Saturday, June 20, 2009

2044 - Buy This Book

Eric Lotke is a pal. Our sons have been in Hebrew school together for years.

While I was frittering away time tutoring on Wednesday nights, Eric was often hunched over a laptop in the lobby, in the library, and, during a period of shul renovation, in all sorts of more out-of-the-way nooks and/or crannies.

Sometimes, at a free moment, we'd visit. Sometimes, I'd see he was so utterly engrossed in his work, I wouldn't even bother approaching.

Now Eric is a do-gooder. Like me, he's one of those people who went to law school with visions of putting the law to work for the marginalized, the poor and the powerless. I wound up at Legal Aid. Eric wound up at a prisoners' legal services project.

So I figured, on the nights he seemed engrossed, that he was busy writing some critical piece of policy analysis or maybe some brief that would get a Muslim prisoner some decent kosher food.

This is a man, after all, who once flushed every toilet in the District of Columbia Correctional Facility in pursuit of the barest of minimal hygiene facilities for D.C. prisoners, whether they were incarcerated in D.C. or warehoused in Ohio, where the D.C. government had subcontracted out its responsibilities to a rapacious, for-profit corrections company.

I was wrong. He was birthing his first novel, 2044.

It has now come out. You should read it.

Better yet, you should buy it.

This blog post is waaaay overdue. I had hoped to put it up long ago, when Eric first gave me the word that it was out and he'd already put up a posting on his own blog.

But events intervened. I love the guy, but I'm not about to mislead a loyal readership that numbers, at last count, in the high teens. I finally picked up the book this week and finished it. Voraciously.

Here's where I get to pretend to be both Siskel AND Ebert:

Two thumbs up for 2044!

It starts from an interesting premise, it's a good read, and it's thought-provoking. I daresay it's the best first novel you'll read this year.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Who Said That?

It was the first day of school in the USA for a new Indian student named Chandrasekhar Subramanian entered the fourth grade.

The teacher said, "Let's begin by reviewing some American History. Who said 'Give me Liberty or give me Death'?"

She saw a sea of blank faces, except for Chandrasekhar, who had his hand up. "Patrick Henry, in 1775," he said.

"Very good! Who said 'Government of the People, by the People, for the People, shall not perish from the Earth'?"

Again, no response except from Chandrasekhar. "Abraham Lincoln, in 1863," said Chandrasekhar.

The teacher snapped at the class, "Class, you should be ashamed... Chandrasekhar, who is new to our country, knows more about its history than you do."

She heard a loud whisper, "Damn those Indians."

"Who said that?" she demanded.

Chandrasekhar put his hand up. "General Custer, in 1862."

At that point, a student in the back said, "I'm gonna puke."

The teacher glares around and asks, "All right! Now, who said that?"

Again, Chandrasekhar says, "George Bush to the Japanese Prime Minister, in 1991."

Now furious, another student yells, "Oh yeah? Suck this!"

Chandrasekhar jumps out of his chair waving his hand and shouts to the teacher, "Bill Clinton, to Monica Lewinsky, in 1997!"

Now with almost mob hysteria someone said, "You little shit. If you say anything else, I'll kill you."

Chandrasekhar frantically yells at the top of his voice, "Michael Jackson to the child witnesses testifying against him, in 2004."

The teacher fainted.

And as the class gathered around the teacher on the floor, someone said, "Oh crap, we're screwed!"

And Chandrasekhar said quietly, "I think it was the American people, November 4, 2000."

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

First Hispanic Supreme Court Justice

Harvested, and slightly re-written, from an internet e-mail my friend Michel circulated:

The media is incorrect about President Obama selecting the "first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice".

The first Hispanic U. S. Supreme Court Justice was Benjamin Nathan Cardozo, a Sephardic Jew of Spanish ancestry. He served was one of the Supremes from 1932 - 1938.

His father, Judge Albert Cardozo, was Vice President and Trustee of New York City's Congregation Shearith Israel, a well-known Spanish-Portuguese synagogue. Cardozo became a Bar Mitzvah there.

Shearith Israel is the oldest congregation in the Western Hemisphere, having been founded in Recife, Brazil ca. 1630 and moved to New Amsterdam (now New York City) in 1654. Its present location is at 70th St. and Central Park West.

Most American Jews, are of Ashkenazi origins, and many neither know of, nor understand, the culture and history of our Sephardic cousins.

Jews were a major component of the populations of Spain and Portugal for 800 years (circa. 700 - 1500 CE). Ladino, based on pre-1500 Spanish, is still spoken by 200,000 Jewish descendants around the world, mainly in Mediterranean regions.

45 of the 50 most common Hispanic family names are of Jewish origin. All Hispanic given names ending in "el" are Hebrew phrases with reference to G-d. Like Gabriel, Emanuel, or Rafael.

A recent analysis of the DNA of a statistical sample of men of Spain found that 20% have the Jewish genetic haplography, viz. they descend from Jews. The only way this is possible is that there was already massive assimilation of the Jews of Spain in the centuries leading up to the Inquisition.

Today, there are organized groups of B'nei Anusim --- descendants of Jewish victims of Inquisitions in Spain, Portugal and Latin America who were forced to convert, or who hid and abandoned their Judaism out of fear of persecution --- who seek acceptance as Jewish returnees.

It is estimated that a significant fraction of the Hispanics of the Southwestern USA and Northern Mexico are of Jewish ancestry and don't know it.

Monday, June 15, 2009


In Memoriam
“Today, we have lost a courageous security guard who stood watch at this place of solemn remembrance. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends in this painful time.” —
President Barack Obama

There are no words to express our grief and shock over the events on June 10, 2009, at the Museum, which took the life of Officer Stephen Tyrone Johns. Officer Johns, who died heroically in the line of duty, served on the Museum’s security staff for six years. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Officer Johns’ family. We closed the Museum Thursday, June 11, in honor of Officer Johns and our flags will be flown at half mast in his memory for a week, then will be presented to his family.
Bouquets of flowers were left at several places around the Museum in honor of Officer Johns.

These are a portion of those set next to the guard booth on 14th Street.

Condolences and Services
The Museum will send flowers and a gift basket and Museum Director Sara Bloomfield will extend condolences to the family on behalf of the staff. Also, a commemoration will be published in the Washington Post, and a memorial fund for Officer Johns’ Family is being established. Special comment books are being provided at the Museum for members of the public to record their thoughts, and flowers and other items left on the grounds by well wishers are being photographed and collected. We will work closely with Officer Johns’ family as we establish a fitting tribute for our dear colleague in the Museum.

* * * * * *

The funeral for our beloved colleague, Officer Stephen Johns, will take place on Friday, June 19, at Emmanuel Baptist Church 2409 Ainger Place, SE. In his honor, the Museum will be closed until 3 p.m. that day so that security officers, staff, volunteers, interns, and contractors who wish to attend will be able to do so. We will have special hours that day from 3-7 p.m. to accommodate our visitors. Transportation will be provided to and from the Museum and the church. The viewing will begin at 10 a.m. and the funeral will follow. Additional details will be provided in the coming days.

The Museum has established a special fund for the benefit of Officer Johns' family. Checks payable to USHMM Officer Johns Family Fund may be mailed to USHMM, 100 Raoul Wallenberg Place, SW, Washington DC 20024 or forwarded via interoffice mail to Marianne Haggerty. You may also contribute by calling toll free 877-91USHMM (877-918-7466). In the coming days, we will provide a link for on-line donations.

Until further notice, condolence cards may be forwarded to Tanya Barbour, Office of the Chief of Staff.

The Museum has placed an "In Memorium" which will appear in the Saturday and Sunday editions of The Washington Post .

Thursday, June 11, 2009

What if G-d Had Texted the 10 Commandments

I owe this hilarious link to my friend Barrett.

Population Transfer - 1948

This New York Times Op-Ed provides some important facts that must be on the table when negotiating any final settlement in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

June 9, 2009

Op-Ed Contributor

The Exodus Obama Forgot to Mention


PRESIDENT OBAMA’S speech to the Islamic world was a groundbreaking event. Never before has a young, dynamic American president, beloved both by his countrymen and the nations of the world, extended so timely and eager a hand to a part of the globe that, recently, had seen fewer and fewer reasons to trust us or to wish us well.

As important, Mr. Obama did not mince words. Never before has a president gone over to the Arab world and broadcast its flaws so loudly and clearly: extremism, nuclear weapons programs and a faltering record in human rights, education and economic development — the Arab world gets no passing grades in any of these domains. Mr. Obama even found a moment to mention the plight of Egypt’s harassed Coptic community and to criticize the new wave of Holocaust deniers. And to show he was not playing favorites, he put the Israelis on notice: no more settlements in the occupied territories. He spoke about the suffering of Palestinians. This was no wilting olive branch.

And yet, for all the president’s talk of “a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world” and shared “principles of justice and progress,” neither he nor anyone around him, and certainly no one in the audience, bothered to notice one small detail missing from the speech: he forgot me.

The president never said a word about me. Or, for that matter, about any of the other 800,000 or so Jews born in the Middle East who fled the Arab and Muslim world or who were summarily expelled for being Jewish in the 20th century. With all his references to the history of Islam and to its (questionable) “proud tradition of tolerance” of other faiths, Mr. Obama never said anything about those Jews whose ancestors had been living in Arab lands long before the advent of Islam but were its first victims once rampant nationalism swept over the Arab world.

Nor did he bother to mention that with this flight and expulsion, Jewish assets were — let’s call it by its proper name — looted. Mr. Obama never mentioned the belongings I still own in Egypt and will never recover. My mother’s house, my father’s factory, our life in Egypt, our friends, our books, our cars, my bicycle. We are, each one of us, not just defined by the arrangement of protein molecules in our cells, but also by the things we call our own. Take away our things and something in us dies. Losing his wealth, his home, the life he had built, killed my father. He didn’t die right away; it took four decades of exile to finish him off.

Mr. Obama had harsh things to say to the Arab world about its treatment of women. And he said much about America’s debt to Islam. But he failed to remind the Egyptians in his audience that until 50 years ago a strong and vibrant Jewish community thrived in their midst. Or that many of Egypt’s finest hospitals and other institutions were founded and financed by Jews. It is a shame that he did not remind the Egyptians in the audience of this, because, in most cases — and especially among those younger than 50 — their memory banks have been conveniently expunged of deadweight and guilt. They have no recollections of Jews.

In Alexandria, my birthplace and my home, all streets bearing Jewish names have been renamed. A few years ago, the Library of Alexandria put on display an Arabic translation of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” perhaps the most anti-Semitic piece of prose ever written. Today, for the record, there are perhaps four Jews left in Alexandria.
When the last Jew dies, the temples and religious artifacts and books that were the property of what was once probably the wealthiest Jewish community on the Mediterranean will go to the Egyptian government — not to me, or to my children, or to any of the numberless descendants of Egyptian Jews.

It is strange that our president, a man so versed in history and so committed to the truth, should have omitted mentioning the Jews of Egypt. He either forgot, or just didn’t know, or just thought it wasn’t expedient or appropriate for this venue. But for him to speak in Cairo of a shared effort “to find common ground ... and to respect the dignity of all human beings” without mentioning people in my position would be like his speaking to the residents of Berlin about the future of Germany and forgetting to mention a small detail called World War II.

André Aciman, a professor of comparative literature at the City University of New York Graduate Center, is the author of the memoir “Out of Egypt.”

Copyright 2009
The New York Times Company

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

More on Economizing

Obama's Cairo Speech

On my shul's listserv, there's a debate going on about Obama's speech in Cairo. The debate starts with that perennial, parochial question:

"But is it good for the Jews?"

This link is the most recent one suggesting the answer is a resounding NO.

I disagreed. I liked my contribution so much I wanted to give it wider distribution.

Here 'tis:

"I’m reading these [links] with interest, albeit cringingly.

We’ll be [in Israel] for 10 days this summer.

It will be my fifth visit, but [RFB]’s second and young [MiDC]’s first, so we’ll be on a standard tour.

Still, I hope to talk with friends and teachers on the ground.

I may even break away to try to spend a day at a high school I attended in September/October of 1979.

Here in the galut [Diaspora], a Zionist must be sure his own views make sense on the ground.

The best guidepost is actual Israelis, for whom these are existential questions, not debate fodder on a Northern Virginia listserv.

In my experience, the range of views expressed by Israelis is wide. Abie Nathan and Zeev Jabotinsky are both treasured Zionist icons.

When I’m back, I hope to be able to add useful responses to the fears generated by parts of one point in the masterful, inspirational, six-point speech President Obama delivered in Cairo.

In the meantime, I’ll just say that, taken as a whole, the speech was a much bigger challenge to the Muslim and Arab worlds than to Zion.

The man speaks truth to power.

In Cairo, he challenged governments that purport to be democracies but deny their citizens basic human rights and hold “elections” unworthy of the name.


In the cradle of the Muslim Brotherhood, he demanded justice for Muslim women.

In the birthplace of jihidi mastermind Ayman al-Zawahiri --- bin Laden’s second-in-command [and] the planner of Anwar Sadat’s assassination --- he called out al Queda’s twisted theology. He then proceeded to slice it, dice it, and display its remains for the blasphemous corruptions they are.

Call me Jack Valenti, but if I weren’t a chronic insomniac, I would sleep better at night knowing Obama is President.



Monday, June 8, 2009

Investment Advice for Hard Economic Times

If you had purchased $1,000 of AIG stock a year ago, you'd have $42 left.

With Lehman Brothers, you'd have $6.60 left.

With Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, you'd have less than $5.

But if you purchased $1,000 worth of beer a year ago, drank all of the beer, then turned in the cans for the aluminum recycling refund, you'd have $214.*

*Thanks, as ever, to Michel

Friday, June 5, 2009

Children's Stage

2:00 p.m. tomorrow, Saturday, June 6.

Be there or be oblong.

All the cool kids will be there.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


A little known fact....

The first testicular guard "Cup" was used in Hockey in 1874 and the first helmet was used in 1974.

It took 100 years for men to realize that the brain is also important.*

*Thanks, Michel,