Tuesday, November 28, 2006

G-d Bless Canonist

He's said it all. It doesn't get any crazier than this.

Very cool 5-minute diversion

This penguin is hilarious and totally safe for work. It's worth the 20 seconds or so for your personalized animation to start.

Check it out.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Under where?

Earlier today, Wonkette posted a piece about Mitt Romney. It was typical Wonkette, snarky and funny and about 15 minutes ahead of the political curve.

But it included a photo I thought insensitive. The photo displayed what are known as Temple garments. They are the undergarments worn by observant Mormons and are viewed by Mormons as a private, sacred matter. It's considered distasteful by Mormons to display these garments, or to inquire about them in a light or joking matter. They aren't exactly secret, but they are sacred.

I spoke my piece in the Wonkette comments section, calling the photo choice "indecent and ill-advised" and was roundly hooted down. So be it.

But one commenter hit a nerve.

Said schvitzatura: "Would it be over the line/"indecent and ill-advised" to show a Scientologist wired up to an e-meter during his/her audit on Wonkette?..."

Given my comments here about Scientology:

So fuck you Tom Cruise. Your know-nothing, yahoo view of psychiatry and psychiatric drugs stem from the teachings of a scam artist. Science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard announced to the world in the 1930's that, if one wanted to be truly rich in America, one should found a religion. Then, proving P.T. Barnum's dictum that no one ever went broke underestimating the American public, he founded a religion and got rich.

L. Ron now lies mouldering in his grave and idiots like Tom Cruise continue to act as loony prophets for this false messiah.

One can reasonably ask why I expect Wonkette to show sensitivity toward Mormon sensibilities when I permit myself so much license toward Scientologist ones.

My answer is that I think showing the hypothetical picture shvitzatura posits would be a bad idea too. I think Scientologists view their audits in much the same way as Mormons view their Temple garments. So I'd hesitate to display their ritual the same way I'd hesitate to display a Mormon's ritual clothing.

But I think there's a fundamental difference between Joseph Smith's followers and L. Ron Hubbard's. If Smith was running a scam, there's precious little evidence of it. I think disinterested observers believe he believed what he preached. He and his early followers surely suffered for their doctrines.

Hubbard, on the other hand, announced his scam ahead of time, and proceeded to milk it for all it was worth. Eventually, greedier and more ruthless followers wrested control from him, and milked it for even more. Their successors do so, to this day. For more evidence than I can possibly summarize in this post, check out Operation Clambake.

But maybe the fundamental difference here is not between Smith and Hubbard. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has critics as zealous as any you'll find at the Clambake site. For instance here.

Maybe the fundamental difference is between robust criticism and desecration.

No institution, especially one claiming divine inspiration or exclusive access to the one Big Truth, should be immune from the former. But we should all tread lightly before we needlessly engage in the latter.

What we ourselves view as sacred may be the next ox to get gored. When we squawk about it, it would help to have clean hands.

What's it like up there?

In the comments to Is there a cantor in the house?, Migdalor Guy wrote

I'm always thrilled when congregants get the opportunity to walk a mile in the mocassins of those of us who spend our lives on the bimah. What lessons did you take away, other than your gratefulness to be out of the limelight next Shabbat?

That I had no opportunity to feel prayerful or in any way spiritual. I was entirely focused on getting cues right and where I should stand and whether I was using the mike correctly. And whether I was singing the right notes and pronouncing the words right.

As an officer of my shul, I sit on the bimah fairly regularly (at least twice a month and sometimes more often.) I'm there to make announcements on Friday night or to give a bar or bat mitzvah their certificate and some coupons for things like a year's teen membership at the local JCC and part of the cost of a Birthright or youth group first trip to Israel.

I'm focused on the mechanics of those functions when I'm doing them, but during the rest of the service, I'm able to feel like I'm actively worshipping.

(I also kvell a little if the bar/bat mitzvah is someone I tutored. And sing a wee bit louder at parts I know they've found challenging, so they can hear my unmiked voice over their right shoulder if they need some back-up.)

But as emergency back-up cantor, I got none of the spiritual charge I get from praying. I did get an incredible sense of pride at being asked (and trusted) to step into the breach, and the gratification I get --- as the planet's foremost kosher ham --- from just being "on stage". I'd do it again, in a New York minute, if asked.

But it made me appreciate even more what our Rabbi and Cantor do for us, week in and week out. And it made me wonder where they get their moments to just pray, and connect with the solace and rejuvenation that I get from prayer.

I'm pretty darn sure it's not at the interminable committee meetings and board meetings we attend together, or the fifty-seven other mundane minutiae we demand that they tend to every day.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

It's a small world after all

Time from my first post until the first comment by a friend who discovered my blog on the internet: less than two weeks.


Monday, November 20, 2006

Note to Self: Type Here First

Campaign Finance Reform

You can have all the lobbying reform you want, but so long as the federal government is in the business of deciding how huge sums of money are distributed in our economy, people and institutions with a stake in how that money is distributed or redistributed will find a way to try to influence the folks who decide how these gargantuan sums of money are Doled out.

We've had lots of versions of campaign finance reform since the first set of reforms were inspired by the excesses of the 1972 Nixon re-election campaign. (Was there ever a more apt moniker than the one for Nixon's Committee to Re-Elect the President - CREEP)? The reforms have never worked well because trying to keep money out of politics is like trying to nail Jello to a wall. Whatever clever rules government functionaries and bureaucrats can devise to stem the flow of greenbacks, even cleverer operatives for the folks with the money can figure out how to work around.

The internet is a powerful tool for identifying who's getting what from whom, more quickly than ever before. If voters bother to inform themselves, they can factor this in when the decide on who to vote for. If voters don't, they get who they deserve.

I rarely stand with George Will on things, but I agree with his comprehensive campaign finance reform proposal. It has only three rules.

A) No Cash.
B) No money from foreigners or foreign interests.
C) Immediate, comprehensive, transparent reporting of who's spending and who's receiving, available on the internet, in as close to real time as technology permits.

[ANON1 has announced a platform from which to run for President. I reacted with a comment on his blog. Then I thought, you dope, you haven't gotten this whole blogging thing down yet. Hence the title of this post. Above is a version of that post, with minor edits.]

This may only be of interest to M.O.T.'s

The other third of the bloggers who inspired me to try blogging myself is back posting regularly.

I serve as a vice president of my synagogue, but fear that the paradigm of big expensive houses of worship that 20th century non-Orthodox Judaism was centered on may be a recipe for 21st century irrelevance. Reading Steven I. Weiss's Canonist and CampusJ gives me hope that thoughtful people my age and younger are actually trying to do something about it.

Check it out.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Let's All Be Merry and Gay

Recent posts, here and elsewhere, have got me thinking about the use of the word 'gay' as a pejorative.

Nine-year-old Monkeyboy in DC brought a book home a few months ago called Gay-Neck: The Story of a Pigeon. It won the Newberry Medal for American Children's Literature in 1928.

He assured me that this wasn't the bad meaning of the word gay in the title, but rather that it meant the story's protagonist had a brightly colored neck.

Aha, thunk I, here's one of those "teachable moments" the early childhood education nabobs are always yammering about.

(Which reminds me, I need to post some time about another "teachable moment" --- the day he and I went to the new Udvar-Hazy Smithsonian Air and Space Museum Annex out near Dulles. I was all set to talk about space shuttles and Concordes and the Spirit of Saint Louis. The first thing I was called upon to explain was "What's that funny symbol on that fighter plane?" It was a swastika.)

I assured him I understood what the "gay" in "Gay-neck" meant and asked him what he meant about the "bad" meaning. He got uncomfortable. He knew it had something to do with sex, and with boys liking other boys, and with Michael Jackson, but he wasn't too sure on the specifics.

He knew for sure that it was an insult to call someone gay, and that gay was sort of an all-purpose word in elementary school circles that means gross or stupid or not cool enough or tough enough.

I started out by telling him that, in our family, it was not o.k. to use gay to mean something bad. I told him it was a word with a specific meaning, that it applied to perfectly normal people who loved each other the way mom and dad love each other, and that to use it to mean something bad was an insult to gay people.

I explained that some men and women fall in love with people of their own gender and that there was nothing wrong with that. I told him that not everyone agreed with us about this, but that gay people faced a lot of discrimination in society and it was part of our job to work against that, just like we marched in D.C. at the Million Mom March for gun control and against the war in Iraq. Just like when dad got arrested in front of the South African Embassy before he was born.

He's already learned about the Jewish concept of tikkun olam (repairing the world) and the Reform Jewish concept that tikkun olam requires us to be involved in social action.

I told him that he already knew and loved gay people and it would be mean to use this word as a way to call someone something bad.

His eyes had started to glaze over and I was pretty sure he was hearing that "wah-wah-wah" sound adults make in Peanuts cartoons.

Until I got to the point where I told him he already knew and loved people who were gay. All of a sudden it was personal for him and he was riveted.

I asked him to think of relatives of the same gender who lived together. He was stumped for a minute. Then he remembered his learning disabled aunt who, well into middle age, still lives with his grandma. But he knew their relationship wasn't like mom and dad's.

Then the lightbulb went on.

His coolest uncle --- the one who's a veteranarian and has pets like snakes and iguanas, the one who was a navy pilot before he became a veternarian, the one who's even sillier than dad --- lives with his life partner who's just as cool, only in a more understated way. Monkeyboy is nuts about them, for good reason. They're great.

Monkeyboy had never had occasion to wonder about their relationship before. He knows some of my poker buddies who aren't married still have roommates, and until this moment, if he'd ever thought about Uncle L. and Uncle B., he'd probably figured they were the same.

Now he knew different. And, G-d bless him, he understood. I've never heard him use the word gay as a pejorative, and I don't think he does it when I'm not around either. And he's just the sort of kid who would call one of his friends on it too.

At Halloween, on the way to a friend's house for trick-or-treating, I cited the statistic to him about 5 kids dying every year in preventable Halloween collisions with cars. When his group of kids started running out into the street later, I heard my "5 kids die every year" lecture come out of his mouth word-for-word.

I may be putting him in line for some razzing, or worse, if he ever feels moved to criticize a peer's misuse of the word gay, but I've warned him that not everybody feels the way our family does, and that what I expect of him is that he not use the word that way. He need not take up all of my crusades at age 9.

Hell, by the time he's a teenager, I'll probably be playing Michael Gross to his Michael J. Fox in a twisted 2010's version of Family Ties.

I'm sure I'll be just as proud of him then, if a tad vexed.

In the meantime, all of us here in cyberspace are adults, more-or-less. Can we agree that it's not cool to call someone gay as an insult?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

I Heart ANON1

I feel like Steve Martin in the Carl Reiner movie "The Jerk" when the new phone books came out. And to think, I called him an asshat. What could I have been thinking?

Adulthood - Chewing the Fat

I've always felt that a central attribute of adulthood is the ability to disagree, even vehemently, without being disagreeable. For an example of said attribute, read this post and then this one.

The commenters, not so much.

And for a real lesson in compare and contrast, check out this asshat

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Fuck Tom Cruise

I've been pissed off at Tom since his tirade against Brooke Shields for taking medicine for post-partum depression.

I take one pill each nite and up to four each day for depression and anxiety. I fully believe that, if a kind and wise pshrink had not helped me find this regimen of drugs in combination with regular sessions of traditional talk therapy, I would long ago have become David Six Feet Under DC.

Looking back, I realize I suffered my first bout of clinical depression in my teens. The bleakness and hopelessnes you feel in such an episode is impossible for me to describe. What the hell, I'm not William Styron.

It took me 10 more years to find my way to my first therapist. And 10 more after that to be finally willing to try medication. By then, my depressions were becoming more regular and more frequent and I'd already walked myself into an emergency room when my thoughts of suicide scared the bejeebers out of me. That bought me a two week stay on a locked ward and delayed my graduation from law school by six months.

(It's funny how you associate personal milestones with external events. My hospitalization coincided with the 1988 Winter Olympics and the campus protests that led to the selection of the first deaf president at Gallaudet University. In my mind, skater Katerina Witt and outgoing Gallaudet President I. King Jordan are inextricably linked with being locked up on the sixth floor of a hospital that's since been torn to the ground.)

Even after my voluntary commitment, I balked at taking medicine. I saw it as a defeat, an admission that my internal resources and the feedback of a therapist I trusted were not enough to quell what I still thought of as the product of force I should be able to control.

My family history screams "genetic predisposition to depression." My father grew up in an orphanage because his mother killed herself after his father died in an accident. He committed suicide himself before I hit 30 months old.

Nonetheless, I stubbornly refused to look at my depression as what it was --- a treatable, potentially lethal medical condition that required medication in the same way diabetes requires insulin treatment.

When I was at my bleakest, I finally gave in and consulted a psychiatrist. My first therapist, a psychiatric social worker, helped me cope for years, occasionally suggesting that my view of my depression as a character flaw was self-limiting. She waited a long time for me to be ready. When I was, she pointed me at my current psychiatrist.

By then I was married and my wife is entitled to equal credit with my therapist for helping me see the need to at least try a psychiatrist and an anti-depressant.

My life has never been the same. Thank G-d. I still get to feeling bleak sometimes, but the meds keep the bleakness from descending into a death spiral. I honestly believe they've saved my life.

So fuck you Tom Cruise. Your know-nothing, yahoo view of psychiatry and psychiatric drugs stem from the teachings of a scam artist. Science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard announced to the world in the 1930's that, if one wanted to be truly rich in America, one should found a religion. Then, proving P.T. Barnum's dictum that no one ever went broke underestimating the American public, he founded a religion and got rich.

L. Ron now lies mouldering in his grave and idiots like Tom Cruise continue to act as loony prophets for this false messiah.

There, I feel much better now. Thanks for listening.


Monday, November 13, 2006

Is there a cantor in the house?

So, on Friday, about 11:00 a.m, I got a call from the Religious School Director at my shul (That's Yiddish for synagogue.) He knows I'm the original kosher ham, so I'm guessing he knew I'd say yes when he told me we had a laryngytic cantor, and would I please fill in for her at the Family Service that night?

This erev Shabbat (Sabbath evening) was to be the debut of the new family choir and the first graders were to be singing a special song about Creation. The cantor, despite being deathly ill, insisted on attending to play guitar, but would I please sing? I made sure this commitment didn't extend to the grown-ups' service later in the evening and said yes.

At about three that afternoon, I got a call from the Executive Director. Would I be able to stand in for the cantor at services? Happy I could tell him the problem was already solved, I told him of the arrangements that were made earlier in the day. I would sing while the cantor played, then we'd both leave and a professional singer, who'd led our soprano section in the High Holidays choir, would work with the Rabbi that night.

But he knew all that. He was calling to ask about Saturday morning. My knees started to knock. The Friday night family service is one thing. But Saturday morning is an entirely different matter. Especially with a bar mitzvah scheduled that would draw nearly a hundred friends and relatives, and a baby-naming.

With a mixture of pride at being asked and certainty I couldn't pull it off, I said yes.

I pulled it off.

The rabbi smoothed out the rough edges and missed cues on Friday night, and the first graders were adorable. They sang a song about the creation of the world that came complete with hand gestures and pantomime. They were the sun and the moon and lions and tigers and bears. (Oh my!)

The chorus was the phrase "This is very good" repeated a number of times. The kids each put out two thumbs up for this lyric and looked like a bunch of pint-sized Arthur Fonzarellis. It was great.

The cantor played guitar and I played Charlie McCarthy to her Edgar Bergen. I'd give my performance a C- but the whole service a solid A anyway.

I was determined to do better on Saturday morning.

I arrived at shul an hour early on Saturday morning and my friend the cantor, who ought to have been home sleeping and drinking chicken soup, silently coached me through a dry run of everything I would have to sing. She transposed the chords to a number of tunes and prayers to better accommodate my more limited vocal range. She assured me it would be all right.

With her beside me strumming out the tunes, it was. At the reception afterward the lox and bagels tasted as good as they ever have. The family of the young man who celebrated his bar mitzvah were appreciative and some of my fellow congregants were unduly lavish in their praise.

I'm looking forward to next Saturday morning and the relative anonymity of the pews.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Bloggers are nice

I met 2 thirds of the bloggers who inspired me to start a blog tonite. So I figured there's no time like the present to get started. I've been reading them for months. They've enriched my life. Occasionally, they've provided the break in the middle of a particularly dismal or pressure-filled day that's made the rest of my workday bearable.

In reverse order of my meeting them, Ashburnite, was as wonderful as I'd imagined her. Tonight was the monthly Hater's Happy Hour, an event where DC bloggers meet to imbibe in adult libations and kick back. I'm an occasional commenter on Ash's blog and had asked her if non-bloggers were welcome. She said yes, supplied me with the wheres and whens and assured me they were a friendly bunch.

Her blog, Neurotic in Ashburn, should be on your must read list. It details the thoughts, actions, reactions and life of a person of substance. She's funny, insightful, strong, vulnerable, self-depracating, life-affirming and inexplicable. Sometimes all in the same paragraph. She has set the bar high for this admirer. I hope this blog, over time, occasionally hits notes as true and clear as hers does regularly.

My other inspiration is an entirely different kind of writer. When White Dade announced on his blog that he'd be making a guest appearance in DC, I had to be there. You may agree with him or disagree with him, but you should be reading him regardless. He's just finishing his first year of writing on the web and his archive reads like a training manual for literary fearlessness. He skewers sacred cows, mentions the unmentionable, and generally rants his way through the ether in the way I imagine Hunter Thompson would have if the Internet had come along before the the gonzo life caught up with him.

I had a great conversation with him, was tickled to realize he really knew who I was from my comments, and I hope his team wins tomorrow.

As for Ash, my conversation with her sucked and it was entirely my fault. I was tounge-tied, awed and embarassed. We've never met, but I feel like I know her a bit from her writing. I solicited an awkward hug of greeting. She introduced me to her friend as a commenter extraordinaire and my mind went utterly, totally, irretreivably blank. I stammered out how glad I was to have a face and voice to put with her writing, told her I loved her blog, shook her friend's hand goodbye and beat a hasty retreat to suburbia.

I got home in time to see the end of the SpongeBob movie with my wife and nine-year-old (hereinafter referred to as Monkeyboy in DC). I've never felt so old in all my life.

Next time I go to a Hater's Happy Hour, I hope to have at least a month's worth of posts on this blog, and a bit more courage.

In the meantime, as my Teamster friends say "keep the rubber side down and the shiny side up."

Good Night.