Human Decency

I can be a very cynical person sometimes, even though overly cynical people annoy the hell out of me and bring me down.

But, now as much as ever, even though the cynics want to call it pollyanna, I think we should shout it from the rooftops when some basic human decency shows up.

Here’s the caption to the photo to the right, which I found in the Bellingham Herald:

    Whatcom County Superior Court Judge Chuck Snyder gives Ashenafi Campbell, 2, a stuffed animal after he was officially adopted by Erin Campbell, right, on National Adoption Day at the Whatcom Superior Court, Friday morning, Nov. 20, 2009, in Bellingham. Looking on is Campbell’s son Christian Campbell, 7. Twenty families finalized the adoption of 25 children.

I was adopted, actually, so this hits close to home. Yet, I was adopted at birth, my adoptive parents knew they were getting a newborn, it is generally true that most prospective adoptive parents want newborns, and the usual objection to adopting children of other ages has to do with a notion that older children have been through bad experiences, and so a clean slate is preferable.

All the more reason to be moved by this article about National Adoption Day. 25 children of various ages adopted, no newborns mentioned. Powerful stuff.


Robots enlisted to defend Christmas

Some people are SO gullible.

The folks at Engadget have this to say about the following video:

Robots perform synchronized interpretive dance for the holidays, fill us with cheer

You know what we love? Dancing robots and Christmas tunes. So combining the two and throwing the video up on YouTube would be akin to heaven, right? Well, as you’ll see in the amazing video after the break: it doesn’t get much better than this. In fact, it might even be enough to clear the “bah humbug” out of us for good.

How can they be SO naïve?! Don’t they know that there’s a War on Christmas?!

It’s my theory, and I’m sticking to it, that these seemingly adorable machines are actually armed with frickin’ lasers, and they will take you out if you so much as consider purchasing heretical Happy Holidays greeting cards.

For instance, if I was one of the dancers in the new Gap holiday ad, I’d be watching my back. Folks at the American Family Association are pissed!

(For the record, I happen to think that the Gap ad’s “Happy Whatever-you-wannukah” is hilarious…wait, was that a robot I just saw over there?!)


On the Go: Funky Friday

Every Friday morning on KUGS, WWU’s radio station, there’s a Funk and Soul show called The Get Up Get Down, and this morning I fell in love with a song, from an obscure early 60s-late 70s Chicago band, Pieces of Peace, called Flunky For Your Love:

Dig it:


On the Go: Stupid Wealth

Sorry, but if you are willing to spend $1.5 million on this:

A U.S businessman claims he’s been sitting on 3D body scans from 1996, when MJ was aged 37. It’s rumored the singer wanted a virtual or robot double, and this data, if real, would enable just that.

…then you really don’t deserve to have $1.5 million to begin with.


Beware the Belgians!

When I read this morning that the European Union has elected a Belgian, Prime Minister Herman van Rompuy, as their new president, I didn’t think much of it. After all, Belgium is an incredibly vanilla, low-key, non-aggressive country that a lot of people, especially Americans, know very little about.

What could possibly be the harm?

Well, then, a few hours later, I read the following on my beloved Boundary Bay Brewery‘s Facebook Page:

Boundary Bay Brewery our brewers today are crafting a Belgian Tripel. Admittedly odd for us, but our contender for 2010 Seattle Belgianfest

Coincidence? I think not!

Boundary Bay has NEVER brewed Belgian ales before as far as I know, and I’ve been going there religiously ever since they opened in 1995.

And, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, The Washington Beer Commission decides to announce its “1st Annual Belgianfest.” That’s “1st Annual”, meaning they’re not just planning on having one fest, they’re going to make it an annual tradition?

What the HELL is going on here?!

This van Rompuy guy is obviously a force to be reckoned with, not wasting any time before exercising his new EU muscle.

Is this just the beginning of new era of Belgian world dominance? We’ll just have to wait and see.

I, for one, will be keeping an eye on them.

(Ironically, I happen to like Belgian beers, but that’s just the kind of vulnerability a political force hellbent on taking over the world will exploit.)

On the Go: Mummies

Check this out! Scientists have discovered evidence of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, in 3,500-year old Egyptian mummies!

Man, I sure hope they develop an effective treatment.


A Serious Man: Oy vey!

I’m not a film critic, so when I write about movies I’ve seen it should not be assumed to be a formal review. There are thousands, maybe even millions, of reviews from critics and moviegoers available on the interwebs, so I hope you’ll agree with me that there’s really no point in adding another.

That said, even if I wanted to write a formal review, how do I write one when watching the film in question here, the Coen Brothers’ latest, A Serious Man, was more like watching my own childhood than a movie?

No, not every detail matched my life. My mother didn’t ask my father for a divorce. My uncle didn’t live with us. I had two sisters, not one. I didn’t have red hair, etc.

Rather, everything about the Jewish people in the film, about the suburban experience, about the percolating cultural revolution that was the late 60s and early 70s, was intimately familiar to me. From the language to the clothes to the hairstyles, oy, and I haven’t even mentioned the Bar Mitzvah.

Hebrew school was a brutal experience for me. My parents rarely went to synagogue, and the only Judaism we practiced in the home consisted of Yahrtzeit candles on the anniversary of the deaths of my grandparents, lighting the menorah, playing dreidel and eating latkes on Chanukah, and a seder on Passover. So, I felt resentful about being forced to attend Hebrew school and have a Bar Mitzvah by parents who were barely observant.

I didn’t connect with the religion, wasn’t able to learn Hebrew very well, and I had lessons about the Holocaust forced upon me – via documentaries with footage of mass graves filled with bodies, gas chambers, and ovens, and via Ellie Wiesel’s Night – when I was way too young to have any chance of absorbing it as anything other than an inherited trauma.

I needed a tutor, Shoshana, whom I met with weekly all summer long to prepare for my September Bar Mitzvah. I struggled to learn the chanting of the Torah and Haftorah portions, very difficult stuff, and on the big day, under a lot of pressure in front of a congregation of friends and family, I made a mistake during the Haftorah reading, a mistake which I did not handle gracefully (massive understatement).

When I messed up, I abruptly bowed my head down on the pulpit, hitting the microphone on the way down, and hiding my face in my folded arms over the text I’d been reading from. Once hidden, I got stuck there for a very awkward, pregnant moment, embarrassment for having messed up compounded by having bowed my head and bumped the mic, and there was a fleeting thought that I might just have to stay in that position until everyone figured out that the ceremony was over, that I’d failed, and that it was time to go.

I eventually found the courage to lift my head, face the audience, and proceed with the rest of the service.

No, I wasn’t stoned, like the boy in A Serious Man, but it was a day of serious gravity. I wish I could say that the gravity derived from my walk through a very old, traditional rite of passage. Sadly, it was more about suffering through an empty ritual out of obligation to appease my parents and the expectations of the community.

I have no doubt that some Jews will be offended by how their religion and people are depicted in A Serious Man, and in some ways I can see why. As I’ve gotten older, I no longer feel the anger and resentment that I felt at age 13, I’m at peace with my Jewish heritage even though I’m more of a Buddhist these days, and so I don’t take pleasure in how nutty the Jews in the film come across.

Yet, I did not interpret it as a mean-spirited expression from the Coen Brothers. Jews have mastered the art of self-deprecation, and since before Woody Allen, before Isaac Bashevis Singer, before Shalom Alecheim, heck probably ever since the writing of the Bible, Jews, an oppressed people for most of their existence, have mingled their tsuris and nachas, their miseries and joys, in life and in their art.

A Serious Man is a VERY Jewish movie.

On the Go: Cath

My current favorite song:

One of the things I love so much about it is that, as wondeful as it sounds with a full band and two sweetly distorted electric guitars, it translates beautifully as an acoustic song. I’m working on a version of the latter and having a lot of fun with it.


Costa Rica Chronicles: Vol. II

Apropos to shopping for airfare:

There’s a scene in a movie I love a lot, Albert Brooks’ 1985 film Lost in America, that I relate to more than I care to.

Brooks’ character David and his wife Linda (Julie Hagerty) are at the front desk of a Las Vegas hotel. They don’t have a reservation for a room, but they want a fancy bridal suite, because in the morning they will be going to a Vegas wedding chapel to renew their vows, and then they plan to live out the rest of their lives together roaming the country in their new Winnebago.

The desk clerk informs David that the bridal suite is not available, but Linda, believing firmly that the room IS available, encourages David to offer the clerk money, because that’s how things work in Vegas.

David gives the clerk $50 and asks the clerk to check the availability again, the clerk does so, but still reports that the room is not available.

David then says:

Listen. I’m not good at this. I don’t get the good seats at the games, and I’ve never gotten a ringside table, and it’s just something that I really don’t know how to do.

So, just to save time, how much do you want?

I feel like this ALL the time. There are people who know all the tricks, who know how to game the system, and I either end up wasting huge amounts of my precious time floundering around, trying to work the system and failing or I just accept that I will not get the good seats, or more relevantly, the affordable airfare.

When I’m shopping for airfare, entering airport codes and dates and the number of passengers in every travel site I can find, the conspiracy theorist in me starts deciding the whole thing is rigged, set up to be so complicated that most people will not persist in digging deep enough for the good deals, if the deals even exist. Eventually I get so deflated I either give up on the idea of going on a trip or I bite the bullet and make a wild guess at the best deal I can find, never feeling like it was anywhere near the best deal.

Thing is, I REALLY want this trip to Costa Rica, so if anyone who happens to come across this post has any advice at all, any tips and/or tricks, any insider information, any connections in the travel industry, I’d be incredibly grateful for help.

Costa Rica Chronicles: Vol. I, Vol. II, Vol. III, Vol. IV, Vol. V, Vol. VI, Vol. VII, Vol. VIII, Vol. IX, Vol. X

Work in Progress: A Serious Man

Saw the new Coen Brothers film last night, and naturally, since I’m a Jew who grew up in the 70s, I’m going to have something to say about it.


God willing.