Sunday, November 12, 2006

Will Ferrell in a Fog

Am I the only Unamuno fan out there who notes some similarities between the plot of the new Will Ferell-Emma Thompson movie "Stranger than Fiction" and the early twentieth-century novel, Niebla, by Miguel de Unamuno?

(Apparently the answer is no: I googled "Stranger than Fiction" and "Unamuno" and found one comment at this site by a Mr. or Ms. Bongalongadingdong who also noted the parallel.)

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

"They can talk even without a cell phone."

Our daughter, who is in kindergarten, told us tonight at the dinner table about a boy who was being disruptive in gym class. The gym teacher called the homeroom teacher to come get the disruptive boy. Our daughter wanted us to understand that "they can talk even without a cell phone" using special "boxes in the wall that have buttons." When we explained that these were called "intercoms" she took it in stride (parents know a lot of things) but we surprised her when we explained that intercoms have been around for a long time and that cell phones only were invented recently (since Mommy and Daddy were adults). She thought her elementary school had some kind of really cutting-edge technology with these boxes in the walls.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Miss Manners Thursday

The first letter in yesterday's Miss Manners begins this way:

Dear Miss Manners:

A few nights ago my husband and I went out to try a new Italian restaurant. When our food arrived, Waiter 1 set down my plate, then set down my husband's. Not five seconds later, Waiter 2 arrived, asking, "Would either of you care for some fresh ground pepper?"

This prompts me to share with the world the two things I dislike most in restaurants:

1) Being asked if I want fresh ground pepper. Either the chef seasoned the dish properly or he didn't. If I want to prepare my own food, I'll eat at home.

2) Being asked if I'm "still working on a dish." The chef worked on the dish in the kitchen; I'm eating it and, it is to be hoped, enjoying it. What's wrong with "Are you finished, sir?"

Before anyone responds:
1) I never share these thoughts with the waiters asking these annoying questions at the time. I respond quite politely, "no, thank you" to the first and "yes" or "no, you may take it" or "no; would you please wrap it up"--as appropriate--to the second.
2) I always tip 20%.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

What I did on summer vacation

See if you can guess where I was last week...

Sunday: lazy day at in-law's house;
Monday: morning in town A with coffee and a book I'm reviewing; lazy afternoon; James Taylor concert in the evening, sitting on lawn of beautiful estate turned music festival with 18,000 other people (James: lovely performance except for your bizarre cover of "Oh What a Beautiful Morning");
Tuesday: busy day: 2 art museums--one mainly modern art, the other contemporary art and "anti-art strategies" (really), mini golf, Mark Morris Group performance in evening at a farm turned dance festival (the man himself did not perform--the group was in residence at this place all week, but he only performed for the big-money crowd Saturday night);
Wednesday: morning walk through grounds of beautiful estate turned music festival; afternoon in town A with coffee and book review; dinner on the porch of a nice restaurant in town A; Yo Yo Ma and Emmanuel Ax all-Beethoven recital in the evening (well, the program said Yo Yo Ma was playing but we were so far back on the lawn that I barely detected a cello especially for the first two pieces that were played on period instuments);
Thursday: hang out in town B; picnic at playground; ice cream in town A (because the ice cream place in town B was booby-trapped with candy at every turn and we generally only allow candy on weekends); rented video in evening ("Matchpoint" by Woody Allen; review: oddly un-funny for a Woody Allen movie; barely a drop of comic relief mixed in with the philosophizing);
Friday: reception at Daughter's week-long art day camp in morning; lunch at home; early afternoon visit to opera singer classmate from college now living in lovely vacation area to see her new baby; late afternoon: book sale at Town A library; evening: dinner at organic restaurant a little north of Town A, follwed by orchestra concert at beautiful estate turned music festival: Bernstein's Candide overture; Beethoven Piano Concerto #1; and one of my favorites, rarely heard in its entirety, de Falla's Three-Cornered Hat (we did hear one of the best orchestras in the country but I would love to hear the de Falla and the Beethoven played by an orchestra that emphasizes a richer tone from the strings, like the Philadelphia Orchestra or the Pittsburgh Symphony);
Saturday: morning walk around beautiful estate turned music festival, listening to orchestra rehearse; afternoon: Rubberband Dance performance at farm turned dance festival (newish group from Montreal that combines break-dancing, martial arts moves, and ballet; hmm...).

Rested and ready for the semester and feeling lucky that my wife's parents live in a part of the country with beautiful scenery and fantastic summer cultural events.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Categorization is a tricky thing

I was in my local public library this afternoon for a few minutes and passed by the shelves for the booksale run by the "friends of the library" group.
The Living Talmud: The Wisdom of the Fathers, ed. Judah Goldin, was shelved with the mystery novels.

To the bicyclist on Fifth Avenue Monday afternoon:

I am sorry that I honked at you. But before you leave Pittsburgh and spend the rest of your life telling people that you had to move to Seattle or Austin or wherever because of those terrible old-fashioned, planet-destroying Pittsburgh drivers who would honk at you and who just couldn't understand how wonderfully progressive biking is and how it would save the earth if we all did it, I just want to tell you the following:

Tailgating a bus in the opposite-flow bus-only lane and following said bus through a yellow light is not cool. Nor is it progressive or avant garde. It's quite stupid. It's especially not cool because the person waiting to turn left from the middle of the intersection and waiting until the bus clears the intersection to do so (that's me) can't see you and certainly does not expect to find a bicyclist breathing the bus's exhaust. Lucky for you, I'm the responsible sort who checks for oncoming traffic and pedestrians before turning left. Next time, you might consider a) being in the proper travel lane; b) maintaining a safe following distance behind buses and trucks so that drivers can see you.

I tried to tell you all this with my honk. I hope your hostile glare was simply trying to tell me that it would be much better not to honk and to put this all on my blog. If so, I apologize for honking.

Otherwise, enjoy Portland or San Diego.

All the best,


What does Sephardic mean?

This article from the Forward, about Spain and its Jewish heritage, is interesting, but it left me with some questions and comments.

Certainly all of the 40,000 Jews now living in Spain are "Sephardim" in a certain sense--that is, they all live in "Sepharad" (the Hebrew term for Spain since the Middle Ages). How many, however, are Sephardim in the sense of being immigrants or children of immigrants from Sephardic diaspora communities in North Africa, Turkey, or elsewhere? And how many are Ashkenazim? I would guess that a good number of contemporary Spanish Jews come from Morocco, as does the current president of Federation of Jewish communities, quoted in the article, and are "Sephardim". I would guess that a certain percentage come from elsewhere in the European Union and some of these are Ashkenazim. I would also guess that there are a certain number from Latin America, the overwhelming number of whom are children or grandchildren of Ashkenazic immigrants from Eastern Europe to Mexico or Argentina or elsewhere in the New World. But the article does not say, and I would expect the reporter to have paid some attention to this question.*

Secondly, the article suggests that most of the "renaissance" in interest in Spain's Jewish heritage is driven not by the presence of a Jewish community in Spain but by the tourist industry. Thus, the lead-in emphasizing the Jewish community seems a bit misplaced.

Finally, what is the time-frame here? Like nearly all newspaper travel features, things are a bit vague.** Since the death of Franco in 1975? "especially over the past decade", i.e. since 1996? Certainly, it's been a gradual process. But why isn't 1992 mentioned? Either this was the watershed year that sparked things (that perhaps only got underway after 1995), or--contrary to expectations--the 500th anniversary of the expulsion of Jews from Spain was not such a big deal in the on-going resurgence of interest in things Jewish in Spain. Either way, strange that it wasn't mentioned.

*I spend a lot of time when I teach medieval and modern Jewish history explaining to my students the changing meaning of the terms "Sephardic" and "Ashkenazic" over time.
(Brief version: Jews from Yemen are not "Sephardim" despite what some Israeli tour guide may have told you once.)

**What I mean by this is best seen by the New York Times which discovers that Philadelphia and Boston are undergoing cultural renaissances approximately every two years (on an odd-even cycle: e.g. Philadelphia in 97, 99, 01, 03, 05 and Boston in 98, 00, 02, 04, 06.) High turn-over among the travel-writing freelancers? Ingrained literary trope in travel feature-writing?

Miss Manners Wednesday

1) Of course Miss Manners gives exactly the right advice on etiquette to this woman whose ex-boyfriend has "dumped" their friendship at the behest of his fiancee. There seems to be something in the zeitgeist of advice columns these days (see this "Cat's Call"--scroll down--from Sunday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) about women who can't stand for their future husbands to maintain a friendship with former girlfriends.

I suppose every relationship is different and the ways of the human heart are strange, but are there really still people who believe in the dictum of the "Harry" character from "When Harry Met Sally"?

2) I've missed a few Wednesdays, but going back over the recent columns, I noticed this from Wednesday the 2nd:

Dear Miss Manners:

I recently visited a remote tropical island where, upon my departure, the local inhabitants insisted on killing and eating a giant sea turtle in my honor. I do eat meat, but not turtle. Though I thanked them and ate it with a smile, was that the wrong thing to do?

I should never suspect Miss Manners of making up letters, but I do harbor a slight suspicion that someone out there is pulling her leg.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

And now back to naarishkeit

A few quick things on the lighter side:

Yesterday's Miss Manners: important information about cleavage, ball caps, pregnancy, and a nice made-up story about a medieval abbess.

The philosophers over at Leiter Reports are gearing up for another round of discussion about why historians do better than philosophers at getting fellowships.

Some folks are confusing history and homiletics, as I point out in a fairly sharp comment at Hirhurim.

Our family entered a new era yesterday as the five-year-old daughter is now the proud owner of her first bike-- purple, with tassels hanging down from the handlebars. It's a 20" bike, which means she has to stretch those five-year-old arms to reach the handlebars, but she has long legs, so the 20" was the way to go, according to the folks at the bike shop. We decided to spend a little more and patronize one of our two local bike shops in Squirrel Hill (in the end, we went with the less expensive one) since some consumer websites convinced us that you want your kids bike assembled and adjusted by bike professionals and not someone in a big-box store. (I'm sure the websites were all shills for the all-powerful independent bike dealers industry but that's ok. We feel better.)

Finally, I just got an e-mail from the minyan coordinator at one of the two synagogues my family attends announcing that the new assistant rabbi (who I like quite a lot despite what I'm about to say) will be introducing some Shlomo Carlebach tunes at the morning service (Shaharit) this Shabbat. So I wrote back--only half-joking: "nothing says 'come late to shul' to me like 'Carlebach tunes at shaharit.' See you at musaf [the additional service, the second service of the morning]." Ha mayvin yavin.

Dilemmas of Just War in our Age

I haven't put anything on the blog yet about Lebanon, and when people have asked me what I think, I have generally demurred. The reason is that I am trying to grapple with the troubling issue: how can a state defend itself against attacks from an armed group that does not play by the rules of war? Specifically, how can a state (which has a duty to protects its citizens) respond to an enemy that--on purpose--intermingles with civilians? A reader at Talking Points Memo poses the problem and laments the lack of discussion on this issue. In yesterday's mail, I received this week's New Republic where Michael Walzer judiciously lays out the issues and some tentative conclusions. As Jonathan Chait points out in the on-line version of that journal, we may not have answers to these questions for some time. Thus, I think (contra Juan Cole)that assertions that the Israeli army has committed war crimes are pre-mature. I'm not ready to give Israel a free pass, but there is a big step from harming civilians (bad) or civilian infrastructure (bad but perhaps necessary) to war crimes (bad and criminal). On the other hand, it seems quite obivous that Hezbollah's mixing itself with a civilian population in Lebanon, using civilian residential buildings to store weapons, and indiscriminately targeting civilians in Israel are war crimes (Hezbollah does not even pretend to be going after military targets in Haifa or Nahariya.) For another judicious consideration with which I generally agree, see this discussion by Norman Geras at his Normblog.
There is also some interesting discussion in--of all places--these comments to a posting at History News Network.

I don't expect that this posting will be of any interest or use to people who:
a) believe that Israel can do no wrong and that any criticism of Israel is antisemitic or, if it comes from a Jew, treachery.
or b) believe that Israel's status as a sovereign state is illegitimate, and that Israeli civilians are fair game.
Comments that state these views or obviously proceed from these premises will be deleted.

Comments that offer serious reflection on the difficult issues involved are welcomed.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Do researchers for the Federal Reserve live on this planet?

Update: Friday's Post-Gazette had a report of another study on credit cards, one that seems more in line with real life.

According to today's Post-Gazette, the Federal Reserve has absolved credit card companies of responsibility for increasing personal bankruptcies. (See the article here.) But the report apparently contains this stunning sentence:

"Credit card issuers do not solicit customers or extend credit to them indiscriminately."

Huh? My five-year-old daughter and two-year-old son regularly receive unsolicited credit card offers. While I imagine that honest answers to the questions on the solicitations would lead to credit not being extended to them were they to reply, does anyone truly believe that credit card companies are not soliciting customers "indiscriminately"?

Friday, July 21, 2006

Conservative Judaism and Hebrew School

This week in the library, I came across the Summer/Fall 2005 issue of the periodical, Judaism, which contained a forum on "Conservative Judaism Today: Judaism and the Future of Religion in America." Other than noting the rather pompous title, I was particularly struck by the failure of any of the contributors (all youngish Conservative rabbis) to include the synagogue supplemental school in their conceptions of the future of the Conservative movement. When education came up in the contributions, day schools were praised and supplemental schools ignored, dismissed, or implicitly or explicitly denigrated. For a number of reasons, this makes me unhappy.

What is the history of statements about the history of nonsense?

Last night, I was reading Brian Leiter's introduction to his edited volume, The Future for Philosophy (Oxford, 2004). In his description of "Wittgensteinian quietism," he says that philosophers in this vein have turned to the "history of philosophy, which shows us how we came to think there were such things as philosophical problems and philosophical methods in the first place." (p.2) In the footnote to this statement, Leiter writes: "An influential, but little-published, Harvard philosopher, the late Burton Dreben, purportedly gave hyperbolic expression to this Wittgensteinian view in an oft-repeated line: 'Philosophy is garbage. But the history of garbage is scholarship.'" (n.7).

I stopped reading and wondered whether Professor Leiter had ever heard the story about Gershom Scholem lecturing in New York. The story goes that Saul Lieberman, a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary and one of the leading Talmud scholars of the day, introduced Scholem's lecture by saying: "Nonsense is nonesense, but the history of nonsense is scholarship." I also wondered whether Burton Dreben had ever heard this story.

A quick Google search for "Dreben Scholem" led me here and an answer to my first question. One of the commentators to this post about Dreben on Leiter's blog (written after he had published this introduction) points out that Dreben had been married to the daughter of another professor at JTS, Shalom Spiegel.

This also probably answers my second question. It seems probable that Dreben heard the story and the pithy formulation from his father-in-law, admired the turn of phrase, and recycled it in relation to his own subject. It should also be noted that in his 1941 Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, Scholem thanks Shalom Spiegel, then of the Jewish Institute of Religion, "for his unfailing friendship and readiness to give of his time and help."

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Strauss's Acquittal on Appeal

See here for an interesting exchange about a letter Leo Strauss wrote in 1933 in which he seems to endorse fascism, or maybe where he (sort-of) expresses some sympathy for fascism because he thinks liberal democracy fails to live up to its human rights rhetoric, or maybe where he criticizes the Nazis for failing to live up to fascist ideals, or something, or maybe where he reveals his utterly reactionary politics.

Many of the learned commentators at that site quickly veer off topic into criticizing today's "Straussians" (which I'm all for but which seems rather pointless at this point). But if one reads carefully, there are some rewarding comments about Strauss and early 20th-century German (and German-Jewish) intellectual history.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Judezmo on the Brain?

I'm listening to the Orioles-Athletics game via the Internet and the announcer on WBAL just announced an upcoming "Latino Night" at Camden Yards. But I heard "Ladino night" at first and it took me a minute to realize that the Orioles are not in fact honoring the Judeo-Spanish vernacular of Ottoman Jewry.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Rodkinson and the Talmud

A few weeks ago I posted a bit on a Talmud passage, using Rodkinson's translation of the Talmud (the only available on-line). I checked the translation against the Talmud text for the passage I was interested in and it seemed ok (not great, but ok.) There was another passage a few days ago that I was having trouble with so I decided to look at the on-line translation to see if that would help. And I couldn't find it at all. I figured it was my mistake in guessing where the folio number from the standard edition matched up with the page numbers to Rodkinson's edition and went back to my Jastrow and puzzled it out for myself.

Now Manuscript Boy gives a bit of background on Rodkinson and Dan Rabinowitz points out in the comments at Hagahot that it's an abridged translation. Ah hah!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Do the Post-Gazette editors read this blog?

Last week, I called attention to the fact that Governor Rendell's comments at the Gay Pride parade were basically an endorsement of same-sex marriage. I also pointed out that the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette might have treated this as the significant (and salutary) statement that it was.

This past Sunday, the editors finally took note of Rendell's comments in an editorial.

Which leads me to wonder: do the Post-Gazette editors read this blog? Or are they even more behind in reading the paper than I am?

Leo Strauss Acquitted

The first time I ever heard of Leo Strauss was in the early 90s in a Yale undergraduate seminar called "Political-Theological Writings." Our professor, a political theorist, was working on Spinoza and was rumored to be something called a "Straussian."

As the 90s went on and I turned to the study of medieval Jewish philosophy, I read a good bit of Strauss and some scholarship on Strauss's take on Jewish thought.

As the 2000s began, I started hearing about "Straussians" again. But these "Straussians"--neoconservative Bush administration officials and hangers-on--didn't sound much like the Leo Strauss I had read or like my Yale professor talking about Spinoza.

Two years ago, Anne Norton published Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire to try to explain (and to explain away) the connection between Strauss and the neo-con "Straussians." Now comes my old professor, Steven Smith, in Reading Leo Strauss, also arguing against drawing a connection between Strauss's work as a political theorist and intellectual historian and some of his students' (or rather, "grandstudents"?) politics. Robert Alter has a nice summary in last weekend's New York Times Book Review.

One more thing: I am not a Straussian although a Straussian might think I was one if he or she were to note the title of this blog and this line from Smith's introduction: "When asked what he taught, it is said, Strauss often replied 'old books.'" Hmm...

Learning from the past?

Pedestrian-only streets and rerouting buses? The Post-Gazette reports that these ideas are now under consideration for the Market Square area in downtown Pittsburgh. Although there are some differences, this all sounds like something Pittsburgh has tried before--and it didn't work. See this Post-Gazette story on the failed redevelopment plan for East Liberty.

Thursday, June 22, 2006


I've been chatting with some folks over at Antirust about downtown development.
Turns out I just want to be like the cool kids even if I have to spend money I don't have to keep up with them.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Noted in the papers (miscellany)

Just got to the Sunday papers last night and over lunch today and noted the following:

--This interesting article on the front-page of Sunday's Post-Gazette about how airlines are experimenting with boarding procedures. This has long been one of the things about which I say while participating, "there must be a better way."

--Also on the Post-Gazette front-page, what they call a "dog bites man" story: turns out that lots of over-priced and badly maintained apartments are being rented by college students in the neighborhood adjoining Pitt and CMU. I'm shocked, shocked!

--Interestingly, the headlines of the previous two articles in the print version are much better than the headlines in the on-line version:
Which do you like better:
"Airlines fuss over best way to seat travelers" or There's more than one way to fill a plane"?
"An Old problem getting no better" or "Oakland living can be under par"?
Methinks someone thought the "fuss over" in the first story implied that the airline folk were improvising rather than using scientific modeling. Uh-huh. And perhaps someone noticed that the print headline for the apartment story kind of admitted that this wasn't exactly breaking news.

--Three cheers for Ed Rendell who not only came to the Pittsburgh Pride March, but also basically endorsed same-sex marriage: "Some day I hope that shirt says 'Just married in Pennsylvania,' " he said, to a roar of approval from the crowd. See the story in the Post-Gazette here.

--A question for the Sunday P-G editors: when the sitting governor of a swing state where the state legislature is considering a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage says that he hopes that gay marriage will someday be legal in his state, don't you think that should go on the front page of the paper? (You could have bumped the story of the college students with the broken walls to the front page of the local section.)

--Finally, this is really minor but I had no idea that the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York was not one of the original hotels built by the Astor brothers.

Small Pennsylvania

Apparently Pennsylvania is the best state to study really small things as I learn from this Pitt news release. Penn was ranked #1 and Pitt was ranked #2 in nanotechnology research.

European Higher Education

Another event that looks interesting and that I won't be able to get to (even though it's in my backyard, as it were):

The Bologna Process: Transatlantic Perspectives
June 23-24, 2006, University of Pittsburgh
The European Union Center of Excellence

Jerusalem Book Evening

One thing I always enjoyed about living in Jerusalem were the evening discussions at the Van Leer Institute when a significant new academic book in Jewish studies is published: three or four eminent scholars discuss the book, then the author responds. I wish I could be in Jerusalem next Sunday when Nehemia Allony's long-awaited book on the booklists of the Cairo Geniza is the subject.

I received this invitation by e-mail today:

מכון בן-צבי לחקר קהילות ישראל במזרח
של יד יצחק בן-צבי והאוניברסיטה העברית בירושלים

מתכבד להזמינך לערב עיון לרגל הופעת הספר

הספרייה היהודית בימי-הביניים
רשימות ספרים מגניזת קהיר

מאת נחמיה אלוני ז"ל

בעריכת מרים פרנקל וחגי בן-שמאי
ובהשתתפות משה סוקולוב

יום ראשון, כ"ט בסיוון תשס"ו (25 ביוני 2006) בשעה 18:00
ביד יצחק בן-צבי, רחוב אברבנאל 12, ירושלים

יו"ר: אהרן ממן, ראש מכון בן-צבי

ח"כ מנחם בן-ששון
יוסף יהלום, האוניברסיטה העברית בירושלים
חגי בן-שמאי, האוניברסיטה העברית בירושלים
מרים פרנקל, סגנית ראש מכון בן-צבי

לפרטים טל': 02-5398844

Hagahot explains the significance of the book.

Commentary on Miss Manners

A new Wednesday feature? Commentary on Miss Manners:

Today's column:
"To Madam, With Sincerely"

Miss Manners is exceedingly patient in explaining to a patent attorney that "Madam" is the female equivalent of "Sir" in formal correspondence, and that he need not worry that about the marital status of the unknown patent examiner. I am concerned that an attorney needs to write to the Washington Post etiquette columnist in order to learn how to address a government official.

The reply to the next letter strikes close to home:

"What you are doing is sending out a mass newsletter to people who have not shown interest in entering into a regular exchange.

They seem pleased enough to receive it, and Miss Manners does not mean to discourage you from continuing. But its being a hobby of yours does not require them to make it a hobby of theirs."

She is referring to the practice of sending out a group e-mail to friends and to the questioner's sadness that his friends do not reply. But I should keep her answer in mind when I lament the relative paucity of comments on the blog.

The final pericope? Just brilliant:

"Dear Miss Manners:

I have a friend who constantly refers to herself in the third person, i.e., "Jenny never eats red meat," or "Jenny loves to go to the movies!" What is the best way to deal with this wholly annoying habit?

How would Miss Manners know?"

Monday, June 19, 2006

How is the substitute high priest like a vice president?

Today's "Daf Yomi" folio is folio 12 from the Babylonian Talmud tractate Yoma which deals with Yom Kippur. The discussion here takes up one of the issues from the first mishnah of the chapter, the appointment of a substitute high priest in case the high priest becomes impure and is unable to perform the Yom Kippur sacrifices.

So what happens if the substitute takes over from the high priest on the Day of Atonement?

"The rabbis taught: When the high-priest happened to become unfit for service, and his substitute performed it, then after the Day of Atonement the high-priest resumes his service, and all the laws regarding the high-priesthood apply to the substitute (he can no longer be like a common priest). Such is the decree of R. Meir. R. Jose, however, says: The high-priest resumes his service, the substitute does not become like a high-priest, nor continues to be as a common priest. And R. Jose added: It happened to Joseph b. Alem of Ziporeth, that he was a substitute for the high-priest, who performed the service instead of the high-priest, to whom an accident had happened. Later the sages said, the high-priest should resume his service, and that Joseph b. Alem is fit no longer to be either a high-priest or a common priest. A high-priest, to prevent enmity; and a common priest, because there is a rule, in holiness one may increase but not decrease. Said Rabba bar bar Hana in the name of R. Johanan: The Halakha prevails according to R. Jose. R. Jose grants, that if the substitute has performed service in the Temple, this service is valid.

R. Jehudah said in the name of Rabh also: The Halakha prevails according to R. Jose, and R. Jose grants that when it happens the high-priest dies, he may become high-priest. This is self-evident? One might say, since he was his rival in life, he might not become a high-priest after his death. He comes to teach us it is not so."
(BT Yoma 12b-13a; translation by Radkinson from Internet Sacred Text Archive; I've never heard of this translation but it seems ok and the Soncino translation of Yoma is not available on-line--and needless to say, I'm too lazy to type out my own translation).

Here is how the Daf Yomi page summarizes R. Jose ("Yossi")'s view:
"1. He cannot be a co-Kohen Gadol for fear of enmity.
2. He cannot be a regular Kohen out of respect for his elevated status."

A dubious honor, then, to be chosen as the substitute high priest for Yom Kippur. You can't keep the top job and you can't go back to your old job because you've become over-qualified (at least in terms of holiness).

Sunday, June 18, 2006

A busy summer weekend

The kids have already been asleep for 45 minutes. Perhaps we tired them out today. First to Mellon Park for Bach, Beethoven, and Brunch with the Edgewood Symphony. Good program of favorites from Beethoven's Fifth to Copeland, Bernstein, and Sousa. Had a picnic with the blanket in the shade but the kids were actually on the blanket, in the shade, for a total of about 10 minutes in 2 hours. Then friends remarked that they were going to Schenley Plaza to watch the Zany Umbrella Circus, so we went along too. Free rides on the new carousel today so we did that a few times as well. Then home and rest.

A nice father's day. Only complaint: who decided to put the carousel next to the dumpsters as Schenley Plaza? A bit of an unpleasant smell on a hot summer's day.

Yesterday: shul at the big conservative synagogue in the neighborhood. Then home for lunch and rest and a bit of play in the backyard. My wife and I went out last night for the rare date, having secured the services of a babysitter who used to teach at the preschool and is much beloved by both children. (Daughter woke up this morning calling out her name.) We tried Sweet Basil/La Filipiniana. We decided to mainly eat off the Philippine side of the menu since we have our choice of umpteen Thai restaurants. The veggie Siapao was excellent--more like a sweet bun than a dumpling. We both liked the Fish Sinigang. My wife thought the Jackfruit was ok but I didn't like it.

Then we went to see "Keeping up with the Steins" which we both enjoyed. We wondered how well it was doing in the rest of the country, but it was a packed theatre in Squirrel Hill.

We had lots of time before the movie so we had a cafe cortado and an iced pomegranate at Tango Cafe.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Courtesy in Boston

Those who know me know that Boston is not one of my favorite cities nor is the T one of my favorite public transit systems. One of my complaints about the Hub of the universe and its transit-riding citizens is the exceptional level of rudeness I observed during my two years living there.

It sounds like Brian McGrory, a Boston Globe columnist, and now the T administrators themselves are on the case.

Thy Temple Amid Thy Hair is Like a Slice of Pomegranate

Happy Bloomsday!

Some allusions to this blog in Ulysses:

--...O jay, there’s no milk.
Stephen fetched the loaf and the pot of honey and the buttercooler from the locker. Buck Milligan sat down in the a sudden pet.
--What sort of a kip is this? he said. I told her to come after eight.
--We can drink it black, Stephen said thirstily. There’s a lemon in the locker.
--O, damn you and your Paris fads! Buck Mulligan said. I want Sandycove milk. (episode 1; p.10)

What final visual impression was communicated to him by the mirror?

The optical reflection of several inverted volumes improperly arranged and not in the order of their common letters with scintillating titles on the two book shelves opposite. (episode 17; p.581)

...An ancient haggadah book in which a pair of hornrimmed convex spectacles inserted marked the passage of thanksgiving in the ritual prayers for Pessach (Passover)... (episode 17; p.594)

Accepting the analogy implied in his guest’s parable which examples of post-exilic eminence did he adduce?

Three seekers of the pure truth, Moses of Egypt, Moses Maimonides, author of More Nebukim (Guide of the Perplexed) and Moses Mendelssohn of such eminence that from Moses (of Egypt) to Moses (Mendelssohn) there arose none like Moses (Maimonides).

What statement was made, under correction by Bloom concerning a fourth seeker of pure truth, by name Aristotle, mentioned, with permission, by Stephen?

That the seeker mentioned had been a pupil of a rabbinical philosopher, name uncertain. (episode 17; p.563)

--Rather bleak in wintertime, I should say. Martello you call it?
--Billy Pitt had them built, Buck Mulligan said, when the French were on the sea. But ours is the omphalos. (episode 1; p.15)

(page references to the Gabler edition.)

Thursday, June 15, 2006

More on Libby Rowe and LBJ in Bed

Just now, after posting my father's story about Libby Rowe, I decided to google her, and found this oral history interview.
See pp. 4-5 where she described being called in to the President's bedroom in the White House where he was lying sick.

Could my father have been telling a garbled and embellished version of this story?


Breakfast in Bed and the Metro

A few posts back, I indicated that I was planning to read Zach Schrag's The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro. I have two personal connections to this book, beyond having ridden the Metro. First, Zach and I went to high school together. Second, my father was general counsel and secretary to the National Capital Planning Commission from 1959 to 1984, during the period in which Metrorail was planned, built, and first opened. Well, I have now read the book and can report that I found it fascinating.

One of Zach's major arguments--clearly indicated by the title--is that Metro has to be seen against the broader backdrop of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations' domestic policy. One point that he emphasizes is that there was a decisive change in regional planning from the Eisenhower to the Kennedy administrations. NCPC, in the late 50s, prepared a regional plan generally called the "Year 2000 plan" It was released in 1960, the last year of the Eisenhower administration. (Remember how the year 2000 was once "The Future"?) The hallmark of this plan was the idea of corridors and wedges--corridors of development leading from the central city into the suburbs with wedges of open space in between. (Somewhat naive for the post-WW2 era, I think, but that's another story.) The plan called for rapid transit in the corridors but also endorsed controversial Robert Moses-style freeway plans for DC itself.

When the Kennedy administration took over, a number of things changed: the Kennedy administration hired a point man for DC affairs in the White House and appointed a new chair of NCPC who in turn, installed a new director. That new chair was Libby Rowe. Under her, NCPC reversed course on freeways in DC and put its weight fully behind rail rapid transit. (It's important to remember that in those pre-home rule days NCPC was not only the federal agency with veto power over local projects, it was also the local planning office within the District.)

Zach tells this story well and I urge you to read the book if you are interested in DC history, or urban history more generally.

Now the personal part: Although my father had been part of the old regime at NCPC (remember he was hired in 1959), as a civil servant (and not really a policy-maker) he had stayed on with the change of administration. My father always spoke of Libby Rowe with great personal fondness and professional admiration. Now, Libby Rowe was appointed by Kennedy but she and her husband were close friends of Lyndon Johnson. Here's one story from my father that illustrates both the importance of precision in language and how NCPC (literally) had the ear of the presidency during the Great Society years: every week during her tenure as chair of the commission, Rowe would meet with the director and my father to go over the commission's upcoming agenda. One week, she announced at the beginning of the meeting that the previous weekend, she had had "breakfast with the President in bed." "Breakfast in bed with the president?" replied the others in astonishment. "No," she responded, "that's not what I said." And she explained that she and her husband had been guests at LBJ's ranch the previous weekend and on her way down to breakfast one morning, a maid had intercepted her and said that the President would like to see her to discuss something. She was led to the President's bedroom where he was sitting up in bed, eating his breakfast off a tray. She was led to a chair next to the bed and invited to sit down, whereupon she was handed a breakfast tray. For the next half hour or so, they discussed whatever issue it was. And thus, she repeated again, she had had "breakfast with the President in bed."

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Miss Manners or Judith M?

As I have said before, I am a big fan of Miss Manners. But I'm a little disappointed in her column yesterday in that she doesn't open up a larger discussion of the issue of whether professors ought to call students by their first names. Instead, she focuses on the question of how a student should respond to a professor who signs an e-mail with his first name.

Margaret Soltan (Sra. Prof. Dr. Frau Mrs. UD Soltan?) does open up the discussion a bit, along with her commentators, over at University Diaries.

It seems to me that the crucial issue is an imbalance of power that may lead to rudeness. It seems generally accepted that college students call their professors
Doctor or Professor or Mister or Ms. so-and-so, depending on the culture of the institution, while professors call students by their first names.

A couple of years ago, I suggested to my wife that I wanted to start calling my students Mr. and Ms. While she agreed that this might be proper, she advised against it on the grounds that perhaps a theoretical and abstract rudeness was better than a concrete example of weirdness. (That is not to say that all professors who call students Mr. or Ms. so-and-so would be seen as weird, but presumably 30-somethings with a mid-Atlantic accent and casual khakis would be.) I have followed her advice and continued to call students by their first names and have not objected when they call me Professor. But I continue to think about it and am a little troubled by it.

It may be that I think about this because the rather progressive DC private school I attended as a child has a prevailing custom that teachers (from elementary school on) are called by their first names. However, any teacher that wished to be called by their last name could be. In the entire history of the school (since 1945), so far as I know, only two teachers have been called Mrs. X and only one was called Mr. X. One was my kindergarten teacher, the beloved Jessie Klein, who went by "Mrs. K" which she told us stood for both "Klein" and "kindergarten." When her husband retired from his airline job and came to teach with her, he naturally became "Mr. K." The third teacher who used her last name was a legendary fifth-grade teacher who retired before my time. Interestingly, she had a daughter who attended the school and who later became a noted etiquette columnist for the Washington Post.

A blog stock market?

Every once in a while I google myself (who doesn't?). Yesterday, I decided to google "Tea Lemon Old Books" for the first time... and found this.

Can anyone explain this to me?

Time to advertise again?

Remember the Hebrew National "we answer to a higher authority ads"? Apparently some California grocery workers and customers don't. This is an amusing story from the Forward: "Market Flunks Kosher 101."

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Where is Pittsburgh? A recurring question

Pittsburgh is the farthest west I have ever lived. In the service of figuring out where I am, I have begun to collect views on whether Pittsburgh is part of the Northeast or part of the Midwest or somewhere else.

First item:

from a letter to the editor of the New York Times sports section, Sunday, April 30, 2006, p.9:

"For the second time in two months, I have witnessed teams from Washington state--specifically the Seattle Seahawks and the Washington Huskies basketball team--be snubbed by pathetic referees while playing teams from the East Coast [emphasis added]....

"The East Coast bias is getting so ridiculously old... If anyone believes that the referees in the Super Bowl were not paid off to influence the game in favor of Pittsburgh, they are just flat-out ignorant!"

The letter is from Ed Gill of Seattle.

I have no interest in Mr. Gill's conspiracy theory of the Super Bowl, but I find his geography quite interesting for my project.

My way or the busway?

I went this week to the Eastern Corridor Transit Study public input meeting on the Pitt campus.

I came in late, in time to hear a Gen-Y'er (or maybe Z; are we up to Z yet?) speaking in favor of light rail because it projects the right image to young people. A couple of speakers later, a member of the Sierra Club from Edgewood wanted to know why nobody was talking any more about converting the East Busway to light rail.

As I sat there, my thoughts went like this: when I moved to Pittsburgh, busways seemed like a clever idea because you can have the feeder routes go from neighborhoods to the busway to the downtown hub and then spread out again, thus giving people one ride to work (no transfers). (I suppose I'm still recovering from my 3 transfer ride (4 on rainy days) from my apartment in Arlington, MA to Logan airport. But that's another story.) Light rail is nice and makes me feel good and progressive in that old-timey back-to-the-past sort of way, but it seems that busways are cheaper, can be built faster, offer more flexibility, and might get people out of their cars sooner which is better for the environment than waiting around for light rail.

So I raised my hand and said all this (except for the part about Boston).

This set off quite a debate. Apparently I aligned myself with the bureaucrats at the Port Authority and with the realists against the environmentalists and the civic boosters.

So I decided I better read more about it.

See these thoughtful discussions here, here, and here. And here is a report from the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies on Bus Rapid Transit.

Turns out, Pittsburgh is either in the vanguard (trailing a bit behind Ottawa) or hopelessly stuck in the past or too cheap to do it right.

I'm still leaning toward BRT (now I'm learning the lingo). I understand the environmental concerns, but it seems hybrid technology is making buses cleaner and it's not as though the electricity to run light rail lines doesn't come from somewhere. I also understand the economic development issues that would seem to favor light rail over buses but as some of the comments in the discussions above point out (and as I pointed out at the meeting on Tuesday), you can have transit-oriented development around a busway station just as you can around a light rail (or heavy rail) station.

One other point of interest: I learn from the National Academies' report that BRT was touted in the transit plan prepared for the National Capital Planning Commission in the late 50s (1956-1959). I suppose I'll have to wait until I read Zach Schrag's The Great Society Subway to find out why this didn't happen in the DC area. I'm happy with the Metro--don't get me wrong! But imagine if the Capital Beltway had a dedicated busway alongside it. It would make all the planning for the proposed Purple Line moot. (I also take a personal interest since my father joined NCPC in 1959. Did Dad kill the Washington busway? Now that would be ironic. [And also impossible since he was the general counsel and not a transportation planner.])

New Media, Information, and History

An update to my posting on Kelly's article ("Nothing New Under the Sun").

If you are interested in a historical perspective on the impact that new media can have on the processing of information and the production of knowledge, the best place to go is to the work of Ann Blair who is working now on a project on what she calls "information overload in early modern Europe."

For the popular version of her work, see this Harvard Gazette article.
One of her early papers on the subject is posted at the Princeton Center for the Study of Books and Media site. (Scroll down to conference papers to find hers.)

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

What's new under the sun?

The May 14 “manifesto” by Kevin Kelly, “What Will Happen to the Books?” is very interesting. (I am a little behind in my reading of the New York Times Magazine, so this link will get you to the archives and not to the full text.) Kelly gives us a portrait of the future in which nearly every book has been digitized and in which information is seamlessly linked together.

Hmm... when is this all going to happen? At certain points, Kelly suggests that we are on the verge of this new environment and at other points, reality intrudes: lawsuits over copyright won’t be resolved quickly and the pace of scanning is unclear. And let’s remember that all that hyperlinking has to be done by humans (for now) for it to make any sense. And that takes time. So the “universal library” might be scanned in relatively short order, but the cataloging is going to be a long-term project. As in today’s world, libraries acquire books much faster than they can sort them into order.

He’s probably right that at some point a “book outside the universal library will be like a Web page outside the Web, gasping for air.” But that’s already the case for millions of volumes that sit unread in libraries and millions of documents that sit unread in archives. If we want to anthropomorphize, we can say that these books and documents patiently wait for their rescuers, historians and scholars of the present and future who will unearth them in the course of their research. Books can survive a long time without air actually.

Indeed, the biggest flaw in Kelly’s analysis is any sense of historical perspective.

Consider his breathless excitement over the activity of the readers in this universal library:

“Turning inked letters into electronic dots that can be read on a screen is simply the first essential step in creating this new library. The real magic will come in the second act, as each word in each book is cross-linked, clustered, cited, extracted, indexed, analyzed, annotated, remixed, reassembled and woven deeper into the culture than ever before....
“In recent years, hundred of thousands of enthusiastic amateurs have written and cross-referenced an entire online encyclopedia called Wikipedia. Buoyed by this success, many nerds believe that a billion readers can reliably weave together the pages of old books, one hyperlink at a time. Those with a passion for a special subject, obscure author or favorite book will, over time, link up its important parts. Multiply that simple generous act by millions of readers, and the universal library can be integrated in full, by fans for fans.” (NYT Magazine, May 14, 2006, p.45).

Wow! So prior to the Internet nobody ever read books, took notes, prepared indices, annotated editions, wrote commentaries, digested books for others, quoted passages in new writings, or cited the old texts in the new texts? The hyperlink concept was actually invented hundred of years ago--it was just called a footnote. The index, the abstract, the commentary all have long histories.

And a standard way of note-taking among Western scholars, for hundreds of years, was the commonplace book in which the reader arranged topical headings in a notebook and then copied passages from what he read under the various headings.

These days, the headings might be called “tags” which Kelly notes is a “recent innovation on the Web”:

“A tag is a public annotation, like a keyword or category name, that is hung on a file, page, picture or song, enabling anyone to search for that file.... Because tags are user-generated, when they move to the realm of books, they will be assigned faster, range wider, and serve better than out-of-date schemes like the Dewey Decimal System [Ouch!], particularly in frontier or fringe areas like nanotechnology or body modification.” (Ibid.)
[Not sure I want to know what “body modification” is.]

Now I’m not suggesting that the scale of the Internet or the machine-assisted nature of the searching won’t change the nature of all this activity. But it’s not as if, prior to the Internet, people have been slowly taking one book off the shelf, reading it, and putting it back and then moving on to the next book, all the while not communicating with each other.

As with many new technologies, the first thing people have done with the Internet is figure out how to do the same things they’ve already been doing better, faster, more efficiently. Then they will start figuring out to do new things with the technology and society really changes. Kelly’s analysis of how things will (could) change would be improved if he paid attention to what is truly new and what is a new way of doing the old.

For example, Kelly is really excited that “the universal library will encourage the creation of virtual ‘bookshelves’--a collection of texts, some as short as a paragraph, others a long as whole books, that form a library shelf’s worth of specialized information.” (Ibid.)

This isn’t new--you’ve got such things, I’ve got such things, Kelly’s got such things. For example, I’ve got a lot of really specialized information about the reception of a medieval book called the Kuzari. Some of it’s virtual--in my computer files--and some of it is ‘real’--on my bookshelves and in my file cabinets and scattered on the floor of my study, sometimes. And some of the connections are in my brain and some are in writing.

Next sentence: “And as with music playlists, once created, these ‘bookshelves’ will be published and swapped in the public commons.” (Ibid.)

I'm not sure what's new here. Don't we publish our specialized collections of knowledge nowadays?

Next sentence: “Indeed, some authors will begin to write books to be read as snippets or remixed as pages.” (Ibid.,)

Actually, learned authors writing during the Renaissance period had some notion this was going to happen when their readers got hold of their books. But regardless of authorial intention, we the readers have been doing this to texts for a long time.

Next sentence: “The ability to purchase, read, and manipulate individual pages or sections is surely what will drive reference books (cookbooks, how-to manuals, travel guides) in the future. You might concoct your own ‘cookbook shelf’ of Cajun recipes compiled from many different sources....” (Ibid., pp.45-46.)

Again, this sounds a lot like a commonplace book. And Kelly might want to read Malachi Beit-Arie’s discussion of medieval Jewish manuscript culture in which scholar-scribes often felt free to rewrite texts as they saw fit.

Skipping a bit: “Once snippets, articles, and pages of books become ubiquitous, shuffle-able and transferable, users will earn prestige and perhaps income for curating an excellent collection.” (Ibid., p.46)

Indeed, authors in the medieval and early modern periods often looked for patronage by claiming to have put together a useful compendium of information on a topic.

Ok, I think I’ve made my point.

Squirrel Hill Update

Update: we tried Silk Elephant over the weekend. Very good. I liked the vegetarian dumplings, the salmon dumplings, and the fresh rolls quite a lot. And the mushroom soup was excellent. My children, who are noodle experts, thought the Thai Noodle Soup was quite good and they were pleased that plain noodles were readily available.

Some notes on the neighborhood:

Free wireless at Rolladin Bakery/Cafe and at Te Cafe. These are two of my favorite new(ish) spots. Te Cafe has lots of tea; very expensive coffee that is good but my taste buds aren't sensitive enough to justify the difference in price; and nice sandwiches. And there always seems to be a copy of the New York Times. Rolladin, my favorite bakery in Squirrel Hill (yummy burekas[im]), has moved across the street and expanded into a full-fledged Israeli cafe with a breakfast and lunch menu. Nice place to sit and hang out. Kosher but gentiles and apikorsim (heretics) welcome.

Taqueria Mi Mexico (only for gentiles and apikorsim, I think) has closed.

Pacific Ring is a new "Pan Asian" restaurant. (Most of the menu is Chinese and Japanese.) I thought it was okay for a neighborhood place (but I prefer New Dumpling House down the street.) My colleague (who has spent considerable time in Asia) was less impressed. However, the City Paper reviewers gave it three stars and I usually agree with them so it's possible I was there on a bad night.

I have yet to try it, but I am pleased that we now have a kosher sushi restaurant (Susheli). I am guessing it's one of the only ones in North America outside of New York. A quick internet search turns up kosher sushi at Rubins in Brookline and a "Kosher Sushi Club" in St. Louis. Personally, I'll take my cucumber and avocado rolls anywhere, but I think it's nice to be able to say I live in a Jewish community with a kosher sushi.

4 kosher restaurants now: Milky Way (which I think has the best pizza on Murray Avenue); Susheli; Rolladin; and Pinati (Israeli Mizrachi, meat).

Two other new(ish) Asian places I want to try: Sweet Basil/La Filipiana which is Thai and Filipino (but apparently not fusion) and Silk Elephant which is "Thai Tapas."

Another Russian food store has opened on Murray Avenue in Greenfield, across from the Giant Eagle. A quick glance through the window suggests that this will be a good source for Wissotzky tea.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Ruth Ann Dailey confused about her profession

Bill O'Reilly gets it, but one of our local pundits is completely confused about the difference between journalism and theology. See here.

Can anybody spot the problem with this analogy between the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's coverage of the Pennsylvania legislature and the Gospel of Matthew's "coverage" of the life and death of Jesus?

"Here's how [journalism] usually works: You have a busy life, filled with jobs and kids and chores and charity work, so you don't have time to attend, say, most sessions of the Legislature in Harrisburg. (If you're lucky, you haven't attended any at all.)

"Instead, you drop 50 cents into a little box and pull out a newspaper with regular, detailed reports on what our fine state reps are up to. The newspaper also carries first-hand accounts of things such as war, natural disasters, crime and government -- or crime in government.

"The newspaper's managers pool together all those quarters you drop at the newsstand (it costs less if you subscribe!) to pay reporters to do the observing and fact-gathering on your behalf.

"It's a good system, don't you think? It also happens to be the reason that I believe Jesus was divine, performed countless miracles, preached radical truths and didn't father children with Mary Magdalene.

"The eyewitnesses who heard his sermons, witnessed his miracles and touched his living body after they'd watched him die wrote about these events in both detail and great accord. Though they give Mary Magdalene credit for arriving first at Jesus' empty tomb, they don't mention a romantic relationship or children. They understood that the gospel concerns his blood, not his bloodline.

"There are far more early copies of their reporting and a far shorter gap between the originals and the surviving copies than for any other document from ancient times. And the authors of these journalistic accounts chose to die rather than renounce what they'd written."

If you are having trouble answering my challenge (to spot the faulty logic in the analogy), I recommend any basic textbook on the history of early Christianity.

In the meantime, two salient points:
1) The earliest of the four Gospels (Mark) dates from at least 3 decades after the death of Jesus. The usual range of dates given by historians for the four Gospels (without total consensus on when each was written) is circa 70 CE to circa 120 CE.

2) The penultimate sentence I quoted from Ms. Dailey is a red herring: yes, there are lots of early manuscript copies of the four Gospels. But all this tells us is that Christian communities in the late first century and early second century accepted these accounts and transmitted them as accurately as possible. It doesn't tell us anything about the reliability of the accounts regarding early first century events.

Ms. Dailey and other Christians are perfectly free to believe that the Gospel accounts are true. But if she is basing her religious faith on a notion that the Gospels have the same epistemological status as the AP wire, she is working from faulty premises.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Strange to agree with Bill O'Reilly...

...about anything, but in an Associated Press dispatch by Richard Ostling, published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Saturday May 20, 2006, p.A2, O'Reilly is quoted as saying: "no gospel is history." Bill O'Reilly apparently shares the understanding of most academic historians regarding the historicity of the four canonical gospels of the New Testament: that they "all have different interpretations of what happened" and that they can not be taken as accurate history. As texts from late in the first century and early in the second century, they are not eyewitness accounts, but do offer us some clues about what may have happened earlier in the first century. However, our use of the text to reconstruct earlier events must be done cautiously given that they are later texts, offering particular theological interpretations to particular early Christian audiences. [The last two sentences are my summary of the views of historians that O'Reilly seems to share. They are not a paraphrase of O'Reilly's comments.]

It's worth keeping this in mind when we hear that The Da Vinci Code is "fiction." It makes claims about certain things being true which are not true. And certainly it is worth pointing out what supposed historical facts are not false lest anyone think that Isaac Newton was a member of a secret society that worshipped the eternal feminine or that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a baby.

But it's quite interesting to read the novel (and I suppose interpret the film) as a particular theological interpretation designed to speak to a contemporary audience.

To loosely paraphrase a famous comment about the study of Jewish mysticism: fiction making truth claims is fiction but the history of the acceptance of such truth claims is Religious Studies.

Free Newspapers Update

The TribPM appeared again on our front steps two days this week.
Have taken no action except to read them.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Free Newspapers

I've been meaning to post for a while about free newspapers. (I've been meaning to post about a lot of things for a while but it's been a busy semester. You can tell the semester is almost over since I'm blogging to procrastinate grading.)

I am basically addicted to the printed newspaper. We subscribe to our daily paper, the Post-Gazette, 7 days a week. We also take the New York Times on Sunday. (I thought the terminology should be as quaint as the practice.) We subscribe to the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle. And I've been known to buy the Washington Post if I go grocery shopping on Sunday. I like the weekend section of the Wall Street Journal and will often put down a dollar for that newspaper on Fridays (although I try not to think about what portion of that dollar is paying the salaries of their editorial writers). A happy Sunday on vacation in Deep Creek, Maryland is one in which I can buy a Post-Gazette, a Post, a Times, and a Baltimore Sun. A Sunday in the Berkshires when I can pick up a Berkshire Eagle, a Times, and a Boston Globe is pretty satisfying too.

I pick up the City Paper every week and the Pitt News every day that I'm on campus.

And I have often suggested that major dailies should make themselves basically available for free. (I would keep a charge for delivery of the paper.) When free wireless is available across the land, nobody will buy newspapers.

So why I am not so excited about the proliferation of free daily newspapers in major cities? It started a few years ago with the "Metro" paper, a European import that started in Philadelphia and has spread elsewhere. The Washington Post now has it's own free daily and is in competition with a free paper in DC called the Examiner which has a sister paper in San Francisco. And right here in Three River City, we have the "TribPM."

The TribPM is a bit different from the others: For one, it's published in Pittsburgh, not exactly a growing media market and so isn't a defensive measure against potential incursion by the Metro or Examiner chains. It really is an afternoon paper and doesn't hit the streets until mid-day. It's published by the rather conservative Tribune-Review, but doesn't seem to take any kind of political line.

In its apolitical mix of celebrity gossip and somewhat vapid "lifestyle" information, however, its content seems pretty typical of the free dailies.

I am so addicted to the printed word that I will pick up a free paper--on the Washingon Metro; on Septa in Philadelphia; waiting for the bus in Pittsburgh. And I will read it. And I do understand the business model of these papers. Pay very little for content, paper, and ink. Pay out for a distribution system. Rake in advertising dollars.

But I always feel like I've wasted my time after I've read these papers: if I have already read the local daily over breakfast, I learn nothing new in terms of national or international news. The TribPM, as an afternoon paper, does have some news that hasn't made the morning paper, but there isn't usually anything in there that I can't wait to hear about until the next morning. There is some celebrity gossip in the TribPM that I wouldn't find in the Post-Gazette (or for that matter in the morning Tribune-Review), but I can certainly live without that.

A few weeks ago, the TribPM started showing up on my front lawn (er, front weed patch). This was the final straw: if I'm going to read it, I'm going to read it for the 10 minutes I'm waiting for the bus--I don't need it or want it once I'm home! And when we came back from a trip to find 3 days worth of free afternoon paper in front of our house, I realized I had to take action. So I called the office and asked that they stopped sending it. And they said yes and they did. (This may be the most surprising thing.)

I wish, though, that I had stayed on the line a bit longer to ask some questions:
--why did they think people would want this at home?
--doesn't home delivery add to the costs in a way that detracts from the simplicity of the business model?
--how many papers are they distributing to houses and how many "opt-out" calls have they gotten since you started?

Monday, January 16, 2006

Surging Pittsburgh (not about the Steelers)

What does Pittsburgh have in common with DC, Atlanta, Tampa, and Boston?

See here.

Thursday, January 12, 2006


It's been about a month so here is what I have been doing:

1. Attending the Association for Jewish Studies meeting in Washington. This starts to feel less and less like a conference and more and more like a reunion.
2. Saying good-bye to Philadelphia friends.
3. Relocating self and family back to Pittsburgh.
4. Unpacking boxes.
5. Saying hello to Pittsburgh friends.
6. Continuing to be out of touch with most of our NY, Boston, New Haven, Indianapolis, Chicago, California friends.
7. Enjoying the little stove-top espresso maker that our Italian tenants left us (really they left it for me since I'm the only coffee-drinker in the family).
8. Getting ready for the start of the semester.
9. Going to Pittsburgh Housing Court. Let me put it his way: The citation was dismissed because I did get the alarm permit after receiving the summons in the mail and I explained to the judge that I hadn't known about the ordinance before that. But a word of advice: if you are reading this and you have a burglar alarm in your house in Pittsburgh, and you don't have an alarm permit, google "Pittsburgh Alarm Permit" right now, fill out the application, and save yourself some hassles.
8. Starting the semester: 2 classes and undergraduate advising.
9. Updating the links to other blogs on the sidebar.