Monday, March 30, 2009

Talking About Israel Some More

Back on October 31 of last year, I reflected on my evolving mindset concerning the "other" side of my religious heritage, i.e. Judaism. The first item on my short list was Israel, and how, for many years, I had been convinced that it represented a more advanced moral standard and a higher plane of existence, as it were. More recently, having rejected religion outright, I was finally willing to take a cold, hard look at Judaism and decide whether or not it was worthy of rejection in the same way as Christianity.

I thought I had the issue all tucked in and put to bed with the lights out, but recently, a new angle (new to me, at least) on the subject has taken shape.

Excerpted below is the article from the NY Times - emphasis mine.

A Religious War in Israel’s Army

JERUSALEM — The publication late last week of eyewitness accounts by Israeli soldiers alleging acute mistreatment of Palestinian civilians in the recent Gaza fighting ... exposes something else: the clash between secular liberals and religious nationalists for control over the army and society.

...[T]he left-leaning secular kibbutz movement ... showed a distinct impatience with religious soldiers, portraying them as self-appointed holy warriors.

For the first four decades of Israel’s existence, the army — like many of the country’s institutions — was dominated by kibbutz members who saw themselves as secular, Western and educated. In the past decade or two, religious nationalists, including many from the settler movement in the West Bank, have moved into more and more positions of military responsibility.

“The officer corps of the elite Golani Brigade is now heavily populated by religious right-wing graduates of the preparatory academies... The religious right is trying to have an impact on Israeli society through the army.”

Those who oppose the religious right have been especially concerned about the influence of the military’s chief rabbi, Brig. Gen. Avichai Rontzki, who is himself a West Bank settler and who was very active during the war, spending most of it in the company of the troops in the field.

He took a quotation from a classical Hebrew text and turned it into a slogan during the war: “He who is merciful to the cruel will end up being cruel to the merciful.”

...[W]hat was evident in Gaza was that the humanistic tradition from which a code of ethics is derived was not being sufficiently observed there.

Mr. Halbertal, the Jewish philosopher who opposes the attitude of Rabbi Rontzki, said ...“The right tends to make an equation between authenticity and brutality, as if the idea of humanism were a Western and alien implant to Judaism,” he said. “They seem not to know that nationalism and fascism are also Western ideas and that hypernationalism is not Jewish at all.”

This brings me back once again to an examination of what Judaism is to me. I realize now that from the very beginning of my exploration of Judaism, the focus was always on philosophy, scholarship, reason. I recall the pleasure I derived in college from independent reading and study -- the leisurely examination of "the meaning of life," and the historical threads that bound all of like mind -- those who sensed that we, as humans, had the potential to rise above emotion-driven savagery and create a world of thought, beauty and constructive action. But the farther along I went, the more room there was for religion to rear its ugly head. Time and again I was reminded by one person or another, that, oh yes, scholarship is fine, but Judaism is about tradition, which holds that women are "ordained by the almighty to be separate from men and to serve a different function. Women, you see, are holy because they can bear children, and that is your supreme calling. Scholarship is nothing -- men study scripture day and night because they can't bear children..." etc. etc.

So while I tried mightily to cling to the humanistic, reason-bound traditions of Judaism, my lack of grounding in it (that is, the fact that my mother was gentile and therefore I did not have "the birthright" as one rabbi put it), made it very hard to fight back against the growing tide of traditionalism. In college, for example, during my sophomore year when I first began hanging out at Hillel, the campus rabbi was a fairly liberal-leaning, egalitarian sort. At first glance, he gave the impression of being rather old-school, but that wasn't where he was coming from.

But then he left, and a female rabbi replaced him. And then came the backlash. Whereas earlier, our functions had been co-ed, as soon as the female rabbi arrived, the more reactionary elements in Hillel demanded a more traditional setting for our social activities. And so up went the mechitza [that's the curtain that separates men and women in orthodox synagogues]. Soon there was a lot of talk about the "authentic Jewish experience," in which we gals were expected to move to a Chasidic enclave and settle into a "proper" existence of early marriage and abundant childbearing, complete with an ugly wig, ugly shoes, and a lifestyle reminiscent of a Polish shtetl in 1901. The Jewish version of Quiverfull, in other words.

This encroachment of oppressive religion was what drove me far and fast from Judaism. Something in me sensed that it was harmful to my psyche. And since the rabbis I consulted were unanimous in saying that I should never expect any encouragement to convert, that I was entirely on my own in this endeavor, backing away was fairly painless. [The followup question of what led me into Christianity is something I'll have to look at later, since it seems to be a clear contradiction.]

But getting back to Israel -- it's a question that I imagine many Jews are having to grapple with, and it parallels the dilemma that many religious Americans have faced over the last 35 years or so, as the religious right has hijacked some fairly benign and humanistic concepts. Equality, dignity, compassion, unity ... those were the values I grew up with as a nominal Catholic, and I have clear memories of a reaching out between Christians and Jews during the post-war years, up to the late 1970s. Suddenly, religion began overshadowing everything again, emphasizing the differences between groups that had been working so hard to embrace their commonalities.

Finally, the question is being spelled out for people to really look at. What is Israel, and more importantly, what is Judaism? Is it an advanced, lofty, scholarly, humanistic and ultra-modern system of philosophy? Or is it, like other western religions, a regressive, patriarchal political system that endeavors to shackle its followers through fear, superstition and brainwashing?

My rejection of Israel in my post from last October was, I think, born out of the intuition of what it seems to be becoming -- what the New York Times article describes. Click Here to Read More..

Yeah, Things COULD Be Worse, Actually...

This was from one of my favorite sites: Not Always Right: Funny & Stupid Customer Quotes.

“When you’re 85 years old and you wake up with a pulse, and your next door neighbor isn’t hitting you over the head with a shovel, you’re having a good day.” Click Here to Read More..

Friday, March 27, 2009

A Dish Best Served ... Not?

I'm LOLing over here. At the top of my Gmail list was this, erm, appetizing recipe title, and I just HAD to click.

This could be the perfect way to discourage visits from people you'd just as soon never see again!

Categories: Main dish
Yield: 8 servings

1 pk Frozen french fry potatoes,
-thawed (20 oz)
2 c Shredded Cheddar cheese
2 c Sour cream
1 cn Condensed cream of chicken
-soup (10 3/4 oz)
1 cn SPAM Luncheon Meat, cubed
-(12 oz)
1/2 c Chopped red bell pepper
1/2 c Chopped green onion
1/2 c Finely crushed corn flakes

Heat oven to 350'F. In large bowl, combine potatoes, cheese, sour
cream, and soup. Stir in SPAM, bell pepper, and green onion. Spoon
into 13x9″ baking dish. Sprinkle with crushed flakes. Bake 30-40
minutes or until thoroughly heated. Click Here to Read More..

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Today, in an idle moment (at work, naturally), I pondered the question of exactly how many people in my life I could legitimately call "the bad guys." People who had a profoundly negative impact on me ... where if it were possible to go back in time, knowing what I know now, I would be sure never to get involved with them again.

My list came out to just over two dozen, which was far less than I'd expected to get when I started. I subdivided it by decades, and what I got was:

Five people during my first ten years (three of whom were teachers);
Five people during middle school, high school and college;
Only two during my 20s and early married life (and no, my ex wasn't in that group);
Nine during my 30s and the years immediately following the divorce (and yes, Doug did make that roster);
Six in the last 10 years.

Making a list like this gives way to the inevitable self-analysis. What made me befriend that person in the first place? What was the attraction? And then what was the fundamental change that later on made me reach for the ejector switch?

The volition factor is there in just under 50% of those on the list. The rest are teachers, bosses and a couple of identity thieves. I had two such incidents about five years apart. In the first case, I'm reasonably sure who the person was, and I naively left myself open to the theft. But in the second case, it came out of nowhere.

It's been an interesting exercise, and the lesson, of course, is to be aware of who comes and goes in your life, and why. Click Here to Read More..

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Bernie Madoff: Prisoner No. 419?

A recent CNN piece describes the deluge of anguished and irate correspondence received by the prosecution before Bernard Madoff pled guilty.

Among the sad and at times profane accounts from the convicted swindler's victims, one ironic e-mail stood out:

Penned by an African scam artist whose name was withheld, the letter expressed an urgent need for an American intermediary willing to give up details of his bank account to the author so that he could move his funds from the Republic of Congo to Dubai.

The author promised a return of 10 percent of his alleged $350 million funds, and even offered a preemptive apology in case his proposal offended the readers' moral values.

The only request he made was that the intermediary provide him with "absolute assurance that the funds will be safe and you will not sit on [the money] when it is transferred to your account."
Click Here to Read More..

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Leave My Elevator Alone

I wish our internets would refrain from spontaneously inventing new games...

Yahoo, where my home page is, has been up to some weirdness in the last 12 hours. First, it took several tries to access my e-mail. Then it decided that my life wouldn't be complete without "instant" access to and from everyone on my list via instant messaging. Just what I need -- people popping up to say hi. I get it on Facebook, and now Yahoo.

Now it (or maybe Blogger) has decided that some of the blogs on my list at the right are more properly enjoyed after being turned into "feeds." So I can't just click my faves and read them; I have to go back to Yahoo. Any time this happens, I will choose to Follow if the option is available and then take them off Yahoo. So far, it's happened with 3 blogs and I was able to use the follow option with one.

So go ahead, change it! Improve it! But at least have the courtesy to ask me first...

Grumble, grumble... Click Here to Read More..

Saturday, March 14, 2009


I add new blogs to my list all the time (yeah, I'm up to 80 of 'em), but this is the first time I'm making a formal announcement about it.

This is because I'm hoping everyone will tune in to Vyckie and Laura, who were recently featured on as having escaped from the patriarchal fundie "Quiverfull" movement. Their story is fascinating. I hope they will get plenty of support from like-minded bloggers. Solid backing will help so many other women in the same position gather the courage to save themselves from this lunacy.

Their blog is called "No Longer Quivering." Click Here to Read More..

Thursday, March 12, 2009


Having depleted a lot of creative and emotional reserves with the previous post, it's taken me this long to come up with any sort of new topic. And so, I resort to a rather old one: The office.

Several months ago I described my co-worker Fredi. I know that she and her teammate Louise have been very bogged down with a combination of a bug-ridden new software system, new policies and procedures, year-end cleanup, and sheer volume of work. The woman who works with me was even pulled away from her job to help Fredi and Louise a couple of days a week. She came away from it feeling she'd accomplished nothing but fall behind with her own responsibilities. "They are SO disorganized!" she said, with more than a little disgust. Fredi's desk had become the one no one wanted to go near. If someone needed a document that Louise couldn't find, they would simply wait for Fredi to return, rather than take the risk of trying to wade through tottering stacks on the desk, the floor, and the overhead compartments.

In addition to a crushing workload, Fredi is also contending now with her mother, who fell recently and appears to be straying far off the road to recovery. As the elderly often will, she has decided she's "too old" to make the effort at rehab. Fredi had hoped she'd rally, but this seems not to be in the cards.

Last Friday I stayed late and heard Fredi & Louise's manager direct each of them to speak to him in his office -- Fredi first and then Louise. There was a tone to it that put me on the alert, whereas usually I'm so wrapped up in my own work, I'm oblivious to conversations around me unless they become unusually loud. I listened for Fredi, believing that if she got bad news from Taylor (i.e. a layoff), there would be a significant emotional reaction. But, she came out of Taylor's office and said to Louise "Your turn." All well and good, I thought, and went back to my own little world. Fredi left in her usual fashion: At top speed, with nary a word to anyone.

So Monday, I arrived at the office and saw out the corner of my eye that Fredi's cube was empty. This did not alarm me unduly -- with her mother's situation, she's already had to take time here and there for caregiver conferences and meetings to determine future placements. She tries to schedule them first thing in the morning, rather than cut a large chunk out of the day. It's been very stressful for her. She would often tell me how sleep was eluding her, due to worry and the feeling that there was no relief in sight.

A few minutes later, though, after I'd clocked in, hung up my jacket and started focusing on the day ahead, I took a second look at Fredi's cube and saw that all her many, many personal items were gone. Her workspace was stripped ... and her nameplate was blank.

Holy shit, I thought. I had few illusions about Fredi's stellar work habits and doubted very much that anyone else did ... but to pull the plug on someone who's maybe 6 years from retirement, someone with a disabled spouse, a house that won't sell, and now a mother headed into a decline, was truly heart-rending. I hoped they had at least offered her some sort of halfway decent severance -- she'd been with the company about ten years, I thought. And was Louise going to have to pull the entire load now? What was Fredi's husband, who still worked here, going to do? Would he quit in protest, or deliberately slack off at his job?

What a way to start a week.

And I spent the next half hour or so wondering how they'd managed to do this. Did they call her later Friday, or Saturday, perhaps? Or did she arrive first thing Monday morning and receive instructions to clean out her desk? It was, needless to say, difficult to concentrate on much else. I wanted badly to ask someone, but my manager and the others were walking back and forth, making casual conversation a bad option.

Interestingly, it was my manager who explained it. "We've had layoffs over the weekend," she said. I jerked my thumb toward Fredi's cube and said "So I've noticed."

My boss waved her hand in dismissal. "Oh, Fredi's fine. They sent her over to the local branch." The local branch is where all Fredi's closest friends are -- she left their group to come to our office about 3 years ago and has frequently talked about how much she missed them and their informal camaraderie. They are not a "corporate" bunch. They're a half-hour breakfast-at-your-desk and take-an-hour-to-peruse-the-new-Avon-catalog bunch.

It was by far the happiest moment I've had at work in a long time. I'm very glad for Fredi -- she still has her job and has escaped from this pressure cooker the rest of us are in. We exchanged a couple of brief e-mails and she confirmed what I'd surmised -- she's in the best of all possible worlds. She still gets to see her husband, since his work takes him here, there and everywhere.

It's been so busy since Monday, I haven't had a chance to ask Louise how she's holding up. I suppose I'll soon get a taste of whatever she's got going. The other person who does what I do is going in for some surgery tomorrow. It's a repeat of something she had before and that time, it kept her home for a few months. She claims she's determined to be out no more than a week, but I'll believe it when it happens. The timing's bad, though. My boss later went on to tell me that 2 other people DID get laid off Friday, and we're already seeing a lot of doubling-up of work loads.

The frantic pace does make the days and weeks go by faster. There is that. Click Here to Read More..

Monday, March 02, 2009

Attention Creationists: We're Onto You

An entertaining and insightful guide to recognizing a hidden religious agenda.

I especially like the following, having heard far too many of these during my years of being religiously educated via radio:

When you come across the terms "Darwinism" or "Darwinists", take heed. True scientists rarely use these terms, and instead opt for "evolution" and "biologists", respectively. When evolution is described as a "blind, random, undirected process", be warned. While genetic mutations may be random, natural selection is not. When cells are described as "astonishingly complex molecular machines", it is generally by breathless supporters of ID who take the metaphor literally and assume that such a "machine" requires an "engineer". If an author wishes for "academic freedom", it is usually ID code for "the acceptance of creationism".
If an author wishes for 'academic freedom', it is usually code for 'the acceptance of creationism.'

Some general sentiments are also red flags. Authors with religious motives make shameless appeals to common sense, from the staid - "There is nothing we can be more certain of than the reality of our sense of self" (James Le Fanu in Why Us?) - to the silly - "Yer granny was an ape!" (creationist blogger Denyse O'Leary). If common sense were a reliable guide, we wouldn't need science in the first place.
Click Here to Read More..