Thursday, December 31, 2009

Word of Face

I remember a line used by some comedian in the way back when. He said "I am responsible for spreading all the new jokes -- I know one sophomore in every high school in the country." Humor was simpler back then. But his point was clear -- to spread a piece of information like a joke required a human network and the youth, with its penchant for not shutting the heck up, is an effective tool for the passing of that data.

It seems to me that now, social networking like Facebook has become the new word of mouth. All those little lines, jokes and jabs that we would say around the water fountain and which would get into wider distribution only if someone in our peer group decided to repeat them (often to his own gain...attribution skills are sorely lacking amongst the younger set) can now be spread over the internet. I make a pun and instead of having to keep it to myself (which would often be the prudent course) I can tell the world so it can appreciate my brilliance. Computers, it has been said, make human contact unnecessary. They replace one grapevine with another more powerful one. I can force others to hear what I say instead of waiting for an opportunity when they are willing to listen.

Neat, huh?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Oh, Anna

Do you think my cleaning woman knows that she has become the local bogey man, the threat by which we keep our children in mind? Right before she comes to clean, we tell the kids "you'd better clean up your stuff or Anna is going to come and clean it for you and you'll never see it again!" And eventually all I need to do is to hold up the book, paper, sneaker or such and look at the offending child and whisper "Anna's gonna get this." Soon, just the mention of the name "Anna" will be enough to get them to sanitize the house.

Is this wrong of me? Anna doesn't know that we harbor such deep feelings about her attempts to clean by stuffing everything in one drawer after she has finished folding the garbage and shining the videotapes. Am I wrong for having a cleaning woman? Are there people who use an invocation of my name to inspire fear and revulsion in their children?

I hope so.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Because I seem to react to the use of certain words angrily, I have been asked to present a list of words that bother me.

You may not use the following words:

******
****
****
****
****
***
************
*****
****
*******
*****
****’*
***-*****-****
*****
******
*****
**
*** *******
****(*)
**** ******
Episcop*lian

**** (*** **** **********)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

cool things i may have seen

So anyway, I saw a UFO this evening. I was walking outside at 5:17 PM local time and I look up to see a bright light (a bit brighter than a planet but that's what I assume it is) overhead. Then I realize that it is moving slowly north. My second guess is that it is a space station or something similarly high up because it is moving slowly and there is NO noise. I watch as it dims to a small light, like a space station which has caught the sun and attracted my eye and then moves to a different angle and loses that brightness. That small light continues north and there are no blinking lights anywhere on or around it. There were other airplanes visible and this looked like none of them. Pretty weird but also, underwhelming. No weird noises, no grey aliens...none of that. Disappointing. Strange to think that even otherworldly creatures let me down. And yet somehow comforting. Dare I disturb the universe? No need. It is already disturbed.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Planning for the future

I guess at some point, we all like to sit back and dream...we think "what if I won the lottery?" Sometimes we even sit around and start to think about what we would do with all that money. Well, I was inspired by the Barenaked Ladies and their "If I had a million dollars" song to think it through. Actually, I was much more inspired by Bruce Cockburn's "If I had a rocket launcher" because it more accurately reflects my mood and is musically much better but whatever.

The first and most important thing in this fantasy exercise is to create a minimum I would need to win. I settled on 100 million dollars. A nice round number, and I figure I'd pay half of it in taxes, so I end up with 50 million dollars.

Next -- I tell NO ONE. Sorry family and friends...if I do this right, you have no idea that I'm flush with capital. I immediately hire a lawyer to represent me etc, and I never come forward. No reason to make myself or my kids into targets.

Next, I work out a spreadsheet...sort of like this:

2 million for each girl bank account to pull 2% per year -- $40,000 to pay for HS and college for each girl
10 million bank account to pull an annual 2% -- $200,000 as annual income
500K payment to pay off mortgage
1 million construction on the house expand 3 levels out (basement - music studio, library; first floor - den/diningroom/kitchen; upstairs - master suite)
1 million investment (high yield) lawyer/acct on retainer to manage funds, do PR and make payments - fee tied to interest
100K 3 new cars
1 million creature comforts (furnishings, electronics)
35k sefer torah
2 million payment construction of a house in israel
100k donation to shul to ensure hot kiddush every shabbat (off of interest) - sponsorships would become donations for operating
1 million donations to alma maters, schools and employer schools just because


This quick reckoning takes out about 21 million of my 50 million, leaving me with 29 million in mad cash to be charitable, risky or stupid with. The beauty is that I have set up investments to cover the rest of my life even without a job, and still put my kids through private school for years to come.

If you can think of other things I need to budget for (remember, I'm getting back 2 percent on my bank accounts, so my annual salary is 200k but I can give myself a raise by putting more into my endowment) let me know.

Now, can I borrow a dollar for a lottery ticket?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Episode IV: A new Initiative

Dan Rosen's Other Blog (DROB nyse) is proud to announce the beginning of a new intiative designed to level the internet playing field and protect those web's underclass.

In a move that will take the have nots and turn them squarely into haves, we have begun "The Status Project," a service which will provide Facebook Status updates to those who, right now, lack the intelligence, wittiness, or interesting lives necessary to post a truly original and captivating status. Qualified users will receive two statuses, daily, one as a wry comment on life and one as a factual recap of the day's events which reflects that that person's is, statisitcally, in the top 10% of "Interesting Lives" as measured by the "Like Button" scale, the accepted standard measure of how fascinating a person is.

No longer will Face Book be saddled with users who simply can't find the time or brain cells to post status updates or who post such comments as "I like puce" or "for dinner we are having food" or "the Yankees win."

For the price of a cup of coffee a day, users will be able to buy that coffee and even drink it. Caution. Contents hot.

Additionally, the Status Project will be partnering with a sister site "The Tweet Project" which will help candidates present timely and informative Tweets across Twitter. But, recognizing the unique nature of Twitter, we will be paying careful attention and helping users deal with such challenges as "Tweet tooth" (defined as posting more than 4 tweets in any 27 minute period) and "Addiction to Hash(marks)" -- a user whose Tweets rely too heavily on references to other people and threads.

More partnerships are expected as we continue to identify anti-social network tendencies and work together to combat their debilitating effects. Please be inspired to donate your unused status updates so that others can become meaningful members of the Face Book family.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

piggy back

I'm currently accessing the internet by piggy backing on someone else's wireless network. I think that there is something dishonest -- I mean, there is a proper network all around me but the computer isn't letting me connect to it. So I am not "stealing" access -- I'm more than happy to use a legal alternative but I'm not being given the choice, so I shouldn't be made to feel bad.

So cut it out.

I feel so dirty.

Thing is, I invented this years ago. True fact. A bunch of years ago, I wondered if there was some way for someone who had an account with an ISP to connect to the internet from anywhere. Anywhere was defined as any place with a phone jack -- this was pre-wireless and dsl and such. Instead of having to worry that your local ISP has a contact number in another city, you can call a local number in any city (or an 800 number) and your login system would identify what your service is. I know it isn't precisely the same as piggy backing on someone else's network but the bottom line is that I should be getting something out of this deal.

Monday, October 26, 2009

looking for a song

I am looking for a song from many years ago. It has the lyric "Weak in the presence of beauty" but it isn't the song by Floy Joy/Allison Moyet/Eddie and the Tide.

Any ideas?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Parts of me that Hurt

I'm making a list of parts of me that hurt.

My thumbs. More so my left thumb recently.
My jaw. Right side mostly
My head. Two distinct areas -- above and behind my my right ear and above my eyes.
The top of my head (my bump). This is not a "headache" but a surface sensitivity.
I burned the inside of my mouth recently.
My left elbow.
My lower back (both spine and muscle pain).
My right shoulder.
My knees.
The left big toe. To a lesser degree, my right big toe.
The bottoms of my feet (usually only in the morning).

I don't know what to do with this list. Just saying.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Brandeis 2009

We decided, with the extra day of chol hamoed and nothing to do, to drive up to Boston for Thursday and part of Friday (the girls and I -- Julie has ladies a-poppin'). We woke up at 4:30 and were out by 5 (too early to daven) and headed out in the dark. We made it up through CT with the girls sleeping and talking and sometimes both. We saw the 3 morning planets in the eastern pre-dawn sky and then sunrise over Hartford. We stopped at the Charlton rest area for a bathroom break, and shacharis (while I stood half and half out of the car). It was very cold but we were excited. Next, we drove downtown, to Copley Square as I pointed out everything that I could imagine on the way. We parked under Boston Commons (lower level, Aisle B, as in "Aisle B right back because my kids are being difficult). Maddie needed a bathroom so I walked her up Beacon Hill to the statehouse where she went. We wandered through teh statehouse while she complained about being hungry. I showed them 100 Beacon and the Gardens and we made it back to the car in record time. The weather was VERY chilly with a strong wind making it even colder.

We drove out via streets and ended up in Brookline. I parked halfway down and we started walking. Giving in to pressure, I stopped into Kupels. The girls gor bagels and I got a poppy bear claw and a cup of coffee. I don't like bear claws I now realize. The dough is like a phyllo -- no flavor. We walked out, sated. I noted many more fish stores and restaurants (not kosher) and that many restaurants I remembered are gone (where is Ruth's Kitchen??). I forced them to walk all the way down to Rubins and forced them in for a late breakfast. I had ribs, onion rings, kishke and who knows what else. Maddie had pasta and sauce and Talia had the pasta and sauce and a 3 meat sandwich. Soda also. All before noon. We were crazy stuffed, so we started walking back, joking about how we were going to stop into the fancy Chinese kosher place we saw on the way, which Maddie said she preferred. We walked into the Butcherie (much larger now -- great selection!) and stopped into Catering by Andrew to ask if they had the recipe for the Spinach and Cheese appetizer which I loved so much that I make it the goal of loving up to which I try to live with Julie. They didn't have it but were suitably confused by the bearded guy with kids asking about a 20 year old recipe.

We kept walking, stopping in CVS (or was it Walgreens) and then getting to Beacon street. We walked over to 1443 so I could show the kids the apartment, and then we walked back to Coolidge Corner (by way of Radio Shack). A woman selling "Spare CHange" newspapers asked us for 'spare food' so we gave her the leftover pasta. We made it to the car with 2 minutes on the meter. Then, a quick trip in and out of BC (the guard said I had to wear a crucifix to visit. Ha ha) and off to the hotel. We stayed at a Quality inn in Waltham (Totten Pond rd) room 407. Very nice place. Then to campus. We walked around, visited buildings and davened in the Berlin Chapel. I felt no fear about walking in to any room/office. The girls bought jewelry and I marvelled at stuff.

The campus is still lovely, but so full of buildings. With an enlarged science quad, more dorms and a new student center, many of the old "open spaces" are gone. Dinner at Sherman (holy cow -- they have SO MANY kosher choices during dinner -- anything you can imagine from fish to pasta to omelets to salads to who knows what. It was like they didn't have a menu - just every night they put out every thing). We ate in the sukkah and met a grad student and his family. Very nice.

We fought about hanging around until 9PM to go to Cholmodely's but I walked them up in the very cold and we decied to get ice cream at Walgreens. Then to the hotel where we all passed out by 10PM.

In the morning, back to campus for too large a SHerman breakfast in the sukkah. All around campus including up to Rabb and the English department. The girls took a picture with Prof. Paul Morrison and we bought more stuff in the bookstore. By 11:45 we got in the ar and started back. We only had to make 1 bathroom stop and got lost 1.5 times but came back with time to spare.

YAY! The kids loved it and I loved it.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

For Senior Scharf

This came up today and while I looked up the phrase and found it, I haven't seen anyone explore the depths of the pun.

The concept is of a "bi-curious polar bear"

you have the bi curious, and the bi-polar and the polar bear. It is chock full of fun.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

dramblings, Ma

The kind of poem one writes at 4:30 am when one has failed at sleeping...think about it -- I can't sleep. I mean, sleep is what my body does when I'm NOT trying. How tough could it be. But tonight, I have, apparently, forgotten how to sleep. So I'm taking the random half sentences and images that are floating in my head and stringing them together to make a sort of poem. Maybe, at least, it will help someone else sleep.

"Unbalanced and"

When I close my eyes awake and don't dream about
all the zoos on wheels that move through real life, and
the glass cages which keep me penned up and typed over
I can photo shop for post cards of pre viewed concurrent unevents

I see the people on the public bus burying themselves
in electronic refuges, saving the earth for future generations
to squander. They refuse to inhale as the exhaust of their own
lethargy mingles with the blue gray uncivil smoke pipe poured

The cubicle scouts and officers of the legions filing, filling
and pen ultimately fouling all lives save their own but
they don't. So they clock watch and vice virtue trying to forget that
they ever wanted anything more or could have had it

The artists who wrestle with words to sell to the first failed
musician who can't breathe his own thoughts. Where hopeless romantics
lose the romance of their first person starting with you and leave
the road and settle down and out because when it is all said and done

it already has been.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Collective Nouns

I have been thinking about collective nouns and how their collective words often seem rather unconnected to the nouns, themselves. The classic is "a murder of crows." I also thought about all the nouns that don't seem to have (as far as I know) specific collective words. So I started a list. Some are sincere, some are silly and some aren't either.

A roll of English teachers
a roster of baseball cards
an exploit of porn films
an eternity of styrofoam cups
a buzz of advice
a glow of lightbulbs
a rumble of luggage
an icon of crosses
a shatter of glasses
a disrepair of bridges
a blasphemy of curses
a gathering of newspapers
a scantron of tests
a slam of doors
a conniving of cheaters
a shudder of caffeine
a postiche of blogs
a pucker of lemons
a hangar of blouses
a tower of cell phones
a flat of paneling
a page of speeches
a heard of ENT's
a knot of ties
a culture of yogurt
a flap of envelopes
a guilt of cookies
a lock of keys
a skosh of jeans
a fish of schools
a shot of cameras

Sunday, September 20, 2009

planning for the future

I was talking with a bunch of people the other day about the definition of "science fiction" and I pointed out that we call things "science fiction" if they could conceivably exist. As an example, I pointed to the technology of Star Trek -- how many of the things that Gene Roddenberry (excuse any misspelling) created as a fictional future have now come to pass and are becoming the standard science of today. TV shows which explore the science of classic scifi shows have shown that we are getting there. Our great ideas of scifi are becoming the realities of our lives.

If that is the case, then why are we investing in science education? It seems that the education system which tries to teach students to become hard core scientists who can invent the future is sadly misguided. We should be pouring money into liberal arts programs and into cultivating the next generation of scifi writers -- they are the ones inventing the future. The scientists lag behind and are simply trying to make the cool ideas that others innovate into something of a reality. So lets stop lauding the scientists for standing on the shoulders of writers. Lets encourage our children to dream, write and let someone else put it all together. Stop wasting money at MIT, and start spending at MYST, I guess.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Till 120

I think I started my mid-life crisis in 1988. I was watching the Olympics and it dawned on me that these gymnasts were younger than I was and by the time they were my age, they would be over the hill. I felt something similar watching the Mets in 1986 and knowing that the stars on that team were right around my age, and by that time I had accomplished, well, nothing, and there they were celebrating and partying because they were champions.

I always had the fantasy that I'd be doing something (playing music, writing a poem, fixing a plumbing leak, whatever) and some super-important-celebrity-famous person would saunter by and see or hear me and be impressed. We'd strike up a friendship and, poof, I'd be famous -- first by association and then later by virtue of my own innate skills. I always saw myself as "that kid that so-and-so discovered". Maybe it would be a good question I asked when I happened into an elevator ride with someone famous that would convince this star that I had a keen, inquisitive mind and should be encouraged. Who knows. I just always thought that I was destined for such stardom.

The mid-life crisis, I think, is the moment when you realize that the odds are now not just against such a chance, but substantially against it. I had 40 years to make something of myself, get discovered or win the lottery. It hasn't happened. I'll never be seen as "the new kid" or "that young up and comer". The crisis is the realization that with every day, the chances of my reaching immortality through renown are reducing at an inversely exponential rate. When I was in college, I didn't want to watch TV shows about being in college, partially because I didn't need to see a fictionalization of what I dealt with all the time, but also because I resented others who weren't in college gaining status based on something which I was doing simply to exist. And maybe this is why people who have mid-life crises sieze the chance to do something outlanding -- buy a car, have a torrid affair. The decision is made to create status: to feel wanted or to be attractive to the masses. If not by someone else or through the kind of talent and hard work that validates others' ascension, then by an act of selfishness.

So that's it. I'll never be found by a VIP who then takes me away from the drudgery of every day life. I won't be stumbled upon as the next big thing.

But I have had over 20 years of a mid-life crisis and I have gotten used to this let down. I have learned to celebrate who I am and make the most of it -- to achieve immortality through my family and my work. Sure, there won't be a bio-pic about my life or mass market paperback exposes when I pass from this mortal coil, but I think I'm getting to be OK with that.

Monday, September 7, 2009

on getting old (de brevitatae vitae)

Some musings
What used to be an adventure is now at best a requirement and at worst, a chore
What used to be liquid courage is now liquid coping
"Pop it lock it" isn't so much a dance move as a set of symptoms
It isn't that the music is too loud, just that it sucks.
I realize that that creepy guy with the trenchcoat was not nearly so creepy as he was happy that he had a really comfortable trenchcoat
Things move really quickly. Except kids shows...they Never End.
It stips being called erudite witty sarcastic cynicism and it starts being called cantankerousness.
All those good intentions I used to have turned in to a lack of caring. Thus, ignoring personal hygeine is no longer a radical statement of non conformity but a resignation that it just doesn't matter.
My cultural references to the classics of the 70's and 80's apparently sound like my parents' invocation of Lucky Strike and Burma Shave commercials.
My lack of style becomes "cute" as all the women now see me as absent minded and doddering and not intense and strong-willed.
I'm sure that there's more but my memory fails me.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Updates as events warrant

So I have a screed in the making about grammar rules. The case for, by the way.

I looked online for this one and found 3 references. One looks like an unintentional, one was removed but I saw the cached version -- it was a comment on a blog, and the third I saw in a list on a blog. So I think, since I came up with this separately, i can still claim some measure of responsibility for this.

Mr. Toad's Wild Rice.

I don't know what to do with it, but there it is.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Why work?

Why do we work? Not the most earth-shattering topic but the one in my head at the moment.

We work because we need the income to pay for stuff we want and/or need. In rare situations, the work is done because either the process or the goal are considered something worthwhile and the end result is desirable (either because it is lofty or because ultimate performance will avoid the worker's getting fired).

OK, what about summer workers who don't 'need' the money? I ran into that recently. i was stressing to summer employees how important speed was. A worker said "well...we get paid by the hour so we don't really rush." Great. I tried to explain that the work had to be done by a deadline but by that time he was busy playing Tetris.

But why did I expect otherwise? Either we pay by the hour, and since he has nothing invested in the final work-product, he might as well slack off in each hour so that he can guarantee future hours, or we pay on a set salary, and in that case, as he has nothing invested in the end work-product, he would do whatever he does when he feels like it.

I know this isn't fair but the only way to resolve this is to make summer work matter by making payment contingent on reaching an end result by deadline. These workers are contract workers working on a project. The should get their money based on presenting a completed project on schedule. Sure, that means that a worker will be working for weeks only on the promise of payment, but at least I could walk in and say "hurry up" and the worker might listen.

Other downsides? If I bring in a new worker, that eats away at the profit any other worker makes because more people have to share in the ultimate pot of payment unless I go back, count the hours and pay them a fixed per/hour based on time cards afterwards. A worker who leaves mid-project or misses days due to unforeseen problems is dependent on others' performance to get his share. If they don't finish, he gets nothing.

I don't know; it isn't perfect and it isn't fair. But the work has to get done and sometimes I feel like I'm the only one who cares.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Football has been very very good to him

I haven't been this angry in a while so bear with me -- I might have to find my way back into my anger groove.

The headline in the news is "Donte Stallworth of Cleveland Browns is suspended for 2009 season." My first reaction was "oh great...now my fantasy felon football team will have a wide receiver for Vick to throw to." Then I started reading the articles. The first two, weighing in at about 60 words each were inoffensive enough. Articles reported that the Florida limit is .08 and he ran a .126 and that he received 30 days in prison for driving drunk and killing someone.  I was annoyed but I was dealing with it. Then I got to the LA Times, bless their souls.

In it, I learned the following facts:

1. He only served 24 of the 30 days.

2. He feels that by killing a human being he has done "irreparable harm" to the family of the man he killed.

3. Commissioner Goodall wrote that he is "clearly guilty of conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the NFL."

4. He did what he did "even though safe and confidential alternatives, such as the 'Safe Ride' program, were available"

5. and finally..."The suspension is twice the eight-game penalty the St. Louis Rams' Leonard Little received from then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue in 1999, after Little struck and killed a woman while driving drunk."

Where should I start? Should I fume about the 30 day punishment for killing someone? This is the same Stallworth who was pulled over in March of 2006 and tried to drive off, and refused to exit the car when asked. When arrested then, "Donte Stallworth told the detectives that the incident was going to cost the policemen a lot of money and that he would have their jobs." Maybe I should point out that serving only 24 days of an insultingly short sentence is even more insulting. Can I point out how disgustingly glib and heartless it is to summarize the killing of a pedestrian which leaves behind a 12 year old daughter as doing "irreperable harm." Somehow I think that something a bit more effusive, like "I'm sure that I have given her a trauma which will adversely affect her maturation process and from which she may never fully recover" would be called for.

But for the commissioner to say that his behavior is what is calling in to question the integrity of the NFL is laughable. Anyone who is holding these athletes up as pillars of the community who make intelligent long term plans, who espouse philosophies and values which we should admire or who take their fame and celebrity within a grounded viewpoint and a context of social responsibility is a fool. I'm not saying that all (or many, or anything like that) football players are evil, shortsighted or some other deficient label, but I am saying that the league (as with most professional sports) is full of its own crises that make people rethink the integrity issue frequently. Haggling for insane contracts, behaving on and off the field in immature fashion and such have sullied sports that haven't been "gentlemen's games" for a long time. Did the arrest of Mel Gibson compromise the integrity of Hollywood? Either it is a reflection on the individual or we have to admit that the track record of people in the spotlight is so poor that one more 'event' isn't tipping the scales.

But, now, speaking as an occasional drinker (with those occasions being days that end in "y") does anyone expect a pro football player, surrounded, no doubt, by his entourage to push aside the bling and leave the Bentley in the parking lot so he can call the Safe Rider hotline and get someone he doesn't know to drive him home? Maybe the teams should assign a driver to go along with the players when they go out...maybe a floating chauffeur system. Or maybe, players shouldn't think that just because they are into the off season, their best use of a Friday night is to go out and drink.

That this suspension from 1 year's worth of football (during which one wonders if he'll secure some other speaking gigs or work out with a college team or do something to keep his hand in, or if he will volunteer to use all his free time to help raise the fatherless girl) is twice what was done 10 years ago isn't comforting. Kill a guy and miss playing a game. Considering his injuries recently, I think he'll be used to not playing. Gosh, I hope he can live on his 4.75 million dollar signing bonus. That must be tough.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Zoom

Things are moviong too fast. We live at the end of history because we are too self aware of how we live, too metanalytical of our own lives so there is no incubation period. We no longer have to develop any hindsight after a period of time imbued with reflection and growth. We are instantly aware of our own position int he cultural flow.

We live at the speed of the internet. Ideas are hatched, proliferate on the fringes, are adopted by the mainstream, become wildly popular and then are overexposed faster than is reasonable. The meme is born, flares up and ends up on a mug or t-shirt before it has time to develop into anything with staying power. As such, our culture stops developing any real personality. We have become the generation that will have as its signature simply that a million unmemorable ideas began during its tenure. I remember the fads of my childhood; each new slang word stayed under the radar for long enough and only after that time did it pop into more pervasive usage. Now, a twitter fad is catalogued on the same day it becomes a trend and with a day or two it is gone. What will this generation be able to tell its children? What are we seeding our future nostalgia with? Basically nothing because we aren't giving our present time to develop organically.

Slow down and let the tension grow. Cultivate it carefully and then release it upon the world so that everyone can put it in a larger cultural context. Instead, we have so much going on so quickly that we have nothing.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

so here's what I need

I like the Black Berry. I really have gotten used to it and I know the pain of having it be broken. So I know the pain of having to back it up and/or restore it. Pretty gruesome. So here's what i am commissioning (all of you with loads of cash lying around, make this happen and let me know):

I need a remote site which emulates a Berry and can sync with my real berry.

I'll give you three qualities/aspects of the online service:

1. it emulates a berry. Log on from a computer and you see a berry (this exists on the Java development site I think) and you can run all of your berry-based programs from any computer, and any changes you make to your data gets synced with your berry the next time you plug in.

2. it allows for the quivalent of a remote desktop connection when you log in to the website from another berry. I can log in to my school system and run the software and access the files as if i were at my desk. I don't have office installed on this netbook, so I log in and can work with all of my Office software from work. I should be able to do that with my berry -- use someone else's berry to connect and that berry then becomes my berry till I log out.

3. it acts as if a chunk of remote memory is dedicated to taking the exact copy of the memory of my berry including all the data, settings and installed third party apps (which is what allows numbers 1 and 2 to work). therefore, if my berry gets wiped, or i buy a new one, i can restore a complete mirror image with everything already set and installed. only subscriptions that are PIN based would require updating.

this is what I'm looking for. As far as I can tell, it doesn't exist. But the berry is very popular. Make this a service for a nominal fee and, I'd expect, you would clean up. And help out.

so? Get to it.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

This is an old phrase but I searched online for it and found 255 hits, none of which seems relevant.

The problems with ED medication:

Viagra Flaws

Sunday, July 26, 2009

a list

I'm putting together a list of things one should NOT say to a police officer when he pulls you over on a DWI charge. On a previous blog, I recall listing one ("I'm only drinking because it helps me get over my fear of driving") but a few others have popped into my head. I apologize if anyone thinks these are in bad taste, and I am not advocating drinking and driving. I am advocating humor, though.

1. Alcohol? Does that mean the drugs aren't a problem?

2. I'm not drunk -- you're just ugly.

3. But officer, when I got into the car, I was simply Driving Before Intoxicated.

4. I was just trying to empty these containers to I could recycle them.

5. It's OK. I'm on my way to a AA meeting.

6. Hey Harry -- there's a guy next to me wearing a cop uniform. Is this a gay bar?

7. I can't even walk a striaght line when I'm sober.

8. Why would you want me to touch my nose?

9. The alphabet? Sure. Does it have to be in order?

10. The bottle said not to operate heavy machinery. Does this car look like heavy machinery?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I put the "bitter' in Celebrity

I guess when I was growing up I wanted to be a celebrity. I'm not sure, you understand, because I was young at the time and was not taking notes. But it seems reasonable that in my Walter Mitty-esque youth I imagined myself fabulously wealthy and well known because I WAS something. Even then I knew that celebrity was not going to be earned because of an action or an ability; it would have to somehow be conferred magically basd on me. Sadly, I was also honest enough with myself to know that that wasn't going to happen.

Even when I made my immature efforts to earn notoriety (you can't spell "infamous" without "famous") I fell short. And thus, I never attained any measure of celebrity. My brushes with greatness, my 15 seconds of renown and my self-generated hype amounted to very little.

In the olden days, this wouldn't have bothered me. Seriously -- how many people really get to be famous? Movie stars, musicians, writers and artists were the cultural elite. The intelligencia was a caste higher and they were the object of the paparazzi because they somehow clawed their way up and they fought everyday to stay there. If I wasn't up there, at least I could be the madding crowd pressing myself against the TV screen for a chance to be that much closer to greatness.

The something happened, called "now."

I was sitting in the Nail Salon watching my daughter get a mani/pedi (not nearly as salacious as it sounds, and it doesn't even really sound salacious) and I realized...good god but I'm bored. So I picked up a special double edition of TV Guide and started reading it. I came away with one conclusion. Because of the proliferation of media channels (TV stations, video delivery channels, news networks, RSS feeds) everyone one in the entire world is no officially a celebrity. Except me.  Hollywood has so expanded that it has used up its yearly allocation of beautiful people and is now manning its TV shows and movies with the commoners, and making entire plotlines revolve around "not being beautiful." The ubiquitous News Networks have elevated everyone with an opinion to the role of pundit. Bloggers now have TV shows based on their exploits, and twitter is a major trend setter. And here I am using my own lungs like a sucker. Too many avenues for music release means that every small band has a top hit for 2 weeks.

When everyone is famous, it could be said, no one is. The specialness of being famous is lost when there is no one on a lower level to appreciate your specialness. But if the man keeps me from being famous then he make himself feel even bigger. So with all my self-blogging and self-publication, I'm not a celebrity. Am I inferior to them? I don't think so, but I'm not the one who has 1 million followers who want to know every time I sneeze (I don't often, but when I do...wow).  So technology has not fully levelled the playing field for me, though it has allowed the highs to be pulled down for a whole lot of others whom I no longer recognize.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Something resembling Scholarship

If you are here for the witticisms, skip this one. I have a couple of serious thoughts and I have no place else to put them, so I'm writing them up here because they broach on a topic which I have been pursuing for years and I want written record of my having thought them. This way, when somone else gets famous saying this stuff, I can sue him and pay for a little place next door to my medium sized place.

One area of study which has kept me thinking has been about the evolution of English as a language. I realized, a number of years ago, that the electronic form of English, as expressed in emails, chatrooms, IMs, tweets and such is a separate branch of English (not simply a subdialect or local jargon) which rivals written English and spoken English in its validity. In fact, I found that this electronic form is often a strange hybrid -- the attempt to capture vocal and speech patterns, plus the other inflective or super-linguistic aspects in the form of the written word. This accounts for so much of the variety of presentation not so much breaking the written rules, but redefining those rules and writing new ones. As I see new technologies emerge and coopt English, I get to watch the evolution of English as it happens, and I can try to be astute enough to spot the changes, influences and mutations as they happen. Then I pat myself on the back and move off into the corner thinking that I'm really on the cutting edge of something.

(end part I)

At certain points, my religion creeps up on me and says "hey, I'm useful for something." This time of year is one of those points where I have the chance to study study study and when I finish a particular tractate of the Talmud, I can have a party. Not just any party, mind you, but one that involves meat. Now, sure, I could do this at anytime, but according to Jewish tradition, I can have meat at most any time also. But during a 9 day period over the summer, there is a custom to refrain from eating meat as a show of self deprivation and sadness as we mourn the loss of the Holy Temples in Jerusalem. So I'm learning because god is holding a steak on the end of a string tied to a stick. Just so happens, I like steak.

So I'm sitting in my office, reading a book (trust me, this all comes together during part III). The book is unimportant. Not because it isn't famous, but I can't see how a book can be important while I'm still sitting all alone in my office. It just isn't fair. So I'm reading and in comes a co-worker. We get to chatting about canonical literature and hifalutin stuff like that and he brings up a trip he took to Carvel (trust me...). Apparently, working in that Carvel is a guy who speaks Armenian. OK, I think, big deal. Well, apparently, this guy does not speak Armenian at home, only at Carvel (that connection still does elude me, I admit) but at home he speaks Aramaic! Apparently, so he says, he is Assyrian. So we have a good laugh at this (not maliciously...) and the co-worker starts talking about the Aramaic they speak and that they use Hebrew characters, and that the talmudic reference to what we call Hebrew is actually Ashuri/Assyrian, so in fact, we are using THEIR characters. I point out that the word "Ivrit" in the Talmud that I just happen to be learning is a reference to another language all together. Crazy, huh.

(end part II)

I get to thinking -- if this Carvel guy (I can't really pretend to know what an Assyrian name would sound like) can read the modern Hebrew script, he can, theoretically, read a Talmud and he could have a real easy time explaining what is going on. I look back into my text and then it hits me.

The text of the Talmud is not linear -- Rabbi this and Mister that argue about 7 different things and the redactor then puts in other somewhat related stuff and comments about all of it in a stream of consciousness kind of way. But that isn't all. The sentences are incomplete. The student has to be able to fill in the gaps of the logic by knowing what the word means, what it refers to in a technical rhetorical way, and then what the context demands that it must be talking about. So a single word "where" would actually mean "from where do you learn that this case is different from that case". Someone who is fluent in English still has to work at Hemingway's dialogue or Faulkner's description. Simply knowing the words isn't the way to know what something MEANS. The talmudic text, it seems, is a sort of shorthand...a way to capture the oral patterns and give and take of the original arguments in the written form.

It almost seems like the writing of the talmud was done in a branch of language which was neither written nor oral, but that same strange hybrid between the two. [Maybe this middle ground was one way that the rabbis who codified the talmud and approved its being transformed into writing rationalized their decision -- it wasn't put into a written form like the written law, but simply written down in its oral form.] This transformation into a separate branch of language is not then unique to English and is not attributable uniquely to technological innovation.

I can't even say that the technology in each is writing (because the Electronic English has its precursor in the kind of note taking (and passing) in class that students do -- simply being able to write at speed during an intellectual exercise demands a shorthand which captures the essence of a lecture and the running commentary) because writing existed in the talmudic times before this component of the Jewish biblie was written down. Is this shift an inevitability in each language, simply looking for an opportunity to express itself?

I do not know, but it seemed like an interesting parallel between languages which developed many years apart.

(fin)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Duh

For the last time. I KNOW my shoelaces are untied. I know I might trip. I know it looks sloppy. They're MY shoes and I chose not to tie them. Telling me like it is some sort of surprise and you have an insight into my feet that I don't have is just plain insulting. Today, at CVS, some woman asked me if I thought I might trip. i said that there was more chance that my kids would intentionally trip me by stepping on my laces maliciously. Her response was that that would make sense -- she would do the same if anyone she knew was "that irresponsible." Not tying my shoes...irresponsible. How come homeschooling, homosexuality and vegetarianism are personal choices, alternative lifestyles or some other PC term for "who I am" but if I don't tie my shoe laces (the shoes are plenty tight and when I get home, I slip them off more quickly) I'm irresponsible.

My feet, my choice. Don't treat me like I am completely unaware of life below my knees.

I KNOW THEY ARE UNTIED. I CHOSE TO HAVE THEM UNTIED.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

medical malpractice

So I'm on the BBerry but I don't remember how to blog via text message. Frustrating how I have too much technology to remember.

Also, I should blog about how technology insulates us, allowing civil discourse between people who, in the real world, couldn't stand each other's presence.

But that isn't why I called you here. I came up with another groaner.

What do you call the liquid that you pour on vetches to keep them alive?

Ivy fluids.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Reality shows through

Another TV related complaint. Well, not really a complaint because I'm not yet sure how I feel about this. If by the end of this entry I turn out to be ok with this, then fine. If not, you should go back to the beginning and reread, replacing the voice in your head with Folger's Crystals.

On the way to work I heard about a new Reality series on some cable network (specializing in programming for the insomniac or the I-have-been-locked-in-a-basement-by-Kathy-Bates crowd) which tells the story of real people with OCD. One wonders if they replay it again afterwards but that's just a tangential point. This is from the same network that puts us up close and personal with interventions. So just when you thought you have hit rock bottom, smile for the camera.

Why do these shows exist? I think I have been wrestling with that since grad school. Ostensibly, the goal is to have us see that everyone has problems so that we feel more in line with the world when we confront our own skeletons late in the night when we think we are all alone. But these shows don't show us reality. In reality, one person has a cold, one has arthritis and one is in therapy and doesn't want to talk about it with me or some Nielsen family.  A "reality" show that documents 4 people in the space of an hour, all of whom are addicted to crack, beat their dogs and then wash their hands 10 times, left hand first, either so that the world doesn't end, or that they can feel really, really clean isn't showing me that I am part of my world.

The purpose is quite the opposite: it is to show me that everyone ELSE has problems and I should count myself lucky that my only issue if that my bills pile up as quickly as my laundry, and neither gets dealt with until it is a day too late and something stinks.

In case I do have problems, these shows reassure me that, if all else fails and I find myself sitting in a box that I call home, while eating what's left of the shoe polish that the king hobo left for me in exchange for my left ear, I can still get on television as a cautionary tale for everyone else. How comforting.

I'm still not sure how I feel. Should I be celebrating that I am not that low? Should I be jealous that I'm not on television? Should I feel guilty that I watch these shows, or ashamed that anyone else does? Should I be resigned to this and see that at least we don't have another insipid sitcom on the air?

Suggestions for my reaction are welcome. Tell me how I feel and I'll remind you of your opinion.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

not to be insensitive

I was walking around today and I saw someone wearing a shirt that said "Walk for a Cure." I have seen others that make similar statements, like "Race for the cure" and "March for a cure."

I'm confused. Why would we need doctors then? What kind of ailment can be resolved by walking? I should stop reading shirts.

I just saw another one... "Walk for Hunger." Does that mean I should walk so that I can become hungry or walk somewhere where I can get food to stop my hunger?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

I'm angry

Just stumbled on a TV show about "Platinum Weddings" -- weddings which have a budget of $500,000. That makes me angry. Have a reasonable wedding and solve the problem of world hunger with the balance. No one has the right to spend that kind of money. It should be criminal. Sure, I can appreciate that some people have earned lots of cash and have the right to use it how they will but how can anyone sleep at night knowing that they spent enough money on a one-shot party to pay for food, housing and education for entire families.  I'm no socialist but human nature should drive us towards common sense, not towards selfish stupidity.

And if you stumble on this and happen to be a person who had one of those weddings...

a) for shame

b) can I borrow 10 bucks?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

It's a mad mad mad mad world

So I was on the youtube this morning, looking at the most viewed videos (there's only so many times I can relive the 80's) and I stumble on this guy name Phil Defranco, or something like that and he goes on some rant for 3 minutes about how basically, everything is horrible and we all need to be made aware that everything is horribe. And I think to myself, what a wonderful world that some random stranger has the ability to tell me what he thinks about things. Then I notice, good heavens but he's angry.

My question du jour (which means "Tuesday") is, Is there more anger in the world these days?

The concept of going off on a rant could be said to be a relatively modern invention -- only since the observational comics (with Lenny Bruce and George Carlin in the lead) has it been socially acceptable to spout off for half an hour about how we're all idiots and we are in a society built on stupidity, irony and all-around uselessness. So now we have the Dennis Miller's, the A Whitney Browns and the random blogger all who spend their time bemoaning how we're all getting screwed at the drive-through, how our political tendencies reveal deep spiritual corruption and how if we deconstruct our society we reveal that if ignorance isn't bliss, it certainly is good for a giggle.

But is this all new? Is this all a function of a new breed of anger? If we go back to biblical times, what was the prophet, yelling his message from some hill top, but a ranting and raving blogger who claimed that the muse descended and told him to warn everyone that they all suck and they'd better just CUT IT OUT or god will stop this planet and turn it right around and you'll be thrown out of the house and have to sleep in the yard, Mister! Fast forward a bunch of years and you have the nutjob on the corner who is yelling much the same thing but because god has issued a statement disassociating himself with anyone wearing a sandwich board, or who claims inspiration came from a voice in a Beatles song, we consign this ranter to the role of "town drunk" (which begs the question -- maybe the prophet drinks to make the voices stop, not start), or high school gym teacher.

I think that technology has affected us in two ways -- one, it has made the angry person accessible to the masses, and handed the ears of the masses to the angry person. With all those channels and stations, there has been a need to fill airtime with something, and what sells? Passion and raw emotion. Thus, the angry people are given the soapbox because even if we aren't influenced by their pearls of wisdom, we will be amused and buy whatever toilet paper advertises during their breaks, when they take a breath and get all riled up again.

Secondly, I think technology has increased the flow of data and you know what ticks us all off most? Stuff. The more stuff we know, the more stuff we have to get rid of. In the closed agrarian society of all those years ago, the average guy could get mad at only a few things every week, and they were pretty cyclical. Not enough rain, too much rain, the 10 people I know annoy me ("and hey...what's the deal with the plague? Who was the ad wizard who came up with that?") and when no one is paying attention, how I hate god. Now, the constant influx of info gives us a chance to know and absorb and then spit out so much more. Maybe, the rants and all the yelling is proportionately the same as it ever was, representing the certain percentage of all the responses and since there is more stuff and more responses, we see more anger. Maybe, like one of the theories behind the increase in any disease, what we have is a higher awareness of it (possibly also because the bidirectional flow of information via technology makes us more able to see the anger all around us) but the overall number or at least percentage has remained the same.

Are we generally angrier? Is there more to be angry about, or are we just more in tune with all the anger out there?

And what's the deal with "tuna fish"? We don't call salmon "salmon fish"!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Speech titles

I'm thinking of starting up a lecture series, starting with passover (and I'm thinking of these off the cuff)

1. Leaven on A Jet Plane -- Keeping Passover in flight

2. My Four Sons -- Ernie, what does he say?

3. Spill The Wine -- The Art of War

4. A plague on Both your Houses -- The Lamentable tragedy of Egypt

5. The Hag-God-Dah -- puting the divine into Divinner

6. The Egg Kittel -- you are what you wear

7. A Bittersweet Symphony -- Lettuce infotain you

8. Are you Kid-ding me? My two cents

9. Amerlia Bedika -- how precise must our cleaning be?

10. The First Aid Kitniyot -- So you found some chametz on chol hamo'ed?

11. Shirat ha-yum -- how to keep the second days delicious

More as I hit my stride...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

by the numbers

Just a boring little game -- songs that have a thematic connection. But on this one, i need a little help. I am not familiar with the 49 and 59 songs. Someone tell me ones I know and like.

The group is called "the one after 909"

Hey 19 (steely Dan)

29 Palms (Robert Palmer)

'39 (Queen)

49 Mercury Blues (Brian Setzer Orchestra)

'59 (Brian Setzer Orchestra)

Summer of 69 (Bryan Adams)

1979 (Smashing Pumpkins)

Pop Song 89 (REM)

TIE -- 99 Luftballon (Nena) AND 1999 (Prince)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Deep Jew Something

I wish that I could quantify those things that really get to me -- to take the visceral and somehow extract the objective criteria and list them. I want to know not just "hat" touches me, but why. That way, I can predict, plan, and even create content which will affect me in that certain way. And maybe, if we could share with each other what truly inspires or gets to us, we could empathize better.

To wit - I was listening to the radio this morning. I do that. It's a thing I do. Don't judge me. A song came on and there was something about this song that really elicited a deep emotional response. I didn't cry or laugh, but I felt something indescribable deep down inside. I know this feeling and I know what songs set it off but I can't explain why or figure out what they all have in common. It isn't the lyrics and I don't think it is the band. Maybe something about the chords, the progressions, the key. I'm not sure. But if you ever see me glaze over when Tom Petty's "She's Just a Woman in Love" or Madonna's "Oh Daddy," "Nafalta Chazak" by Eifo Hayeled or "Comin' Round" by Hoppers13, TMBG's "Ana Ng" or Santana's "Europa" among others comes on, you'll know why.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

For Talia



Talia inspired this picture. Some of it was easy to do but some wasn't since I insisted on only using the Paint program and nothing with more power.

Another plug

I have a new site up and sort of running.

www.myscreeds.com

not exactly a blog site -- I'll be saving it for my larger and angrier pieces. The blog will be for shorter pieces.

Friday, March 13, 2009

a musing

A poem is never talking about what it is talking about unless it is to make you think it isn't. In that case it isn't so you'll see that it is.

Except when the exact opposite is true.

Homage, Props and Credit

So anyway, I was thinking about my previous post, trying to add to the list even though I know that making jokes about irregularity of bowel habits is in extremely poor taste.

I came up with another.

Constiplaystation -- what to do while you wait

But then I got to thinking about this mode of humor -- not the toilet based part of it, but the creation of lists building off of a word. I realize that this is inspired directly by the work of Tim Kazurinsky as Dr. Jack Badofsky.

Tim Kazurinsky ladies and gentleman...let's hear it for him. Welcome to the show Tim.

http://blogs.pioneerlocal.com/reeltime/TimKazurinsky%20new%20headshot.jpg

http://img.snlarc.jt.org/caps/episode_sketches/1982-10-02-10.jpg

As you can tell by the picture of the character, Tim through Dr. Jack has inspired me in my manner, dress and humor. So more power to you Mr. kazurinsky, and if you stumble upon this some day, just know I'm Having a Good Time, Wishing you Were Here.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Toilet Humors

I'm usually not one to make fun using the scatological references but this just seems like too much fun to pass up.

And play along if you'd like.

Constapatient -- the person suffering or someone who doesn't mind waiting to go

Constapainful -- when not going hurts

Constapacing -- wandering around waiting

Constaflation -- the price we pay for going gets higher and higher

Constavation -- saving it up for the future

Constapashun -- no one wants to be around someone who can't go

Constapalin -- waiting for a female VP

Constapaper -- sitting, waiting, reading

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Egalitarianism

For a while, I have been speaking to people about how the internet has transformed language and communication. I realized today that one of the aspects (for the good and bad) of the internet is affecting other areas of life as well, including (surprise, surprise) education.

The internet has shifted the paradigm of printing away from publishing houses and into the hands of the everyman. You (the phantom you) are reading this right now. Fifty years ago, I would have to have kept my ramblings to myself or placed them in a notebook and they might only have been discovered when the police were looking through my belongings for some clue to explain the unpleasantness in the pudding factory. But now, the internet allows me to put my thoughts out there without the intermediaries, filters or literary agents to decide if what I say is worth putting out there (or even "correct" for that matter). This has, therefore, made the creation of content a privilege in the reach of anyone and everyone.

So what does this have to do with education?

Well, it seems that the role of education might no longer be to teach the random skills and content of the classes. It might be, because we are integrating content creation and the interactivity of "web 2.0" that the greatest skill we can teach students is to be effective teachers. It might be that their role is now to produce and present, not absorb, so the ultimate test...the final content will be the ability of students to convey information to others -- a step past simply learning the material, retaining, analyzing etc the material. The highest order of thinking is not just integrating or evaluating, and not even "communicating" but actual teaching. The egalitarianism of publication which drives us to evaluate and consider the source, also requires that we become a reputable source for each other. The future is about writing a wiki entry, not just reading one.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A mini screed about "illiteracy"

While my actual screed is in the shop, I threw this one together in response to a concern (read third hand) that there is an epidemic of illiteracy amongst the Orthodox student regarding knowledge of Hebrew(biblical/textual/conversational).

Warning -- I write the way I think. Rarely. But when I do...watch out.

How many of our students do we really expect to be the “top” group? If we look back at the history of the education system, we can produce examples of genius, but we gloss over the masses who never made it either through the system or beyond the system. For every Einstein, there are probably tens of thousands of Weinsteins (no offense to the Weinsteins I know…you are nice people but not Nobel Physicists). When we lament that our students are not on par with the great ones, maybe our expectations are too high.


In the Old Country, we had big name yeshivas and from them came the brilliant rebbeim and poskim who have crafted our religion and our way of life. But were there others who made it through the yeshivas (and many yeshivas had stringent entrance exams so not everyone could even get in) and went on to lead lives of mere existence? Why do we bemoan what we call the relative ignorance of our graduates now – was there a higher percentage of demonstrable brilliance a generation ago? Did simply being in the Rov's shiur mean that everyone who left it is an authority?

Let’s assume for a moment that there was more brilliance back then. That 150 years ago, the yeshiva system in Europe was churning out brilliant talmidim who could all speak Hebrew fluently (ignoring that modern conversational Hebrew would not have been either the method of nor the goal of education) or who could pick up any random texts and understand it in the original and could write their own responses to it in Hebrew. What else was expected of them? Did they have to know Calculus? Did they yeshiva want them to be able to analyze Hamlet, or maybe speak a third language? Were these brilliant students also on a team of some sort, practicing and competing? Were they confronted with the societal influences and pressures that modern suburban life throws at students today? I’m no historian, nor a sociologist (in fact, it would be quite a long list were I to enumerate all I’m not) but when we attempt to educate students in such a broad range of subjects, while leaving them time to exist outside of school, and preparing them to score high on external measures, it is no surprise that they do not reach the level of fluency attained by someone who spent significantly more hours on one single task. Ulpan works because it is based in immersion, not two 45 minute classes twice a week. Living in Israel is an effective way to teach Hebrew because of the survival aspect of immersion.

I went to High School at sat with a rebbe for 3+ hours every day learning. I’m not saying that this system works for everyone, but it inspired me and groups of others to focus and learn. Had I gone to a school where Talmud study was broken into 45 minute chunks with review sheets and tests like any other class, I might never have developed a love for the free floating ideas and the extended tangential arguments which surround and outline the whole flow of discourse. By turning our central educational goals into discrete chunks of time which allow the students to turn off that part of the brain as they have to go and fill up on the other subjects which we demand they be familiar with, we stop many students from connecting on a more meaningful level. Where do our gedolim come from? Programs which have Torah learning more extensively and consistently – kollels, Yeshiva programs with morning seder, afternoon seder, night seder and more of the same the rest of the time. Simply put, we are trying to teach too many different things, all on a rigorous level, and then wondering why our students don’t have the level of mastery in any of them that students 150 years ago (who studied less “stuff”) reached by the age of 18. We create this sense of egalitarianism of content and wonder why only a few rise above the basic level, but in fact, they still do. Two hundred years ago, there was no “Torah UMadda” – science was studied when it helped unlock Torah, or by the few who pursued careers which allowed them to choose a secular field and immerse in it – a choice and chance reserved for the most naturally intelligent.

The miracle is that, despite our educational system, not because of it, we have some students who can still connect and can reach those heights. In the same way that 150 years ago, there were Torah scholars who DID know Calculus and Philosophy and Astronomy despite the relative dearth of direct education in those areas, we have students pulling 5’s on the AP Calc tests, getting perfect scores on the English SAT tests and still being able to write, in Hebrew, chidushim developed from the relatively short time spent in the Torah instructional setting. In fact, I would suggest that because of the ubiquity of publishing options, and the pervasiveness of general literacy, more chidushim are being generated (in English and in Hebrew) now than were being written in the Old Country and that back then, students in the yeshivas weren’t also writing papers published in journals of Psychology and medicine on any frequent basis. 

The complainants will reiterate, though, that our concern is “basic literacy” in Hebrew, not advanced skills, and we should be concerned because of the volume of English translations that our students don’t know basic enough Hebrew to be able to engage a text on its own. I’m sure that Rashi recognized that people didn’t have the basic literacy of Aramaic to be able to read the gemara without help (including the occasional French translation to complement explanations in simpler Hebrew), and maybe Onkelos saw that the commoner couldn’t understand the Hebrew of the Chumash. The Rambam saw that the perplexed people were ones who spoke Arabic. To worry about a student who admits that he is functionally illiterate in Hebrew in 11th grade is to assume that everyone who has gone through that many years has the interest and capacity to learn more than the most basic Hebrew. I went through many years of math education, but my acquisition stopped at some point in grade 9 and the skills I retain place me at about 8th grade math. I tried pleading my ignorance to my 11th grade math teacher but he was uninterested and, I’m sure, didn’t go to any peer group to try to find alternate methods of instruction to deal with me. My science knowledge? I’m good with isolated bits of trivia through grade 11 the same way (or even less so) that I’m sure the illiterate student can read isolated Hebrew words, prayers and phrases at that age. The difference is that people can accept that I didn’t become a scientist and yet people assume that being comfortable in a foreign language is essential to “being” a Jew (gesundheit). Put an Israeli student who has had isolated classes in Yiddish in a yeshiva in a Satmar community and see if after 11 or 12 years of “classes” he can follow a shiur in Yiddish. The Satmar students had their math classes in Yiddish also, and went home and read Yiddish newspapers. Did our 11th grader do anything with his Hebrew after class? Was he taught Chumash in Hebrew or in English, using Hebrew as an explicative tool (in a biblical mode)? 

An important point is not only that we try to teach too much, and not only that we try to teach in small chunks instead of letting students gravitate to a specialty and then immersing them in it, but that more young people are in the schooling system than in past generations. People who, 200 years ago wouldn’t have continued into “higher” education are now going to high school, college and beyond. If our schools are often populated with large groups who, in the past, would not have been there, to presume that we can generate a proportionate number of “top” students when we are effectively adding to the lower groups is a fool’s errand. In a population of 1,000 students, only 100 will be in the top ten percent. In the past, those 100 went through schooling and 10 graduated as the geniuses. Now, all 1,000 are in school and we worry that only 10 end up as geniuses? True, probably some of those other 900 wouldn’t have gone because of access and economy, but some of the “top” 100 were there because they were big-money, so the original assumption that the top 100 exhausted the pool of intelligence is as flawed as the assumption that all 100 were actually intelligent. Not every student is in a top shiur, so do we complain that after all those years of education, only a small percentage can understand a tosfos even in English? To worry that there is an illiteracy and an inability to have “basic text skills” (which can’t truly be quantified) is to say that all students should succeed to that arbitrary level because that level has a certain significance. It doesn’t. Not everyone has a gift for languages and Hebrew is a foreign language. When we excuse students because of language learning issues, we excuse them from French or Spanish, and only in the rarest cases do we eliminate conversational Hebrew because somehow we think that as Jews, it should be “natural” to learn Hebrew. Not every student can acquire math so to say that one has to leave high school with “basic trigonometric skills” because one has decided that no one can survive in the world without them ignores that many people can still pay their bills and find significance in their shopping experiences without trig.

To sum up, our population, our approach, our content, our goals and our expectations are so all over the place that we shouldn’t be punishing ourselves for our failures but recognizing that pulling ANY success out of this morass is more noteworthy and, sometimes it seems, miraculous.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

In case you aren't already depressed

Another day, another funeral so I guess that I should put some not-so-random thoughts down.

The deceased was described as highly spiritual, brilliant, loving, brilliant, driven, strong and brilliant. The speakers mentioned his education, his love of family, his knack for beating up muggers and growing a nice garden, and his connection to his religion. All very nice. I was very touched, but as is my tendency, i got to thinking about what anyone would say about me if ever I choose to die. I thought about my funeral...now, long time readers know that I have blogged my Death Wishes so the world knows to expect a rollicking good time at the service and burial, but I thought of a few more necessities. View this as a valid codicil to the aforementioned Death Wishes post.

1. Julie has agreed to the opening joke which focuses on my time/schedule based neurosis, and she has also said that she will use the joke "My husband was a Rennaisance mand, and we were surprised that he lived the whole 600 years" though she is free to mess with the wording.

2. I want the Facebook status of all my friends to be changed to "______ Can't believe that Daniel is dead" and mine changed to "Daniel Can't believe that he is dead." I empower my wife to continue my online presence for at least six months after my passing, and I also allow her to play my hand it the next poker game.

3. On the headstone, I want that little thing affixed which says "Endowed" but next to it I want one of these ;)

4. Bullet-proof hearse. I expect that I both have, and will continue to make the kinds of enemies who will want to make sure I'm dead.

5. If you come to visit the grave, I know the tradition is to place rocks on the grave, but could I ask for Pop Tarts?

6. Please pay to ensure the continued manscaping of my grave.

7. Please give out New York Times Crossword puzzles at the funeral and race to see if you can finish it before me.

And when you speak of me...and you will...be gentle.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Effluence, confluence, influence

Sometimes things don't hit you just right until one day when they hit you just right. Such a hittage took place this morning. Now I know when I tell you this, you will say "of course...the rest of the known world knew about this about 20 years ago, which is why they call it the 'known' world...duh"

Sorry for joining the party late.

So I'm listening to the radio this morning and I hear Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to Love." I must have heard that song 500 times, just in the past 2 years; it is a classic rock staple, like rice or staples. But I guess the radio balance was a bit different or the volume was set just so or my ears were more properly attuned because of the icicles hanging from them. I actually heard the back up singing on the chorus. Male backup and it made me think of another song. This is normal because I listen to enough songs that eventually a couple will sound alike. But this one really reminds me of something about "Girlfriend" by Matthew Sweet. I happen to like that song a whole lot so maybe that is influencing what I'm hearing, but there is some resonance in the production (maybe a monotonic multi-voiced male thing) of both songs and it really hit me hard.

Do me a favor (and I know that amongst my legion of fans, millions will do this, and some percentage will hear what I hear) listen to both songs (especially the backing vocals on the Jefferson Airplane) and let me know if you hear it. And, hey...thanks.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

I sometimes get angry about stuff. This, I freely admit. And I also know that sometimes, what I get angry about isn't the most significant stuff in the world. The New York Times magazine section consistently gets under my skin, but this evening, I feel like I have to say a few words about something which really annoys me -- Deal or No Deal.

No I have to start by saying that I have been a fan of Howie Mandel for a long time (yes...pre-St. Elsewhere). His standup was great and his ability to think on his feet and work with his crowd was always a joy to behold. And I'm willing to ignore the stories I hear about his germ issues, and ignore the bald thing. But has the whole world gone crazy? This show is unbelievably dumb.

The general idea is that the contestant chooses a case from among a bunch of similar briefcases, and then starts to choose other cases which get opened, revealing a variety of dollar amounts. The hope is that the initial case chosen has a large sum in it and as he eliminates other values, the "banker" makes offers to buy his reserved case to keep him from continuing to play. The offers are based in the remaining values and the odds that a certain amount will be won ultimately.  The bottom line is that the contestant is having money thrown at him and he simply has to think he is lucky, and get lucky, if he wants to be greedy.

No questions, no tasks...just money and pure greed (read: foolhardiness). This is not a game show. This is a contestant being encouraged by people to pick certain numbers as if anyone had any better sense of which ones have particular values within. The notion of "random" is to be outfoxed by logic...dumb.

This is not the first game to be devoid of any skill. The newer version of Press Your Luck has, apparently, eliminated the trivia component and players are simply calling out "Stop" and hoping that they end on a money square (and heaven forbid they figure out the repeating timing and guarantee their success...that's cheating in a game which should not allow any skill). Let's Make a Deal was also about pure luck. Did you happen to pack 50 paper clips before you left the house/ Is there a donkey in the box or do you want what's behind door number 6? But at least there people had to dress up like idiots and often were asked to present the paperclips, felt tip pens or sliver dollars as an entree into the rest of the game.

But this game is pure luck masquerading as something else. The banker's offers are mathematically figured and no one players odds are even any better than any other's. This is just sheer stupidity -- suddenly, $165,000 isn't enough because there are three cases on the board which are worth more. Pure, stupid greed and the false sense that luck can be shifted or that deciding to keep guessing is some version of bravery. It makes me mad that people can watch this show and think that rooting and cheering means anything, or that a contestant can be "good" at this. I really hate this show.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A truth we may have to facebook

So I friended someone else today. Not only did I, through doing that, continue the assault on English by allowing the word "friend" to be used as a verb (as opposed to "befriend") but I, again, called into question the notion of friend. I have wondered about the lack of selectivity on Facebook and now it dawns on me. I have over 100 "friends" and can see all of their little conversations with their friends, and I can connect with them whenever I want. If this trend continues and I firned them and their friends friend me and we're all big fricking community of friends (with apologies to the Quakers) then what is the value of "friend?" Will I need a new category only for "uber-friend"? Will I need some marker to inject into my virtual persona the same separation I have in the real world between "acquaintance" and friend? If everyone is my friend then no one is. I guess...maybe.