Member Post

 

Apparently, there’s a new streaming service run by our friends at Fox News, called “Fox Nation.” I won’t subscribe because, even if I wanted to, I don’t stream anything, due to a very expensive satellite Internet connection. It’s the only thing available out here and it caps out at 15GB per month. Every additional gigabyte […]

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Member Post

 

On Thursday of this week, Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan questioned the dubious, now legal method of ballot harvesting in California where (watch the video) non-certified individuals can gather mail-in/absentee and most dubious of all – provisional ballots from voters days and weeks prior to an election and then turn them into election precincts […]

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CNN Fake News About World Chess Championship

 

Magnus Carlsen retained his championship today. CNN reported:

For most of November there was deadlock. Twelve games, 12 draws, a too-close-to-call psychological battle conducted before a devoted global audience locked at 6-6. And so, in a soundproof studio in a grand Victorian building in central London, the world title was decided by a series of quickfire tie-breakers for the first time in the competition’s official 132-year history.

As Casey Stengel said about the Mets, “Can’t anybody play this game.” This is the fourth time the world chess championship has been decided by rapid games (2006, 2011, 2016 and 2018). I realize that chess journalists are rare, but CNN can’t get the basic facts correct. Perhaps fake news is too harsh a term for the mistake in CNN’s article. Would they prefer that I call them incompetent.

Who Eliminated Mr. Whipple?

 

Advertising for products dealing with our bodily functions predates radio and television, as Kellogg’s built an eventual corporate empire on “healthy” food centered on bowel regularity. Indeed, Kellogg’s followed the success of Cascaret’s sweet-flavored lozenge, advertised as a palatable alternative to castor oil.

But around 1900, Americans didn’t just associate constipation with abdominal discomfort or gas or indigestion. Constipation for our great-grandparents was the root evil of just about every ailment and malaise you could think of. And for whatever was wrong with you, a laxative (or purgative or cathartic–the terms were used pretty interchangeably) would do the trick.

That is not just a belief of our ancestors. Listen to any “health food” or “alternative/ natural medicine” pitch. “Gut” health is going to come up. What is a cleanse? We still hold a gut instinct that our digestive system is the center of our health. Of course, that belief has a sound basis, as digestive health links to nutritional efficiency, and when things go wrong, we can take a very bad turn.

All of which leads inevitably to the delicate subject of the end product and the delicate tissues engaged. Skipping past the various products pitched to get things moving or slow things down, we all understand the job isn’t over until the paperwork is done.

Toilet paper manufacturers have had to balance strength and softness. Coarse paper was just unpleasant to use repeatedly. On the other hand, no one wants the stuff coming apart mid-application. Charmin seized on the softness pitch back in the 1960s.

From 1964 to 1985, and over the course of more than 500 different TV commercials, America got to know nit-picky (and hypocritical) grocery store manager Mr George Whipple. The man’s existence was defined by his need to keep all the customers (particularly women) from squeezing the Charmin toilet paper — something everyone was apparently compelled to do.

Mr. Whipple was reinforcing the visual message conveyed by Charmin‘s 1953 addition of “a baby graphic to its packaging to symbolize the gentle softness and quality people had come to enjoy.” According to Charmin, Mr. Whipple retired in 1985 after 20 years. We are told Charmin said a final farewell to Mr. Whipple on 19 November 2007. Which brings us to the bears.

In 2000, Charmin went there, answering in the affirmative that bears do indeed [expletive] in the woods. “A new animated advertising campaign was launched, called “Call of Nature,” featuring a bear in the woods experiencing the comfortable feeling of Charmin.” The next year, there was a whole bear family, with a papa, mama, and three cubs.

The whole family was fluffy, well rounded, and oh-so-friendly appearing. They pitched the idea that Charmin was not only soft, but also strong enough, and textured to clean without leaving bits behind.

Now, this is all very good and well. It is deliberately cute but to the point. But are we to accept Charmin’s official history? Those are some very sleek, very well-fed bears. Not a bit hungry.

So, I ask you, what really happened to Mr. Whipple?

Civil Forfeiture Is Going Down!

 

I am over the moon with the Supreme Court and the new alliance between Gorsuch and Sotomayor. From Slate:

In Philadelphia, prosecutors seized one couple’s house because their son was arrested with $40 worth of drugs. Officials there seized 1,000 other houses and 3,300 vehicles before a 2018 settlement that led to reparations for victims. In 2014, federal prosecutors used asset forfeiture to take more stuff than burglars. One Texas police department seized property from out-of-town drivers, then colluded with the district attorney to coerce these drivers into waiving their rights. Law enforcement frequently targets poor people and racial minorities, figuring they are unable to fight back.

No longer?

So while Gorsuch and Sotomayor led the fight on Wednesday, there’s probably a cross-ideological coalition of justices prepared to invalidate excessive forfeitures. Such a ruling would reflect broad agreement across the ideological spectrum that forfeiture has gone too far. ….

Only Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito expressed any interest in allowing civil asset forfeiture to continue unabated. A majority of the court seems poised to rule that all 50 states must stop seizing property in a way that’s grossly disproportionate to the crime committed—a holy grail of criminal justice reformers. In one fell swoop, defendants will receive new protections against the legalized theft of their stuff.

This is a Very Big Deal.

Member Post

 

Amazing.

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Turkey in the Slaw and Other Leftovers

 

What do you do with your Thanksgiving leftovers? I imagine some of you get quite creative.

It’s possible desperation, not creativity, inspired the day’s menu presented below, but for your delectation, I thought I’d share it:

***

Menu:

*

Breakfast:
Popcorn and Pie with Caramelized Cream
What it is:
What it says.
Why you eat it:
Because the family needs a breakfast taking near-zero preparation in order to get out the door on time. Plus, both popcorn and pie taste good with coffee. The cream is caramelized because someone topped the pumpkin pie this year with a thick layer of whipped-cream frosting, a layer which melted and browned when you warmed the pie slices in the oven. Popcorn, a classic New-World food, is a fitting addition to any Thanksgiving feast, and is probably better for you than many breakfast cereals — not that “better for you” is really operative when you’re starting the day with dessert.

*

Lunch:
Thanksgiving Mashup
What it is:
Stuffing mashed with squash, sweet potato, gravy, chopped turkey and green beans.
Why you eat it:
Because even the cuisinier agrees that this year’s stuffing, while flavorful, turned out denser than plutonium and stickier than fly paper, so that mashing it with leftover squash and sweet potato actually lightens it. The gravy adds much-needed lubrication, while the chopped turkey and green beans complete the flavor profile — it’s an entire feast in every bite!

*

Dinner:
Turkey in the Slaw
What it is:
Slaw veggies combined with shredded turkey, then tossed with your choice of slaw dressing — we mixed ranch and vinaigrette.
Why you eat it:
Because the post-Thanksgiving blizzard delayed your weekly trip to the grocery store, and you’ve used up nearly everything in the fridge but the Thanksgiving turkey shreds, a single packet of ranch dressing (acquired from heaven knows where), and a forlorn bag of undressed slaw. This salad, born of pure desperation, turns out to be surprisingly tasty.

*

Dessert:
Chocolate-Covered Pineapple with Grape Kebabs
What it is:
Exactly that — fruit, on a stick, with some chocolate.
Why you eat it:
Because someone brought one of those Edible Arrangements for a Thanksgiving centerpiece, and eventually an Edible Arrangement ought to be eaten. Half the pineapple rounds, cut into decorative shapes, have been dipped in chocolate, a combination tastier than it might sound. Grape kebabs are apparently the baby’s-breath of the Edible Arrangement world, artfully filling out the arrangement without distracting the eye too much from… well… stuff like the chocolate-covered pineapple.

***

Well, there you have it. An entire day’s worth of Thanksgiving leftovers. In truth, we had these leftover meals interspersed with other meals over the span of a few days, rather than packing the menu into one day of marathon leftover-eating. It did use up all our leftovers, though.

What have you done with yours?

Member Post

 

The recent actions of the lame duck Flake [see Nauseating Flake] renew questions about the voters in this state who continue the trend of sending truly irrational (and full of themselves) politicians to Washington that cause us national harm. That makes it a problem for all of us and not just Arizonians. We have a […]

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On Tenacity and ‘Tootsie Rolls’: The Battle of Chosin Reservoir

 

Member @cudouglas put up a very moving post recently, “I Cry Over Tootsie Rolls,” that recounts a friend’s family lore and memories around the Battle of Chosin Reservoir [Nov. 27–Dec. 13, 1950] during the Korean War. This wonderful story sent me on a search to learn more. An in-depth documentary: “Chosin Reservoir – Epic of Endurance” deals with expectations being challenged by experience.

As well, the National Museum of the Marine Corps offers virtual tours through its various permanent galleries; and a focus on this battle, in its Korean War gallery.

For those interested in graphic novels and anime drawn from them, here’s “Chosin Trilogy”, yet another point of view on the events of these days.

Thanks for accompanying me on my virtual journey to “The Frozen Chosin.” Tonight, I’ll raise a glass to Gen. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller and all those who exemplified: “Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome.” And I’ll have a Tootsie Roll as a chaser.

We Learn and Remember … Semper Fidelis.

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My nephew got married a couple of years ago, and since then his wife — despite being new to the family — has done more to research our family history than any of the rest of us ever did. At Thanksgiving she shared some of what she had learned, and consequently I became aware of […]

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Two (More Like 1 1/2, Really) Cheers for Ocasio-Cortez

 

America has found her new favorite socialist, and as a consequence, American conservatives have found their new most-relished bête noire. I refer of course to Miss Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the incoming New York congresswoman and self-professed “Democratic Socialist.”

Now on paper, conservatives’ disdain for AOC is perfectly unobjectionable. Not only are the freshman representative’s ideas, if taken seriously, a daunting threat to American liberty but she seems to have shunned the Acela train in favor of hopping all the way to DC from Brooklyn on one foot, the other embedded fixedly in her mouth as her public comments have suggested an ignorance of everything from basic economics to high-school civics and the dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

And yet… while I hate everything she claims to stand for, I can’t help but wince when I read conservatives on Twitter and elsewhere gleefully laying into Ocasio-Cortez. I can’t say that I’m rooting for her because I’m not, but I do sympathize for reasons I can’t entirely pin down. If you’d like you can stop reading here and assume that I’m a bitter Never Trumper, automatically endeared to any of the post-2016 conservative movement’s chosen objects of hate. (If I am, it’s because the previous choices have been so perplexing to me. Hillary Clinton, really? I’ve never seen a less inspired or more incompetent politician in my life. I’m supposed to go all Flight 93 over someone who couldn’t hijack a plane if she were Michael Palin with a fake gun?) Assuming that there’s more to it however, what follows, working from the most ephemeral to the more substantive, is a complete inventory of possible rationals for an anti-anti-Cortezismo.

I suppose it’s theoretically possible that there’s some kind of latent millennial solidarity at work here. Certainly, there’s more than a whiff of the self-reverential boomerism that infects so much right-leaning commentary at play in conservatives’ attacks on AOC. In essence though I think this is just another instance of the fixation on style over substance that causes so many criticisms of Trump to get stranded on the rocks.

I find little to like about the president but in retrospect I’ve come to be grateful for the unfiltered style which has revealed the man’s psyche sufficently for me to develop an informed opinion. The scripted-platitude generators that used to pass for politicians in the US often came with nasty surprises once we actually got to know them; we shouldn’t mourn their loss. Ocasio-Cortez is no different. Her breezy let-it-all-hang-out twentysomething style and social media accessibility are positive goods in that they shine a light on the real defects in her thinking.

Secondly, it has to be noted that too many conservatives have crossed the line from attacking AOC’s policies to attacking her clothing and physical appearance. This not only violates all kinds of important civic norms but it’s also bad politics and gives credibility to feminist narratives about conservative misogyny. If you’re going to strategically anathemetize someone, at least try to make yourselves look better in comparison. For the sake of bipartisanship, I’ll say that I find Ocazio-Cortez to be both stylish and attractive. (Since I’m a male of the roughly the same age and demographic category I’m sure you could chalk my reserve up to biology or misplaced gallantry and stop reading here as well.)

And then there’s Bernie. It seems unavoidable that for the immediate future the Democratic Party is going to be dominated by a powerful left wing. That being the case, it’s all our interest that the torch of leadership be passed as quickly as possible away from the far left’s current guru, a man who honeymooned in the Soviet Union providing him with a history of genuine affinity with a hostile foreign power, which just happened to be the most thoroughly blood-soaked regime in all of human history. Cortez may be an unbearable naif and culpably ignorant of the misery which her ideology has inflicted over the last century, but culpable ignorance trumps culpable knowledge. “Real socialism has never been tried” is an idiot’s evasion but it beats the hell out of “I’ve seen the future and it works!”

And frankly, along these lines I’ve found conservatives’ attitudes toward the extreme left in recent years to be troubling. While figures like Sanders and Corbyn (who spied for Czechoslovakia) may be ceremonially invoked to indicate the evil’s of the great “them,” conservatives seem functionally content to play both sides against the middle and fixate upon the near enemy, whether May, Clinton, Cameron, etc. — a strategy which was a hallmark of late Roman Emperors. How many times did Trump express pity over poor Bernie’s treatment by the DNC during the presidential debates? Wake up people, there are actual reds in the world who we should be far more concerned over than dilettante socialists and career grifters.

Most significantly though, I think most AOC critics seem to forget that she’s been elected to the House of Representatives.

There are no cookie-cutter offices in our system and each has its own institutional character. The age requirement for the lower house is set five years lower than the Senate for good cause. One reason we have a House of Representatives is to give those who are young and stupid, but politically talented, a crash course in legislation before they can cause too much real damage, and maybe smooth off some of their ideological rough edges. Complaining over a freshman congresswoman’s lack of experience misses the point.

The house serves as both a pressure valve and a barometer. If batty economic utopianism is part of what’s going on in the mind of the great democracy sufficiently to get someone like AOC elected, we should know about it. More than that, we should give those tendencies a voice in the system, thus coopting them. This is how we avoid actually revolutionary tremors from shaking the superstructure (this is only my penultimate metaphor). After that, it’s up to the components of our mixed government system that are charged with constraining the popular will to take appropriate action. The lower chamber is meant to be, among other things, a democratic petting zoo full of demagogues and holy rollers, where one can observe all the variety of funky-smelling political animals up close. William F. Buckley, after all, endorsed radical socialist Allard Lowenstein on similar grounds.

I wouldn’t endorse AOC nor vote for her or anyone like her. But in a round about way I’m glad that she is where she is. The founders left us a great system and it’s usually working to repair itself even when it seems to be broken. In this case, the best way to let that system work would be to ignore Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, take away some of the media incentive for her to continue playing her present character, and check in sometime in the next decade to see what she’s become. Despite myself, I’m interested to find out.

Welcoming Nikita for Thanksgiving — and Other Beautiful Babies

 
MOSCOW, RUSSIA – APRIL: A portrait of Nikita Khrushchev, then the Prime Secretary of the CPUS (the Communist Party of the Soviet Union) in April, 1964 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Sometimes you look at a newborn’s face and just know — ours is a Nikita. As in Khrushchev. Born just in time for Thanksgiving, she’s no picture-perfect Butterball, like her older brother Zeke was, but blotchy, wrinkled and shrunken, with chapped, old-man skin, sharp-heeled simian feet, and a flaming red, bony baboon butt. Her face, at least, is baby-pudgy, but still wizened-looking. Bald-headed, broad-nosed, with that pudgy-yet-wizened face, the resemblance between her and Khrushchev is a little less than fanciful. She is also, of course, very beautiful.

Babies are by definition beautiful, even when they’re a little funny-looking. Was your bundle of joy born looking like Uncle Fester? Beautiful. Like a garden gnome (as one of @qoumidan‘s was)? Beautiful!

Nikita was born a little late, and it’s apparently not uncommon for the late arrivers, who’ve marinated in there a little too long, to come out looking a bit scalded and worse for wear, even when they’re otherwise perfectly healthy — which, thank God, Nikita is. Her eyes aren’t the usual baby-blue, either, but nearly black, lending her an eerie, alien demeanor when she squints them up into slits, hiding the whites. Other times, when she yawns, she screws her face up into a pirate-y snarl. In the days since Thanksgiving, she’s smoothened out a little, to look more like the little angels babies are supposed to resemble. Perhaps in a few weeks, her de-weirding will be complete. But before it is, I thought I’d commemorate her first appearance to the world. After all, every baby is beautiful, but not every baby gets to look like Khrushchev.

Have you known any funny-looking babies?

The Miracle of Chanukah

 

Last year I was inspired by a grand, beautiful menorah that @iwe and his family made for Chanukah. I convinced my husband to help me make one, and here it is! We made it of PVC that we sawed, glued and painted, and used battery-operated candles. (It is, at least, OSHA-approved.)

I will be lighting our other menorah with real candles and the new one Sunday evening, the lead candle (Shamas) and the first candle. It is a poignant time to remember not only the Maccabees who fought against the Seleucids, but all those men who have battled against the odds.

Member Post

 

I consider myself fortunate. Over the course of my now increasingly decrepit life (I’m 64, so winding down), I’ve met three people who were so incredibly special that I felt myself in the presence of the Divine when I was with them. One, I became acquainted with in 1981. One, in 2013. And one, less […]

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Farewell to Spongebob, RIP Hillenberg

 

Stephen Hillenberg, the creator of Spongebob Squarepants, died yesterday at the age of 57. He died of ALS.

Hillenberg was a marine biologist and science teacher, which is what gave him the inspiration for his absurdist Bikini Bottom city of marine loonies. Like Looney Tunes at its best, Spongebob Squarepants was both ridiculously childish and impishly clever, and was one of those few cartoons to appeal to kids and adults both, without patronizing either or burying sex jokes for the adults.

Even now, some of the sketches still make me giggle just by thinking about them (particularly Squidward and the sea bear, which had a deft escalation of mishaps, and layering in of multiple punch lines — as that sort of humor goes, the scene is technically brilliant in its timing and execution). All of my children loved the show too, and each has their own favorite scenes that they’ll act out with each other, and their own favorite characters (for me it was Plankton, or perhaps Squidward, or maybe Mermaid Man… it’s hard to choose). It’s the sort of show that lends itself to frequent recollection.

Rest in Peace, Stephen, and enjoy the invisible boatmobile, if you can find where you last parked it.

Member Post

 

Dan Bongino is a conservative commentator and former agent of the United States Secret Service. His Bio from his website [https://bongino.com/about-dan/] is as follows … Dan Bongino’s public service career began with the NYPD in 1995. After joining the US Secret Service in 1999, Dan received a Department of Justice award for his many successful […]

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How to Get Rid of Bad Guys

 

We make a huge mistake when we corner Bad Guys, eliminate all good options, and force them to fight. It is much better to take out the leadership than to have a war. And if you fail to kill foreign leaders, but just increase the risk that someone from their own team will take a shot every time they stick their head up, you have driven the leadership underground and greatly reduced their power.

So here is the simple proposal:

  1. Standing offer to any Recognized Bad Guy that if he shows up at Embassy Q, he will get a guarantee of protection and a lifetime of luxurious isolation in St Helena. He can keep his stolen wealth, his life, and his family. Make this as ironclad as possible.
  2. Tell any Recognized Bad Guy that unless and until he turns himself in as per #1, then there is a million-dollar bounty and US citizenship papers (for the entire family) of the person who kills said Recognized Bad Guy. Make it public. Guarantee it with Swiss bankers and pictures of gold bullion. Advertise it on the internet and dropped leaflets.

You may not like the idea of rewarding evil, but taking it off the board so that good may prevail is much more cost effective than, for example, the wars that have destroyed countries in recent years.

The recent USGCRP Climate Report

 

The recent USGCRP Climate Report predicts dire economic consequences by the year 2100 if we don’t act now. Think about that: 2100 is 82 years away. 82 years ago was 1936.

To paraphrase, and with apologies to, Michael Crichton regarding his prescient lecture (“Aliens Cause Global Warming,” 2003), here is a partial list of terms we use that would make no sense whatsoever to a person from 1936: iPhone, Amazon, Apple, Laptop, tablet, quant fund, derivatives, television, computer, cell phone (generally), jet, polyester, antibiotic, satellite, DNA, MRI, ICU, IUD, IRA, ERA, EEG, EPA, DOD, PCP, HTML, internet, interferon, instant replay, remote sensing, remote control, speed dialing, gene therapy, gene splicing, genes, spot welding, heat-seeking, bipolar, prozac, leotards, lap dancing, email, tape recorder, digital recorder, digital data, data storage, CDs, airbags, plastic explosive, plastic, microfibre, robots, liposuction, transduction, superconduction, dish antennas, step aerobics, smoothies, 12-step, ultrasound, nylon, rayon, teflon, fiber optics, carpal tunnel, laser surgery, laparoscopy, corneal transplant, kidney transplant, AIDS, stents, open-heart surgery, Twitter, Facebook, Google, Interstate Highway System, St. Lawrence Seaway, self-driving, Big Bang, Transgender, Gender Fluidity, yoga pants, X-box, gamer, microwave, Sea Train container.

The thought that someone carrying a modern electronic device in a pocket, living in an air-conditioned home, worrying about weight gain, watching a big-screen TV, with content supplied by subsidized wi-fi access, wearing brand-name clothes, secure in guaranteed health care and modern transportation, could possibly consider him- or herself to be poor would boggle the mind of someone living 82 years ago. Any attempt to predict economic consequences of any action 82 years from now is so absurd as to be fatuous.

I often wonder why anyone would take this stuff seriously.

Media Bias? Loser Frog Species Gets Full Victim Status

 

From the headlines would think that the Supremes are meanies who want little frogs to die:

The fact is, the decision was 8-0 because the feds were totally out of line. A 1,500-acre tract where the dusky frog does not currently live and has never lived was set aside because it looks like the kind of place the frogs might like to live if somebody dropped a bunch of them there. In the logic of the Fish and Wildlife Service, if your backyard looks like the kind of place where any endangered species might feel comfy should the feds drop some there, the feds can order you to stop mowing the lawn and forget about a deck or swing set.

The case was an outrageous abuse of power and our idiotic MSM thinks it’s all about victimizing a loser species that can’t even hop a few yards away to make babies right where they are now.

Not even Justice Ginsberg went there.

Bye Bye, Christians! Wait … Not So Fast

 

Is the American public becoming less religious? “Yes,” says the latest research.

Over the Thanksgiving Holiday, a poll making headlines across cable networks (love those) said mainly the new generations — Millennials and Snowflakes — are rejecting the Christian faith. It was reported that they rated the importance of faith around 20 percent, with money, success, and family at the top. Was this a misleading headline? Let’s look further…

From the Pew Research Center: “The Pew Research Center study also finds a great deal of stability in the U.S. religious landscape. The recent decrease in religious beliefs and behaviors is largely attributable to the “nones” – the growing minority of Americans, particularly in the Millennial generation, who say they do not belong to any organized faith.”

This headline coincided, or should I say, head-butted, straight into other events across the United States over the past few months. I’ll start with the Florida Panhandle:

Twenty minutes east of me, some homes and businesses were destroyed. Go farther than that, into Panama City and beyond, many (most) homes and businesses destroyed, Tyndall Air Force Base devastated, thousands and thousands of massive trees piled up like mountains, families displaced, tent cities in parking lots, a world of hurt across a still beautiful stretch of beach, with pure white soft sand and turquoise seas.

Within 40 hours of Hurricane Michael, Christians were mobilized. Every local church, every denomination went into overdrive. No one waited for a green light, or FEMA, or local government. Trucks on the road, hauling food, generators, fuel, water, and other essentials into the war zone. Red Cross, Salvation Army, both Christian organizations were on foot. I saw it with my own eyes — receiving texts asking for supplies from churches nearby. I dropped them off as fast as I could gather and bought more.

President Trump, along with Governor (now Senator-elect) Scott helped out and organized relief immediately. Local landscapers poured into the neighborhoods they could reach, cutting down trees, many free of charge, tarping roofs, cooking meals. This is the Judeo-Christian America that is supposed to be waning.

During the mid-term elections, I received prayer requests from local churches on my phone. Granted this is the Bible Belt, but it happened. A Catholic client from Dallas said she was stationed in front of her TV the night of the elections with a rosary — so was I. Don’t write off the power of prayer. And don’t mess with the Catholics.

This past week, I came across a link to our Founders who repeatedly asked for a “National day of Prayer and Fasting”, one of which is our holiday of “Thanks-Giving,” but when hard times called for it, other days of the year were designated a day of prayer and fasting when needed for our country. These requests came from George Washington, John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, and others (PDF).

Are we passing the faith on to our children? Are we passing on our history, the story of the pilgrims, that religious freedom was the reason they sought the New World, and how our country, through long and painful birth pangs, was finally born? How can they navigate this world without it? What does it mean to be a person of faith in 2018?

Ask someone in China. Thirty-seven thousand Christians arrested in 2017, churches burned, Bibles destroyed. Yet they walk for miles and fill the churches, knowing their faces and identities are being recorded by authorities.

As we enter the holy season of Christmas and Hanukkah, there is no silencing the faithful.

The news showed a large gathering under a tent, being served prepared meals who were displaced from the devastating California fires. One woman weeped. She said she would remember this moment for the rest of her life. Because of the fires, the interviewer asked? No, she said, the outpouring of love and help from fellow citizens was overwhelming. Our country has suffered so much tragedy this year, yet faith remains.

They showed firefighters and law enforcement, who came off duty battling the fires, to serve food to those who have lost everything. One firefighter said he was honored to do it. An opportunity to show God’s grace, because the Spirit is within, not in a building. No, there is no crisis of faith in America, just the opposite.

Electric Car – It Dies Anew!

 

In February of 2012 I wrote a brilliant, prescient, and far-too-early prediction of the death of the electric car.

A123 is toast. Fisker is toast. Tesla is done for. All these hyped battery and superduperhypercapacitor companies are running aground, on the hard ground of a simple reality: gasoline/diesel are far, far, far better energy storage media than anything else. It is not even close.

….

The upshot is that the industry is falling back: it will adopt only those technologies that pay. Start-stop technologies work. Perhaps a series hybrid will pay,

And May of 2017, I doubled down, admitting that I was still too early, but still right.

And now…. The Chevy Volt was just cancelled.

Six years ago, President Barack Obama promised to buy a Chevy Volt after his presidency.

“I got to get inside a brand-new Chevy Volt fresh off the line,” Obama announced to a cheering crowd of United Auto Workers activists. “Even though Secret Service wouldn’t let me drive it. But I liked sitting in it. It was nice. I’ll bet it drives real good. And five years from now when I’m not president anymore, I’ll buy one and drive it myself.”

Now it looks like Obama will not get his chance to make good on the promise. General Motors announced Monday that it would cease production of the hybrid electric plug-in Volt and its gas-powered sister car the Cruze. The announcement came as part of a larger restructuring by the car company as it seeks to focus production around the bigger vehicles in favor with U.S. consumers.

And if the government subsidies would be pulled, I think the original prediction will still hold true: the cost-benefit analysis for electric (not hybrid like the Prius, but pure electric) makes it a terrible business on the basis of utility. The market will remain for people who have enough money to overpay for an inferior product in order to show their superiority.

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This one’s for all you dorks who walk alone. And while you’re walking your dork road you can take comfort in the fact that while you may be dorky you’re in good company. Well, company at least. I mean look at these dorks. Ladies and Gentlemen, prepare yourselves for the Dork Contest results! But first, […]

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The Worst Prime Minister in History Lord North is often held to be Britain’s worst ever prime minister because he was the one that lost America.But I really think this claim does the current incumbent a terrible disservice. Lord North, after all, has been vindicated by history: Britain and America have thrived since their divorce. […]

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Susan Quinn and iWe Team Up! (But we need a Title)

 

It is time.

For me, Judaism is intensely personal. Commandments are both universal and particular – each person has their own relationship and so their own unique tasks in this world.

For my part, I feel the need to bring the moral and life teachings of Judaism to the world – as a light unto the nations. This book is a commitment to realize that call. I realize it is a huge endeavor. But for me, it is not only an obligation; it is an act of love.

The question was, after all these years, how could I possibly glean from my learning those aspects of Torah that would bring meaning to, and touch the lives of others? The collection of people I wanted to reach was vast: those who were orthodox and were curious to learn new ideas; those who had fallen away from the orthodox tradition because Judaism had become lifeless to them; those who had never been taught the richness and depth of our tradition; and even those who had been discouraged from embracing the Jewish life.

This book is not meant to be a comprehensive dissertation of the Torah. It is meant to illustrate the beauty of Torah, to excite your imagination, to encourage you to explore the ways that Judaism might inform and embody the life you choose to live. I hope to stimulate your creative juices, your curiosity and the potential for finding a special joy in your life. So let me explain how we might pursue it together.

The first point I wish to make is that the Torah is not just a collection of rules and stories and history; it is so much more than any of those definitions. It is actually a handbook for living, a way to fill one’s life with loving relationships with others and with G-d; a way to live one’s life mindfully and thoughtfully. Torah helps us learn about our own lives through the lives of our ancestors, who were not necessarily heroes, but people who had the same struggles and successes that we all experience. Their lives, triumphs and tragedies alike, have much to teach us.

To a great extent, then, I have divided this work into themes that are intended to assist us on this journey that we are taking together. This first booklet is not only an introduction to the series, but it is a roadmap to follow regarding the expedition ahead. In this booklet, we will look at the five themes and examples directly from the Torah. This first theme is setting the stage for this new approach to Torah. So I call the first theme, Living Torah: A Handbook for Daily Life. This is the place where we meet to begin our journey, to anticipate the places we will stop, and to prepare us for the surprises we will encounter. The second theme is called, Cultivating Intimate Relationships with Others; it will include examples for growing closer to friends, family and those we with whom we work. The third theme is, Experiencing Intimacy with Hashem; this section will explain the meaning of this type of intimacy and ways that it can be achieved. The fourth theme is Creating as a Spiritual Act; here we will explore the many ways we can not only fulfill our roles as Jews by continuing G-d’s original Creation, but also how these actions influence every aspect of our lives. And finally, the fifth theme, Partnering with G-d, will show how this partnership will transform your life.

I’d like to explore each of these themes with just one example for each to give you a taste for what lies ahead . . .

Living Torah: A Handbook for Daily Life

There is much debate about the meaning of sacrifices in the commentaries. But in a sense, those debates miss the point of offering sacrifices, and the lovely scent they sent up to G-d.

What is the substance of a smell? The scent of a delicious food does not provide any material comfort. Instead of satisfying our hunger, the smell of roasted coffee or baking bread has the opposite effect: it whets our appetite, adding to our cravings. Indeed, a sweet savor is not filling: it is something that makes us excited and anticipatory for the meal to come.

So when we make an offering because we have sinned, the offering does not make the sin “go away” – but it shows G-d that we are contrite, and that we aim to do better in the future. The only part of the offering that goes “up” to the heavens is the smell, after all, and that is all that G-d desires from it. G-d benefits from knowing that we are seeking the relationship, that we are craving the connection, and that we understand that a fundamental purpose of our existences in this world is to dedicate ourselves toward spiritual ends. When Noach built the ark he was saving life. But when he made elevation-offerings afterwards, Noach showed that the value of life is not inherent: life exists so that we can choose to connect with G-d, to complete the creation of the world by connecting heaven and earth.

This point is hardly a side-note in the Torah: the phrase reiach nichoach, or “pleasing aroma” to G-d appears 39 times in the Torah.

And it is there to remind us that G-d wants us, above all, to be moving in the right direction. An offering, like a pleasing aroma, is not a product in itself; it is a step in the process, a promise of even better things to come.

 

Cultivating Intimate Relationships with Others

Families are complex, and the Torah tells us about all of the various kinds of relationships. There is the nucleus, the relationship, and respect between husband and wife, which is connected to whether women are seen as independent voices in their own right. There is the way in which brothers treat one another. There is the way that parents bring G-d into the family, connecting their own biological creativity to G-d’s investment in us.

Lastly, there is the desire for generations to be together, to connect across the ages. Terach left his father, and Avraham did the same. Isaac, after the Binding, seemingly separates from his father, going to Beer-lahai-roi, while his father goes to Beersheva. Jacob also left his father, and even when he could return beforehand, he spends years living elsewhere from his father: the Torah does not tell us of a reunification until Isaac’s death.

It is Jacob’s sons who want to live with their father, perhaps in no small part because Jacob was clearly a man who loved: the text tells us that he loved his wives and his sons. While his love was uneven (which led to no end of trouble), there is no denying the text: Jacob is associated with love more than anyone in the Torah. There is a vulnerability to Jacob’s love: he is devoted to Rachel, a woman whom the Torah never says loved him back. The ability to love in this way made Jacob the father of all the tribes of Israel: children want to be with a father who loves them, and who loves and respects their mother.

It is love that creates the foundation for holiness, just as the word for “love” is found almost exclusively in the first and last books of the Torah: love is the necessary but not sufficient precondition for a deep and abiding relationship with G-d.

 

Experiencing Intimacy with Hashem

We experience God in different ways. Some find him in nature, in what Wordsworth called “a sense sublime / Of something far more deeply interfused, / Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns, / And the round ocean and the living air.” Others find him in interpersonal emotion, in the experience of loving and being loved – what Rabbi Akiva meant when he said that in a true marriage, “the Divine presence is between” husband and wife.

Some find God in the prophetic call: “Let justice roll down like a river, and righteousness like a never-failing stream” (Amos 5:24). Others find Him in study, “rejoicing in the words of Your Torah … for they are our life and the length of our days; on them, we will meditate day and night.” Yet others find Him in prayer, discovering that God is close to all who call on him in truth.

There are those who find God in joy, dancing and singing as did King David when he brought the Holy Ark into Jerusalem. Others – or the same people at different points in their life – find Him in the depths, in tears and remorse and a broken heart. Einstein found God in the “fearful symmetry” and ordered complexity of the universe. Rav Kook found Him in the harmony of diversity. Rav Soloveitchik found Him in the loneliness of being as it reaches out to the soul of Being itself.

There is a normative way of doing the holy deed, but there are many ways of hearing the holy voice, encountering the sacred presence, feeling at one and the same time how small we are yet how great the universe we inhabit, how insignificant we must seem when set against the vastness of space and the myriads of stars, yet how momentously significant we are, knowing that God has set His image and likeness upon us and placed us here, in this place, at this time, with these gifts, in these circumstances, with a task to perform if we are able to discern it. We can find God on the heights and in the depths, in loneliness and togetherness, in love and fear, in gratitude and need, in dazzling light and in the midst of deep darkness. We can find God by seeking Him, but sometimes He finds us when we least expect it.

That is the difference between na’aseh and nishma. We do the Godly deed “together.” We respond to His commands “with one voice.” But we hear God’s presence in many ways, for though God is One, we are all different, and we encounter Him each in our own way.

Creating as a Spiritual Act

The reason the Torah respects creations of mankind so much is that when we build things, we are in fact walking in the derech, the path, of Hashem. Hashem created Adam from dust and spirit. He took primal ingredients and made something that is greater than the sum of their parts.

When we build, we are doing the very same thing. We are taking something that in itself is already a completed thing within nature—like water, dirt, straw, wood or stone—and then we work with it to make it even better.

Jews have a long history of doing this. When the Jews are in the wilderness, Hashem arranges for us to have an incredibly perfect food, the manna. It is, literally, angel food. And what do we do with something that Hashem gives us, which meets all of our needs, that is a food beyond compare? We work it and seek to improve it. The Torah tells us that B’nai Yisroel ground the manna in mills, or beat it in a mortar, and baked it in pans, and made cakes of it. The Torah does not disapprove at all: on the contrary! Improving nature is what we are here to do.

Creativity comes in all forms, of course. Anytime we build something, it is a creative act. But what is really astonishing is that it is not only Hashem who recognizes and values unique creativity: we do as well. Consider, for example, a painting that looks identical to one by Van Gogh. Perhaps it is such a good painting that nobody can be sure whether it is the real thing or not—so the aesthetic value of hanging it on the wall is theoretically undiminished whether it was created by Van Gogh’s hand or not.

And yet: if it is original, then it is worth tens of millions of dollars. If it is merely a copy, no matter how perfect the copy, it is comparatively worthless.

Why? Because a truly original and beautiful piece of art is a creative expression of the soul. And when people create something from their souls, we instinctively value it, especially the more closely we can connect that creation.

 

Partnering with G-d

Each and every one of us has a job to do in our lives. Some might call it our destiny, though I prefer the term “meta-mitzvah.” Each meta-mitzvah is unique, reflecting both the heavenly spark in each of our souls, our neshamas, and the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Some of us are meant to be doctors, some lawyers, some artists. Yonah’s meta-mitzvah includes going to Nineveh, and telling the people to repent. But Yonah chooses to reject his destiny. He knows in his heart that he is meant to go to Nineveh, but he allows himself to rationalize it. He runs away, both from the meta-mitzvah and from his relationship with Hashem.

The meta-mitzvah is also a form of briyah, creation. It is our creative contribution to this world, the way in which—above and beyond the 613 mitzvahs—we make the world a better place, and leave legacy behind us. It is also, just like sexual union, a path toward a higher relationship with our Creator. If we choose forbidden sexual unions, we have chosen to reject a relationship with Hashem, and we are thus cast out from among our people. And if we run away from our meta-mitzvah, then we are, like Yonah on the ship, denying our potential to improve the world. If we deny our destiny, then at the same time we reject a special relationship with Hashem.

Nearing the end of Yom Kippur, we have made our peace with our fellow man, and we have made our peace with Hashem. United in prayer, we have also formed a union, “Yeshurun,” with all our fellow Jews. Late in the afternoon of Yom Kippur is when we begin to prepare to exit the national cocoon and connect with our individuality. At this time we have to recognize that it is not enough that we do mitzvahs and merely go through life by putting one foot in front of the other. We must consciously decide that we are going to bend our will towards serving the Creator by focusing all of our individual energies on our unique and holy potential to make the world a better place.

It is the time for us to decide to harness our creative powers at both ends of the spectrum—from the choice of what we do with our reproductive talents to the choice of what we do with our mental talents—in our individually unique and beautiful service to Hashem.

These are the themes we will be exploring together. They may not be easy to pursue, but they will fill your life with richness and clarity. They will lead you in the direction of holiness, purpose, and meaning of what it means to be a Jew in this life.

The Torah can be your handbook for daily life. Please join me on this journey.

[This is the draft Forward of a joint Quinn/iWe book – please tell us what you think – and what would be a good title?]

This Week’s Book Review: The Story of Greece and Rome

 

Modern western civilization sits atop a foundation built by the ancient Greeks and Romans. How much do you know of these civilizations? “The Story of Greece and Rome,” by Tony Spawforth offers a short, one-volume introduction to ancient Greece and Rome.

Spawforth starts at the beginning and carries the story to the present. He opens at the dawn of Greek history, and shows the influence these civilizations continue to have today.

The book starts by examining ancient Minoan and Mycenaean societies. Spawforth shows how they grew from societies into civilizations. This includes examination of how they gained, lost, and regained literacy, as well as the development of political systems and art forms.

He also shows how as Greek civilization grew, it impinged on neighbors to the west, east, and south. This includes showing how they borrowed from neighboring civilizations and fought with them. This section includes the conflict between Sparta and Athens, and how these two city-states eventually involved their neighbors.

This included the Macedonians, who eventually swallowed the Greek peninsula, the surrounding civilizations south and east (including Egypt and Persia) and then thrust east into modern Afghanistan and India. He also shows the results of the Macedonian empire fracturing after Alexander the Great’s death.

As Alexander is moving east, a new civilization was developing in the Italian peninsula: Rome. Spawforth presents the emergence of Rome and its struggles with its Etruscan, Greek, and Carthaginian neighbors. He also presents a factor allowing them to gain power – the willingness to let outsiders become Roman citizens. It was a previously untried innovation, and proved decisive.

Chapters follow showing Rome’s growth to regional domination. More importantly, he shows how Rome borrowed from Greece, and how Rome “Romanized” its territories. Rome’s arts, engineering and culture became fused with Greece.

Spawforth, emeritus professor of ancient history at Newcastle University (UK), presents the story in engaging language, mixing history with his personal experiences over the course of his career. His tales illuminate the historical discussion, humanizing the discussion.

“The Story of Greece and Rome” is entertaining and informative. Although short, it offers a succinct concentration of information.

“The Story of Greece and Rome,” by Tony Spawforth, Yale University Press, 2018, 392 pages $30