Monday, October 22, 2012

Another open letter to my girls

Dear Kids,

I need to tell you some stuff -- sort of clear the air. I want you to know where you stand and what kind of a father I expect to be. No surprises.

First, I intend to cry at your weddings. Being your father is a rare and special privilege and anything that marks the end of that era, like the finality of your moving in with a suitable replacement, will reduce me to a blubbering mass of appetizer sneaking tuxedo. This also explains why I get teary eyed at all the precursor milestones like when you go away for a weekend, or when you no longer need me to tuck you in and say "goodnight." It does not absolve you of the responsibility to wash the dishes, though. And please make sure to have a carving station at your weddings.

Next -- I hear you. I really, really do. I may be doing something else. I may even be watching football. But I hear you. This does not mean that what you say registers, but I hear you. If you say something problematic, it might take some time, but it will sink in.

I will always be ready to help, no questions asked. At least not at that moment. Once things calm down, we're gonna have a chat.

Every moment with you is a teachable moment. Whether you know it or not, I'm trying at every second to model behavior, explain situations or anticipate questions so that you can maximize how often and how much you learn.

When you shut me out, it hurts. When we fight, it hurts. When I have to be the bad guy, it hurts. Just understand that you can never really appreciate how bad it hurts until you have your own kids and they ignore you or think you are an idiot.

Some of the television shows you choose to watch really are truly and objectively terrible. When kids say "parents don't understand," it most often means that parents thought you were better than that and yet you choose to wallow in silliness. Of course, when my parents mocked the shows I liked, they had no idea what they were talking about. But this is completely different.

I don't think you need to wear makeup. Yes, I say that primarily because I'm your dad, secondarily because it makes you look like a female hooker clown, and thirdly because, whether you choose to believe it, you really are beautiful, inside and out, without it.

Same thing with heels.

Someday, someone will choose to be with you not because of the product on your face or the shape of your calves but because of who you really are, and you will be happy. And I will cry. But then I'll wander to the carving station and be ok.

Keeping your room neat is important. It teaches you responsibility and organization and prevents me from breaking my neck when I come to wake you up each day.

Yes, I will continue to embarrass you in front of your friends, be neurotic about being places on time, make bad jokes (though I know they are brilliant), demand that you use proper grammar, and expect you to clean up after yourselves. I want your future behavior to reflect well on you and on me and my parents.

I admit -- I have made some mistakes and questionable choices in my life. This is not to be viewed as permission to you to make the same or similar choices. It is my goal as a result of experience and my wish, after years and years of developing hindsight, to help you avoid the problems and mistakes I have made. I want better for you than I have and am and not because my parents were at all even remotely deficient (they weren't -- they are my heroes) but because every parent should want better for his or her children.

I will continue to make mistakes. I am human (no matter what I claim to the contrary) and will try to do better. Bear with me as I bear with you.

Sometimes I will have to let you make the mistakes and it will kill me inside.

I am so proud of both of you every day.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

My statement of non purpose

In any human (complex) system, any causal link established or any conclusion drawn from a single dimension or variable will undoubtedly be incorrect and any attempt to account for all dimensions or variables when explaining a causal relationship will undoubtedly fail. Statistical snapshots, cross sections and samples cannot be extrapolated from and multidimensional aggregate data cannot be used to prove conclusively any single point, or even explain definitively any trend.

Why not? Because I said so.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Remember me

What do I want to be known for? Well, I think, everything, but that may be a bit out of reach. I was thinking today what I'd like named after me when I shuffle off this mortal coil and I have made a top 10 list. Please feel free to begin the proceedings. While I don't expect to die in the next 150 or so years, it is wise to have a process underway so no time is lost.

1. A chair
2. A scholarship
3. A building (with chairs in it)
4. A disease
5. A celestial object
6. A species
7. An element
8. A sports trophy
9. A recipe
10. A hat

I understand the drive to require people make donations to get on this list, or make some contribution to society in order to qualify but I would like to side step those conventions.

If you can think of anything else that should be named after me, please comment and tell me how great I am.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Phone Review

As seems to be the current trend, I as a user of technology, feel it is appropriate to share my front-line experiences using a piece of the future so that others, scouting the interwebs for real people who have run into real problems will stumble upon this and use it to inform their decision to buy or not to buy. So, though my expertise falls more in the realm of the snarky essay and my skills with technology ended with the TRS-80 model 4D, the virtual world insists that my opinions are valid. The, with the web as the ultimate equalizer, I bring you my review of my phone.

I have been using the Galaxy Nexus for a few months now and have grown to like it. Not to love it, mind you, and not even to adore it on the level that I adored my Blackberry Curve before it, but I do like it more than I thought I would. The lack of customizable notifications and the virtual keyboard are both limitations, and there also seems to be some sort of glitch in the switch between WIFI and 4G. This last issue becomes apparent as my internet at home cuts out at odd intervals so if my phone can't sense that the WIFI is out, I manually turn off the WIFI on the phone and hope the phone can fall back into 4G mode so that i can still use the web. Often, i have to restart the phone to force it to recognize that I have a phone signal and until I remember to do that, I get access to nothing in terms of data.

I think that part of this can certainly be traced to the problems with the internet connection. Surely if I had a more stable DSL (not "DSL line" as the L stands for 'line') I wouldn't run into this problem nearly as much. At work, where being on the local WIFI means having to sign in and reauthenticate every 30 minutes I like to leave the radio off as well and use the 4G so I guess I can't sidestep the issue simply by calling Verizon and demanding that they, once and for all, fix the DSL at home. I mean, I have been dealing with this issue for years now. Every time I call, I go back to the beginning with some level 1 tech support person (after getting through the automated fixer who recommends that I GO ONLINE for fixes! Duh! If I could go online, I wouldn't need any help because my DSL would be working) and I have to explain the situation over and over again. The very nice person hired by Verizon to frustrate me (this was the help wanted ad: "Wanted, someone to frustrate Dan Rosen") restates my problem and either gets it completely wrong, or hangs up on me. And never calls back the call-back number I provided.

So last year I took to emailing every executive i could find on any webpage put out by Verizon. I figured out the format of their corporate email addresses and started complaining to the top. And I mean THE TOP. Very quickly I was contacted by "Executive Customer Assistance" and the problem was solved. At least for 9 months. It is back and I still have that phone number, so I'm going to call the executives again and whine like a first-world, spoiled American as is my god given right.

I don't generally call to complain about things. As vituperative as I appear on these blogs, I am actually quite reserved in real life. Both cars and a computer had to be repaired recently. My method? Take it in, tell the guys "do whatever and charge me whatever, and wipe the drool off your chin. I'll be back in a week. Please don't give me any details." I can't haggle, I never return stuff to a store, I never offer to pay in cash to save the taxes and I really hate complaining. This blog helps me vent because, not only do I get a special kind of solitude which one rarely finds, considering that the 20 or so "readers" for any post seem to be me (reloading from different computers to edit my misspellings) my mom (hi, mom), my 1 subscriber, and a guy from Estonia who, I believe, thinks that (via his poor English skills) my ramblings are some sort of post-modernist erotica, but also because I work better being able to formulate thoughts and write them out and revise them. Speaking to live people also exposes me to their responses and, often, their stupidity. I have no patience for stupidity which means I usually have no interest in responses. So I cave quickly to end the conversation. Good talk Russ.

And that's why I like pancakes.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

All four, one.

This is a strange time. Within the space of 1 month, we have 4 of the most mixed up holidays that one can imagine and we are pulled in all different directions. One day we are listening to a Shofar, one day we are denying ourselves, then we are shaking palm leaves and then dancing while holding the Torah. Happy, sad, inside, outside. Weird.

And on Sukkot, we suddenly take four different kinds of plants and shake them all about while we sit in a makeshift hut. The non-Jews must look and say “what comes next? Are you going to dig a pit and juggle a cat and 2 chainsaws next month?” And we do all this (OK, not the chainsaw part) in order to be part of a community! We aren’t lone wolves following personal and individual practices, but acting in accordance with the rules of an entire congregation!

I think that some of this traces back to something I heard from Rabbi Jon Schachter, though I assume that this isn’t his originally, but I give credit where I can. He pointed out to his students that we are part of a Tzibbur, a community. The word Tzibbur, ציבור, is made up of the letter Tzadi, which stands for צדיק, a righteous man, the letter Reish, which stands for רשע, a bad man, and a Beit, which stands for בינוני, a middling person who is neither fully righteous or evil. The idea is that we must include all 3 groups to make for a complete community. But I commented that that seems to ignore all the letters. The word also has the Yod-Vav which is a name of God. To be a complete community we all must include God. Four separate components to a congregation.

Those 4 groupings seemed to me to link to the 4 species which we take on Sukkot – the lulav branch which stands tall and represents the spine and the righteous who stand tall like angels as they pray, the aravah, the willow, doesn't smell or taste good – it lacks all connection to “goodness” and represents the evil man, while the hadass has some positive and some negative quality is the middle-man, the beinoni. God is the etrog, full of flavor and smell and all the goodness one can imagine. All four must be taken together for the individual to fulfill the mitzvah. Thinking of this, I went back to the 4 holidays all jammed within the month of Tishrei and looked at the differences. Rosh Hashana, it seems, is a day of judgment and closes the book on those who are clearly righteous, like the Tzaddik. Yom Kippur is a day of somber judgment which clears up the fate of the middle man, the beinoni. The evil person, unpersuaded, is still given more time to repent, and has until the end of Sukkot (hoshana rabba) when the gates are finally closed. Then, Shmini Atzeret/Simchat Torah is a day when all the groups come together to celebrate the ultimate gift of God, the Torah.

In a parallel sense, the four holidays demand different modes of behavior to appeal to all of the segments of that community. On Rosh Hashana, we use a single accompaniment to our davening, the Shofar, named in the written Torah to inspire us. On Yom Kippur, nothing. On Sukkot, we are chock full of external symbols, and Shmini Atzeret, just the Torah, which is around us all year long. Again, four modes of expression to reflect the 4 groups: the righteous man sticks with the single Torah mentioned symbol, one which proclaims throughout the day, his place in the book of life; the middling man must remove all distractions and find his inspiration from within – he has to make a decision about his life and only he can change it but by the end of the day, there is a single Shofar blast commemorating his forgiven state (he goes from being one of the avaryanim, sinners, to being written in for a good year); Sukkot fills the rasha, the evil man with outside inspiration to complement prayer in order to infuse his life with meaning, because without it, he has not found his connection to God and Shmini Atzeret centers it all around God’s Torah, not as inspiration to man, but as an expression from God. We need all these parts of observance before we can complete the process of repentance – to be a tzibbur, all of us must be allowed to connect to the divine and we must then celebrate the divine’s expression of connection with us.

Tishrei is a microcosm of us as a people and of the entire of the year. It is about including everyone in our community. It is about finding a path which will help guide us throughout the next 11 months. It might be by recognizing the penitence from within or from without. It might be by looking at the Torah and letting it inspire us. Maybe it will be by seeing someone who lives his life, daily, in accordance with halacha. Whatever it takes during Tishrei must be pursued so that the rest of the year can flow smoothly.