years old.

A side note -- I have voted my personal conscience in every election in which I have voted. I (try to) ignore race, color, gender, religion etc, and vote based on the position a candidate takes on issues near and dear to my heart. What I am getting at, therefore, should not be construed as an advocating for any candidate. I am simply looking to point something out.

So, 240 years and maybe we will have a woman president. We've come a long way, baby. But then I look at the world. I am reminded that we, as a nation, would be catching up to slightly younger countries like India and Israel which came into being in 1948 and have both had female leaders. OK, maybe we are too set into a traditional mode and, while younger countries can have female leaders, we can't because of our heritage. You know, like England. The country with the queen. And the female prime minister. Maybe we are more like Germany, whence much of our language developed. Angela Merkel. I did a little checking and found a couple of lists:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_elected_and_appointed_female_heads_of_state
and
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_elected_or_appointed_female_heads_of_government

The fact is, while we would like to blame some western European patriarchal system, there is no good explanation as to why there hasn't been a woman head of the U.S.A., other than our own, home grown bias! We didn't inherit it as a birthright tied to our religious past, or our political genesis.

Note -- I am NOT saying that we should now have a woman president. I am saying that our political machine has perpetuated a skewed system so thoroughly that we still see it as amazing that we COULD have a female president. We aren't in a post-bias world if when we elect someone who happens to be a woman, we see it as amazing that the leader of our country happens to be from a group which represents 50% of our population. Gender shouldn't be a thing to speak of, let alone a reason to (or not to) vote for a candidate. Stephen Colbert had it right when he (under the guise of his character, similarly named) claimed that he "does not see race." If we are still seeing race and gender, and pointing out how we are electing candidates despite gender or race issues, then we are being driven by the same antiquated thought process.

We are just now barely catching up to the rest of the world (well, there are places where a woman will never get elected but do we really want to ally ourselves with systems which thrive on that repression?). We should stop congratulating ourselves on our forward thinking, refuse to bemoan our sordid history, and start focusing on the things a candidate says and does, and that's it. Then we will have presidents with all sorts of characteristics attached, but we will finally understand that we shouldn't care.

America has a problem. We are so focused on the ways in which we are "getting better" that we refuse to admit that reveling in improvement is part of what makes us sick.