Thursday, August 31, 2006

Betty Boop

Last Friday we went to Universal Studios, to which I'd never been. It's no Disneyland, I tell you. For that matter, it's no Knott's Berry Farm. I guess the problem is that those theme parks basically work to take you away from the real world into alternate realities, whereas Universal Studios takes you from the real world into, yes, the alternate reality of TV, but in a way that makes it feel like you are in an endless commercial. Part of Disney's marketing magic is that the average visitor doesn't feel that way, even though every single inch of Disneyland acts to advertise all things Disney... I guess Universal Studios is just not that good at what they try to do? The one great thing about it is that they have the lines all covered with tarps and they have mistmaking machines and fans all over the place so you don't get too hot in line. Very clever as far as that goes.

Anyway, they had lots of Betty Boop merchandise and that made for a good shot.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

What's Going On? and Kohelet

Marvin Gaye's What's Going On is one serious album. Listening to it this morning put me in a contemplative mood. The album is reminiscent of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) in that Gaye sings about problems of oppression and inequality but in a way that makes these things universal problems, existential problems. So as the author of Kohelet explores all the things of life that are supposed to give one pleasure and make one happy, Gaye echoes the inevitable frustration in "Flyin' High (in the friendly skies)"

Flying high in the friendly sky
Without ever leaving the ground
And I ain't seen nothing but trouble baby
Nobody really understands, no no
And I go to the place where the good feelin' awaits me
Selfdestruction in my hand
Oh Lord, so stupid minded
Oh and I go crazy when I can't find it
Well I know I'm hooked my friend
To the boy who makes slaves out of men.
And oh beleive me
Flying high in a friendly sky
Oh baby, flyin' high

When Gaye sings this song, it is after "What's Going On" and "What's Happening Brother" and we understand just why he'd be turning to drugs. The fact that he's aware that it's a dead-end that will not bring him the peace he seeks magnifies the sorrow. In the same way, the author of Kohelet's story is all the more powerful by his trying to get happiness from every earthly pleasure imaginable in his time and still ending up with happiness escaping him. But later on, several times during the album Gaye praises G-d, as the author of Kohelet does. Our lives may not make any sense, we are destroying each other and the world, but I still have faith in G-d. There's a meaning to this, even if we can't see it. Our job is, in the end, to praise G-d.

My favorite part of Kohelet is the last chapter (12). It's some of the best poetry of all time. This is the translation from --

1. And remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of evil come, and years arrive, about which you will say, "I have no desire in them."
2. Before the sun, the light, the moon, and the stars darken, and the clouds return after the rain.
3. On the day that the keepers of the house tremble, and the mighty men are seized by cramps, and the grinders cease since they have become few, and those who look out of the windows become darkened.
4. And the doors shall be shut in the street when the sound of the mill is low, and one shall rise at the voice of a bird, and all the songstresses shall be brought low.
5. Also from the high places they will fear, and terrors on the road, and the almond tree will blossom, and the grasshopper will drag itself along, and sexual desire will fail, for man goes to his everlasting home, and the mourners go about in the street.
6. Before the silver cord snaps, and the golden fountain is shattered, and the pitcher breaks at the fountain, and the wheel falls shattered into the pit.
7. And the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God, Who gave it.
8. "Vanity of vanities," said Koheleth; "all is vanity."
9. And more [than this], Koheleth was wise, he also taught knowledge to the people; he listened and sought out, he established many proverbs.
10. Koheleth sought to find words of delight and properly recorded words of truth.
11. The words of the wise are like goads, and like well-fastened nails with large heads, given from one shepherd.
12. And more than they, my son, beware; making many books has no end, and studying much is a weariness of the flesh.
13. The end of the matter, everything having been heard, fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the entire man.
14. For every deed God will bring to judgment-for every hidden thing, whether good or bad.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


The human mind/soul/brain/whatever likes puns. Craves them. Orients our lives around puns and goofy metaphors and symbols. G-d is in there, of course. Speaks to us through these things. The most basic review of your life and circumstances would probably reveal a lot. For me, the one currently in play is focus. Previous cameras (except for an SLR I owned in the late 80s and hardly ever used because film/developing was too expensive for me) were either fixed-lens or automatic. I had no control. The camera did it. And my life was the same way. Outside forces seemed to dictate to what I paid attention and how. Now I get a digital SLR camera with the ability to manually focus again. And at the same time, I become aware that I have what Lynn Weiss PhD calls an ADD "brainstyle." And every day is a constant struggle to establish and maintain focus on work and personal stuff. Coincidence? Yeah, right. I gotta focus on work.

But first, Reb Yonassan Gershom is doing Holocaust reincarnation counseling sessions again... he's a Satmar rabbi who has written books about reincarnation and other stuff, very colorful guy, and this is serious stuff. Many Jews don't know that the idea of reincarnation is pretty normative Jewish belief, although the Jewish version doesn't involve starting out as a slug and going up or down species as you get holier/more profane. The idea is that each soul has an objective on earth, something that it is on earth to do and to perfect. If that soul cannot complete its objective, it has to come back again until it does. So something like the Holocaust would stop people from being able to acheive their goals in one lifetime. There are many people who have apparently dreams or other 'residues' that would indicate being in the Holocaust -- little kids not ever exposed to Holocaust stuff who have very specific dreams that are hard to dismiss as anything other than Holocaust images, etc...

Tangential to this but something I have to mention each time I think of it: there's a famous story of the Chazon Ish, a great, great rabbi. who would stand up in respect whenever a child with a mental disability would come into his presence. His students were baffled. He explained that the way that souls acheive their tasks in life, perfect whatever needs perfecting, is through observing G-d's commandments. But these children could not observe all G-d's commandments. Since G-d woulnd't ever send a soul into this world to do a job it couldn't do, these 'retarded' children were thus clearly not here to perfect themselves by observing commandments -- their souls were already perfect, or so close to perfected that they only needed to do one or two things, thus they didn't need all the abilities that most people would need. These perfect holy souls were here in order to help others. Thus the rabbi stood up in deep respect.

Ok. NOW I gotta focus.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Shallow and Deep

It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible. -- Oscar Wilde

This quote has resonated with me for years and I'm not sure why.

Hold Wilde's qwuote in your mind while contemplating the Jewish truth that G-d created the world because G-d wanted to make Himself a Dwelling in the Lower Realms, and it is our job to transform the world into this dwellingplace. "The foundation and root of the entire Torah," as is stated by Rabbi Zalman in the Tanya, "is to raise and exalt the soul over the body." Our job is not to escape the physical. Our job is to sanctify the material world. The way we do this is through mitzvot, and all mitzvot involve material stuff.

If you take the idea that the mystery in life is in the visible and think about our job being to take the material and sanctify it, well, it kind of goes together. Kind of. Anyhoo. Back to work.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Night Flower Photos

OK. One of the fun things about having a camera that has ISO 1600 and 3200 is that I can take photos at night and they kind of work out. The light ends up weird and it's kind of cool, I think...

I had another trip to Oakland yesterday and tried to catch up today, but didn't make much headway. So many things to say, but I am becoming a Mystic and have to retain the knowledge, make it Secret, so I can charge acolytes to share.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Dog and Flashlight

Poor doggie is very sick but always dignified.

Flashlight fun with a thirty second exposure.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


So I'm at an Embassy Suites hotel this evening after flying up here to do a presentation tomorrow. Tired. Gotta practice before sleep, though. An hour ago I had great things to type. My mind was alive. Then I watched some TV and ate some chips and now I am as brainless as a fire hydrant.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Oh. World Trade Center

We saw this movie. It was good. It's worth seeing. I felt a bit ripped off after reading an article in Slate about how the movie wasn't true to life in a couple respects that are just dumb. There's a guy who was a paramedic until he got sidelined with alcoholism who was part of the rescue in the movie, but in real life, he was an even bigger part. The rescues took a lot longer than the movie made it seem and were much more precarious.

And a pet peeve of mine -- there were two marines in the movie; they both just showed up and ignored that no one was supposed to be on the 'pile' and just searched for people, finding the two cops trapped. In the movie, they are both white. In reality, one was white, one was black. Why mess with that fact? Irritating.

My new Pentax K100D and one sick dog

Well, this is my new camera. I went to the big camera store, Samy's, and talked to the guy behind the Nikon counter, and told him I was considering the Nikon D50 and the Pentax K100D and after hearing what I wanted to do with the camera he said get the K100D -- it's got built-in shake reduction, and that helps with getting low-light photos, which is something I know I'll want to do -- I hate doing photos at gatherings with flash... anyhoo. So that's my birthday present and I got it early and woo hoo! It's a trip to be able to manually focus when I want to. I have to learn a lot but it's great so far.

Unfortunately, it's a mixed thing, because at the same time, my girlfriend's dog is sick with cancer and his health is deteriorating. It becomes hard because at some point we'll have to have him put down but it's hard to know when... sometimes he seems ready to die and then he'll be all excited and chipper for his walk and then he has a terrible time because his prostate is involved and he always thinks he has to go, and then he can't tell when he is actually going, so he's always making messes, etc, etc... so for the past year or so it's been weighing on us and he's getting worse and worse. Poor dog. The rabbis say that animals besides humans don't have souls basically because they are incapable of acting against their nature... it's like the whole soul thing is only necessary to give people the ability to have free will, and so dogs are like Angels and trees and planets -- they are purely of G-d and go back into G-d in totality when it's time. But still, he certainly seems to have a personality and communicates stuff with his big brown eyes. Anyway. I'll miss him.

Work is very busy, but I am doing better at focusing today. I am typing here as an official break and everything. So there.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


So, my girlfriend's birthday was yesterday and we had a surprise party for her Monday night. The party was at the outside patio of The Buffalo Club, a restaurant so exclusive that it's not listed in the phon book, and from the outside it looks like a bar and it's on an otherwise industrial street. Very nice food. Everyone had a great time.

I could post photos of the people there but they'd mean nothing to you, except for the famous people, and I can't post theirphotos because then people will be bugging me to bug them to get them jobs or movie parts or autographs. So here is a nice shot of the lanterns. Now it's my birthday week coming up. Hah.

Monday, August 07, 2006

ADD and Where to Place Attention

ok. Listen. I have ADD. But I didn't really know it till this year. And I am getting treatment, learning tricks to help me deal with the problems I've had my whole life with organization, planning, etc, etc... and now I can see the ADD-ness of the entire world. Like right now, I am sitting here engrossed in typing this instead of doing important work. And we see the same thing in the world. Really important issues are not dealt with. People are distracted from serious problems to endlessly obsess over Mel Gibson's DUI rant. is a good article about this. When we have a guy go into a Seattle Jewish center and shoot lots of people and we have Mel say some rude things, which gets focused on? Of course.

That being said, I can't stop myself from being on the same wrong track here. Why must we continually crumble at the slightest provocation by our evil inclinations? Why do we have to jump on people when they are down? Mel Gibson needs people's prayers and patience. He knows that he will have to deal with this for his whole life. Let him up off the ground. Let him keep his dignity. Engage him in meaningful dialogue. Don't kick him and spit in his face. Because it's one thing to spout a bunch of hate when drunk. It's another to be sober, clear of mind, and be mean and evil and spiteful to the drunk sinner who has already messed their life up.
Who are these people who pretend to have no sin? Who are these people who turn their backs on Jewish and Christian tradition and spread gossip and talk evil about someone when they weren't even there? How do these people expect to escape the harshest judgement possible if they show such harsh judgement to others?

At core, I think it's a problem of people placing attention in the wrong place -- we are distracted by looking at others' failings when we need to be focusing ON OUR OWN. And boy, do I have a lot.

I gotta work.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Nikon D50 w/ 50mm/f1.8 lens?

Oh, it's camera shopping time soon. My girlfriend is buying me a decent dSLR camera, and I'm pretty sure I'm getting a Nikon D50, after reading tons of reviews.

I knew I wanted to go with Nikon or Canon. The two biggest SLR makers with entry-level to professional cameras and tons of lenses, so that I could start now and over time, build up equipment that I can still use. Doesn't appear the same with other SLR makers. And I went with Nikon over Canon because of two things. First, it seems like the cheapest Nikon lenses (all I can afford right now) are better than the cheapest Canon lenses. Second, the cheapest Nikon camera, the D50, has more features than the Rebel XT 350, the cheapest Canon. And it has better lowlight functionality, which is where I'll use a lot.

Course, anyone out there happening to read this who knows otherwise and/or wants to offer advice, please feel free. :) I have a couple weeks before buying, so hurry up.