Blog: January 2008

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Election non-surprise

I'm kind of sad that John Edwards dropped out of the Democratic race. He wasn't going to win (on first ballot at the convention), I don't think, but he has enough of a following that it seems like he could have influenced the front-runners had he stayed in. On the other hand, he was probably drawing more votes from Obama than from Hillary ("sleaze as usual"), so if it helps Obama win the nomination it won't be all bad. He hasn't made a formal endorsement, but this might count. Still, if the Dems don't slap Hillary down hard and soon, they risk blowing the election, either by nominating a slick divisive candidate or by doing too much dirty campaigning before rejecting her.

(I'm not for Obama, but I'm against Hillary. I really wish we didn't have institutionalized two-party rule in this country; it discourages innovation.)

Did anyone else catch the complaint from the NH chapter of NOW? (It was in the news yesterday or the day before.) They complained that Kennedy "betrayed women" by not endorsing Hillary. Earth to NOW: you are doing harm to your candidate if your entire platform is "she's a she". Not that I mind, but I'm just sayin'.


Lots of discussion in comments.

More pictures of the frozen fountain

Yesterday was sunny and the water was flowing over the ice.

This is the fountain in just about the most direct sunlight it gets. I'm pretty happy with this one. Read more…

Synagogue fundraising

Today I got a call (on the answering machine) from someone in the congregation, telling me that on such-and-such date there's going to be a celebration of my rabbi's 20th anniversary with the congregation, which will also be a fundraiser for the synagogue. She said the rabbi "wanted you on the committee", which is why she was calling. "But", she said, "this is a working committee; each member is required to bring at least three ads from the community for the program book". And that turned me off enough that I haven't yet returned the call. (The quote is exact.)

I'm happy to celebrate this occasion; I'm close to my rabbi and 20 years is a big deal. I understand that these things are fundraisers; that's not a problem. I make donations above dues anyway. I understand that ads in a program book are a standard way of getting money without a lot of expense, and I kind of assume that people on the committee for such a thing are asked to help solicit, particularly if they own businesses.

I think what wrinkled my nose was the equating of "work" and getting these ads, as if no other contribution is valuable. Anything else I might contribute to this effort is value-less if I don't sell three ads? What? (Those of you in the SCA will recognize that motif.) Hell, I'd be prepared to cook this dinner (I assume it's a dinner), which has got to be worth a lot more than three ads and would be much more a labor of love, but I assume they're going to spend money on a caterer.

The first order of business will be to find out if my rabbi requested me, or if that's just something they tell all the would-be members. There's a worship committee meeting tomorrow, so finding that out should be easy. If that checks out, I will ask the person who called to describe the work the committee will be doing. (Are we doing real work, or are we just a cash infusion?) I loathe soliciting people for money and really have no clues there about what they think we can do; it has crossed my mind to ask the price of three ads and then decide if I'm willing to donate that amount to make that part go away.

I generally do not go to these hoity-toity dinners, particularly if I'm going alone. (They're usually geared toward couples.) I would go for this occasion; whether I do more than go is yet to be determined.

The synagogue fundraising model was foreign to me when I encountered it, so I am still pretty much a neophyte in this regard. To my readers who have more clues about this sort of thing, is there anything I haven't mentioned that I should be taking into account before returning that phone call?


Snow and ice can make for some nifty photos. I'm not very practiced at taking those nifty photos yet, but the fountain outside my office motivated me to try. They haven't turned it off; yesterday it was covered in icicles with flowing water, but by this morning it was all plugged up.

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They light it at night. This was taken with the "night landscape" setting on my camera.

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And while I'm posting photos... Cats behind the cut. Read more…

SCA survey

It's survey-meme day. :-) This came via a friend on LJ, with a couple "huh?" questions edited out: Read more…

Welcome to the galaxy-wide web

A long time ago, I published a set of instructions for building a yurt (aka ger), the Mongolian temporary dwelling. I had built one for SCA use, building on knowledge from others, and collected what I'd learned as the next contribution. I'm sure there've been plenty of works since then that should have deprecated my little article, but it's floating around out there so I get inquiries from time to time.

The letter from the middle-school class in Myanmar asking if I thought using bamboo would work was the most unusual query I'd gotten until the one from the fellow in Scotland considering a housing change who wanted to know if it would stand up to force-11 winds. But tonight I got something even better.

This was a request for permission to adapt my article. You see (the writer says), in Star Wars there's this (race? nation?) called the Mandalorians, who have many parallels to the Mongols, and he wants to publish a manual for building a vheh'yaim, which is something like a yurt.

The sender's web site refers to a Second Life Mandalorian community. (Also something called Star Wars Galaxies, which I infer is another online community. And also Wookiepedia, but the obvious URLs don't turn anything up.) I wonder if there are also Star Wars re-enactors who actually build stuff the way the SCA and Klingon and Civ War folks do.

The world-wide web: it's not just for Earth any more. :-)

(I said yes, and in the time it took me to compose this entry he wrote back to say that it's theoretical now, but he won't be surprised if that changes.)

Good customer service

Wednesday night our DSL was out, not for the first time (we get little glitches, and occasionally outages of an hour or so). This one ran longer than usual, so around 10PM I called to report it. I got the same person I've always gotten when I call, no matter what time; it's the same person who sold me the service in the first place.

Our conversation went something like this:

Me: Our service has been out for a couple hours. I've done the usual debugging and power-cycling.

Him: It seems to be you. Happen much?

Me: We get this from time to time. Is it likely to be our 1999 modem?

Him: Yeah. I'll send you a new one, or you can come pick one up.

Me: I wouldn't have expected our service to come with a free modem. I was going to buy one.

Him: I'm happy to send it.

It came in today's mail, so as soon as we hit Radio Shack for some filters, we should be good to go. Kudos, Nidhog!

Game report: Dogs in the Vineyard

Recently Ralph ran a game of Dogs in the Vineyard. For those unfamiliar with it, here's the opening paragraph from the Wikipedia article:

The game is set in "a West that never quite was" - loosely based on the Mormon State of Deseret in pre-statehood Utah. Players are "God's Watchdogs" (Dogs), who travel from town to town delivering mail, helping out the community and enforcing the judgments of the True Faith of the King of Life. This may involve anything from delivering new interpretations to the town's Steward to executing heretics. Dogs have absolute authority within the Faith, but not within the laws of the Territorial Authority, and so their actions can lead to conflict with the government in the East.

Four of us played this time; two of us (plus the GM) had played once before. I chronicled that game, so it seemed natural for me to try to record this one too. This will be long. Read more…

Va-eira: justics, t'shuvah, and Paro

In Parsha Va-eira we begin to read about the ten plagues God wrought on Egypt because of a recalcitrant Paro. The first plagues Paro dismisses as mere trickery (he has court magicians who do the same kinds of tricks), but after that it seems like Paro starts to get it. After each plague he promises to relent, but then his heart is hardened and he reneges.

In the first five plagues it is Paro who hardens his own heart. In the latter five it is God who does the hardening, and many have asked how this can be just. If Paro never had a chance, and is instead subject to divine puppet-strings, how can he be held accountable? Further, doesn't this make Paro seem the sympathetic, tragic character? Try as he might, he can do nothing. Or can he?

Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish (in Midrash Rabbah, cited by Rabbi Ari Kahn) offers the answer that the second five were punishment for the first five -- because Paro hardened his heart and refused to let the Israelites go five times, he was punished with a hardened heart -- the hardened heart, as much as the plagues themselves, was the punishment (assuming I am reading this passage correctly). Paro had free will for the first five and blew it.

Even when we realize we have messed up, we are not absolved of the consequences of our wrong-doing. That I am sorry that I injured you doesn't leave me free and clear; I still have to mitigate the damage and make good on losses I have caused. (We don't just turn the other cheek.) That a law-breaker is sorry does not mean he doesn't have to go to prison. Our actions have consequences both natural and judicial, and if we view the first five incidents as the "messing up" and the ensuing events as the consequences, maybe this is easier to understand.

With that in mind, I want to turn to something that happens during the first five, when Paro is still in control. T'shuvah (repentance) is still possible. We know from the high-holy-day liturgy that t'shuvah has several steps, the first of which is realizing that you have done wrong. Let us grant the possibility that Paro is sincere when he says this. Then he asks Moshe to appeal to God on his behalf -- good so far, and again, let us grant the possibility that it is sincere. (I mention in passing the enormity of the "god" of the Egyptians acknowledging God's superiority. That's a pretty big step if it's real.)

So he's admitted his error and asked for help from God through God's apparent representative. That sounds good. What does he do next? Well, nothing -- or at least nothing positive. That's where his t'shuvah fails. He has not made amends; he has certainly not changed his behavior; and he fails the Rambam test, by repeating the bad behavior when he finds himself in similar circumstances. Paro may have the inkling that he's done something wrong, but it seems to be the kind of inkling that manifests as the voice in the back of one's head saying "you shouldn't do that, you know", not the kind of inkling accompanied by true regret and resolve. When he hardens his heart he shuts out that voice.

The story of Paro does not teach us that t'shuvah is unavailable to some people; rather, it shows that we can't stop with regrets and prayers and expect everything to be all right. We are, each of us, responsible for our own redemption. We can't stop with bad feelings or words; we have to act, hardening our hearts not against our own regrets but, rather, against our less-than-positive inclinations. Paro hardened his heart against those around him; may we soften ours to be able to see, hear, and feel the effects of our actions on the world around us.

Question about twelfth night

In which your host learns a whole lot of stuff about Christian lore.

The oddest questions come into my mind sometimes. Today's came while reading an article about festivities of the day. I suspect I have both readers with the same question and readers with the answer, so I'll ask here. (Tried Wikipedia, tried Google.)

The feast of epiphany is on the 12th day of Christmas. The magi weren't there from the start; the star showed up on the day of Jesus's birth and, after seeing it, the magi spent some time getting there. (I don't know if that's in Christian scripture or tradition or what, but I understand it to be consensus.) Epiphany is the celebration of the magis' arrival.

The Christian bible tells us that Mary had to give birth in a stable because there was no room at the inn.

Every nativity scene I have ever seen shows the magi and everyone else crowded around the child -- in the stable.

Are we to understand that the family is held to have camped out there for 12 days? Or did artistic license get way out of hand and it wasn't worth the trouble to rein it in?

From what I've seen, these sorts of questions are less a part of Christian tradition than of Jewish tradition. So just to be clear lest I offend: this is sincere curiosity.


Comments (archive explained that it's artistic license, compression of the storyline, and making the story easier to tell.