Today is Rosh Hashanah. Happy Birthday to the World; you turn (according to tradition) 5774 today. According to science? Well, that’s a different story. In any case, World, here’s a special Rosh Hashanah birthday present for you — a collection of Jewish-themed news chum to entertain you, before folks go off to services:
- Jews in Politics. If you’re Christian and in Congress, it’s easy. You go to church, the media follows, and you get to show people how pious you are. But what if you are Jewish? The Washington Post has an answer to that question, exploring how Jewish members of Congress balance piety with their National responsibilities. I found this a real interesting story. I never knew, for example, that Barbara Boxer was an observant Jew (for those not familiar with the lingo, those tend to be code words for someone who is more observant than the typical Reform Jew — that is, either Conservative or Orthodox (which are both Jewish movements)).
- Rethinking the Bar/Bat Mitzvah. The New York Times has a fascinating piece — well worth using as one of your limited number of free articles — on how congregations are experimenting with what the b’nei mitzvah of the future should look like. The problem is best put by Bradley Solomon, director of the new effort: “We didn’t realize it,” but we sent the message to families that if you want to be a bar or bat mitzvah, you have to join the synagogue. And what they heard was, ‘When you’re done, you can leave the synagogue.’ We’d like to go back to our roots and say, How can we make it a point of welcome and not the exit point that it’s become?” Basically, they are battling the “Religious School Industrial Complex”: Reform leaders say American Jewry unwittingly sowed the seeds of its own stagnation in the 1930s and ’40s when synagogues, to expand their membership, began to require three or four years of religious school attendance as a prerequisite to the bar mitzvah. Synagogues built classroom wings and charged tuition, which became a vital income stream for congregations. Children and their families go through what some rabbis call an “assembly line” that produces Jews schooled in little more than “pediatric Judaism,” an immature understanding of the faith, its values and spirituality. Most students deliver a short speech about the meaning of the Torah passage they were assigned to read, but they never really learn to understand or speak Hebrew, only to decode the text. All they understand is the party, and that’s a bad thing.
- High Holiday Music. To tell you the truth, I don’t get much out of High Holiday services. To me, the sermon is the most interesting part. The prayers are high sounding but devoid of meaning, and the music … well, to some it is inspiring and lifting, but to me, it tends to drive me to auxiliary HHD reading such as this or this as it drones on. But perhaps that is changing. Here’s an article on how younger Jews are attempting to reshape High Holiday music. As one of the Cantors involved in the effort, Basya Schecter, says that in many traditional synagogues, the cantor’s prayers are “the wings that everyone else would ride on,” and what the community sang was given less weight. “And, in our generation, it’s really about the energy and the momentum of the entire community together, creating space for people to have their own experience, whatever that is.” I’d love to see the music revitalized — the problem, as I see it, is twofold. First, there is tradition inertia, especially around the HHD, where people don’t like to change the tradition because it is tradition and their only connection. Second, the problem is the Cantorial leadership, for the HHD is one place for a Cantor to shine and show off, and this might reduce the number of moments of “all eyes are on the Cantor and choir”.
- A Historic Meeting. This one is a little tangential, but given the KKK has targeted Jews as well, I think it fits in. There was recently a historic meeting where a top representative from the KKK met a top representative from the NAACP. It took place in Casper WY, between the President of the NAACP in Casper and a kleagle (Organizer) of the Klan. Why did the meeting take place? For months the NAACP hadbeen hearing reports that black men in Gillette were being beaten up. Invariably the men were with white women when assaulted. Then Klan literature showed up around town. The NAACP president considered rallying against the Klan, but then decided to try something different: talking.“If you want to talk about hate, get a hater,” the President said later. “Let him tell you something about hate.” So they met. Will it change anything? That’s unknown, but even if it doesn’t reduce the hate, it may reduce the violence. My favorite line is the explanation of why the Klansman joined the Klan: “I like it because you wear robes, and get out and light crosses, and have secret handshakes. I like being in the Klan — I sort of like it that people think I’m some sort of outlaw.” Sigh. Still, the meeting shows the value of doing something unexpected to battle hate. Let this inspire you for the new year — instead of hating, sit down and learn about the other person. Spend the year trying to see people as people, and not ideologies. Help make the world a better place.
We’re back from vacation, Al Hirt is playing in the background as I record some LPs we picked up thrifting on vacation, and it’s time to clear out the links. If you are planning your weekend, tomorrow will bring a review of “The Vibrator Play“, and if I get my act together, Monday will bring highway page headlines and updates. So let’s get to this…
- Writing Cursive and the Brain. Over in the Westchester in the 1960s and 1970s FB group, they are talking about fountain pens, nuns, and cursive writing. Now, I never had the nuns, but I do use fountain pens and my cursive is horrible. I mention this because of an interesting article discovered this week about what learning cursive does to the brain. scientists are discovering that learning cursive is an important tool for cognitive development, particularly in training the brain to learn “functional specialization,” that is capacity for optimal efficiency. In the case of learning cursive writing, the brain develops functional specialization that integrates both sensation, movement control, and thinking. Brain imaging studies reveal that multiple areas of brain become co-activated during learning of cursive writing of pseudo-letters, as opposed to typing or just visual practice. There is spill-over benefit for thinking skills used in reading and writing. To write legible cursive, fine motor control is needed over the fingers. Students have to pay attention and think about what and how they are doing it. They have to practice. Brain imaging studies show that cursive activates areas of the brain that do not participate in keyboarding.
- Do Your Remember the “Enter ↑” Key? Speaking about the 1970s, how many remember HP calculators. I remember them well — a friend had the first HP programmables, whereas I was using the SR-52 and SR-56 from TI. Well, it seems that HP calculators — especially the old ones — are still very popular (especially amongst the financial crowd). Financial planners still use them to quickly run everything from routine amortization schedules and compound interest calculations to 30-year mortgages and far more complicated problems. Further, the older, the more worn, the more faded the keys, the higher the esteem in which they are held.
- “We Shall Overcome” and History. This week was the anniversary of the March on Washington, and one of the stories that emerged was about a well-known song: “We Shall Overcome”. Have you ever wondered where that song comes from? Huffington Post has a nice exploration of its history. The song’s origins go back to a refrain that slaves would sing to sustain themselves: “I’ll be all right someday.” Southern Black churches adopted the song and by 1901 a Methodist minister, Charles Tindley, published a version entitled, “I’ll Overcome Someday.” In 1945, Black members of the Food, Tobacco, and Agricultural Workers Union from Charleston, South Carolina revised the song as part of their struggle and sang it on their picket lines. They sang: “We will overcome, and we will win our rights someday.” Two years later, several of the union’s activists brought the song to the Highlander Folk School, an inter-racial training center in rural Tennessee for labor and civil rights activists founded in 1932 by Myles Horton, an educator and minister who believed in the “social gospel.” It grew from there.
- Modern History. Speaking about history, a call for papers has gone out regarding the history of Computer Security. Yup, the field in which I work is finally old enough that people are starting to study its history. I wasn’t there at the beginning, but I’ve been there for many years of it. I’ll note we’ll be exploring some of it in New Orleans this December at ACSAC 2013. Come and join us.
- Copyright and Images. Here’s an interesting article that my friend Val alerted me to. Evidently there is a show on SyFy called “Heroes of Cosplay”. Turns out, they are using images without crediting or paying the creator of those images: the photographers. So the photographer called them on it. A lawsuit has been filed, and NBC/U is being non-responsive. So the photographer went public.
- Salmonella on the Side. Two interesting articles dealing with Salmonella. In the first, NPR is reminding us not to rinse fresh meat before cooking it — it appears that there is a large risk of contamination of kitchen surfaces from the invisible splash that results. In the second, the NY Times is reporting on another source of salmonella contamination — the spices that we use in the kitchen. This one is particularly hard to trace, as spices have specialized harvesting methods, and often spices are multiple years old (they are not used fresh), so tracking the outbreak is even harder.
- Whole vs. Juice. To hear the late Jack LaLanne talk, juicing makes everything better. Well, perhaps not everything. Andrew Ducker alerted me to this piece, which notes that whole fruit is actually much much better for you than juice. Drinking juice is drinking sugar.
Music: The Best of Al Hirt (Al Hirt, Ann Margaret): “The Best Man”
Yes, I’m on vacation, but that doesn’t mean I stop reading the news. Over the last few days, I’ve seen a number of articles that can be loosely tied together around historical themes:
- Explaining Guns. If you’ve ever been to the Autry National Center in Griffith Park, you know that they have a large display of firearms. In the older part of the exhibit (if memory serves correct, it is after the singing cowboy room), these are just displayed. You can see the beauty of the weapons, but no historical context. According to the LA Times, that’s changing. The Autry is installing new exhibits that will place the weaponry in historical context, explaining the role of particular weapons in shaping the Western US. I really do need to get over and see that (I also need to see their exhibit on Jews in LA). The article also mentioned they might be getting rid of the exhibit on singing and movie cowboys — I hope they don’t do that (although it needs refreshing). For one, that period is nostalgic to many; more importantly, that period was a significant reflection of the morés of the times — it showed beliefs and stereotypes — that still influence our culture today (both in a positive and negative sense).
- Would You Like Fries With That? I can’t stand ketchup (catsup). Not on fries. Not on burgers. Not on anything. But I know people that love it. I’m sure that most people don’t know the history of the condiment — for example, that it was once a fish sauce, and very dangerous to eat. How did that change? Thank a man named Heinz, who believed so much in the purity of his product that he put it in transparent containers. For those that enjoy ketchup, you’ll get a kick out of this article.
- Shall I Grind It For You? No, I’m not talking about Miley Cyrus at the VMA. Rather, I’m continuing on the condiment theme of the last bullet. This time, the subject is black pepper, and the question is: Why do they grind pepper at the table? Curious? Here’s the answer. The origin is similar to the Heinz story: to demonstrate purity of product.
- Believing What You See. The last two items have a common thread: If you see it, you know its true. Is that always true? The answer, alas, is no. Here’s an interesting article (h/t Andrew Ducker) on photomanipulation through the years — it didn’t start with photoshop, but goes back to the early days of photography. If you don’t want all the links in that article, here’s a shorter summary with clearer examples.
- Saving a Sign. We’ll bookend these bullets with another item about historical Los Angeles. They will soon be demolishing the Tiffany Theatre on Sunset Blvd, and Valley Relics is going to be saving the sign (at the rate Valley Relics is going, they will soon have a sign boneyard to rival Vegas). If you don’t recognize the Tiffany, you will recognize a trend that it helped start: it was the original home of the midnight showing of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show“.
And that’s my morning on vacation. Read the news. Go work out. Post the news. Now to figure out the day…
Ah, the weekend. Time to rest, relax, and recharge… while gorging yourself on this collection of interesting links that didn’t quite fit into a theme:
- Forgotten Subway Stations. New York is a big city. So big, in fact, that it has subway stations it built and never uses. Here’s an interesting article on one of those stations: the City Hall station. Looks beautiful for a station that old. I always like the style of NYC subway stations. LA’s, even with their unique station art, are so utilitarian.
- Names, Second Generation. When my wife and I got married, she elected to keep her last name. This was actually quite common for folks of my generation. But times change. We then had a large period of hyphenation… and now… ? Here’s an interesting article that considers how the children of my generation got their last names.
- Not Fitting Into Stereotypes. Given I just mentioned names, I’m sure if I gave you a particular last name — Schwartz, Cohen, Abramowitz — you would think “Jewish”. But that’s a stereotype, and Jews just don’t fit your stereotypes. Here are 10 photos to remind you of that.
- A Singing Voice is Silenced. The first show we ever saw at McCabes was a young man out of Tucson by the name of Shep Cooke. His claim to fame was that he was part of the Stoney Poneys, Linda Ronstadt’s first group. Linda has had quite an interesting career — pop, rock, Broadway, Mexican music, standards, … and alas… that voice has been silenced by Parkinsons. Here’s to a brave women for discussing the effects of a horrible disease. [As a side note, we're on vacation... and the theatre here is actually doing a Ronstadt tribute show the day after week leave]
- Expensive Travel. We’re at the locale hinted at in the previous link because airfare to our normal timeshare was just too expensive (anyone got a good lead on airfares between LAX and OGG at the end of August?). Here’s an article explaining why airfares are so expensive. Think about this article the next time you hear that airline consolidations are good for the industry. Less competition always means prices rise.
- Watts Towers. If you’re a student of LA (as I am), you know that one of unique places is Watts Towers. Here’s an interesting article from UCLA on how UCLA engineers are studying the towers to make a better mortar that will enable the towers to stand for another generation.
Change. It is all around us, usually in the bottom of the dryer because we forgot to take it out of a pants pocket. Here are three examples of change around us:
- Change and Death. Social media is changing how we approach death. Recently, an NPR anchor tweeted from the bedside of his dying mother, and people were riveted. Here’s an interesting article on the effects that social media is bringing.
- Change and the Court. Society has gotten a lot less formal. People used to dress up for flying, for the theatre, and for church. They also used to dress for court dates, and even that’s going down the tube. Here’s how the court in Las Vegas is dealing with it.
- Change and Politics. Politics has changed. As everyone knows, we’ve become increasingly polarized (to the point where people bully the other side in political discussions). What to do about it? The answer for some folks: Secede. In particular, Northern Colorado would like to secede from the rest of the state. They won’t succeed, but it does demonstrate the growing divide between urban populations and the rural populations. We’ve become two society, who can’t figure out how to live together, and absolutely abhor the leaders of the other side.
Music: Stunt (Barenaked Ladies): “When You Dream”
This collection of news chum has to do with typography and words:
Today’s lunchtime … ummm, make that dinnertime … news chum brings you some news about music and musicals:
With all the Anniversary stuff yesterday, I never got around to posting the Saturday News Chum Stew. So here are some tasty tidbits for your weekend enjoyment (some were shared previously on FB during the week):
- This Song’s For You. Here’s a really neat video — watch Elton John sing “Your Song” over the course of 43 years. One of the best editing jobs I’ve seen.
- The Co-Dependency Dance. I’m a big lover of Shel Silverstein. Most people know him from his children’s poems, but the man had a wonderfully warped and twisted mind. Somehow, I think he’d appreciate this “preview” for “The Giving Tree” as a horror movie. It’s an interesting take on the subject, as many do think of that book as a horror, celebrating co-dependency.
- There’s a Drug For That. Ever wonder how drugs get named? This article explores the whole game of naming prescription medicine.
- One Direction. I have a cousin that is obsessed with One Direction (the band, not a particular driving practice). I see this as the typical tween obsession with boy-crafted bands that has gone on for decades, across the generations, with different bands (Davey Jones and David Cassidy – yes, I’m looking at you). Of course, (a) the tween never sees the depth of the obsession at the time; and (b) occasionally, the music stands the test of time. So two One Direction things caught my eye this week and made me chuckle: the first was a report on one sister that pranked her sibling, a One Direction fan. The other was a collection of photos of dad’s at a One Direction concert. Both are things that make me glad my daughter’s obsession has moved on to Elton John and Dolly Parton.
- And Lastly… This was was just too adorable: pictures of babies tasting a lemon for the first time.