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Friday, September 30, 2005

More Times Trouble

I wrote this earlier this week about a correction issued in the NY Times by the public editor, Brian Calame. I like this guy. He has no problem trashing the standards of corrections as they exist in the paper now. This time, he criticizes columnist Frank Rich for refusing to correct a mistake in a previous column. It seems that Rich wrote a piece alleging that Rich - and other Times columnists - all either made or perpetuated the same mistake regarding the appointment of Michael Brown as FEMA's head.
While minor in normal times, the mistake has been made a total of four times by three Op-Ed columnists attacking cronyism—and once in a news article. In all five instances, Joe Allbaugh, President Bush’s 2000-campaign manager and a former head of FEMA, and Michael Brown, his successor at FEMA, were described variously as college roommates, college buddies or college friends.

In fact, the two men didn’t even attend the same college. While they have been friends for 25 years, a spokeswoman for Mr. Allbaugh said they didn’t know each other during their years at different Oklahoma colleges.
Rich went on to correct the error as a parenthetical buried in a subsequent column, but did not issue it in correction form until after the Calame column was published, and the Rich column with the untrue allegation is still available to be read with no indication that the information contained within is in error. Now, obviously there are other points to be made in defense of the suggestion that Michael Brown was appointed due to cronyism, but this is just not one of them.

The good news is, the Times is extremely careful in its standards when it comes to corrections like this one, published in the Times yesterday:
The About New York column yesterday, about an imagined conversation with God at a Manhattan diner, referred incorrectly to the Bible to which the thickness of the menu was likened. It is the King James Version, not St. James.
Okay, then. So we're clear.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

A Bit Tasteless

The Jewish Week seems to have inexplicably given two separate articles about the possible blurring of church/state lines the same title. Strange enough as that may sound, the shared title itself is an even stranger choice:
New Breaches In Church State Levee
It seems like a particularly tasteless turn of phrase - especially for the article that doesn't even have anything to do with Hurricane Katrina. I mean, the levee breaches that occurred in New Orleans did have the distinction of having killed hundreds of people. Pretty recently, too. Maybe it's just me, but perhaps the Jewish Week could have come up with another cute idea for a title (or two) that was actually, y'know, cute?

The Magic of Kugel

There has been much discussion in the blogosphere about the power of kugel. There are some who assert that kugel tastes better on Shabbos due to some mystical reason, or that the eating of kugel represents some kind of spiritual experience. Others find that to be bunk.
Well, looks like the NY Times comes down on the side of kugel having mystical powers. In an illustrated article on the front page today's Dining In section titled "Kugel Unraveled", the Times asserts that:
FOR many American Jews, kugel is the taste of childhood. They want exactly the kind of kugel their mother made, whether it is a weekly Sabbath treat or served only on holidays like Rosh Hashana, which starts on Monday night.
I didn't know until recently, though, that this homey casserole of noodles or potatoes was credited with mystical powers.
Allan Nadler, a professor of religious studies at Drew University, studied references to kugel in Hasidic texts and ate it in Brooklyn and in Jerusalem at about a dozen rebbes' tishes, or tables, where male followers of a Hasidic rabbi gather to eat, sing and study the Torah.
According to Hasidic interpretations of Kabbalah mysticism, he said, kugel has special powers.
"Clearly the spiritual high point of the meal is the offering of the kugel," Professor Nadler said. At that moment the rabbi has the power to bestow health and food, and even to help couples conceive.
Can you believe that the Gray Lady is presenting scholarly evidence that attests to the special powers and spirituality offered up by a plate of kugel? Me either.

Read the rest of the article for innovations in the style and taste of kugel. An excerpt:
On a recent afternoon at Hungarian Kosher Catering in Borough Park, at least 18 kinds of kugel were for sale, and customers were discussing them in Yiddish, English and Hungarian. Most American Jews know about noodle (lokshen) and potato kugel. But apple-noodle kugel? Salt and pepper kugel? Broccoli kugel? Modern "designer" three-layer kugel with sweet potato, broccoli and cauliflower?
"It used to be that it was only potato and noodle, nothing goes without them," said Shmelka Friedman, 48, owner of the shop and a follower of the Satmar sect, which came to the United States from Hungary after World War II. His repertory now includes both blueberry and rhubarb kugel.
Wow. This is not your Bubbie's lokshen kugel.
There's even a point made about how the health craze has made its mark on the Kugel-eating community:
Shimmy Rosenblum, the executive chef at Gourmet on J in Flatbush, has also noticed the transformation of kugel. "People tend to be more health conscious, but when they want flavor they'll look aside," he said. "They'll cheat. People come in with questions you'd never ask before. Does it have oil? What kind of oil? Are there any carbohydrates? Any sugar? Now they are suddenly allergic to everything."
A far cry from the days of kugel made with whole eggs and shmaltz.

Check it out, fellow kugel-bakers. There are even recipes.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Brownie Talks Bull

Our pal Brownie, fresh from being rehired as a consultant on Hurricane Katrina events, is now using his new position to claim basically no responsibilty for the major screw-up that left hundreds of thousands of Katrina refugees stranded without food and water in the wake of the storm. Appearing before a special congressional panel set up by House Republican leaders to investigate government action in the wake of the hurricane, Brownie vigorously defends himself and shifts the blame for the catastrophe to anyone at all. Check it out:
"My biggest mistake was not recognizing by Saturday that Louisiana was dysfunctional," two days before the storm hit, Brown told a special congressional panel set up by House Republican leaders to investigate the catastrophe.
Um, no. Your biggest mistake was not getting aid to those who needed it in a timely fashion.
"The people of FEMA are being tired of being beat up, and they don't deserve it," Brown said
Okay, he's right. Maybe the "people" of FEMA who worked tirelessly in the aftermath of Katrina don't deserve to be beat up, especially when the blame should really fall on their director, who got canned for showing absolutely no competence or leadership.
Brown said the lack of an effective evacuation of New Orleans before the storm was "the tipping point for all the other things that went wrong." He said he had personally pushed Blanco to order such an evacuation.
Irrelevant to your job at hand, Brownie, which was to handle a national disaster. What if this had been (God forbid) a terrorist attack, with no advance warning or time to evacuate? FEMA, under your leadership, would not have been equipped to handle anything but a disaster that has been evacuated of potential victims in advance of it? An absurd argument.
When asked by Rep. Harold Rogers (news, bio, voting record), R-Ky, whether the lack of an ordered evacuation was "the proximate cause of most people's misery," Brown said, "Yes."
Um, no. The proximate cause of most people's misery, notably in New Orleans, was being stranded in fetid conditions with no food, water, or medical care. Regardless of whether or not they had evacuated in advance. FEMA's job is to handle the aftermath, regardless of whether Nagin and Blanco were entirely at fault for the botched evacuation.
Brown in his opening statement said he had made several "specific mistakes" in dealing with the storm, and listed two.
One, he said, was not having more media briefings.
As to the other, he said: "I very strongly personally regret that I was unable to persuade Gov. Blanco and Mayor Nagin to sit down, get over their differences, and work together. I just couldn't pull that off."
Uh, media briefings. Right. That would have been very helpful to the starving masses. More news briefings, so that you could have done more of this:
Brown also said he was "just tired and misspoke" when a television interviewer appeared to be the first to tell him that there were desperate residents at the New Orleans Convention Center.
Brown testified that he had already learned, one day before the interview, that people were flocking to the center.
I don't think more news briefings would have been that helpful, Brownie, considering your lack of talent in getting the story straight.

Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job!

Trouble at the Times

NY Times put out a piece this week, written by the public editor, regarding the Geraldo Rivera kerfuffle in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. To recap the story:
NY Times writer Alessandra Stanley wrote an article on September 5 regarding the news coverage after Katrina. The controversial passage:
“Fox’s Geraldo Rivera did his rivals one better: yesterday, he nudged an Air Force rescue worker out of the way so his camera crew could tape him as he helped lift an older woman in a wheelchair to safety.”
Sounds just like him, and these kinds of pushy moves are the reason I don't watch him, ever. Except for one minor point. The "nudge" that Stanley describes? It never happened.
Apparently, Rivera denied the allegation, and provided the Times with a copy of all the relevant tape which clears him of such action. Fox News has run all the relevant footage, including outtakes, and there is no evidence whatsoever of a nudge. The Times' Public Editor, Byron Calame, agrees with that assessment, and takes the Times and the original author to task for not issuing a correction to date.
I have been involved in scores of correction disputes over the years at another newspaper, but this one is unusual in that there is very little to argue about. Since Ms. Stanley based her comments on what she saw on the screen Sept. 4, the videotape of that segment means everyone involved is looking at exactly the same evidence.

My viewings of the videotape - at least a dozen times, including one time frame by frame - simply doesn't show me any "nudge" of any Air Force rescuer by Mr. Rivera. (Ms. Stanley declined my invitation to watch the tape with me.) I also reviewed all of the so-called outtakes shot by Mr. Rivera's camera crew at the Holy Angels Apartments in New Orleans on the morning of Sept. 4. Neither the video nor the audio revealed any nudge of an Air Force rescuer.
So on what basis is the Times refusing to publish a correction? From an e-mail sent by Bill Keller, the executive editor of the Times to Calame:
"It was a semi-close call, in that the video does not literally show how Mr. Rivera insinuated himself between the wheelchair-bound storm victim and the Air Force rescuers who were waiting to carry her from the building. Whether Mr. Rivera gently edged the airman out of the way with an elbow (literally 'nudged'), or told him to step aside, or threw a body block, or just barged into an opening - it's hard to tell, since it happened just off-camera."
Keller goes on to say that
"frankly," that in light of Mr. Rivera's reaction to the review, Ms. Stanley "would have been justified in assuming" - and therefore writing, apparently - that Mr. Rivera used "brute force" rather than merely a "nudge" on Sept. 4.
So let's get this straight. Since Mr. Rivera is known to have a pushy, showboating style, and there is no tape to prove that he didn't shove, or "nudge" the Air Force rescue worker out of the way, it's perfectly fair to assert that it happened.

The mind boggles.

As Calame writes:
I find it disturbing that any Times editor would come so close to implying - almost in a tit-for-tat sense - that Mr. Rivera's bad behavior essentially entitles the paper to rely on assumptions and refuse to correct an unsupported fact.
...Based on the videotape and outtakes I saw, Ms. Stanley certainly would have been entitled to opine that Mr. Rivera's actions were showboating or pushy. But a "nudge" is a fact, not an opinion. And even critics need to keep facts distinct from opinions.
I cannot even begin to imagine how the Times can steadfastly refuse to issue a correction in this situation.

Monday, September 26, 2005


In a move I find difficult to believe, FEMA has rehired Michael Brown, a.k.a. "Brownie", of "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job!" fame, as a consultant, reportedly a paid consultant. In what capacity? CBS reports:
(CBS) — CBS News correspondent Gloria Borger reports that Michael Brown, who recently resigned as the head of the FEMA, has been rehired by the agency as a consultant to evaluate it's response following Hurricane Katrina.
I really don't know why FEMA needs to pay Michael Brown to tell them what all of America already knows about FEMA's "response following Hurricane Katrina" - under Brown's leadership. The response sucked. Do I get hired as a contractor by FEMA for that opinion?

Wouldn't everyone love to get fired for screwing up at work - and then get rehired to rehash the screw-up? I know I would. At least the rehiring part...

Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Marijuana Rebbe

Miriam over at Bloghead, who posted about the pot-smoking, driving-while-under-the-influence Rabbi first here (and received a lot of flak for her post - though I don't think she deserved it), pointed out the NY Times article that announces his reinstatement after only one month of paid leave. I, like Miriam, find the whole thing to be bewildering. The congregation has kept the Rabbi on because, the story goes, the Rabbi was loved by all, and the congregation wanted to use this opportunity to present a real-life example of Teshuva. I'm sorry, but it isn't like the Rabbi came to the realization of his misdeeds by himself. He was arrested. For posession of marijuana, and for driving while impaired by said illegal substance.

Now it is not for me to judge whether the Rabbi is on the road to repentance. He may well be. But I can't understand how the congregation is putting him back in his position of being a role model, and with so little in the way of consequences for his illegal, and dangerous, actions. What kind of message is this to send to the teenaged members of the congregation? That driving while under the influence is really not that bad? That it's only worth a minor slap on the wrist? Teenagers are one of the groups that are at highest risk for driving under the influence violations. Shouldn't a man who is ostensibly a major role model in their lives be a role model in that arena as well?

The nuttiest quote in the article came from an 87-year-old woman who is in favor of keeping the Rabbi on. She said:
"The man has done a stupid thing," she said, echoing a sentiment widely held on both sides of the issue. But, she added, "the crime that was committed was against our government, not against our people."
..."Who among us is perfect?" she said the next morning. "Who among you didn't take a little puff of marijuana? Who didn't get plastered and got behind the wheel, and didn't get caught? Who didn't take two cookies out of the supermarket and hand to your child?"
Miriam answers, "Um, me, me and me (to the last three...)". And, I would have hoped, the Rabbi of my congregation could say the same.

Just my two cents.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Discriminatory Policies

The folks over at AmericaBlog are up in arms over a Christian School that has denied admission to a student because she is being raised by a lesbian couple. They feel that it is inappropriate to take the parents' actions out on the child.

I wonder how they would feel about the Brooklyn schools who have been known to deny admission to students based on how much of her hair the applicant's mother covers, whether the applicant's household has a television, and in at least one case, whether the parents of the applicant have one nightable or two in their bedroom ( a "coded" question about whether the master beds are pushed together or apart). And of course we've all heard about the new trend in Yeshiva admission - Yeshivas that only admit students whose fathers are learning in Kollel full-time.

Though I abhor the narrow-minded, judgemental way in which these schools ask these questions, I have to admit that I am pretty comfortable with some Yeshivas choosing to try to keep a homogeneous student body. Even if a homogeneous student body is not a criteria I myself am looking for in choosing my children's places of education, I am well aware that there are those who do, and respect their right to do so. If anyone would like to try to convince me otherwise, feel free to attempt it in comments.

That being said, can anyone think of any crazy Yeshiva admissions criteria I've missed? Anyone hear of any other great examples of not-so-open admission policies in these Yeshivas?

Friday, September 23, 2005


Lovely. There is now a Republican leader in all 3 branches 2 out of the 3 branches of our Government under investigation.

(Update: Oops! Nephtuli pointed out that the judiciary is the third branch of government, and that the House and Senate are the same branch, the legislative. So we're only 2 for 3. The fact that my eight-year-old knows that teaches me a lesson that you should never blog while stirring a pot of chicken soup. Doesn't change the facts, though.)

The House:
House Majority Leader Tom Delay is under scrutiny for ethics violations, and a political action committee founded by him is under indictment:
A Travis County grand jury indicted a business organization and a political committee founded by U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay on Thursday on felony charges of violating election laws by using corporate money to influence state elections.
The Executive:
Top White House aide Karl Rove is under scrutiny for his ties to indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff:
Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff bragged two years ago that he was in contact with White House political aide Karl Rove on behalf of a large, Bermuda-based corporation that wanted to avoid incurring some taxes and continue receiving federal contracts, according to a written statement by President Bush's nominee to be deputy attorney general.
And now, the Senate:
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is being investigated by the SEC for possible insider trading:
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a potential Republican presidential candidate, is reportedly being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission for the sale of stock of HCA, the giant hospital company founded by his family.
Lovely. Glad we're in the hands of such ethical moral leaders.

Looks like a hatrick for team U! S! A!

Shifra's Review

My good blogging buddy, the talented, funny, and always reasonable AskShifra has been kind enough to review my blog, along with a few others.
In her words:
Orthomom is my blogging buddy and is really responsible for the birth of this blog. Her keen insights into world and local Jewish news have attracted the attention of bloggers, lurkers, and unscrupulous newsmen alike. Her series on famous Jewish women is definately worth reading and sharing with the young Jewish women in your life.

Thanks, Babe!

Coming Out

This week's Forward had an article that really took me for a loop. It's unusual that the mainstream Jewish media publishes something that hasn't yet made it to the blogosphere. This story, though, I hadn't caught any wind of before seeing it on Thursday night when the Forward publishes their new articles. Apparently, the very popular principal of the Modern Orthodox Yeshiva of Flatbush, Rabbi Alan Stadtmauer, stepped down upon coming out of the closet as both being gay, and being non-Orthodox.

Interestingly, his former students seem more shocked by his leaving Orthodoxy than by his homosexuality. One student is quoted in the article as saying "I don't care so much that he's gay as that he left religion," another student wrote an e-mail to Rabbi Stadtmauer saying [sic] "ive been hearing rumors that youve come out in the open to say that your gay and that your not so religious anymore and i have nothing against the gay part if its true but i dont understand how you could give up your religion that easily".

In Rabbi Stadtmauer's response to the e-mail from his former student, he says:
So for now, I re-exploring my spirituality and religiousity just more slowly, without preconditions, and with the hope of integrating my whole life and beliefs together. I still believe in the Value and Truth of Torah, even if I don't feel bound by halacha. And I may yet return to it later.
This must be very confusing to his former students. I don't think Stadtmauer's sexual orientation will be as confusing to these kids as reading these words from a former religious role model about his disillusionment with practicing Orthodoxy. I have a feeling that this might be an impetus for many of Stadtmauer's students who may have been on the fence about remaining Orthodox to give up on staying the course. In today's day and age, disaffected youths need a lot less than the bolting of someone who seems to have been such a huge figure in their lives.

Update: Check out Miriam's take on this story.


Steven I. Weiss over at Canonist has been doing a very thorough job of covering a very interesting story. A quick recap:
An essay was published in this issue of the Jewish Voice and Opinion journal, titled "Leaving Israel Because I'm Disengaged". The piece, which was written under the pseudonym of S.A. Halevy, detailed the author's disillusionment with the State of Israel, and explained that he is no longer supporting its existence. From the essay:
Israel has betrayed Jewish history, joining the ranks of all those nations that construed their Jews as chattel without basic human rights. No longer can we look with contempt, or condescension, on England, France, Spain, Russia, Germany, Poland, et al; Israel is no better. Its government reinforced the notion that Jews have no right to live and prosper in a certain part of the world simply because they are Jews. No longer can we mourn the Germans’ destruction of shuls on Kristallnacht or the Jordanians’ destruction of every shul in the Old City of Jerusalem after 1948, without including Israel’s own destruction of every shul in Gaza—those it took down piecemeal and those it left for destruction at the hands of the Palestinians. The sad fact is that we are no better than our enemies, and often we are worse, because we are doing this to ourselves and our own people.
...The disengagement has therefore ushered in my personal divorce from the State of Israel. It is painful to say but the State Israel no longer reflects my values or aspirations, and no longer is worthy of my political or financial support.
Controversial stuff, of course. This has led to mad speculation as to the identity of the author, who is described as "a powerful, important rabbi in the tri-state area who was a force in the National Religious movement". Steven I. has been covering the speculation here, here, and here.
Basically, suspicion has been cast on Rabbi Steven Pruzansky of Teaneck's Bnei Yeshurun Synagogue. But he denies it, though he has apparently been fingered by other bloggers, as detailed at Canonist.

Check the whole mess out.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Davening Dilemma

With the Days of Awe rapidly aproaching, I have been mulling some issues regarding the way things are done in my shul, and how it affects my family.

The shul we attend is quite crowded. There is construction proposed, but it has not yet materialized. As it stands, there is not really room for children to pray alongside their parents. Which has not really been an issue for me up until now, as my children are very happy to attend the groups that are organized by the shul for each age group. They daven together with the group, play a few games with their friends, eat some junk food, and everyone is happy.

But some of my children are no longer toddlers, or have not been for years. I wonder if it is time for them to begin to attempt to sit through the whole length of davening, in the men's or women's section, next to their respective parent.

I'm not expecting them to sit through the whole day of prayers, but I think it might be time to start teaching them the ropes of sitting in the main sanctuary. I would love to sit next to my daughter, pointing out the place for her in the siddur, as my mother did for me when I was her age. My husband, too, has expressed to me that he thinks my oldest son is ready to sit through davening.

Unfortunately, this is not an option for every child in my shul. Both the men's and women's sections are extremely crowded, and it would be impossible to satisfy every parent's request a seat for their child.

What to do? Go against my better judgement of what is the right course of action for my children for the greater good of the shul? Do what I think is best for my children and my family?

Any ideas?

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

5$ a Gallon?

Hurricane Rita might be poised to do for gas prices what Hurricane Katrina started.
From CNN:
Remember when gas spiked to $3-plus a gallon after Hurricane Katrina? By this time next week, that could seem like the good old days.
..."We could be looking at gasoline lines and $4 gas, maybe even $5 gas, if this thing does the worst it could do," said energy analyst Peter Beutel of Cameron Hanover. "This storm is in the wrong place. And it's absolutely at the wrong time," said Beutel.
This is certainly going to be a hot topic for people to grouse about, especially in a neighborhood where every other driveway holds a luxury car that rides on the highest-octane stuff.

Hurricane Redux

I cannot believe this is happening again:
Rita -- the powerful Category 5 storm plowing across the Gulf of Mexico - has become the third most intense hurricane on record, according to National Hurricane Center data. Long lines of cars Wednesday headed out of coastal Texan towns and Houston - the fourth most populous city in the country. Evacuating parents were told to take photos of their children and to give them identification in case they get separated.
Experts say that this one will probably make landfall with more power than Katrina. People seem to be heeding the warnings and evacuating well in advance of Rita's projected landfall. Here's hoping and praying that the news that comes out of this one isn't as bad as predicted. Though the severity of this storm seems to be more and more of a sure thing.

This is a New Generation?

It seems some young Israelis admire their Palestinian neighbors more than they usually let on - at least if it really is true that "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery". From YNet:
Settler violence against IDF officers continues: Settlers placed spikes on the road and hurled stones at a jeep carrying IDF Central Command Head Yair Naveh near the northern West Bank settlement of Yitzhar.
...Officers traveling in the first jeep disembarked and began clearing the spikes, before about thirty settlers gathered around them and attempted to block their way. The convoy continued on its way, but the young settlers began hurling stones at the jeep.
Right now, it seems like this is a new generation of hooligans being raised. Let's hope they don't take the imitation to the next step, and turn into terrorists. But I can't say I'm not nervous.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Some Words to the Wise for My Childrens' Teachers and Administrators

If you tell a child, on the first day of school, after a long summer vacation, that no other student in your 28 years of teaching has ever had such a rough start, you aren't giving that child much incentive to improve.

If you stand idly by, within earshot, while a catty 8-year-old princess tells my daughter that her uniform shirt is not "the cool brand", you are contributing to one child's low self-esteem, and another's disgusting habit of putting down everyone who isn't up to her standards.

If you create a system where older students are appointed bus monitors, and some of the students that they boss around and mistreat are just 6 months younger and 6 inches taller than said bus monitors, you are probably asking for trouble. Or a replay of "Lord of the Flies".

If you tell a young child that if he continues to struggle, he might have to be "left back", in front of the whole class, maybe it's time to pick another profession.

If you play favorites with any student, even if it happens to be my child, you're setting her up for resentment from her peers. Don't do it.

If you withhold favor from a child because his parent wasn't responsible enough to get the right kind of book cover, you are punishing the child for the parent's misdeeds. (Sorry! I missed that on the school supply list! So shoot me!)

If you take a child out of the class she has been together with for 4 years, and switch her to a parallel class with not one of her friends, you are creating a very stressful social situation. I understand that 26 students is too many for one class, but would it kill you to move two students out of the class?

If there is no supervision for the kids during recess while you sit in the teachers lounge and sip your coffee, don't call me to tell me that my son got into a brawl with four of his friends. That's what you're there for. Do I call you when my kids get into a fight at home? I don't think so. Especially not if I was in the shower when it happened. Be there to nip it in the bud. Maybe a missed pass wouldn't have escalated into a pile-up.

There must be a better system of education than to tell my child, who is way ahead of the pack, that "she might be bored for the first month or so while we review what everyone else needs to go over". Give her a book to read, give her extra work, I don't care what you come up with, but don't make her sit and listen to work she is extremely familiar with while her eyes glaze over. Not a great recipe for an enriching educational experience.

Anyone have any others??

Simon Wiesenthal Z"L

From Haaretz:
Simon Wiesenthal, the Holocaust survivor who helped track down numerous Nazi war criminals following World War II then spent the later decades of his life fighting anti-Semitism and prejudice against all people, died Tuesday. He was 96.
Baruch Dayan HaEmet.
We have lost a giant among men.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Should The Emissary Have Evacuated?

A lot of props going to Chabad Shaliach (emissary) Rabbi Yossi Nemes, of Metairie, a suburb of New Orleans. He weathered the storm in his house, with his wife and seven children, to remain in New Orleans with 4 members of his congregation who had not evacuated in advance of the hurricane. His first-hand account is here. Thank God, he, his family, and the congregants that weathered the storm with him came through the storm. But I'm not sure I like the message he came out of this experience with:
They say that hindsight is 20/20. But I’m no longer as convinced of this. At times, perhaps, if we would have known what lay in store for us, our decisions would have been different and then the good that resulted from those very decisions would be lost forever.
He is obviously saying that though they felt at the time that their family should have evacuated in advance of the storm, the good things that came out of their remaning behind made him glad that he didn't.

Now, don't get me wrong. I commend Rabbi Nemes for keeping his congregants company, and helping others in the aftermath of the hurricane. But I cannot comprehend the thought process that has him putting his seven children in danger to save four others. Are we to take from this that one should risk bystanders lives to save others' lives - at the ratio of almost 2:1? There are Chabad Sluchim in dangerous places all overthe world. Is this to be a new Chabad policy? Keep your family with you and don't evacuate ahead of a dangerous situation if there are still congregants remaining behind?

I had this argument with a fellow blogger in a comment thread at DovBear's site, and his words were:
Orthomom, you can validly debate whether the rabbi could look elderly neighbors and stranded tourists in the face and say "sorry, your on your own, my family comes first, good luck", and whether he qualifies as a 'pious fool' from the Gemora, risking his life and the lives of others to protect other lives.
Surprisingly though, some people actually hold by loving your brother as yourself, and mean it. Clearly the rabbi and his wife fit that category.
To which I answered:
In my opinion, if "treat your neighbor as you would yourself", means "expose them and yourself, and your family to an extremely high risk of harm or death", count me out.
As a mother of four children, I can't imagine feeling otherwise. I would absolutely understand it if Rabbi Nemes had sent his wife and children ahead to safety, and remained behind to do good deeds. But for him to make the decision to stay behind on behalf of his seven minor children is plain wrong.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Parenting Goofs

Julie over at A Little Pregnant lets us all know about a parenting mistake she recently made that potentially put her child in danger:

I was at my parents' house with Charlie. I'd just put him down for his afternoon nap, and knew he would sleep for at least an hour. My father, just two short weeks after heart surgery, was napping as well. With my father in the house and Charlie down for the count, I figured it was safe to go out with my mother. It would make a much better story if I said we'd gone out to score some smack, or even for cocktails and a facial, but the fact is that we just went to the grocery store a half mile away.

When we pulled back into the driveway after our 45-minute absence, we both noticed at the same time that my father's car was gone. It could only mean one thing: that he'd called my sister-in-law, asked her to bring over a rear-facing car seat, awakened Charlie, strapped him safely into the center back seat of his vehicle, and gone for a slow, leisurely drive around the neighborhood, obeying all traffic laws and never once exceeding the posted speed limit.

Okay, I guess it could mean two things.

Once inside, I tore up the stairs in a panic, expecting to find Charlie sad, gone, ill, or dead. He was none of those things. He was sleeping peacefully with no sign of trouble,

My father later explained that when he woke and found us gone, he assumed Charlie was with us. And this was a reasonable conclusion to draw. But I don't think my assumption was that outrageous, either: I had no idea my father would even wake, much less leave. It didn't occur to me, or to my mother, who knows his habits well, that we needed to consider that.

This was an honest mistake. It could happen to anyone. Of course, had this happened to someone in Lakewood or Boro Park, someone with 7 kids under the age of 10, for example, people would likely not be as charitable as they were to Julie, as the mother of only one child. There's always that disdain for parents of many children. How often have I overheard someome say about a particularly ill-behaved child who happens to have many siblings: "That's what happens when you have so many children! Who can give the child the attention he needs? It's a perfect recipe for behavioral problems!" Or the tragic circumstances of a father in Lakewood who mistakenly left his infant in the car over the course of a day, with a fatal outcome. I remember the neighbors, many non-Orthodox, being interviewed on television, and I recall them opining that the reason that this happened was because the family, while "nice people" just had "too many children to manage". It's easy to blame parenting mistakes on the "evils" of having too many children. Many of my coworkers are happy to give their (unsolicited) opinion that they think I should "stop" at four kids, as they don't think having more is "healthy" (they mean both physically and mentally, I presume).

So what I am about to admit may come as a shock to those who believe that parenting mistakes are the domain of mostly harried, struggling, Orthodox parents of too many children, who should have been on birth control 4 kids ago:

I have made similar mistakes too. There was the time that both OrthoDad and I though the other had taken child #2 out into the car in the car seat, only to realize after a few blocks of dead quiet that the said child was still home, in the middle of the living room floor, happily strapped into said car seat, gurgling at a toy, blissfully unaware that harried, struggling, Orthodox parents of only 2 children could have been so irresponsible. I have heard many similar stories from friends, all of which thankfully turned out as well as Julie's and mine, thank God.

Parents, like every other human on the planet, make mistakes. You hope they are small ones, and that they turn out okay for the child. Sometimes, they do not, and the circumstances are tragic. But mistakes can happen to anyone. Parents of 10 children, parents of two. Orthodox Jewish parents, and secular or non-Jewish parents.

So I'd like to end this in the same vein as Julie's post, which she ended like this (and don't forget to check out her comments thread for many parents commiserating on similar goofs):
I said at the beginning of this that every parent sooner or later makes a big mistake that could compromise a child's safety. My evidence for this belief is, I admit, anecdotal. I ask you, parents and those who have cared for a child in other capacities, am I right? Tell me. From letting the baby roll around on the bed and then hearing that sickening clonk on down, don't we all pull a boner sometime?

Uh, please feel free to post anonymously.
Ditto. Love to hear your stories of mistakes that turned out okay. We could all learn from each others mistakes. Trust me, after hearing Julie's story, if I ever leave the baby sleeping in the house with OrthoDad, you can bet I'm going to wake him up to tell him before I leave.

Related: My post on drive-by parenting

Saturday, September 17, 2005

More Dirt on Sanitation

Another article blasting the sanitation district that covers my neighborhood, which I already posted about here. This one's in the NY Times.
It is even more critical, pointing out that the district's treasurer, who is supposedly employed full-time by the district, worked three other jobs simultaneously.
This is one of the most egregious findings released by Howard Weitzman, the Nassau County Comptroller, as detailed in the article:
But perhaps most indicative of an agency with little regard for proper procedures and accountable operations,...was that the district's treasurer, Salvatore Evola, held three other public-sector jobs and recorded 733.42 workdays with the state retirement system in 2004, all while running a private tax-consulting business.

[Wetizman] said there was a potential conflict between two of Mr. Evola's roles, because the sanitary district disposes of Cedarhurst's trash and bills the village, meaning that Mr. Evola was responsible for receiving checks that he had signed.
Part of the reason this might cause ripples in the communities serviced by this sanitation district is that these communities are already grousing about paying high taxes.
Mr. Weitzman has urged the state comptroller and the Nassau County district attorney to conduct their own investigations.

It was no coincidence, he said, that of the districts audits so far, Sanitary District No. 1 cost taxpayers the most. The district spent an average of $873 a year for each property served in 2003 and 2004, compared with $656 for the Syosset Sanitary District and less that $400 in four others with comparable service.

"The price of having no controls is the hidden tax that charges homeowners three times what people in other parts of the country are paying for the same service," Mr. Weitzman said. "It's outrageous, and it needs to be examined under a microscope."
Looking forward to that.

Baby Names

Cute article in the NY Times about the most pouplar names given to babies in NYC, and how they have changed as NYC becomes more and more diverse.
In New York Cribs, Jeff and Lisa Give Way to Ahmed and Chaya

In the last several years, New York City has had more baby girls named Fatoumata than Lisa, more Aaliyahs than Melissas, more Chayas than Christinas. There have been more baby boys named Moshe than Peter, more Miguels than Jeffreys, more Ahmeds than Stanleys.

... The city's large Orthodox Jewish population has helped to push Moshe to No. 68 , Mordechai to 155 and Shlomo to 199.
Experts quoted in the article point out that the phenomenon has a lot to do with the willingness of today's ethnic groups to give a traditional name rather than use one of the anglo classics, that made "Michael" and "Emily" (still the most popular names) even more popular.

That is definitely a trend that I notice in the Orthodox community as well. Gone are the days when Moshes and Miriams sit in Yeshiva alongside Marks and Micheles. I don't know of one child in any of my three children's classes that uses an Anglo name. When I went to Yeshiva, on the other hand, I had regular playdates and sleepovers with girls by the name of Lisa, Leah, Chani, and Carrie. Definitely more of a mix of Anglo and Jewish names than I see today.

It's also a no-brainer that Jewish names would make it to the top 100, just for the sheer volume of children being born to Orthodox parents, as compared to many of their secular or non-Jewish counterparts.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Epidemic Fears

Fresh on the heels of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, for which we were apparently woefully unprepared, despite adavance warnings by meteorologists about mega-hurricanes and engineers about the vulnerability of New Orleans's levees, comes a new worry.

Avian Flu Epidemic.

Experts worry that this may be the next major health disaster, and warn that we are not well prepared. From ABC News:
It could kill a billion people worldwide, make ghost towns out of parts of major cities, and there is not enough medicine to fight it. It is called the avian flu.

...Like most flu viruses, this form started in wild birds — such as geese, ducks and swans — in Asia.

"They die of a pneumonia, just like people," says William Karesh, the lead veterinarian for the Wildlife Conservation Society. "When you open them up, you do a post-mortem exam. Their lungs are just full of fluid and full of blood."

Karesh has been tracking this flu strain for the last several years as it has gained strength, spreading from wild birds to chickens to humans.

..."The tipping point, the place where it becomes something of an immediate concern, is where that virus changes, we call it mutates, to something that is able to go from human to human," says Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness.
Apparently, despite the US contracting out $100 million of vaccine, and Bush's warning of the danger at this week's UN Summit in New York, there is no real game plan to deal with an epidemic if it breaks out.
According to Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, Bush's call to remain on the offensive has come too late.

"If we had a significant worldwide epidemic of this particular avian flu, the H5N1 virus, and it hit the United States and the world, because it would be everywhere at once, I think we would see outcomes that would be virtually impossible to imagine," he warns.
Read the article. Scary stuff.

The Dirt on Sanitation

I live in a neighborhood that is known for its high taxes. Of course, many would be quick to point out that the level of service we get for our taxes makes it worth the money. But this article suggests a more nefarious use of some of our tax dollars:
Mismanagement in Sanitary District 1 in Lawrence has created an opportunity for "unparalleled" fraud, according to a report released yesterday by the Nassau County comptroller's office.

The report, based on an incomplete audit, slammed the district for everything from improper timekeeping records to "unreasonable" bills for out-of-state conferences.

...Among the highlights of Weitzman's report were bills for more than $14,000 for two conferences in New Orleans and Dallas. The 2003 New Orleans conference, which was attended by four district managers, included a $676 tab for dinner at Morton's Steakhouse.

The conferences also included $536 in limousine service, $710 in "questionable" hotel bar charges and $643 for various expenses that did not have receipts. The district has a $14.3 million budget.

"Obviously it looks bad," said Nat Swergold, attorney for the district. "Maybe the bill should have been $100 less. But we're talking about a $14 million budget and they're picking out little items here and there."

...Payroll calculations by auditors for the first pay period of June 2004 did not match the district's, the report said, with 50 percent of union members' base salaries exceeding the collective bargaining agreement pay scale. Supporting worksheets for the payroll were not provided because the district said they had disposed of them.

Another problem, auditors found, was that the district allows contractors to dump waste, landscaping and construction debris at the district's transfer station, but only accepts cash for the service. More than $800,000 was collected each year from 2003 to 2004, but recording of those receipts was weak and auditors found instances where scale records did not match cash register records.

..."Each one is an area of concern," Weitzman said of the report's key points. "But put enough together and it not only raised a flag, it toots a horn."
Sounds to me like there's some serious recycling going on here - and I'm talking about cash, not bottles and cans.

iPod Envy

I must admit to being really pissed off. I finally got myself an iPod, and I went for the real deal. 60 GB of memory (15,000 songs, 25, 000 photos), full color LCD, the works.

Imagine my chagrin at the news of the release of the iPod nano. Same features as the original, but fantastically thin. And I'm 31 days after purchase of the iPod. So I can't exchange it for the nano.

I understand that when you buy electronics, you run the risk of their becoming obsolete. But I expected to eke more than 31 days out of my purchase before walking around with my iPod made me look hopelessly behind on the iPod times.

Anyone else harboring similar resentment toward Apple?

Fanatical Photoshopping

A poster at LGF points out something he calls "seriously disturbing". Apparently, CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations) photoshopped a picture taken at an event to put hijab(muslim headcoverings) on women who were bare-headed in the original picture. Amusingly, one of the people who had a headcovering added seems to be a man. Read the post to see the "before" and "after" pictures.

Really, though, why is that any different from the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish papers who regularly blur the faces of women so none appear on their pages, and often photoshop yarmulkes in to men and boys in stock pictures to make them look more "Orthodox"? I've seen sleeves drawn in on women's bare arms, and low necklines filled in - usually in a very obvious manner. I even remember hearing about instances where some papers drew in moustaches and beards to disguise women in a picture. Anyone else remember anything about that?

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Loshon Hora Guidelines for Blogging

Gil points us to a response by Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir on Loshon Hora.
This was the question he was asked:
Blogs provide an open forum for readers' comments. Is the blogger responsible for encouraging slander and other irresponsible contributions?
An excerpt from his response:
...neighbors, friends, and co-workers are not suitable topics of discussion on blogs.

However, we have to make a suitable exception in the case of public figures or aspects of a person's life which are intentionally opened to the public. When someone runs for public office, he surely expects, even wants, others to openly discuss his qualifications for office, whether positive or negative. Likewise, if someone makes a public speech or publishes something it is fair to assume that he is willing to have his ideas weighed in the "court of public opinion", with its self-appointed lawyers for defense and prosecution alike. Any serious scholar is grateful for the insights gleaned from critics.

...Blogs are not an appropriate forum for mentioning the virtues and foibles of unassuming people we encounter in everyday life. These people don't seek our praise and are justifiably mortified to be criticized in the public square of cyberspace. However, public figures must, and generally do, reconcile themselves to the fact that their message will be lacking in consistency and impact if they don't open it to public debate. Bloggers may generally assume that these individuals are willing to be discussed on blogs as long as basic standards of journalistic ethics are maintained, including attribution of facts, right to make a reply, and so on.
Bottom line: If it feels like Loshon Hora, it probably is Loshon Hora. But I've found that out the hard way in the course of my blogging.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


I wasn't surprised by the fact that within hours of taking over control of the Gaza Strip, Palestinians had begun torching the shul buildings that had been left intact by the evacuated settlements. Everyone had to expect this. I have very mixed feelings about Israel's decision to leave the structures behind. Though I understand that there are halachik issues with destroying a building that was used as a shul, it must have been fully understood by all that the Palestinians gaining entry for the first time to these areas were going to waste no time in destroying these (in their words) "symbols of occupation". My knee-jerk reaction to Israel's decision was to say that they put the Palestinians in a no-win situation. I said as much to my husband. I wasn't prepared for the wrath I incurred from him for expressing that opinion.

His counter-argument was, does knowing that these shuls will be destroyed by the Palestinians make it OK? Just because we have low expectations of them doesn't make our decision to leave the buildings intact the wrong one. And I think, upon further consideration, that he is absolutely correct. Some have brought up the possibilty that the Palestinians could have used the buildings for other purposes. At first I dismissed that option out of hand, knowing how impossible an expectation that would be, for them to use a building that the demonized settlers had used, especially buildings the settlers had used for religious purposes. But you know what? This would have been a great opportunity for the Palestinian people to show the world that they can behave in a civilized manner.

Instead, they went on a rampage. From the JPost:
Students cut school, the terrorist groups carted out their homemade RPGs and prayed in the settlements' smoldering synagogues, the poor scavenged the settlement carcasses, and the PA police and other security forces watched.
Looters torched synagogues and ripped what they could from what were considered the settlements' sturdiest buildings.
OK. So you want to explain that they destroyed the synagogues beause they were they were viewed by the Palestinians as a "painful symbol of the occupation"? But this:
Palestinian police on Tuesday blocked off abandoned settlements and chased after scavengers in a first attempt to impose law and order after chaotic celebrations of Israel's pullout from Gaza, but the overwhelmed forces were unable to halt looting of the area's prized greenhouses.

...The chaos raised new questions about the Palestinian forces' ability to impose order in Gaza.

The greenhouses, left behind by Israel as part of a deal brokered by international mediators, are a centerpiece of Palestinian plans for rebuilding Gaza after 38 years of Israeli occupation. The Palestinian Authority hopes the high-tech greenhouses will provide jobs and export income for Gaza's shattered economy.
How to justify the destruction of the greenhouses, which were such an opportunity for their economy? Aren't they just shooting themselves in the proverbial foot here?

I'm at a loss.

NYC Mayoral Primary Today

Today is the day of the NYC Mayoral Primary Election. Much of the dynamics are similar to those of the last election, which came on the heels of 9/11, after being rescheduled from the day of 9/11 itself when disaster struck. This year's election, too, is coming so soon after a tragedy of devastating proportions. Hurricane Katrina will probably keep most NYC voters from focusing on the election issues at hand. That, coupled with the incredibly lackluster field of Democratic candidates, makes it hard for anyone to get riled up over this election. I can't imagine turnout will be very high.

I'm not one for giving endorsements like my good buddy DovBear, but I will say that the incumbent mayor, Mike Bloomberg, is running with very respectable approval ratings. I can't imagine that today's primary is going to produce NYC's next mayor.

So it's a good thing that Mayor Mike's really a liberal in elephant's clothing. It's brilliant, really.
Everyone thinks he's getting what he wants.

Sunday, September 11, 2005


Every year that brings us farther from the terror attacks of 9/11 makes my memories from that day more and more fuzzy. That queasy feeling I get in the pit of my stomach when I watch the yearly replaying of footage from that terrible day and its aftermath gets more and more elusive as time passes. And this year, the multiple tragedies that Hurriane Katrina left behind makes 9/11 seem even more distant. The news outlets are trying valiantly to keep the coverage of Katrina up, while not giving 9/11 short shrift. But try as they might to give both stories the prominent placement they so deserve, there is a world of difference between the coverage of 9/11 in years' past and this year's coverage.

Though I understand that time goes on, and pain cannot stay fresh forever, I still have a hard time treating September 11th as a day like any other. I was touched very personally by the terror of that day, and I think it will take more than the passage of four years and the horror of fresh tragedy to forget the roller coaster of emotions I went through on this day in 2001.

OrthoDad worked in the Towers. he was there when the plane hit, he was there when the first Tower collapsed. I didn't hear from him for 2 hours after I watched live footage of the Towers coming down. Those were two hours of hell.

The kids were picked up for their first day of school just as the first plane hit. My husband called me from his cellphone. He told me that a "light plane" had hit the tower, but that his floor was ok, and that he was probably going to leave and just come home. I didn't press him to do so, as no one could have known the scope of what was about to occur. That would be the last time I spoke to him for more than three hours. I sat by the television, in the empty house, watching the smoke pour out of the first tower on the screen. Suddenly, in a surreal moment, the second plane hit. I remember thinking, "there must be a radar glitch". Terror just didn't occur to me in my naive 2001 existence. I knew that my husband worked on a lower floor than those that were hit by the plane, but I started calling him on his cell, over and over. A fast busy signal alternated with the message "all circuits are busy now, please try again later". My house phone started ringing. I checked Caller ID. My mother. Told her I spoke to him and he had been leaving. Told my sister, his father, his brother the same when they called. I had no additional information. He said he was leaving. He was OK. It didn't occur to anyone that things would get much more serious than they were. He was OK. He survived the plane crashing into the building. He was coming home. Whew. Our small part in this tragedy was over. I sat by the phone, waiting for him to call from the train, sure he was OK, that he had gotten out. I watched the smoke pour out of the towers, with the absolute conviction that my husband was OK, that this was a small controlled fire, that he was stuck in the large crowds of people evacuating the area, and would make it home soon.

Then the first tower fell. Panic set in. Restrained panic, but panic nonetheless. I wasn't so sure anymore that he was OK. Suddenly, conditions down there had just gotten a hell of a lot more dangerous. The phone started ringing again. My mother, my brother, my mother-in-law, my father-in-law. I didn't pick up. I didn't want to hear the panic and hysteria I knew would be in their voices. I didn't want to have to feign calm and hide the hysteria in mine. I sat watching, in a cold sweat, as the second tower came down. Still pressing redial, still getting the all circuits busy message. Still waiting for a call to come in from him that hadn't yet come in.
Two hours. Two hours I sat, ignoring the incessantly ringing phone, trying to stanch the mounting hysteria that was rising inside of me. Finally, the phone rang. I saw on caller ID that it was my mother-in-law. I still didn't pick up. I heard her voice over the answering machine. "I got through to him, he's OK." I picked up, to hear details, but missed the call. She had hung up.

I went limp from relief. My cell phone rang. It was him. He broke down. I broke down. We didn't talk, silently sobbing together over the phone. I didn't tell him that I had envisioned myself a widow, raising three children on my own. I didn't tell him that I had this foreboding sense that he was gone as I watched both towers come down in a huge cloud of smoke and pulverized glass. I just cried.

Later, when he finally made his way home together with the throngs of people evacuating the City, he told me how close he had been to getting injured by the showers of glass and concrete that rained down around him when the towers fell. He told me about the dust that filled his lungs, causing him to need to have oxygen administered by a passing EMT. He told me that when someone screamed that the tower was coming down, he calculated how high the towers were, and how close three blocks away was, and even as he started running, he thought he had no chance at all.

He had a minor cough for weeks, and a bad eye infection from the dust, and became a news junkie for months, staying up until all hours, watching the footage of the rescue effort which all too quickly became a recovery effort. But he was home. And so many were not. And I had no trouble praying to God over the Rosh Hashana that came so soon after.

So some of you may understand why 9/11 has not yet lost its meaning for me. And I'm not sure it ever will.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

First Amendment Alert?

The U.S. government agency leading the rescue efforts after Hurricane Katrina said on Tuesday it does not want the news media to take photographs of the dead as they are recovered from the flooded New Orleans area.
This decision is being criticized by some as a banning of the First Amendment right to free speech, mostly by those on the left of the political divide. I don't fully agree.

There are two possible motivations for FEMA's restriction on photgraphing corpses:

-FEMA doesn't want identifying photos of victims who died in the storm plastered all over every media outlet. The indignity of that is considerable, not to mention the risk of those watching or reading finding out the whereabouts of missing family members in the most horrific possible way.

-FEMA is perpetuating a cover-up. Both by not exposing the scope of the tragedy in how many scores died - and risk more finger-pointing and accusations that many of these deaths could have been preventable if nor for FEMA's mismanagement, and by not hitting home the human facet to the tragedy by showing actual bodies.

I am not discounting the latter as a possible motivation for this restriction. I actually believe that by refusing to allow photos of corpses to be published, FEMA has a "bird in the hand and one in the bush" (so to speak). But that doesn't excuse ignoring the risk of offending family members of victims, or risking indignity to those who perished.

FEMA's decision is a reasonable one.

More Katrina Theodicy

I put up a post last week where I criticized various bloggers for their conviction that Hurricane Katrina was divine retribution for the disengagement. The number of links the post received from other bloggers (did I miss anyone?) showed that it struck a nerve with both those who disagreed and agreed with my criticism.
This week, another person made his opinion known on the subject - former Chief Sephardic Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. From Ynet:
“Bush was behind the (expulsion of) Gush Katif,” he said. “He encouraged Sharon to expel Gush Katif…we had 15,000 people expelled here, and there 150,000 (were expelled). It was God’s retribution ..God does not short-change anyone.”

“He (Bush) perpetrated the expulsion. Now everyone is mad at him…this is his punishment for what he did to Gush Katif, and everyone else who did as he told them, their time will come, too,” the rabbi said.
I still disagree with the theory, or at least the certainty with which its adherents are espousing it. But DovBear and Miriam point out another, largely ignored part of the speech that I find even more objectionable:
“There was a tsunami and there are terrible natural disasters, because there isn’t enough Torah study… black people reside there (in New Orleans). Blacks will study the Torah? (God said) let’s bring a tsunami and drown them.”
“Hundreds of thousands remained homeless. Tens of thousands have been killed. All of this because they have no God.”
The racism in this statement, as well as the wholesale assumption that these people are Godless (who says?) is just appalling.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

School Supply Purgatory

I am in school supply hell.

I didn't know it was possible for 6 different elementary school teachers to come up with school supply lists that vary as wildly as they managed to. And vary wildly with such specificity! One teacher wanted scissors with a blunt tip - only Fiskars brand, a perforated 3x5 index card notebook, and three (three!) different colors of Post-it notes. Another teacher asked for a type and size of binder that apparently doesn't exist. Yet another asked for seven different types of notebooks. For a third grader. And don't forget that each child absolutely needs to pick out his/her own supplies. All in all, it took 2 hours, 2 different stores, and over two hundred dollars to complete all 6 lists. Not to mention the hour spent at home making sure to separate the hot pink pencil case/scented pink glitter erasers/lavender binder kid's stuff from the baseball sharpener/surfboard looseleaf/erasable bic pen kid's stuff, from the "I want everything black or blue because themed stuff is so uncool" kid's stuff. And then label it all. And put it in the correct (newly purchased) knapsacks.


Livingstone the Loser

London's outspoken former Communist mayor, Red Ken Livingstone, long known for sympathizing with terrorists and other radical causes, made an announcement today:
Families of the 7 July suicide bombers should be allowed to attend the national memorial service for the victims, according to London’s mayor.

Ken Livingstone said they should not be turned away from the 1 November mass at St Paul’s Cathedral for the 52 victims.

The event is billed as a service for those who died and a tribute to police, firefighters and paramedics.

Church leaders would like the bombers’ families to attend but only with approval from the bereaved and injured.

Speaking at his weekly press conference at City Hall, Mr Livingstone said: “They have to decide if they want to come and share the grief of Londoners and celebrate the lives of those that were killed on the day. It would, I think, be particularly offensive to turn people away.”
I have no trouble mustering up some sympathy for family members of terrorists who don't necessarily share the same views as their children. Their children are gone, but the shame of knowing that they have had a hand in killing countless innocents must be excruciating.
That said, there is no excuse for the insensitivity of allowing them to attend the London memorial side-by-side with the family members of the victims. There may be some victims' family members who are able to see beyond their pain and accept these terrorists' family members as fellow mourners with no judgement passed. But I assume most would not be able to do so. So the family members of the terrorists should stay away, for sensitivity's sake. And for Livingstone to suggest otherwise, or to imply that the victims' family members who cannot move past their anger to be less than generous, is wrong. But totally within what I would expect from Mayor Livingstone the Loser.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Uh, Shut Up

I have read this and reread this a few times to see if it's possible that I misinterpreted it...but there's only one way to understand Barbara Bush's remarks today after visiting hurricane victims at the Houston Astrodome:
In a segment at the top of the show on the surge of evacuees to the Texas city, Barbara Bush said: "Almost everyone I’ve talked to says we're going to move to Houston."

Then she added: "What I’m hearing is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality.

"And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this (she chuckles slightly)--this is working very well for them."
She really said it.

Truly sickening.

I'm sure the "underprivileged" that have been forced by a natural disaster to relocate indefinitely to sleeping on a cot in the middle of a sports stadium with tens of thousands of strangers, feel very fortunate to have been flooded out of their homes, their jobs, and every belonging they had to their names.

Or not.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Racial Divide

One of the most striking aspects of the whole terrible situation left in Hurricane Katrina's wake is the racial one. Everyone who has seen any pictures or footage of the hundreds of thousands displaced by Katrina has seen what I have - an overwhelming majority of black faces, with a token white here or there, usually elderly or disabled.

The NY Times has an interesting breakdown of the demography of New Orleans that explains some of why there was such a strong racial aspect to this.
First of all, New Orleans is a city that was more than two-thirds black, as compared to nationwide, where the black population is at about 12%. In addition, a much larger percentage of people live below the poverty line in New Orleans than do nationally. 35% of black households didn't own cars, compared to 15% of white households. The people who were left behind in the mandatory evacuation of the city were mostly the poorest, and those were overwhelmingly black. In addition, those living in the lowest-lying areas, and therefore the areas most affected by the breached levees, were overwhelmingly black. The Lower 9th Ward, the lowest-lying area, was 98% black.

So it's not that hard to understand why so many faces in the crowds of victims were black.

Another issue being raised is why it took so long for aid to reach the stranded victims.
If you agree with rapper Kanye West, the reason for it was our country's deliberate lack of interest in coming to the speedy aid of the poor and the black:
A celebrity telethon for Hurricane Katrina survivors took an unexpected turn when outspoken rapper Kanye West went off script during the live broadcast, declaring America is set up "to help the poor, the black people, the less well-off as slow as possible."
I have trouble believing that this country that we live in deliberately drags its heels when confronted with a tragedy or a crisis that affects those with less resources or a certain skin color. I'm sorry. There are many reasons why the majority of the storm refugees from New Orleans are black - but I don't think any of those reasons are rooted in a neglect for those who aren't rich and white. Please recall that many of those affected by the storm in other areas were not as overwhelmingly representative of the black community - the footage was just much less dramatic than that of the thousands upon thousands stranded in New Orleans, so the networks chose not to air it as often.
The fact, however, that those in charge of the rescue efforts seemed to move much more slowly than was needed is a fact. Why were we able to airlift supplies to the survivors of the Tsunami halfway across the Earth, yet encounter such delays in getting the same basic supplies to our own citizens? The Federal governement and FEMA must answer to those charges. As must the local government of New Orleans, who knew the demographic breakdown of their city, knew that many did not have access to private transportation and would not be able to heed a mandatory evacuation order. Why weren't these people provided with busing to evacuate them?
Putting blame aside, though, this piece is very interesting. Slate points out that even though it may be understandable that so many blacks vs. whites were affected in New Orleans, and the root cause of the delay in aid was not based in racism, it doesn't allow us to ignore the very salient point that this disaster did affect blacks so disproportionately.
When disaster strikes, Americans—especially journalists—like to pretend that no matter who gets hit, no matter what race, color, creed, or socioeconomic level they hail from, we're all in it together. This spirit informs the 1997 disaster flick Volcano, in which a "can't we all just get along" moment arrives at the film's end: Volcanic ash covers every face in the big crowd scene, and everybody realizes that we're all members of one united race.

But we aren't one united race, we aren't one united class, and Katrina didn't hit all folks equally. By failing to acknowledge upfront that black New Orleanians—and perhaps black Mississippians—suffered more from Katrina than whites, the TV talkers may escape potential accusations that they're racist. But by ignoring race and class, they boot the journalistic opportunity to bring attention to the disenfranchisement of a whole definable segment of the population. What I wouldn't pay to hear a Fox anchor ask, "Say, Bob, why are these African-Americans so poor to begin with?"

Katrina - Before and After

Google Maps has put up a series of before and after satellite photos of the areas ravaged by Katrina. Here is the post about it from GoogleSightseeing - which is a great site, by the way. Check out their archives when you have a minute.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

We Interrupt This Broadcast To Bring You...

I was wondering how long all this wall-to-wall coverage of Katrina would last. I guess until Rhenquist died. Now it's wall-to-wall Rhenquist. Busy news week.

The View All Depends on Where You Are Standing...

Check out this timeline from CNN on the fundamental disconnect that was going on between FEMA, the Federal government, and those actually in the zone stricken by Hurricane Katrina. A sample of the inconsistencies that CNN culled from their transcripts, from interviews with Federal officials, FEMA officials, and people actually in New Orleans. Some of the divergent comments were made minutes apart:
On The federal response:

- Brown: Considering the dire circumstances that we have in New Orleans, virtually a city that has been destroyed, things are going relatively well.
- Homeland Security Director Chertoff: Now, of course, a critical element of what we're doing is the process of evacuation and securing New Orleans and other areas that are afflicted. And here the Department of Defense has performed magnificently, as has the National Guard, in bringing enormous resources and capabilities to bear in the areas that are suffering.
- Crowd chanting outside the Convention Center: We want help.
- Nagin: They don't have a clue what's going on down there.
- Phyllis Petrich, a tourist stranded at the Ritz-Carlton: They are invisible. We have no idea where they are. We hear bits and pieces that the National Guard is around, but where? We have not seen them. We have not seen FEMA officials. We have seen no one.

On Security:

- Brown: I actually think the security is pretty darn good. There's some really bad people out there that are causing some problems, and it seems to me that every time a bad person wants to scream of cause a problem, there's somebody there with a camera to stick it in their face. ( See Jack Cafferty's rant on the government's 'bungled' response -- 0:57)
- Chertoff: In addition to local law enforcement, we have 2,800 National Guard in New Orleans as we speak today. One thousand four hundred additional National Guard military police trained soldiers will be arriving every day: 1,400 today, 1,400 tomorrow and 1,400 the next day.
- Nagin: I continue to hear that troops are on the way, but we are still protecting the city with only 1,500 New Orleans police officers, an additional 300 law enforcement personnel, 250 National Guard troops, and other military personnel who are primarily focused on evacuation.
- Lawrence: The police are very, very tense right now. They're literally riding around, full assault weapons, full tactical gear, in pickup trucks. Five, six, seven, eight officers. It is a very tense situation here.
I'm not discounting the utter chaos of the situation in the hurricane zone, and how difficult communication must have been with no electricity and telephone lines, but this does give a bit of a snapshot into how adequate aid could have been so delayed.

Friday, September 02, 2005


I am not coping with this well.

The footage is horrifying. Two days ago, I saw footage of throngs of people waiting on top of overpasses for help - many of the ARE STILL THERE. I understand that resources are being used to rescue people on rooftops, but get MORE helicopters!! Airlift the people on top of overpasses and in the Convention Center water and sandwiches!!! DO SOMETHING!!!

This isn't supposed to happen in America.

Why am I watching pundit after politician after pundit comment on television as to why they think aid hasn't yet reached victims. DON'T TALK!!! GET THEM SUPPLIES!!!

Stop complaining about Iraq - that isn't why supplies haven't gotten down there fast enough.

Stop complaining about the lack of repair on New Orleans's levees in recent years by the Federal government - that isn't why supplies haven't gotten down there fast enough.

Stop complaining about how global warming is due to Republican policies and has caused this freakish weather - that isn't why supplies haven't gotten there fast enough.


I'm Ill On So Many Levels...

I know that it was only a matter of time, but even I am shocked by the speed and ferociousness with which bloggers and pundits who will use any opportunity to make a political point are digging in to Bush and his administration in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath.

I mean, if you would like to be critical of the Federal government for not getting aid to the dehydrated, hungry, poor, homeless evacuees down South, fine. Frankly, I found watching today's footage of sick, elderly, young, old, babies and grandparents going through so much suffering to be extremely distressing and beyond frustrating. Where are the airlifts of water and food? Why wasn't formula dropped down so that maybe the reported infant deaths in the shelters due to starvation could have been prevented? Today is Thursday, and the hurricane happened Monday! I found myself screaming at the TV screen while a FEMA representative tried to explain on CNN why food and water hasn't yet reached so many refugees:"Don't explain to us, buster - JUST GET IT THERE!!". I, too, am angry. I, too, want answers.

That being said, to blame the breaching of the levees in New Orleans solely on GWB is just absurd. Some choice lines I found in the blogosphere:
Bush is already focusing on avoiding any kind of accountability for this tragedy. But his budget cuts are responsible for for what we're seeing.
Um, no. A hurricane was responsible for what we're seeing.
For an hour or so, I contemplated the idea of turning it into a crusade: No-one in the blue states (where the money is) should give one dime of aid to the victims of this hurricane, which devastated Bush-friendly regions.

Why did I flirt with such a callous attitude?

Because it should be obvious to all that this tragedy was not just an act of God. Dubya and his diety conspired to transform mere disaster into an unprecedented mega-catastrophe.
So why was I thinking of starting a movement against giving aid to the stricken areas?

Because these are red states. They voted for Bush. These ninnies obviously wanted these policies, and they deserve to live with the consequences of their votes.
Again, the consequences of their votes is a direct hit by a major, Category 4/5 hurricane, forcing them out of their homes? How exactly does that work??

Another point is that Louisiana has a state government, the City of New Orleans has a local government. If fixing the levees was such an immediate concern, then they bore as much responsibility as the Federal government for finding a way to get this done.

Sadly, though we can Monday-morning quarterback from now until New Orleans is pumped dry about who should have known, and how they should have reinforced the levees before this hurricane hit, and so on...but it won't bring back the dead, or rebuild the destroyed homes. It also can't change the fact that this was an act of God. A natural disaster. One that was surely beyond the ken of all but the most prescient.
So please, everyone, stop politicizing and donate to the victims.

Special kudos to Former President Clinton who resisted the urge to play politics when interviewed on CNN today. His quote:
CLINTON: Yes, I think that's important to point out. Because when you say that they should have done this, that or the other thing first, you can look at that problem in isolation, and you can say that.

But look at all the other things they had to deal with. I'm telling you, nobody thought this was going to happen like this. But what happened here is they escaped -- New Orleans escaped Katrina. But it brought all the water up the Mississippi River and all in the Pontchartrain, and then when it started running and that levee broke, they had problems they never could have foreseen.

And so I just think that we need to recognize right now there's a confident effort under way. People are doing the best they can. And I just don't think it's the time to worry about that. We need to keep people alive and get them back to life -- normal life.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Hurricane Katrina

Sorry I haven't touched much upon the huge tragedy befalling those down South. I'm finding it all hard to absorb right now. I think it was the back-and-forth action of the news coverage that is making this all so hard to digest.
First, worst-case-scenario predictions that scared everyone.
Then, the thinking that some of these locales, especially New Orleans, had somehow dodged the worst of the hurricane.
Now, the aftermath, in which all of the most dire predictions came true - and then some. The scale of human tragedy and loss seems too great to comprehend right now. I will be back on this subject later.

Meanwhile, Miriam rounds up some places to donate to help with hurricane relief.

Take the Train to Work

If even the oil companies are preaching conservation, maybe it's time to actually start listening:
Americans should conserve gasoline as supplies shrink in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, but there is no need for the federal government to ration fuel at this point, a major U.S. oil industry trade group said on Wednesday.
Those behind the call "urged American motorists "to take seriously common-sense energy conservation recommendations" and reduce driving." With gasoline prices edging up near $4.00 a gallon in some places - I have more than one reason to conserve. But seriously, people, let's give it a shot.