Friday, July 31, 2009

Funny little critter

A midnight story

(Marc Chagall, “Over Vitebsk”)

Translated with Google translator, since I don’t know how to translate poetry.

Listen to it (after midday of Friday) here. Lyrics (again, sorry for Google translation, with Russian sentence structure preserved — the best thing to do is listen to the song, while looking at the translation):
Hersh-cobbler summer night
After three glasses of vodka,
In a whimsical step was going
From the inn home.
Walking was on an empty street,
Past the old synagogue,
Where prayers were not heard
The long three hundred years.

Breath of cold he felt
From the ruins blackened,
To Hersh seemed as if
A fire blinked.
And immediately stopped,
He leaned to the wall broken,
And looked carefully
In the blue twilight.

He saw eight elders
In the bloody clothes,
A Torah scroll on a stone,
And also a candle.
And above Torah bowed
Old Rebbe Eliyahu,
By cossacks killed
Three hundred years ago.

Alcohol dispelled instantly.
Recoiled Hershle-shoemaker
And wanted to escape, but feet
Grew to the ground!
And looked the late Rebbe
At scared Hersh,
And said: "At last we
We have our minyan. "

To Hersh, he extended his hands,
And in the hands holes of wounds
From the nails that were knocked
Three hundred years ago:
Steadfast the rabbi was in the faith,
And for this cossacks
Nailed Eliyahu
Dead to the wall!

Then said Rabbi sadly:
"Could not we pray,
because were were only nine --
this is not a minyan.
That is why did not hear
Us the Heavenly Almighty,
And it looks like you, shoemaker,
Arrived on time."

And prayed Hershle poor
In the synagogue with the dead,
And as the morning lit up --
He became one of them.
And him found his neighbors --
Shifra-nurse and Dvoyra,
And his widow called,
And they said to her:

"With the dead in minyan
Hersh will remain from now,
So that they could pray
For the living - for us. "
And they told the widow
Empty water from the basin,
Because the angel of death
In it washed his knife.

... Since then passed the years.
No Jews in Yavoritsi.
Faded memory, and over
Our story about them.
But moonless nights
In the ruins of the synagogue
Someone is praying silently
For the living - for us.
Author: Daniel Kluger.

What brings us together
Three participants of the beer summit, left to right, each thinking:
“A white man’s drink…”
“F—ing assholes. I wish I was drinking whiskey with my buddies, watching Sox…”
“Left side is my best photo angle…”
Fox News reports:
“I have always believed that what brings us together is stronger than what pulls us apart —” Obama said, adding: “…booze.”

Thursday, July 23, 2009

“I Can't Believe I'm Sitting Next to a Republican”

An interesting interview with Harry Stein about the reasons of liberals being so “tolerant” of their conservative brethren. His main point is that when a liberal hears someone is a conservative, he does not think the conservative is wrong, he thinks the conservative is evil.

I myself had an experience of being asked “So, you are a conservative?” in the same tone as “So, your sister is a prostitute?”

I also remember how my rabbi once heard from someone that he would never even consider Orthodox Judaism as having any truth and would not even research or think about it, because Orthodox Judaism apparently limits one’s freedoms, disregards scientific evidence, is outdated, and in general it is close-minded to believe all the things that Orthodox Jews believe, which is why this person would not waste time learning even a little about them. My rabbi’s response was: “So… you closed your mind to stay open-minded?”

You get the same ‘tude in other illuminated places. In this Gizmodo article, the author makes fun of an Orthodox couple who sued a building owner for placing a motion-sensitive light near their apartment and refusing to allow them to pay for it being replaced with a normal light (or something or other). Now, some of the criticism is about people pushing their religious views on others, but most of it is about how ridiculous the idea of not turning light one day a week seems to everyone, how superstitious and outdated. (More particularly, the idea that turning light constitutes creating fire or building something is even more ridiculous to them.)

When one person was accused of disrespecting other people’s beliefs, he answered: “I am all for respecting other people’s religious beliefs, but not crazy superstitions such as these.”

So, with liberals being appaled at someone being a conservative (I am not even talking about being a libertarian — that’s not just a reason for disgust, but grounds for calling 911 and screaming: “There is a devil in my living room”) it’s the same thing.

There is a degree of accepted disagreement within their zone of comfort (e.g., you may disagree with me that Obama is the best candidate and Hillary is not — fine, I disagree with you but respect your opinion), but outside of this zone, you have drifted out of the definition of a normal human being, and no facts, arguments or supporting evidence help. You are either evil (if you are a conservative), nuts (if you are an Orthodox Jew not merely believing in G-d and wearing a white scarf on “Sabbath”, but actually practicing Jewish Law) or both (if you are a politically conservative Jew, who does not like Obama and eats properly shechted chicken on Shabbos with his sons who are circumcised and daughters who are dressed modestly).

Monday, July 20, 2009

Are you kidding me?

It’s like asking: “Which method of travel is faster — a bicycle, a car, an air balloon, a submarine, a jet or TARDIS?” The only answer to that is: are you retarded? Did you just compare an air balloon to a time-traveling space ship?

You know whom to vote for.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Public place

Yesterday I mentioned to someone while passing a beautiful building downtown (a pseudo-palace of some sort) that in Russia, even public bathrooms look nicer. The someone probably thought I was joking, so here is a proof that I was not:

“Public Bathroom with Administrative Space”
(Общественный туалет с административными помещениями¹)
Razumovsky st., Stream № 4 Region
Ordered by: Caucasus Courort
Built by: Eurostroi
Beginning of work: 1st quarter of 2009
End of work: 4th quarter of 2009
So there. The said structure is allegedly being erected in the famous resort of Yessentuki.

[Via Alex Exler]

¹ Look up the translation if you don’t believe me.

Use paragraphs

Just an advice to fellow bloggers (and I don’t mean anyone in particular): use paragraphs.

Otherwise, your posts look (and inspire desire to read them) just like this.

Of course, having short paragraphs with only one or two sentences in each also looks stupid.

Selling things outside of Beis HaMikdosh

I heard yesterday from someone that he had a problem with some guy standing outside of the mikveh of Arizal and selling towels. He said it reminded him of 770 today, supposedly one of the holiest places of the golus, outside of which people are standing and selling stuff. Also, people standing inside, talking, etc. Thank G-d not smoking anymore for the most part (after than ensued a conversation about how everyone used to smoke inside all the time, and how Reb Yoel Kan smoked during his shiurim so much that you had to open a window to breathe).

I commented that it was the same in the time of the Beis HaMikdosh, wasn’t it? People were selling livestock, food and other things right outside of Beis HaMikdosh. At which point someone commented that there is even a story with Yoshka about that (whether or not it’s true and whether it was an appropriate comment is another point), and the original speaker said: “Yes, the feeling of kedusha lost”.

Now, my question is not about the fact that the feeling of kedusha was lost, both in the times of the Beis HaMikdosh and around 770 today. I am wondering, however: is it so wrong to sell towels for the mikveh outside of mikveh or sell cattle for karbonos right outside Beis HaMikdosh? Isn’t that what creating dira b’tachtoinim all about — participating in the world? The guy selling towels is selling something you need for a mikveh; when you buy a towel from him, you allow him to earn livelihood (as opposed to schnor, which I suppose is a more stereotypical activity for a frum Jew nowadays), and since all of that is used for a holy purpose (going to a mikveh), what’s the problem?

I am also wondering whether there is a conflict of oiros vs. etzem in here. Experience vs. the essence. Which is interesting, because the same person told me that it is more chassidish to daven in a minyan, where you’re bottul to the fact that you need other nine men, vs. davening b’avoida, where it’s all about your own experience.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Obama in Hogwarts poll

Please participate in my first ever poll (on the right): Obama in Hogwarts.

(Picture just for illustration purposes. Please don’t be swayed by a particular House’s colors on this model.)

A new breed

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Introduction into the world of Go

Part I:

Part II:

Part III (after you’ve tried a game):

Surrounding children with holiness vs. accepting the truth wherever it comes from

I’ve been meaning to post this (and other things) for a while, but could not really find the time to do it. Something my rabbi said two Shabbosim ago.

We learn in Pirkei Avos: “Yehudah ben Tema said: Be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift as a deer, and strong as a lion, to carry out the will of your Father in Heaven” (5:23). This is also quoted in Shulchan Aruch (both the regular one and Alter Rebbe’s) and explained and expounded upon in detail in many places. That’s not what I am going to write about.

At the same time, we know that the Rebbe started a “campaign” against little Jewish children having non-kosher animals in the images around them (on their cribs, their clothes, in their books) or as their toys. I am also not going to discuss this, where it is coming from, halachic and spiritual aspects of, etc., etc. There are those much more knowledgeable than me who have done this, and there are better places online and offline where this was discussed.

What I am interested in considering is something my rabbi said. One the one hand, the Rebbe was against spiritually unclean animals surrounding a young child. On the other, Shulchan Aruch and Pirkei Avos tell us to learn from non-kosher animals. What’s going on?

The answer is: “everything that Hashem created, He created for His glory.” And “just because fools worship, sun, moon and the stars, should Hashem destroy His Universe?” We can learn from anyone and from anything and utilize anything for the purpose of holiness. The Rebbe himself was incredibly emphatic on this point, and in my opinion no stream of thought inside or outside of Judaism emphasizes this idea better and clearer (very strongly but without shtus — unlike some other streams of thought) than Chabad. But — there is time and place for everything. Just because we need to be able to learn from unkosher animals and in general impure phenomena in the Universe does not mean they should surround little children.

Little children need to be surrounded by purity, holiness and Torah in its cleanest and most direct form. When they are older, and Torah has penetrated to (or rather revealed) their essence, they can learn from other things.

So, this is what my rabbi said. My question is: should the same philosophy, perhaps, be applied to chochmas chitzoinius (secular studies)? Specifically regarding children.

The world at peace and in balance

Click here to see a larger image. Trust me, in this case you want to.
Click here to buy a 22"+ screen.

A few things that jumped to my attention:

1. Soviet Union ate most of Europe (including East Germany) and Iran.
2. Despite United Europe, Ireland, UK and the Vikings (the countries which even today are reluctant to participate in European Socialism Project) are separate entities. As is Turkey, which even today does not fit with either Arabs or Europeans.
3. “Hebrew land”.
4. Screw Canada and Mexico. They should only be so happy to be part of the United States of America. Along with Greenland (which apparently no longer belongs to Denmark) and Iceland (which apparently is no longer part of Europe).
5. Albania and Greece are their own thing. What is it with liberal college professors (from Woody the Wilson on) trying to put the South European countries (Yugoslavia etc.) together? Get the hint already: there are about 200 nationalities in that little region, and the hate each other. Even people from the same village hate each other, let along from different ethnicities.
6. United Republics of China. Ha-ha.
7. I like the three major international unions. USSR — united by political ideology. USA — united by common economic interests. British Commonwealth — united by a desire to play cricket together.
8. Madagascar is part of the British Commonwealth, not African whachamacallit. “Arrr. There be pirrrrates there. We want them with us.”

Anything I am missing? Leave a comment.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Nabokov on the difference between Russian and English

I couldn’t find a translation, so I made an attempt at it myself. Which is somewhat ironic, given the content.
Scientific scrupulousness moved me to save in the Russian text the last paragraph of the above-mentioned American afterword, despite the fact that it can only throw into confusion a Russian reader, not remembering and not understanding and never having read the books of “V. Sirin” published abroad in the 20s and 30s. To my American reader I so strongly insist on the superiority of my Russian word over the English one that some Slavist may indeed think that my translation of Lolita is one hundred times better than the original. I, however, am at another time nauseous from the off-tuned braying of my rusty Russian strings. The history of this translation is one of disappointment. Alas, that “wondrous Russian language”, which, it seemed to me, was still waiting for me somewhere, flourishing as a sure spring behind strongly shut gates, to which I for so many years had had a key, turned out nonexistent, and behind the gates lay nothing but charred tree stumps and autumn hopeless horizon, while the key resembled more a lock pick.

I find consolation in thinking that awkwardness of the present translation is the fault not only of a translator grown foreign to his native tongue, but also of the spirit of the language into which the translation is made. During the half a year of working on Russian Lolita, not only did I discover losing many personal trinkets, unreconstructible language movements and treasures, but also came to certain general conclusions about mutual translatability of the two wondrous languages.

Body language, poses, landscapes, slumber of trees, smells, rains, melting and shapeshifting hues of the nature, all that is gentle and human (surprisingly!), and everything masculine, rough, juicily vulgar turns out in Russian just as good, if not even better than in English. But so common to English things subtle and unspoken, poetry of thought, immediate exchange between the most abstract ideas, scampering of one-syllable qualifiers — all this, as well as everything relating to technology, fashions, sports, natural sciences and unnatural urges — becomes in Russian shackled, multi-syllabled, and often disgusting in the sense of style and rhythm. This misstep reveals the difference in historical aspect between the green Russian literary tongue and over-ripe as a fig ready to burst at seams, English language: between an ingenious but still somewhat uneducated, and often having bad taste youth and a venerable genius, uniting in himself stocks of shiny knowledge with full liberty of spirit. Liberty of spirit! All breath of humanity is in these words.
What do I personally think? I think Nabokov is full of crap.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Fresh news

As a new study whose results are published by BBC reports, vegetarians are half as likely to develop cancer and one fifth as likely to catch the Mad Cow disease, but are four times as likely to commit suicide and develop chronic depression, in comparison to the normal people.
Mary Creedfort, an eighty-year-old lady from Brighton, says that in her long life the worst illness she’s ever had was chronic arthritis which has plagued her from her early 30s. “Not a single tumor, though. Well, not a malignant — that’s Latin for ‘bad’ — one. There was this growth I had on my neck which they had to remove — see, there is still a scar.” Looking back at her life, however, Mary says she does not have too many happy memories. Of course, this could be a result of memory loss associated with chronic stress, another problem strongly connected with long-term vegetarianism according to the new study.
In other news, Europeans are now allowed to sell ugly vegetables and fruit. Amongst the nations most welcoming the change were Ireland and Poland. French found the more relaxed standards disgusting — not only because their aesthetic feelings were insulted, but because a ban and a regulation (doesn’t really matter of what) has been lifted. “Tuh mahch fheedohm iz bed!” said Gustav, an Eiffel Tower elevator operator.

The Chinese are coming!

Everyone knows that Chinese are trying to take over the planet. And they are starting by striking into the heart of the Western Civilization — eggs. This web-site shows the steps of Chinese egg counterfeiting, now happening throughout the free French-toast– and omelet-eating world.


Buy it.

More of the same.

Yes, Russians are nuts. Sometimes it pays off.