Friday, December 29, 2006

I'd rather have a bottle in front of me...

... than a frontal lobotomy.
-Tom Waits

That's right, step right up and watch this video from Tom Waits. That's right, it filets, it chops. It dices, slices, never stops, lasts a lifetime, mows your lawn. And it mows your lawn, and it picks up the kids from school. It gets rid of unwanted facial hair, it gets rid of embarrassing age spots. It delivers a pizza, and it lengthens, and it strengthens. And it finds that slipper that's been at large under the chaise lounge for several weeks. And it plays a mean Rhythm Master. It makes excuses for unwanted lipstick on your collar. And it's only a dollar, step right up, it's only a dollar, step right up...

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Proving it

I had a comment to an old post last night. It started with the words " prove? true, you probably can't prove it. as many people have pointed out, you can't PROVE anything. "

I got somewhat frustrated with that statement, and so I replied "what are you trying to say - "you can't prove anything"? Have you taken a highschool geometry class?", but really, I missed the point as much as I think the commenter did.

Donald Knuth (for those of you who are computer scientists) once put a warning in one of his programs - "Beware of bugs in the above code; I have only proved it correct, not tried it."

Using predicate calculus or some other formal system is really operating in a made up universe which may or may not correspond to reality, although most of the time it does. But we don't rely on proof to live our lives, because if we did our lives would spiral into some kind of absurdity. Holocaust deniers say there's no proof that the Holocaust happened! Lucky for us, humans be default favor more of a "fuzzy logic" model. This is why courts don't require absolute proof, but introduce the notion of reasonable doubt, essentially an error tolerance.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Get Over It

Don't usually do this, but here's a clip of OKGO. And it is not the Treadmill Video.

What I can't get over is how young the lead singer looks.

Note to self: Revert to using first person pronoun subjects in my sentences, to avoid sounding like a Brit.

Prayer of the Gentiles

I saw a movie yesterday - a church scene - people praying very hard. Praying to ease their burdens, the miseries in their life. For happiness, for health. Others praising, singing, dancing. The driving bass of Gospel music.

In "Portnoy's Complaint", there is a line that says something to the effect of that growing up, Portnoy could only see the world as either Jewish or goyish; no other categories were really important. I sometimes feel like I was born with the same affliction. As I reflected on this movie scene, I began to wonder whether G-d listens to the prayers of all the goyim.

We are always taught that the Jews are the chosen people. Quite a bit of parchment has been used up to discuss exactly how we should pray, the liturgy, the choreography. The right time of day, the thinking in G-d's head as He listens to our prayer. But the gentiles' relationship to G-d is always defined in terms of the Jews. Is that the only way they can relate to G-d?

Some of them pray to false gods - do they have no hope of their prayers being heard? What about those who don't know any better - are they like the unbaptized infants in purgatory? This concept bothers me because at a basic level, all these people are praying for the same things - health, happiness, deliverance. Will G-d answer their prayers?

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Blogroll update

Once again, I am remiss in updating my blogroll.

Lately, I have been spending a lot of time at - though I must say I haven't yet figured out what that blog is all about. It appeals to me at some subliminal level.

There seems to be a lot of content about Chabad internal politics which I don't really know or care about. However, there are also quite a few links to all sorts of stuff that is just too weird for mainstream media. For instance - Chechen sufis dancing, a Soviet piece of peace propaganda, etc...

The blog's proprietor appears to be an ex-Soviet - and though I don't really know him, in many ways reminds me of people that were about 5-10 years older than me when I was growing up. Not the Russian kids that grew up partying their brains out in the North Shore suburbs of Chicago, but the guys that went to the Math/Physics schools back there and remembered the hardships, and read the classics, and thought about the hard questions and lived a lifestyle that is hard to explain to most people around me today.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

In Memoriam

Today, I buried my beloved grandmother. She passed away Sunday night, without suffering, surrounded by family.

Don't know what to say, yet I feel like I should type something...

This is the first time in my life that I've seen a person die in front of me. It was not dramatic. As a matter of fact, it was surreal in a way. She really did not look very different alive and dead.

From that point on, life took on a very assembly line feel. Thank G-d for my wife; she is so organized and pulled together. She was able to get the funeral homes on the phone, and get pricing, details, help us make a decision and arrange everything. Unfortunately, with her mother passing away three years ago, she had practice.

Death is a business, you quickly find out under these circumstances. In some way it cheapens the event, or maybe takes advantage of the loved ones. How much to spend on a burial, how much on the plot... How can you make these decisions for someone whom you loved so much.

It is hard being observant, and the rest of the family not. I lobbied for an Orthodox funeral. It is more expensive in some ways, because of the shomer, and the premium price to make sure that the burial is in the 'restricted' Jews-only section of the cemetery. Also, a lot of what ex-Soviet Jews do is very different from traditional Jewish customs, and so at every point in the process, I was on the phone with my rabbi asking if it was halachically OK, etc.. I didn't want to impose what I thought was the right thing to do on the rest of my family, but I think my grandmother would have thought these things to be important. Overall, I think that it went very well, and nobody felt like "the Orthodox" took over the funeral.

Actually, in a way the Orthodox did take over the funeral. Men from the shul came to the ceremony to make sure that we had a minyan. Men that frankly I don't know very closely. Men that are busy businessmen who took time out of their day to perform the mitzvah of kavod ha-mes.

My body aches from all the dirt I shoveled. Then the shiva at my house. But I hope that with everything I did in the last few days, I conveyed my love, admiration, and respect for my beautiful babushka Sofa.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

e-Kvetcher by Andy Warhol

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Czarist Official's perception of Chassidim

This post on links to a photo of an original report by a Russian official regarding the second arrest of the Alter Rebbe of Lubavitch. Here is a partial translation of this report:

This sect known as 'Karolini' or Chossids consists of Jews in the Byelorussian and Lithuanian gubernias under the leadership of Rabbi Borochovich [Zalman ben Boruch, the Alter Rebbe], whose mystery consists of, during prayer, yelling with all their might, climbing the walls, and through this reaching uncounciousness, and not having any other thoughts. Also, blind obedience to their leader, and under his order disregard for their possessions...

Monday, December 11, 2006

Religious Sex Survey

It really bothers me that a lot of visitors to my blog find it because they are looking for 'frum sex'. Apparently some combination of these words traingulates the search engines squarely on my blog. Apparently, my blog is also not alone in this dubious distinction.

Well since so many people are looking for it, I thought I would try to make this blog somewhat useful to them. Here is what I mean:

Chana had a post entitled "Ayn Rand and the Rav: On Sexual Theory" which I commented on, and apparently raised her hackles. Apparently I criticized R' Soloveitchik in a disrespectful way. If so, I apologize - this was not my intention. Frankly, I have not read his works - I've tried, but they are just not my cup of tea. Partially because they are so dense and hard to understand, and partially because I just don't buy into this type of philosophic approach. This is true of many of the philosophers I've tried to read. Essentially, it seems like someone comes up with an idea which sounds good to them, and then tries to mold reality to fit this idea. Perhaps I am wrong, but this is how it seems to me. Anyway, Chana did not want to discuss this further on her blog, and I respect her wish, but I am curious enough about this to repost it on my blog.

So, by now all the 'frum sex' seekers are probably ready to hit their next link, so let me get to the good stuff. The Rav makes the following statement:

If you should inquire as to the essence and meaning of the institution of marriage, I would say that through marriage the miraculous transition from the I-it contact to an I-thou relationship occurs. Marriage personalizes sexuality as the joint experience of the I and the thou, as a community of two individuals driven by loneliness and metaphysical despair to give up their independance and commit themselves to each other.

How many married people out there, especially religious people, view this as their ideal of marriage? Let me know in the comments!

What should I pray for?

My ninety three year old, dementia striken grandmother had a heart attack a week ago and as a result a hole was ripped in her heart. The doctors gave her twenty four hours to live. They told us that we should just let her die. But she is conscious and responds to us.

My mom was not able to just let her die, and so she told them that even though she will not put her on a respirator or feeding tube or take extraordinary measures, she wants the hospital to keep giving her the heart medication and the oxygen and the IVs.

So last week was the initial shock, and then the preparation for the death of a very close, very beloved family member, and now this weird holding pattern that our whole family is in. My mom already has hopes that this will just go on indefinitely. I don't think this is possible. But I also agree with her that we cannot just let her die. Every moment she is with us is still very precious.

So, back to my original question. What should I pray for? R'fua shleima? Or a painless death? Or do I not pray at all , and just stay in this low-level anxiety state?