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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Sounds Familiar

This rings a bell:
A church has won its battle against a bidet company's racy billboard - and a sanitized version of the cheeky "happy bottoms" ad was put up on the Times Square building that houses the church over the weekend.

The original ad was to have featured an array of bare bottoms with smiley faces painted over them - the idea being that the bottoms were happy from having used the Washlet, a bidet/toilet seat that uses water and warm air to clean its customers.

The Times Square Church, located at 51st Street and Broadway, sued to keep the billboard from being installed.

"You walk into a church building [and] you have naked bodies before your eyes - how are you going to close your eyes and seek God?" the church's pastor, Neil Rhodes, had argued.

A judge signed an order temporarily blocking the ad earlier this month, and the suit ended in a settlement announced yesterday after Washlet-maker Toto apparently saw the light and agreed to have the rear ends covered up.

The new version has a white bar going across the bottoms, "in effect 'clothing' them by removing any hint of their anatomical features," the company said in a statement. The ad now reads: "This is our bottom line," and, "Clean is happy. No ifs, ands, or . . ."

The story rings a bell because I seem to remember an uproar quite a few years ago when a local Rabbi led a protest against the very racy, lifesize ads that were prominently displayed in the window of the local (now closed) branch of the Victoria's Secret lingerie chain.

Honestly, I thought those who protested were 100% justified in that case, and I think the church is just as justified in this one. I myself have had real reservations about heading into Manhattan via certain routes when I have my kids in the car due to what we can call the "billboard situation". I have seen billboards with three-story high photographic reproductions of literally naked models - both male and female - located alongside certain Manhattan approaches. These billboards appear to be advertising items that seem to be depicted nowhere in the frame of the billboard itself (perhaps the models have just taken the advertisers' clothing off - touting to potential buyers their own chances of finding themselves in similar circumstances if they only buy whatever the company's selling? Or perhaps the models are wearing only the perfumes being advertised - and need nothing else?). Either way, I hardly need to introduce my children to the specifics of human anatomy while on a family trip to see dinosaur bones (yeah, yeah, I know - but let's not discuss the dinosaur issue in this thread).

Anyone ever walk through SoHo? The intersection of Broadway, Lafayette and Houston may have some of the absolute most not-safe-for-children's-eyes images plastered across the sides of buildings. Two-story-high cleavage, anyone? I know that advertising is all about the catching the customer's eye. I understand that the more outrageous an ad is, the more memorable to the potential customers it's trying to snare. But in my opinion, billboards have gotten way out of hand. The art of subtlety has clearly been lost - or at the very least, has fallen way out of favor.

It's one thing for these ads to be in the middle of a magazine, where a customer can exercise free will in his or her choice to peruse it. But the days of racy magazine ads causing anyone to bat an eyelash are long gone. Does anyone remember the uproar, way back when, over Calvin Klein's "racy" magazine ads? I think we can all agree that those ads, which were buried in the pages of fashion magazines, were small potatoes compared to the recent billboard I saw for the clothing retailer Abercrombie and Fitch. Let's just say that the model's pants were so low rise that there were probably 2 production assistants on hand hired expressly to hold the pants up for the photo shoot.

Bottom line? I applaud anyone who protests the use of bare behinds to advertise on a billboard - or bare anything. I'm not a prude. As I noted, I don't object to the use of these images in magazines or other such places, which allow individuals to choose not to look. But shouldn't I be allowed to decide whether I want my preadolescent children to be introduced to images that likely would have been considered soft-core pornography not too many decades ago? And shouldn't that choice not to have to entail taking a different route into Manhattan or steering clear of certain intersections? I wish it would.


Sunday, July 29, 2007

Funny NYT Piece

There's a funny item in tomorrow's NYT about a soap opera that is filmed in a studio in the heart of Orthodox Midwood, Brooklyn - otherwise known as the neighborhood of Flatbush:

The show has been filmed in New York for its entire 51-year history, and it’s safe to say that its souped-up world of sex and chicanery rarely resembles life on the sidewalks outside. But seven years ago the producers moved their studio from Midtown to Midwood, and with a healthy dose of real estate irony, the relocation coincided with a sharp growth in the local Orthodox Jewish community. As Midwood’s Orthodox population soared to perhaps three-quarters of the neighborhood, the gap between sidewalk and soap opera became a gulf.

Now, when Oakdale’s powerful, scheming blondes and sensitive, square-jawed men step out of the warehouse at Avenue M and East 14th Street, they encounter women wearing very long skirts and men with very long beards.

In Oakdale, your daily life might include falling into a coma, learning that you have an evil twin, or developing amnesia. Your romantic relationships would be more fleeting and unstable than the average high schooler’s. Above all, you would be in constant danger of getting kidnapped — Lily Snyder, for instance, has been kidnapped no fewer than eight times.

Outside the studio, by contrast, all premarital contact between the sexes, even handshakes, is forbidden, and many residents do not allow television into their homes.

Inside the studio, a woman might be hanging from a bell tower by her fingernails, while in the streets outside, the most dramatic scene is the group of elderly people holding court in the kosher Dunkin’ Donuts.

“We’re strangers in a strange land,” said Christopher Goutman, the show’s executive producer. “There aren’t even any bars around here.”

...This is such stuff as housewives’ dreams are made on. But not the housewives pushing prams past the studios on their way to the Chap-A-Nosh restaurant. Nor the girls from the Zionist yeshiva across the street, who swish past hundreds of pounds of oatmeal sitting on the studio’s loading dock, completely unaware that it will be transformed into quicksand from which a desperate heroine will soon be struggling to free herself in a most alluring manner.

Of course, anyone familiar with the area - and the "Zionist Yeshiva" they describe (Shulamith School for Girls) - will remember that the soap opera Another World filmed in the studio for decades. There were even rumors when I was a teenager of a male star from the soap opera who tried (unsuccessfully, the story goes) to pick up Shulamith girls he thought were cute.

I guess this article goes to prove that despite indications to the contrary in many mixed communities, disparate elements can still coexist in the same neighborhood without all hell breaking loose.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

SIW on Noah Feldman

The thread on my Eruv post seems to have gotten hopelessly tangled with a seemingly off-topic discussion over Noah Feldman's (somewhat whiny and disingenuous) piece in the NY Times last weekend - in which Feldman doesn't address the Eruv question at all.

Steven I. Weiss, writing for the Wall Street Journal (in 2005), helps make it a bit less tangential for us in his opinion piece of a couple of a years ago, where he staked out Feldman's position on the Tenafly Eruv. Weiss did not seem moved by Feldman's arguments.


Freedom of Speech Alert

Go show some support for J-blogger Yisrael Medad who was absurdly threatened by the folks over at the irreverent and often obnoxious political blog Wonkette. Apparently, they claimed to have lawyered up over their outrage that Medad dared to speak his mind over Wonkette's own speaking of their mind. So, let me get this straight. The writers at Wonkette can call the New York Times the Jew York Times, and that's LOL funny. But Medad questions whether that debatable slur crosses the lines of good taste - and suddenly he's the one using speech that shouldn't be protected by the First Amendment. Is the double standard only evident to me? Wonkette's people lost their right to play the "dude, just chill out" card when they sent a threatening e-mail that mentioned a lawyer.

You all know how I feel about law suits that threaten our right to free speech.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Eruv Enmity

Reading this article in the Forward this week, about the new Eruv installed in Palo Alto, CA, was...well, eye-opening. The fact that any opposition exists to the idea of an Eruv isn't exactly shocking, considering the news coverage in recent years of a similar brouhaha over a proposed Eruv in Tenafly, NJ (supporters of the Eruv eventually won the right to erect one - in heated battles against the town of Tenafly). What shocks me here is some of the rhetoric that a battle over a request to install some invisible fishing wire has spawned. To wit:
“We look upon the eruv as a violation of our right to live in a spiritual environment of our own choice,” city resident Walton McMillan commented July 6 on the Palo Alto Weekly’s Web site, where debates have raged. “The eruv forces upon us the necessity to live in a community devoted to the worship of a god foreign to our understanding and devotion. We should not be required to live in a spiritual community which has habitually turned its back on the sacred and sublime for thousands of years.”
Um..how's that again? It can't possibly be that simply knowing the almost invisible Eruv is there will "force" its opponents to do much of anything. Or this choice comment:
Joe Webb from the nearby affluent enclave of Woodside vocally opposed the eruv last time, and he minces no words now. “We live in a modern, secular, democratic world, and these wackos are trying to catapult us back into a 2,000-years-ago kind of deal,” he said in an interview with the Forward, citing “the sneaky way that these folks do things.”

“The big thing at the time was declaring this area Jewish space — absurd! It’s not Christian space, it’s not communist space, it’s not Republican space, it’s not Nazi space. If they want to have religious space, go to synagogue,” he said, adding that he has “washed my hands of it…. If people want to allow Jews to run all over them, that’s their prerogative.”
Riiight. The "sneaky way these folks do things". "Jews running all over them".

Some of these comments are outright scary and clearly show how a dispute such as this can play right into the festering anti-Semitic or anti-Orthodox feelings some might already be harboring. But other comments show how misunderstood the concept of an Eruv really is. A "Jewish space"? I have never heard any halachic discussion of how an Eruv proclaims the area it surrounds "Jewish" - it's usually just a matter of "enclosing" a public space, often by suspending invisible wires from already existing utility poles, thus creating a technical designation that allows Observant Jews to carry items outside on Shabbat.

Perhaps, in cases like this, a bit more clarification is in order as to what purpose an Eruv actually serves. Then again, there is no amount of clarification (or tolerance-teaching, for that matter) that might help those who are complaining about "wacko" Jews and their "sneaky way of doing things", and how to not "allow Jews to run all over them".

Sunday, July 15, 2007

More Camp Complaints

My daughter's camp requires that all girls over a certain age - and that age is not Bat Mitzvah - wear socks that cover their entire leg. She went up to camp with numerous pairs of washable, easy-care knee socks that I figured would be comfortable and practical. Evidently not. Apparently, the tween set likes to wear sheer nude pantyhose. Which my daughter didn't bring enough of. Which I now have to send up to camp - so she can get one wearing out of each pair. And I thought campers with cell phones was the only way camp had changed since I was a kid.


Thursday, July 12, 2007

Help Me Out With This One

This is the story. Yesterday's date was July 11 - 7/11. So in honor of that date, participating 7/11 stores apparently give out free 7.11 ounce Slurpees all day long. How did I hear about this? One of my kids came home from camp yesterday to tell me that the entire camp piled into buses to head over to the local 7-11 store, at which point every single camper in the camp lined up to receive their free Slurpee.

I was initially appalled at the thought of hundreds of identifiably Orthodox kids being lined up by their counselors to take advantage of this promotion. Taking so many kids who are clearly not in the market to be purchasing anything else from the store seems somehow to be thwarting the spirit in which this deal was offered. But I'm not so sure that my initial reaction was the correct one. I mean, 7-11 did choose to offer the promotion, seemingly with no strings or caveats attached. Was the spectacle of hundreds of Frum kids lining up to enjoy the 7-11 freebies a huge Chillul Hashem - or completely okay?

Readers? Care to weigh in?

Monday, July 09, 2007

Tehillim Request and Open Tehillim Thread

Please daven for Chana Malka Bat Rachel, a baby who is ill and needs our Tefillot. Also, please treat this as an open comment thread to submit names of any other Cholim who may be in need of our Tefillot and Tehillim.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

I Interrupt this Radio Silence for a Few Brief Rants

I'm sorry for the light posting schedule - things have been a bit hectic. I did want to make time, though, to get these mini-rants out of my system.

1. Does anyone else remember the good old days of summer sleepaway camping? The days when if there were any phone privileges for campers at all, they were extremely limited - usually about once a week or so? Or the pre-cell phone days, as opposed to 2007, where just about every staff member on camp grounds has the ability to send and receive calls and text messages from their personal cell-phones?

My kids attend different camps. One camp has restricted phone usage rules for their campers, another has a very liberal policy that basically allows campers to pick up a phone and dial home at any time they have a few free minutes. Let's just say that while I am always happy to hear my children's voices, the latter camp's policy can present a huge challenge for children who are having a hard time adjusting as campers. The constant phone calls, checking in with Mom and Dad, reporting/complaining about the little ins and outs that make up a day at sleepaway camp - sometimes (according to some of my friends with particularly homesick children) with the child crying into the phone - can be detrimental to both parent and child. I can tell you that in my own (admittedly anecdotal) experience, the kids who call home regularly are the kids who have a harder time acclimating to camp.

Chalk it up to times changing, I guess. I give it a few years before kids start coming up to camp with phones that have full e-mail/instant messaging capabilities. It would be pretty interesting to see campers walking to their next activity alone - talking into their bluetooth headsets or thumb-typing "Mom: send more nosh!" into their blackberries.

2. Speaking of my conversations with kids at camp (and of times changing, for that matter), in one such conversation with a sleepaway camper I was informed that said child needed some extra stuff. So off I went to the local big-box store to buy up dozens more socks that will just end up in the bermuda triangle that they call "camp laundry".

While perusing that section, I happened upon an item that suprised me (photo at right). Can someone tell me why a toddler who wears a size 4 underwear would need "low rise briefs", or bikinis that advertise themselves to be "now - with lower rise!"??? I am well aware that the low-rise trend has been encroaching even the orthodox world (the ultra-Orthodox girls' camp that felt it necessary to send out a letter explaining that "waistbands of skirts must be fully covered by shirts with no skin visible" is testament to that), but to toddlers? Does anyone else out there find the advertising of the low-rise qualities of toddler underwear to be a bit...well, off-putting? What happened to the days when toddlers wore underwear emblazoned with cartoon characters like Dora the Explorer - as opposed to underwear that would be better suited to be worn by a character like My Bling-Bling Barbie (a "toy" also marketed to young girls, of course - complete with advertising copy that reads: "Comes with a hot outfit" - and a "hot outfit" it most certainly is...).

I know I sound prudish and behind the times. Really, I do. But seriously, in an era where a major national clothing retailer has marketed thong underwear emblazoned with salacious sayings to pre-teen girls, does anyone else worry?