Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Israel asks forgiveness from the Beatles

The New York Times reports that the State of Israel has now officially made peace with the Beatles.

Again, a small news item sets off a chain of associations in my head leading to Ben Gurion and Spinoza. (On Ben Gurion's participation in the "nationalist rehabilitation of Spinoza," see Daniel Schwartz, "The Spinoza Image in Jewish Culture, 1656-1956," Ph.D. Thesis, Columbia University, 2007).

(I would also guess that more people in Israel today listen to the Beatles than read Spinoza.)

Monday, January 28, 2008

We can call it "checked baggage"

A few days ago on a flight from Pittsburgh to Charlotte, while watching dozens of people struggling aboard with suitcases and trying to fit them in overhead compartments, I had an idea: wouldn't it be great if the airlines could devise a system whereby people would arrive at the airport and give their suitcases to the airlines who could then deliver those suitcases to the passengers' final destinations?

Mr. Banks, call the office.

Today's Wall Street Journal has an article on troubles at the Bank of England, including the first run on a bank in Britain in a century (which took place last fall). I cannot read a sentence with the words "Britain," "bank run," and "century" without getting Mary Poppins on the brain. What does this say about me?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Things to read this summer?

Geraldine Brook's new novel, People of the Book, which sounds like a kind of novelized reception history of the Sarajevo Haggadah, reviewed last week in the New York Times Book Review and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Max Apple's The Jew of Home Depot, also reviewed this Sunday in the NYT, sounds intriguing. Although I don't usually read short stories, I very slightly know the author, so maybe.

The Newberry Medal winner, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village, by Laura Ann Schlitz. (But why does Karen MacPherson describe it as "nonfiction" in her review distributed by Scripps Howard and published in today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette?)

A post by my friend JSE at Quomodocumque reminds me of a great classic, The Pushcart War.

Some of the new books on Islam featured in the January 6 New York Times Book Review.

The collected works of David Macaulay, the subject of an appreciation by Peter Miller in the January 30 New Republic (a review of an exhibit at the National Building Museum in DC). And Peter Miller makes a good case that these are not children's books. Or that all books are children's books.

And Ruth Franklin in the same issue of The New Republic also gives me a good hint what not to bother with.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Interesting things people do with new technology and historical figures

A group of people have entered Thomas Jefferson's library into "Library Thing." See here for details.

Chaucer has a blog.

I wonder who is on Facebook.

Interesting possibilities here for fun, creative pedagogy, and new kinds of historical research.

"Erev Iyyun" on Sepharad in Ashkenaz

The "Erev Iyyun" [evening of discussion] is one of my favorite parts of Israeli academia (it may be limited to Jewish studies scholarship for all I know). Two or three scholars discuss a recent book--offering comment and criticism--and then the author responds. Almost always, these are for monographs. So I am a bit surprised that a multi-author volume, Sepharad in Ashkenaz: Medieval Knowledge and Eighteenth-Century Enlightened Jewish Discourse, ed. Resianne Fontaine, Andrea Schatz, and Irene Zwiep, will be the subject of such an evening this coming Monday (January 7) at 6 pm in Jerusalem. See here for details. I am also proud because I am the author of 1 of the 16 articles. I am also scared because I am the author of 1 of the 16 articles (the criticism is always polite but can be sharp). Looking at the program, however, it looks more like a mini-conference with three lectures on subjects related to the book, as opposed to three lectures offering a critique of the book (especially since one of the lectures is by one of the contributors to the book).

For more information on the book, see here.

And if anyone is in Jerusalem and goes to this, please send me an e-mail or comment here and let me know what was said.

Update: a minute after I posted this, I found this post at the Michtavim blog which mentions the book.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Pittsburgh: the world's biggest small town...

... or smallest big city? (I'm pretty sure this was tourist slogan for Pittsburgh or somewhere else at some point.)

Either way, one of the things my wife and I love about living here is that Pittsburgh offers pretty much everything a large metropolitan area offers but with such a low housing cost and decent city public schools (at least in our neighborhood) that we can live in close proximity to the major cultural and entertainment venues.

A few years ago we visited Chicago and stayed with friends in Evanston. A trip to the science museum in Hyde Park was an all-day outing with a 45 minute drive in each direction.

A few weeks ago we spent a Sunday taking children to Hebrew school and swim class in our neighborhood, then went downtown to a children's theatre performance, and then went to Oakland to see the renovated dinosaur exhibit at the Carnegie Natural History Museum. We were tired out at the end, but none of the car trips took more than 15 minutes. This was a pretty busy Sunday for us and not typical but we had the tickets for the play and the tickets for the dinosaur preview were issued for a specific time. But a day like that just would not be possible in Chicago or New York.

Another friend, who lives in New York, just e-mailed about her family's visit to a college town in the upper south (trying to keep this anonymous) over the Christmas-New Year's week. She writes: "We had a nice time in ________- it's somewhat of a shock to the system to be in a small town where you can drive anywhere in 10-15 minutes!"