Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The weekend

was, on the whole, very nice. We had planned a trip down to DC, but decided last week it was just more than we could handle, what with oldest being sick and Shavuot coming up. Instead we stayed home, and had guests for shabbos lunch, which included strawberry-rhubarb cake for dessert. We belong to a CSA around here, where we get 27 weeks of fruits & veggies from this organic farm way out in Suffolk County.

The first weeks are usually a little thin, and we're splitting this year with some friends, but the rhubarb showed up and we decided we'd take a shot at the cake. Well, Mrs. did. I just let her do what she wanted with it. The cake turned out fabulous, and we had enough to make three. Which was good, since one family we invited for lunch had a bunch of sickies in the house, so they had to cancel. We sent a care package over, including an extra cake, so it's almost like we had lunch with them.

I spent Sunday puttering around the house. I finally fixed the loose banister, which I think got loose because the chewing gum they stuck it up with finally lost it's stickiness. At a friend's suggestion, I drilled a hole in it and screwed it directly into the stud I hope is in the wall. It seems solid, so... I also went around the house with a bucket of joint compound and a putty knife filling in various holes in the wall. And finally, I replaced the anchors that were barely holding in the curtain rod in the dining room, so it seems a lot more secure now.

Monday was spent doing various things to prepare for the holiday - mostly making ice cream. There was a parade in the morning, which I took the kids to at the end. For the first time ever I thought of our town as being the kind of small town you see in the movies. Boy scouts, old cars, Kiwanis, the whole thing. There's even a local historical society, which you would think I would've known of.

We had our neighbors over for a BBQ, which involved burgers, hot dogs, corn, and these kosher andouille sausages I found at the store. Too spicy for everyone else, but I liked them. On the whole, I was well fed (by myself) last night.

So, not an exciting Memorial Day Weekend, but a good one nonetheless.

At this moment

there are three containers of homemade ice cream (mint chocolate chip, chocolate, cookies & cream) sitting in various freezers in my house. With a fourth (cookie dough) to come, probably tonight when I get home.

Ain't life grand sometimes?

Monday, May 22, 2006

Interesting day

and in a good way. I spend mid-morning visiting with a home-based audio restorer. I have a number of record albums I finally decided needed some attention, and lucky for me several consultants live in the area. I took the albums, which are actually on-the-fly transcripts of some radio programs, for an evaluation.

This guy and my dad would have a field day together. In addition to being a sound and audio nut, he's also got a model train layout in his basement. The guy knows his stuff, but he's also a talker. Deeply interested in the subject of audio, and even has a machine able to play wire recordings. I have some other vendors to talk to, but it's fun, if a little overwhelming, to meet a guy this into something.

And then this afternoon, the boss stops me in the hall and asks me to provide some photos to the Chairman of the Board. And suggests I email him directly. After the last CEO I met, I admit to a little skepticism about the powers of the powerful. That guy was a lightweight if I ever met one. But this one's supposed to be different, and it never hurts to be able to respond quickly to the Capo di tutti Capo.

It may not result in a raise, but it's good to come through when you're asked to do something. You never know where it might go.

Friday, May 19, 2006

We also

passed a milestone a few days back. What with all the multimedia stuff going on over here, I forgot to mention she lost her first tooth on Wednesday.

Lost is a little underdescriptive - Mrs. actually pulled the sucker out. And would you believe the little nudnicks are now getting FIVE BUCKS for the first tooth? I seem to remember getting a quarter.

Mrs. promises that the price goes down for the rest of 'em, but inflation hits hard sometimes. Maybe it's just New York prices for everything.


This is not only my 350th post, but also the first where I can report that I am not the only one to fall asleep in the office.

Oldest child is here with me, and mostly conked out in a chair near my work table. She sat down as usual with the coloring pages I printed out (on my now-networked copy machine!), and I noticed after a while she was really quiet. I look over, and she's asleep.

She's been in & out for the last ten minutes, and we're leaving for home in a bit, but it's still cute.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

On a far lighter note...

get it? Note? Music? Huh? Huh?

T3 appears to have been caused by me. I sincerely apologize if you were offended by anything.

1) What sort of music did your parents listen to when you were young that you liked?

Per last week, my dad had a collection of novelty songs and Fats Waller tunes I used to love. He's recreated the collection on CD for my kids, and I remember some of them fondly. My mom likes opera, so I hated her stuff, though I have developed a taste for Gilbert & Sullivan, which used to be right up her singing alley.

2) If you have kids, is there anything you listen to that THEY like? (If you don’t have kids, you are free to make up anything to go here.)

Hard to say. Some of the classical music goes over OK, and Mrs. sings a lot of what I would probably describe as 60s era hippy folky stuff for bedtime songs, which they like. Some of the Dire Straits has gone over OK. I need to work on that with them.

3) What was the first recorded music (of whatever medium--wax cylinder, 78 or 45 discs, vinyl LP, RTR, 8-track, cassette, CD, downloaded MP3) you ever bought with your own money?

Tough call - I don't remember precisely, though for some reason a John Mellencamp album is occurring to me. I did pick up a few 45s here and there, in addition to swiping some things from my dad's collection. It was all stuff he had to learn for Bat Mitzvahs, not his taste. Terry's dad and mine would have had a bit to talk about, musically.

For the record (Two! two puns in one post!) I remember a 45 he had by Men at Work with the most obscure B-side. It was called "Till the Money Runs Out", and I recall those were the only words, repeated about 72 times.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Debate, Part II

Best to read part one below for the start of the story. It contains all the proper disclaimers.

What, you may ask, could be worse than a child molester? Another good question, and the answer goes right to the heart of the behavior of the Orthodox Jewish community here in New York, and where I think it stands.

As I said in the first post, rumors about this guy have been floating around for years. And how has the community, specifically the school I went to that has employed him for close to thirty years, responded to the allegations? Cover-up. Obfuscation. Legalese. Hunkering down and protecting against the prying eyes of the outside world. If you believe the magazine article, physical intimidation and threats of virtual expulsion from the polite society that forms Orthodox Brooklyn. And the driving force behind this approach?

The so-called principal, so-called "Rosh Hayeshiva" (Head of the School) of my elementary and high schools.

According to the story, Mr. X. (I won't dignify him and demean the title by calling him rabbi) kept the molester on staff despite the accusations; threatened parents and victims who complained with expulsion from school and ostracization; rigged the Jewish courts investigating the complaints; etc., etc. I always described the guy as the Black Santa Claus - 5'2", 350 lbs., bald & big white beard, dressed all in black. I should have called the guy a mobster - the Orthodox Godfather.

You know what the friend who brought this to my attention and I decided, immediately? "Yeah, that sounds exactly like Mr. X." Fits right into the pattern of the man we knew 20 years ago. We knew him as a sharp businessman, and a guy who would do whatever it took for the school he built. Such dedication is admirable, but results can be achieved in positive and negative ways, and he frankly has no scruples. He's no Talmid Chacham (a term used for scholars) - my cousins, to the right of me religiously, always just laughed at the guy, for what a joke he was.

And this school, in the years since I was there (and even during my time there) has become the epitome of Jewish Orthodox education among the majority subset of Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn. This institution dedicated to the education of thousands of young boys and men over the years harbored a child molester for most of its existence. Could they have fired him? Sure. Should they have? Without question. Could they have tried to get the molester help? Probably.

What did they do? They covered up. They sat on it. Whatever else the molester brought them was more important than the health and well-being of the students. This twisted principal put his school and his own success ahead of children placed in his care. That's sick, wrong, and criminal. Look, I can tell you personal stories I witnessed or participated in that involve lying, cheating, and stealing. But this is far, far worse. People's lives were at stake here, and they not only ignored it, they abetted it.

People might wonder how I could grow up in such a right-wing community (the "yeshivishe velt", yeshiva world) and have moved, relatively speaking, so far left to the "Modern Orthodox" world. Part of the answer is simple - I'm a more worldly sort of person, always have been, and I fit better here. The other answer is based on situations like this. The hypocrisy exhibited by some members of the yeshiva world (and let me be clear - I mean only the Brooklyn world of my own experience) is beyond acceptance. I was often treated by people in that school and in that world as being half-treyf - a bad Jew who was somehow less than them because of my more modern leanings.

And yet the actions of a Mr. X are somehow holier than mine? A man who steals? Lies? Intimidates? This is your ideal of a Jew? As Zell Miller put it, "I didn't leave the Yeshiva World, the Yeshiva World left me." Oh, I know not all yeshiva Jews are like this - my own cousins are, I think, paragons of what that mode of life is supposed to be like. Dedication to Torah and Torah study, and behavior that is, in nearly everything I've seen from them, L'shem Shomayim - for the sake of Heaven.

But when Mr. X's yeshiva is the "Harvard of Yeshivas" (which, when I saw it in print, sent me ROTFLMAO)? That's your idea of perfection? No, thanks. Keep your world. Its values and ideals are screwed up beyond repair. Your holy men are false, your sanctity is vanity, your religion is twisted. I do not claim to know the mind of God. I do not claim to be a good, much less a perfect Jew. I do claim that this is not Judaism as God intended it to be. I do claim that actions speak louder than dress or words.

It is a miracle, perhaps, that with all I saw as an impressionable young man, that I remained true to Judaism. Many others saw what I saw, and took the obvious lesson - these people are full of crap, and if this is what Judaism is, I want no part of it. I have been blessed to be able to separate the word and intentions of God from the actions of man. But I have turned my back on that world for my own reasons, and they have been borne out.

May God comfort the victims, and may He have mercy on the rest of us for behaving as we do.

I’ve been debating

this post since yesterday. The subject is extraordinarily difficult to address, and there's a lot of history behind this - the way I was schooled, and the approach the school took to a lot of issues. I will say this - if you really don't want to read anything about child molestation, I suggest you skip this post. I won't be discussing it in any great detail, but it does figure in and I want you to be forewarned.

Let me say to start that I have never personally been molested, nor do I know anyone who has been, thank God. But there is a story that has broken here in New York recently about a multimillion dollar lawsuit that's been filed against a rabbi here. To protect certain shreds of my anonymity I won't link to any articles, but the industrious among you can find it if you try. The rabbi has been accused, not for the first time, of molesting young men, several of them, and on numerous occasions.

You might reasonably ask why I choose to discuss this here. A terrible story, surely, but not my usual fare. It's a good question, and I have a good answer: I know the accused personally. I went to the school where he taught and served as an administrator (still does, in fact.) I went to the camp where he was Head Counselor and part owner. This one strikes extremely close to home, and raises a number of issues for me, and I feel the need to write about what it means to me and the broader Orthodox Community. Naturally this is my blog - if the subject doesn't work for you, there's lots of other reading out there.

These rumors have been floating around for years. So much so that I am inclined to believe the man is guilty. Unfair? Perhaps. But one complaint? Two? Could be people with issues against the guy. Multiple complaints? A person coming out in the open and putting his name on the case? Dan l'kav zchut - give the benefit of the doubt - only goes so far. No, I can't say the guy is guilty, but it frankly looks too suspicious for my tastes.

I want to deal with the molester himself first - it's the easy part. This is a person (yes, please insert "allegedly" throughout - it's too legalistic an approach for me in such a serious circumstance) who used his power and position to hurt children. Who held the title of rabbi, meaning his conduct needed to be higher than the average person. Who violated children physically, violated their relationship and trust, violated the trust placed in him by parents. When I think that I was in a position where I could have been a victim, or that friends of mine might have been and I never knew it, I don't have a lot of sympathy.

Above all, he's a person with a serious mental problem. Sexual desire is normal, but it sometimes expresses itself in non-normal ways. People have all sorts of desires, and most of us control our less ideal desires. Not everyone can, and thus you get predators. They need help, and one hopes they get it. Do I absolve him of guilt for having a problem? Not at all - he had an obligation as a moral person, as a Jew, and as a rabbi, to remove himself from any involvement with children. A good Torah Jew removes himself from temptation as much as possible, especially when one's actions will harm the life of another person. His guilt lies as much with continuing work in education, where temptation was all around him.

But his actions are those of a sick person, who allowed his desires to control him and not the other way around. It's hard to expect a mentally disturbed person to control himself, though he should have. The resolution of this, regardless of the court results, will be between him and God, and the Lord will take care of it in His own time and way. Perhaps he is indeed innocent, and God will reward him for patience in dealing with these circumstances.

What I'd like to deal with in the next post is, to my mind, far more serious long-term for Orthodox Judaism.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Thursday Three - What's that Smell?

1. What smells do you most closely associate with your childhood home or hometown?

Hard to recall this one for some reason. Certainly my mother's baking brings back memories - mostly chocolate chip cookies. There was always a certain car exhaust smell - not strong, but noticeable, that I always associated with my dad's car in the garage.

2. What landmark do you remember about your hometown that no longer exists?

Easy one. The World Trade Center. I said at the time that on a clear day I could see them from the park near my house, probably about 10 miles away as the crow flies. I was up on the top twice - once on the outside observation deck, once at Windows on the World. A friend works in the nearby World Financial Center, and I was there, walking through the underground mezzanines probably two dozen times. They were a part of my childhood, and now of course they're gone.

3. What sounds do you recall distinctly from your childhood?

Music. My dad at the piano in the house, playing stuff I liked, stuff he liked. I remember especially a time when his likes and mine coincided far more than they do now.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

An Experiment: Results

At some suggestions of Terry's, I went ahead and modified my driving habits. Terry went and opened a fresh can of whup%&$ on the media on the subject of gas mileage standards and the reasons why they always say "your mileage may vary." And it was a well constructed deconstruction of what the nimrod in the media revealed as yet another GOVERNMENT CONSPIRACY to keep you from your God-Given right to drive a Behemoth and get 70MPG.

I leave it to Terry to deal with the media. He suggested a few weeks back that in order to maintain good gas mileage, there are certain simple steps the average driver can do to increase their fuel economy. Inflate your tires properly, drive somewhere around 50-60MPH, cut out the jackrabbit starts, etc.

So last fillup I decided to give it a shot. The parameters of the experiment:

1) My 1996 Honda Civic EX; (supposedly) 12 gallon tank; 4 Cyl Fuel injected; GVW probably around 2400 Lbs.; nearly 92,000 miles on the clock
2) Nassau county roads; approximately 30-35 miles per day, mostly street driving with a little highway.
3) Stop & go conditions, though not like Manhattan.
4) Speedometer does not, or rarely, goes above 60MPH.
5) No A/C use, given the moderate to cool temps up here over the last few weeks

The results?

286 miles on 9.68 gallons. Translates into 29.54 MPG. My normal average? Probably about 230 miles per tank, and at the same amount added to the tank, about 23.8 MPG.

So, by some very simple modifications in my driving habits, I raised my MPG by nearly six full miles a gallon; obviously I drove nearly 60 miles additional on the same gas. That's two days extra between fillups, which I usually do about once every two weeks. So, in the space of about three fillups, if I have this right, I'll gain an extra week's driving without having to buy more gas.

Is it killing me to sit in the right lane the whole time? You betcha - like many people, I believe in passing people as a way to get places faster. But, at $3.09 a gallon (what I paid yesterday), I'm interested in saving 2 gallons worth of gas per fillup. $12 additional per month, times twelve months, is $144, half again as much as what congress was threatening to give me. So I am now a righteous convert to slowing down. I'd like to hit 300 miles on a single tank of normal street driving - I probably had enough in the tank yesterday to do it, but it was looking too iffy for my comfort. But I might push it on this next tankful.

Nobody in an 8 cyl. SUV is likely to see a 6 MPG improvement no matter how slow they drive. But if you're worried about fuel prices, and you want to save some money, wouldn't it make sense to get even a 2MPG improvement? Leaving aside the safety, I'm recommending everyone watch their speed.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Though you cannot see it

I am truly doing a skinny dance of joy. 16 months after a concept around here was considered, and seven months after serious discussions began, we have finally launched something that should have taken no more than three months to develop. There are still bugs to be worked out, but success has finally arrived.

If you hear me moaning later, it's probably because I threw my back out trying to do the mashed potato.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Some things

seem to run in the family. Look, I'll give the guy the benefit of the doubt to some degree. Maybe it really was a prescription thing, and not alcohol. But unfortunately for him, the Kennedy name and car accidents lead to obvious conclusions.

I don't care if the guy's a member of congress. When you crash your car, and appear to be staggering, you should get a breathalyzer test. Any other citizen would have; why are congressmen not citizens? Oh, I'm not naive - I know they get special treatment the rest of us don't. But I have to ask - if it was a Republican, would the media write this off so casually? Or would they demand to know why proper procedures weren't followed?

I just had an odd thought.

I was in the middle of writing a response to a comment, and I was transforming a simple word into the sort of PCspeak gobbledygook coming out of the leftists, mainly in the academy. I think my comment was funny, but it made me think of something.

The left in this country is doing their best to turn us into France.

We know all the obvious things - turning and surrendering at the first sign of conflict, sneering at the rest of humanity, supporting commie tyrants over democracy, etc.

But what occurred to me is that by virtue of language, they're also trying to turn us into France. How so? Dr. Jim's one word description was turned by me, without half trying, into 19 words. Isn't that what French is mostly about? Turning one word in English into a paragraph? I don't know that contorting the language is a crisis, exactly, but I do know that it only makes people harder to understand.

Well, c'est la armed conflict by two imperialistic warmongering patriarchal gatherings of peoples connected by nationalities, I suppose.

Maybe I should write a paper on this.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

On a lighter note

Thursday three has arrived:

1. Who, beside your spouse, is your favorite person to go hang around with?

Hard to say. My best pal growing up is still a good friend, but we don't hang out the way we used to. I don't know if it would be the same. I have a close female friend who now lives overseas that would also be a good choice. I'd probably have to go with a guy in town I get along with very well. We can usually hang out for a long time, and we have similar interests.

2. If you could only have one, would you pick a dog or a cat as a pet?

If I had to pick one, probably a dog. I'm not much of a pet guy.

3. What part of your appearance would you most like to change?

Probably hairline, with height being a close second. I've never been tall, so I can't say I miss anything about it. I did use to have more hair, and I would've preffered to keep it. Genetics is funny sometimes.

A comment or two

on the result of the Moussaoui trial. I for one could dance with joy at this individual's death. I wouldn't cry a tear for him, and martyring or not martyring him is not really going to impact how his jihadist buddies feel about us. They could've added his situation to a long list of imagined gripes, and they'd want to kill us all either way. So I can't say a different verdict would've disturbed me.

On the other hand, I'm not sure the life in prison deal is unacceptable either, for a few reasons. First off, him dying changes nothing. It doesn't bring back the dead, it doesn't harm the international terrorist jihad, and it doesn't change our state of war. Do we want vengeance? I imagine we do, but to what end? Soothe our troubled souls? The death of one cockroach is not going to make me feel better about thousands of innocent shattered lives. Kill him to serve as a warning to others? They WANT to die. They don't fear it. It just encourages them, and they have no sense of justice as we know it.

Second, regardless of plotting or any other activity, I don't think this guy actually did anything. Oh, he surely would have given the chance, but actual action is sort of limited. I grant you intention is worth something, but the 3,000 deaths of 9/11 were caused directly by others. Lock him up, sure, but I think I can manage with no death penalty. I don't excuse it, but it does modify the case.

Third, responsibility for 9/11 lies in far more places than him. Start with the Saudis and their promotion of Wahabbist islam. Add criminal leadership around the Arab world, leaving so many young men in poverty and loose ends, ripe for indoctrination by mullahs staying safe, warm, and wealthy back at home. Blame our own leadership for the failures of our intelligence - Administration leadership for bulding walls between our intelligence agencies in the '90s, and Congressional leadership for allowing it to happen. Blame the masterminds of this most of all. But Moussaoui's death does nothing to absolve all these from their responsibilities, and very little will be improved in this area because he's dead.

Mind you, I will say I have an opinion about his incarceration, which I think would be worse than death. Lock him up.

REALLY lock him up.

Put the guy in a 3' X 6' cell with a cot and a toilet. Wall him in the cell with brick. No windows. No light. Just a slot in the door for a food tray, on which he gets bread and water for the rest of his life. No recreation time. No books. No TV. No one goes in to see him ever. No doctors, no lawyers, no religious leaders. He gets one thing. A small speaker in the wall, playing one sound constantly.


Just the sound of a clock, ticking away the seconds of his life. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. That would suit me for the proper life this roach should have until he dies, of old age or insanity.