Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Texas: The goyish Israel

Having returned from my last business trip to south/west Texas and the Hill country, my final observations:

Texas is the goyish version of Israel.

For one thing, the landscape is eerily similar, at least in the vcinity of San Antonio and surroundings. It is the boundary between "the desert and the sown," and it's basically a limestone plateau with some fault escarpments. True, Texas doesn't have the Jordan Rift, but
otherwise the similarities are striking. The San Antonio area is reminiscent of the Galilee, with dusty forests and prickly pear cactus in the undergrowth. As you go west, it get's drier and drier, until, by the time you get to the Pecos River, 40 or 50 miles west of Del Rio, it looks like the Judaean desert. And the grey and tan limestone rock outcroppings are eroded and wethered the same way in both countries.

Socially, there are also many similarities.

  • Israel consists mostly of people whose lives are driven almost entirely by secular values, but for some reason they defer to (and give political power to) religious extremists. So, too with Texas.
  • Israel consists of many people who have very progressive ideas, yet the general political atmosphere is that of paranoia and borderline racism. So, too, with Texas.
  • Israel has Moroccans, who are second-class citizens, and Arabs, who are many classes below that. Texas has Mexicans (Tejanos) and schvartzes (sometimes referred to by the "n" word, though, thankfully, people don't use that in public much anymore.) (Check out the Website of Amir Peretz, an Israeli politician of Moroccan descent -- He even looks like a Mexican, and many redneck Israeli voters react to him about the same way redneck Texans would react to a Tejano politican.)
  • In Israel, the Ashkenazi white-bread ruling class chows down on Arab and mizrachi cuisine. In Texas, the red-neck Anglo ruling class chows down on mexican food.
  • Arab and Mizrachi cuisine relies heavily on hot chili peppers. So does Mexican and "Tex-Mex" food.
  • Israel has a heavily guarded border, with the security forces creating "drags" in the dirt, sand or gravel, to detect the footprints of people who have entered the country illegally. The border regions of Texas are similar.
  • You can buy kiddush wine and yartzeit candles in the supermarket in Tel Aviv. You can also buy kiddush wine and yartzeit candles at the supermarkets in San Antonio, Del Rio, Uvalde, and Laredo.

Perhaps you, my loyal readers can find other similarities ebtween these two great nations.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Rabbi Jack freaks out: Amalek is at our door!

Different "Rabbi Jack" than Dr. Wetheimer, this is Jack Reimer, who really is a rabbi, God help us.

As reported extensively in Canonist, the good rabbi (who has providing rabbinic advice to President Clinton as part of his resume), created quite a stir recently with a sermon that claimed that Islamic fundamentalists were Amalek. Yup, the same Amalek who we are supposed to "always remember" to "blot out their memory."

Now, you have to admit that always remembering makes it hard to blot out the memory, but, hey, that's what God allegedly commanded us to do.

Well, Rabbi Jack took some heat and tried to clarify what he meant (always a bad sign when you have to do that). Here's my rather emotional (perhaps overly so) commentary, "fair and balanced," as they say over at Fox:

What a disingenuous sleazeball! Makes me ashamed to be affiliated with the Conservative movement.

He's a wuss, a nervous nellie, who gets the vapors because a bunch of naughty Muslims have a few riots. He sees those riots and immediately attributes this sort of behavior to all "fundemantalist" Muslims. He should have spent a little more time to research the matter and find that there were significant numbers of fundamentalist Muslim leaders, including the Egyptian Islamic Brotherhood, who condemned violence and counseled restraint. Sure, I'm not exactly on these guys' side, after all they want to pass an international treaty to criminalize blasphemy, which I oppose (the idea of a treaty, not blashphemy, which I believe is a fundamental right of every intelligent being, including God, God actually does exist). But it shows that Muslims, including the fundamentalist ones aren't violent crazies.

Then, after tagging all fundamentalist Muslims as violent crazies, he goes on to compare them with the Nazis and the Soviets as the greatest threat to the world of this century. And that their motiviations are pure evil. Which is what makes them "Amalek." Then he slanders "liberals" as saying that they have a "fantasy that people are basically good." Talk about strawman arguments! Is Rabbi Jack a mind-reader that he knows what goes on inside peoples' minds? Liberals aren’t foolish. They know that not everyone is basically good. Listen to them talk about George W. Bush and the neocons.

As for terrorism, sorry, I am not particularly scared by it. Cautious, yes. I don't mind the occasional parcel inspection. After all, I live and work around prime terrorist targets. But the ides that the only way we can survive is by accepting a police state and going after all the Dangerous Brown Men is bogus. I suspect that if I happen to die a violent death before my time, it's more likely the instrument will be some DUI rednecks driving on the wrong side of the road than an Islamic terrorist. Maybe Henry Ford was Amalek?!! :) Also, one should note that Tim McVeigh wasn't an Arab or even a Muslim. So even the danger of terrorism isn’t exclusively a Muslim thing.

Pandering to obsessive fear about Islamic terrorism is a right-wing political tactic that's used to divert the public's attention from other, more serious problems. They do the same thing at a local level, using urban blacks instead of crazy Muslims as the bogeyman. Some suburban white sheep have bought into this to the point that they think going downtown provides a 100% risk of a mugging.

Not that Islamic terrorism isn't a problem that needs attention, but it's not the greatest danger we face. With this sermon, Rabbi Jack has essentially allied himself with the right-wing fear-mongers, whose incompetence in their management of this problem has been amply documented.

He also plays fast and loose with his factual assertions, particularly involving the number of fanatical Muslim fundamentalists and their proportion in the general population of Islam. He admits it:

"“I think it’s a gigantic number…I played with the number three percent as a guess…who are the terrorists, who are these extremists?

"As a guess?!?! In other words, Rabbi Jack, you have absolutely no friggin' idea how many Islamic fundies there are out there. You just pulled a number out of your butt and ran with it like it was factual. Irresponsible? Maybe. Loss of credibility? Definitely.

The terrorists, however dangerous they are, are not the kind of threat to us as were the Nazis or the Soviets. These people do not represent a major world Power with the military might to conquer us or turn us into a pile of radioactive slag. Sure, they can kill people, and it's a little scary (but then so are those redneck DUIs, and they are our neighbors and even look and talk like us). But destroy us? They don't have the capability. If such people are absolute evil, than evil is a pretty pathetic thing, not worthy of God's "eternal war."

And Rabbi Jack is a pretty pathetic excuse for a "spiritual leader."

I transform Rev. Billy Graham into Rabbi Binyomin Grahamofsky

I really enjoy travelling to Texas. Where else can you find an advice column by the Rev. Billy Graham in the major daily newspapers? Now, as a Jew, I always thought that Rev. Graham had little to say to me (except for his antisemitic slurs in private to President Nixon in 1972, but he aplogized for that), but after reading his columns, I now realize that this guy really has a yiddeshe neshoma (Jewish soul), and with only the smallest amount of editing, his columns wouldbe suitable for inclusion tinto even the most frum Orthodox Jewish newspapers.

Here is an example:

Dear Rabbi Grahamofsky:

Q: Our neighbors love to go gambling on weekends eat out a treif restaurants (we have some casinos really good rib joints and crab houses nearby), and they keep inviting us to go with them. As Christians> erlicher frum yidden, we have moral objections to gambling eating treif food, but how can we explain this to them without sounding self-righteous? Or should we go with them occasionally? - T.G.

A: What would you accomplish by accepting their invitation? Yes, you might avoid the embarrassment of turning them down all the time - but that would be all. The Bible sets a high standard for God's people: "Avoid every kind of evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:22)
"God said to Moses, 'How long shall this nation continue to provoke Me? .... I will kill them with a plague and annihilate them. Then I will make you into a greater, more powerful nation then they." (Numbers 14:11-12; "The inclination of man's heart is evil from his youth." (Gen. 8:21)

Instead, ask yourself what God Hashem wants to accomplish in their lives, and how He might use you to help them. From what you say elsewhere in your letter, they apparently have no interest in God or the church, frumkeit and their only desire is to live for the moment. But God Hashem loves them, and He doesn't want them to keep living such empty and meaningless lives. God loves them so much that He sent His only Son into the world to die for their sins and bring them into His family forever gave them a Jewish mother to instill in them a sense of Jewish guilt so that they could live thier lives in neurotic obsessive-compulsive angnst forever.

Ask God Hashem to help you see your neighbors through His eyes, and to have the same love for them that He does. Then ask Him to help you be a witness to them of Christ's love and concern. Then pray to Hashem that He may strengthen you in your task of laying on a good Jewish guilt trip on these apikorsim. Let them know you appreciate their invitation, but tell them honestly that this is not the kind of entertainment you wish to pursue trief food is disgusting shmutz, that they are endangering their share in olam haba by eating such dreck, and that every crabcake and pork spare-rib they consume will help ensure that thier children will end up marrying goyim and becomming followers of the Rev. Billy Graham. It's also OK to call them kofrim, and apikorsim to their face and learn with them the halachos that apply to kofrim and apikorsim.

Then pray for them, and ask God to help you be their friends - without compromising your commitment to Christ frumkeit. And as God gives you opportunity, share with them the good news of Christ's forgiveness and new life some shabbos kugel, which has special spiritual powers to turn even the most hardened apikoris into a right wing Orthodox black-hatter.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

What happens in Eilat, stays in Eilat

Senator Santorum, please take note:

British tourist Sharon Tendler has finally made her dream match - by "marrying" a dolphin she has been visiting for 15 years in the Israeli resort of Eilat, the mass-circulation Yediot Ahronot daily reported today.

I know there's a shidduch crisis, but this seems to be going to extremes.

Somebody from the rabbanut agreed to do this?

And I wonder what all those right-wing fundamentalist Christian Republicans who are so hot on Israel would say if they knew that such things were legal in the Holy Land?

(hat tip to Markos Moulitsas Zúniga at the Daily Kos for the link to the article and the idea for the title.)

Thursday, March 02, 2006

A night in Boy's Town: Jesus made me do it!

[WARNING: Some links may contain explicit material of an adult nature.]

"Hey geek," said the curvacious petitte dark-haired bauty with the sultry Latin accent,"you want to have some fun?"

OK, I'll admit that most guys who visit Boy's Town in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico don't sit at a table with a PowerBook blogging away. No wonder the young lady was curious about me.

What, you don't know anything about "Boy's Town?" No, not the one founded by Father Flannigan, we're talking about what the Mexicans can the "Zona Rosa" or "Zona de Toleracion." Yes, we're talking, as you may have figured out had you clicked on the first hyperlink, about semi-legalized prostitution. Rather than allow these activities to get out of hand, the authorities restrict it to certian areas. And the Boy's Town along the U.S.-Mexican border have become a longtime part of the local culture on both sides of the border, a rite of passage for generations of young and not so young Texan men.

"Oy!" you are saying. "Conservative Apikoris, we know you are off the derech, but to sink this low?.... Don't you realize that prostitution is degrading to these poor women who are virtual sex slaves?..."

Well, first off, I'm not sure that visiting such a place is sinking all that low. As I learned while studying for my Bar Mitzvah, the righteous m'raglim (spies) sent by Joshua did exactly what I did -- the crossed over a river into a foreign country and headed straight for Jericho's equivalent of Boystown. As I have posted previously, I interpret the story to mean that if you are on a mission of vital importance to the Jewish people, it is absolutely permissible to do such things.

Second, while I would admit that being a "working girl" in one of these establishments would not be my first choice of employment if I were a young Mexicana, the pay and working conditions, as described to me by the girls, were certainly better than most of the alternative opportunities. These young women might have to work on their backs doing something many consider "shameful," but they are not treated as slaves, they can come and go, and if they want to quit the business, they can certainly so so.

But what was I doing there? Certainly Ms. Apikoris would not be happy, to say the least, had she known I was visiting such a place. But, rest assured, Ms. Apikoris had nothing to worry about. My behavior was blameless.

This excursion wasn't my idea, it was solely the work of Jesus. No, not that Jesus, rather my esteemed colleague Jesus G____, south Texas native, with whom I occasionally work on my visits to the sunny south.

"You gotta see this," he said, "It's as much a Texas tradition as cowboys, barbecue, and George W. Bush!"

"What about the drug gangs?" I replied nervously. Nuevo Laredo had been hit lately with a good bit of shootings between rival cartels.

"No problemo," says Jesus, "they only shoot up other gang members. If you're not involved in the drug dealing, they'll leave you alone. Besides, we'll take a taxi from the bridge."

Which is what we did, a scarifying ride through what appeared to be cruumbling blocks of buildings to a compound surround by a wall with razor wire on top. A police station was at the gate. Well that's a novel experience, visiting a hooker and being protected by the police, not arrested by them.

We entered one of the more "gringo-friendly" bars and are escorted to a table by a very polite and efficient waiter. Jesus ordered shots of tequilla. I'm the designated driver, so I order Agua Minerale. We look over the young ladies whose lack of tz'niyus (modesty) in their dress would cause my frum next-door neighbor back home to blow a gasket. We won't say any more about the activities going on at the dance floor. Anyway, Jesus quickly finds "Sonia," a skimpily clad lady with whom he negotiates a price of $80 for what is quaintly called by the locals a "sucky-fucky." I don't think I need to explain in detail what that involves. Anyway, as Jesus goes off for his tryst, I'm sitting alone, blogging away when "Rebecca," the curvy petite Latina described at the start comes over to chat me up.

So we chat, and I buy her a couple of watered-down $6 "ladies drinks" (from which she gets a kickback) to keep her interest, as my quasi-journalistic instincts make me want to try to understand where she's at.

Of course, Rebecca isn't interested in being a journalist's source. she wants me to pay her $80 (plus $26 for the room, plus $1 for the condom) and have a "fucky-sucky." I explain to her, that, while I'm a bit of a heretic, I am a sort of a religious commentator, so I'm reluctant to engage in such activities. As a consolation, and showed her my blog. She said, that's no problem, she understands, she goes to Mass every Sunday, and even gives some of her earnings as contributions to the Church. I pointed out to her the part of the Bible that forbids such earnings to be given to the Temple, and she responded by pointing out that the Catholic Church is not the same thing, so other rules apply. Oy! A Catholic pilpul artist. I wasn't surprised when she told me that she went to a Jesuit school. I was surprised when she told me that her school was noted for having the most number of graduates who subsequently converted to Judaism. Apparently, the Headmanster was called to Rome to have a little "conversation" with Ratzi about that record. She seemed to think it was funny, and mentioned a few names, one of whom is a guy who davens at my minyan! She asked me to send her regards to "Carlos," but I'm not sure how I would explain the circumstances under which I met his old school chum.

Finally, I knew I was taking up her time and interfering with her parnassah, so I offered her $60 if we could go to her room and "just talk." I don't know whether that's a violation of "journalistic ethics," but considering what's published today, who cares. She seemed rather agreeable, so we went in back to what seemed like a pleasant college dorm room, and I showed her all the J-Blogs. She was very interested, and was really impressed with DovBear and the Gadol HaDor. She was especially interested in their struggles to cleave to their religious traditions, despite the fact that rational truth seems to indicate that it's all BS. Rebecca said she was struggling with the same things, only even worse, as no matter how hard she prayed at church, her only options were to work in Boystown (making a decent living in a life of shame), or be exploited in a manquiladora, or working for Wal-Mart Mexico, or sneaking over the border and making less than minimum wage as a maid. Even if she were to get a Green Card, minimum wage at McDonald's would be the best she could hope for. So why bother believing in God or Jesus, or whatever? She was really impressed that even "rich Americans" were thinking about such things.

"That DovBear or Gadol Hador, of they come down here, I'll give them a special $60 discount for full service," she told me. Mis-Nagid, on the other hand, she thought was being a little arrogant totally rejecting his heritage, so if he came down, he would be on his own negotiating a price. She respected the opinions of Jameel, Classmate-wearing-yarmulke, and Lakewood Yid, but thought they were a little to smug in the certainty of their belief. "They should become Mexicans for a few months and see what their trust in HaShem would be like after doing that for a while." In all, I thought she had a very Jewish attitude, so it didn't surprise me when she told me that her mother locked herself in a closet every Friday night and lit candles.

"Oy!" I said. "You should see a rabbi immediately. You're probably Jewish!"

She said she might. "But I'm a little worried that if I do, the headmaster of my school will really get into trouble with the Vatican."

Anyway, all too sonn the half hour session ended and we went back out into the bar. Jesus was there, grinning from ear to ear. Apparently he had a very good time with "Sonia," and described the shmutzidik stuff they did in great detail on the ride home. I was a bit embarrassed. After all, they guy's name is "Jesus," and the things he did...oy.

I'm getting too old for this kind of stuff. But I did bring back a bottle of $40 reposada tequilla that only cost me $21, so I guess the trip was worthwhile.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Key to College Success: The Ability to Read Bad Writing

The ability to handle complex reading is the major factor separating high school students who are ready for college reading from those who are not, according to a new report.

In complex reading passages, organization may be elaborate, messages may be implicit, interactions among ideas or characters may be subtle and the vocabulary is demanding and intricate.

And to think that in 30 years of my professional career, including two advanced degrees, I've been going down the wrong path. At least if you believe ACT, the testing company that put out this report.

In all of my career of professional writing, I was taught to simplify, simplify. And to write "not only so you can be understood, but also so that you cannot possibly be misunderstood." In other words, the lesson I learned in my life was that "elaborate organization," "implicit messages," "subtle interactions among ideas or characters," and "demanding and intricate vocabulary" are all the marks of bad writing.

On the other hand.....

"Academic success" applies only to being able to handle the demands of an academic environment. And one of the most characteristic feastures of academic writing is that most of it is very bad. So I guess you can make a case that if a student wants to suceed in college they have to be able to read bad academic writing.

This begs the question of whether a college education is really necessary for sucess in most lines of work, but that's the subject of another post.