Friday, September 25, 2009

Amazing Skills

I tend to view the relative difficulty of things solely with regards to how difficult I find them. So, for example, I find scientists to be essentially super-human. By contrast, I have trouble grasping that any professional in the fields that I'm good at might possibly not know something that I do. If I go to a talk or roundtable on a topic, and I have a thought or objection that isn't voiced, I assume that it is so obvious that it goes without saying (because how could a law professor not have thought of it, if I did?).

But yesterday, this instinct reached an absurd degree. I was in the bathroom, and two Hispanic members of the catering staff were speaking Spanish. And I caught myself absolutely marveling at how smart they were, because they spoke Spanish. Now, for me, a former failed Spanish student, that would have been an impressive accomplishment, but for these two guys Spanish was clearly their first language. It would be one thing if I was marveling at them being bilingual (which is a real notch in the belt), but that really wasn't my thought process. It was a simple objective belief that I had that Spanish = difficult.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Othello as a Legal Thriller

Move over John Grisham. William Shakespeare's Othello is the real king of the legal thriller genre -- or so Richard McAdams argued in his summer WIP talk.

Do Not Cross

While a significant chunk of countries left the hall for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's racist tirade before the UN General Assembly, Sweden was not one of them, insisting that its "red line" was not crossed.

The "red line", apparently, does include Holocaust denial and calling for Israel to be annihilated, but does not include speaking of a "small minority" which "dominate[s] the politics, economy and culture of major parts of the world by its complicated networks." (Gosh, whoever could he be referring to!) An assertion of the blood libel would have made for an interesting dilemma, though.

Hell's Kitchen: The Fabulous Five

Jill and I have been religiously watching Hell's Kitchen the whole season. But, unforgivably for someone who calls himself a blogger, I haven't been sharing my every waking thought with you! Time to remedy that, with my opinions on the remaining five chefs.

Suzanne: Suzanne, I fear hope, is not long for this world. She's always been hated and loathed by the rest of the kitchen for being a poor team player and a bossy egomaniac, but at least she could afford to ignore them because her cooking was solid and consistent. Recently, though, there have been some cracks in the facade. She says she's gotten a wake-up call since being essentially forced off the red team, but it's pretty clear a leopard doesn't change its spots. She's been up three times already, and while Chef Ramsey has given her a little leeway based on the not-entirely-unfair supposition that she's being targeted by her castmates for elimination based on her personality, rather than her cooking, I think she's used that excuse up. The only reason she survived the last episode is because Van seemed to totally melt down -- and even then, I think if Chef Ramsey had seen her flatly refuse to send out food because she wasn't willing to plate it, she might have been gone anyway.

Ariel: Oh dear. For most of the season, Ariel was probably the best overall chef. She was calm, cool, and collected at all times -- so much so that I think Chef Ramsey might have been a bit annoyed that there was someone whose skin he couldn't get under. But over the past two episodes, the wheels have begun to come off the wagon, and I wonder if her nerves are finally beginning to set in (given that it occurred just as they got the coveted black jackets). If she can right ship, she's a bona fide threat to win the whole thing, but right now she seems badly shaken up.

Tennille: If Ariel may have peaked too early, Tennille has turned it on at just the right time. Tennille, if you recall, barely made it out of the show's early going -- she almost went home on the second episode, for crying out loud, and a few episodes later nearly was sent home Louie-style when Chef Ramsey almost kicked her out of the kitchen. To her credit, she has clawed her way back and I think Chef Ramsey is genuinely impressed by her tenacity. Not only that, but when Chef Ramsey walked out last episode, she flashed impressive leadership skills as well. She's the real wild card left in the hunt. I think objectively, she's the weakest chef of the remaining five, but Chef Ramsey likes her and she's shown impressive grit.

Dave: How can you not love Dave? His body is falling apart, he sounds perpetually stoned, and yet he is simply a fabulous cook. Dave has kept a remarkably level head this entire season for someone who has nearly destroyed both of his arms, making few enemies and participating with little drama. Along with Tennille, I think he also has impressed Chef Ramsey the most with his consistent top-notch cooking and his play through the pain attitude. One worrying sign is the implication that he and Tennille are going to start feuding over her not backing up the nomination of Ariel over Van at elimination. Not smart, I think -- first, because Tennille was clearly right and knew that Chef Ramsey knew it too, and second, because Dave has succeeded thus far precisely because he's avoided any major fights or meltdowns. As much as it thrills me to hear a different cadence to Dave's perpetual monotone, for his sake I think he'd be far better off droning his way to victory.

Kevin: Is it just me, or did Kevin's New England accent recently get a lot thicker? For most of the season, Kevin was the blue team's Ariel: low key, low profile, getting the job done and staying off Chef Ramsey's radar screen. Unlike Ariel, however, he's mostly kept it together since the teams were merged and the black jackets came out. His stall to save Suzanne while working tableside, while ultimately futile, was still very well done. He clearly thinks of himself as the front-runner, and he's definitely got a shot. But at this level, part of the game may be just who Chef Ramsey thinks most highly of, and I get the feeling that Chef Ramsey just isn't a big Kevin fan. Because Kevin's a bit cocky? Possibly.

My ultimate prediction: Dave. He's on Chef Ramsey's good side, has shown consistent great cooking skills and has probably worked harder than anyone on the show.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

And Clearly, This Was an Error on Our Part

I blogged twice on the prospective selection of Farouk Hosni to lead UNESCO. I think I was more than generous towards him -- despite his troublesome comments about burning Israeli books (exactly what one wants to hear from a Culture Minister), I stated that he sounded more like a spineless flip-flopper to me than a particularly virulent anti-Israel zealot. And though his apology for those comments when they appeared to threaten his professional ascent certainly fit that hypothesis, I still said I would welcome an exhibition of him backing words with action -- perhaps by supporting the establishment of Jewish cultural museum in Cairo; something he had been implacably opposed to even though (as folks so frequently remind me) Jews and Israelis are not the same thing. Alas, I don't believe he took me up on the offer.

In any event, the election occurred and, in somewhat of an upset, Mr. Hosni lost to Bulgarian diplomat Irina Bokova. And Mr. Hosni's reaction seemed to verify that it was the right choice:
Egypt's culture minister says a Western conspiracy "cooked up in New York" prevented him from becoming the next head of the UN's agency for culture and education.

Farouk Hosny says "European countries and the world's Jews" wanted him to lose.

I have to say that, as a Jew in the world (albeit not a spokesperson for "the world's Jews" in all its discrete, monolithic splendor), I did want Hosni to lose. But that's because Hosni's record as Culture Minister was one in favor of censorship, demagoguery, and prejudicial incitement, and that's not the sort of record we should reward with a promotion. By lashing out and blaming the Jews for his loss, he merely verifies that our instincts were correct on the matter.

I should, incidentally, also applaud the UN for bucking its recent trends and rejecting Mr. Hosni's candidacy. So often these elections seem to be very pro forma -- it was good to see the global community step up to the plate in favor of the open exchange of ideas and egalitarian ethos that is essential to a free culture.

Wait For It

I just got back to Chicago about a half hour ago. The interviews are done. Now, we wait patiently, in anticipation of employment and trinkets and baubles. It's going to be great.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I Always Thought David was Part of that Other Religion

It's on the tip of my tongue. You know the one I mean:
At the Values Voters Summit, the annual conference for the religious right sponsored by the Family Research Council last weekend, conservative youth activist Jason Mattera evoked the battle of David against Goliath as a metaphor for conservative college students who are “persecuted” by the big bad liberals who control academia. “David has the righteous answer,” Mattera said, “because he is taking pride in his Christian beliefs.” No matter that Mattera didn’t accurately grasp David’s biography or the biblical timeline. In conserva-land, David, a character from the Old Testament, was a Christian even before Christ was born. “Anyone who came against his God,” Mattera said, “David would take it personally.”

Emphasis supplied by me smacking myself in the head repeatedly.

Via Think Progress, who also notes that the primary selling point Mattera made to young Republicans is that "our women are hot". I'm not sure why this is supposed to appeal to young conservative women, but then, maybe Mattera doesn't think the GOP needs women beyond a core cadre of hotties to keep the studs appropriately stirred up.

Diminished Expectations

Andrew Sullivan nominates South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) for a Yglesias Award, after the senator said:
I am not going to give into sentiments that I think degrade the office of the president and that degrade the debate and the culture of our country. So if you come up to me calling the president a socialist, a Muslim, you’re talking to the wrong guy.

Warranted, and good for Senator Graham. But it's a sad sign of how far we've come that we need to give a door prize to a prominent right-wing figure for not agreeing that the President is a socialist.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Westboro Protests Jews

The Westboro Baptist Church is at it again, this time protesting in front of a University of Oklahoma Jewish organization. The message is that Jews are responsible for killing Christ (like the blood libel, an oldie but goodie). Like when the WBC came to Chicago, the targeted groups asked that a counter-protest not be waged, in order to deprive the WBC of publicity.

Nonetheless, some folks couldn't help themselves and came out anyway. And for whatever reason, I, softie that I am, was touched by this woman:
“I know we were asked to not come out today, but I wanted them to see that we really do care about our Jewish community,” said Kara Joy McKee, OU alumnus. “We love our Jews. We love our everybodys.”

It really did make me feel warm inside. Thanks, Kara.

Biden Birthers

Have you seen Joe Biden's birth certificate?

Via. And yes, it is a parody (99% sure).

Sunday, September 20, 2009

"They're Almost Huge!"

I don't know about you, but I never would blow my nose with anything but a manly, masculine, testosterone-laden tissue.

The Chavez Movement and the Jews

This article by Wake Forest Political Science Professor Luis Roniger, "Venezuelan Jews in the Context of the Multiplicty of Latin American Jewish Experiences" (via Bob), is good. It's very good in fact. It is a careful exploration of how the Chavez revolution has impacted the life prospects of the local Jewish community. It explores issues of anti-Semitism without either knee-jerks or fawning, apologetic credulity. It locates the issues Jews are facing both in the ideology of the revolution (which both has explicitly anti-Semitic sources, such as Norberto Ceresole, as well as more "incidental" ones, such as a general intolerance for independent civil society associations which automatically makes distinctive minorities like Jews suspect), as well as part of more structural policies and interests of the state (e.g., its growing ties to Iran and its efforts to develop a global counterweight to the United States).

What I like about it is that it is, again, careful. It doesn't go for too much, but it doesn't falsely limit the field of inquiry either (e.g., by ignoring "private" anti-Semitic incitements by actors clearly operating within Chavez's ideology, or by blithely asserting that anti-Zionist agitation is definitionally not anti-Semitism). It doesn't engage in hyperbolic rhetoric. It even puts the infamous "crucified Christ" remarks in their proper context. It doesn't indicate that Venezuelan Jews are facing a new Holocaust, but nor does it paint an overly rosy picture of their situation. It is, in other words, the furthest thing from the fawning whitewash by Chavez apologizers that I was recently pointed to.

Good News, Jews!

I guess we get to screw all we want! In response to an ACLU suit over Mississippi's religiously inflected "abstinence only" programs, state Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant had this to say:
"I was so disappointed that the ACLU has decided that we don’t need to tell young women in the state of Mississippi about our faith; we don’t need to explain to them that abstinence, we believe, is related to our faithful Christianity beliefs."

Not sharing those beliefs, I guess we're in the clear. Par-ty!

Of course, as the linked post indicates, the other group that seems to be free to go at it like woodchucks are men (Christian or otherwise). It's women who have to protect their "no-no square" (I wish I was making that phrase up); men ought to catch what they can.