Friday, February 29, 2008

Need a little pick me up?

This is great.

Bob Geldof

I was in college in the late eighties. I was very immature during my college years, even less mature than my peers. Because of starting school early and some skipping around, I was twenty years old when I graduated college, and though I was academically advanced, emotionally, I was probably around the age of a high school junior. I had no idea of what I wanted to do with my life, or, I should say, I had too many ideas of what I wanted to do with my life and zero focus. My parents, who maintained a sort of laissez-faire policy of governing my family once we were all adults, were pretty much okay with any choice I decided to make, as long as 1) stayed frum (check) 2) made a living (check) 3) got married and started a family (gong). Well, that's a very old story. Truth is, no matter how much I've disappointed my parents, they have never expressed it, and were never anything less than loving and supportive and proud of me. I owe my very resilient self-esteem to them. My neuroses are entirely mine.

One of the blazing signs of my immaturity back then was my involvement with popular music. I was very "into" certain musicians. I threw away my tiny post-college salary on concerts and albums, and listened to rock lyrics like they came out of Sefer Tehillim. I was religious about it. It was so young and stupid of me. Today, music is still one of the great loves of my life, but I don't internalize it the way I used to, which is a result of the process of discarding some of the follies of my youth. Music is something I enjoy, not part of who I am.

Back then, Bob Geldof was a hero to me. I am one of the few people on Planet Earth who owns a Boomtown Rats record. (Yes, record.) I loved, truly loved, "I Don't Like Mondays," one of the first songs about school violence. It tells the story of a student gunning down her class in a California school, long before the Columbine incident ever made a headline. It speaks about the senselessness of the crime, the cluelessness of her parents, and trying to grasp the absurdity of a sweet , pretty sixteen year old blasting a school playground to hell for no other reason than she didn't "like Mondays." The lyrics to the song are plain and very, very edgy: "the silicon chip inside her head gets switched to overload..."

Very edgy pretty much characterizes Bob Geldof. I idolized him. He was the mastermind behind Live Aid, a 1985 major benefit concert that was held to raise money and awareness for famine relief in Africa. The concert took place in London and Philadelphia and the biggest names in the popular music world were all there. The concert raised almost $300 million dollars for Africa. Geldof was like a demigod to me back in the eighties. He was a talented, albeit minor-league rock star who cared about a cause and used his connections to do something about it in a big way. I have tried to learn from him and have used him as a personal role model time and time again when I've raised money for Jewish causes: 1) use whatever talent you have 2) use your connections 3) just do it and don't let anyone talk you out of it 4) most importantly, make the prize/event something so attractive, it will become cool to give money to the cause.

In his personal life, as you might read about in his Wikipedia entry, Geldof is the prototypical European rock musician. He's had kids out of wedlock, married, divorced, lived with various women etc., gave his kids all sorts of bizarre names, swears like a sailor, and parties his brains out with his fellow musicians. He is outspoken and brash, and there is probably very little censorship between what goes on in his head and what comes out of his mouth. He is frank and emotional about what he believes in, and he is not shy about telling you exactly that.

Bob Geldof has largely been off my personal radar screen for the last twenty years or so, even though he's still been very politically active in raising money to combat hunger and disease in Africa. In 2003, though, he came back on the field, when he did something completely uncharacteristic: he came out in swooping, unrestrained praise of George W. Bush.

Whu?

Yes folks. You can read about it here, but it's so good, I'll save you the click with the quote:

Live Aid founder Bob Geldof shocked the international aid community on Wednesday by praising President Bush's administration as one of Africa's best friends in their fight against AIDS and famine. Bush on Tuesday signed into law a $15 billion plan to help fund the fight against AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean, a move which aid agencies welcomed. "That is extremely radical and welcoming...and will take the fight against AIDS to new heights," Geldof told reporters. The Irish musician and activist said Bush's predecessor Bill Clinton talked passionately about Africa, but had done little, while the European Union had provided a "pathetic and appalling" response to the continent's humanitarian crisis. Geldof, who staged the world's biggest rock concert to help Africa's starving in 1985, made his comments after visiting drought-affected people in several child-feeding centers in Awassa, southern Ethiopia.
Do you remember reading about this in 2003? Of course not. Do you know why? Because hardly anyone reported it. Reporting this would have interrupted Bush-hating. Bush-hating is the process whereby everything, i.e. the economy, global warming, etc. is blamed on President Bush, and expressed in unrepressed rage.

The popularity of Bush-hating is even entrenched in the reporting of the story: "Bob Geldof shocked the international aid community..." Why were they shocked? Because George Bush is a very, very bad man who undoubtedly hates poor starving Ethiopian children, right?

I love this story. And I love Bob Geldof for flipping off the world and saying what he knows to be true.

And now, he's done it again! Last week, Geldof traveled to Africa with President Bush. He wrote this tell-all, bloglike article for Time in which he was completely frank about his feelings about Bush and his presidency. Mind you, Geldof is generally a political liberal and is very vocal about his opposition to the war in Iraq. No surprise there. This ain't no Rush Limbaugh here; Geldof hangs out with Bono. But perhaps this quote will surprise you:
It was...Bush who initiated the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) with cross-party support led by Senators John Kerry and Bill Frist. In 2003, only 50,000 Africans were on HIV antiretroviral drugs — and they had to pay for their own medicine. Today, 1.3 million are receiving medicines free of charge. The U.S. also contributes one-third of the money for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria — which treats another 1.5 million. It contributes 50% of all food aid (though some critics find the mechanism of contribution controversial). On a seven-day trip through Africa, Bush announced a fantastic new $350 million fund for other neglected tropical diseases that can be easily eradicated; a program to distribute 5.2 million mosquito nets to Tanzanian kids; and contracts worth around $1.2 billion in Tanzania and Ghana from the Millennium Challenge Account, another initiative of the Bush Administration.

So why doesn't America know about this? "I tried to tell them. But the press weren't much interested," says Bush. It's half true. There are always a couple of lines in the State of the Union, but not enough so that anyone noticed, and the press really isn't interested. For them, like America itself, Africa is a continent of which little is known save the odd horror.

And Geldof on Bush the businessman:
You forget that Bush has an M.B.A. He thinks like a businessman in terms of the bottom line. Results. Profit and loss. There is an empiricism to a lot of his furthest-reaching policies on Africa. Correctly, he's big on trade. "A 1% increase in trade from Africa," he says, "will mean more money than all the aid put together annually." He's proud that he twice reauthorized the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a modestly revolutionary Clinton Administration initiative that enabled previously heavily taxed exports to enter the U.S. tax-free. Even though oil still accounts for the vast amount of African exports to the U.S., the beneficial impact of AGOA on such places as the tiny country of Lesotho, and its growing textile industry, has been startling.
And then there's this absolute gem, where Geldof is honest about his feelings on the war, but refuses to let it color the truth about what Bush has done for Africa:
He is also, I feel, an emotional man. But sometimes he's a sentimentalist, and that's different. He is in love with America. Not the idea of America, but rather an inchoate notion of a space — a glorious metaphysical entity. But it is clear that since its mendacious beginnings, this war has thrown up a series of abuses that disgrace the U.S.'s central proposition. In the need to find morally neutralizing euphemisms to describe torture and abuse, the language itself became tortured and abused. Rendition, waterboarding, Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib — all are codes for what America is not. America has mortally compromised its own essential values of civil liberty while imposing its own idea of freedom on others who may not want it. The Bush regime has been divisive — but not in Africa. I read it has been incompetent — but not in Africa. It has created bitterness — but not here in Africa. Here, his administration has saved millions of lives.
Wow. Big Giant Wow. A++ to Geldof for honesty and passion.

Finally, there's this obscure Washington Times article that probably no one will ever read:
Mr. Geldof praised Mr. Bush for his work in delivering billions to fight disease and poverty in Africa, and blasted the U.S. press for ignoring the achievement. Mr. Bush, said Mr. Geldof, "has done more than any other president so far." "This is the triumph of American policy really," he said. "It was probably unexpected of the man. It was expected of the nation, but not of the man, but both rose to the occasion." "What's in it for [Mr. Bush]? Absolutely nothing," Mr. Geldof said. Mr. Geldof said that the president has failed "to articulate this to Americans" but said he is also "pissed off" at the press for their failure to report on this good news story. "You guys didn't pay attention," Geldof said to a group of reporters from all the major newspapers. Bush administration officials, incidentally, have also been quite displeased with some of the press coverage on this trip that they have viewed as overly negative and ignoring their achievements.
Holy Guacamole, Batman! Can it be that this liberal, anti-war former rock musician is saying that George Bush has done a great humanitarian thing, and that the press purposely did not report it, because they couldn't seen their way through the haze of Bush rage and hatred to tell the truth?

Bob Geldof, you are still my hero.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Prufrock

A little TS Eliot, for my mood. Skip reading this post if you're not up for this sort of thing.

I'm feeling more and more detached. Someday I'm just going to float away completely. I can't write another post about another Frumster date (which is what this poem really is about anyway). I'm so tired.

I also hear the mermaids singing each to each. And I do not think they will ever sing to me.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by TS Eliot

LET us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question …
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—
[They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”]
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
[They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”]
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:—
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all—
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
[But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!]
It is perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
And should I then presume?
And how should I begin?
. . . . .
Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?…

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
. . . . .
And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep … tired … or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head [grown slightly bald] brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say: “That is not what I meant at all.
That is not it, at all.”

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
“That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all.”
. . . . .
No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Sheitl Store Ban aka Erasing People


This post isn't really about the sheitl store ban. It's about what the sheitl store ban will ultimately lead to if we don't nip it in the bud.

I was trolling around on some of my regular blogs tonight and I found this on Failed Messiah. In a nutshell: in an ad in the North Manchester Circular, a charedi weekly shopper published in England, a bunch of little boys and little girls are modeling Purim costumes. What's wrong with the picture? The litte girls' faces are blurred out. The little boys' faces are not. Click on the image to open an enlarged pdf.

I felt physically ill when I read this. It is simply unbelievable.

  1. If you think that little girls modeling Purim costumes is untznius, don't have little girls modeling Purim costumes.
  2. If you feel the need to blur, blur the body parts that might be untznius. Don't blur the face. Their is nothing, NOTHING about a face that is untznius. If it strikes you as ridiculous to blur body parts, that's because it is.
  3. These are children. CHILDREN. Are little girls now considered an ervah?
  4. You might say that a certain population of men might be aroused by little girls. Would it valid to say that this same group of men might be just as aroused by little boys?
I quoted Dennis Prager before on the importance of not hiding one's face, in the context of why the veil was so degrading to women. It is worth quoting him again:

In the long history of women's inequality, it is difficult to name almost anything more anti-woman, dehumanizing and degrading than the veil. We know people by their face. Without seeing a person's face, we feel that we do not know the person. When we read about someone in the news, whether known for good or ill, we immediately study the person's face. One can have one's entire body covered, and it means nothing in terms of whether we feel we know the person. But cover a person's face, and the person might as well be invisible.

Indeed, the veiled woman is intended to be invisible. That is precisely the goal of the veil.

We cannot do this. This is not Judaism. This is not tznius. This is neuroses. This is crazy, crazy messed up stuff. This has got to go.

Lipa Shmeltzer

I got my second emailed request this week to comment on the Lipa Shmeltzer ban, so here goes.

In a nutshell, Lipa Shmeltzer is a chassidish singer who occasionally puts Hebrew and Yiddish words to secular melodies. He is supposedly very popular in the Yeshivish world. Some prominent rabbis (I have no idea whom) recently banned his music because it was deemed "too goyish." Lipa doesn't seem to mind this ban, even though he had to give up some concert gigs as a result. He seems to be properly chastised at having sung this questionable music, and vows to sing only "acceptable" songs going forward. I have never heard a Lipa Shmeltzer song in my entire life (and I'm not planning on starting now), as I confess, I listen to very little Jewish music. It's just not my thing. I do like some: Dveykus, Neshama Carlbach, The Chevra, Yehuda!, Beatachon, and some other various Jewish artists, but 95% of what I listen to is secular.

This is the reason that I don't really have anything to say about this particular ban (which is nothing remotely like the sheitel store ban, btw). I am so far removed from the world of not listening to secular music, it would be unfair for me to judge it. It's a level of insulation that I am not even close to, and I admit, don't aspire to. I do respect people who have chosen not to listen to secular music, and I admire them for their self-elevation. I'm sincere about this.

There is no question that music, even pure melodies, can be raunchy, sexual, emotional and just about any other fill-in-the-adjective-here-ish, on its own. Anyone who doesn't think that music can be sexual should listen to Berlin's "The Metro" or Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing" (one of my favorites). So no argument from me that songs can have "questionable, non-Jewish qualities" that you might want to purge from your cultural life. I wonder though, at how far you can take this. Jewish melodies are so incredibly derivative, my guess is that 90% of the Jewish music that's out today has lifted it's musical core from some non-Jewish origin.

When I was a little girl, I went to a very Yeshivish summer sleepaway camp. Pretty much every camp and colorwar song was a rock and roll melody put to Jewish lyrics. I don't remember this sort of thing being objectionable back then. These days, I find that sort of music repugnant. I don't listen to Shlock Rock and I don't listen to Weird Al. It's just not my idea of music.

I remember when my father ah"s asked a shayla about listening to non-Jewish music. Dad was a huge classical and opera buff. His Rabbi told him it was fine, as long as it wasn't religious music (so "Messiah" and "Greensleeves" were out). I remember thinking that considering how much my Dad loved his music, it was very admirable of him to even pose the question. It's not a shayla that I will ever ask.

I'm just not in that place, and it's very unlikely I will ever be. There's a much greater chance of my giving up television than my giving up my secular music. But kol hakavod to those of you who have, though I do think you're missing out. But I understand the tradeoff. In my Modern Orthodox mind, I lean on the "Yesh chochma ba'goyim; ain Torah ba'goyim" credo. There is wisdom in the non-Jewish world but there is no Torah in the non-Jewish world. I think it's fine to help myself to a little culture from outside the shtetl. My morality will always come from within it.

So about the Lipa ban, well, I guess I don't reside in that world (though I visit often), so go ahead and don't listen to Lipa, if that floats your boat. Me? I've got Weezer blasting on the Ipod right now.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Why I Can't Stand Hillary and Will Never Vote For Her

Hillary is a bane to American political culture.

Even outside of her time in the White House, her record is twice as long as Obama's; she's been a senator for eight years to Obama's four. But the more I look at what she's done and how she's voted, the less I like her. Like Obama, she is a fan of humongous government. She's consistently to the left on every issue, immigration, taxation, the war, healthcare reform, everything. She strikes me as being almost socialist.

Then there's Hillary the Human Being. I am so put off by her shrillness and rage. The graceless way she's handling the growing threat from Obama shows how savage she is. George Will (who is a great writer and smart and funny as hell) wrote a scathing article about the unbelievable depths of the Clinton arrogance here.

Hillary is an attack dog and I think she's dirty and sadly unprosecutable. The Riady scandal, the 500 FBI Files that landed in the White House reading room for no apparent reason, and of course, Whitewater, seem to have just floated off of her. The idea of this dangerous, sneaky, vindictive woman becoming the Leader of the Free World scares the hell out of me.

Why I Like Obama and Will Never Vote for Him

I want to vote for Barak Obama. I really do. After all, he's cute, young, enthusiastic, and charismatic. He's well spoken. He's got a wonderful vocabulary (or at least, his speechwriters do) and he says marvelous, poetic, inspiring things. And wouldn't it be good to have a black president? I mean, wouldn't that show how great this country really is and how far we've come away from racism and slavery?

I voted for Clinton twice. I also voted for Bush version 2 twice. I still like former President Clinton, though at this point, I am more aware of what a flaming narcissist he is, and I still like President Bush, despite the fact that no one else does. As you can see, I don't vote party lines and I don't vote for the most popular candidate. I vote for whom I think is the best person for the job. And that's not Obama.

On foreign policy, he doesn't seem to believe in the threat of Islamic terrorism, he doesn't seem to be too serious about the war, seems to be sympathetic to the Palestinians, and has shown ridiculous, unfounded confidence in, God help us, the United Nations.

Domestically, he seems to like open borders, will tax me and corporations to death, doesn't support free trade, and seems to propose government programs for every single problem. He seems to like big, no, gargantuan government.

Notice how many times I said "seem" in the previous two paragraphs? Oh yeah, he has no real substantive record or experience.

Sorry Barack. Not gonna happen.

Bargain of the Day

Cashmere turtlenecks for $19. Oh my.

37 million destitute

37 million people in the USA live below poverty level. Wow. To get more specific, according to the Census Bureau, in 2006, there were 36.5 million people living in poverty, or 12.3% of the American population, which meant that in 2006, the population of the United States had to be around 297 million-ish.

As you know from my other post on the John Edwards speech that quoted the 37 million poverty figure, I am astounded at this number. 12.3% means that for every eight people in the US, one is living under conditions of poverty. That is staggering. This means that 1/8 of Americans are struggling to put a roof over their heads, put food on the table, put clothes on their backs, pay bills, survive.

To top it all off, the income levels for "what qualifies you as poor" seem unbelievably low. Where the hell did they come up with these ridiculously low figures? (Actually, want to see some truly stupid math? Here are the formulas.) A couple needs to be making less than $13,690 to qualify as poor! So if a couple is making a combined $15K, they are above the poverty level? Give me a break.

So let's address John Edwards and his agenda for a second. 37 million or 12.3%. Presumably, he was laying this figure at the feet of George Bush and the Conservative Republicans, right? But in 2000, the poverty figure was at 11.3%. So yes, the poverty numbers have gone up, but frankly, things have not become all that much worse in the last eight years. George Bush didn't invent poverty.

But the numbers are still way too high. 37 million destitute people is unacceptable to me.

Let's backtrack. Why was I initially so skeptical about these numbers? I just finished reading Freakonomics, which included a chapter dedicated to a discussion about lying and exaggerating with numbers and statistics.

Consider the case of homeless advocate Mitch Snyder, who claimed that there were three million homeless people in the United States, and that 45 homeless people die every second (get out your calculator...that would mean that 1.42 billion dead Americans each year, quite a trick considering there are 303 million people in total in the USA). Since Snyder was considered an expert in his field and a reliable spokesperson, journalists and pundits quoted his figures regularly, for years. After all, people, especially advocates for social causes, are presumed to be normal, not lying psychopaths! Finally, Ted Koppel brought Snyder on "Nightline" and asked him for the source for his figures. Snyder admitted that he made them up. Yes, made them up. Advocates for social programs defended Snyder's little fib and called it "lying for justice." Uh, no. It was lying to serve his own agenda.

Lest you think that lying to further your own cause only takes place on the left, consider John Lott. Lott fabricated data in a series of studies that proved that "more guns lead to less crime." And the lying doesn't only occur as outright invention or falsehood. Sometimes "scholars" quote actual statistics, but the methodology used to arrive at those statistics is flawed or the data is manipulated to fit into their conclusions.

Rea Hederman had an interesting article in the Washington Times, reprinted here by The Heritage Foundation, criticizing the US Census Bureau's criteria for measuring poverty:

The official poverty measure counts only monetary income. It considers antipoverty programs such as food stamps, housing assistance, the Earned Income Tax Credit, Medicaid and school lunches, among others, "in-kind benefits" -- and hence not income. So, despite everything these programs do to relieve poverty, they aren't counted as income when Washington measures the poverty rate.

We're talking about big bucks here. In 2002, the federal government spent $522 billion on low-income assistance programs. But $418 billion was not considered cash income and not included in calculating any family's income. Did that $418 billion do nothing to alleviate poverty?

It's time to scrap this outdated definition of income. After all, government has changed how it combats poverty: Direct-cash subsidies are out; benefits that can be used only for essentials, such as food, shelter and health care, are in. But because of how we measure poverty, progress is unreported, even if families do better.

Since 1995, the National Research Council has recommended the Census Bureau include programs that distribute in-kind benefits, such as food stamps, that are the equivalent of cash, and include the effect of taxes and tax refunds such as the EITC. And why not? Noncash assets such as houses and cars are routinely used to assess economic worth. Taxpayers consider an IRS tax refund as monetary income and income taxes as lost income. Yet the Census Bureau ignores the effect of taxes
and doesn't count the EITC refund as income.

Then there's this intersting article by Robert Rector, that supports the idea that using income as the sole criteria to measure poverty might be pointing us to the wrong families and individuals. He goes back to the Census Bureau to illuminate the living condtions of those who are included in the 37 million poor. For example, according to the Census Bureau and the Department of Energy, 43% of these 37 million destitute are homeowners. 78% own a VCR or DVD player. 75% of poor households own at least one car. 31% own 2 or more cars. One third of the poor households own a dishwasher. 25% own a large screen tv.

So what does this mean? That there are no poor people in America? That the poor people in America all own houses and flat screen tvs? No. Wrong conclusion. What it means is that when you use cash income as the sole litmus test for poverty, you are going to come up with an inflated figure that includes people who are not necessarily poor. These are not the people who can't put food on the table, clothing on their backs, roofs over their heads. Destitute people don't own cellphones and large screen tvs.

I'm not an expert on sociology, poverty or statistics, but it seems to me that the Census Bureaun needs to 1) adjust its income criteria for poverty. To say that a family of four must be making no more than $20,650 in order to qualify as poor is outrageous and ridiculous. 2) use non-cash assets in their poverty formulas. If a family owns 2 cars, a home, has central air-conditioning, a flat screen tv, and cell phones, they cannot possibly qualify as a poor family, regardless of what their cash income might be. It doesn't make sense and it does a disservice to those who are genuinely poor to include them in the figures on poverty.

I would be curious to see how that 37 million figure would adjust if these changes were applied. Until we can accurately measure poverty in America, can we faithfully address the problem?

I was in a large kosher supermarket in Five Towns last week, waiting on line to pay my groceries. A kollel couple was waiting on line ahead of me to pay for their groceries. I know they were a kollel couple because I started chatting with the wife. I admired her sapphire earrings, which I recognized from a Ross-Simons catalogue, and wished I could afford to buy them. Her husband was on his Blackberry most of the time that the cashier was ringing them up. They paid for their purchases with....food stamps. I'm sure they obtained them legally...after all they were dripping in children and I'm guessing their combined incomes were quite low, since he learned in kollel and she was a part-time school teacher.

These are two of the faces of the 37 million destitute. Is that fair?

Monday, February 25, 2008

More on Sixty Second Lectures

The University of Pennsylvania has a great series called "Sixty Second Lectures." I've written about it before. When I want to relax and switch over from Podcasts and music, I listen to one or two on my Ipod. Some I agree with, some I find provocative, some are just downright ridiculous, but they are all different and interesting.

This is a transcript of one of my favorites, about the perceived difference between Blues and Jazz. It's better on mp3. You can listen to it here.

Pity

Remember the accident? Yeah. Today was my last trip, I hope, to the body shop. My car looks great, though I've already got scratches on my bumpers, which is inevitable when you are pulling into a can't-squeeze-in-a-barbie-pin parallel parking spot on my forays into Brooklyn. So today I paid my final bill to the body shop mechanic, who happens to be frum. I noticed that he undercharged me by about $500. Very hard not to notice that. I said (words I had never expected to say to a mechanic), "uh, shouldn't this bill be more? " I didn't want to cheat the guy. He replied that he was able to save some money on the estimate and was passing along the savings to me. I said "wow, thank you, that's really very nice of you." He said "yeah, and I figured you could use the money."

Oh.

What the hell does that mean?

I get very upset by comments like this. Now granted, he is a wealthy, wealthy man. I am not wealthy, but I do okay. Of course, I bargained with him quite a bit over the repairs, as there were a few small things that the insurance wasn't covering. But you are supposed to bargain with a body shop guy, and frankly, I am a natural bargainer. I also told him I was a recent divorcee, as we were playing Jewish geog, and of course, we found mutual acquaintances, so he asked me about my life and I told him.

But what does that mean, "I figured you could use the money." Did I look like I could use the money? Lest you think I am taking it too seriously, let me assure you, his look and demeanor when he said that were charitable. Charitable!

I was wearing a skirt and top I had bought at Loehman's and a pretty expensive bomber jacket. My everyday Furla pocketbook, Ipod, GPS, and Iphone were all over his desk, the numerous times I was in his office. I mean, I really don't think I look like a welfare case. I really don't.

Once, when I was fresh out of college, I was working in midtown in the city. I found this hole in the wall kosher Israeli soupandsalad place on a side street, and I found myself going there often for lunch. It used to annoy me that every time I ordered something, it was a different price than it had been the day before. So I would question the owner, who worked behind the counter: "Why is this cup of couscous $3.35 when yesterday it was $3.15?" "Okay," he said, in heavily accented English. "I give you for $3.15." It wasn't that I couldn't afford the extra twenty cents, but I didn't understand the daily price change. I always spoke to him in English. I went there often because it was cheap and good food. Then one day, I bought a cup of soup, for which I paid, I dunno, like $2.00. The owner's wife, who also worked behind the counter, said to him:

"Shlomo, lamah nattatah lah hamarak hazeh kimat chofshi?"
(Shlomo, why did you give her the soup practically for free?)

"Shtiki. Pashut, ain lah kessef! Mah ani yachol la'asot? Ain lah klum!"
(Be quiet. She doesn't have money! What can I do? The poor girl doesn't have anything.)

Apparently they were unaware of my fluency in Hebrew.

I picked up my soup and left. I never went back to that place.

I hate pity. It is a total anathema to me. I hate it when people feel sorry for me for any reason, valid or not. For my divorce. For my childlessness. For what happened to me in my marriage. I hate it. It makes me feel horrible. It pushes a button in me that makes me insane.

These days, I am actually doing okay financially, so my shame felt even worse.

I probably won't be going back to that body shop too soon either.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

And the Oscar Goes To....

Most beautiful dress on the red carpet: Helen Mirren. Knockout.

In the "what was she thinking" category: Diablo Cody.

Most desperately in need of a padded bra: Cameron Diaz.

Most desperately in need of a minimizer bra (or any bra at all, really): Jennifer Hudson.

Most stunningly gorgeous 1,400 carat diamond necklace: Nicole Kidman. First guy to buy me that necklace--I marry.

Scariest wack-job on the planet: Michael Moore.

Empty

Here's a little excerpt from John Edwards' Grand Exit speech:

"...This Democratic Party hears you. We hear you, once again. And we will lift you up with our dream of what's possible.

One America, one America that works for everybody.

One America where struggling towns and factories come back to life because we finally transformed our economy by ending our dependence on oil.

One America where the men who work the late shift and the women who get up at dawn to drive a two-hour commute and the young person who closes the store to save for college. They will be honored for that work.

One America where no child will go to bed hungry because we will finally end the moral shame of 37 million people living in poverty.

One America where every single man, woman and child in this country has health care.

One America with one public school system that works for all of our children."


My questions are:
1) how will the United States end its dependency on oil?
2) how exactly will we honor hard workers?
3) 37 million people in this country live in poverty? Really? Source please? Are you thinking, perhaps, about India?
4) how will we provide every single solitary person in the United States with healthcare? Will it be free? Where do I sign up?
5) A public school system that works for all of our children? Cool! Yeshiva kids too? Cool.

See, this is why I hate liberalism: one meaningless platitude after another. Honestly, in the United States, we will be dependant on oil for a very long time. We have a lot of cars, see. What we want to do is perhaps end our dependency on foreign oil. But that will mean drilling in some pretty places. And what is this bs about honoring people who get up early and have long commutes and work hard? What does that even mean?

The 37 million people living in poverty thing intrigued me. I'm going to do some research on that and get back to you.

How is the democratic party going to provide everybody with healthcare? Who is paying for it? The government (everyone open your wallet please....)? And one public school system that will work for everyone? What's he smokin'?

Crap crap and more crap.

Now, back to "37 million people living in poverty." Gotta start some Googling. More later.

Our Country is in Deep You-Know-What

I cannot stand McCain, Obama or Clinton. I think they are all phenomenally poor choices for leaders of the free world. But too bad for me...one of this sad trio (soon to be a duo) will be President of the United States of America.

So far, I've resisted posting about the election, well, for the most part, due to my utter disgust with the choice of candidates. Well, I'm going to start. I'm hoping that by November, I will hate one of these people less than the others and be able to summon a little enthusiasm for voting. I do think voting is important, and I've never missed an election day in my adult life (what can I say....I'm the daughter of an immigrant).

Just FYI, I'm currently a registered Democrat, but my values are extraordinarily Conservative. Anybody in shock? I didn't think so.

So let's start off with a little poke at Obama. I am sick to death of hearing how he will unite the country. As Dennis Prager often says, calls to unite the country are almost always gratuitous. It is very easy to say "I want to unite the country....to get behind my values." Frankly, I would also like to unite the country to get behind my values. What he's really saying (mostly to Democrats) is that he is going to bring more people over to the left. And then we will all be united. Wahoo!

More to come. I know a lot of you who just want to read about my Frumster dates are going to skip these postings...yeah, that's okay too.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ghosts

I've kept a small safe deposit box for years now, in various banks, depending where I've lived. In the past, I've just kept a couple of pieces of clunky but valuable jewelry given to me by various aunts, my birth certificate and some old savings bonds from my bat mitzvah, and some old coins that I've been collecting through my youth.

Well, as life goes on, stuff happens, people die, divorce, etc. and I now have a much larger safe deposit box. I visit it about three or four times a year, to put more stuff in and take various items out. It's always a little bit emotional. I see my father's a"hs tefillin, that I had hoped to give to a son someday. I wonder if that will ever happen. My documents folder is much thicker: I see my ketubah, my petur, my father's death certificate, and my divorce settlement. I still have my father's Living Will in the folder, even though he is no longer living. My savings bonds matured and were redeemed long ago. I have much more jewelry than I used to own....a friend of mine recently had a scare with a housekeeper stealing some of her old jewelry, and so I gathered together all of the good jewelry that I don't wear and put everything in the s.d. box. My engagement ring, my wedding band, my father's wedding band and my parents' gold engagement watches, my grandmother's jewelry that I inherited when I got married, my cameos, and my yichud room pearls, various pieces that The Ex-gave to me. I have some beautiful European linens that my grandmother z"l stitched and some photos that I would never want to lose. I have my father's coin and stamp collections and my great-aunt's mother of pearl compact. Many of these things I had hoped to share with a family.

Whenever I visit the s.d. box, I always ask myself who will have these things someday. I wonder if I ever will have a family to pass things along to, or shall I just give all these things to my nieces and nephews.

I'm starting to think not.

I wonder if anyone else keeps ghosts in their safe deposit box.

Followup

Final post on that last Frumster Guy that I went out with Saturday night. He called me once on Sunday, very briefly, just to chat. He has not called since. So I guess that one is over. Oh well. Too bad. Sniff.

On the bright side of the street, a client's son, who is ten years younger than me, has been hitting on me non-stop this week. Flattering, one might think. However, he is as psycho as the day is long. Also, parenthetically, he's not Orthodox. Sooooo......pass.

The elections have been scaring me. I'm trying not to follow them too closely, because I know that there is too much noise and I pretty much think all the candidates are very poor choices. The only things that have filtered through my listening to Talk Radio podcasts are 1) Hillary is going to cry when she loses the nomination 2) McCain is not really a Conservative and was just outed in some sex scandal (like I care; I didn't care when Clinton was caught either) and 3) Obama is king of the pile but doesn't know his proverbial butt from his proverbial elbow and our country will be electing Rookie of the Year to run the free world. Good grief, I do hope God keeps smiling His smile on the good old USA, because we are going to need some it. My fellow Americans, put on your seat belts.

I'm going to go pay $9,000 to fill up my car and try not to run it up a tree.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Lies and Secrets

I lie about my age on Frumster. There, I said it.

You can be angry with me, you can tell me I'm deceitful. I didn't get any "heterim" to lie from my Rav (who would have just laughed at the shayla and told me to get real); I just did it.

However, I lie about nothing else. My headshot is three or so years old and my full length shot was taken last year. I clearly have weight to lose and it shows in my pictures.

Whenever a Frumster contact graduates to a phone contact, I reveal the lie about my age within the first three phone calls, usually the first. Not once has anyone ever declined to go out with me because of my real age, and lest you think they are merely being polite, I almost always get asked on a second date.

So why do I lie in my profile? Because it is much easier to reel them in at my fake age than at my real age. I am ashamed, embarrassed and saddened that I need to lie, but there it is. If I posted my real age on Frumster, I'd be dating guys a decade older.

In real life? I am an open book. Ask me about my family, my divorce, my life experience. I can't think of anything of which I am truly ashamed, save one relationship in my past that I wish I never had. But even that is not really so much of a big deal. I have always lived on the straight and narrow. My deviations were really not the worst things in the world. They are along the lines of: when I was 23, I once ate french fries in vegetarian restaurant that didn't have a hechsher. I know; you are fainting dead away. So while my life has not really been uneventful or boring, it has been pretty clean. I could probably run for public office.

But apparently, this is not the case with many people. I have already posted on this blog about someone I met on Frumster who lied about EVERYTHING, including his name, occupation, religious status, education, etc. A friend of mine embroiled in a bitter divorce recently hired a P.I. to investigate her ex, to whom she was married for ten years. You would think that you have complete knowledge of someone after living with them for ten years, right? Nuh uh. She found out about an earlier job dismissal because of thievery, a non-Jewish live in ex-girlfriend, and a drug conviction. This man is the father of her children.

I was once working for a private company in another state. I reported to a very high-level executive. Once when he was out on vacation, he asked me to retrieve a spreadsheet from his computer. I logged in to his computer and he had a browser window open with his private gmail account logged in. The subject line of the first eight emails was "F___ Slut Nigger." I read a bunch of extraordinarily racist exchanges with another high level exec about a black employee of the company. I am talking RACIST, misogynistic and hateful. And yet, his public face was as PC as it gets, and he was a deacon in his church. He even had a "Promote Tolerance" sticker on the bumper of his Mercedes.

When I was working in a Wall St. firm in the nineties, I had a frum friend who worked in another department. We went out to dinner after work once. After we polished off a bottle of wine, she revealed to me that she was born with a sixth digit on her left hand and had it removed when she five (the scar was undetectable). She told me that she never told her husband that. She said that she lived in terrible fear all through her three pregnancies, but all of her children were born with normal hands. She said she was convinced that her husband would have never married her if he had known and would probably divorce her if he found out.

I have a frum friend from college who revealed to me that once after a drunken frat party, he had a brief homosexual incident with another frum friend of mine; they are both happily married (one is a Conservative Rabbi) and I know for a fact that neither has told his wife about the incident. An ex-bf of mine told me that he had checked out his first wife extensively before he got engaged to her. He asked numerous Rabbonim and community leaders that knew her, and though some had full knowledge of the array of medication that this woman was taking, no one revealed to him that she was bi-polar, something that became crystal clear once they were married. Another ex-bf married a manic depressive first time around. He vaguely suspected it while they were dating and questioned her and her family about it; they vehemently denied it to his face. She revealed the truth to him the morning after her wedding, but said it was under control (and so it was okay to lie about it). It wasn't.

And the lies and secrets go on and on and on....

Sunday, February 17, 2008

And in the Gimme-A-Freakin-Break Category, there's this

Spotted on Facebook: the "Don't Poke Me I'm Shomer Negiyah" group.

How to Go on a Date

I went out with a guy that I met on Frumster tonight. It was a little bit of a different situation than my usual Frumster dates in that I contacted him first. I checked him out with someone that we mutually knew. His messaging skills were bad but on the phone he was lively and animated and perky. And in person he was too. He was actually much more attractive and thinner in person than he was in his picture. We had a pleasant conversation and it was a decent date. And yet I am tearing my hair out. Why?

Since I had checked him out before and he seemed to not be an ex-con or ax-murderer, he picked me up and dropped me off at my house (as opposed to meeting him somewhere). So he rings the bell, I let him in, I get my coat and we walk out to his car. When we got to his car, he did not open the car door for me. He clicked it open.

Boys, it only takes a minute and it makes such a good impression. Open the damn car door for the girl.

1. OPEN THE DAMN CAR DOOR!

He took me to a pizza place. I was wearing a longish narrow black swirly skirt, suede high heel boots, a lavender cotton sweater set and pearls. He was wearing a very nice sports jacket, an oxford and black pants. So, we were dressed. And he took me to a damn pizza place. I suggested a little inexpensive coffee bar that was only a few blocks down, but he mumbled something about it probably being noisy. He opened the door to the pizza place, walked in and basically it closed in my face. I opened the door myself and followed him in.


2. ON A FIRST DATE, GO TO SOMEWHERE A BIT NICER THAN A DAMN PIZZA PLACE!

3. HOLD OPEN THE DAMN DOOR FOR YOUR DATE!

After the date was done, he drove me home. I thanked him, etc. and we had the usual awkward date-ending convo in his car. I reached for the car door handle and he said "So do you want me to walk you to the door?" I just gave him a look. I mean what the hell kind of question is that?

4. WALK YOUR DATE TO HER DAMN DOOR WHEN THE DATE IS OVER.

This guy is over 45, by the way. Yeah.

I'm so tired of dating, I really, really am. And this was a good date. Damn. I'm never getting married.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Why aren't I more cultured?

I like saving ticket stubs. They effectively snapshot the time, date, and place of a performance that you've seen on a tiny piece of cardboard that is about 2" x 4". I keep them in a small box, that, until I embarked on the big cleanup of my messy house, was inside of another box in my basement. Tonight I went through the stubs, trying to make some sort of order to them and wondering if I should still hang on to all this crap. I'm such a collector of stuff.

I pulled out six stubs to performances that were a little more memorable than most.

In 1983, I saw David Bowie in his "comeback" Serious Moonlight tour in Philadelphia, at the Spectrum. I wore a sleeveless white t-shirt with hot pink and black amoeba all over it (I was much more "modern" back then) tucked into black pencil pants. Most of my wardrobe was black back then, except for items like amoeba shirts. My friend had painted a silvery crescent moon high up on my cheekbone and I did the same to her. This was the first time that I had seen Bowie live, ever. It was an incredible performance. Bowie's songs sounded like simple statements of love, all of them. "If you say run, I'll run with you. If you say hide, we'll hide." I remember that when I walked into the ladies room at the Spectrum, I saw a very drunk girl throwing up in the sink. Since that day, I never rest my pocketbook on bathroom sinks.

In 1989, I saw Mikhail Barishnykov perform on Broadway as Gregor Samson in Kafka's classic Metamorphosis. Barishnykov performed the role without any sort of makeup or special effects, and he was utterly believable. I had seen David Bowie pull off the same sort of thing in The Elephant Man a few years before. It helped, of course, that Barishnykov was a dancer, as his movements in his role as a bug were fluid and realistic. He was brilliant, sharp as a knife.

Also in 1989, I saw Meatloaf perform at The Ritz in New York. I don't know if anyone out there remembers The Ritz. It was one of my favorite venues. It was a gigantic room, a stage, and a sound system. There were no chairs anywhere, though there were giant blocks spaced randomly around the room, that people used to dance on. I got pushed by the crowd to the front of the room, right under the stage, and I remember Meatloaf spitting and sweating on me as he sang. I remember not minding. He was an enormous guy, with dramatic sweaty, stringy hair, feminine clothes, and a scarf that he waved around like a flag. And he could BELT out those songs. I've already talked about "You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth" here. I remember that when Meatloaf sang "Paradise by the Dashboard Light," all of the guys shouted the lyrics along with him at the tops of their lungs, while their girlfriends blushed. The crowd went crazy when he did a number from the Rocky Horror Picture Show. There was no air conditioning at The Ritz, and everyone was literally dripping from the dancing.

In 1999, I saw a performance of "The Taming of the Shrew" in New York, in Shakespeare in the Park. I had been to about a dozen or some SITP performances at that point...they are very popular in NY, as they are free and they are usually excellent. This one was brilliant; I remember thinking that watching this performance was making my college Shakespeare course come to life for me. I fell in love with writing and literature that night. Well, I was already in love and had been for some time, but "Shrew" made this crystal clear for me.

In that same year, 1999, I saw Paul Simon and Bob Dylan at Madison Square Garden. I've already talked about this concert, here. This was one of those rare concerts where I knew every single song, as both performers had huge repertoires and never really had to revert to any obscure tunes. I remember thinking that I was somehow in the middle of something historical, because Simon and Dylan were such legends. I felt my eyes tearing up when they sang Simon & Garfunkel's "America." The boy sitting next to me, whom I didn't know, put his arm around my shoulder and kissed me on the neck and said "I love you Rachel." Of course he was very drunk, my name is not Rachel, and I ended up standing mostly in the aisle after that.

In 2003, I was visiting friends in Colorado and saw Simon and Garfunkel at the Pepsi Center. My friends had gotten the tickets through their company, and they were crummy seats, but I didn't care. It was startling that thirty, maybe forty years after they had first recorded it, S & G could still hit every note in "Scarborough Fair." I remember thinking how comforting it was that there were some things in this world that were perfect, like their performance of that song. The two guys in back of me were probably in their sixties, and were reminiscing about seeing seeing S & G in the early seventies. I wished they would shut up.

Why aren't I more cultured? I am admittedly a pop culture junkie. I love a good concert and have been to dozens of them. Growing up in New York, I've gone to countless of landmark Broadway shows. So why hasn't all of this NY culture sunken in and sea-changed my personality into a cool, cultured, sophisticated New Yorker? Has becoming a little bit more frum anesthetized me against absorbing culture?

Missing Jack


I am devastated. I am wrecked. I am sad.

It's not bad enough that Joel Surnow, the producer (and arguably the genius) behind 24, the greatest show in the history of planet Earth, is leaving the show. That's not bad enough. Why, Joel, why? Don't you care about me?

The big news is that Season Seven of 24, the greatest show in the history of planet Earth, probably won't air until 2009, all due to the evil writer's strike.

I don't watch a whole lot of tv. More importantly, I don't have many pleasures in life. Watching Jack Bauer blow the bad guys to hell and back and save the free world was one of the few pleasures that I did have. Alas sweet Jack, we will have to be apart for a little longer.

Damn, this year is gonna suck. Till we meet again, Jack my love, till we meet again.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Bentching Gomel

I have never bentched gomel before. For the uninitiated, "bentching gomel" is basically saying a blessing asking God for (quoting Artscroll:) "bestowing good things upon the guilty," meaning giving me good things that I might or might not necessarily deserve. Earlier last month, I was in a pretty horrible car accident. My car was partially wrecked (about half the body was replaced) and I emerged with just a few colorful bruises, a headache and some throwing up. Bee aitch. Bee aitch a million times over. So when you defy death, you are supposed to thank God in a more formal way, namely saying Birkat HaGomel, or the Thanksgiving Blessing. You need to recite it out loud in front of a minyan (quorum of ten men) and they answer you "Amen and may He who bestowed goodness on you continue to bestow goodness on you forever." Nice.

Having never done this, I was a little intimidated by the idea of this little ceremony. Actually, I was very intimidated. I don't like audiences and I don't like being the center of attention, even if just for a few moments. I put off asking the Rabbi of my synagogue, Rabbi Blankity Blank about this for way too long (I later found out that I should have done this within three days of the accident).

Last night I finally asked him. Rabbi Blank asked me if I wanted to do it on Shabbos or during the week. Figuring that doing it during the week would be a much smaller affair, I opted for the latter.

So I went to Maariv tonight. I peered through the window of the Beis Medrash, where the men were already up to davening shmonah esray. Alas, no mechitzah in sight. Damn. How was I gonna do this?

But wait! There in the corner in the back....there was one lonely panel of a portable-on-wheels mechitzah thing. So I slip in to the room quietly, get a few curious looks from some of the daveners, work my way across the room into the corner and sort of pull the mechitzah in front of me. I feel like a rat in a maze. The men finish, say a few kaddishes, and then Rabbi Blank asks them to answer my bracha. I recite it, they answer. The whole things takes about 20, maybe 25 seconds.

That's it. What a total denouement. The accident, the aftershock, dealing with it, the whole thing. 25 seconds, I thank God, boom boom boom it's over. I might as well have blurted out in my living room, "Hey, yo, God, thanks for not squashing me like a bug, even though I probably didn't deserve to be saved. Really, thanks so much. " It would have been more ceremonious. I dunno. My concern over reciting it in front of a minyan was more of a big deal than actually saying it.

The whole thing seemed so small.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Sheitl Store Ban, continued

Whenever I come home from a weekend in Brooklyn, there always seems so much to post about afterwards.

The hot topic of conversation around the old Shabbos table this weekend was the boycott of the sheitl store that was across the street from Chaim Berlin. Here is my post, Frum Statire's post, Dov Bear's post, and Jacob Da Jew's post.

The pro-ban supporters seemed to feel that:
1) The store owner should have been more sensitive to the needs of the Yeshiva and not have responded harshly (and reportedly, with profanities) to those who asked him to take down the pictures.
2) The pictures, while not technically un-tznius, were inappropriate, especially placed across the street from a boy's Yeshiva.
3) The Rosh Yeshiva is entitled to recommend or ban any establishments he likes to his students. It's a free country. If the store owner is free to post the pix, the Yeshiva community is free to take its business elsewhere.
4) It is unnecessary to post pictures of women wearing sheitls in order to advertise them. The sheitls could have been attractively arranged on styrofoam heads, as many other sheitl stores do.

The anti-ban folks seemed to feel that:
1) The owner has the right to put up whichever pictures he likes in his store window, and the male members of the Yeshiva community can avert their heads if they are perturbed.
2) The pictures were neither un-tznius nor inappropriate.
3) The Rosh Yeshiva, as a community leader, needs to make the punishment fit the crime. To take away someone's livelihood because this someone refused to remove pictures that were questionably inappropriate in his store window is harsh.
4) Displaying pictures of women wearing sheitls is a perfectly valid way of advertising sheitls.

My two cents was essentially posted in a comment on Frum Satire's blog. I completely embrace the concept of Jewish Feminine Modesty and the idea of "hiddenness." I am an elbow-covering, knee-covering woman, and when I was married I covered my hair. I don't view any of these practices as misogynistic. Oto ha-hefech; I think the practice of tznius honors women. I think what women wear on MTV videos is misogynistic.

However, I believe that this is a case of "Tznius Gone Wild." It's gone way past tznius. When you cover a woman's body parts that might be deemed sensual (including her hair), that is tznius. When you cover or erase a woman's face, you are attacking her humanity. Women exist. Some women are pretty and attractive. This, in and of itself, is not un-tznius. Tznius, as I have often talked about in shiurim on Megilat Ruth, is not about denial of self or denial of femininity; it is about self-actualization. You cover the parts that might distract the world from seeing the real you or taking you seriously as a human being. It's why women wear business suits and not halter tops in the board room. The Yeshiva objected to attractive photos of attractive women's faces. Objecting to the image of a woman's face is not a very high level of tznius; it is qualitatively different.

Last year, Dennis Prager did a radio show on Eric Yoffe's (
President of the Reform movement’s Union of American Hebrew Congregations) comment about how the Muslim veil should be given the same religious respect and sanction as the Orthodox Jewish woman's head covering. Prager was shocked at the misogyny implicit in the comment. He could not believe that a Jewish community leader would equate covering one's head with covering one's face. I heard the original broadcast, and when an Orthodox man called in to say that he agreed with Yoffe that there was no difference between the two, Prager shredded him. It was one of the few times that I've heard Prager actually lose it.

From Prager's Jewish World Review column on this:

In the long history of women's inequality, it is difficult to name almost anything more anti-woman, dehumanizing and degrading than the veil. We know people by their face. Without seeing a person's face, we feel that we do not know the person. When we read about someone in the news, whether known for good or ill, we immediately study the person's face. One can have one's entire body covered, and it means nothing in terms of whether we feel we know the person. But cover a person's face, and the person might as well be invisible.

There are Yeshivish institutions that will publish dinner journals and advertisements showing the honorees' names, i.e. Rabbi and Mrs. Shloime Goldberg, and atop the name, a picture of only Shloime. Where is Mrs. Goldberg? For reasons of tznius, these institutions do not post pictures of women, period. To me, this falls under the same category as objecting to the photos in the sheitl store window. You cannot visually erase women from Orthodox Jewish culture and call it a high level of modesty. Rather, I believe it is a low level of misogyny. Any way you slice it, it isn't right and belittles real tznius. It creates a women-denying subculture in the Yeshivish world.

Final word on the store: when I passed it on Sunday evening, as I headed away from the wilds of Flatbush, there was nothing at all in the window.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

FrugalGrog

You know how much I love personal finance? Well, an old friend of mine who is an even bigger pf freak than I am has finally gotten the Ruach HaBlogish and started a new blog, FrugalGrog. He's only got a few posts up, but they are winners. You know how I feel about Ebates and rate chasing. Go Grog!

Freakonomics


I've been meaning to write about Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything for a while now. It was a super read. There's been a lot of hoopla over this book and deservedly so. The authors have a great blog on The New York Times website where they basically continue the conversation they began in the book; it has become one of my daily morning coffee reads.

I'm not going to try to review Freakonomics because there are already dozens of intelligent (and not-so-intelligent) reviews out there and I'm not sure what I can contribute to the dialogue. Instead I'll share some parts of Freakonomics that appealed to me the most.

Morality, it could be argued, represents the way that people would like the world to work--whereas economics represents how it actually does work. Economics is above all a science of measurement. It comprises an extraordinarily powerful and flexible set of tools that can reliably assess a thicket of information to determine the effect of any one factor, or even the whole effect.
The truth of this resonated like a tuning fork. We all have fixed ideas of how the world should run and how things should work and how people should behave. We "know" that some things are inherently bad and some things are inherently good. Because most people are fundamentally moral (I believe), we want the world to be just, we want everyone to get what they deserve, and we want cause and effect to work the way common sense dictates. We are thrown when these things don't happen (and we respond with either wonder or denial). Economics, which is really all about math and psychology, often explains to us why they don't happen that way.

One of the great examples of "morality contrasted with economics" in the book was the idea that swimming pools kill many more children than guns do. Statistically, 1 in 11,000 children drown in pools each year, whereas 1 in 1,000,000 plus children die by guns. A child in the United States is roughly 100 times more likely to die in a swimming accident than in playing with a gun. But few people look at owning a swimming pool as a sign of poor parenting (perhaps just the opposite) and many people would think of gun ownership that way. (My own commentary: of course, you can always say that pools don't kill children; not watching children in pools kills children...but don't try to apply this wisdom to a gun or you will be labeled a Conservative Republican.) You might think that there are many more pools in the United States than guns, so of course children stand more of a chance of drowning than shooting themselves. But that's not true. As of the publication of the book, there were roughly 6 million pools in the United States and 200 million guns. Do the math. Hmm. And yet, morality teaches us that guns are very dangerous to have in households with children and pools are not. I found this pleasantly disturbing.

Freakonomics is based on a few fundamental ideas. The italics are direct quotes from the book; what follows are my thoughts:
  1. Incentives are the cornerstone of modern life. I think that when the truth of this hit me (like a bag of cement), my entire approach to both relationships and earning a living shifted.
  2. The conventional wisdom is often wrong. Yes. Think about all the popular ideas that you believed even five or six years ago that have been proven to be bogus. When you are hit with a popular idea that everyone espouses, your response should always be: PROVE IT. George Bush is intellectually stupid? Give me proof. Drinking eight glasses of water a day will improve my health? Let me see the study. The planet is getting warmer and it's going to kill us all? Show me the incontrovertible evidence. I believe in math and I trust numbers. I always want to do the math.
  3. Dramatic effects often have distant, even subtle causes. And people usually don't want to look that far off to see what the cause might be. See my post on Ripples.
  4. "Experts" - from criminoligists to real-estate agents- use their informational advantage to serve their own agenda. The book also points out the comforting fact that with the dawn of the Age of Information and increased use of the Internet, this "expert" advantage is shrinking. Think of all the informational pieces that you can now access (and share) that you couldn't access ten years ago and think of how this information empowers you. This idea extends to all aspects of life. Half of what is wrong with Judaism is that, cross-denominationally, the experts (Rabbis, communal leaders) use their book knowledge of Torah and Talmud to serve their own agenda.
  5. Knowing what to measure and how to measure it make a complicated world much less so. One of the most important parts of the study of statistics is understanding the difference between correlation and causality. Just because two things seem to happen together doesn't mean that one causes the other. Knowing what to measure is probably where I trip up most often in life.
Read Freakonomics. It's a short read, 200 or so pages, and the writing is bleeding edge. The ideas will bother you and get your synapses firing. I'm looking forward to the sequel, which will be out later this year.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Too Darn Frum fo' Me

Hat tip to Frum Satire for pointing out the Wacky Frum Thing of the Month. Ok, it was last month...I'm behind on my blogs.

You have got to be kidding me. Ooo baby. So a prominent Rosh Yeshiva in Brooklyn is calling for a boycott on a local sheitl store because:

"In the front window of the store, there are four, large, inappropriate, photos of women - with the point being that it should attract a persons attention and look."

These photos were deemed "pritsusdik," at least in the synopsis of the Rosh Yeshiva's letter (I couldn't make out the actual letter...too fuzzy). People actually complained about these photos. These pictures were so awful (see below and judge for yourself), the Rosh Yeshiva decided to deny the store owner of his parnassah until they were removed.

Ok, I really really really don't want to be disrespectful to the Rosh Yeshiva, but last time I checked, women wore sheitls as an act of tznius. So having headshots of women in attractive sheitls in the window of a sheitl store (which presumably, sells sheitls) is un-tznius---why?

A prime example of how religion is a fabulous place to hide your neuroses and call them (ready?):

FRUMKEIT.

I'm sorry, but this one REALLY shoved me over the edge. Hyper-tznius is not Judaism. No sirree Bob. No. Uh uh. This ain't serving Hashem, no way, no how.

I'm not married anymore, and my Rav gave me a heter to stop covering my hair. But I am seriously thinking of going into that store and buying me a new rug.


Update on the Frumster Guy I Wrote to

At the end of a previous post, I mentioned that I made initial contact with a guy on Frumster, which is something I don't normally do. He is also someone whom I wouldn't normally pursue. But I need to shake things up a little.

So here's the update on the guy, let's call him, I dunno, Danny. We messaged on Frumster back and forth. I started off saying hi and then opened with a question or two. He responded with precise, factual, one sentence answers to my questions and countered with related questions. I responded with lighthearted, trying-to-be-funny answers to his questions. He responded with a compliment on my writing, and then more questions. Most of these were those dating, Jewish-geo interview kind of questions that I love so much. And so it went on, with him giving short, exact, crisp responses to me and then asking some more wooden questions, and me trying to be light, girly, fluffy, and amusing and trying to move on to some actual conversation. Apparently, I failed {banging head against the wall}. So, after four or so rounds of this, I just gave up. I didn't respond to his latest message. I had enough. I need a man who knows how to talk to a woman. I'll take one large order of charm and personality, please. Heck, supersize me.

So Danny waits a day or two and messages me again and said, hey are you okay, haven't heard from you. So I responded and said, look, I like you but I just can't keep doing the q and a thing anymore (I said it more nicely than that). So he asked for my phone number and I took a deep gulp of air and gave it to him.

That was last night. We shall see, I guess.

Kadimah.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Project Clean-Up


Project Clean-This-Place-The-Hell-Up continues on. I am determined to bring organization back into my messy life. Wait, that would imply that I was once organized. Um...

I decided today was going to be "Return-To-Sender Day". I have an overflowing box of stuff that was loaned to me, left at my house, sent to me, etc. that needs to go back to its owner. I just ran out of padded envelopes and mailing boxes, but everything is at least bubble wrapped, with a note attached and an address label rubber-banded on. I just need to make it over to Staples and then the post office and YAY, that's another bunch o' crap out of my space.

There are two "dimensions" to cleanliness. I don't know if that's the right word, but you'll see what I mean in a moment.

I am a clean freak. If you looked at my office or bedroom, you would say "uh, no, you're not," but that's because both rooms are awash in papers, shoes, stuff, computer parts, stuff, stuff and stuff. My bathroom and kitchen, on the other hand, are spotless. The pots and pans are like mirrors, the counters and stovetop are crumb-free and never sticky, the sinks are sparkly and you could perform surgery on the toilet seat.

See where I am going with this? I like things clean. I can barely bring myself to use a grubby bathroom. I can't deal with lumps of toothpaste in the sink or hair in a shower drain. Yuck. I can't deal with grimy kitchens or food encrusted cookware. I'd rather not eat. But when it comes to clutter and mess, it's an endless battle. Despite the fact that I relentlessly shred like a maniac and try to do as much as I can online, I am constantly drowning in papers. I visit a great gemach in Brooklyn (email me for the address, if you like, it's really a great place) at least three times a year with huge garbage bags of clothing, shoes, pocketbooks, toiletries, computer parts and other assorted stuff I don't need, and yet, my closets and drawers are always overflowing. I know what you're thinking. You're thinking "she's living in a material world and she's a material girl." Well, wrong again. Except for my handbag,
ahem, issue, I'm hardly a big shopper at all. I think my stuff just multiplies. Like, for the life of me, I cannot figure out, why do I have three printer cables sitting on my desk right this very moment? I have only one printer. Where do these things come from? Why do I have two spindles of CD Roms? Why two? Why do I own four denim skirts? I have no memory of buying at least two of them. Why do I have three hairbrushes that are all exactly the same? Is that my book? Where did this desklamp come from? Why do I have four boxes of paper clips? Good grief. Aliens have landed and left me all their stuff.

This was a huge issue for me and The Ex. He was neat and dirty, and I was clean and messy. If his hand stuck to the kitchen counter, or there were cobwebs in the corners of the garage, that did not bother him in the least. But tripping over my 4,000 pairs of shoes in the bedroom drove him insane. "Streamline, WebGirl, streamline!" he would scream.

I am finding that I am growing more clean and more messy as I grow older. I am more compulsive about dirt as the years go on, but my stuff seems to be spiraling out of control. If I were a graph, I'd look like a 45 degree angle.

Project Clean-Up rages on. I am determined to change.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

More on Putting the Orthodox Back Into Modern Orthodox


I'm not a huge fan of Marvin Schick and I don't always agree with him. But he was dead-on on the
Yeshivah of Flatbush thing....here is his post. He brought out two interesting points:

1) "It is noteworthy that while the Yeshivah of Flatbush is on the spot, serving as a target for a Facebook horde, the doctor apparently remains anonymous. He is entitled to keep his name out of the newspapers. He is not entitled on halachic or moral grounds to coerce the school he once attended to affirmatively accept his life choices."

I keep hearing/reading about how awful YOF was to embarrass their alumnus and how shaming someone is similar to killing them, etc.. But this alumnus had no trouble embarrassing Yeshivah of Flatbush and lambasting them for the stand that they took. The alumnus, meanwhile, remains nameless and anonymous, while YOF is dealing with a front-page article in The Jewish Week. As point of fact, this whole issue was brought to the press by the alumnus, not Yeshivah of Flatbush.

2) "Though less celebrated than the Noah Feldman affair of last year, there is much common ground between the two episodes, as each involves a respected Modern Orthodox institution that is being castigated for adhering to a religious standard. In each situation, critics insist that a religious Jewish school should substitute societal standards for its own. As always, their arsenal of arguments includes the claim of tolerance. Curiously, however, there is no recognition that true tolerance consists of accepting the religious choices of institutions and persons that are guided by their and not society’s religious teachings.

Inadvertent or not, the message conveyed by the newspaper articles is that intolerance toward the Orthodox is not only justified, it is the only appropriate response."
Beautifully put. I tried to say this myself but much less eloquently: respect works both ways. While the outcry against YOF demands respect for gay lifestyles, where is the respect for an orthodox institution?

Hat tip to Schick.