15 June 2004

one nation, indivisible

For those who haven't been reading the news, Supreme Court decided yesterday that Newdon did not have standing in his Pledge of Allegiance case, thereby neatly skirting the constitutional issue that held my interest (and the interest of many others, I would assume) for at least the past several months. I can't be the only one who noticed the irony of them deciding this case on Flag Day. Anyway, only three Justices, Rehnquist, O'Connor, and Thomas, wrote opinions--under different analyses--on the merits, all stating that the "under God" addition 50 years ago was constitutional. For those of you who need me to back up a step further: some guy in California brought a case claiming the Pledge of Allegiance was unconstitutional (under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment) with the inclusion of the phrase "under God." He brought the case on behalf of his school-aged daughter, but there was some question of standing because he and the mother are divorced, and the mother is the custodial parent.

Well, at least we've cleared up a tiny little area of family law. Apparently, noncustodial parents can't bitch to the judicial system about their children being made to say the Pledge in school.

But let's set aside for a moment the Supreme Court's actual decision (or lack thereof) on the Pledge of Allegiance case yesterday. I don't see why I can't have my own little argument right here. Sometimes I feel like I'm the only (monotheistic) religious person who is actually offended by the inclusion of "under God," rather than just understanding of why some other people might be. I never gave much thought to it in school when I was growing up--and that is the problem. Invocation of a deity--whether you believe in that particular deity or not--is disrespectful when said without reverence or even mere consideration of your words.

Of course I am also deeply troubled by the devisiveness of requiring schoolchildren to say the Pledge with an "opt-out." I remember one girl in my class in elementary school who sat out the Pledge every day; even after someone explaiined to me that it was because of her religion (Jehovah's Witness), I thought it was W-E-I-R-D...because that's how may kids think. (Of course, she also didn't bring in cupcakes on her birthday, which I thought was M-E-A-N. On the other hand, I'm sure people thought many odd things about me for never eating hot dogs and hamburgers in the cafetaria or on school trips.)

And beyond the JW, who sit out the Pledge because they find it to be an inappropriate form of prayer (giving allegiance to the nation), there's also the many atheists in this country who do not believe in God. Oh, and also those funny people who belong to those odd little polytheistic, pagan, or animistic religions that have only been around on this planet for about twice as long as Christianity. But they, of course, are insignificant. (Need I actually invoke the sarcasm tag?)

Someone else pointed out, even if you are a monotheist who's cool with the God thing, the arrogance of thinking that God particularly favors our country. Heh.

Finally, the "historical" argument frustrates me because the original Pledge did not have "under God" in it. (It was added during the Communists-Are-Evil era as a way of scaring off those atheist pinko bastards.) Yes, a generation and a half (or so) of us grew up saying the Pledge this way, and it would sound funny to our ears if we relearned it. So what? A while ago, when this case was argued before the Court, William Safire wrote a NYTimes column complaining about the very same thing--in the other direction. Having learned the original Pledge growing up, he thought the phrase "under God" disrupted the flow of the thing.

What will I do when I have children of my own? Well, first of all, let's keep in mind that I only get about 50% of the decision-making power when it comes to raising the kids. If it were up to me, I'd like to tell them to recite the Pledge along with their classmates, omitting the phrase "under God." I would teach them that this was the original form of the Pledge, and explain the many reasons why the addition of that phrase was troublesome to many people and rather unnecessary althogether. Of course, I'll be doing this while sending them to a religious school (or after? Do they even say the Pledge at Orthodox day schools, or do they go straight froom Shacharit to Social Studies?), so that will look pleasantly hypocritical. Oh well. So I'm a hypocrite. I can live with that.

14 June 2004

the numbers game

Tangental to another conversation, my friend N asserted that while a candidate could win the presidency with less than 50% of the popular vote, s/he would still need "close to half" in order to get the requisite 270 electoral votes. I set out to prove her wrong. For those of you who are not familiar with my country's electoral system (and since most of my readers are U.S. citizens, I hope that's not too many of you), here's the quick explanation: Each of the fifty states are assigned a number of electoral votes equal to the number of the state's U.S. Senators (always two per state) plus the number of the state's U.S. Representatives (apportioned by population, minimum one per state, total 435). The District of Columbia, which has no representation in Congress (a rant for another day) receives 3 electoral votes as well, bringing the total number of votes in the Electoral College to 538. A candidate needs 270 electoral votes in order to win the presidential election. Each state's electoral votes are granted as a block to the winner of that state's popular vote.

That doesn't sound too bad, until you consider that electoral votes in some states (generally speaking, the least populous) are worth more than those in others.

How so? Well, for starters, two of the electoral votes in each state are granted regardless of that state's population, meaning that in Vermont (1 Representative) these votes triple the state's electoral voting power, whereas in California (53 representatives) they add less than 4% more voting power to the state. Furthermore, since every state must have at least one U.S. Representative, and of course no state can send half a Representative to Washington (pity, that), in some states (such as Rhode Island) there are a mere half-million people for each Representative, whereas in other states (like Delaware or Montana) there are closer to 800,000 or more. It all boils down to an electoral vote in Wyoming weighing more than four times as much (in terms of population behind the vote) as one in California.

Don't believe me? I did the math and it's all in this nifty little spreadsheet.

"Ah, but wait--" you say, "you used total population! Obviously not all these people are registered to vote!" OK, then. You give me the number of registered voters in each state, and I'll use those. In the meantime, I'll settle for assuming that the proportional amount of registered voters to total population in each state is roughly the same.

Anyway, the second sheet of that Excel file is set up so you can play some electoral math games. It is currently sorted so the states with the highest weight electoral votes (fewest voters behind each vote) are at the top, and the lowest-weight states are at the bottom. In the scenario I have set up in the saved file, Party A has garnered 271 electoral votes (more than the required 270) with less than 22% of the popular vote! Of course, I finagled this by having Party A win by one or two votes in the 39 most heavily-weighed states, and having Party B sweep the other 12. I agree that this scenario is highly unlikely (given the nature of elections in general and the groupings of states' politcal leanings in particular), but it does show just how misrepresentative our electoral system really is. I suspect (though I haven't played this out yet) that in an election with three candidates, with states that give their electoral votes to the candidate who garners a plurality of votes in that state (rather than a majority), the popular vote percentage necessary to win would be close to 15%.

Feel free to play with that set-up and come up with more realistic projections that still have one party winning with far less than 50% of the popular vote. You should enter only the votes for Party A (column E); everything else will calculate itself out.

13 June 2004

vino revisited

In the past two weeks we have purchased ten bottles of Chateau de Paraza on sale at The Butcherie. I figure that if we ever get sick of drinking it, I can use the rest of our stock for cooking only.

Also, we (OK, Julian) fixed the oven. Turns out it was just some broken wire, not the entire bottom heating element. One trip to Home Depot and a few minutes of fiddling later, and the oven was back in working order....just in time for us to go away for next Shabbat (and with a fridge full of leftovers, too).

Just thought you'd like to know.

confronting reality

I came across this article last night in Haaretz about an Israeli rape crisis hotline and its response to the ongoing (but largely silent) problem of sexual assaults on boys and young men in the Orthodox world. It's worth a read, if you have the time. To the victims, counselors, and other activists I grant a hearty yasher koach--don't let anyone stop you from bringing this issue to the forefront of our minds. The Orthodox Jewish world is far from perfect and its high time we stop fooling ourselves.

Out of the Blue

If my performance on ber exam practice questions is any indication, I should expect to take this test at least four times before getting a passing score. Seriously, who comes up with this stuff?

03 June 2004


The Butcherie here in Brookline is selling Chateau de Paraza Minervois, 1997, at two bottles for $10. I'm not sure why; it looks like they have an unexpected overstock. This wine isn't spectacular, but it's better than decent, and when's the last time you saw a better than decent bottle of kosher red wine for five dollars?

kol zimrah

Shir-Yaakov posted a collection of recordings of (some of) the melodies used by Kol Zimrah in NYC during Kabbalat Shabbat. Beautiful stuff (in my opinion). Reminds me of my time at Brandeis Collegiate Institute. Why didn't I know about this place when I lived in New York? I've updated the links on the side so you can go to either of his music pages now.

NOTE: I am not affiliated with Kol Zimrah in any way. If you are looking for their web site, you can find it here.

02 June 2004


For those of you who don't know this already, now is the time to learn:

I am an injury magnet.

In the course of the past week, I have managed to: burn the back of my left hand with steam; slice open my left thumb on the blade of our food processor; twisted my ankle out of whack by slipping on a plastic bag (no medical attention required); cut the base of my right thumb on a chipped mug; and (you'll like this one) smashed my finger between the toilet seat and the rim of the bowl by--wait for it--sitting down while adjusting the seat positioning.

All in the past seven days, people. Over the past seven years I have punctured or lacerated each foot more than once (one injury required stitches), ripped out said stiches, scraped off at least a total of a square foot of skin (no, not all at once), practically bisected my right thumb (don't ask me why I didn't go get stitches for that one), and burned my forearms more times than I can count. I'm not even going to mention the number of times I've turned my joints in odd ways, broken off splinters under the skin, or foolishly aggravated a minor injury into an oozing, infected mess.

In unrelated news, if the kids in the elementary school behind my building don't stop screaming after each thunderclap, thereby ruining a perfectly enjoyable storm, I am going to give them some injuries to write about.

(I kid, I kid. Mostly.)

01 June 2004

Now I'm Cookin'

Could someone please explain to me why the Kosher Culinary Academy, apparently the only kosher cooking school in the world, admits only men?

Well, that's not entirely true. There is a twelve-week "short course" option for women (which they may or may not run again) that is geared toward "students who are competent in a domestic kitchen." Hmmmm....no sexism there, huh? Of course, I know plenty of 18- or 20-year-old women who are choosing their first career who are already "competent in a domestic kitchen." They will teach, among other things, "catering theory," "the rules of the commercial kitchen," and how to "prepare full course meals comprising both traditional and modern gourmet dishes, according to Jewish law." Students will also "learn about nutrition and health-conscious cooking. A professional baking and cake decorating course is offered as an optional part of the course." Not shabby, I guess. The course description claims "to equip you to work in a catering company, hotel or restaurant kitchen, with the potential to set up your own food business."

Their year-long professional course, on the other hand, seems to be far more intense and offer better preparation for a serious career chef. In addition to the cooking classes (which look far more involved than in the women's course and appear to have a greater emphasis on presentation and menu design), male students will study kashrut laws--including hilchot basar b'chalav (the laws of meat and dairy), checking ingredients, and hilchot bishul Shabbat (the laws of "cooking" on Shabbat)--"using Gemara, Shulchan Aruch and Mishnah Berura sources, b'Chavrusa and with Shiurim by competent Rabbanim." Now, I have no doubt the women will be taught to keep kosher as well, but I'm guessing the women's course will not adequately prepare its students for the many halachic problems which would arise in their own businesses. Of course, we can't let those silly women think they actually know what they're doing.

Oh, the men get to go on field trips to wineries, cheese factories, farms, produce markets, and factories. Hebrew lessons and dormitory accomodations are offered (I guess women all live with their husbands or fathers). The men can take advantage of job placement services.

Look, people, it's not like this is some generations-old yeshiva where at least the faculty can fall back on "tradition" as their basis for sex discrimination. The KCA started teaching less than six months ago. You want to argue that it's not in keeping with tzniut (the laws of modesty) to teach men and women together? Fine, I'll debate that with you. I think I may win, but that's another story. In the meantime, how about at least making the two courses on par with each other? Or are you too afraid that your wives and daughters won't be waiting at home for you with your dinner on the table after you return from a long day in the kitchen?