Friday, August 29, 2008


I consider myself to be something of a politics junkie, although I'm not a wonk. I don't usually discuss politics on this blog (with at least one exception). But I have a bunch of thoughts about this week's Democratic National Convention and McCain's VP choice:

--Hillary supporters: Vote for Obama. A lot. This isn't about being right about a sexist society. Of course there is sexism in society. I would like to suggest that it is a mistake to try to prove your feminism by facilitating the election of someone who has promised to appoint ultra-Conservative Supreme Court justices. Did you know that John Roberts thinks that unmarried women shouldn't have access to birth control?

--McCain's VP choice (Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska) reeks of desperation. The night after Obama gives a fantastic speech (policy AND inspiration), the day of McCain 72nd birthday, the only rationale I can think of for picking someone who has no experience at anything and is about as qualified to be president as Martin Sheen is that McCain has decided he can't win without Hillary's supporters.

--Hey, McCain campaign: If you release your rebuttal to Obama's speech BEFORE the speech is actually finished--or the second it's finished; I don't have the exact timeline nailed down--people might get the idea that you didn't actually watch the speech.

--Don't believe the smears! This week, McCain's campaign has been beating the drum of "Obama has all of this lofty rhetoric, but he isn't offering specifics." First of all, in last night's speech, he did. Second, on his website, as a number of people pointed out in this comment stream on DovBear, he spells out his policies in excruciating detail. If you want to hear about his health care plan AND HOW HE WILL PAY FOR IT (oh, how I will miss Bush's unfunded mandates), it's all there.

--John Kerry gave a great speech about McCain not being a maverick anymore. He shares the malady of Al Gore and others, who give their best speeches when their presidential hopes have already been dashed.

--The Clintons did better than I expected in not screwing the convention up completely for Obama, but not as well as they could have. I liked Bill Clinton's speech, and I always enjoy his oratory. I thought that the second half, when he attacked McCain, was excellent; the first half, when he was praising Obama, was less enthusiastic than I would have liked, but not terrible.
--Hillary gave a good speech endorsing Obama, but the next morning she undercut herself by not ordering her supporters to vote for Obama and avoid the preposterous roll call that happened. Don't believe her "I can't tell them what to do" garbage. OF COURSE she can tell them what to do. They're HER delegates. And she didn't even try. She said that she would vote for Obama, but that they could vote for whomever they wanted. Way to be a leader promoting unity!

--Biden gave a great speech. He came across as approachable and one of the guys (which, from what I have heard, he is), and he attack-dogged it to infinity! Democrats should have been more enthusiastic about it. Democrats, be happy already. Our ticket is awesome. Their ticket sucks. Enjoy yourselves for once! This brings us to the "Biden corallary": Obama's speech rocked! It kicked! So if you're a Democratic political writer, don't say, "Well, yes, it was good, but I'm uneasy about . . .", or "The problem was . . .". Try to stay on message for once! The Republicans don't do this, and they have won the last two presidential elections. Coincidence? I think not.

--I was moved almost to tears by Ted Kennedy's speech and his presence at the convention. I admire his service to our country so much. (I also consider it a kind of repentance for his shameful act at Chappaquiddick). I can't imagine the Senate without him.

--Snarkiness is NOT the answer to everything. I usually enjoy reading Wonkette, a political blog that is about 90% snark. Generally, I find their take on the mundane politics of the day pretty funny, but they were very ill-equipped to deal with real news, particularly the inspirational speeches at the convention.

And, finally,

THE MEDIA IS OUT OF CONTROL. They spent so much of their time at the convention finding the ten crazy Hillary supporters who are voting for McCain. Conflict, or the appearance of conflict, makes for a better story than unity. There were real problems with the Clintons (see my comment above), but the amount of time the MSM devoted to it was unreal. I watched CNN the most, so I am madder at them than at others. Their answer to every Democratic speech was to have a Republican operative on to "reply," let said operative prattle on, and not challenge him or her at all. Do you call that journalism??? And where's the critique of McCain? (The New Republic had something on this, says my dad, but I think it's only accessible to subscribers). The critique better come next week, media. I'm putting you on notice, Stephen-Colbert style.

Monday, August 25, 2008

My Most Recent Post

. . . is actually here. It started as a draft, and I can't figure out how to change the date. It's about novels, which I haven't talked about yet. Can't decide what to read next? Maybe I can help.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Katrina Discovers Her Compassionate Side

. . . and yes, she has one.

Katrina would like to apologize to anyone whose feelings she might have hurt with her "How Not to be a Jerk 2: Being a Shabbat Guest and Host" (hard to believe, isn't it, that she might have offended anyone?).

It's not that anyone has complained, but this week, for the first time in a long time, Katrina did not have Shabbat dinner plans. It did not feel good. It did not feel good at all, especially since she had such a crappy week. That made her think that she had been too harsh on people who invite themselves over to others' places for dinner.

She stands by most of the content of that post, but she feels the tone was probably uncalled for, and for that she is sorry. She went to Chabad, which is was actually quite pleasant.

Next time . . . Katrina stops talking about herself in the third person.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Oh, Crap

Things have been going kind of crummily for me this past month. I have to secure some kind of income for myself for next year, which involves convincing people I don't know that I am somehow more worthy than the other 800 applicants. My dissertation-writing group is a waste of time. TC and I have been mutually cranky lately (mostly because he is looking for a job, too).

The problem is that when I am feeling really stressed, I have trouble talking about it. LOTS of trouble. So I withdraw. I tend to stick to my apartment. I work from my apartment, so I'm not totally unproductive here, but still. Not that anyone except BFF (and TC from out of town with his phone calls) is coming by, by the way. But I don't blame them for that. Everyone is busy with their own stuff.

So I'm taking the step of putting this on my blog, even though some people I know read it. Shabbat Shalom.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Post-Tisha-B'Av Musings: Kinot

Kinot (mournful poems focusing on the destruction of the Holy Temple or other tragedies; they originated ca. in the 6th-8th century, but many more have been composed since then) pose a special problem for Conservative and Conservadox synagogues and minyanim on Tisha B'Av. There is a tradition to say Kinot both at night and in the morning (although more in the morning since most congregations read Eichah, the Book of Lamentations, at night). The problem is that, even for those who have had 13years of Jewish day school, plus some camp or other supplementary education, Kinot are REALLY HARD to understand. They are often written in medieval Hebrew, and the genre encourages allusions to biblical and other texts which many people have not read.

In Orthodox shuls, as I have seen once or twice personally and as I understand from anecdotes, the congregation "reads" the Kinot silently, which means that some people get what they're talking about and most people don't. That doesn't mean that no one cares if people understand; it's just that the middle of Shacharit (morning prayers) isn't considered the best time to explain. Some shuls have shiurim (study sessions, often led by the rabbi or perhaps a well-educated layperson) after services, and the Orthodox Union has a video shiur on its website every year. On Tisha B'Av 5767 (aka last year), I was at my parents' house on Tisha B'Av and didn't have a morning shul option, so I watched OU Executive Director Rabbi Tzvi Hersch Weinreb's Kinot shiur. I was very impressed by its simultaneous sophistication and accessibility.

Conservative and Conservadox shuls or minyanim have more flexibility in terms of integrating Kinot into the service. I go to two different minyanim (don't ask) on Tisha B'Av, and both have the custom of "introducing" Kinot. That means that one person in the minyan, usually someone in a leadership position, gives a summary of the main themes of the Kinah before the congregation reads it, either out loud or silently, in Hebrew or English.

I heard some really well-thought-out introductions this year, but I think that the system needs tweaking. First of all, because people have to volunteer in advance to introduce Kinot, the same few people usually do most of them. I give kudos to those folks. I was asked to introduce a Kinah this year and said "no." But I fear that this phenomemon tends further to integrate those few people and to leave the rest of the congregation outside the circle of knowledge. Second, after the Kinot are introduced, it's time to "read" them. That means in most cases that, led by the writer of the introduction, those who can read the Kinah, either silently or out loud, often in Hebrew and often very quickly. I have had approximatley a bazillion years of Day School education, and I minored in Jewish Studies in college, and I couldn't get more than a sense of the text before we moved on. This is particularly ironic, I think, because, as I have observed it, Shacharit on Tisha B'Av is mostly about killing time. Unlike on Yom Kippur, when there are many, many, many prayers to get through before people need to take a nap, on Tisha B'Av, some congregations have the custom to stay in shul until chatzot (halfway through the daylight hours, this year around 12:45 p.m.), and there just aren't that many obligatory prayers to say. So the Kinot part of the service could (easily, in my opinion, although I realize some people have their favorites) devote much more time to individual Kinot, which just means fewer being read overall. There's plenty of time between Shacharit and Mincha (afternoon prayers) for indivual study by those die-hard Kinot devotees.

So, here are a few humble suggestions for integrating Kinot into Conservative and Conservadox minyanim in as relevant a way as I can think think of (Note: I said minyanim instead of shuls, bcause lay-led minyanim often have more flexibility than shuls led by rabbis. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? That's a topic for another post):

1. (see above) Decrease the number of total Kinot to be covered, thus allowing more time for each individual Kinah.

2. Supplement introductions of Kinot with more inclusive discussions. Divide minyan-goers up into groups, probably with a leader of the introduction-giving type. Give each group a Kinah to study, in Hebrew or English, for about 10 minutes. (Both Conservative and Orthodox Tisha B'Av prayerbooks provide decent introductions and English translations). Encourage each group member to say something about the Kinah text. When discussion time is over, give each group (or the whole congregation together) enough time (could be up to 4-5 minutes) to read the text silently in English or Hebrew. There's no rush, here, people! I tend to think that silent reading is more meaningful than reading aloud, but there's room for disagreement on that.

3. If you're feeling really ambitious, have one person from each group "report back" to the larger minyan on something the group found paticularly interesting about the Kinah.

4. Let's be honest about what most people find relevant: That means more Holocaust Kinot and fewer Crusades Kinot. IMHO, it is not necessary to go in chronological order.

I know that this sounds a little hokey, especially for those of you who know me personally. "Oh, sure," I can hear you saying, "but if I had suggested that, Katrina would have made vomiting noises." Perhaps. But these and similar group efforts are the only ways I can think of to include more than 5-8 people (and the minyan that I went to for Shacharit had at least 30 for Kinot) in the Kinah part of the service. The discussion-group method won't necessarily make less work for the leader types; it might make more, since Kinot have to be selected in advance, people have to be divided into groups and kept moving along, etc. But the result, I think, would be more participation and less boredom or mental opting-out overall.

So, what do you guys think? What other ideas do you have?