At the back of the hill

Warning: If you stay here long enough you will gain weight! Grazing here strongly suggests that you are either omnivorous, or a glutton. And you might like cheese-doodles.
BTW: I'm presently searching for another person who likes cheese-doodles.
Please form a caseophilic line to the right. Thank you.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Looking for ten good men - and HANUKKA

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Just in case you've NOT seen the posting on Mar gavriel's site (the name of which has been changed to: Mar Gavriel's Yekkish Cynicism; see here: http://margavriel.blogspot.com/),
he and several others are organizing (is that the right word in this context?) a Henewkish event to take place near the end of December. For which ten adult males are needed.

If you are within a few miles of Upper Manhattan (which, from the disadvantage point of North Beach, sounds like an impossibly exotic locale - imagine, all those mysterious Easterners!), you might want to learn more about this.


To quote his post word for word:

Minyān on the First Day of Hanukkā
WHERE: Some place in Upper Manhattan, to be determined
WHEN: First Morning of Hanukkā, Monday, Dec. 26
WHAT: Special minyān (including recitation of the Qerōvā in the repetition of the `Amidā), 8:30 AM
Followed by fleishig breakfast / Hanukkā party / JBlogger re-union at around 10:45
R.S.V.P. as soon as possible in the comments here (http://margavriel.blogspot.com/2005/11/minyn-on-first-day-of-hanukk.html).
We want to insure that we can get a minyān of men (though women are very welcome).

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By the way, this seems as good a time as any to opportunistically get a jump on Hanukka by posting what I hope may actually be the second blog-scribble of the season on that subject.

[Serious request - please suspend scepticism when reading any mentions of the deity - the existence of the deity MUST be assumed, in order to be fully involved in the holiday. And it does no harm to operate on that same assumption at all other times, either.]


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Oily thoughts, Oily Recipes.

The miracle of the oil has, I think, three aspects.

The first aspect is that it reminds us that what is right, though often dwarfed by what is wrong, can nevertheless triumph, and outweigh the other side; that such a result is possible is what balances the universe.

Those who rededicated the temple were outnumbered, but they won - perhaps because they were right. The oil lasted more days than was possible, the right outweighed the wrong and extended the victory.


The second aspect is that while G_d does not (usually) intervene, He is not impartial. The partiality of Hashem is fundamental to our successes and moral victories. Our effort is a required component, but that which enables us is from the Master of the Universe.

The third aspect is that there should be a focus for one's efforts. Victory was one component, but had the efforts toward that end not had as culmination the rededication of the temple (hanukka refers to re-dedication), the effort would have been pointless.

That the light miraculously lasted eight days is a reminder that our goals are not hubris and pride, but restoring sanctification to a place in our lives. Action and sanctification (the week and the Sabbath, for example) complement each other.


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Now, what would Hanukka be without some nice greasy eats?
I remember, with a hunger made all the more intense by time, the delicate apple beignettes which my friend Moosje's mom made, and deeply regret that at that young age I did not have the presence of mind to ask her for her exact recipe. They were a recurring delight every December, when the weather in Brabant is bitterly cold and the days are dark. Those comfortingly hot sweet treats each year again in coldest winter, and the candles, sparkling, brilliant... Where there is light, there is hope, and there is simcha.

My father's friend Henri, on the other hand, would make sfganiot (bemuelos) for Hanukka - divinely intoxicating when eaten warm from the kitchen.
I especially remember one year when the entire evening became a glorious sugar high haze... Probably as a result I hardly remember the slides of Henri's trip to Samaria. My mother was horrified when she heard how many bemuelos I had eaten.


Sfganiot, under whatever name they hide, are probably the original Hanukka treat. After all, apple fritters (such as I mention above) are very Dutch, and potatoes (as for Latkes) come originally from the Americas, and were distrusted for centuries after their introduction to the western world.

But, more suited for Hanukka than either apple fritters or bemuelos, are the Dutch relatives of the latter: oliebollen.
The name, quite simply, makes them utterly perfect for the occasion - 'oil balls'.

So then, here are four oily recipes: Oliebollen, Appelflappen, Latkes, Bemuelos.


OLIEBOLLEN

4 (four) Cups white flour.
1.75 (one and three quarters) Cups warm (scalded) milk.
3 (three) TBS Sugar.
3 (three) Eggs.
1 (one) TBS oil.
1 (one) Tsp. Salt.
1 (one) TBS active yeast.
1.5 (one point five) cups chopped raisins.
A few drops vanilla essence, a little fresh orange or lemon zest.
Plus oil for deep-frying and powdered sugar for dusting.


Proof the yeast in the milk, with one tablespoon of the sugar dissolved therein (meaning: stir sugar and yeast into the warm milk, and let the yeast foam up and become all nice and active again).

Mix all other ingredients, and add the yeasted milk gradually after it has foamed. Mix well. Cover with a damp cloth, put in a warm place, and let the batter sit two hours or more till doubled in size.

Heat the oil for frying to 375 - 400 degrees. Drop spoonfuls of the batter into the hot oil (use a second spoon to push the batter off the first). Fry golden, remove from oil when done, drain on papertowels, and dust with powdered sugar.


Note I: A teaspoon of cinnamon can be added to the batter, or to the powdered sugar.
Note II: If the milk is too hot for you to put your finger into, it is too hot for the yeast. Better wait a moment - you don't want to kill the yeast, do you?
Note III: Leave plenty of space in the deep-fryer or the cauldron - there is nothing worse than bliksems hot oil splashing up or boiling over.
Note IV: Some folks avoid lactose and/or gluten. Sorry, this recipe is not for you. Get real.
[By the way, oliebollen are often sold from temporary stands outside train-stations and at busy intersections in many towns, from the beginning of November all the way through March. There's nothing quite like burying your snoot in a brown paper bag of warm balls, getting the powdered sugar down the front of your raincoat, while sheltering from the cold sleet, just outside the station.
Oliebollen are also eaten on new year's eve, along with some other things that I'm not too sure of. With coffee and Genever - no Dutch celebration is complete without coffee and a shot of Genever.]



APPLE BEIGNETTES (APPELFLAPPEN)

Use the same batter as above, minus the raisins. Instead, make the batter a little looser, dip sliced crisp apples in the batter, and fry golden. Dredge with powdered sugar. Serve hot.


LATKES

One and a half pounds of potato (about four regular baking potatoes), peeled.
One large onion, peeled.
Half a dozen sprigs parsley, very finely minced.
Two eggs.
Salt, pepper.
Two TBS flour (preferably potato flour, but regular will do).


Grate potatoes and onions with a quick hand, squeeze out excess moisture in a sieve or doubled cheese-cloth, and mix all ingredients together.

Heat some oil in a frypan, spoon in a couple of mounds of the latke batter, and flatten with a spatula or the back of the spoon. Fry crispy on one side, turn over and do the other. Drain on papertowels on a heated plate.

Do not make the latkes too thick - they will not cook through before turning too dark.
Do not make latkes too large - they will not hold together well.
Do not use olive oil - it has too low a burning temperature.
If the potato mixture gets soggy (which of course it will!), it is a good idea to squeeze it out - containing it within a cheese-cloth for this very purpose is not a bad idea.


Serve with homemade applesauce: peel and slice some crisp apples, put in an enamel pan with a dash of calvados, a squeeze of lemon, a little sugar, and a pinch of spice. Cook on low till the apples can be broken up with a fork.

Or serve with Dilled Sour Cream: mix half a cup sour cream, one tablespoon finely snipped fresh dill, a few drops lemon juice, and a pinch of salt.

Drained yoghurt can be substituted for the sour cream.

Blackstrap molasses or Dutch appel stroop (thick stroppy apple syrup) are, though odd, also good. For homemade appel stroop simmer down some concentrated apple juice (some sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice optionally added) till thick and gluggy.



BEMUELOS (BEMUELITOS, SFGANIOT)

Two and a half cups flour.
Three quarter cups warm milk.
Quarter cup cane sugar.
Two TBS butter (softened).
Two TBS yeast (two packages).
Two egg yolks.
Half Tsp each: Ground cinnamon, mace (or nutmeg).
Generous pinch salt.
Tangy apricot preserves for filling, oil for frying, fine granulated sugar for rolling.


Proof yeast (let the yeast re-activate and foam up) in the warm milk with the sugar dissolved therein. Knead all ingredients to an elastic dough. Cover with a damp cloth, let rest a few hours till doubled in volume, or leave it overnight in the refrigerator.

Roll the dough out as a thick rope, which then cut into two dozen pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, make a pit in each ball, and insert a teaspoon of tangy apricot preserves into each pit. Pinch-pull the dough together over the filling to seal. Cover and let rise again for half an hour in a warm place.

Fry in hot oil (375 - 400 degrees Fahrenheit) till brown, turn onto papertowels to drain, roll in fine granulated sugar (it has to have that slightly gritty mouth-feel, which is why we don't use powdered sugar) and serve warm.


Hanukka sameach, y'all!


PS. Regarding measures, please note that the American measuring cup contains sixteen tablespoons (TBS), and that each tablespoon (TBS) is equal to three teaspoons (Tsp.).

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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Red-headed step-children

A very good friend, who normally e-mails in Dutch, and whom I know is not a red-head, may have been trying to get my goat when he sweetly asked me about a text he had run across that hot-aired for redhead superiority over the rest of the world.

That wouldn't be unlike him, as throwing the cat among the canaries (or, somewhat more pungently put, tossing a turd into the punch-bowl) is not an unusual conversational gambit among Dutch speakers.


He wrote: "...I am curious to find out more about famous red-haired people (esp. Jews ?), but not so willing to get a FREE [brand name blipped] membership, I thought maybe you could be some kind of 'helpdesk' to me regarding this subject."


I'm a sucker for an appeal to my knowledge......

Okay, I'm a sucker.


The short paragraph I read, on his urging, proved so repulsive, that I had to react - rather like having to heave after swallowing an unidentified lump in a glass of milk.

[And no, I am NOT going to post a link to it - you really do NOT need to read stuff like that, and you probably already have, and felt ill afterwards. See, I care about your well-being.]


It is utterly repellent.


Quote 1: "Among great artists, musicians, scientists, generals, and conquerors, there is a disproportionate share of redheads".

Only if you discount most of the rest of the world, and do not consider their achievements as being worth a damn.
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Quote 2: "If there ever was a red-haired race, it would be intellectually superior."

More likely, so inbred as to be mongoloid. Recessive genes. Takes generations of marrying one's relatives before red hair becomes common in any group.
[For a recessive characteristic to be manifested there must not be a corresponding dominant gene present. Therefore, the only way for this to happen is if each of the inherited pair of genes are BOTH recessive.
For two recessive genes to be present, they must be inherited from both of parents, with no corresponding dominant gene being passed on.]
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Quote 3: "In modern times, red hair is found mostly in northwestern Europe, in the same places where most progress has come from."

Only comparatively recently has northwestern Europe been worth noticing.

Until about the 1500s northwest Europe was a primitive unwashed backwater that could not compare to the Arab world or the far East (and had not even risen back up to the level of Rome - which, by the way, thought it 'civilized' to throw people to the lions, or have them fight each other in arenas).
[And remember, Europe was until recently not so much a genetic cesspool with everything, as a genetic backwater.]

Then Europe developed printing, and started drinking caffeinated beverages.

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Quote 4: "Europeans conquered most of the world, including North America, Oceania, Africa, south and southeast Asia."

Gunpowder, paper, and disease. Gunpowder, paper, and disease. Gunpowder, paper, and disease. Gunpowder, paper, and disease. Gunpowder, paper, and disease. Gunpowd.....
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Quote 5: "Some people claim that Columbus was a Jew with reddish-blond hair and blue eyes."

That keeps getting brought up. And it keeps getting debunked.
Some people also claim that Christopher Columbus was a freemason.
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Quote 6: "The more successful Jews often have Nordic traits and red hair."

The Rambam and Ibn Ezra were redheads? Rashi was a red head? Obediah Sforno was a redhead? The Gaon of Vilna was a redhead? Rabbi Akiva was a redhead? Bejamin Disraeli? Spinoza?

But okay, Woody Allen was indeed a redhead.
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Quote 7: "Jews from areas like Yemen and Morocco have IQs of around 90 and have accomplished nothing worthwhile."

This is probably the most objectionable thing I've seen in years. And totally unfounded. Besides showing what a staggeringly ignorant and bigoted pustule the writer of the statement actually is.
I am flabbergasted that anyone would even write this, let alone believe it for a moment. But I over-estimate my rednecked fellow hominids. That may be a character flaw - I'll try to change.
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Quote 8: "In Russia most of the intelligent people are Jews, and Jews are often the only people in Eastern Europe with red-hair. In Slavic Europe, the intelligentsia consisted of Jews, Germans, and aristocrats."

Where to begin? There is so much wrong with this statement that it boggles the mind.
Think in terms of suppressio veri & sugestio falsi. As merely the most obvious error in this statement.
-------
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I'll skip over the quote from the German """scientific""" text - I'll simply take it for granted that it is sodden with Aryanismus (it was printed in 1929). That also tells you where the author of the red-headed piece got his ideas from.

Likewise, I'll pass by that 'intermarriage with Nordics bit', as it posits a dominance by the smallest genetic contributor (and remember, recessive gene!!!) - unless the author of that statement wishes to assert that Jews were swamped by Nordics (in which case, their survival as Jews would have been unlikely, to say the least).

The Khazar tribe fable has also been pretty much discredited, though it is still much out there on anti-Semitic websites. Entirely aside from which, the author seems to be suggesting that the Khazars may have been Nordic, and then uses discredited Celto-supremacist garbage to describe their social system, before nevertheless suggesting that they were racially inferior to Germans.

I'm passing over the complete cock-up of the history of Jews in Poland too.
It isn't supported by any documentation, in any case, whereas the migration from the Rhineland to Poland is.


Then the author makes one comment which absolutely negates anything else, and trashes everything he's asserted, namely that "red hair was not uncommon in ancient Israel".
IN THAT CASE, RED-HEADED JEWS DID NOT DESCEND FROM NORDICS, AND THAT ENTIRE MISHEGOSS ABOUT NORDICS, RED HEADED KHAZARS, EASTERN EUROPEANS AND LOW IQs WAS POINTLESS.
------- -------
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Now, my turn.

Obviously the author of that piece is a redhead, and that is the only thing that makes him proud. He has achieved nothing else in his life, and may have even flunked out of a mid-continent high-school with a decent football program, and lower academic standards than many other schools in his state.
He may be unemployed, or only marginally employed, the poor bastard. Nebech.

But he is a redhead. So he's probably related to himself on both sides of his family. And in his case, that may not have been accidental, as I really doubt that he comes from a small village somewhere behind a Norwegian peat-bog.
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As a side note, I wonder how many Chinese poets were redheads.

With the possible (but nevertheless very unlikely) exception of Li Po, whose family was of mixed Chinese and Turkic ancestry, it is unlikely any of them were redheaded genetically, though malnutrition often causes reddish hair (and some of them were. at times, malnourished).


For that matter, how many of the great Urdu poets would've been redheads? Other than of course the ones who used henna to hide the grey in their beards.

The more I think about that repulsive little bit of redhead racialist propaganda, the more I want to bash in the author's pointy little red head with a Louisville slugger.
------- -------
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By the way, not a redhead in the family - though most of us qualify for mensa. No blondes either. Most common hair hues seem to be mouse or darkish brown. No offense to anybody, but, to grossly generalize, most of the redheads I've ever met were unstable and smelled a bit.

And as a further by the way, some of us used to belong to mensa, until we met far too many people who either believed crap like that red-hair idea, or had been on flying saucers with big-eyed green or grey alien beings.

And scientologists.


Post-Scriptum: I have also slightly edited the quotes, so that you cannot cut and paste to find them on the web. You really do not need to give that sick-bastard any more hits, and I really do not want your gorge to rise. Especially not this close to the chag of the big-inedible bird.

Monday, November 21, 2005

SIU NGAAP – Roast Duck, Cantonese style.

[Or, how to cook with hyphens on Thanksgiving..............]


Because Savage Kitten has never mentioned our relationship to her family (as her siblings have likewise kept their private lives utterly private), she ends up at the old mother’s house every holiday with her kin, wondering what craziness will happen this year at the dinner table (which I will hear about in detail when she returns – it’s good to live a Cantonese-American life vicariously). (*)


What this means is that she and I celebrate Thanksgiving a day later than everyone else. Or, for one day longer – it is, after all, outside the land.


And because we are secretive, and not hospitable (small apartment, filled to the rafters with books, a veritable fire hazard of a place – please move gracefully, like a cat, not kajumpily, like a heffalump), we need only enough food to feast the two of us, not a bird the size of an ox.
Besides, she will have already eaten turkey the evening before, and I rather dislike them.

Something smaller and better, then.

For that, a duck is perfect. Which I’ve been doing now for nearly a decade (before that, she would do a chicken or a fish, and I would do the vegetables, salad, and a sweet for after).

I really like duck, though. Especially if brined and roasted at a high temperature.

The advantage of cooking a brined bird at high heat for a relatively short period of time is that it turns out crisp skinned, juicy, and tender.

[Note added December 30, 2013: the traditional method is described in this post: CANTONESE ROAST GOOSE. The bird is treated with soy sauce and sugar or honey, then dried a bit before roasting. In Hong Kong, they would use Maltose, which is hard to find here. It's just a local preference, and sugar or honey work just as well. The recipe below combines the soy and sweetness approach with a brine treatment. Brining a bird for a day or two makes it wonderfully tender and juicy. Read both recipes, and decide which one will suit you best.]


Here, then, is the recipe.



SIU NGAAP (Roast Duck).

For a five to six pound duck:

Four and half cups sherry.
Three cups soy-sauce.
Six Tablespoons cane-sugar.
Six Tablespoons fresh lime juice.
A large thumblength fresh ginger, smashed with the flat of a cleaver.
Six to eight whole star-anise.
Four or five bayleaves.
One Teaspoon whole peppercorns.
Quarter Teaspoon cinnamon powder.


The duck must be freshly bought, or entirely thawed. Go over it with a tweezer to pull out the more obvious feather remainders, and rinse out the cavity with cold water.

Whisk the ingredients listed above together until the sugar has dissolved. Place the duck in a roomy plastic bag, and pour in the sherry and soy-sauce mixture. Tighten the bag so that the duck is entirely covered by the marinade, and tie the top to prevent leakage. Place the package in an oval basin in the refrigerator to soak for at least twenty-four hours, tied end up (the duck can lie down, but the basin and the tied end up are so that the chance of a leak is lessened).

On the day that you will roast the duck, remove it from the refrigerator and drain the marinade into a saucepan. Bring the liquid to a boil and pour it over the duck (placed in a roomy pot for this purpose), in order to tighten the skin. Reheat the marinade, and repeat the pouring. Do this one time more. Pat the duck dry, place on a rack, and let air dry for an hour.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Prepare rack and roasting pan, with a layer of water in the roasting pan so the drippings do not smoke or burn. Roast the duck for one and a quarter hours, turning twice for an even colour. Start breast up, and finish breast up. Check on the beast occasionally to make sure he isn’t turning too dark (and if you fear this happening, place a tin-foil tent over him to prevent him colouring further).

Let the bird rest for half an hour on the kitchen counter before carving. When carving, use a pair of clean kitchen shears instead of hacking at it with a chefs knife – who says you have to make a dinner-table performance of it?
You could also hack it into chunks with a Chinese cleaver, like the fat guy at the take-out counter of the Sin Kam Po does.

Save the dripped grease in the roasting pan to clarify later, as duck-fat is gorgeous with potatoes. There should be between one and four cups after clarifying; the amount of grease largely depends on how fatty the duck is, and how much of that lovely fat oozed out while roasting.

The remaining marinade is not worth keeping, though a little bit can be boiled up into a salty jus, or incorporated into a whiskey sauce.



WHISKEY SAUCE

One and a half cups good stock.
Half a cup whiskey (Bourbon or Irish).
Quarter cup reserved marinade, or two Tbs soy sauce.
Some chopped garlic, parsley, and chives.
Pinches of pepper, sugar, and dry ginger.
One or two cloves and bay leaves.
About four Tablespoons of the grease from the roasting pan.
A few sliced mushrooms optional.

Sweat the garlic and herbs (and optional mushrooms) in the duck-grease till softened. Before they brown or turn colour, add everything else. Raise heat to boiling, turn low and simmer till the alcohol has cooked off and the sauce has reduced by about forty percent. Taste, and adjust seasoning if necessary.



CHUTNEY

A simple chutney goes well with duck, as a dab on the side of your plate. Here's a recipe for a quick fruit chutney.

Half a cup chunky peach or plum jam.
Quarter cup each: Orange juice, sherry.
A little minced ginger, a hefty squeeze of lime juice, and a heavy dash of vinegar (balsamic, if you have it, otherwise red wine vinegar will do).
One Tablespoon Louisiana hot-sauce.
Half a Teaspoon chili pepper flakes.
Quarter Teaspoon cayenne.
Pinches of salt, dry ginger, cinnamon powder.


Combine, simmer till reduced by half, stir to prevent scorching.
You can prepare this a day or more in advance, as it improves from a little refrigerator aging. The flavours develope overnight.


Note I: In stead of actual ginger and sugar in the duck-marinade, up to half a cup of ginger syrup can be used. In which case, add about a teaspoon of salt to the marinade.
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Note II: If you prefer not to use sherry and soy-sauce, you can make a simple brine. The proportion of liquid to salt to sugar would 20 parts water to one part salt, one part sugar. If you intend to soak longer, add a jigger vinegar and some extra salt. But twenty four hours is just about right.
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Note III: Oven roasted potato wedges are traditional with duck. And easy. Just rub some wedges lightly with duck-grease or olive oil, and put them on a tray in the oven at the same temperature as the duck for about half an hour, taking them out occassionaly to agitate for even colouring.
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Note IV: You could also replace up to half a cup of the soy-sauce with ketjap manis, which is a very sweet and dark soy-sauce made in Holland and Indonesia. Or serve a little on the side - it goes very well with roasts and grilled meats. With a squeeze of lime and some fresh chilies.

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(*) Note regarding the secrecy of the relationship. Savage Kitten is of Cantonese ancestry, I am not. And her mother is very old-fashioned, old-country, old-school (and yes, I have actually met her a few times on the street in C-town, and I know that type very well, so I do know what I'm talking about).

Now, imagine this monologue, in a rural Cantonese dialect:
“You married a WHAT??!?!! How can you do this to us, after all we’ve done for you!?!?!?!? Bitch!!!! You should’ve married a dentist from our hometown!!!!! Not a kwailoh!!!!! AND they smell bad!!!! Szei lo-faan!!!!! Disobedient girl!!!!!! Why did we even teach you to read???!?!?!!! Chee-loui!!!! You should NEVER have gone to school!!!! Fan-ah ney, szei kwai-chu!!! Oh, if only your grandfather were alive today!!!!! What will we tell the relatives!!!!!! Cursed dead daughter, we should’ve sent you to live on the farm!!!!!! Oooh, I'm having an attack, aaah!!!!! Your own people aren’t good enough for you??!!?!! We never should’ve come to this country!!! We should’ve married you off when we had the chance!!!! Sold you!!! For cheap!!!! Should’ve drowned you!!!! Traded you for a pig!!!!!! No one will respect us now!!!! Now we will NEVER find spouses for your syblings!!!!! Aeeeyahhh!!!!!! The shame, the shame, the horror, the horror, aaaaaaaauuurrgh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”


Now try to imagine these themes being repeated until the old lady grows weary. Which might take a very long time, as elderly Cantonese mothers are full of piss and vinegar. With more histrionics than you can possibly imagine.

Doesn’t it seem so much simpler to just not say a darn thing and quietly elope?

Of course, we had to leave the piano behind when she moved out of C-town. Wouldn’t fit in the station wagon.


Have a happy thanksgiving, y'all.

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Saturday, November 19, 2005

Further to that irritating holiday and the poison pen letter

The gentleman who sent the nasty screed (mentioned in the previous post) has apologized.

I have accepted his apology, as I know where it came from, and could read how upset he was over the issue between the lines of his angry letter.


I'm not going to take it personally, as A) we all have strange things floating underneath the surface, which while we're calm we would never say, but which pop out when we're furious, though later we're horrified that we said them; and B) everybody has the right to be screaming mad at times.


My main reason for posting about it on my blog is that I am full of awe for pent-up furious eloquence. I've always liked reading angry letters (to the editor, to theatre critics, to political pundits), and, as you may have surmised, I've written a few myself.


Sometimes I get tired of a calm, rational, even-keeled response. I really do like a bit of fury now and then, as it proves that the person is awake, alive, and capable of being deeply involved. And when I've caused that reaction in someone else, I am pleased as punch that they were listening - even if they may not have actually heard what I was trying to say.


I'm not going to identify the writer (I am now embarrassed that to some others I've already done so), and I would prefer the relevant mailing list be left ignorant about the exchange.

As Q from Boston said, it would only create unpleasantness.

--- --- --- --- --- --- --- ---

Some excerpts from the correspondence below - Dutch bold and italic, translation regular type in square brackets underneath.

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"Sommigen geloven dat Zwarte Piet krenkend is en bestreden moet worden, velen hebben nog niet begrepen dat Zwarte Piet een problematisch geval is of zelfs zou kunnen zijn."
[Some believe that Black Peter is insulting and must be counter-acted, many have not yet grasped that Black Peter is or could even be a problematic issue.]
-----
"Men is nu eenmaal niet geneigd zijn eigen traditie en eigen geloven onder de loupe te nemen tenzij het absu moet, en men kan en mag dan zeker defensief reageren, alsook aan anders-zijde aanduwen en insisteren. Maar aan een gemeenschappelijke kultuur moet gesleuteld kunnen worden."
[One is not usually inclined to examine one's own traditions and beliefs unless it absolutely has to be done, and certainly one could and should be allowed to react defensively, as well as on the other side of the issue pushing and insisting. But it must be possible to make adjustments to a common culture.]
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"Hier in overzee zijn er gemeenschappen Nederlanders die elk jaar het Sinte-feest willen vieren, opdat hun kinderen tenminste een beetje vertrouwd raken met hun ouders land van herkomst. Ik verwacht niet van hun dat ze rap zo'n traditie zullen prullebakken. Dat moet, buiten het oude kontrei, wel ietsje langzamer."[There are Dutch communities over here which tend to celebrate Sinterklaas, so that their children can at least be familiar with their parents country of origin. I do not expect them to be in a hurry to trash-can a tradition. Outside of the old country, change naturally takes a slower pace.]

-----
"Het is niet zo lang geleden dat men vreemd keek wanneer iemand zei dat J--- waarschijnlijk niet een mooie blonde Noord-Europeansche uiterlijk had, maar eerder op Anwar ElSadat leek; short and dark. En tijdens de jeugd van onze grootouders zoud ge inmekaar geslagen kunnen worden zo ge zei dat J--- absoluut geen kristen maar een Jood was, of zelfs aan het kerst verhaal twijfelde."
[It isn't that long ago that people would react strangely if someone said that J--- probably didn't have a 'beautiful blond Northern-European appearance, but more likely resembled Anwar Es-Sadat: short and dark. And during the youth of our grandparents you could get the crap kicked out of you if you said that J--- certainly wasn't a christian but a Jew, or if you even doubted the christmas story.]
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Friday, November 18, 2005

Poison penmanship: Sinterklaas

Recently, on a mailing list that I have been a member of for the better part of the decade, a fight broke out over a Dutch holiday tradition. And of course I got into the thick of it.


The Holiday in question, Sinterklaas avond (Saint Nicholas eve, December 5th.), revolves around a fictionalized Saint Nicholas, who according to the story, travels to Holland each year, and gives presents and candies to good children, coal to mediocre children, and drags the truly awful ones back to Spain with him when he leaves again. Though he was the bishop of Smyrna (formerly Greek, now Turkish), he apparently retired to Spain. Costa Del Sol or something, which is probably the European equivalent of Florida.


Sometimes, however, if you've been a particularly bad little brat, a fate just a little more disturbing awaits you.

A good whupping by six to eight black men.

You see, part of the story is that 'Sinterklaas' is accompanied by six to eight well built black men, wearing the type of costumes you've seen in Italian renaissance paintings.

A bad child, so the story goes, will get whacked by one or more of these gentlemen, with switches and canes, then dumped into a gunny-sack and dragged off to Spain, never to be seen again.


Now, the problem is those six to eight black men, and here is where I ran afoul of some of my correspondents.

Traditionally, the six to eight black men would be impersonated by one to three white people (often young ladies, to boot), with crudely applied black-facepaint, wearing whatever butch drag mediaeval costume they could scrounge up. They would utter strange foreign sounding boogabooga grunts and pidgin Dutch threats to scare the crap outta the little kids - especially the ones who hadn't spent the previous month acting all goody two shoes, kissing up, singing cutesy songs about how happy they were to await the coming of the Saint (and his six to eight black men), and dutifully putting out cookies for the Saint every night, and a carrot for his horse (but nothing for the six to eight black men).

There is, by the way, no problem with the horse. The animal rights people have not focused on the horse yet, the horse is, so far, not a big deal.


But that thing with the six to eight black men (or, one to three white folk in black-face) has irritated the crap out of some folks. Rightly so. It panders to stereotypes, and tells little kids that they should fear black people.
It is, in many ways, a racist side to the tradition.


Many Dutch people have not grasped this yet, as they remember the joy of the season that they felt as children, getting candies, toys, cake, marzipan, chocolate letters. And as adults, they want to recapture that joy, and pass it on to their kids.

But again, part of the tradition is a bunch of white folks in blackface.
You can probably imagine why black people in the Netherlands are, at best, ambivalent about this.

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Did I mention that the mailing list is for people interested in matters having to do with the former colony Dutch Guiana?

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Every year, the Zwarte Piet (Black Peter, or Bogey Man) issue gets brought up on the mailing list. This year, discussion on the list turned heated, and I made the mistake of asking some of the writers to please be more polite, don't call each other names, stop cussing.
Because whatever point they may have had was getting lost in the melee.


In all the smoke, it may not have been readily apparent what side I was on.
[I wasn't on any side - personally, I think part of the tradition needs changing, but change is neither easy nor fast. I believe face-painted football hooligans would be a better choice. Teach the little kids to be scared of drunken louts.]


So, off the list, I received a splendid example of hate mail. It is beautiful, vicious, venomous, and absolutely smoking! Too bad it is entirely in Dutch.

But, for your reading pleasure, some fragments with translation below (the other person's text is bold and italic; the regular typeface, within square brackets, is the translation.

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"Heb jij je wel eens afgevraagd uit welk ras de verfoeiende sodom en gamorra praktijken stammen?"
[Have you ever asked yourself from which race the damnable Sodom and Gomorrah practices came?]

"Omdat jullie een aangeboren drang hebben je lusten bot te vieren op alles wat beweegt......elke ziekte waar het gros van jullie sterft is bij jullie begonnen."
[Because you folks have a genetic urge to expend your lusts on everything that moves......every disease which kills the most of you people has its origin among you people.]


"Is het een wonder dat jij het enige medicijn daarvoor dat jullie ooit uitvonden, het christendom, veracht?"
[Is it any wonder that you despise the only medicine that you guys ever invented, Christianity?]



Now this next passage just baffles the heck out of me, I can't make heads or tales of what he is trying to wish me:

"Ik wens je de nabijheid van de eerstvolgende aanslag op de misplaatste grote smoel die je denk te kunnen opzetten in een wereld die jij nog je soortgenoten bezitten."
[I wish you the proximity of the next-following strike on the misplaced big mouth that you think you can open in a world that neither you nor your kind own.]


I think it's a holiday greeting - I may print it up on some greeting cards and send it out this year.



Some other background: before receiving this mail I wrote that the accusation of bigotry, in my case, was certainly not incorrect. After all, I've slammed Europeans, Arabs, Republicans, Christian Fundamentalists, French people, leftwing socially conscious Dutchmen, and I have voiced my dislike of their idiotic and loony ideas.

Exact phraseology: "De beschuldiging van bigot is deels zeker accuraat in mijn geval - gij herinnert u zeker wel dat ik bijzonder vaak Europa, de Arabische wereld, Republiekijnen, Christen-fundamentalisten, Fransozen, Links-sociaal bewogen Nederlanders, en nog vele anderen verdoemd en verkettert heb omwille hun idiote dan wel geschifte opvattingen."

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Getting stuff like this out in the open can have a purifying effect.

I certainly feel cleaner now.

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Thursday, November 17, 2005

USHPIZIN

Before I speak of this movie, I must explain two things.

Exactly two weeks ago, in an e-mail to Tri-national Rabbi, I said "I think I'll stay away from the movie. The ads make it sound like 'Walt Disney Does Jews', for the family channel."

A day later my friend the BookSeller gave me a free-pass to an advance screening at the Embarcadero Cinemas. So of course I went.

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In short: likeable characters, utterly simplistic story. It has a predictable happy ending, and even the two rogues are, more or less, in the good lights of the movie maker when it finishes. There are no bad guys, everything works out for the best. Enjoyable, but missing real meat. Sweet fluff.

Not that I want buckets of existential angst, complexity, and despair over the fate of the world, but I don't normally watch fairytales.


The movie starts off by introducing us to the characters, in such a way as to tell us what to expect from there on in. Moishe, a Breslover Chossid, is first seen in a shop where three Yiddish speaking gentlemen are evaluating esrogim, it being just before sukkos. Naturally he wants the prize specimen they are pricing at elf shekelim (1,000), but cannot afford it (so you know that, through some miracle, he will be able to buy it later - it is indeed a lovely esrog).
Turns out Moishe is jobless, penniless, poor as a shul-mouse, and hasn't even the wherewithal to construct a sukka for the upcoming chag.
But he has faith!! And hope!! Hashem will provide!!

And for the next hour and a half, Hashem is the leading character in this miracle-play. Occasionally assisted by the wisdom of the Rebbe at Moishe's yeshiva.


Through a fortuitous sequence of events (a miracle), Moishe and his wife come into enough money to tide them over the holiday. Through a fortuitous sequence of events (a miracle), Moishe's friend Ben Baruch finds him an abandoned sukka (!). Through a fortuitous sequence of events (a miracle), they have two guests staying with them, which is a blessing on this holiday. Through a fortuitous sequence of events (a miracle), the guests don't stay the full eight days. Moishe's wife Mali (Malka: 'Queenie') finally becomes pregnant (another miracle). Nine months later there is joy, and the little fella is named Nachman (how predictable). Moishe and the two sukkos guests are reconciled.

The best part of the movie is what eventually happens to the ridiculously expensive esrog.
You will cringe.


Probably just as well that the movie takes our familiarity with Chassidism for granted - I don't think I could've sat still for the candy-striped taste that any explanation would've had in the context of this tale. There is more to Chassidus than you will see here, but you don't really need to know it to follow the story.


Visually it is excellent, and there are some very amusing parts. In particular, I enjoyed the horrible American accent of the neighbor-woman buying some snood-type thing from Malka early on in the movie, and the Jewish charity worker counting out bills in English - you'll understand why this tickled me when you see the movie. Also keep an ear out for Yiddish at the esrog sellers, and an eye for the fried potatoes Moishe makes for his guests.


Oh, and three types of Shtreimel are seen in the movie - Breslover flying saucers, Gallician pill-boxes and Russian kulpakim. Evidence of a veritable holocaust among the shualim.

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NOTES
Breslover Hasidim = The followers of Nachman Ben Simcha Ben Nachman mi Horodenka of Bratislava (Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, 1772 – 1811), who was a great-grandson of the Besht (Baal Shem Tov; Rav Yisroel Ben Eliezer, 1700 – 1760), and formulator of the concept of the Tzadik as the leader of a community who takes upon himself the suffering and striving of that community, who enlarges the blessings of that community by obedience to Hashem and shomerus ha mitzvos (preserving the commandments).

His talmid Reb Nosson wrote down the teachings which have come down to us (principal among these is the idea that sincere joy counts as devotional service).
Perhaps best known to outsiders is a form of meditation called Hisbodidus (to become solitary) – a free flowing personal prayer during which one pours out one’s heart to the almighty as if to a bosom friend. Often this shades over into mantra-like repetition of words or phrases of especial significance, such as "Ribboyne shel oylom!" (Master of the universe!).

Another Breslover concept is that of the Tzadik Ha Dor – the saint of the generation, the quintessence of the saintliness of that generation, who might be the Moshiach.


Sukkos = The Feast of Booths, when you are supposed to separate yourself from the secular world and dwell in huts. Sukkos is also when the Moshiach will come. It lasts eight days (a parallel with Peysach), and comes after Rosh Hashana.


Esrog = A lumpy ancestor of the lemon, which symbolizes understanding and wisdom.

The esrog is one of the arba minim (four species) required for the feast, the others are palm tree fronds (lulav), myrtle twigs (hadas), and branches of brook-willow (arava). Three of the arba minim are bundled with the esrog held separate, and all four are waved in all directions - the waving, per the Mechaber, the Rama, and the Taz, is east, south, west, north, up, down; this is the most common order.
But Chassidim usually follow the Ari, as cited by the Magen Avraham, who paskenned south, north, east, up, down, west. This is what you will see, briefly, in this movie.

Per the Levush it should be east, south, north, up, down, west; the Tur – east, north, south, west, up, down. Whereas Rashi believed that it should be north, south, east, west, up down.


Mechaber = Yosef Karo (1488 – 1575), author of the Shulchan Aruch (Set Table), and the Beis Yosef (House of Joseph).

Ramah = Rav Moishe Ben Yisroel Isserless (born 1525 or 1530 in Krakow, died 1572).

Taz = Referent to Rabbi David Ben Shmuel HaLevi (Krakow 1586 - Lvov 1667).

The Ari = The Arizal, Rabbi Yitzhak Luria (Yerushalayim 1534 - Sfat 1572).

Magen Avraham = Referent to Rabbi Avraham Gumbiner of Kalicz (1637 – 1683).

Levush = Rav Mordechai Ben Avraham Yaffah (1535 - 1612).

Rashi = Rabbi Shlomo Ben Yitzhak, the commentator ha commentatrim. But you already knew that.
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Kerry and Gore WOULD have done better!

Now lets look back.

Two and a half years ago (March 2003) I corresponded with several people about the war (the fact that you already know which war I mean speaks volumes, doesn't it?).


Oddly (because I am a very flexible man, and always try to learn new things and understand different points of view), my opinion about the war has not changed (merely grown more complex and angry).


I reproduce some of the correspondence below (and if you recognize who you are, feel free to shout - I have changed your name). My correspondent is bold and italic (a description that he might very well appreciate).

Note that this was written in the day when we still believed that Saddam might have WMDs, because of what our officials told us - which has since been proven to have been wrong wrong wrong.
Not to say that they lied - they merely bent the truth, so much, and so selectively, that they created an entirely new life-form. And lying requires sentience, a quality that our gubbmint hain't demonstrated in any abundance.


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Small Dutch cigar wrote:
"My objection to a war of this sort in general and this one in particular is that it doesn't solve the cause of the Iraq problem (poverty, corruption, nepotism, clan-behaviour, ethnic diversity, religious items and so on).
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Already now US and UK are arguing about the post war administration of the territory. US or UN supervised? Does Turkey play a role and if yes what kind of and if no what shall be their reaction? How to tackle the Kurdish issue? How to spread power among the various ethnic and religious groups et cetera. "


My dear SDC,

If this administration wasn't capable of getting their allies on their side before the war, it is quite probable that they won't be able to do any better getting things straight after its all over. Especially with every Abdul, Brahim, and Zalman in Iraq, the entire middle-East, and the world angrily demanding to be heard. This should provide years of very grim amusement. Neca eos omnes, deus suos agnoset.


SDC also wrote: "...but is the agenda of the US President filled with altruistic points in favour of the Iraqi people? "

You have just utilized one of the only two possible phraseologies in which both Bush and altruism can logically be referenced in the same construction.
Normally neither would crop up. After all, linking those two concepts is more than a little farfetched.....


Two things which need to be clarified:
1. This war is not about oil. But if Iraq had no oil, this war wouldn't have ever even been considered.
2. Hubris is a lousy basis for a foreign policy.

That being said, my main objection to this war is that it represents a complete and utter failure of politics, not only by Bushandco but also the international community - yes, I realize B&Co had no interest in any other outcome, and stormed onto the diplomatic dance-floor with all the subtlety of a rabid skunk with a bug up its arse, but in the same way that they weren't ready to dialogue with the world, the world made no attempt to deal with them.
[It does take two to tango, and if you ain't willing to dance, get off the floor. There have been no signs whatsoever that France or Germany were willing to dance. ]

The way we unilaterally and self-righteously plowed into this was a huge and arrogant mistake, and recognizable as such from the very beginning.
We could and should have co-opted France (just like us, they put their own interests ahead of everything else), and we could and should have co-opted Germany, Russia, and China.


The argument that the inspections were working and that we should have given them more time does not take into account that the inspections were only working (or starting to work) because of a credible threat presented by the U.S. army sitting on the Kuwait-Iraq border. Neither France nor Germany either acknowledged that crucial fact, nor offered a substitute approach to having the U.S. be the threat that pressured Saddam into compliance. Which is clearly also their failure.


But the arguments we presented for this war were flawed to a point far beyond cynical bullshit. And even though the base for this confrontation was laid during the Clinton years, and was inherent in our foreign policy, which in its principles (tho' not its practise) has not significantly deviated since those years, it can be argued that removing a threat is much more counterproductive than leaving it in place. Especially as any threat from the Iraqi regime was directed primarily at the other Arab states.

Entirely aside from which, B&Co are using this war as a distraction from their misguided domestic policies, and hoping that this will get them four more years come election time. Their first term has been a stellar disaster - how much more so will be the second four? And how much of a danger to all of us will this Texan mafia prove to be?


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Now, the main reason I post this is because rehashing my own e-mails is a cheap trick, an easy means of creating a post.

But honestly, has ANYTHING happened in the last two and a half years to prove me and my correspondent wrong?

Have any weapons of mass destruction been found?

Have peace and prosperity been established in a blighted land?

Have we achieved anything which makes up for the fear, loathing, and downright hatred with which many in the word now regard us?

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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

All the usual BS

Standard justifications

There are several justifications for things which a member of the party for which you didn't vote approves of which make you wanna....

You've heard these justifications so often that you are heartily sick and tired of them, aren't you? In fact, you can probably make a list of them.
Now you don't have to - Dov Bear did the heavy thinking for you - and you should visit his site ( http://dovbear.blogspot.com/ ) just to say howdy.


Here, with modifications, is what he came up with:

1: What's good for dot dot dot is good for America.
2: The Bible permits it.
3: You know, Clinton had sex with an intern.
4: White-collar crime? It's not a crime if no one gets beaten.
5: Dot dot dot isn't responsible for the business practices of its subcontractors.
6: The founding fathers did it too.
7: How does changing that help the economy?
8: Family values!
9: 9-11! 9-11! 9-11! 9-11! 9-11! 9-11! 9-11!


The original post is here:
http://dovbear.blogspot.com/2005/11/just-awful.html


Learn this list. Internalize it. When someone excuses whatever the regime did, you can finish their sentence for them. Think of how much time you'll save!

And, with some minor changes (for instance, item 3 - New version: "Shrub had sex once, too"), you will be able to use it during the next regime. If there is one.


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PS I: Katieb is responsible for number eight. (http://www.katieb.org/)

PS II: Excuse number nine covers everything. Everything. Everything. To anyone who accuses me of merely copying the cleverness of someone else, just let me say 9-11! 9-11! 9-11! 9-11! 9-11! 9-11! 9-11!

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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Pe-ullôs Eil: Lipman's blog

Here's a recording of Mar Gavriel's tune for Pe-ullôs Eil

http://lipmans.blogspot.com/2005/11/world-premiere.html
The voice is Lipman .


The tune reminds me of something, something, something.....

I've heard a very similar melody before, actually a number of similar melodies, but they're not on the ceedees I regularly play (Cajun waltzes, and lately Trafasi and Max Nijman).


Mar Gavriel's fascinating blog is here:
http://margavriel.blogspot.com/


Lipman's blog is here:
http://lipmans.blogspot.com/
(Wa'l chanukat el blawgeikum mubarak, ya sidi!)


There are, as far as I can tell, only three entries sofar on Lipman's blog - the very first is another melody:
http://lipmans.blogspot.com/2005/10/yk-kaddesh.html
http://www.geocities.com/shtegosaurus/Kaddish-YK.mp3


Do please visit lipmans' blog. It is worth your while.

As indeed also are MarGavriel and Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) (http://boroparkpyro.blogspot.com/)

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11/16/05: Editorial note: Link changed from MP3 to the posting on Lipman's blog, where there is a clickable link to the sound.

[And, in mittn drinnen, there are NEW posts on the blogs of Mar Gabriel and Steg.]

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AGAR FIRDAWS BAR-RU YE ZAMIN AST.....

The Raisin, who was on the corner of Sansome Street when I came out today, asked me what I planned to do for lunch - he's only just begun working in the Financial District again, and has not yet grasped that in this neighborhood, lunch is something to dread - especially if one avoids certain foods.

This may be an exaggeration, but, "THIS NEIGHBORHOOD BITES!"


At least as far as lunch is concerned.

Scant choice, scant variety, no imagination. Suburbanite office droodges have no sense of adventure.


The Raisin still remembers when every two weeks I'd dragoon co-workers for a dash to the Jamaican restaurant for some curry-goat. So, in reference to those days, he asked me if I'd had any goat since I stopped working in Menlo Park (7 years ago).

Of course I have.

When the Halal market around the corner from me first opened, I went ape. Bought some nice tender goat at least once a week. Goat has a particularly tasty meat, dense and flavourful, that can very well be cooked with spices that would overpower some other meats. And who could turn down a nice roast kid, on a bed of rice with saffron and raisins?

Or a nice dish of goat-chops seethed in coconut-milk and tomato, with cumin, coriander, turmeric, cayenne, and a cinnamon stick?

[In mittn drinnen, some poskim state that coconut-milk has the same halachic status as dairy, and is therefore proscribed in meat cooking. Respectfully, I have to state that, alas, they are blowing steam out of their ears on that one. The coconut is a nut, coconut milk is not dairy, and it is utterly unlikely that anyone would be misled by someone else’s example.]

Goat-chops with pomme frites?

Goat and yellow dhal with hot sauce?


The Raisin also asked what, food-wise, I have been up to since we worked together. This, then, is in partial answer thereto.



KABILI PILAW
[A robust tribal pilaf]

One large onion, chopped.
One and a half pounds of goat, cut in 1 inch cubes.
Two carrots cut into matchstick size pieces.
1 cup dark seedless raisins.
2 Tbs. blanched almonds.
1/2 tsp. each: ground cinnamon, cloves, cumin, and cardamom.
Pinches of turmeric and dry ginger (optional).
1/8 tsp. saffron (firm pack), soaked in a two tablespoons of warm water.
2 cups long grain rice (Basmati) - soaked, rinsed, and drained.
1 Tbs. sugar.
Oil
Water or broth
Salt


1. Heat four Tbs. oil in a heavy pan and fry onion golden.
2. Add meat and brown.
3. Add two and a half cups water, 1/2 tsp. salt and the ground spices. Cover and simmer until the meat is tender. Take out meat and set aside. Leave cooking juices in pan, which remove from heat and set on backburner.
4. Heat four Tbs. oil in a saucepan. Add the carrots and cook until well gilded, remove from pan and set aside.
5. Add 1 cup dark seedless raisins plus couple of tablespoons of blanched almonds, and cook until the raisins swell up. Remove and set aside.
6. Bring the meat juice in the first pan to a boil and add the rice, 1 tbsp. sugar, and 1 tsp. salt, with sufficient water to bring the liquid one and a half inches above the rice. Cook till water is absorbed.
7. Mix the oil in which the carrots were cooked and the saffron-water into the cooked rice. Add the meat, cover and set in a 300 degree oven for 20-30 minutes.
8. Mound meat and rice in the center of a large platter. Sprinkle with carrots, raisins, and almonds.


Note I: Afghans tend to use oil, grease, or clarified butter for this dish much more liberally than in the recipe above. But then it sits heavy on the stomach.

Note II: Qabili = tribal, regional. From Arabic 'Qabila' = tribe. Hence 'qaba'il' for tribesman, and 'qabaili' for the North West Frontier Province.
'Cabal' may also come from this root, though dictionaries standardly give an acronym as the derivation.

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MUTANJAN
[Semi-sweet meat and rice]

One and a half cups Basmati rice - washed, soaked an hour, drained.
One and a half pounds goat, chunk cut.
One onion, minced.
Half a cup sugar.
Half a cup water.
One lemon.
Six green cardamom pods.
Two black cardamom pods.
Two smallish pieces stick cinnamon.
Two blades of mace.
Two bay leaves.
One teaspoon whole peppercorns.
Six TBS ghee (or substitute vegetable oil).
Two TBS rosewater.
Two TBS kewra water.
A very generous pinch of saffron.
Pinch salt.


1. Mix saffron, rosewater, and kewra water, and let stand to colour.
2. Make a syrup by dissolving the sugar in the half cup water in an enamel saucepan. Squeeze in the juice of the lemon, and remove from heat.
3. Fry the onion in the ghee till glazy-golden. Add the half of the whole spices, stir, add the meat and a small splash water. Fry till the oil comes out and the meat is browned. Cover with water, simmer till nearly dry. Remove the whole spices, and set the meat and onion mixture aside.
4. Bring a pot of water to boil with the remaining whole spices. Boil fiercely for five minutes to aromatize the water, then use your kafcha or kafgir to skim out the whole spices, and add the rice. Parboil till the rice starts to puff, then strain.
5. Mix the rice with the meat and onion in a casserole, add the syrup. Pour the rose-kewra-saffron water spiral-wise over the mixture, cover well, and use tinfoil or dough to really seal the edges and prevent much steam escaping. Set in a 300º oven for half an hour. Remove and up end on a platter.


Note I: Rosewater is available at Middle Eastern stores, Kewra water can be bought at Indian stores. Kewra, kewda, or keora is pandanus - the fragrant screwpine, which has a semi floral grass-like aroma. One can substitute a jigger of pandan extract (available in S.E.Asian markets) for the Indian or Paki product.

Note II: This version of Mutanjan is not nearly as sweet as some Indians would make it. Some Indians have a phenominal sweet tooth - that is why some Indian women end up looking like the Goodyear blimp. "Have another laddoo, sweety-ji, and some more chai... you look a little peaked".

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ANANAS KA MUZAFFAR
[Electric yellow rice with syrup, pineapple chunks, and ghee!]

One cup basmati rice.
One and a half tsp saffron.
Two cups sugar.
One cup pineapple juice.
2 TBS lemon juice.
5 cloves.
5 green cardamom.
5 drops yellow foodcolour.
5 fresh pineapple rings, chunk cut.
Quarter cup ghee.

1. Rinse and soak the rice for 2 hours. Drain.
2. Soak the saffron in two TBS warm water.
3. Boil sugar with half a cup water, pineapple and lemon juices; stir until the syrup becomes thick. Reserve.
4. Heat four cups water in a pot with the cloves, cardamom pods and yellow food colouring added. Boil fiercely for five minutes, skim out the spices with a kafgir, and add the rice. Cook till puffy and half way done. Drain.
5. Heat the syrup over low heat to boiling, add the rice, mix well and remove from the fire when heated through, whereupon stir in the pineapple chunks and the saffron water.
6. Transfer the rice mixture to a shallow casserole, place the lid on tight and set the casserole in the oven at 300 degrees for half an hour.
7. Melt the ghee and pour it in a circular motion all over the rice.


Note I: The dish as given above is not nearly sweet enough for some Indians, who would more than double the amount of sugar (I have seen Indians adding half a dozen packets of sugar to a small dish of pudding at the restaurant).
If one of those insulin mommas is your guest, you might want to serve the dish with maple syrup or honey on the side. Plus extra ghee.

Note II: Muzaffar means yellowed. Which, thanks to liberal use of both food colour and saffron, it will indeed be.

Note III: This dish can also be done with mango (Aamb Ka Muzaffar) or even jackfruit (Kathal Ka Muzaffar).

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MIRCHI KA SALAN
[Green chilies in curry sauce - Andhra version]


Half a pound of long green chilies (Paprika in Europe, Anaheim or Mild New Mexico in US).
One onion, minced.
Three or four cloves of Garlic, minced.
A thumb-length of ginger, minced.
Quarter cup roasted Peanuts.
Two TBS Sesame seeds, lightly toasted.
Three Tsp. ground Coriander.
One Tsp. ground Cumin.
Half Tsp. Cayenne.
Half Tsp. Turmeric.
A generous pinch of Sugar.
A pinch of ground Cinnamon.
Pinch Salt.
One and a half cups Water.
One and a half cups Coconut milk.
Half cup strong Tamarind water (2 - 4 TBS Tamarind paste in hot water).
Half cup chopped Cilantro.
Quarter cup chopped Basil.
Quarter cup chopped Parsley.
Quarter cup Olive Oil.
A hefty squeeze of Lime juice, added at end of cooking,


1. Grind peanuts and sesame seeds to a fine paste.
2. Blanch whole chilies briefly in boiling salted water. Drain, deseed, chop into large pieces.
3. Heat oil in a large frying pan, fry chilies to gild, remove and set aside.
4. Fry onion golden, add garlic and ginger. When the garlic has gilded, add the spices, salt, sugar, and stir-fry till the fragrance rises.
5. Add the peanut and sesame paste, plus the coconut milk, water, and chilies. Simmer, stirring, till the sauce is thick and the oil separates.
6. Add the tamarind water, bring back to boil and cook a short while longer.
7. Stir in the fresh herbs and remove from heat, add the hefty squeeze of lime juice.
8. Garnish generously with two or three chopped Roma tomatoes.

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MIRCHI KA SALAN
[Green chilies in curry sauce - personal variation]


One pound of Mulatto Isleño chilies (or substitute any other large mild chili, such as Poblanos or Anaheims).
One onion, minced.
Three or four cloves of Garlic, minced.
A thumb-length of ginger, minced.
Quarter cup roasted Peanuts.
Two TBS Sesame seeds, lightly toasted.
Three Tsp. ground Coriander.
One Tsp. ground Cumin.
Half Tsp. Cayenne (or more).
Half Tsp. Turmeric.
A generous pinch of Sugar.
A pinch of ground Cinnamon.
Pinch Salt.
One and a half cups Water.
One and a half cups Coconut milk.
Half cup strong Tamarind water (2 - 4 TBS Tamarind paste in hot water).
Quarter cup chopped Cilantro.
Quarter cup chopped Basil.
Quarter cup chopped Parsley.
Quarter cup Olive Oil.
A hefty squeeze of Lime juice, added at end of cooking,


1. Grind peanuts and sesame seeds to a fine paste.
2. Roast whole chilies over a flame till the skin blackens. Peel, deseed, chop into large pieces.
3. Heat oil in a large frying pan, fry the onion golden, and add garlic and ginger. When the garlic has gilded, add the spices, salt, sugar, and stir-fry till the fragrance rises.
4. Add the peanut and sesame paste, plus the coconut milk and the water. When it boils, add the chilies. Simmer, stirring, till the sauce thickens and the oil separates.
5. Add the tamarind water, bring back to boil and cook a short while longer.
6. Stir in the fresh herbs and remove from heat. Now add the hefty squeeze of lime juice.
7. Garnish generously with two or three chopped Roma tomatoes.

Serve with flaky flatbread and rice.
Serves four.


Note I: Instead of grinding peanuts and sesame, one can substitute a quarter cup (four tablespoons) of smooth peanut butter. The taste will not be much affected.
Note II: There will be some wastage when peeling the chilies.
Note III: The hue of this dish should be a lovely speckled vert emeraude. It should be semi-scoopable, and not soupy.
Note IV: This is like the Hyderabadi Mirchi Ka Salan. But better. And not as greasy.

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GHEE / RAWGAN-E ZARDA
Ghee is clarified butter, which can easily be made at home. Melt unsalted butter in a saucepan, and keep it on low to medium heat for a while. Skim off the scum which floats to the top, and make sure the crap that sinks to the bottom doesn't burn. Once all the H2O that was in the emulsion has evaporated, pour the melted butter carefully through a fine mesh strainer, leaving the last bit along with the solid particles in the pan. Once cooled, it will keep a very long while - especially if refrigerated. Ghee has a higher smoking temperature than butter, and a nuttier flavour. Awadhis usually add a brisk jigger of kewra water to the melting butter, to subtly perfume the resulting ghee. Personally I think that's a waste of kewra water.

MEASURES: CUP, TBS, Tsp.
One litre equals four measuring cups almost exactly. There are sixteen tablespoons (TBS) in a cup. There are three teaspoons (tsp) in a tablespoon. So there are 48 teaspoons in a cup, and sixty-four tablespoons in a litre.

A pound is slightly less than half a kilogramme, there being roughly 2.2 pounds to a kilo.


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AGAR FIRDAWS BAR-RU YE ZAMIN AST, HAMIN AST, U HAMIN AST, U HAMIN AST!
[If there is a heaven on this earth, it is here it is here it is here!]

The line of poetry quoted here originally referred to some garden somewhere, but in the city who has a garden?
One the other hand, we all have kitchens.

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Achdus?!? Who are they kidding?

An article from Arutz Sheva today mentions that a number of rebbeyim associated with religious Zionism are calling for all religious Zionists to 'unite into one political party that will run a unified list in the country’s upcoming general election'.

And undoubtedly, this will bring the coming of Moshiach.

With all respect for these gentlemen, the likelihood of either of these events happening is rather slim - most particularly a unification of religious Zionists under one banner for more than the moment it takes to feel polluted by the presence of the other (would this smack of incest? Or adultery?).


The article can be seen at:
http://www.israelnationalnews.com/news.php3?id=93059
Rabbis in Plea to Unite Religious Zionist Groups into One Party


A few names of the gdolim behind this move: Shlomo Aviner, Chaim Druckman, Aharon Lichtenstein, Dov Lior, Rav Zalman Melamed, Shlomo Riskin.

Well, that's one heck of a rainbow coalition right there.


Significantly, "Rabbi Lichtenstein is one of the backers of Meimad, a religious Zionist party that ran in the last elections on a list with the Labor party. Meimad generally favors withdrawing from parts of the Land of Israel in order to attain peace."

Right here we see how unlikely this marriage of convenience is...., only a few months ago anybody advocating ANY withdrawal was considered to represent the sitra achra.

Rav Lior, on the other hand, head of the council of Yesha Rabbis, is the chochemerd who advocated mutiny and treason in the IDF unless the government toed the line on 'Aza and the northern Shomron.

And that pretty much IS the sitra achra.


As a foreshadowing of the divisions that will, inevitably, rip this unity to shreds, the Rabbis say, in their joint statement, "that such unity does not come to negate the uniqueness of each separate party or group".

"We are all unique individuals!", as the crowd thunderously roared in Life of Brian.

This unity smacks of both opportunism and desperation, and I am reminded of the negotiations involving the two main branches of the Dutch reformed church ('Hervormde Kerk' and 'Gereformeerde Kerk') and the Dutch Lutherans to form one church, a united Dutch Protestant church - which, when successfully concluded, immediately resulted in several churches splitting off and forming their own denominations. So instead of one big united orgy of Dutch Protestantism, the same situation as before shows to the outside eye, with only minor changes.


These rebbeyim differ so much on so many interpretational points, how much more so are they likely to disagree over politics?

Undoubtedly they all have their own list of competing candidates for the party hierarchy, how on earth are they going to agree on political positions and candidates?


I wonder who will issue the first cherem?

Friday, November 11, 2005

Elswhere posting

To those who occasionaly cruise into this blog, may I draw your attention to another blog, on which I have an entry on which I would love your feedback?

http://mis-dakdek.blogspot.com/2005/11/re-chinese-language-fact-and-fantasy.html

As you can tell, it deals with the Chinese language, and starts off by quoting from the introduction to 'The Chinese Language - Fact and Fantasy' by John DeFrancis (published by University of Hawaii Press).


Those of you who know me from elsewhere will not be surprised by the subject matter.


Now, from the biosketch of the author on the backflap of the book, for those who are interested: "John DeFrancis ( ) began his career immediately after graduating from Yale in 1933 by spending three years studying and traveling in China. ---[cut]--- He is the author of scores of articles and two dozen books, including the widely used 12 - volume set of materials for teaching spoken and written Chinese."

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Words and terms used in the elsewhere post, explained in the order that they appear.


Singlish = The mixture of Chinese and English, in this case the (hypothetical) written mixture, rather than the spoken mixture used in Singapore, Penang, and on Dupont Street.

Toyo Bunko Library = East Pacific Literature Bureau Library; a famous library in Japan. Note that 'bunko' is the Japanese pronunciation of 'wen kuan', meaning not only 'literature bureau', but also cultural office, writings building, repository of the eveidence of civilization.

Kana scripts = The two syllabic scripts developed in Japan centuries ago for casual writing, often used by well-bred ladies in lieu of the more scholarly Sino-Japanese.

Kanji = Chinese style characters. Not always characters that existed in China - some are abbreviates, others coinages. But most are validly Chinese, though often used in ways no Chinese could dream of, and many stand in for words of similar meaning or pronunciation dropped from the official list of characters (Toyo Kanji).

Toyo Kanji = The officially accepted list of Chinese characters that a reasonably well-educated Japanese person is expected to know. There are 1850 characters in common use, but many people know a few more than that because of inscriptions and names.

Zhongyuan = The Central Plain in North China, the Chinese heartland, which must be protected at all costs from the hairy savages of the wastelands.... I mean, that area where Chinese civilization first arose, between the Yellow river and the Great river, bordered by mountains in the west and south, and arid grasslands and desert to the north.

Li Po = One of the most famous of T'ang dynasty (618 - 906 CE) poets, whose name is often mentioned in the same breath as Tu Fu, with whom he frequently got wasted. A drinker, a romancer, a swordsman, and a wild character, with an ear for the well-turned phrase, and a wicked tongue. He usually wrote in language that even us modern sub-literates can read, but once in a blue moon, for effect, he used words that serve no other purpose but to show off what a smart-aleck he was.

Agglutes = My own kitchen-coinage: add-ons to a rootword, such as the Germanic languages and Ural-Altaic languages have in abundance. An example would be antidisestablishmentarianism - try to imagine a language where that is both normal, and quite short.

Elision = The gliding over of consonants, or sometimes vowels, yielding a word more poetic or simply shorter than the original.

Intermediary consonants = Those consonants which can be elided over, or become vowels over time, or even give a tonal quality when elided.

Sino-Vietnamese = A writing system based on Chinese, but using either characters created specifically to for the Vietnamese language, or Chinese words with unstandard meanings. Often written in a sentence pattern suited to Vietnamese instead of Chinese, making the text nearly impossible to figure out, even if you could read all those unusual characters.

Classical Chinese = A form of literary Chinese with a vocabulary and a grammar which differs in some respects considerably from the modern language. It tends towards condensation, using single characters where the modern language uses two-character words, and omits much that reflects a conversational aspect. Texts written in classical Chinese are marvelously brief; their translations into the modern language, even if veering towards a literary usage, can be three times longer. And a four line poem may require an entire page of annotation, in English - which is why it is worth your while to at least wrestle with Chinese characters, instead of relying on translators.

Characters which are half of a bisyllabic word = Chinese knows many words of two syllables, written using characters which do not lead independent lives away from the mate they are always paired with.

Regionalects = More than mere dialect. In the case of Chinese, while we often identify Cantonese, Shanghainese, and others, as dialects, they are as different from each other as Dutch and English, and must be considered separate languages, albeit languages with more cognate vocabulary and similarities of expression than European languages which are related to each other.

Ywet, Yueh = Literary and dialect name for the two Kwangs (Kwang Chou, Kwang Si), being that geographic area south of the passes where the Cantonese regionalect is dominant. There are several dialects, and while most speakers, of whatever dialect, understand the metropolitan version (aka Cantonese, as spoken in Canton and Hong Kong), the country dialects are often not quite intelligible.
[I suppose I speak the equivalent of a country dialect - having learned it primarily from Hong Kong gangster movies (Lau Tak Wa, Chou Yuen Fat, Wo Ping, and others, in over the top gun operas about honour, revenge, loyalty, and a sense of bugger it all angst. Lovely). In any case, I have the devil of a time understanding Toishanese and Meishanese, lets not talk even of some of the dialects from deeper in the interior or up the Pearl and East rivers.]

Minnanhwa = The language spoken south of the Min river; southern Fujianese. There are several dialects, of varying mutual intelligibility.

Mandarin = Common term for the dominant version of Chinese, which originated north of the Great river. The term Mandarin, of Portugese origin, mirrors the old usage 'kuan hwa' (official language).

Japanese manga = Adventure comics, sometimes of exceptional artistic and narrative quality, sometimes of surprisingly lurid vulgarity.

Chinese poetry = The paradigm for Chinese poetry is the regulated verse of the T'ang dynasty, though a Confucian scholar would opine that the 'Book of Songs' fills that role instead. But he would be wrong. Very very wrong. "Kwan kwan go the ospreys", ha!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

KANSAS PROVES EVOLUTION WRONG!

Board says "students should reject evolution".


Topeka, Kansas, 11/09/05 -- The Kansas Board of Education voted Tuesday that students will now be expected to study Intelligent Design -- thus neatly proving that evolutionary change does not necessarily result in a more competitive organism, and establishing once and for all the haphazard nature of life on this planet. "The diversity of species was created only to confound us", declared Grand High Popeonarope Steve Abrams, "but we've seen through this dastardly liberal humanist plot. All of us were directly inspired by a vision of the Giant Glowing Egg Above The Clouds to vote this way. Maybe it was something we ate".


It is hoped that this decision will boldly carry the inbred schoolchildren of Kansas forward into the past, resulting in the eventual breakdown of law and order, and the establishment of a dark-ages renaissance where knights in shining armour will save huddled peasants from alchemists, cartographers, and mathematicians -- in addition to witches (who will be burned), dragons (slayed), and paynim (boiled alive).


CHALLENGES

As a codicil to the decision, Chief Mongol Bongo Dingbat Steve Abrams announced that Kansas was establishing diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran, "because great religious peoples should unite against the heathen (who must burn in the pit of eternal flames, darn them!)".

It is expected that both nations will send delegates to a meeting where they will cement their concomity of purpose, sign a declaration of war on modernity, and propose to study each others textbooks in order to develop a deeper understanding of the challenges facing troglodytes in an increasingly literate world.


HOW ELSE DO YOU EXPLAIN KANSAS?

In addition to proving that change does NOT mean improvement of the species, NOR a sharper competitive edge, the decision also shows that an almighty and omnipresent deity may very well have planted geologic evidence to fool humanity. "How else do you explain Kansas", asked Alfred Russel Wallace, science reporter for the Royal Geographic Society Newspaper. "This shows that scientists have to re-think their entire position", he continued, "because obviously there is less diversity over time, not more, and devolution, not progress. We are moving sideways, not forward, backwards, not up, and always twirling! Twirling! Twirling! Away from freedom!"



On a related note, the United Theocratic Council of the Crusader Kingdom of Kansas announced that all university graduates would be expelled from the state, as there was no place for sceptics and freethinkers in a G-d fearing society, pi would henceforth be three exactly, and the alphabet would be limited to thirteen letters (twelve apostles and a cross), because "twenty three letters...., no I mean twenty eight, errm twenty..., whatever, it's all too darn complex for a decent farmboy, and in any case, no one needs to read the Noo York Times or any of those other uppity interlecteral rags anyhow".

This according to Big Dang Dingo Spokesman Steve Abrams, who admitted that his degree was from Billy Bob Buy Bull Kollitsh, where those changes had already been instituted years ago, and he proudly showed his diploma as 'Doktar Ob Dibiniti' to prove it.

---------

By the way, Kansas also proudly celebrates the (multiple) new titles of members of the Board of Education, which will add gravitas and dignity to what has heretofore been a rather unremarkable body - in the past, the only bold move they were know for was the unanimous decision to repeal of the laws of gravity.

Monday, November 07, 2005

WE DO NOT TORTURE - WE LEAVE THAT TO EXPERTS

Another stellar example of double-speak (or is it 'zero-speak'; I have a hard time telling the difference nowadays):



AP and MSNBC report:
"President Bush on Monday ---(cut)---defended U.S. interrogation of suspected terrorists after the public disclosure of secret CIA prisoner camps in eastern European countries. "We do not torture," he declared."

----Despite massive evidence to the contrary.


""There’s an enemy that lurks and plots and plans and wants to hurt America again," Bush said. "So you bet we will aggressively pursue them but we will do so under the law.""

----Such as extraordinary rendition to ex-Stalinist interrogators in the hell of Eastern Europe, and our good friends the Pakistanis and Egyptians.

By the way, is it me or does he sound a bit paranoid here?


Against White House opposition, the Senate has passed legislation banning torture.

----The fact that such legislation was necessary, despite our being signatory to conventions barring torture, speaks volumes.


The White House is seeking an exemption for the CIA.

----More volumes.


It was recently disclosed that the CIA maintains a network of prisons in eastern Europe and Asia, where it holds terrorist suspects.

----That's called a Gulag archipelago. Something we used to despise. Used to.


"Our country is at war and our government has the obligation to protect the American people," Bush said. "Any activity we conduct is within the law. We do not torture."

----We've covered our tuchus, and have ensured enough plausible deniability and double-bottoms to keep the obfuscation going for years, and in any case, whatever we do is right, how dare anyone suggest otherwise. Especially our allies.


Bush pointedly noted that Congress as well as the White House has an obligation to protect U.S. citizens.

----This is the same poisonous reasoning used by Southern Sheriffs caught beating the crap out those uppity you-know-whats, "cause otherwise da white wimmens ain't gonna be safe!" ["And why can't all of you Yankee liberals understand that?!?!"]


Then the article, in passing, mentioned the hundreds of foreign suspects held at the military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Perhaps you recall that the reason we are holding them at Gitmo is so that constitutional protections and the human-rights conventions to which the US is party are circumvented, and so that there won't be any excessive oversight and criticism from civil-rights organizations and political activists.

If Bush was a European, we might be lambasting him for all of this, and if one of the world-leaders we disapprove of said it, we would demand his ouster.

But he's one of ours, and not very bright besides, so we forgive him.

[Entire article visible at: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9956644/]

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It's not really germane, but I'm utterly disgusted. Repulsed.
This is the most repellent administration we've had in over thirty years.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Goyishe kopf!

Yeftah the Gileadite promised to sacrifice whatever came first out of his house to greet him, if only HaShem should deliver the Bnei Amon (Ammonites) to him.

As it says in Judges chapter 11, verse 30 through 31: "Va yidar yiftach neder la Adonai va yomer im naton titen et Bnei Amon be yadi" (And Yeftah swore an oath to the Lord, saying that if the sons of Ammon be delivered to his hand…), "Vehaya hayotse asher yetse midaltei beiti likrati be shuvi ve shalom mibnei amon ve haya la Adonai veha'aliti hu ola!" (Then it would be that whatever came from his house to greet his return in peace from the sons of Ammon would then, to the Lord, be offered as a burnt offering!).

Predictably, it was his only child that came rushing forth.


One might deduce from this that Yeftah had domestic issues (or confused his family with animals).
Also, according to a midrash, Pinchas the high priest, who could have annulled the vow, shares the blame for the death of Yeftah's daughter.

Goyishe kopf! Both of them!


There's an article (http://www.nrc.nl/kunst/artikel/1130997780902.html) in today's NRC Handelsblad, in which is mentioned that the painting 'Het Joodse Bruidje' (the Jewish Bride), by Rembrandt Van Rijn (sorry, can't find his blog anywhere - maybe he hasn't posted recently?), might actually show Yeftah grieving for and saying farewell to his daughter. As a new theory of what the painting represents, that is.

It is considered a bit of a long shot - many have identified the painting as showing Isaac and Rebecca. Also thrown into the ring as candidates over the years have been Abraham and Sarah, or Jacob and Rachel.

But according to journalist Bert Natter, who was researching material for a novel soon to be published about Rembrandt, the appearance of the woman in the painting matches that described in a tragedy by Rembrandt's contempory Joost Van Den Vondel - 'a woman dressed like a bride, glowing from the sunlight', who wears a pearl necklace.

I must say I like this new theory - the age differential between the two people in the painting seems more in keeping with the daughter of Yefta tale, and the facial expressions are more appropriate. Nor can I see any indication that in fact it represents a couple, either already or soon to be wed.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Rembrandt Van Rijn (1606 - 1669): http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/rembrandt/
Joost Van Den Vondel (1587 - 1679):
http://www.bartleby.com/65/vo/Vondel-J.html

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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Disappearing Dutch Jew

Are Dutch Jews disappearing?

The point of view of Jaap Meijer (1912 - 1993, major historian of the Dutch Jewish community of Amsterdam in the post-war years, father of playwright and columnist Ischa Meijer (1943 - 1995), who in his own way painted perfect word portraits of Amsterdam in his column 'De Dikke Man') was that there was little to preserve, and unless the survivors firmed up, little that could be preserved. At that time (late forties), of the 140 thousand plus pre-war Dutch Jews, barely 30 thousand had come back.

In the following years the community seemed to continue shrinking, as members left for Israel and the United States, for a variety of reasons, many due to having a bad Dutch taste in their mouth (one SF resident told me that he just could not face his former neighbors in Amsterdam anymore, because he held them responsible for what had happened, and resented them for having stolen his furniture the moment the Germans arrested him and his family. Another one said that he never realized how evil bankers could be until he found out how the Dutch banks had collaborated with the Germans to rob the Jews).


Yet by the eighties, it seemed like the community had partially recovered, and had found a measure of stability. Or so I thought. The fight against the Dutch government, and against Dutch society, over blame and loot, flared up again, with the Dutch government and Dutch society as usual taking the well-worn approach that "we did everything we could, we didn't do anything wrong, we weren't as bad as the other Europeans, we suffered too you know, we were forced to do what we did, and anyhow we didn't keep anything".


And, in the meantime, the world made heroes out of the courageous Dutch, and wept for Anne Frank.

Not to denigrate Anne Frank in any way, but the Dutch were perhaps not quite as courageous and heroic as they and the world believe. In any case, their train system was more efficient than anybody else's at carting off Jews, and the Germans boasted that the destruction of Jewry in the Netherlands went smoother than was the case anywhere else in Europe.

So questions about the Dutch commitment to their fellow Jews can validly be asked, and certainly the Dutch commitment to Jewish property is up for discussion.

One could also re-open the files on collaborators with friends in high places, who were protected by the European governments after the war. Such as Pieter Menten - a Dutchman with extensive experience in the rape of Galicia.

And one might perhaps suspect that, just as there was a network of German good ole boys protecting their comrades, there were Dutchmen and Flemings performing the same devoted service for theirs.


Anyhow (and sorry for the sidetrack), my point is that here we are in 2005, and it is questionable whether one hundred years from now there will still be Dutch Jews. Even though there are over thirty-five thousand Jews in the Netherlands, and another ten-thousand people who are half-Jewish, the survivability of the community seems more in doubt than ever. The community is much more divided than it was years ago (religiously, socially, politically), the tendency to make aliyah is perhaps stronger than it has ever been in this generation (and may even be at its strongest yet), and the Netherlands is now home to nearly a million Muslims. All of this, and the usual anti-Israel sentiment, too (74 percent of the Dutch, in a survey last year, were of the opinion that Israel was the greatest threat to world peace).


Dutch-Jewish organizations on the internet seem defunct or somnolescent, and many have no more recent entries than Chanuka of last year or Purim of this year. The major news-brief, Joods Nederland, has been having financial and internet troubles for about a year now.


The Livraria Montezinos (Ets Haim library: http://www.etshaim.org/page.php?page=1&lang=2&title=Library) is still in need of funds for the restoration of the oldest Jewish library in the world - one which existed as a resource in an Amsterdam where at one point nine out of ten Jewish books in the world were published or printed.


It is not antisemitism that threatens Dutch Jewry, it is a combination of factors. Integration on the one hand, emmigration on the other. And on the third hand (oh marvelous multi-limbed beast!), a sense that the end of the long stay in the Netherlands is drawing near, that the community is no longer itself committed to the country. The Netherlands today is not the only refuge, nor even the best refuge. There IS a future for Jews in the Netherlands, certainly, but not the best future a Dutch Jew could aspire to. And the old mediene has almost entirely disappeared - today's' Dutch Jew is not a provincial 'plattelands Jood', but an urban, trans-national type, capable of functioning as well in New York, Tel Aviv, or Paris as in Mokum Alef. The modern Dutch Jew is Dutch by accident, rather than intent.



In an article in today's Volkskrant newspaper (in Dutch - click here to read:
http://www.volkskrant.nl/binnenland/1130825183610.html), Rabbi Aryeh Ralbag (identified as chief rabbi of Amsterdam) warns that the community is in danger of dying out. He says: "Wij kunnen niet eenvoudigweg de fysieke vernietiging van ons volk in herinnering roepen, terwijl wij tegelijkertijd zwijgen wanneer we vandaag nog geconfronteerd worden met onze geestelijke vernietiging door onze kinderen geen joods onderwijs te geven of door niet-joodse partners te huwen. We maken ons dan schuldig aan spirituele zelfmoord."

[Translation: "We cannot merely bring up the remembrance of the physical destruction of our people, while at the same time we remain silent when confronted with our spiritual destruction by giving our children no Jewish education, or by marrying non-Jewish partners. By doing so, we make ourselves guilty of spiritual suicide."]


He continues: "Het is nu een kleine gemeenschap, negentig procent is toen gedood. Puur uit het oogpunt van overleving en behoud van de joodse identiteit, kan ik zo’n gemengd huwelijk niet goedkeuren. Het is zelfmoord. Zulke huwelijken leiden ook vaak tot gebroken gezinnen, scheidingen en een identiteitscrisis bij de kinderen."

[Translation: "It is a small community now, ninety percent was killed. Purely from the point of view of survival, and maintenance of Jewish identity, I cannot approve of such a mixed marriage. It's suicide. Such marriages often lead to families torn apart, divorces, and an identity crisis for the children."]


While I do not necessarily agree with what he says, or the blunt way he says it, I agree that there is a crisis.
I would like to see a stronger Dutch Jewish community, and a community whose survival and vibrant future is guaranteed. But IF they all eventually emmigrate, I sure wouldn't mind them moving to San Francisco - we need more Dutch speakers here.

Barring that, it's time for all you English speakers to learn Dutch.

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By the way, Rabbi Aryeh (Ben Jehosef) Ralbag is not Dutch - he's the Rabbi of Young Israel of Avenue K, and Congregation Ahavas Yisroel in Brooklyn, New York. I believe he also heads the Beis Din of the Agudas Ha Rabbonim.

The very fact that an Israeli-American is the 'opperrabijn' of Amsterdam speaks volumes - we used to train 'em locally.

Not to in any way say one thing or the other about the issue, but he was also involved in that dispute over the 'Hundred Rabbis Dispensation', Sieger v. Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States & Canada. Which is a fascinating machloikes all by itself.

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