Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Is Birthright is Responsible For An American Kid's Death? No.

My Birthright Israel Group (guy with the gun is our security guard)
According to Allison Benedikt, the death of an American boy who joined the Israeli army in their battle against terrorists is partially the fault of Birthright Israel, the program for young American Jews that sends them to Israel, all expenses paid, for 10 days and teaches them about the country and its people. If Max Steinberg hadn't gone on Birthright, she says, he never would have joined the IDF, and would still be alive today.

There's a lot of finger pointing going on as the latest Gaza-Israel crisis drags on, but this is a new low.

The mission of Birthright, as quoted by Benedikt, is to "ensure the continuity of the Jewish people by strengthening Jewish identity, Jewish communities, and solidarity with Israel." Nowhere in this mission statement is joining the army mentioned. Yet Benedikt writes, "Though most trip alumni do not join the IDF (Birthright’s spokeswoman told me they don’t keep track), to do so seems like the ultimate fulfillment of Birthright’s mission—the ultimate expression of a Jew’s solidarity with Israel is to take up arms to defend it."

Yes, apparently "solidarity" = becoming an Israeli soldier.

Soldiers in training, according to Benedikt
This couldn't be further from the truth. Birthright Israel is really about one thing, and that's getting Jewish boys and girls to make babies together. Everything about the trip points out the precariousness of the Jewish people, our shaky place in the world, something not always evident within the upper middle class Jewish communities of the United States, where, by and large, we're free from antisemitism and generally accepted. The biggest threat to Jews today is not Hamas, but intermarriage, conversion and secularism, which is achieving over many generations what Hitler attempted to do in just one. For many Jews today, being Jewish is watching Curb Your Enthusiasm and enjoying lox on a bagel... and if that's the extent of it, then what about the next generation? What kind of faith will they pass on?

Orthodox communities are growing--with the amount of children they produce, that's a given. But the middle-of-the-road, Conservative Judaism movement that gave me my upbringing and once served as a model for modern Judaism is falling apart. This brand of Judaism doesn't pretend someone is dead if they marry outside the faith... and while that's the right thing to do, it means that subsequent generations are one step further removed from the culture and beliefs that withstood the Spanish Inquisition, the crusades and Hitler. It means as time goes on, American Jews are becoming simply Americans. The Jewish part, the part that survived centuries of persecution, is being lost.

Birthright Israel attempts to restore a sense of duty to maintaining this Jewish identity-- that even if we do choose to intermarry, even if we don't share the religious beliefs of our ancestors, we have a responsibility to keep the ideals and beliefs of Judaism alive. For most Birthright participants, this may mean going to synagogue a bit more often, celebrating Shabbat on Friday nights, or simply educating themselves more about Judaism and Jewish history. For others, they may seek out a Jewish spouse (maybe the girl they hooked up with on their trip).

Joining the IDF is something apart from that. Yes, on my Birthright trip, we spent time with kids our own age who wore IDF uniforms. But none of us joined the IDF. Instead, one member of our group fell in love with one of them. Teddy from California and Shilana from Tel Aviv have been together for close to five years now. That's the endgame.

Benedikt writes, "What makes an American kid with shaky Hebrew and no ties to the state of Israel suddenly decide he is ready to make this sacrifice? Maybe Max was especially lost, or especially susceptible, or maybe he was just looking to do some good and became convinced by his Birthright experience that putting on an IDF uniform and grabbing a gun was the way to do it."

Max Steinberg's sense of duty extended to fighting for Israel, the same way so many young Americans join the military here, in the United States. But it's a decision separate and apart from a 10-day program aimed at getting Jewish kids to bone each other. Max could have moved to Israel later in life, waiting until he aged out of military service (age 30). Instead, he chose to join the IDF even sooner than he legally was required to as a new immigrant (olim, as they're called, have 1 year of acclimation-- Max signed up six months after his Birthright trip), and joined an elite sharpshooting force voluntarily. He didn't have to do any of that. Birthright certainly didn't tell him to, unless I was in the bathroom when everyone else was taking target practice.

It's clear Benedikt sees Birthright as a brainwashing organization: "It turns out that it’s not that hard to persuade young people to see the world a certain way and that Birthright is very good at doing it. You spend hundreds of millions of dollars to convince young Jews that they are deeply connected to a country that desperately needs their support? This is what you get."

Except it's not what you get. You get Teddy and Shilana. You get me. You get the thousands of other participants who did not join the IDF, but have a deeper appreciation for their roots. Max's brother and sister, who were on the same Birthright trip, did not make the same decision. Perhaps they were just snoozing when Birthright made the "take up arms for Israel" pitch?

Max is dead because of a Hamas gunman. That's it.  Pointing a finger at Birthright is shifting blame away from the people with guns, rockets and bombs. And that's where the blame should lie.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Dammit Gary Oldman. Why'd you have to say those things?

Dammit Gary Oldman. Why'd you have to say those things?

Oldman has long been one of my favorite actors. I dare anyone to watch The Professional and then the Batman movies, and find any resemblance between the evil cop Stansfield and the hero cop Commissioner Gordon. Oldman imbues each role with a personality that goes beyond what's written in the script. One is a monster, the other a saint, but they both feel real, thanks to Oldman's acting talents.

And now he says this:

"No one can take a joke anymore. I don’t know about Mel. He got drunk and said a few things, but we’ve all said those things. We’re all fucking hypocrites. That’s what I think about it. The policeman who arrested him has never used the word nigger or that fucking Jew? I’m being brutally honest here."

And this:

"Mel Gibson is in a town that’s run by Jews and he said the wrong thing because he’s actually bitten the hand that I guess has fed him—and doesn’t need to feed him anymore because he’s got enough dough. He’s like an outcast, a leper, you know? But some Jewish guy in his office somewhere hasn’t turned and said, “That fucking kraut” or “Fuck those Germans,” whatever it is?"

Oh boy. Are people really still using the whole "The Jews run Hollywood" line? Forget about "political correctness," this is just a stupid, meaningless thing to say. What exactly are you getting at? That the titans of Hollywood don't decide which summer blockbuster to promote until they first consult with their rabbis? That because somebody's ancestor didn't stop the Romans from crucifying Jesus, they gained a superhuman ability to control the box office? That every Jewish child is guaranteed to get a starring role on the silver screen, so that movies can brainwash the populace into eating kosher? What do you mean that the "Jews run this town?" Did I miss the city ordinance that requires Christians to stitch crosses to their clothes if they want to walk the streets of L.A.?

Many of those in the entertainment field are Jewish. So what? I am Jewish and I am not in showbiz (yet). My grandfather was a taxi driver. His brother was an auto mechanic. Both Jewish, and yet, far from the limelight of Hollywood. (Although my great uncle did retire to southern California).

The line, "the Jews run Hollywood," is so inherently bigoted because of what it implies--a brainwashing agenda of some sort--that there's no defense for it. There are those who long for the days when nobody worried about being "politically correct." These people are racists and bigots.

Because that time those people are talking about? It's a time where nobody but white, male, Protestant people were in positions of power and influence. As long as you didn't insult THEM, you weren't at risk of consequences. Calling an Italian guy or a Polish guy or a Jewish guy by a derogatory slur was of no consequence--because no one was in a position to do anything about it.

Make no mistake though, if you had slurred your white male Protestant employers, you'd face consequences. At your job and in society.

Our society has changed. People in power are still mainly white male Protestants, but it's a more mixed lot. A racist joke faces greater scrutiny because more people offended by that joke are in a position to have their voice heard.

We have freedom of speech in this country, but not freedom from consequences. Mel Gibson had every right to say the shameful things he did-- and the Jewish people who often hired him for their movies had every right to say, "listen, you anti-Semitic fuckhead, we don't want to hire you again." There is nothing hypocritical in this arrangement. If you act like a complete ass in public, insult people, and sound like a raving lunatic, you probably don't deserve to be broadcast on a platform that reaches millions of people.

I am a Jewish guy, sitting in an office, and I can tell you, I've never said those words Gary Oldman assumes everybody says in private. People who say those things in private, and seriously mean them, are racists and bigots. Is Oldman saying EVERYBODY is a racist or bigot?

Keep in mind, Mel did not say this stuff in the privacy of his office either, and wasn't responding the the ethnic cleansing of his people by another ethnic group. In one case, he was insulting a police officer he assumed to be a Jew. In the other, he was threatening a woman with violence. This is defendable? People are hypocrites if they punish this behavior?

Now, with Alec, I can maybe see a point. Full disclosure, for many years, I used the f-g insult... Directed at straight, heterosexual douchebags who were itching for a fight. I justified using the term because I deemed it a bigger insult to a straight male than a homosexual one... There were few things you could say that would insult some meathead hothead more. I wasn't using it against gay people.

But then one day, a friend mentioned, in casual conversation, that someone had "Jewed him down." Growing up in a pretty Jewish, liberal area, I never heard that term before. He didn't intend it to insult me--"the guy wasn't even Jewish," he explained--but nevertheless, I reconsidered using ANY racial, ethnic, or sexual slur ever again. Some people, like Gary Oldman, apparently, call this "being PC." I call it, "not being a prick."

I really hope Gary was simply not thinking before talking, and that he really didn't mean to defend the words and actions of bigots by implying that everyone acts the same way. I sincerely hope he wasn't agreeing with Mel that "the Jews run Hollywood" is anything other than a loaded, ignorant statement that only serves to reflect badly upon the person saying it.

But he also bashed The Fifth Element, so even if that were the case, I'm not sure I'd be ready to forgive him.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

No Women In Star Wars? THAT'S PART OF THE PLOT

Amanda Marcotte, as well as many other well-intentioned female writers around the interwebs, has written an article bemoaning the fact that J.J. Abrams/Disney's new Star Wars trilogy apparently won't be adding new female characters to the mix.

Amanda quotes one of the other complainers: "Are we seriously still pretending that the universe is comprised almost entirely of men (and mostly white men at that)? Mythic tales are supposed to open up possibilities, not shut them down."

I wonder if any of these women have actually watched Star Wars.

The lack of women in the Star Wars universe is, arguably, the crisis that drives much of the action in the movies. It isn't just some happenstance of George Lucas' sexist mind. It's the result of a universe in which cloning technology, rampant violence and religious extremism has thrown life seriously out of balance--it's made women unnecessary.

Cloning means that no longer is a female womb necessary for reproduction. There are large swaths of planets, like the desert on Tatoonie, where women can't go out alone in fear they will be captured, enslaved, and raped by Sand People. And it's clear that however benevolent the Jedi forces may be, their views are decidedly paternalistic--to their detriment (Lucas doesn't shy away from showing that the Jedi council is far from as wise as they claim to be.  Heck, they preach celibacy!) The society of Star Wars is corrupt and on the verge of extinction, soon to be replaced by nothing but droids and clones-- the lack of women is a major contributing factor.

When Princess Leia uses a droid to send her desperate message, "Help me Obi Won Kenobi, you're our only hope," the word "our" is not only referring to the rebel cause. It's referring to life in the galaxy. The dark side that has infected the universe is not a side favorable to life--it's a side that develops planet-sized weapons of mass destruction.

To wit: what causes Anakin Skywalker to turn to the dark side and nearly bring about the destruction of all good in the universe? The deaths of the women he loves--first his mother, and then Queen Amedala.

And how do the rebels begin to turn the tide? Well, what transforms Han Solo, a faithless and ruthless smuggler (he shot Greedo first), into the hero of the rebel cause? The love of Princess Leia. Perhaps no scene better encapsulates the true battle at the heart of Star Wars than the one in which Leia, dressed as a slave girl, chokes that fat slob Joba the Hutt with her chains. Only by re-establishing women as beings with equal power, can the corruption and filth of this universe be cleansed (and that is not a housewife joke).

The end of Return of the Jedi does not, as some of the characters believe, restore balance to the force. The evil army is defeated, but life will take a longer time to balance out again. I can only assume the next three chapters will slowly build back toward this balance. After all, who is the new female character J.J. Abrams and Co. have added? A hero belonging to the next generation. None other than Han Solo and Princess Leia's daughter-- not a son, I should point out.

So when you read about women complaining about no women in Star Wars, ask yourself whether the movie would make any sense if it did have an equal number of women. There's just no way a gender-balanced universe allows something like Jar Jar Binks to exist.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Feds Reverse Approval Of Alcoholic Cocaine

Last week, Palcohol, a powdered form of everybody's favorite legal way to get crunked up and destroy lives, was approved by the FDA. Until somebody found the company's website and noticed that it contained a page enumerating every conceivable way this could go horribly wrong:
What's worse than going to a concert, sporting event, etc. and having to pay $10, $15, $20 for a mixed drink... Take Palcohol into the venue and enjoy a mixed drink for a fraction of the cost.

We have found adding Palcohol to food is so much fun. Sprinkle Palcohol on almost any dish and give it an extra kick. Some of our favorites are the Kamikaze in guacamole, Rum on a BBQ sandwich, Cosmo on a salad and Vodka on eggs in the morning to start your day off right. Experiment. Palcohol is great on so many foods. Remember, you have to add Palcohol AFTER a dish is cooked as the alcohol will burn off if you cook with it...and that defeats the whole purpose.

Let's talk about the elephant in the room….snorting Palcohol. Yes, you can snort it. And you'll get drunk almost instantly because the alcohol will be absorbed so quickly in your nose. Good idea? No. It will mess you up. Use Palcohol responsibly.
Kinda makes Four Loko sound like Aquafina, doesn't it?

Now the FDA has reversed their decision. Don't be too hard on them. They were drunk off some really strong guacamole at the time.

UPDATE 3/12/15: And it's back. FDA now satisfied that powdered alcohol won't bring the ruin of mankind.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Dear Juan Pablo

Dear Juan, Most Recent Bachelor on ABC's The Bachelor,

I don't know you personally. I only know what I've seen on ABC's The Bachelor, which is like saying I know all about defusing bombs from watching Die Hard. I'm sure you're a really nice guy, even if ABC's editors made you look like a douchebag on national TV.

Truth is, I was as uncomfortable as you were when Chris Harrison kept trying to get you to say "I love you" to your chosen mate, Nikki, on the "After The Final Rose" post-finale episode. You kept deflecting, and Harrison kept at it, all but demanding you say "I love zis girl," as if those words would magically make every woman in the room shed their clothes and launch into a orgy of epic proportions. Harrison acted as if he couldn't understand why you couldn't say "I love you" to a girl you'd only recently met on a reality TV show.

Here's the thing. I said "I love you" to plenty of girls in my unbridled youth, most of whom I now realize I didn't actually love. Was I horny for them? Did being in their presence give me a giddy high, as if I'd just entered an Amsterdam coffee house? You betcha. Back then, however, I couldn't distiguish that from real love, which, as you and I know, Juan Pablo, is far deeper than--"her melones estan grande."

The truth is, love is kind of like quantum physics. Let me explain, Juan Pablo, because I know soccer is more your area of knowledge. See, physicists, studying the tiny atoms that make up our world (and Nikki's masivo globos), discovered that the tiniest parts of our universe are both particles and waves. They are both something that can be held in place like a grain of sand--and something that floats about in space, undefinable, here and there and everywhere at once. Love is like that. It's both a feeling-- those butterflies you feel when Nikki's picos gemelos are pressed against you-- and something more practical and real, like mutual respect, shared interests, similar values, unified goals. The things you know and want to know about each other. Any "love" that just has one part but not the other isn't real love at all.

You recently Instagrammed a photo of Nikki, and said: "Mi Catira @nikki_ferrell LOVES her JOB and thats ONE of the things I LOVE about her... #NikkiTheNurse." Rumors also indicate that you may have told Nikki the actual words, "I love you." But I'm not so sure that you do. On The Bachelor, you never asked any of the girls anything about themselves. When Andi called you out on seeming disinterested, you said you were just being honest. "It's okay," you said, over and over. But you kind of missed her point. Part of finding love is discovering what makes up another person. Finding the pieces of them that fit the pieces of you, and I'm not just talking about salchichos and bollos. Your Instagram caption? Well, I think it shows that you don't quite understand the meaning of love.

Loving a job isn't the same as loving a person. Loving one, or even a few attributes of somebody isn't the same as loving her. Love is when all the pieces fit. Even the ones that don't. Even the annoyances, the "dark matter," as the physicists would call it, are so bound up in what you love about someone, that you can't take them away without bursting everything else apart. Love is when your waves and your particles are one and the same, even though you're still two separate people to the untrained eye. You orbit each other, even from far away. I'm sure Nikki gives you some good feelings. Those waves are strong. But when I look for the particles, I just don't see them.

I wish you the best, Juan Pablo. I don't fault you for keeping the word "love" close to the vest. That's the way it should be. Just do yourself a favor and take Andi's advice. Get to know Nikki. More than just what she does for a living or how delicioso her gato is.


Adam's Life

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

2014 Jewish Fantasy Baseball Team

"Jewish" is a funny word. Can you imagine a Catholic calling themselves Catholic-ish? Or A Muslim calling themselves Muslim-ish? Officially, the "ish" suffix, in English, means "belonging to," or "having the characteristics of," but when most of us use it, we use it to mean "close, but not quite." As in, that 5'9" guy we really want to set up with our 5'11" friend isn't short, he's "tall-ish."

This is a long-winded way of saying that, when I call this year's Jewish Fantasy Baseball Team, "Jewish," the "ish" means it's all relative. The sad fact remains, there are still a lot of holes to fill on the roster after you've accounted for the players with any relation to the Jewish faith. Hence, my catcher, Evangelical Christian A.J. Pierzynski. The last name is vaguely Jewish-sounding. A.J. does not stand for Adam Judah, unfortunately.

Here's this year's squad, the Hammering Hebrews of Yahoo Winners' League 101786:

1B- Ike Davis.
"'It’s funny about Judaism,' Davis said. 'It doesn’t matter if you’re ultra-religious or not, as long as you know that it’s in you or you’re a part of it, everyone accepts you.' Following a Jewish custom, Davis’ given name is Isaac Benjamin — the first names of Millie Davis’ two grandfathers." Davis had a rough year last year--.205 AVG and 9 HR, but he secured the Mets 1B job in camp. I predict 20 HRs this season.

2B - Jason Kipnis"Kipnis is a practicing Roman Catholic, though he self-identifies as Jewish due to his father's Jewish ancestry." One of the best second basemen in the game, I predict 20 HRs and 30 steals.

3B- Ryan ZimmermanBeing that my blog comes up a couple times on the top of Google searches for, "Is Ryan Zimmerman Jewish?", the answer is obviously, no. But apparently, Zimmerman means "carpenter" in German, and Jesus was a carpenter, and we all know Jesus was a Jew. So there you go. 23 HRs or so in the heart of the Washington Nationals' order should do this team nicely.

SS- Derek Jeter Find a Jewish Yankees fan and ask him who his favorite player is. If it's not Derek Jeter, I'll eat my hat (I wear a Nestle Crunch bar as a hat). Derek is 40, and coming off a major injury, but he'll bat second in the Yankees lineup, and if he stays healthy, I predict 15 HRs and 15 steals, with a .290 AVG. 

OF- Ryan Braun Wondering why there was no 2013 Jewish Fantasy Baseball Team? Well, Braun's suspension, combined with injuries to Ian Kinsler and Kevin Youkilis... it just sort of brought me down. But Braun is back, and if he's learned anything from his Jewish faith, he repented for his sins last Yom Kippur and will use this season to make the world a better place. 35 HRs and 25 steals would be a good start. Tikkum Olam, Ryan.
OF- Nate Schierholtz Internet commenter pantherpro once said, "Nate is Jewish!" on this HardballTalk post. He then insinuated that Nate is bad at baseball. In addition, Twitterer @TacoTansel, sad that Nate left his favorite team, the San Francisco Giants says, "Ima miss Nate Schierholtz. He's my favorite Jewish player of all time." More authoritative sources haven't weighed in on Nate's faith. But nevertheless, Nate is not bad at baseball. A season of 15 HRs and 10 steals isn't outside the realm of possibility.
OF- Torii Hunter Torii is most definitely not a Jew. And his behavior has sometimes been questionable. But I share his last name. And I'm Jewish. This team needs some category juice. 17 HRs, 10 steals... on Detroit he'll gobble up runs and RBIs.

UTIL- Adam Lind Jewish-sounding name. I'm not the only one who has lumped him in with the Hebrews. I'm high on his abilities. 25 HR, 90 RBI seems possible, even if he may sit against tough southpaws.
UTIL- Ian Kinsler "...Every year for Passover we’d have a seder, which I always looked forward to. I’m not a devoutly spiritual person, but I’m very into the cultural identity that comes with being Jewish. If there are Jewish kids out there who look up to me or see me as a role model of what’s possible, I embrace that proudly." We're proud of you too, Ian. Part of a heavy-hitting Detroit lineup (coached by former Jewish major-leaguer Brad Ausmus) and fully back from injury, Kinsler has a real shot at 20 HRs and 20 steals.
SP Jordan Zimmermann is on here for the same reasons Ryan Zimmer-one "n" is. A high K-rate, facing National League lineups should make him a solid pitcher all year. Clay Buchholz is not Jewish but the last name is... in the ballpark. Once again, his high K-rate should keep my numbers in that category up. Scott Feldman, the only real Jewish starter in the majors, already won his first game of the season, giving up only 2 hits to the Yankees. Tyson Ross is not Jewish, but the last name is. Pitching in Petco should give him solid ratios. And how could I have a Jewish team without one of the most famous names in Genesis? When top prospect Noah Syndergaard gets called up to stop the Mets season from drowning, I'll be there to sneak aboard his ark (yes, this is cheesy writing).
RPTrevor Rosenthal, despite the spot-on name, isn't Jewish, although he says, "My dad is an attorney, and he gets invited to bar mitzvahs all the time." He's a lights-out closer who should dominate in Ks and saves all year. Joe Nathan, another JINO, also should hold down the closer job without issues. J.J. Putz, doesn't wear the Star of David, nor does he have a closing gig, but his Yiddish last name gives me hope he'll provide solid Ks in the 8th inning and be next in line should Addison Reed falter. Craig Breslow, currently on the DL, is a Jew, and if he comes back and contributes the way he did in Boston last year, he'll be a vital member of the squad. While he works his way back from injury, I added Matt Lindstrom, not Jewish, but if I hope to compete, I need saves, and his last name is close enough.

Bench Rounding out the roster is real Jew, Josh Satin, Davis's backup on the Mets. I refuse believe that Houston outfielder Robbie Grossman isn't Jewish... he has to be in denial. I expect 10 HRs and 20 steals from him. Adam Dunn is on my team for his perennial 30+ HRs, he does share names with the first man in Genesis.

I haven't addressed Tim Lincecum. Really no way to justify him. I landed him in the automated draft, and he's too useful a piece to straight-up drop. What I'd like to do is trade him and Torii Hunter for a more "Jewish" player... but so far, no trade partners are biting. I'm hoping Timmy starts the season strong and becomes a valuable asset that someone will give up a Madison Bumgarner, Max Scherzer, Steven Strasburg or Paul Goldschmidt. But that's unlikely to happen.

Also, I currently don't have Sam Fuld or Danny Valencia on the roster. As rarely-used backups, they don't have a lot to contribute right now. But if they become starters, I'd add them. Same goes for if Ryan Lavarnway gets called up and plays for Boston.

Can my team win it all? Probably not. But can we win a good number of games this season, embarrassing teams that chose more traditional strategies? I believe so.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Want An Olympic Gold Medal?

Why bother spending years of athletic training when you can spend a mere 19k?

Ford Konno's medal on Etsy

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