Many years ago my father-in-law invented a tool, called Bow-right to “Help to develop a sound bow technique” for people who are learning to play the violin. Couple of weeks ago we shot a commercial for it, including him and some of his relatives, i.e. my daughter. It finally went through the approval process and can be seen on Amazon.com. Click the last little picture on the left side of this page (or this or this) to view it. Or Just watch it on my YouTube channel:
I spliced all the images I found of myself in my 47th year into a video:
A note about the music in the video. First song is “Ain’t Misbehavin‘” by Louis Armstrong & His Orchestra in 1929 (downloaded from here. Second song is “Blue Danube Waltz” performed by the Sousa’s Band in 1905 (downloaded from here).
Seems like nowadays if/when I watch TV I mostly watch sci-fi. This summer was especially rich in shows. I counted 8 new series and 7 series in their second or later seasons. That’s 15. Most ever in one season, in my life. These are all sci-fi shows on way or another, but the way is often quite different.
Let’s look first at the brand new shows:
My take: wants to grab too much, goes nowhere, intrigue falls flat.
IMDB summary: Between is the story of a town under siege from a mysterious disease that has wiped out everybody 22 years and older. The series explores the power vacuum that results when a government has quarantined a 10-mile diameter area and left the inhabitants to fend for themselves.
My take: Light show, with the right amount of spaceship/high tech fantasy, interpersonal interaction, explosive action. I like how we learn the stories of these “criminals”, who are often falsely accused of wrong doing.
IMDB summary: The six-person crew of a derelict spaceship awakens from stasis in the farthest reaches of space. Their memories wiped clean, they have no recollection of who they are or how they got on board. The only clue to their identities is a cargo bay full of weaponry and a destination: a remote mining colony that is about to become a war zone. With no idea whose side they are on, they face a deadly decision. Will these amnesiacs turn their backs on history, or will their pasts catch up with them?
My take: Fits well int the current societal debate about the future of human identity and existence at the dawn of artificial intelligence. The show is a bit slow, but has some great monologues and writing in it too.
IMDB summary: In a parallel present where the latest must-have gadget for any busy family is a ‘Synth’ – a highly-developed robotic servant that’s so similar to a real human it’s transforming the way we live.
My take: Very light show, with lots of ground and some space action. Pure entertainment that doesn’t want to do more.
IMDB summary: In the Quad, a planetary system on the brink of a bloody interplanetary class war, a fun loving trio of bounty hunters attempt to remain impartial as they chase deadly warrants.
My take: Disturbingly good writing and intriguing agenda. I.e. Read the main character’s partial answer to the question “what is it about society that disappoints you so much?” Oh, I don’t know. Is it that we collectively thought Steve Jobs was a great man even when we knew he made billions off the backs of children?… Or maybe it’s that it feels like all our heroes are counterfeit. The world itself’s just one big hoax. Spamming each other with our burning commentary *bullshit* masquerading as insight. Our social media faking as intimacy. Or is it that we voted for this. Not with our rigged elections but with our things, our property, our money. I’m not saying anything new, we all know we do this, not because “Hunger Games” books make us happy, but because we want to be sedated. Because it’s painful not to pretend because we’re cowards…
IMDB summary: Follows a young computer programmer (Malek) who suffers from social anxiety disorder and forms connections through hacking. He’s recruited by a mysterious anarchist, who calls himself Mr. Robot.
My take: I always enjoy and learn from TV shows with some explicitly religious content. This show however got rightfully cancelled after one season. Simplistic rehash of the currently trendy apocalypse genre with the four horseman and throwing in some revenging and preventing angels. Too formulaic.
IMDB summary: A mysterious object crashes on earth and a group of unconnected strangers die from an energy pulse it emits, but then re-awaken to find out that they have been deemed responsible for preventing the impending Apocalypse.
My take: Didn’t finish watching it yet. Too slow and too complex in the beginning at the same time. Visually stunning, but has too much sex for my taste. Nevertheless exciting and big budget enough to hold attention.
IMDB summary: A group of people around the world are suddenly linked mentally, and must find a way to survive being hunted by those who see them as a threat to the world’s order.
My take: Another very light show with eye-candy and not much more. Numbs the mind comfortably when that’s what’s needed.
IMDB summary: A young woman is recruited into a secret government agency to be “stitched” into the minds of the recently deceased, using their memories to investigate murders.
My take: I enjoy the international/multicultural/multi-perspective approaches the problem to be solved requires. But the premise is so unplausable that I find it hard to suspend my disbelief.
IMDB summary: Violent animal attacks upon humans are occurring all over the world. Jackson Oz, an American zoologist who offers safaris in Africa, begins to notice the animals’ strange behavior and takes it upon himself to solve the reason why before these attacks become more coordinated and ferocious.
And now the returning shows
Defiance (3rd season):
My take: Big enough budget for some decent action and special effects. I also follow carefully the father-daughter struggle. Otherwise it can run smoothly in the background, except the bits when they speak one of the several alien languages and I have to read the subtitles.
IMDB summary: In the year 2046, it’s a new Earth – with new rules. Over thirty years after various alien races arrived on Earth, the landscape is completely altered, terraformed nearly beyond recognition. To the town of Defiance, on what used to be St. Louis, comes the mysterious Nolan and his charge, Irisa . As they settle into town – overseen by the mayor, Amanda Rosewater and filled with residents like the powerful Rafe McCawley, enterprising lounge owner Kenya and the ambitious, alien Tarrs – events begin to unfold that threaten the fragile peace this border town has fought for.
Dominion (2nd season):
My take: This season is much better than the first one. Easier to follow, more nuanced character developments and more detailed theology/histories. Angels are metaphorical and in this case physical reflections of humans.
IMDB summary: Follows the perilous journey of a rebellious young soldier who discovers he’s the unlikely savior of humanity.
Extant (2nd season):
My take: Halle Berry still kicks ass, even as a crazy, disgraced, but heroic astronaut. Nice minor tech gadgets in the background, i.e. great attention to details.
IMDB summary: An astronaut returns home from a year long solo mission in space. She tries to reconnect with her husband and son in their everyday life. Her experiences in space and home lead to events that ultimately will change the course of human history.
Falling Skies (5th season):
My take: The fight still goes on and that’s a good thing. Intra, inter and extra fights are equally important
IMDB summary: The chaotic aftermath of an alien attack has left most of the world completely incapacitated. In the six months since the initial invasion, the few survivors have banded together outside major cities to begin the difficult task of fighting back. Each day is a test of survival as citizen soldiers work to protect the people in their care while also engaging in an insurgency campaign against the occupying alien force.
The Last Ship (2nd season):
My take: I don’t know why I keep watching this series of gun-battles, interspersed with patriotic speeches and vistas. Maybe because I am too much of a sucker for post-apocalyptic genre.
IMDB summary: The crew of a naval destroyer is forced to confront the reality of a new existence when a pandemic kills off most of the earth’s population.
The Strain (2nd season):
My take: A not-so-lonely Holocaust survivor with his ragtag team (including a few scientists for good measure though) fighting superstrong and creepy demons with some nazi heritage. I certainly hope the god guys will win. I watch not just for the Jewish content, but it is a big part of it.
IMDB summary: A thriller that tells the story of Dr. Ephraim Goodweather, the head of the Center for Disease Control Canary Team in New York City. He and his team are called upon to investigate a mysterious viral outbreak with hallmarks of an ancient and evil strain of vampirism. As the strain spreads, Eph, his team, and an assembly of everyday New Yorkers, wage war for the fate of humanity itself.
Under the Dome (3rd season):
My take: Can it get more ridicules? Just wait and see. (Yes)
IMDB summary: An invisible and mysterious force field descends upon a small fictional town in the United States, trapping residents inside, cut off from the rest of civilization. The trapped townsfolk must discover the secrets and purpose of the “dome” and its origins, while coming to learn more than they ever knew about each other.
Another month, another interesting venue for a punk show put up by Pizza Punx. On March 31 I saw four bands downtown Santa Rosa. (Missed the first one Peach Kelli Pop.) The event (Facebook) was in the “Refuge Christian Fellowship“, a kind of “storefront church“. It was basically a big room on the ground floor of an office building with walls painted white. There were no pews, just a few chairs no the side, but it was clearly a Christian church. Most of the time. For this evening it was a punk venue. I managed to capture 19 songs from the four bands I saw: three from the first two each, the whole set of the third, but only three from the last, because then I was too tired to stay for more. Here is my video playlist for the whole evening.
I knew nothing about Sheer Mag, except that they are from Pennsylvania. I love that punk doesn’t discriminate: the lead singer was not your stereotypical skinny dude: a strong woman. She and her bandmates did a solid rock show, see:
The third band, Twerps, was the one I liked the most. This Melbourne, Australia based band was less frantic and with more pop/melody than the others. They also reminded me a bit of Joy Division, which is often a plus in my book. Here is a fun song:
Finally, way too late in the evening for me the “headliner” White Fence started. They might have the largest following from these four bands, but I didn’t like them that much. Sorry. Here is their “Wolf Gets Red Faced” song:
Another personal experiential coincidence from a couple of months ago, when around World Refugee Day I happened to read a related book and watch a related movie on the topic.
Ever since the Hungarian government started its shameful propaganda campaign against refugees arriving to (or more commonly going through) Hungary refugees of the world were more on my mind than usual. I don’t have any revolutionary ideas or suggestions to the problem on how to balance two opposing factors: It is our humane duty to help the needy, the fallen, downtrodden including those who are forced to leave their war-torn countries vs the limited resources any given time any given government has. In my opinion the Hungarian government is excelling in two things: communication and stealing, but doesn’t provide or even want to work on real and long term solutions for problems. E.g. they spend more money on inciting hatred against refugees than helping them in any meaningful day. However this post is not about politics. Just documenting recognized connections.
I got a notice from the library that the book I reserved has arrived. So I went and picked it up, but looking at the title. “A Time of Miracles” or author, “Anne-Laure Bondoux” or cover it didn’t ring a bell. It may have been recommended to me some time ago by someone but don’t recall it. Having a child protagonist and relatively simple language the book can be considered a young adult book, but it is not for my kids who are younger. Now that I had the book I started to read it, even though I didn’t know why I had it. I finished it it in two sittings, which says a lot about it. (I rarely have time nowadays to read real, paper books: I mostly listen to them in the gym.) It is the story of how a kid, with the help of her caretaker, flees from the turmoil of Georgia after the collapse of the Soviet Union and after and arduous journey becomes a proper French citizen. There is much more to it, of course, including the caretaker’s an the kids real identity, but fundamentally it is the story of one refugees trek across continents, countries, borders and other obstacles. Written in first person singular it is a powerful testament of the randomness of the human condition and causes of sufferings. It really brought the world of refugees closer to me. The unimaginable became personable.
I was halfway through the book when I noticed in my newsfeed that it was World Refugee Day, on June 20. It felt uncanny, because I didn’t know about it, and the day before that I watched, The Good Lie. (IMDB‘s summary: A group of Sudanese refugees given the chance to resettle in America arrive in Kansas City, Missouri, where their encounter with an employment agency counselor forever changes all of their lives.) Reese Witherspoon–as the first reluctant, later dedicated host of the refugees–along with the refugees–some of them playing themselves–provided not just comic moments due to cultural differences, but also an immensity humane story.
I fully recognize that I was manipulated by a Hollywood movie and a bestseller book, but I still shed a few tears during both. There is no grand conclusion to this post, just three small points:
- Pay attention to the humans around you. You never know the story of the other. Particularly if that other is really “other” in the cultural/geographical/religious sense. Yet s/he is just as human as you are, with same basic rights and needs.
- If you are like me (white, male, educated, middle class, living in a safe place) you have a special responsibility to those who are less privileged. Exactly because you/i are so lucky. (See the 4 minute video below)
- Appreciate of what/who you have. Just having had these cultural experiences I do .
The book at Amazon
Being a man I was not the primary target audience of the book, which bears the subtitle: “Building the Sacred through Challah“. But if Arthur Kurzweil could write a glowing forward for it, who am I to exclude myself from reading it? The introduction explains the connection between the feminine, challah making and Rosh Chodesh as a practice for women. Having gained the necessary understanding in this regard the rest of the book can be appreciated by people of any gender. Yes, Rosh Chodesh is special for women, but the book can be used as a workbook by anyone. The challah recipes, the reflective questions, the Kavanah notes — that each major chapter has — will help you no matter what stage/level you are at in your cooking, (self-)knowledge and prayer practices.
In the debate between the comparative values of printed books and their electronic counterparts a key argument for the former is often how holding, smelling, and paging through book feels. I emphasize with boths sides of this debate, but when I can hold such a beautifully produced book as Spiritual Kneading through the Jewish Months by Dahlia Abraham-Klein I am definitely in the former camp. The first thing I do when I get a new book, after checking the cover, spine and back, is running through the pages to get a feel for the whole tome. Right at that moment I noticed and started to enjoy the color-coordination. As you would expect from a book with “months” in the title the bulk is made up by the chapters, corresponding to the 12 (+1) months of the Hebrew calendar. (The +1 is the second Adar, which is added in some years so the Hebrew lunar calendar wouldn’t be off-sync too much from the solar-based year and calendars.) What I didn’t expect was that the titles of each month would be printed in different color and they go through the spectrum, forming a spectacular rainbow. You can see these soft colors not just in the table of contents, but in the titles and subheadings of each chapter too. It may be a simple pleasure, but this element cheered me up and made me appreciate the book, even before I started to read it.
One of my favorite kind of books is one that combines academic accuracy with spiritual inquisitiveness. This book managed to do both and more. On one hand it contains plenty of references to Torah, Talmud and other sources of Jewish tradition, so the curious like me can follow up and learn more about specific aspects. These are included in the style and spirit of scholarly publications (along with proper citation and footnotes), which is so rare in popular books that it deserves all the respect. On the other hand it goes beyond explaining the tradition and its origins: it connects the ancient texts with the spiritual and turns them into living, breathing, approaches that anyone can make her or his own. And the “more” I referred to above? The physical realms are weaved into it like braids of a challah. The recipes, the tactical experience of creating food, rich in symbols, that nourishes the spirit, the minutiae of the process that connects people and the Divine adds that special dimension to the book. I never read a book before integrating three different type of content so seamlessly: academic, spiritual and practical.
And if all of this is not enough the book ends with additional Challah recipes of these kind: egg, basic with fresh yeast, spelt, whole-wheat, gluten-free, spiral and single/two/four/six/ strand challah.
Links of interest
- The book’s home page at the publisher’s site
- The author’s website/blog
- Booklaunch website
- Reviews: Jewish Book Council, Jewish Women’s Archive, Kosher Everyday, My Kosher Salt, Orthodox Union, The Weiser Kitchen,
- 90 minute interview video/book trailer
Disclaimer: I have received a copy from the author for this review.
This review was first published on the Jewish Book World website.
On the second day of this year I went to a fun show , produced by Pizza Punx. A big part of the fun was the location: in the living room of a nice old (by local, California, standard). There was no furniture at this point in the spacious room and the rest of the ground floor was also mostly emptied for merchandise tables and some food/booze. Still, it felt like I, along with probably a 100+ people invaded somebody’s living quarters. Some of the decoration was left on the wall, so it still felt like the personal space of someone I don’t even know.
Getting there after 9 PM I missed the first few bands: Agantavis, Isotope and G-Spot, who was not on the poster, but mentioned in the Facebook event for the night. So the first one I saw was The Coltranes (bandcamp) Here is one of two songs I captured from them:
Next up was Orden Mundial from Spain. Again, I only got two song from their set:
Finally, way too late in the evening came the headliner, Born/Dead (bandcamp), for whom it was one of their final show/tour. I recorded all of their songs, including the end, when the police came and shut down the show. The band was respectful about it, but it still frustrated some people that their set was cut short. Here is the video playlist for the whole evening.
Connections is a new category on my blog where I document ideas that occur to me as I read books, watch movies and TV shows and sometimes even connect them to current events. Here is the first one.
I am halfway through reading the dystopian time-travel sci-fi book Time Salvager by Wesley Chu. I don’t know how it will end, but where I am at in it now it seems that a mega-corporation purposefully destroyed Earth’s ecosystem in chase of profits and dominance. (Spoiler: They did it by travelling 400 years back to the 21st century and destroyed the station where scientists were successfully working on finding the cure for a mutating virus that eventually took over all the living waters of Earth.) This is pretty much I feel is happening often in today’s economy/ecology. Some corporations in the line of maximizing their profit are disregarding the long-term effects of their actions. I consider this criminal: using up natural resources in a non-sustainable ways is like stealing from the future. In the book the effect of stealing from the past (which is what well-regulated time-travellers do) creates an ever-bleakening present and future. We do the same by stealing from future.
I also watched the first few episodes of an excellent TV series titled Mr. Robot. So far it has little to do with ecology. The dayjob of the main character, a brilliant computer guy with limited social skills, is providing computer security for corporation, but by night he is a (somewhat reluctant) hacker working against that very corporation and the “system” in general. The corporation’s name is “E corp” but is referred to in the show as “Evil Corp”. Their logo is similar to the scandalous and now defunct Enron’s. I rarely see such blatant reference in popular culture of a corporation being evil, and even invoking a specific one. It corresponds to the idea mentioned above of maximizing profits over everything else.
The final element of this “connection” is that President Obama yesterday announced the “Clean Power Plan” in order “to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.” My first reaction was how hard the corporations (and the politicians supported by them) will fight this. I understand the mechanism of how this works: they are responsible to their shareholders, who hold their shares in the hope of making money. Hence they have to do what they have to. But I don’t have to like the process. Here is what Forbes has to say about that
Critics claim that the Plan is inherently unfair, punishes taxpayers and will destroy our economy, similar to what was claimed for the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and a host of other environmental changes that have kept our country reasonable cleaner and safer than most other nations in the world. Fair to say none of that ever happened.
I will be watching how the coal industry, the biggest that would be affected negatively by this plan, will fight the enactment of this act. I have sympathies for the miners, families and individuals who would lose their livelihood due to mine closures. However I also believe that as an industry its days should be over and as a society we should turn to cleaner sources of energy. That’s in the interest of all of us, not just the miners’.
I have a blog about Jewish books. Most of the time I post about new books, sometimes about events, book sales or older books. Here is the list of books that made it there during the month of June and July 2015:
- Above Us Only Sky by Michele Young-Stone
- After the Holocaust: In spite of everything, I remain an optimist: Remembering Noah Flug by Bettina Schaefer
- Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide by Michael B. Oren
- Alouette’s Dream by Andrew Jonathan Fine
- TheArchive Thief: The Man Who Salvaged French Jewish History in the Wake of the Holocaust by Lisa Moses Leff
- Archivist on a Bicycle: Jiří Fiedler edited by Helen Epstein and Wilma Iggers
- Bitter Bronx: Thirteen Stories by Jerome Charyn
- Book of Numbers by Joshua Cohen
- Broken on the inside: The War never ended by Simon Hammelburg
- Can I Wear My Kippah on Job Interviews? by Rachel Margolin and Lavie Margolin
- Changing the Immutable: How Orthodox Judaism Rewrites Its History by Marc B. Shapiro
- TheChemist’s Shop by Richard Brumer
- Chief Rabbi Hertz: The Wars of the Lord by Derek Taylor
- A Dictionary of Jewish Babylonian Aramaic of the Talmudic and Geonic Periods by Michael Sokoloff
- TheDream by H. E. Kline
- Enemy in the Garden: A Novel of Intrigue and Suspense by Harriet Pike
- Exiles in Sepharad: The Jewish Millennium in Spain by Jeffrey Gorsky
- TheFirst to be Destroyed: The Jewish Community of Kleczew and the Beginning of the Final Solution by
- Forgiving Maximo Rothman by A. J. Sidransky
- Freedom’s Island by Sabra Waldfogel
- Ghetto Brother: Warrior to Peacemaker by Julian Voloj
- Halakhic Realities: Collected Essays on Brain Death by Zev Farber
- Hasidism Incarnate by Shaul Maggid
- History of Modern Jewish Religious Philosophy by Eliezer Schweid
- The History of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem by Assaf Selzer
- TheHolocaust by Bullets: A Priest’s Journey to Uncover the Truth Behind the Murder of 1.5 Million Jews by Patrick Desbois and Paul A. Shapiro
- In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume
- Inheriting Abraham: The Legacy of the Patriarch in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam by Jon D. Levenson
- Inside the Bubble by Noga Niv
- Israeli Feminist Scholarship: Gender, Zionism, and Difference by Esther Fuchs
- TheJazz Palace by Mary Morris
- Jewish İstanbul – A Collection of Memoirs and Illustrations by Roz Kohen
- Jewish Jokes: Gags and Funny Stories in the Great Jewish Tradition by Hugh Morrison
- Jewish Ludmir: The History and Tragedy of the Jewish Community of Volodymyr-Volynsky: A Regional History by Volodymir Muzychenko
- Jewish New York: A History and Guide to Neighborhoods, Synagogues, and Eateries by Paul M. Kaplan
- TheJewish Oil Magnates of Galicia by Julien Hirszhaut / Valerie Schatzker
- TheJewish Olympics: The History of the Maccabiah Games by Ron Kaplan
- Jewish Pittsburgh (Images of America) by Barbara Burstin
- Jews Against Themselves by Edward Alexander
- TheJews and the Bible by Jean-Christophe Attias
- TheKilling Rituals: Espionage & Terrorism Thriller by Nir Zamir
- TheKoren Mesorat HaRav Kinot, The Complete Tisha B’Av Service with Commentary by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik
- Kosher Movies: A Film Critic Discovers Life Lessons at the Cinema by Herbert J. Cohen
- Last Folio: A Photographic Memory by Yuri Dojc and Katya Krausova
- Léon Blum: Prime Minister, Socialist, Zionist by Pierre Birnbaum
- TheLion’s Gate: On the Front Lines of the Six Day War by Steven Pressfield
- Lucky Us by Amy Bloom
- TheMaking of the Abrahamic Religions in Late Antiquity by Guy G. Stroumsa
- TheMan Who Stalked Einstein: How Nazi Scientist Philipp Lenard Changed the Course of History by Bruce J. Hillman
- A Master Plan for Rescue by Janis Cooke Newman
- TheMathematician’s Shiva by Stuart Rojstaczer
- Measure of a Man: From Auschwitz Survivor to Presidents’ Tailor by Martin Greenfield & Wynton Hall
- Modern Hebrew: The Past and Future of a Revitalized Language by Norman Berdichevsky
- TheNew Kosher: Simple Recipes to Savor & Share by Kim Kushner
- No Joke: Making Jewish Humor by Ruth R. Wisse
- ThePinch by Steve Stern
- ThePolish Underground and the Jews, 1939–1945 by Joshua D. Zimmerman
- ThePromised Land by Roberta Kagan
- Remember the Scorpion by Isaac Goldemberg
- Run You Down by Julia Dahl
- TheSeven Good Years by Etgar Keret
- Shelter Us by Laura Nicole Diamond
- Social Concern and Left Politics in Jewish America Art, 1880-1940 by Matthew Baigell
- Somewhere There Is Still a Sun by Michael Gruenbaum and Todd Hasak-Lowy
- TheSons of Scripture by Mikhail Kizilov
- TheStory of an Underground: The Resistance of the Jews of Kovno in the Second World War by Dov Levin and Zvie A. Brown
- TheSunlit Night by Rebecca Dinerstein
- The Value of the Particular: Lessons from Judaism and the Modern Jewish Experience by Michael Zank and Ingrid Anderson
- TheTheory and Practice of Universal Ethics – The Noahide Laws by Dr. Rabbi Shimon Dovid Cowen
- Warsaw. The Jewish Metropolis: Essays in Honor of the 75th Birthday of Professor Antony Polonsky by Glenn Dynner and François Guesnet
- When Europe Was a Prison Camp: Father and Son Memoirs, 1940-1941 by Otto Schrag and Peter Schrag
- When the Diamonds Were Gone: A Jewish Refugee Comes of Age in America in the 1940s by Julian Padowicz
- TheWriting on the Wall: A Catalogue of Judaica Broadsides from the Valmadonna Trust Library by
- Your Guide to the Jewish Holidays: From Shofar to Seder by Cantor Matt Axelrod
- TheZionist Entity: The Jewish State In The 21st Century by David Levy
What would you do, how would your behavior change if you’d know that you and everyone on Earth would die within a few hours due to an unavoidable catastrophe? Would you let your inhibitions fall down and commit vile acts of abominations no matter how vile society thinks it is? Or would you commit random act of kindness even at the end of the world? The answer may surprise you. This would be the ultimate test of what’s inside you, what kind of person are you at the bottom of your heart. Or find out whether you even have one. Continue reading