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April 29, 2005

Still fighting over the Jewish vote

I haven't written about the Jewish vote in several months, after my two big posts in November, "A new benchmark for the Jewish vote?" and "The hidden Jewish vote." But I'm coming out of hibernation for a reason.

A couple of weeks ago, the Solomon Project issued a report, which it called a "white paper" (link in PDF), that went over the data from the 2004 election in an attempt to come up with more accurate figures on the Jewish vote. The Solomon Project report is a meta-analysis. As I understand that term, that means that the report analyzed other studies instead of seeking its own data. Thus, on page 3, the report states that "[t]he Solomon Project has reviewed data from the following pre-election polls, post-election polls and exit poll surveys" and lists 10 other polls and surveys. The report was careful to note the limitations in these polls and surveys, and I give it a lot of credit for that. It also made an effort to "re-weight" the data from the National Election Pool exit polls.

Its conclusion: The best estimate of the two-party Jewish vote was Kerry 78% and Bush 22%, which is slightly worse for Bush than the initial estimates last November, although it found respectable support for Bush among young Jewish men under age 30 (35%) and among those who attend synagogue at least weekly (47%).

To beef up its credibility, the report announced other important findings, like "Jewish Americans overwhelmingly identify themselves as liberal * * * or moderate on an ideological scale." (p. 1) Who knew?

I am not qualified to challenge the analysis of the data, but I do think there's reason to suspect ulterior motives here. The Solomon Project describes itself in this report as "non-partisan": "With this backdrop, the non-partisan Solomon Project has undertaken the most extensive review ever of the Election Day voting behavior of American Jews." (p. 3) Now, color me cynical, but when the research director of the organization for the past decade has been Ira Forman, head of the National Jewish Democratic Council, and when two of the authors of the report are Mark Mellman, who is a Democratic pollster, and Anna Greenberg, who is associated with and other left-wing causes, I'm not entirely convinced of the non-partisan nature of the enterprise.

The issue, of course, is not whether a report is partisan but whether it is accurate and informative. The report appears to be more accurate than the initial reports following the election, but I think it ultimately does not tell us much that we don't already know. While the report has a rigorous feel to it, a report on voting ultimately can be no more rigorous than the data on which it's based. For this reason, I find nothing in it that makes me doubt my own analysis of the hidden Jewish vote. I freely admit I have no data of my own, much less a rigorous analysis. What I do have is a reason to suspect that the data produced by the professionals are suspect. I have evidence, purely anecdotal evidence but evidence nonetheless, that a respectable number of Jews voted for Bush and kept it a secret. No matter how many analyses and meta-analyses can be done on the polls and exit data, you will still be stuck with the same failing of those data. Secret Jewish voting for Bush will not be taken into account. You can read my post on the hidden Jewish vote here.

Now, if you've read my post, you'll know that my guess is about 5% more vote for Bush than the exit polls and other surveys indicate. Meaning upper 20s to 30%. Which raises the question why we should be quibbling about this at all, considering how lopsided the vote is under any count. I've made the suggestion in my post on a new benchmark for the Jewish vote that we should look the figure of 25% Republican vote, not 50%, as the basis of comparison. (Why? Read the post.)

Politically conservative Jews and philo-semitic Christians often wonder whether there is any hope for the Jewish vote. Matt Brooks of the Republican Jewish Coalition is always upbeat, but that's his job. My own view is that we have to look at this as a matter of plate tectonics, only with a lower speed limit. I do see trends away from block Democratic voting, but very, very slow ones, even with the increase in numbers of Orthodox Jews. If the past election couldn't rouse us from our dogmatic slumber, probably little will. Our ancestors were forced to wander for 40 years in the desert before entering the Promised Land. But that was easy; this is hard.

UPDATE (5/3): David Boxenhorn at Rishon Rishon picks up on the report's finding (I assume he's referring to the same report) that 47% of Jews who attended synagogue at least weekly voted for Bush. Because he believes that the Jewish population will be increasingly observant in coming generations -- given the difference in birth rates of observant and non-observant Jews -- in about 100 years, by his estimation, the overwhelming majority of the still small Jewish American population will be observant. (And therefore, I assume, voting for George Bush's great grandchild.) Well, I suppose we're in basic agreement. For me it's plate tectonics; for him, it'll take a century until Jews get close to 50% Republican, and then only because non-observant Jews will disappear. Ah, yes, another optimist.

Click here to read more . . .

April 28, 2005

Earl Wilson, R.I.P.

I remember Earl Wilson, the pitcher on the Red Sox and Tigers in the 1960s, who died a few days ago, as a great hitting pitcher more than as a great pitcher. It turns out he was also the first black player signed by the Red Sox, though not the first to make it to the majors.

A nice summary is here (scroll down), and this confirms my memories:

Wilson’s hitting exploits remain almost legendary. Originally a power-hitting catcher, Wilson was moved to the mound because of his arm strength. During his major league career, he hit 35 home runs, the fourth highest total among pitchers. Only Wes Ferrell, Bob Lemon and Red Ruffing—all Hall of Famers—hit more home runs as moundsmen. Yet, Wilson’s 35 homers came in only 740 at-bats, compared to the nearly 1,200 at-bats that Ferrell accrued in reaching his career total of 38 home runs. Wilson’s biggest power showing occurred on August 16, 1965, when he hit two home runs in one game. Capable of making consistent contact, Wilson also hit for a respectable average, eclipsing the .200 mark five times during his career.
But the greatest Earl Wilson story, which I was able to track down because I remembered one of the other players involved, involved a strange play on a third strike. Here is an account from Retrosheet:
From Dave Smith:
How about a strikeout with the batter being retired 767? In the game of April 25, 1970, Tiger pitcher Earl Wilson struck out to end the seventh inning in the Twin Cities. Or so it appeared to everyone except Detroit third base coach Grover Resinger. He saw that Twins catcher Paul Ratliff trapped the pitch in the dirt, did not tag Wilson and rolled the ball to the mound. Resinger told Wilson to start running as most of the Twins entered the dugout. Earl got to first easily and headed for second. Since no one interfered with him, he started for third. By this time, Brant Alyea, who was trotting in from left field, heard Resinger shouting at Wilson. Alyea hustled to the mound but had trouble picking up the ball. Wilson headed for home where Twins Leo Cardenas and Ratliff had returned. Alyea finally picked up the ball and threw to Cardenas. Wilson turned back to third but was tagged out by Alyea for a K767. Rookie catcher Ratliff was charged with an error. After the game, Detroit catcher Bill Freehan said "If Alyea had been hustling, Earl might have made it [home]. Tell him [Alyea] to start coming in and off the field a little quicker." The aftermath of the story is that Wilson pulled a hamstring muscle running the bases and had to leave the game.
Exactly the kind of baseball play that leaves an impression, isn't it?

UPDATE (5/2): Crank points out in the comments that Wes Ferrell is not in the Hall of Fame. Here is the list of pitchers in the Hall.

Click here to read more . . .


The word "What?" expresses the sense of puzzlement that every guy has conveyed to his wife or female friend when his stupid guy behavior has made her peeved. In our guyish innocence, we just don't understand.

The guy actor in this Hahn beer ad does it perfectly. (Click "Play Ad" at the left or download it first.) You may not have been in this exact situation, but you know what I'm talking about.

Click here to read more . . .

Bombs away!

Via LGF, naturally:

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration has authorized the sale of as many as 100 large bunker-buster bombs to Israel. One expert said the move should serve as a warning to Iranians with nuclear ambitions.
One can only hope that the administration will tell Israel that it will not sell Israel any more bunker-busters until it uses the ones we're selling it now.

Click here to read more . . .


Even if I never wrote a word about politics, the New York Times would be a bottomless pool of material.

Today, the Times drops its fig leaf of respectability by publishing a long and surprisingly dull article about the vestiges of nude male swimming at clubs in the City.

Men swimming together in the nude dates back to before the fall of Rome and was commonplace just 50 years ago in New York City and its affluent suburbs. Yet today the practice survives at only a handful of exclusive clubs, where members hold onto it with a fierce devotion. It is for these men a peerless form of bonding, with nostalgic links to youthful activities like group showers at prep school and skinny-dips at summer camp.

"If you meet someone swimming naked in a pool, surely you're going to do much better in an interview with them," said a 24-year-old bond trader who swims as a guest at the Racquet and Tennis Club on Park Avenue.
Ah, yes, skinny-dipping as an interviewing strategy. Why didn't I think of that? Well, perhaps you need a goyische kop.
"It's a matter of the WASP ethic," said one investment banker in declining an interview about the club's swimming practices. "What goes on at the R.T.C. stays at the R.T.C. We don't want the general public having a peek at the last bastion of old-school pleasure, the last oasis."
Of course, the Times must, absolutely must, place this in historical perspective.
THE roots of male nude bathing are planted at least partly in homoeroticism. Older Athenian men regarded watching the swimming of ephebes, young men undergoing physical and military training, as a great pastime. But the more modern roots of the practice seem to draw on the urban decay of the late 19th century, the historian George L. Mosse wrote in the Journal of Contemporary History (April 1982), a subject he later developed in "Nationalism and Sexuality" (1985).

At the turn of the last century, Mosse explained, naked swimming and nudism in general gained wide acceptance in Europe following centuries in which Christian modesty made the naked body shameful, and leading medical authorities advised a thick dirt patina as the best protection against sickness. "Cities were condemned as breeding grounds of immorality and moral sickness," he wrote. "The enthusiasm for nude swimming, athletics and sunbathing, even while condemning false shame, harnessed the rediscovery of the body to respectability."
This history perhaps explains the views of the women in these men's sick lives.
When asked what his spouse thought of his morning dip, a private equity investor in his early 30's was brutally honest: "She just laughs and says that it's very, very, very gay."
Not that there's anything wrong with that! But maybe there's a simpler explanation.
"At boarding school everyone showers in gang showers," he said. "It was like a social occasion. It's not a far leap to make a connection between showering at prep school and naked swimming in New York."
On the other hand, if I remember A Separate Peace, maybe it's the same explanation.

Click here to read more . . .

April 27, 2005

Tennis, anyone?

So, if you're a bison living in suburban Baltimore, and you decide to leave the farm on which you live, where do you go? To "the fenced tennis court of an upscale apartment complex," naturally.

New York Times story here.

Click here to read more . . .

Alumni reunion . . . for a prison?

My leading source for all news, AAA World magazine, reports that Eastern State Penitentiary, which closed in 1971, has been sponsoring annual "alumni" reunions of guards and prisoners for about 10 years.

Twenty-five years after closing for good, Eastern State Penitentiary began sponsoring regular Alumni Reunions in 1996, drawing back former inmates and guards who come to tour the grounds and reminisce about the old days—good or otherwise.

"It’s so much like a high school reunion—guys slapping each other on the back and sharing stories," says Sean Kelley, the penitentiary’s program director. "It’s amazing because the prison usually is so quiet."
I can picture the conversations. Alum 1: "I run my own carjacking business with branches in four major cities." Alum 2: "Cool, but my pimping empire has revenues in the seven figures and was the subject of a profile in Fortune magazine."

If the idea of a prison reunion isn't weird enough, I learned from another Top 10 news source, The Quad, a student publication at the West Chester University in Pennsylvania (registration required if you don't arrive at site through Google), that "Despite Eastern State's glorified past, it does have a few ghosts in its closet, literally."
Several visitors have reported hearing an evil, cackling woman in Cellblock 12. Volunteers have seen shadowy forms gliding along the walls in Cellblock 6. The most infamous ghost experience is from a locksmith who came to the prison to remove a 140-year-old lock from the door of an abandoned cell. The man said he encountered an energy so powerful that he was able to see into Eastern State's tortured past.
There's also some sort of "haunted attraction" at Eastern State called "Terror Behind the Walls," about which the Quad says this:
The combination of real ghosts with a haunted house makes Eastern State's Terror Behind the Walls a real treat. Terror Behind the Walls is ranked ninth in the country's list of best haunted attractions.

This year they have all new scares within the 13 rooms.

Visitors must venture through the kitchen, passing dead animals and moldy food. Then there is the infirmary where insane doctors do inhumane experiments on the inmates. The tour also has a 3D section where glasses are handed out so the patrons can experience this terrifying section. After exiting the prison there are a gift shop and a museum that have information about Eastern State and artwork done by the inmates.
Between the "real ghosts" and the apparently real gift shop, you should definitely not miss it. Even if you're not eligible to attend the reunion.

Click here to read more . . .

April 26, 2005

Son of the Baltimore Sun and Governor Ehrlich

Can't figure out why, but I haven't written about the ongoing feud between the Baltimore Sun (motto: "Where it don't shine") and Governor Ehrlich in over two months. (Most recent post here.)

But Soccer Dad has an excellent update on the matter with some interesting recent developments. Be sure to check it out.

And while you're over at Soccer Dad's blog, read his analysis of Dan Okrent's defense of the NY Times's coverage of Israel.

Click here to read more . . .

Emotional meltdown

My thanks to fee simple for guest blogging in my absence. (FS also gets a hat tip here.)

There continues to be an emotional meltdown on the Left following last November's presidential election, another that was stolen by the evil forces of Bush and Rove. According to an article in the Medicine section of the L.A. Times, liberal "activists" are forming a support group to deal with their emotional troubles:

Championing a particular cause or course of action often can be a lonely crusade, but these are particularly tough times for liberal activists.

Red-state dominance in the last election, the war in Iraq, changes in environmental policy and the possibility of a more conservative Supreme Court have left many local activists feeling as blue as the state they live in.

What they need, one longtime activist recently decided, is some therapy — a good old-fashioned support group tailored for the liberal activist in need of emotional rejuvenation.

In February, the Activists' Support Circle was born. The group is the brainchild of L.A. peacenik Jerry Rubin, who said he saw his friends and colleagues hit an emotional low after the tensely fought fall presidential election. To his knowledge, he says, it's the first self-help support group in the country for activists.
I wrote about a similar emotional devastation among left-wing Jews right after the election, and it now seems clear that time does not heal all wounds.

The best part of the L.A. Times article is the contrast drawn with Republicans.
"Fortunately, we haven't had a need for such a thing," says Matthew Knee, a conservative activist and chairman of the Bruin Republicans, an activist organization. "And a support group seems very touchy-feely and un-Republican on its face."
Whoever called the Republican Party the "Daddy Party" and the Democratic Party the "Mommy Party" may have been thinking along these same lines.

(FS commented on this article: "Group hug, but only using the left arm.")

Click here to read more . . .

April 22, 2005

Cow-ifornia Dreaming

California Justices Decline 'Happy Cow' Suit

The Associated Press reports that:

The California Supreme Court is putting to pasture a lawsuit brought by an animal rights group alleging the California Milk Producers Advisory Board is falsely advertising that California's cows are happy.
* * *
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sued here in December 2002 alleging the board's advertising was false and misleading. The ads show cows grazing in green pastures with the slogan, "Great cheese comes from happy cows. Happy cows come from California."
* * *
The animal rights group said it may never be known whether cows are happy, but said cows live in deplorable conditions, are repeatedly milked and impregnated before being slaughtered.
Does PETA have any evidence that California cows are NOT happy? Relaxing all day in sunny green pastures sounds more pleasant than being cooped up in a cubicle or flying in business class breathing stale air.

Besides, is PETA the "real party in interest" in this case?

One would think that the cows themselves should be allowed to sue the Milk Producers Advisory Board. With four legs rather than two, the cows could be said to have more "standing" than the human plaintiffs.

Hat tip: Freerepubilc

Click here to read more . . .

April 21, 2005

U.S. Military Adapts in Iraq

The Los Angeles Times has a positive article about the American military's performance in Iraq saying:

Despite this week's bad news, things have gotten better in Iraq.
Yes, the L.A. Times! (Or, perhaps more accurately, one commenter appearing in the Times.)

The article discusses several steps that the Army has taken to better train its soldiers in urban combat, guarding convoys, and interacting with civilians.
"We're fighting a thinking, adaptive enemy," one of the trainers told us. Even amid some recent setbacks, the increasing stability in Iraq shows that the American military is capable of matching that learning curve.

Click here to read more . . .


I'm headed north again, this time to help my parents get the house ready for Passover. (My sister and a friend of my parents are already hard at work.) My father won't be able to lead the seder for the first time in 40 years, which he's been doing since my grandfather died in 1965, and my mother has allowed us to bring in seder food from the outside, which she would never have done in the past. But other than that, we're planning to make things as normal as possible.

Fee simple may be doing some light posting in the meantime. I should be back early next week.

Chag sameach.

Click here to read more . . .

April 19, 2005

The four stages of kitniot

Numbers are of great significance in Judaism: three forefathers, three festivals, seven days of creation, seven weeks of the omer, 12 tribes, 120 years that Moshe Rabbeinu lived. You get the idea.

The number for Passover is four. Four questions, four glasses of wine, four sons, four helpings of matzah ball soup your Uncle Harry has consumed (but who's counting?).

On Passover, there are also four stages of kitniot: denial, anger, fear, and humor.

What are kitniot (kit-nee-OAT)? They are a category of food prohibited on Passover by certain Jewish authorities, even though they are not chametz (also spelled hametz or chometz), meaning leaven, which is flatly prohibited on Passover. The late Rabbi Richard Israel explained it this way.

There are two major mitzvot with which we are obligated on Pesach. One is to eat matzah on the first night. The other is not to eat chametz.

The gemara tells us that matzah can be made from five types of grain and only these five: They are wheat, barley, rye, oats and spelt. * * *

The gemara then continues and tells us that chametz can only come from stuff that could have been used in the production of matzah, the five grains. Nothing else can be chametz. Rice, millet and kitniot (which I will get to in a moment) cannot become chametz and therefore may not be used for matzah. And according to the Rambam, even if one kneads flour made of rice with hot water, and bakes it and processes it so that it rises and looks very much like regular dough, one may still eat this product because it is nevertheless not called chametz.

In general, kitniot are those small (kitniot - from katan) seeds or beans which look a little like grains and which need to be cooked to be eaten. Though frequently translated as legumes, aside from peas and peanuts, they are NOT legumes. And some legumes, like alfalfa leaves which can be used for salad, ARE NOT kitniot. Legumes are plants whose root nodules make nitrogen. Since "teensy-weensies" or "tinies" are not translations that are very likely to make it into ordinary English parlance, the most appropriate translation for kitniot, it seems to me, is kitniot.
The prohibition on kitniot is based on a ruling by Ashkenazi (European Jewish) authorities. Sephardic Jews (those tracing their ancestry to medieval Spain, Arab countries, etc.) do not prohibit kitniot on Passover. Various reasons have been offered for this Ashkenazic stringency, the most commonly cited reason being the possibility of confusion with chametz. Kashrut authorities have helpfully provided comprehensive lists of kitniot. Leading up to Passover, we spend a good deal of our time trying to rid our homes of chametz, but somehow, somehow, kitniot always loom large. (Cue scary music.)

The first stage of kitniot is denial. "No! Can't be! This makes life so complicated!" The Masorti movement in Israel, the Israeli version of Conservative Judaism, has chosen another form of denial. It has issued a responsum that rejects the prohibition on kitniot, going so far as to say that we may have an obligation NOT to follow the prohibition, because in their opinion, prohibiting kitniot is (not to put too fine a point on it) complete meshugas:
In our opinion it is permitted (and perhaps even obligatory) to eliminate this custom. It is in direct contradiction to an explicit decision in the Babylonian Talmud (Pesachim 114b) and is also in contradiction to the opinion of all the sages of the Mishnah and Talmud except one (R.Yochanan ben Nuri, Pesahim 35a and parallels). It also contradicts the theory and the practice of the Amoraim both in Babylonia and in Israel (Pesahim 114b and other sources), the Geonim (Sheiltot, Halakhot Pesukot, Halakhot Gedolot, etc.) and of most of the early medieval authorities in all countries (altogether more than 50 Rishonim!).

* * * This custom is mentioned for the first time in France and Provence in the beginning of the thirteenth century by R. Asher of Lunel, R. Samuel of Falaise, and R. Peretz of Corbeil - from there it spread to various countries and the list of prohibited foods continued to expand. Nevertheless, the reason for the custom was unknown and as a result many sages invented at least eleven different explanations for the custom. As a result, R. Samuel of Falaise, one of the first to mention it, referred to it as a "mistaken custom" and R. Yerucham called it a "foolish custom".
Rabbi Israel argued that this Masorti position, while fine in Israel itself, may create problems in the United States:
I think that I personally would very likely accept this p'sak in Israel, where a very large percentage of the population eats kitniot. At least I would try and see how it felt. But it doesn't work here, and so the Conservative poskim (halachic authorities) held, because the overwhelming majority of the observant American Jewish community is Ashkenazic. Furthermore, WE can't easily buy kosher l'pesach food WITH kitniot but WITHOUT chametz. THEY can. If we buy kitniot, like peanut butter, or tofu, the chances of our getting chametz along with it, are large.
The second stage of kitniot is anger. Rarely expressed in public, this anger derives from the unavoidable fact that prohibiting kitniot is in fact meshugas and there's nothing you can do about it. No matter whether you're super-frumm or only just observant enough to remove bread from your house on Passover, you know you won't eat kitniot, because, hey, our ancestors haven't eaten kitniot in centuries. Prohibiting kitniot may be absolutely nuts (kosher for Passover nuts, of course), but you're not going to buck that history. And that makes you angry. You don't have to admit it to me, but you know it makes you angry.

The third stage is fear. Why fear? Because no one really understands kitniot. We understand shaatnez (the prohibition of wool and linen in the same garment). We understand parah adumah (the red heifer). But we don't understand kitniot. And our fear sometimes morphs into outright panic. We try to control it, but others can sense it in us right below the surface. That's when the troubled, desperate questions arise. Here's an example: This year, Passover is tricky to prepare for because it falls on motz'ai shabbat, at the conclusion of the Sabbath. On shabbat, you can't make preparations for things that are going to occur after shabbat. How then do you prepare for the seder on Saturday night? Our rabbi took us through the rules and then opened the floor to questions. One member of the congregation asked: Are we allowed to serve kitniot on erev shabbat (Sabbath evening, Friday night) after the house is all cleaned up for Passover? He was desperate, panicked. You could really sense the fear.

The fourth and last stage is humor. Unfortunately, most people do not reach this stage. Psychologists will tell you how hard it is to get beyond the fear of kitniot. (See generally Markowitz, On Transforming Our Fear of the Non-Chometzdig Yet Asur, 14 Journal of Kitniot 245 (1995)) A friend of mine has managed to achieve this lofty stage, this spiritual level at which both tradition and distance, both obligation and amusement, can co-exist. Two years ago, he found that he was receiving far too many alerts about kitniot from So he sent them a letter, which I got his permission to post here.
Dear Sirs and Rabbonim -

Thank goodness you have alerted me to the threat of kitniot. This is a very grave matter and deserves our utmost attention. It is the best possible use of the resources made available to your organization. Finally a Jewish authority that's got its priorities straight! I'm sick and tired of all those e-mails on midot tovot and derekh eretz and blah blah blah. I have always benefited from your timely information and now realize that I should support you financially too. It's not cheap to run a website. How can I make a donation? Should I mail you a check or do you take credit cards?

I only wish your seasonal anti-kitniot campaign had begun much sooner this year so that more of our holy people could be aware of this problem. Would you please make sure this suggestion is passed on to the decision makers at, or at least the committee responsible for your annual chametz/kitniot campaign? Also - and I'm sure you'll agree - the infiltration of kitniot into Ashkenazi Pesach cuisine and into our precious bodily fluids is far more serious than the threat of chametz. After all, who goes after kitniot with a candle and feather? No one and we all know it!

I would like to add that there is absolutely no record in the entire Tanach of a Jewish figure consuming kitniot during Pesach - not even one hint of it in all of Shemot. Now that's something you can take to the bank. (Disclaimer: In no ways is this intended to offend members of Shas or their supporters in Eretz Yisrael. I am not a Shinui voter.) Do you think if more Jews knew Krav Maga then kitniot would not be such a problem? Maybe we should be promoting Krav Maga as a possible solution. What do you think?

We are fighting powerful interests in the legumes and rice industries. The farm lobby is notorious for its stranglehold on Congress, filling the void left by our favorite lobby which now seems to focus on the Administration. I am proud that at least one Jewish organization (Y-O-U!) does not compromise our most important and indeed seminal religious principles due to pressure from the gentiles and - wouldn't surprise me - apikoras achim who make their living in the legumes and rice industries. By the way, I read that wild rice is not actually rice at all, but some sort of grass. Is this true, and if so can we eat wild rice at our seder? During the year, I love wild rice with chicken.

I have reliable information from an Israeli intelligence official, who made me swear to not reveal his identity so please don't ask who, that the short range missiles the Palestinians have been lobbing from Gaza are actually filled with kitniot. Boy, they really know how to hit us where it hurts. This explains why no one has actually died so far from these missiles. Like I say, the Palestinians are so sinister they've set out to cause mass panic among the Ashkenazim and ethnic strife with our Jewish brothers of the Spanish diaspora.

So while the whole world has practically panicked over the war in Iraq, you are one of the few who see the forest through the trees. The outcome of Operation Iraqi Freedom was never in doubt, but the future of kitniot certainly is. Who observes Tu B'Av anymore other than the speed daters and the Lubavitch on Capitol Hill? Where will it stop?

The threat of kitniot is so serious I have written a letter directly to Thomas Ridge, who I'm sure you of all people know is the new Secretary of Homeland Security. I sent it via UPS so that I would have a signature of receipt. I can send you a copy of the receipt if you'd like, though it wasn't Mr. Ridge who actually signed for the letter (go figure). Anyway, I have been told they are drawing up plans to protect America's predominantly Ashkenazi Jewish citizens, including me, from this horrible form of culinary terrorism. I'm so happy. That'll really stick it to the people who complain about high taxes.

I need not mention what kitniot could lead to: Mixed dancing, premature withdrawal from Yehuda and Shomron, CARD PLAYING ON SHABBAT! I can tell you straight out that among the members of my synagogue who go jogging on Shabbat, those that jog so far as to go outside of the eruv are also probably eating kitniot this Pesach. Why don't people see what a horrible influence it can have? One thing leads to another. It's always something.

Well, best regards, a chag kasher bli kitniot sameach to you and your family, and keep up the good work!

Martin I.
Potomac, Maryland

P.S. Are you in Sharon, Massachusetts? Isn't one of the Safam singers a Chazzan in your community? Please give him my regards. I have all their albums, along with Avram Fried's.
May we all achieve this fourth stage of kitniot. And a chag kasher v'sameach to everyone.

UPDATE (4/06): The return of kitniot. Kitniyot Liberation Front.

Click here to read more . . .

April 17, 2005

Out with a guy, the letters

Attila's iron rule number 14: Every stupid article in the New York Times will elicit even stupider letters, of which on average 4 to 8 will be published.

Case in point: Last week's article on "man dates," about which I posted here, resulted in a crop of 8 stupid letters. There's no RSS feed for these letters, so this link will disappear in about a week, but here are my two favorites:

Origin of 'Man Date'

Re "The Man Date: What do you call two straight men having dinner?" by Jennifer 8. Lee (April 10):

I think The New York Times should hear that the writer did not in fact coin the concept "man date." I'd like to point out that I wrote the book, published by Crown in January 2004, "The Mandates: 25 Real Rules for Successful Gay Dating." Obviously I have nothing against a good tongue-in-cheek article. So I can overlook the homophobic subtext and just assume your readers are smart enough to enjoy the irony in the article without focusing too much on the facts. What I cannot overlook is the fact that the author never even references my book title or the fact that a "date" is generally considered romantic and thus applies to romantic dating by homosexuals or heterosexuals. If a man date is two straight men, then what do you call a date between two homosexual men?

Dave Singleton

Just Don't Enjoy It Too Much

In the article "The Man Date" the discussion avoided the main conflict that makes for the discomfort when men participate in certain one-on-one activities other than sports attendance. What is missing is that this fear is of actual emotional and even erotic attraction to another man coming to the surface, which in our culture is strongly condemned. For a man to be emotionally or even erotically attracted to another man does not make him gay. It is merely an experience in addition to his heterosexual life. As Freud suggested, human beings are bisexual.

Dr. Alex Caemmerer Jr.
Englewood, N.J.

Click here to read more . . .

April 15, 2005

Taxes be gone!

Having spent last night getting the bugs out of my tax returns, I'm sick of the whole subject. In the early 90's, some of my buddies concocted a joke write-in candidacy for me against our RINO congresswoman Connie "Commie" Morella, until I pointed out that even joke write-in candidacies for federal employees are barred by the Hatch Act. One of my planks was a flat tax. A tax of 8% "to starve the Leviathan." So I've always had a big laugh at this shortened tax form, for which hat tips go to, oh, about a gazillion places on the internet. I've seen it in a couple of different formats, but you'll get the point.

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April 14, 2005

Newspaper articles we never finished reading

Today's LA Times has an article that starts like this:

WASHINGTON — House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, under fire for what critics describe as ethical lapses and political overreach, offered a rare apology Wednesday for "inartful" remarks criticizing federal judges.
The headline is "DeLay Tempers His Statements." It almost makes us wish that "Maura Reynolds, Times Staff Writer" had tempered hers a bit, too.

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April 13, 2005

The fifth question

A certain teenaged girl I know thinks that the laws of kashrut (keeping kosher) are designed with the goal of making things hard for people. The laws requiring the separation of milk and meat, for example, are derived from the biblical verse (occurring three times): "You shall not cook a kid in its mother's milk." But this is a simplistic way of looking at things. Within this set of rules are some leniencies.

Fee simple (who is not Jewish) alerts me to an article in the Jerusalem Post (by way of regarding the kashrut of sildenafil citrate, more commonly known as Viagra, for use on Passover.

(Please note that the registration for the Jerusalem Post is highly annoying. While there are minor ethical issues raised by using BugMeNot to borrow other users' registrations, I'll leave that to your consciences.)

Anyway, the JPost article reports that for several years, Viagra was considered not to be kosher for Passover, because the coating of the pills is made from a substance that is hametz (leaven).

Rabbi Menahem Rosenberg, the rabbi of Clalit Health Services, then confirmed that Viagra (sildenafil citrate) was not kosher for Passover because of the coating.

He noted that all drugs taken for life-threatening conditions, even if they contain leaven, can - and must - be taken during the holiday. Since impotence can hardly be considered a life-threatening condition, few rabbis approved its use during the holiday.

But now former Sephardi chief rabbi Mordechai Eliahu has issued a ruling after receiving a query from Rabbi Menahem Burstein, a rabbinical expert in the field of fertility and head of the the Puah Institute for Fertility and Medicine According to Halacha in Jerusalem.
Those people who use the term "Talmudic" disparagingly to refer to reasoning that is, shall we say, complex and subtle are usually being unfair. Real Talmudic reasoning is fascinating and has justified lengthy study by countless thousands of Jews over the years. Nevertheless, perhaps there's a point here. The mechanism for allowing Viagra on Passover is this:
Eliahu replied that men who need Viagra can do so if they purchase before the holiday special empty capsules made from kosher gelatin, insert the blue pill into the capsule and swallow it. The company [the rabbi?] explained that since the capsule is not in direct contact with the body, it is permissible to swallow it on Passover.
In short, we now have the fifth question for Passover: [Why] on all other nights do we swallow the pill directly and on this night we use "special empty capsules made from kosher gelatin"?

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April 12, 2005

The handshake

The latest dispute over a "man date" is between Iranian President Mohammad Khatami and Israeli President Moshe Katsav. Did they shake hands at the Pope's funeral or not?

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami strongly denied shaking hands and chatting with Israeli President Moshe Katsav at Pope John Paul II's funeral, state-run media reported Saturday.

Following the pope's funeral on Friday, Katsav said he shook hands and chatted briefly with Khatami and the leader of another archenemy of Israel, Bashar Assad of Syria. Syria on Friday confirmed the handshake between Assad and Katsav, but played down its political significance.

But after returning to Iran, Khatami denied shaking Katsav's hand.

"These allegations are false like other allegations made by Israeli media and I have not had any meeting with any one from the Zionist regime," the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency quoted Khatami as saying.
Judith Weiss at Kesher Talk (from whom I got the link) comments: "Having committed the huge no-no of touching a Jew, Khatami is now doing frantic spin control. (Bubbe, the cooties do wash off.)" But I think that what Khatami is really concerned about is the suspicion this handshake may have created that he is another Iranian candidate for a sex-change operation.

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Kashrut alert

"Study: Cloned Meat, Milk Nearly the Same"

Headline, Associated Press, April 11, 2005

(headline via Best of the Web Today)

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"Why did the moose cross the road?" is a far less significant question in Massachusetts these days than "How do we prevent the moose from landing in your passenger seat?" This scary article (courtesy of examines the problem.

In a typical collision, the car hits the animal's legs, causing the moose to crash down through the windshield, crushing the roof, and landing in the passenger compartment.
So the authorities are trying to use high tech to solve this low-tech problem.
But now some traffic engineers around the country are experimenting with redesigning roads to accommodate wandering wildlife and using high tech laser and infrared devices, developed for space exploration and anti-missile systems, to warn motorists when a moose wanders into the road.

"We're investigating ways to manipulate the drivers and also ways to manipulate the animals," said John Perry, a biologist with the Maine Department of Transportation. "And when moose are involved, it might be easier to manipulate the driver."
You women who have never quite understood the human male should read about male animals to gain insight.
Most collisions happen in the spring, when yearling moose head out on their own, or during the fall mating season. A bull moose in pursuit of his lady love is not going to pause to let a minivan pass.
So don't get in the way of a guy who's overcome by lust. Unless you want him in your passenger seat with his legs sticking through a broken windshield.

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April 11, 2005

Attila weeps

My guest blogger, fee simple, alerts me to this important news item about my namesake Attila the Hun's descendants.

It seems that in Hungary, the wussy descendants of Attila the Hun, Scourge of God, are petitioning the government for status as an ethnic minority, the apparent goal being financial grants given to minorities. Listen to the way they describe themselves in this politically correct world:

Hungary's modern-day Huns say they are far-removed from the ancient image of rape and pillage acquired when they swept across parts of Europe.

"Today's Huns are peaceful and gentle . . . we have nothing to do with bloodshed or bows and arrows," said Gyorgy Kisfaludy who describes himself as the high priest of the Huns.
Oy! If Attila the Hun were alive, he'd been turning over in his grave.

But fear not! Western Civilization has embraced the Hun: "Hungary has a Hun theme park in which the owner says Attila's burial mound is located and the noble Esterhazy family traced its roots to the Hun." A theme park! With Attila's burial mound and everything! And you can probably watch the poor old Hun turning over inside it.

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April 10, 2005

Out with a guy

The New York Times's numerical reporter, Jennifer 8. Lee, writes about the rules by which straight men operate when going out with a male friend. You know, so that people don't think they're, like, uh, GAY!!!! (Not that there's anything wrong with that!) Lee calls this a "man date," as in "Last election, Bush won a man date with Dick Cheney."

The concern about being perceived as gay is one of the major complications of socializing one on one, many straight men acknowledge. That is what Mr. Speiser, now a graduate student at the University of Virginia, recalled about another man date he set up at a highly praised Italian restaurant in a strip mall in Charlottesville. It seemed a comfortable choice to meet his roommate, Thomas Kim, a lawyer, but no sooner had they walked in than they were confronted by cello music, amber lights, white tablecloths and a wine list.

The two exchanged a look. "It was funny," Mr. Speiser said. "We just knew we couldn't do it." Within minutes they were eating fried chicken at a "down and dirty" place down the road.

Mr. Kim, 28, who is now married, was flustered in part because he saw someone he knew at the Italian restaurant. "I was kind of worried that word might get out," he said. "This is weird, and now there is a witness maybe."
Yes, it's all this dumb. Here are some rules.
Some men avoid dinner altogether unless the friend is coming from out of town or has a specific problem that he wants advice about. Otherwise, grabbing beers at a bar will do just fine, thank you.

Other men say dinners may be all right, but never brunch, although a post-hangover meal taking place during brunch hours is O.K. "The company at that point is purely secondary," explained Steven Carlson, 29, a public relations executive in Chicago.

Almost all men agree that beer and hard alcohol are acceptable man date beverages, but wine is risky. And sharing a bottle is out of the question. "If a guy wants to get a glass of wine, that's O.K.," said Rob Discher, 24, who moved to Washington from Dallas and has dinner regularly with his male roommate. "But there is something kind of odd about splitting a bottle of wine with a guy."

Other restaurant red flags include coat checks, busboys who ask, "Still or sparkling?" and candles, unless there is a power failure. All of those are fine, however, at a steakhouse. "Your one go-to is if you go and get some kind of meat product," explained James Halow, 28, who works for a leveraged buyout firm in San Francisco.
Having made fun of this, I now have to disclose the most important one-on-one outing I ever had with another guy. It was 1982. I had gone out only once with the future Mrs. Attila, and, in all seriousness, I had already decided I would marry her. But I had repeatedly tried to schedule another date with her, to no avail. She said she had various conflicts, the most absurd-sounding one being a musical engagement at her friend's parents' 40th anniversary party. (Turned out to be true, and her friend, it now turns out, is the sister of a well known California-based blogger.) So one lonely Saturday night, I had dinner in a Manhattan restaurant with a male law-school classmate, and I asked him an important question: How many times would he take no for an answer before giving up? He said: Maybe three. I replied: How about 11? He told me to give it one last try. I did, and the rest is history. Now, Mrs. A will tell you, if asked, that she never did a thing to discourage me and that I totally misunderstood. But I was pretty lucky to give it one last chance, because I'm the kind of guy who would take no for an answer before it was even given.

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April 09, 2005

Can Giuliani still be thinking about 2008?

"Rudolph To Plead Guilty to Bombings"

Washington Post, April 9, 2005

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April 08, 2005

I'm back

I'd like to thank my guest blogger, fee simple, for contributing while I was away helping my father, although I must say that his comparison of me to Warren Beatty has me puzzled.

Early this morning, I tried to post about my father. I wrote at some length about my three days away, but Blogger ate the post. I can't bear to go through the whole thing again, but here's a summary. My father was hospitalized last week with complications that were partly the result of his radiation treatment. If you've never seen your parent in the hospital, I pray that you never have to. I spent Tuesday at the hospital trying to be as encouraging to my father and my mother (who stayed with him the entire time) as I could on his ninth day there. But when I left the hospital that evening, I broke down. My father had suffered heart problems in the early 1990s, and if modern medicine weren't so good, he would not have survived. I've always felt that God gave him a second life, and I thought that somehow this would help me deal with anything that happened to him, but nothing prepared me for seeing him in such a weakened condition in the hospital. The interesting thing is that as I drove back to my parents' house, my mood noticeably brightened. I called my mother and assured her that when my father was discharged the next day, both of them would immediately feel better. That's exactly what happened. I drove my parents home on Wednesday, and my father was fully alert and even made a joke about the traffic. When we reached their house, he all but leapt out of the car and ran into the house (relatively speaking, of course). With some help he climbed the 17 stairs to his room, sat in his favorite chair, and spent the next six hours engaged in his favorite activity -- reading. This is not to say that everything is great -- yesterday was somewhat more difficult -- but the difference between being at home and staying in the hospital is night and day.

A relative who reads this blog asked me why the people who had commented on earlier posts to say they were praying for my father were all Christians. I didn't know, but I really want to thank them for their prayers. It means a lot to me. I think it also speaks very well about their faith that they can pray for the health of someone they don't even know, when we Jews sometimes find ourselves tongue-tied. That said, I do want to mention that last shabbat, our orthodox rabbi spoke glowingly of Pope John Paul II and offered a prayer for his recovery, which unfortunately was not enough.

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April 07, 2005

Congress May Extend Daylight-Saving Time

The Associated Press reports that if Congress passes an energy bill, Americans may see more daylight-saving time.

Lawmakers crafting energy legislation approved an amendment Wednesday to extend daylight-saving time by two months, having it start on the last Sunday in March and end on the last Sunday in November.
* * *
"Extending daylight-saving time makes sense, especially with skyrocketing energy costs," said Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., who along with Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., co-sponsored the measure.
* * *
"The more daylight we have, the less electricity we use," said Markey, who cited Transportation Department estimates that showed the two-month extension would save the equivalent of 10,000 barrels of oil a day.
Some bloggers might criticize the extension of daylight savings time as dumb, unnecessary, or a cheap political dodge to avoid dealing with real energy issues like expediting the construction of new coal and nuclear power plants.

I, however, want to congratulate America's legislators for finally standing up to the powerful Celestial Mechanics Lobby (CML). Yes, for centuries the CML'ers and their fellow Forces of Darkness in the light bulb, candle, and energy sectors have peddled the illusion that Earth's revolution in orbit around the Sun combined with the tilt of its axis resulted in varying periods of daylight and darkness throughout the seasons.

There is even some support for the CML in the Clock Manufacturer League. Think of how much wear and tear Americans subject their clocks to twice each year by turning the hands back and forth switching from daylight to standard time. ( Notice that the Celestial Mechanics Lobby and the Clock Manufacturer League both share the same initials: CML. A mere coincidence? I think not.)

But now, thanks to Congress, additional free sunlight is only a majority vote away. (Well, 60 votes in the Senate, of course.)

My only objection to the Upton-Markey provision is that it doesn't go far enough. If Congress can extend daylight savings time by two months, why not make it year round -- as was done in World War II?

Better yet, Congress should drive a stake through the heart of the CML once and for all by simply legislating as much daylight as Americans want.

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April 06, 2005

Warren Beatty to Challenge Attila

The New York Observer reports that Warren Beatty will likely join a lineup of liberal all-stars who will "group blog" on a Web site to be launched next month by columnist Arianna Huffington.

The "Huffington Report," as Ms. Huffington has dubbed it, will also feature such boldface bloggers as Senator Jon Corzine, David Geffen, Viacom co-chief Tom Freston, Barry Diller, Tina Brown and Gwyneth Paltrow.
Comment: Gwyneth can TYPE? Can Warren for that matter?

Unfortunately, the Observer errs in suggesting that the target of this new liberal powerhouse is some obscure site known to a handful of web insiders as "The Drudge Report", or something like that.

In my opinion, identifying this Drudge fellow is merely a ruse to mask the REAL target of The Huffington Report -- none other than our beloved Fearless Leader himself -- Attila.

I know Attila. Attila is a friend of mine. And Warren Beatty is no Attila. On the contrary, Attila is much more handsome than Warren Beatty, even better looking than his true-to-life portrait at the top of this web page would suggest.

Advisory: Comments on this blog comparing Fee Simple's legs to those of Arianna Huffington will be deleted without warning.

I wish The Huffington Report as much success as Air America has had.

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April 04, 2005

S. F. Supervisor wants Bloggers to register and pay fees

Personal Democracy Forum reports that:

Sophie Maxwell, member of San Francisco's Board of Supervisors has filed a city ordinance that would require local bloggers to register with the City Ethics Commission and report all blog-related costs that exceed $1,000 in the aggregate. Blogs that mention candidates for local office that receive more than 500 hits will be forced to pay a registration fee and will be subject to website traffic audits, according to Chad Jacobs, a San Francisco City Attorney. However, these rules will not apply to any other media, just blogs.

Hat Tip: Freerepublic

One more reason not to live in San Francisco.

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U.S. finishes Internet study requested by Congress in 1998

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that the National Research Council, a private organization chartered by Congress to advise the government of scientific matters, just finished a report on Internet traffic that Congress requested seven years ago.

Lawmakers had demanded the $1 million study, ultimately called "Signposts in Cyberspace," under a 1998 law. Passed almost at the dawn of what became the Internet boom, the law required the Commerce Department to seek a study about Web addresses and trademarks by the National Research Council and wrap up the report within nine months.
* * *
The council published its findings Thursday -- two presidential administrations later and years after the implosion of what had been a bustling Internet economy
* * *
"This was eagerly awaited for about 6 1/2 years ago," said Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr., R-Wis., who ordered the study in 1998 as chairman of the House Science Committee.

No word yet on whether Al Gore (the inventor of the Internet) has seen this report yet.

He is probably still downloading it on his state-of-the-art 28K modem.

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April 03, 2005

Baseball returns to Washington

The first game played in Washington by a Washington baseball team in 34 years took place this afternoon at RFK Stadium, the Nationals against the Mets in an exhibition game. The Mets won, 4-3. I took my daughter and my younger son to see the game. Attendance was over 25,000, not bad for an exhibition game. We sat in the third row of the upper deck, not far from home plate.

Here is my shot of Jose Reyes, the Mets' shortstop, watching an outside pitch go by in the third inning.

I didn't see David Brooks at the game.

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April 01, 2005

Maryland meshugas Apr. to June 2005

Here are the Maryland meshugas posts for April to June 2005:

Son of the Baltimore Sun and Governor Ehrlich

Tennis, anyone?

Scopes trial of the Left?

Sniper trials, the second time as farce

Name change

The cucumber people bring in the big guns

Sniper fatigue

The cucumber people study videotapes of the game

WaPo scoop: Politicians hope to benefit from sniper trial

That "other" special someone

The cucumber people go limp

Must be a HS grad in Montgomery County

"You can be a prosecutor" correspondence course

Looking for bias in all the wrong places

The cucumber people reach a settlement

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Maryland meshugas Jan. to March 2005

Here are the Maryland meshugas posts for January to March 2005:

I'd rather . . .

The elephant and the Jewish question

Maryland's next governor?

More on the Baltimore Sun and Governor Ehrlich

Cold reception

Vegetable attraction

Sarbanes retirement

Hire her at Harvard

Red meat comes to blue Takoma Park

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