December 2008 Archives

The People's Front of Judea!

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We evaluated my grandmother's multitude of holiday donation requests today, when I picked up my mother there. We took a bunch home, and looked them up on Charity Navigator to find out if they were legit. If you don't know, Charity Navigator is a great resource that explains the efficiency of charities to which you're considering donating money. For example, the American Jewish World Service received four stars (out of four), because almost the entire donation goes to their programming, and barely any goes to administration costs. The American Institute for Cancer Research, on the other hand, spends far more money on administration and fundraising, thus diminshing their efficiency.

The American Institute for Cancer Research, however, brings us to Point #2: A lot of these charities are pointless analogues, which only confuse potential donors. For example, my grandmother got mail from both the American Institute for Cancer Research and the National Foundation for Cancer Research. (Both rated only one star, by the way.) Neither of them is as legit as, say, the American Cancer Society. My grandmother also got mail from both the Disabled Veterans Associations (one star) and the Disabled American Veterans. Both worthy causes, if they were legit, but the added costs of separate fundraising clearly cut into their efficiency: 96.7% of money donated to the Disabled Veterans Associations is re-spent on fundraising, and only 2.3% is spent on their programming. Look it up!

But all these silly organizations with confusingly similar names remind me of a scene in Monty Python's Life of Brian. It's his first encounted with the People's Front of Judea, NOT to be confused with the Judean People's Front:

In closing, I'd like to share some of my favorite charities, Camp Tawonga of Northern California and the American Jewish World Service (four stars out of four for efficiency). I can personally vouch for both of them, having been involved with Camp Tawonga for 12 years and with AJWS for seven. They both provide vital programming, one to California's young Jewish community, and the other to the entire population of the developing world. I encourage you to check out their web sites to find out more, or feel free to ask me for details. I can't think of another place where your donation will have such a vast and important impact!

Trouble in Crown Heights

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From our friends at Nextbook, "a new read on Jewish culture," via their daily newsletter:

In this article: the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn is Chabad's worldwide headquarters. Recently, it was covered in posters explaining modest fashion standards, and imploring girls and women to dress accordingly. "It's not just a good idea... It's the law!" the posters scream. But not everybody in Chabad agrees... Read more here.

My mom's reaction was that they have no right to tell neighborhood visitors how to dress. She remembers my grandmother's visit to Israel in 1970, when the residents of Me'eh She'arim would throw stones at anybody walking through without sufficiently modest dress.

Three cheers for tolerance...

Quality Communion Wafers

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Keeping with the Christmassy theme, here's the "quote of the day" from my daily NY Times headline e-mail:

"It doesn't crumb, and I don't like fragments of our Lord scattering all over the floor."
-THE REV. BOB DIETEL, about communion wafers manufactured by the Cavenaugh Company in Greenville, R.I.

Classy analysis. :-)

EDIT: The article is truly fascinating. You wouldn't believe how many varieties of wafer they make!!

Live-Blogging the Vatican's Midnight Mass

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1:05 am: It's been grand, but my bedtime (1:15) quickly approaches. Thanks for reading, and check back often for my regular blog and for upcoming live-blog events. To subscribe to the Noahblog update mailing list, please e-mail Have a happy and healthy Christmas, everybody!

12:54 am: That's a very pimp golden Crucifix. I learned this semester the difference between a Crucifix and an ordinary cross. It becomes a Crucifix when it has Jesus hanging off the front (typically Catholic imagery). The protestants generally stick to ordinary crosses without Jesus.

12:48 am: Classy that the Pope's microphone has a brand label on it. I can't read it, but that's some serious product placement.

12:36 am: The Apostles' Creed. They didn't announce it, but I recognized the text from a little flyer I picked up at the Bart station last week. It's a cute little mantra, concise and punchy. Not sure I'm a fan of the translation, though.

Also: The last post was at 12:34. 1-2-3-4. How cool is that?

12:34 am: Again, I love the font of the on-screen text. Very old-skool biblical. Also the star inside the "P" in St. Peter. Classy, NBC. It looks like the same font they've used since the Seventies.

12:31 am: The Master of Ceremonies has requested a moment of silence, to reflect on the Pope's words. That's a good idea. I'd like to have my own moments of silence, that I could take with me to conversations, to give people time to

The Holy Father

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Tonight I'm watching the Vatican's pre-Christmas Midnight Mass on NBC. After a lot of thought, I can honestly say that Pope is one job that I don't desire one bit. It just doesn't look like that much fun.

Except for the PopeMobile. That's just rad.

And his title is pretty great. Second only to "Supreme Allied Commander, Nato Forces Europe."

The Mormon Geese

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Check out these awesome geese from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's Christmas concert. They totally made my night:

Mormon Geese.jpg

Those Gigantic Menorahs

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Happy Chanukah! I've recently seen a couple online newspaper articles about Chabad doing Chanukah stuff, and the user comments are too fascinating. Here's a sampling:

Menorah Lights Up Sky, Stockton Faces: "ohmy5" is happy that we can come together and celebrate different holiday beliefs. S/he then cautions against calling the city Christmas tree a "holiday tree," lest the Christians in Stockton be prevented from celebrating Christmas. S/he ends with a "Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!". Nice try, but not quite enough.

Note: I'm fine with the idea of a Christmas tree, especially if it's chilling next to a menorah. It's self-righteous attitudes I deplore, especially when they insist that America's a Christian country (to the exclusion of all else).

Suffern Chabad Holding 'Hanukkah Wonderland' All Week: "KeepRamapoSecular" kicks it off by asking "Were any chickens injured in the production of this Wonderland?", to which "weram" responds "Racist, Anti Semetic (sic) response as usual." "katie45" wonders if it's too Christmasy, and whether that's allowed. "yonaliz" responds to her that "of course it's allowed," and what better way to unite all Jews from all "sections" of Judaism. 10 bucks if you can guess "yonaliz"'s affiliation...

There follows an extensive discussion about the rabbi's outfit from the photo. "flyboy1" asks (with incorrect punctuation, by the way) why he's dressed like a "roman soldier." "flyboy1" alleges that Pontius Pilate (which he spelled wrong), who was a Roman, killed Jesus, which "flyboy1" considers "interesting." "BenKaufman" replies that the Romans weren't the only ones with metal armor, and that the rabbi was probably dressed like the Maccabean soldiers who fought the Greeks. No mention of Pontius. "Bitachon" says that the rabbi's dressed as a Greek soldier.

Then it gets downright dirty. "Fairness4All" likes the Jews, and likes when they share Chanukah with the community. She only objects to certain sects that she says "abuse the social services and tax system." But, she says, we should let those issues go during the holidays. Also, don't miss the protracted discussion about whether Chabad is a Jewish sect, or a "new religion" that broke off from Judaism 300 years ago, the same way Christianity broke off from Judaism. I'm not gonna lie - it's pretty hardcore when the Jews throw down...

Physics (even the non-astro kind) is cool!

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This is an awesome super-slow-motion video of a baseball hitting a bat. It's a MUST-SEE for any baseball fan, physics fan, or afficionado of massive compression of a normally solid object. See for yourself:

Stardate: Solid marketing

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Keep your eyes open for an occasional "shooting star" tonight, because Earth will punch through a cloud of comet dust. The dust will create the Ursid meteor shower, which most years is unremarkable. Rarely, though, it puts on an impressive show. (from

I can't imagine a more enticing way to promote tonight's meteor shower. :-P

Astrophysicist (Cool!)

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Yesterday I went to Camp Tawonga's San Francisco office to do my interview for this summer. The interview was fun, but the best part was seeing all my camp homies in the office.

In addition to the people who work there, like Aaron Mandel, a girl named Hannah was there for an interview. This is significant because she's an Astrophysics major at Santa Cruz. How insanely awesome is that? (Again, one more thing you can do at a school bigger than Willamette...) If she gets hired for this summer, she can totally run the humungous telescope that camp has. There's even a green laser pointed to go with it.

She reminds me of my unit counselor eight years ago, Josh Lee, who was also an astrophysicist. He's the one who first got me interested in Quantum Mechanics, and that was also the summer when I learned that most of the stars you see in the sky are already dead. (And also why, if the universe is infinite, you don't see an infinite number of stars, and the earth isn't lit up by them at night. Ask me sometime in person, because it's as complicated as it is fascinating.)

Three cheers for amazing counselors! (Especially those who know how to blow campers' minds!)

It's about expectation

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When you expect something to be amazing, and then it is amazing, you're impressed to a moderate degree. When, however, you have no advance expectations, or even moreso when you expect something to be mediocre, then there's a particular kind of "blown away," occasionally involving dizziness and/or elation.

This evening, at the Berkeley Symphony, I had the pleasure of being impressed twice in one concert. First by minimalist composer John Adams's Shaker Loops, which I expected to be good, and second by new conductor Joana Carneiro, whom I didn't know much about, and whom I expected to be pretty mediocre. Wow, was I wrong about her.

To begin with her hugest accomplishment, I've never seen a Beethoven Symphony played with such electricity. Crisp is too gentle a word for how together the orchestra played. Except for two hiccups, the orchestra was locked in not just with each other, but with Ms. Carneiro, the source of the electricity (and a hundred other emotions). From my seat on the side in the very first row, I had the experience of watching Ms. Carneiro's face as she conducted. Her face, I realized afterward, was the reason that the orchestra was able to play Beethoven's Fifth with such vibrant life. She was apparently feeling real emotions about the piece, and the orchestra had no choice but to mirror those emotions. From deep sadness to infuriated anger, and everything in between, she gave the music the character that other conductors (that I've seen) have left by the wayside. Sure, the orchestra twice got de-synchronized, when Ms. Carneiro's gestures got a little too adventurous, but it was worth it to see such a passionate and expressive performance. Indeed, I always prefer an exciting performance to a technically perfect one, and I challenge the musicality of anyone who disagrees.

At intermission, I met John Adams as he walked back to his seat. He signed my program, which was an incredible thrill. He also brushed past my knees as he hopped onstage after Shaker Loops. OMG It was so insanely cool! But as soon as I knew he was there, I'd expected it to be cool. Ms. Carneiro caught me completely off-guard with the magic of her performance, and that was the most impressive part of the evening.

EDIT: The symphony's Executive Director introducted their "Music in the Schools" pins as an excellent last-minute gift for Hanukkah or Christmas, in that order. Legit!

Snow + Sunshine = Happiness

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Snow1.JPGToday's weather thrilled me. My two favorites are snow and sunshine, and I got both today. Yesterday was all blizzardy and snowy, and when the sun went down several inches stuck. Overnight it all froze into ice. When I woke up this morning, slightly earlier than usual, a gorgeous sunrise greeted me over a white-frozen wonderland.

It was not just beautiful, but mood-altering too (sunshine always makes me happy). Crunching in the snow was fun, and who doesn't love a little sliding? As long as you're not a car, that is. I saw so many stupid drivers sliding all over the place today. Not exactly confidence-inspiring.

The buses were especially amusing this morning. They all had chains on the rear wheels, and they crawled along at something like 15 mph. All the drivers looked terrified that their bus would suddenly slip across the ice.

Luckily, a lot of people stayed home today. Most every school in the state (except Willamette) was closed, and the Capitol was empty. The holiday musical groups cancelled, and very few legislative staffers showed up. The woman at the front desk told me that most of them lived in Portland, and didn't want to make the hour-long trip.

In closing, I'm SOOOO glad that I'm taking the train tomorrow. The walk across the street to the station is so much more appealing than a drive to the Portland airport...


(photos: this morning's view out my window)

A Christmas Carol, high school style

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Last night, I saw the South Salem High School production of A Christmas Carol. It's a nice story. I'd never seen or read it before, so I was pretty impressed with its morals. I didn't even mind the whole Christmas thing too much, since the play made me feel so warm and cheery.

One notable moment was at the beginning, when all the cast members walked up and down the aisles wishing audience members "Merry Christmas" in what I suppose were British accents. One girl I've met before (she's a friend of the kids in the Jewish youth group, and also the daughter of one of my professors) told me "Merry Christmas" as she passed by, then she popped back about five seconds later to wish me "Happy Chanukah." :-) It was so thoughtful, and it made me really happy

I was impressed that they had an orchestra there, and it added a lot to the performance. It set the mood really well, and it improved the scene changes. It was simple music, but it sounded great, and the orchestra played it without a conductor!

Finally, I have to relate two ads in the program. Some ads were from local businesses, but some were from parents and family members. One was from a friend: Next to a picture, it said "This is (name removed). If you are embarrassed for her, so am I. Don't be surprised if she precedes every statement with the words I DECIDED. (Name) enjoys ripping her pants at dances, has terribly stinky feed, says weird phrases like 'meh hehhh,' and never ever stop splaying solitaire. Despite all this, she's my best friend. (Friend's name) loves you, (Name)! P.S. She needs to find a boyfriend TODAY!" It occurred to me that this is a great way to advertise one's need for a boyfriend or girlfriend. Since you're not writing the ad yourself, you don't look desperate, plus you get a friend's good word to vouch for you. This technique might have a future with me...

The second ad simply says "Kate - we always knew that talking was going to be what you do best. Nice to see that we were right. - Love, Mom & Dad"

Way Awesome Carrot Clarinet

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Prof. Linsell (my director, conducting teacher, and former clarinet teacher) just posted this on Facebook. It's amazing for a few reasons:

1) He managed to constuct an in-tune clarinet out of a carrot. That's no easy feat, since the clarinet's tone and pitch are a complicated combination of bore, distance between holes, and even the thickness of the material used (and the material itself). I have a couple metal clarinets at home, and they sound totally different than the wood or plastic ones. So to get a solid tone like that out of a carrot is impressive. I wonder if it was frozen.

2) The tune he plays is way cool. Jazz did, of course, originate with the clarinet (if you trace Jazz up from Dixieland instead of down from Ragtime). The first jazz was always played on the clarinet, and clarinetist Benny Goodman was the pioneer of swing. Alas, somewhere along the way, someone decided that the "standard" instrumentation of a jazz band would include only saxophones and no clarinets.

I did audition for the jazz band once, in high school. They made me audition on the trumpet part, and it didn't go so well. (Never mind that I'd never played jazz before.) More recently, I thought it would be fun to form a small jazz combo in which I could play clarinet. I have a book of Benny Goodman's swing tunes, and a super-jazzy Van Doren B45 mouthpiece from when I played in a Klezmer band in high school. So why not?

Okay, so here's the guy playing the carrot: (if you're curious, he's looping the tune live using a Boss RC20)