Tuesday, June 27, 2006


Right now Israel is going into Gaza to rescue a kidnapped soldier and Hamas is trying to draft something 'implicitly' recognizing Israel's right to exist rather than producing the kidnapped soldier. They are just not bright.

Tony Snow, White House Press Secretary --

"Once again, we can all recite from memory now: recognize Israel's right to exist, renounce terror, and abide by all past agreements. Those are the preconditions."

Not that hard, is it?

I used to be a lot more left-wing about Israel. Then I started paying attention. To both sides. Now I'm getting more and more right-wing on the issue of Israel and the Arabs. See? NOt even calling them Palestinians. And I think the White House press secretary is right on something. Odd.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

A Cat, Low Light, and Catchlights

My camera allowed me to take this photo as Tasha looked out into the late afternoon light. It works, I think, although it's really not in focus. Perhaps the cornea of her left eye is in focus but that's it. You can do this with a cat and it works ok, but when you take a photo like this of a person -- using macro mode -- you end up with noses way too large-looking and other unflattering things that most models don't like.

I have nothing else to say.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Two Wonderful Iranian movies

Perhaps because there were limitations on the kind of subject matter that Iranians could do in the late 90s, there are a couple wonderful, sweet but never sappy movies centered around children from this time period. There are no bad people in the movies, either. Both of these movies are in my Top Hundred Movies of All Time:

1) Badkonake Sefid (The White Balloon) 1995

This movie is not out on DVD yet. Boo! Find it on VHS and then dig out your VHS player, OK? The story is basically that the family has a goldfish pond and it's Iranian New Years and this apparently involves goldfish, so the girl wants to get a nice new one. So she is given a certain amount of money to buy a goldfish by her mom. She promptly drops it down the gutter and has to somehow get it. A boy with a white balloon somehow gets involved. Not a balloon with helium, like The Red Balloon, if I recall correctly. I think it's just a white balloon on a stick. Anyway. The whole story is the little girl losing her money and people trying her help her get her money and things going wrong and in the end, of course, everything ending up fine, but in a really, really magical way, and it's all taking place on a couple little narrow streets presumably in Tehran.

2)Bacheha-Ye aseman (Children of Heaven) 1997

Goldfish pond in this movie too, I think, but it's shoes at the center of this movie, not goldfish money. Father has trouble making ends meet. Boy is sent to pick up his sister's beat up old shoes from the cobbler who has repaired them. He does so, and then he puts them down for a second at the veggie seller's. A guy picking up trash picks up the bag the shoes are in, and then, a few seconds later, the boy sees the shoes are gone. Can't find them. The father can't buy more shoes. The kids are acutely aware of the pain they'd cause their dad were they to tell him, as he'd be shamed by his inability to afford new ones right away. SO they keep it a secret. The boy and girl share the boy's shoes. Again, there is seriously no simplistic plot crap you'd end up with in American movies. Everyone in the movie is basically good and kind and yet the plot and characters are a lot more realistic and not at all cliched or hackneyed.

Anyway. This is what happens when you go through Netflix looking for movies to add to your Queue.

Monday, June 12, 2006

It was a Movie Weekend

Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth was a great movie. (See the Pledge link on the right side, please). Depressing, as most middle-of-the-road mostly ignorant folks won't see it, the right-wing deniers will just bash it, and folks like me who will see it but were already outraged at the current state of things. Seriously, see the movie. It's really important. The only people arguing against mankind causing global warming are corporate whores. You can't find reputable scientists arguing against it, but the news ends up giving these whores publicity because they want to appear "fair and balanced" and also, of course, because they like the corporate whores.

That's not being fair. I'm sorry, those of you who are Working Women. I don't mean to impugn your character by comparing you to Corporate lobbyists and the elected representatives who sell us out every day.

We also saw Match Point. Brilliant movie. Probably seems even better because you know it's a Woody Allen movie and it's not like most Woody Allen movies. Crimes and Misdemeanors covered similar ground, but was lighter. This is a tight, wonderfully acted, totally devastating movie that ends up putting the viewer in awkward places as far as judgement, honor, guilt, cheating, etc etc but does it in totally honest ways. Just see it.

And lastly, Guess Who. Which was fun and silly.

Oh. I almost forgot. We saw Cars. One of the better Pixar movies. It could have been a trite rehash of an old and tired movie template (know it all, egotistical superstar has his Fall from Grace and ends up in some backwater, miserable, hating life, wanting to get back to the Big City. And of course, ends up learning lessons about Life and what's really Important. But this movie handles it well, I think.

I have such things to say. Such interesting and intelligent things. But I'm working. Who would have thunk?

Friday, June 09, 2006

The Zoo Rabbi and Perek Shirah

So it's Friday. Happy Friday. Shabbat Shalom.

I liked putting what I happened to be listening to in the Title and it worked for years and now I'm irritated by it. So at least for now it's whatever ends up being the main subject for the entry.

But I'll still put the music. Today it's Sigur Ros -- Saegklopur . These guys are from Iceland, I think, and make pretty music that is either in gibberish or Icelandic. Can't tell. When Bjork sings in Icelandic you can hear her annunciate all. These guys mumble in falsetto. Who knew such magic was possible?

You say you want to go on an African Safari, but you can't stomach the idea of eating all that trayfe? I have the solution for you! Rabbi Natan Slifkin, famous Zoo Rabbi of Israel (actually, I think he's the only Zoo Rabbi worldwide) has joined with a tour operator to create Kosher Safaris! Not only do you travel across Africa eating glatt kosher meals (which I wouldn't eat, since I'm vegetarian), but you have the pleasure of being in Rabbi Slifkin's company.

Slifkin is a true, true tzaddik, emphasizing the mitzvah of looking at the world with close attention, seeing the way things work, appreciating the miraculous nature of it all, and appreciating that G-d is the creator and source of it all. In fact, some of his books have gotten him into a huge controversy with more reactionary Orthodox rabbis because he shows how modern scientific discoveries, rather than somehow showing Torah to be wrong, merely help to further show the amazing nature of G-d's creation. The rabbis that think it's science vs Torah and scientific evidence showing the universe wasn't made in 6 days must be wrong and Torah says six literal days. Slifkin quotes long-respected rabbis who have offered 'minority' but respected opinions on the subject, such as rabbis who say that maybe the six days weren't literal(remember, the issue of how old the earth is doesn't impact on the mitzvot or halacha, so it's all opinion) and does it to help young people understand that science isn't the enemy of Torah but an aid to understanding the majesty of Torah. And he's pilloried for it.

Anyhoo. Even ignoring the controversy, he's a really cool young Rabbi.

One of the neat things he does is focus on Perek Shirah in his zoo tours and writing. Perek Shirah is a cool ancient Midrash that is basically a song sung by the planets, weather phenomenae, trees, animals, and birds. Each one is singing a particular verse from the Tanach. There's deep meaning in how each thing, plant, animal, etc gets matched to a particular verse. Some are obvious, like

The Palm is saying, 'The Righteous flourish like the palm tree; they grow like a cedar in Lebanon.'

But some just don't make obvious sense, so you need someone like Rabbi Slifkin to explain the connection. For example, he says that

"the agur, which is the crane, a large bird similar to a stork, sings, “Praise God with the lyre, make music for Him with the ten-stringed harp” (Psalms 33:2). Unlike other birds, cranes have terrible voices. But although they cannot sing musically, they clatter the mandible of their beaks together like maracas. They thereby allude to the theme of the verse, which speaks of praising God with musical instruments rather than song. The message is that we need not all be the same, but rather we all have our own unique talents and abilities which we should develop for serving God.

See how that works? Slifkin shows us that we cannot appreciate the text without studying the natural world! We have to observe these animals and think about them and learn their habits and everything about them to understand the source. After all, the Rabbis say that one who studies Perek Shirah is destined for the World to Come and all sorts of other benefits. And without knowing that this crane has no song, one doesn't understand the verse. One cannot simply study Torah all the time. One has to know Torah AND the natural world. That way you can get deeper insights into Torah. This is real study, the kind of study that can, if you apply its lessons, lead to a place in the World to Come.

Slifkin is also an expert on great complicated kosher slaughterer things like "are giraffes kosher? Where on the neck do you cut?" So check out Kosher Safaris for me. I don't have the money, but you rich people with lots of time, seriously. It'll be so much fun.

Monday, June 05, 2006

No Music -- iPod issues

So, my iPod just decided today to stop playing after an hour and when I did a "warm reset" it decided to not see the music stored on it anymore, so it now is acting like it's empty. No biggie -- I'll just download everything back onto it tonight, but I hope it's not a harbinger of Issues.

Wait a minute. What am I talking about? I got the extended warranty on it for three years, I think. So if it's broken, I take it back to Best Buy and get a new one, minus some sort of depreciation, I think. So perhaps I should root for it to be suffering from major Issues? Although I was hoping to be able to wait till the long-rumored model that will be one big color touchscreen interface.

So the music industry is putting more pressure on Russia to shut down Allofmp3-- The problem is that Russia will eventually shut down Allofmp3, because the government will do whatever the industry wants, but the supposed free market really is being stymied, as usual, by corporations. The fact that Allofmp3.com is so successful shows that people are willing to pay for their music. The only problem is that people are willing to pay $1 an album if it's in electronic format, but not $1 a song. And as much as the industry suits don't like it, most of what they sell isn't worth much more. If they made albums $4 or $5 an album, I think you'd see music sales soar along with profits. People know that many things they download are disposable songs that aren't worth $1/song. That's why they won't pay $1/song. I belong to eMusic.com and pay $10 a month for 40 songs. That's 25 cents a song. That's reasonable, I think. That's why I've been a member of eMusic for years at that price/song.

Apple's iTunes is a nice format and nice software, but the prices at the iTunes Music Store are just stupid. At $10 an album you can get most of the same music in many times better quality, for the same price, in a real CD. iTunes touts their billion+ songs sold but it's a drop in the bucket. CDs still reign.

And you know what else? Even when you buy CDs you get BURNED. Sony, for instance, a company that was once great and is now quickly destroying itself, at least as far as music goes, has the evil "Dual Disc" format. Now, I saw the new Bruce Springsteen album at Starbucks and bought it. But "Dual Disc" won't play in a Mac because "Dual Disc" is not compliant with CD standards. And it's SOny. You know damn well it's on purpose. Why should I spend $16 to get shafted by Sony selling me a product that a perfectly good computer can't even read?

The bad-faith that Sony is practicing is insane, because it can't be helping them keep customers. I am NEVER going to buy a Dual Disc CD again from ANY label because I have no clue which CD it will play in and which it won't and I'm not willing to spend a day running around experimenting.

What's most bizarre is that by purchasing this CD legally I was subjected to more CRAP than the people who 'bought' it from allofmp3.com for a buck or just stole it from BitTorrent. Having a trouble-free listening experience shouldn't be harder for honest consumers than for thieves!

So I fired off angry letters to Starbucks, where I bought it, and Sony, and I complained about the format at Amazon.

And how will I end up hearing this CD? Well, I'll probably download it from allofmp3! I'll be able to listen to what I paid for. Imagine that. So you go, allofmp3! Sell your ten cents a song albums as long as you have breath! At least until I can get to you and download The Seeger Sessions.