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Lewyn Addresses America
Sunday, 2 May 2010
Notes from 2002 Israel trip

I wrote this journal when I visited Israel eight years ago, just dug it up when I was looking for something else- my mom suggested I post it online.  Given the advanced age of the journal, I happily confess that I probably would say some things differently today.  So if there is something in it that you do not like, assume that I now agree with you! 

 

Sunday - August 11 2002: Arrived Sunday morning at JFK. Spent an hour at security, mainly because they xray checked baggage (worthwhile seeming but apparently Americans too cheap to do it) and asked weird questions ("why are you in Israel?"). Then got in another line to get to gate - but unlike in America no random repetitive searches (unlike AirTran flight back in LaGuardia). Everyone gets their coat searched, but they don't do it twice, since El Al has odd notion that purpose of security is to detect bombs rather than prove political correctness. (In NYC AirTran flight, American govt. pinheads searched shoes once at beginning of C course and then searched every third passenger or so at gate).

Flight took off 12ish-biggest plane I have ever seen. First class was upstairs, rest of us downstairs. I was in row 52 and there were 8 or 10 rows back of me, so there must have been at least 600 passengers. I sat next to Assemblies of God fellow from Lufkin, Tx. We discussed God, theology, other light stuff - pretty civil though, no attempt to convert me. Apparently this man had had some sort of mystical born again experience. He thinks God has sent Bush to save the day from terrorists; I am somewhat less optimistic.

Despite size of flight, the El Al flight definitely less unpleasant than US flights. People were wandering around halls, going to middle aisles to get food themselves from attendants. The flight to Israel was more sociable than return flight - my suspicion was that flight to had lots of people from same yeshiva or something, since I saw kids in black hats. Whole thing generally clubby. Didn't hurt that wine and beer was free.

One interesting thing: REAL forks and knives at meals. In fact, I cut myself; my suspicion is that there were enough well-armed air marshals that no one cared about kitchen knives.

Monday - August 12: Got into airport around 5:30 or 6:00, but bus didn't leave for airport till around 7:00 - partially because of security (we had to stand in line to flash passport, answer silly-seeming questions). Bus from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem ran mostly through agricultural territory - it seemed like there were a lot of different crops, not nearly as monotonous as most American farmland. Guide says sunflower seeds and cotton are some of the crops. As I got further from the airport, land grew lusher, more forests closer to Jerusalem (more evergreens than in most of USA). However, I later learned that there were not enough trees to support wood houses and things like that; all houses in Jerusalem are of stone.

Guide said that people routinely packed firearms; certainly when I was in Jerusalem I saw plenty of security guards packing heat, and in fact there was one on our tour bus.

When we enter Jerusalem, I understood why the term "aliyah" means "going up" - the city is on higher elevation then nearby areas, so if you are going to Jerusalem you are going up physically as well as (perhaps) spiritually. Outskirts of the city seemed thinly populated; I guess Jerusalem is a hyper-elastic city (i.e. one that annexes suburbs, like Houston or Oklahoma City, rather than one trapped inside its 1950s boundaries, like Buffalo). Traffic jam very serious, because of (1) absence of rail system and (2) fear of buses due to bus bombings. Also, people who used to take country roads are scared off by drive-by shootings, so they were all packed onto relatively secure main highway. The cars are VERY small by USA standards, no SUVs etc.

Got to hotel (Dan Panorama Hotel, formerly Mariah, in modern urban area near a bunch of other hotels) around 8:00, spent an hour bathing, changing clothes etc. I spent the morning trying to get connection for razor (success after 3 tries). Hotel nice enough, but a little less opulent than American hotels, in ways you don't notice until you've stayed there a day or two (e.g. no soda machines, fewer newspapers in gift shops, trivial stuff). Area around hotel has lots of bus service, walkable narrow streets, but not very mixed use (in terms of restaurants nearby other than one or two places that looked expense account oriented)

As tour bus drove through city I got some initial impressions:

*Climate VERY dry; we were told to drink LOTS of water to avoid dehydration, more of an issue than in humid environment like Atlanta, I guess. First time I had ever been in dry heat; not much fun because of constant need to drink.

*architecture incredibly monotonous. EVERYTHING made of stone, either brown or light gray. Tour guide says British mandated this, my cousin Dov (70-something prof at Hebrew University) blames absence of wood nearby. Jerusalem has around 500-750,000 people, same as DC or Baltimore. Contrast with Buffalo (where I spent previous week) was especially stark; parts of Buffalo full of Victorians with all different colors, a vivid purple or two, a bright blue/purple here and there, though of course many that weren't as exciting. Conventional wisdom is that architecture should match local vernacular-but some local vernaculars more boring than others. Maybe Israel needs airlift of paint-though on a more serious note, I am not sure purple paint would be feasible on the kind of stone common in Jerusalem. (I suspect not).

*City has beautiful vistas; because it is so hilly there are plenty of places with magnificent views. This allowed me to notice that there was a ton of undeveloped land close in, unlike in American cities. Tour guide says that hilly land is more expensive to build on, more issues re water sewer etc. - seemed to think problem was affluence (not enough of it) rather than political situation.

*Street signs all in Arabic and English as well as Hebrew.

*City streets very narrow, seemed very walkable (as in fact they are) though lots of parking on sidewalk.

*A fair amount of street trees, but since buildings taller than trees no feeling of lushness-I guess newer areas were desert until recent decades, so maybe trees not that old.

*Lions (plastic I think) everywhere. Lots of American cities have animal statutes spread through city for fun (Buffalo with bisons, kind of like baseballs in Atlanta). Eventually they will be auctioned off much like Buffalo statues.

At 11:00, bus went to Gilo, technically a West Bank settlement, but so close to Jerusalem it was really an inner ring suburb. Shows how close everything is to each other. City neighborhoods are very close to some so-called settlements, both very close to Arab areas - one reason peace difficult perhaps, not a lot of space to separate enemies or create natural boundaries. Physical look at Gilo like rest of Jerusalem - everything light brown, everything multifamily (I don't think I ever saw a detached single family house).

After Gilo, I was dropped off at Ben Yehuda Street (in-town pedestrian mall/fast food area). Had fast food lunch (boring chicken shawarma), bought some souvenirs, was bothered by a sea of panhandlers eventually. Ben Yehuda street lively--lots of apartments above shops. Kind of a New Urbanist dream. All types of people-university kids, a few black-hatted very Orthodox types (not just confined to a few neighborhoods as in USA). Took a long nap.

Spent ALL Monday, from 5:30 at Western Wall of Temple (built around 70 years before end of 2nd Temple by Herod). Did long tour of newly excavated tunnel, which is part of western wall that had been sealed up until 1967 war (was under Muslim Quarter of Old City, that is the part of Jerusalem that was entire city until 19th century or so). Most amazing thing is this: in theory, holiest area of Wall should be area closest to Holy of Holies (part of Temple where even High Priest could rarely go)-and that part was in the tunnels so we got to go there.

Visitors to the Wall like to write out little prayers and put them in cracks of Wall. Friends & family had given me prayers to put in, or asked me to write some paraphrasing their wishes, so I did. I put them in part of tunnels closest to Holy of Holies.

Then we prayed at Wall. Prayer was not in tunnels, but at a part of Wall that had been open to public for most of past 2000 years or so. There wasn't one big group, but instead several little minyans that sprouted up informally. (A minyan is 10 or more people, and is required for most Jewish prayers). (Men and women separated, as in Orthodox synagogues). Prayer books all in Hebrew, of course. We could see Dome of Rock (part of Muslim mosque on Dome of Rock, fairly holy Muslim site) from Wall-on site of Temple itself, and site of Ariel Sharon visit that first provoked Arab riots in fall 2000.

After brief dinner in Jewish Quarter of Old City (which I saw only tiny bit of that day, saw more of on Tuesday) (dinner was falafel - most interesting part is toppings very different from in USA. In USA falafel usually goes with tehini sauce - in Israel with french fries, pickles, hummus, and weird spices).

After dinner we went to first part of Rally, welcoming ceremonies. Chief rabbi of Israel spoke on "love thy neighbor as thyself." He said that this Biblical passage means loving your neighbor because he is LIKE yourself, i.e. person like you, etc. And in particular, Jews part of same corporate body of Judaism so we should love each other especially. Michael Melchior (deputy foreign minister) also spoke about why we were here (to comfort Israelis, to let them know world Jewry cares, etc.)

After Melchior spoke, we prayed again at Wall. (Explanation for non - Jews: during weekday, very devoted Jews pray three times - morning, late afternoon, evening. This was the evening service).

The most elevating part of the whole trip was here, on Monday night. I said the prayer (in Hebrew) "Holy, Holy Holy is the Lord of Hosts" - and remembered that I was doing this just a few yards (well, OK, hundred yards from here) Isaiah had (if you believe the Bible) had vision of angels saying the exact same thing. Talk about being in presence of history! Wow!

Went back to hotel after prayers. Asked myself whether Berlin (where I went in 1997 and where my father grew up) or Jerusalem more emotionally affecting, more like "home". Comparison to me is apples and oranges. Jerusalem is important in an abstract way, kind of like Constitution Hall in Philadelphia. Just as Founding Fathers framed Constitution (and thus created America) at Constitution Hall, priests and sages and prophets created Judaism as we know it in here. But these important people weren't people I know and am related to, even though what they did (like what Framers did) affected my life. Germany's emotional pull is less abstract- people I know, and people who KNOW people I know (i.e. my grandparents) lived there and suffered there (not died, since they died after being deported to camps in Poland). Perhaps analogous to Gettysburg- Lincoln said that Gettysburg is hallowed by people who died there. Germany is sort of the same way. At a rational level, it is easier to imagine myself living in Israel. But I like the fantasy of coming home to Germany and saying "finally, revenge on Hitler!" Berlin felt more like home, somehow.

Tuesday - August 13: Tour guide bragged about new highways around Jerusalem and thought it would get Israelis to Dead Sea in ½ hour- sad to see Israelis making same mistakes as Atlantans, more roads leading to more sprawl etc. Of course given iffy condition of nation it may not make difference in long run.

First we went to Ramat Rachel kibbutz, south of city. Good views of desert, Bethelehem, etc. Was reall.y surprised that I could see desert from city (though collapse of my camera means I can't describe it effectively). Atop Ramat Rachel lies archaeological dig from First Temple types (600 BC or earlier). We walked around site, saw bottom of walls from what we think was ruins. Just think - on this very spot Jews may have been worshipping idols 2700 years ago. (On other hand truth may resemble sign I once saw in New Orleans: "On this spot in 1890 nothing of importance happened").

isited Yad Vashem- only real disappointment of trip. Thought we would see full museum; instead just listened to boring speech by Israeli ambassador to Poland, and had brief service in Hall of Remembrance (dark room with names of death camps on it). Walked briefly through the sculpture garden. Then we had lunch at Jerusalem Mall (not real interesting - had wretched attempt at Pad Thai), went straight to rally.

Rally was in Jewish Quarter of Old City, mostly settled in Middle Ages. Totally fascinating. Rally had about 250 paying customers, plus Israelis just hanging around. In Hurva Square, main square of Jewish Quarter. Misc. people spoke briefly. Star of show (in terms of substance) was Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Orthodox rabbi whose email list I am on and who emigrated from NYC to Israel. Riskin said (according to my notes) that "one of the most immoral sentences ever written was turn the other cheek. And one of the most moral sentences ever written was if a man comes to kill you, kill him first." Other speakers included mother of bombing victim, Natan Sharansky (Soviet refusenik turned Israeli pol), Sen. Torricell of NJ- none of them said anything I considered memorable.

Looked through papers online the next day. Major Israeli papers had small stories on Rally; no international coverage though. Maybe next year they will do better.

Before rally, learned that Israel has own conspiracy theorists: some guy was selling table full of books with titles like "Who Killed Yitzchak Rabin?" (His conclusion: Shimon Peres did it, or more specifically got his former bodyguard, who later become Rabin's bodyguard, to fire fatal shots).

Then walked through Jewish Quarter- fascinating! No obvious space for cars, though I saw one or two. Most could barely accommodate one car, and streets are maze not grid or cul de sac. Typically street pattern: each street flanked by numerous courtyards containing apts. Most residents (except richer ones) live in walkups. A few had apt entrances directly accessible from street; looked to me like latter group richer, had more space. (Not like USA where due to security concerns apt. dwellers want common entrances etc. to protect them from street crime). Lots of mini shuls, most interesting looking were Karaite synagogue (which I suspect was usually closed- Karaism is obscure Jewish sect that rejected Talmud and favored literal interpretation of Bible - very popular in early Middle Ages, dwindled when people realized that literalism led to some not-very-fun rules, like freezing in dark on Sabbath). And Ramban synagogues (founded by great Jewish Bible commentator Ramban, aka Nachmanides). Bought some souveniers here too of course.

So by 5:30 I remembered I had dinner date w/cousin-no vehicles inside Jewish Quarter, instead one goes to gates. So I bailed out of group, went to gate. Was tempted to take cab, but saw bus and pounced. Now you might ask "isn't it dangerous to take buses"? Tis true that terrorists do like to bomb them. But odds really pretty minimal if you are talking about just a ride or two. 1 million people board Israeli buses each day, and maybe 50 a year get blown up (100 over two years, in fact). So even if I was doing this every day my odds would be one in 20,000. But I wasn't. Real odds are 1 in 20,000 divided by 365 (about 1 in 7 million), which is very low indeed. I figured odds would be equally high of cab driver being terrorist, kidnapping me and killing me (i.e. almost zero).

I also wanted to take the bus for a couple of political reasons. First of all, I figured the bus company needed my solidarity and my money just as much as the souvenir sellers, maybe more so since it had gotten worse press. Second, as a transit activist at home I felt a special desire to support buses. (I wasn't only American riding bus either). Fare was 5.2 shekels, or about 1.25 in American dollars, cheaper than in most big American cities (Atlanta is 1.75, Buffalo 1.45, NYC 1.50)

Then I walked to Dov's apt., about a 40 minute walk. Went through relatively lush area called Talbiya, lots of street trees, cute little shops, presidential house nearby. Got sense this was upper class area. Housing stock still not that much different from rest of Jerusalem-- small apartment houses, probably 3 or 4 stories. President's house surrounded by walls and bushes, totally invisible from street unlike US White House. Not sure whether this improves security. At any rate, had dinner w/Dov and family and had nice time-noticed apt. a bit small, and that bathroom in separate room from shower/tub, which struck me as kind of a nuisance. Dov & his wife don't drive, but his son had car, dropped me off at hotel. I noticed that Jerusalem at night looks better than in day, in sense that lighting of signs conceals monotony of architecture (i.e. that everything brown). Noticed place named "Café Hillel"-amused me, because I realized that if Hillel alive today could sue for misappropriation of name.

After getting home, went to supermarket to get soda, extra gifts. Prices higher than in US for most but not all items. Among things I've seen in kosher shops in America, prices in US comparable to prices in Israel, instead of being higher due to import costs- I guess this means exchange rates don't favor tourists. Again, I was happy to be supporting the non-souvenir parts of the Israeli economy - I figure most American tourists pretty much limit their spending to hotels and Judaica, hardly my idea of the perfect foundations for a viable economy. (On the other hand, I'm not sure supermarkets are any more critical).

Noticed no pay phones- there were street phones but they only accept (1) phone cards or (2) collect phones. What a pain! (I almost made a collect call to Dov when I could not find his apt within the building address he had given me- but then I remembered I had address book which had better directions)

Wednesday - August 14: Began with faux pas. We (Rally visitors) mostly ate breakfast together at hotel, since it was included in price. Someone asked me what it was like to be Jew in Arkansas. Told him I had no anti-Semitism issue, but that I was slightly put off when I went to public events and heard the Jesus' name mentioned at end of prayer. I later learned that the fellow I was speaking to was a Jew for Jesus (Messianic Jews, I believe they call themselves today). Oops!

Thought about blowing off rest of group, taking bus to Yad Vashem and seeing whole place. Instead I decided to go with group; BIG mistake.

First place group went was Shaarey Zedek hospital. Incredibly nauseating and depressing; I listened to nurse talk about her experiences with suicide bombings, how some hospital staffers had had relatives die (she even brought out victim who survived one, talked about what it was like - feeling body bursting into flame, thinking this was last moment of life, praying, then being rescued),

Listening to nurse was emotional low point of trips - not just because of specific stuff she said, more the tone - I could tell she couldn't numb herself, her emotional nerve endings were totally raw. It seems to me that if you can't be desensitized to horrors of war,s you are probably not going to be able to win it - especially since Israelis, to a greater extent than their enemies, can always bail out and lead more comfortable lives in America. Unless there is peace soon, I feel confident in saying that that nurse will, by 2005, be either in America or in a mental hospital (assuming of course that she doesn't get blown up).

One or two things she said did grab me, and made me feel very depressed about Israel's chance of survival. She yammered about how every human life is precious; it struck me that if Americans had had that attitude in WW 2 (when, as I recall, we dispatched 100,000 each in Hiroshima and Dresden) Americans would now be speaking German and Japanese. She said war had been going on for TWO WHOLE YEARS! In Afghanistan, and probably in other places, war has gone on for 30 years and people deal with it (albeit not happily, I am sure). My spin: Israelis (and maybe even affluent societies generally) have a limited ability to handle this sort of horror; their comfort makes them soft. All in all, I began to wonder if Israel had much of a chance to survive.

Then we went on tour of hospital - we saw bomb shelters (now used for storage of stuff usable for chemical attacks) and parking lot (which can be used for chemical decontamination). Doctor who took us there seemed a bit less messed up than nurse, mentioned that there were occasional bombings in 70s.

While all this was going on I was getting dehydrated, starting to feel lightheaded-even though hospital inside, air conditioning was not in every corridor. I guess climate like this does not agree with me.

After all this, went to Ir David (City of David)- archaelogical site technically outside Old City, but really (according to tour guides) where Jerusalem started. Not sure whether this is supported by real archaeological evidence; guides said they identified this place based on calculations from Bible, which troubles me because relevant portions of Bible (Kings and Chronicles) probably written more for theological purposes than for historical purposes. At any rate, this area is supposedly where David built Jerusalem and made it his capitol. Every IDF soldier, after enlisting, is brought here, as if to show them: "This is why we're fighting - to preserve the Jewish state that began here." (Not sure if non-Jewish IDF soldiers brought here). Ir David a serious disappointment- everything we saw was reconstructed, kind of like Colonial Williamsburg. I liked the Ramat Rachel site better, it was more real, or at least looked more real-I thought I was seeing things that actually were 2800 years old (not that I really know a darn thing about it).

Then went to Hebrew University, site of last big suicide bombing. We had little service where various people (most notably embassies of Korea, Japan, USA) had sent condolence wreaths. Service was in courtyard where victims brought immediately after bombing. Rabbi gave brief speech, lit memorial candle. On the way back to tour bus I noticed Hebrew University law school, which was of course unscathed. (This fact begs for tasteless lawyer joke, I suppose - but I'm not going to be person to create it, at least not here, not now).

Interesting fact (according to tour guide, whose veracity may be iffy): 25% of slots at Hebrew Univ. reserved for Arabs.

After HU, we listened to one of Sharon's assistants yammer; man spoke very well but was totally self-contradictory. On one hand, he vowed to bring terrorists to justice. On the other, he said that if Israel just "isolated" Arafat, maybe he'd go away (and presumably be replaced by someone nicer, ha ha ha). I was filled with contempt for Israeli politicians after listening to him - thought they had no idea what they were doing. But to be fair they may be in impossible situation; they might be afraid of wrath of USA if they played by USA type rules (i.e. bombing the hell out of Arabs till their cities are total rubble a la Dresden or Hiroshima). He said Israel "presenting a model of a fighting democracy", "democracy has a future", urged us to move to Israel. Unfortunately, none of these comments made me more hopeful.

Wed. night was more uplifting by far. Forgot about politics, went to wedding of distant cousin (who lived in Hebron, I think) south of city with cousin Dov- first Orthodox wedding I had ever been to (actually only 4th wedding I had been to in life, unless there are weddings I have been to as kid and forgot about). Took bus to wedding- that seemed to be what Dov wanted, and I sure wasn't going to more of a wuss than my 70 something cousin (plus as a foreigner, I figured I wasn't knowledgeable enough to exercise my own judgment if I had a native to defer to). Very different in a variety of ways from what I was used to:

*Almost nobody wearing a tie. I saw no tuxes, 2 men wearing dark suits (one from St. Louis, one was groom's father), 3 or 4 others (myself included) in sport coats and ties. Groom wore open white shirt and white robe (called a kittel) over it. Most people didn't even tuck in shirt; dominant uniform untucked white shirt.

*So many guests with long hair and beards (more likely Hasids than Hippies) that I thought I was at a Jesus impersonators convention. (In fact, I thought bride's father looked roughly like Jesus would look like if he had lived to be 50 and was balding and wearing glasses).

*Groom walked down steps, accompanied by men playing music. Rabbi (also no tie) said something in Hebrew (I think reciting marriage contract terms), various other people said other stuff in Hebrew (I think prayers). Then we sat down and ate.

*No coed dancing- men dance with men in long circle, women with women. I participated. (Dov later explained that this was customary in Orthodox weddings, but it was not "ultra-Orthodox"-at ultra-Orthodox weddings, men and women don't just dance in separate rooms, they eat in separate rooms).

Met numerous distant relatives, whom I liked in varying degrees.

Thursday - August 15: Began day with intense weirdness. Sat at hotel breakfast table with various missionaries, Jews for Jesus, etc. (they were only people in hotel restaurant at time). They were all anoiting each other with olive oil; I accepted this not to be rude, but wiped it off as soon as I went to the buffet table since I suspected that even though I wasn't enough of a Talmud scholar to KNOW it wasn't appropriate, I guessed that I was on the wrong side of a line here. Then they started debating whether they wanted Third Temple to come or not; one said yes because it was necessary for Christ to come again, another said no because she did not like animal sacrifices and because Antichrist might come. Rather than presenting the Jewish perspective, I thought this would be an excellent time to declare self finished.

Read Israeli papers (or English language edition of same) in morning: saw poll that 50% of Palestinians Arabs optimistic about future, only 30% pessimistic. (By contrast, Israelis less optimistic- obviously Arabs think they are winning). Same poll showed when asked who was winning, Israelis split evenly about "us", "the Arabs", and "no one." My interpretation: Arabs think that if they randomly murder enough Jews without fear of collective retaliation, Jews will get demoralized and move. Nothing convinced me that they are wrong.

Then walked to Yehid Moshe, first Jewish area outside Old City (built in 1840s by British philanthropist). Red roofs, so only hint of non-brown color in Jerusalem housing. Very comfortable looking area- lots of small gardens outside apts. (not as good as Buffalo gardens to be sure, but climate not great for gardening I guess). Still apartments rather than detached houses. Housing in courtyards; people had cars but they were all in parking lot far from apts. - city very much a walking city, as you can guess (though lots of jerks park on sidewalk).

Saw Old City from Yehid Moshe- walked up, discovered Armenian Quarter. I walked about a block, was set upon by would-be tour guides in search of my money. Decided that since I had to leave for airport in a couple of hours and was running out of shekels, I had neither the time nor the $ for this sort of thing, so I quickly bailed out. Based on my guidebook, Armenian Quarter wasn't all that interesting anyhow- general urban design seemed pretty much same as Jewish Quarter.

Then walked towards hotel, tried to think of something interesting I could see in last hour or two. Went to Skirball Museum (tiny archaeological museum near Reform rabbinical seminary) and saw a few artifacts from Biblical times. Most interesting- a "victory stele" by some local pagan king talking about how he defeated and killed king of Israel (northern kingdom of Isreal) and of "house of David." (presumably southern kingdom, covered southern half of what is now Israel) Bible says, by contrast, same two kings were killed by palace coup. Wonder who's lying? I suspect pagan- he might have defeated them in battle, claimed to have killed them just to brag. But I guess we will never know. At any rate, this stele does corroborate that these kingdoms existed.

Also saw idols from territory of Jewish tribe Dan. Concrete evidence of idolatry, or just evidence that pagans lived nearby? I guess we will never know.

Then went to airport- much less security on way back than on way to Israel. El Al equally careful re checking checked bags, but didn't make us take off sport coats or even empty pockets (by contrast, at LaGuardia you have to empty ALL pockets and take off shoes twice). Sat next to American turned Israeli on flight; my sense was that war had pretty much gotten to her hard-bolstered my lack of confidence in Israel's fighting spirit. Got home to NYC Thursday night, spent night w/friend, came home Friday night.

Overall, glad I went - but probably a little more pessimistic than when I came.


Posted by lewyn at 2:02 PM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 2 May 2010 2:05 PM EDT
Sunday, 25 April 2010
my visit to Montreal

Thursday, I decided to take a day off from my thesis and take a day trip to Montreal (its about 6 hrs by bus, so easily done through overnight buses back and forth). 

 

I got into Montreal about 7ish.  The bus station is connected to the subway, and a couple of things grabbed me right off the bat.  First, to celebrate Earth Day the system was giving out free day passes.  Second, unlike Toronto there were few recycling bins in sight, in the subway or on the streets-  so ironically I probably recycled less on Earth Day than on a normal day in Toronto. 

 

The subway was very new and futuristic-looking- much neater than Toronto’s, which looks less old and decrepit than NYC but definitely more so than Montreal.  Unlike the rest of the city, Montreal’s subway is newer and it shows.

 

Began by taking the bus to Outremont, an area that is very French-speaking but very Hasidic.  Decide to go to morning prayers; was originally planning to go to more normal synagogues but due to some misadventures involving places that I thought were open but weren’t, wind up in a shul where everyone is Hasidic.  It was a pretty odd experience; most people were using an all-Hebrew siddur, which is really beyond my abilities.  So I faked it for a few minutes till some kind soul found me one with English translations.

 

So then what to do?  I had decided earlier, given that Montreal is famous for smoked beef and bagels, to let food be my guide.  That meant to start off in the outskirts for breakfast and lunch and then go downtown at the end of the day (since there’s a fancy kosher Morroccan restaurant near downtown that struck me as a dinner kind of place).  I picked out where to go based on some posts at chowhound.com about the best Montreal kosher places – sometimes this worked sometimes not.  I don’t normally keep 100 percent kosher, but because Montreal has an unusually big Orthodox population, it seemed like it would be a shame not to be kosher for the day.

 

So I walk through Outremont (about 3 miles from downtown), see lots of Hasidim.  It definitely feels Brooklynish- low rise but pretty compact.  Stop off at one bakery identifying itself as “heimishe” [which in theory means something like “comfortable” but it’s a term Hasidim like so it really is used more in Hasidic areas] and I got a cheese pastry and a freshly baked chocolate wafer.  Eat small amounts of each, resolve in the interests of nutrition to give the rest to the first set of pigeons or seagulls I see. (Someone once asked me why I weigh so little, and I think my answer should have been: eat anything you want, but if its bad for you don’t eat too much of it.  But to put it even more concisely- don’t be afraid to waste food).

 

Then after much more walking, I go to the first of the bagel shops I had read about.  This was the place I texted some of you from- bagels were hot and soft, wonderful.  The best bagel I’d had in a long time.   After a stop at a grocery store and nearby park to feed the seagulls, see what I could find in a Montreal store that I couldn’t get in Toronto, I take a bus to another area further from downtown. (Every major street has bus routes, so you don’t really need the level of preparation to take buses that you would in an area with weaker bus service).

 

I start off in Mont-Royal, an affluent suburb that feels a lot like NYC’s Forest Hills Gardens or Atlanta’s Ansley Park: big houses close together, sidewalks, built in the 20s. (I’ll post pics on Facebook).  Maybe 5 miles out, Feels very nice.  Then I go to bagel shop #2 in Mont-Royal: OK but not as good as the first one.

 

I know lunch is a couple of miles away: a place that one of the Chowhound posters said had good smoked beef. (a regional specialty, slightly different from corned beef somehow)  So I walk to another neighborhood called Snowdon, where the lunch place is.  Snowdon is also very Jewish, though less Hasidic.  Lots of duplexes, feels like a 50s suburb that has shown its age- doesn’t feel as loved as Outremont, feels more than a neighborhood that in the US would have become a slum long ago.  The main commercial street, Decairie, is like something in Dallas- the Canadian interstate system cuts it in half so to cross the street you have to take a bridge over the interstate.  (I don’t bother to cross, since my destination is on the side of Decairie closest to the residences).

 

I go to the smoked beef place; the smoked beef was OK but nothing special. But one thing I did like: they fill you up on lots of little salad type things (something cilantro-y,something with beans, plus they allow you to have a salad on the side instead of the usual fries).  So I didn’t really eat that much beef or bread anyhow.  Nice cultural experience: I think the menu was mostly English, and everyone was speaking English.  (Come to think of it, the Hasidim in Outremont were speaking English too).  Reminds me how isolated much of the Jewish community is from the Frenchness of Montreal (about which more later). 

 

So by this point I decide I’m done with Jewish Montreal.  So I go to a few other interesting neighborhoods I’ve read about.

 

I start off with Westmount, another fancy suburb but next to downtown.  Has a commercial core that feels like a satellite downtown, with 5-10 story apartment houses and mostly chichi low rise shops.  Then walked through a block or two of duplexes, then large single family homes, then up to the hill to the more suburban part of Westmount (also large single family homes close together, but streets more curvy and less gridded).  If you look it up on Wikipedia it is MUCH richer than Mont-Royal; the Bronfmans and a former prime minister live there, though I don’t think I went into the blocks where they live. 

 

But still always sidewalks, and buses aren’t that far away. Lots of kids in private school uniforms running around.    

 

One interesting thing about Westmount: while the stop signs in Montreal are in French, in Westmount they are in English.  Westmount is the traditional home of the English-speaking elite and you can tell!

 

Then I go to the Plateau, a hip intown area I’ve heard about.  Reminds me a lot of the Annex (where I live inToronto).  Kind of a hipster area but an affluent one, with colorfully painted two and three story buildings and nice-looking small shops.   Somewhat less affluent looking than the Annex though- it was once a working class neighborhood, unlike the Annex. Close to McGill, feels very studenty like the Annex.

 

One difference: lots of govt buildings here.  One thing I noticed about municipal buildings: they all have the Quebec flag but NOT the Canadian flag.  Separatism really has won the culture war in some ways, even if not the political one.

 

Then to Old Montreal – not what I expected, and slightly disappointing.  I thought it would be all 17th c. stuff but there’s only one building left from that era and its been renovated to death.  Most of the buildings are mid-19th c.- new construction by Philadelphia standards!  Apparently the REAL Old Montreal was built of wood and destroyed in successive fires, so there’s nothing left from before the city’s 19th c. growth spurt. 

 

Then in the 20th c. the area was abandoned.  Instead of renovating the area or tearing it down to build newer stuff, the city’s commercial class apparently abandoned the area entirely after the Depression.  Kind of odd- in Buffalo or NYC these kind of old bldgs would have been either used or torn down.

 

Now Old Montreal basically a tourist trap- lots of ice cream stores and expensive restaurants, but not a lot of visible housing or workaday offices. 

 

Then I walked up through the real downtown (not that interesting, though definitely some fairly lively blocks; feels less fun than Toronto) to the Morroccan place.  Had chicken tagine which was quite good- the chicken felt a little too dark meaty for me or something, but it was mixed with dates and honey so the topping (for lack of a better word) was delicious.  It was a 4-course special so had some soup and honey desserts as well- I felt like I’d never eat again.   Wow!

 

Photos from the trip are online at

 

http://atlantaphotos.fotopic.net/c1841335.html 


Posted by lewyn at 8:02 PM EDT
Sunday, 21 March 2010
a little Torah

Saw interesting Torah talk at Shaarei Shamayim (in Toronto, where I am living for another few mos.) a few days ago.  Guest rabbi was talking about whether grape juice may be used for Pesach seder.  The issue is still halachically disputed; the majority rule even among O rabbis is yes, but some eminent poskim on the other side.  Two issues:

 

1.  Talmud ambiguous as to whether “cooked wine” (a category which includes grape juice) may be used.   The Talmud says that only wine used for libations can be used (implying no cooked wine) but gives examples other than cooked wine.  Medieval commentators split.

 

2.  Talmud says drinking four cups with undiluted wine not ideal (because wine was mixed with water then since otherwise too strong), and Rava says “He has fulfilled the aspect of wine, but not of freedom.”  Rashbam says “only diluted wine is distinguished.’  Anti-grape juice poskim interpret this to mean that “undistinguished” wine is not OK, and grape juice is too “undistinguished.”

Rambam says that “These four cups must be diluted to guarantee a pleasant drink.  Everything depends on the wine and the taste of the person drinking.”  Pro-grape juice poskim (incl. J. Soloveitchik but not Moshe Feinstein) say that wine isn’t appropriate for everyone so grape juice adequate backup.


Posted by lewyn at 1:32 AM EDT
Tuesday, 9 March 2010
interesting Holocaust speech

Saw a very interesting presentation by Diana Dumitru, a Moldovan scholar, about the behavior of two Romanian provinces during the Holocaust.  Both are near the Romanian/Ukranian border.  Both were part of Tsarist Russia until 1918.  Yet in one (Bessarabia) the local population actively aided anti-Jewish pogroms, while in the other (Trasnistria) the local population was far less anti-Semitic (according to Dumitru, based on both survivor testimony and the testimony of local non-Jews who were alive then).   How come?

Bessarabia, the more anti-Semitic province, had been part of Romania since 1918, was taken over by Russia in 1940, and then was retaken by Romania in 1941.  So the local population had been subjected to decades of anti-Semitic propaganda from the Romanian government and church.  

In less awful Transnistria, the Soviet Union had ruled since 1918.  The Soviets crushed religion and apparently discouraged anti-Semitism (on the negative side, from a Jewish standpoint, intermarriage rates increased quite a bit).  

Religious conservatives (both Jewish and Christian) often believe that Jews are safest when Jews are good Jews and Christians are good Christians.  Bessarabia and Transnistria suggest that this is only the case where Christians are pro-Jewish (as is thankfully the case in North America today).

More info on the presentation at http://www.cjs.utoronto.ca/event/2010/02/diana-dumitru-constructing-inter-eth

 

 

 

 

 


Posted by lewyn at 6:23 PM EST
Thursday, 28 January 2010
State of the Union trranscript (from washingtonpost.com) with my reactions
I didn't see the SOTU last night but I thought I would read it today. My reactions are IN CAPS. 

Madame Speaker, Vice President Biden, Members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow Americans:

Our Constitution declares that from time to time, the President shall give to Congress information about the state of our union. For two hundred and twenty years, our leaders have fulfilled this duty. They have done so during periods of prosperity and tranquility. And they have done so in the midst of war and depression; at moments of great strife and great struggle.

It’s tempting to look back on these moments and assume that our progress was inevitable – that America was always destined to succeed. But when the Union was turned back at Bull Run and the Allies first landed at Omaha Beach, victory was very much in doubt. When the market crashed on Black Tuesday and civil rights marchers were beaten on Bloody Sunday, the future was anything but certain. These were times that tested the courage of our convictions, and the strength of our union. And despite all our divisions and disagreements; our hesitations and our fears; America prevailed because we chose to move forward as one nation, and one people.

Again, we are tested. And again, we must answer history’s call.

One year ago, I took office amid two wars, an economy rocked by severe recession, a financial system on the verge of collapse, and a government deeply in debt. Experts from across the political spectrum warned that if we did not act, we might face a second depression. So we acted – immediately and aggressively. And one year later, the worst of the storm has passed.

GOOD- KEY MESSAGE SHOULD BE THE WORST IS OVER.  AND FROM THE FINANCIAL SYSTEM'S POINT OF VIEW, THIS MAY BE TRUE.  FROM AN EMPLOYMENT VIEW, OF COURSE, THINGS ARE ACTUALLY WORSE- UNEMPLOYMENT WAS ONLY 7.6% A YEAR AGO.

But the devastation remains. One in ten Americans still cannot find work. Many businesses have shuttered. Home values have declined. Small towns and rural communities have been hit especially hard. For those who had already known poverty, life has become that much harder.

This recession has also compounded the burdens that America’s families have been dealing with for decades – the burden of working harder and longer for less; of being unable to save enough to retire or help kids with college.

So I know the anxieties that are out there right now. They’re not new. These struggles are the reason I ran for President. These struggles are what I’ve witnessed for years in places like Elkhart, Indiana and Galesburg, Illinois. I hear about them in the letters that I read each night. The toughest to read are those written by children – asking why they have to move from their home, or when their mom or dad will be able to go back to work.

For these Americans and so many others, change has not come fast enough. Some are frustrated; some are angry. They don’t understand why it seems like bad behavior on Wall Street is rewarded but hard work on Main Street isn’t; or why Washington has been unable or unwilling to solve any of our problems. They are tired of the partisanship and the shouting and the pettiness. They know we can’t afford it. Not now.

So we face big and difficult challenges. And what the American people hope – what they deserve – is for all of us, Democrats and Republicans, to work through our differences; to overcome the numbing weight of our politics. For while the people who sent us here have different backgrounds, different stories and different beliefs, the anxieties they face are the same. The aspirations they hold are shared. A job that pays the bills. A chance to get ahead. Most of all, the ability to give their children a better life.

You know what else they share? They share a stubborn resilience in the face of adversity. After one of the most difficult years in our history, they remain busy building cars and teaching kids; starting businesses and going back to school. They’re coaching little league and helping their neighbors. As one woman wrote me, “We are strained but hopeful, struggling but encouraged.”

It is because of this spirit – this great decency and great strength – that I have never been more hopeful about America’s future than I am tonight. Despite our hardships, our union is strong. We do not give up. We do not quit. We do not allow fear or division to break our spirit. In this new decade, it’s time the American people get a government that matches their decency; that embodies their strength.

THIS WAS WHAT I HATE ABOUT STATE OF THE UNIONS- THE PRESIDENT ALWAYS SPENDS A LONG TIME TO SAY NOTHING EXCEPT 'AMERICA IS STRONG.' IT DOESN'T MATTER WHICH PRESIDENT- THEY ARE ALL THE SAME THAT WAY.

And tonight, I’d like to talk about how together, we can deliver on that promise.

It begins with our economy.

Our most urgent task upon taking office was to shore up the same banks that helped cause this crisis. It was not easy to do. And if there’s one thing that has unified Democrats and Republicans, it’s that we all hated the bank bailout. I hated it. You hated it. It was about as popular as a root canal.

But when I ran for President, I promised I wouldn’t just do what was popular – I would do what was necessary. And if we had allowed the meltdown of the financial system, unemployment might be double what it is today. More businesses would certainly have closed. More homes would have surely been lost.

So I supported the last administration’s efforts to create the financial rescue program. And when we took the program over, we made it more transparent and accountable. As a result, the markets are now stabilized, and we have recovered most of the money we spent on the banks.

COULDN'T FIND A FACT CHECK ON THE LAST SENTENCE- SEEMS HARD TO BELIEVE.  I KNOW SOME OF THE BAILOUT MONEY RECOVERED, JUST AM SURPRISED THAT WE'D ALREADY BE AT 50 PERCENT.   

THE POST'S FACT CHECK DOES SAY THAT ALL BUT $100 BILLION IS "LIKELY" TO BE RECOVERED- ' LIKELY TO' IS NOT THE SAME AS 'HAS BEEN.'  BUT IF THINGS TURN OUT THAT WAY, I WITHDRAW MY PRIOR CONDMENATION OF THE BAILOUT.

To recover the rest, I have proposed a fee on the biggest banks. I know Wall Street isn’t keen on this idea, but if these firms can afford to hand out big bonuses again, they can afford a modest fee to pay back the taxpayers who rescued them in their time of need.

As we stabilized the financial system, we also took steps to get our economy growing again, save as many jobs as possible, and help Americans who had become unemployed.

That’s why we extended or increased unemployment benefits for more than 18 million Americans; made health insurance 65% cheaper for families who get their coverage through COBRA;

REALLY? WISH HE'D EXPLAINED- THIS IS SOMETHING PEOPLE ACTUALLY MIGHT WANT TO KNOW.

and passed 25 different tax cuts.

A BETTER SPEECH WOULD HAVE EXPLAINED HOW, JUST TO HAMMER AWAY AND MAKE PEOPLE SAY 'WOW'. 

Let me repeat: we cut taxes. We cut taxes for 95% of working families. We cut taxes for small businesses. We cut taxes for first-time homebuyers. We cut taxes for parents trying to care for their children. We cut taxes for 8 million Americans paying for college. As a result, millions of Americans had more to spend on gas, and food, and other necessities, all of which helped businesses keep more workers. And we haven’t raised income taxes by a single dime on a single person. Not a single dime.

POST'S FACT CHECKER EXPLAINS THIS 

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/44/2010/01/live-blogging-obamas-first-sta.html?hpid=topnews

Because of the steps we took, there are about two million Americans working right now who would otherwise be unemployed. 200,000 work in construction and clean energy. 300,000 are teachers and other education workers. Tens of thousands are cops, firefighters, correctional officers, and first responders. And we are on track to add another one and a half million jobs to this total by the end of the year.

AT THE HIGH END OF A PLAUSIBLE ESTIMATES, SAYS THE TIMES http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/28/us/politics/28check.html 

The plan that has made all of this possible, from the tax cuts to the jobs, is the Recovery Act. That’s right – the Recovery Act, also known as the Stimulus Bill. Economists on the left and the right say that this bill has helped saved jobs and avert disaster. But you don’t have to take their word for it.

Talk to the small business in Phoenix that will triple its workforce because of the Recovery Act.

Talk to the window manufacturer in Philadelphia who said he used to be skeptical about the Recovery Act, until he had to add two more work shifts just because of the business it created.

Talk to the single teacher raising two kids who was told by her principal in the last week of school that because of the Recovery Act, she wouldn’t be laid off after all.

REAGAN WOULD HAVE HAD THESE PEOPLE IN THE AUDIENCE, AND MENTIONED THEM BY NAME.  

There are stories like this all across America. And after two years of recession, the economy is growing again. Retirement funds have started to gain back some of their value. Businesses are beginning to invest again, and slowly some are starting to hire again.

BETTER SPEECH WOULD HAVE TALKED ABOUT THE STOCK MARKET, WHICH PEOPLE ACTUALLY KNOW SOMETHING ABOUT.  JUST TALKING ABOUT SPEECHES [RATHER THAN SUBSTANTIVE POLICY]- OBAMA IS BETTER AT MOVING GENERALITIES THAN SPECIFICS, WHICH IS NOT GOOD WHEN HE NEEDS TO DEFEND HIS CASE. 

But I realize that for every success story, there are other stories, of men and women who wake up with the anguish of not knowing where their next paycheck will come from; who send out resumes week after week and hear nothing in response. That is why jobs must be our number one focus in 2010, and that is why I am calling for a new jobs bill tonight.

Now, the true engine of job creation in this country will always be America’s businesses. But government can create the conditions necessary for businesses to expand and hire more workers.

We should start where most new jobs do – in small businesses, companies that begin when an entrepreneur takes a chance on a dream, or a worker decides its time she became her own boss.

Through sheer grit and determination, these companies have weathered the recession and are ready to grow. But when you talk to small business owners in places like Allentown, Pennsylvania or Elyria, Ohio, you find out that even though banks on Wall Street are lending again, they are mostly lending to bigger companies. But financing remains difficult for small business owners across the country.

So tonight, I’m proposing that we take $30 billion of the money Wall Street banks have repaid and use it to help community banks give small businesses the credit they need to stay afloat. I am also proposing a new small business tax credit – one that will go to over one million small businesses who hire new workers or raise wages. While we’re at it, let’s also eliminate all capital gains taxes on small business investment; and provide a tax incentive for all businesses, large and small, to invest in new plants and equipment.

BASICALLY MORE STIMULUS THROUGH MINOR, BORING SOUNDING TAX CUTS.  GENERALLY I THINK WE SHOULD BE LESS AUSTERE IN SHORT RUN, MORE AUSTERE IN LONG RUN.  

AS A POLITICAL MATTER, OBAMA SHOULD PROPOSE THINGS THAT LOOK GOOD ON A BUMPER STICKER, THINGS THAT PEOPLE WILL REMEMBER A WEEK LATER.  THIS DOESN'T CUT IT.  ON SUBSTANTIVE POLICY, OBAMA TENDS TO FAVOR TIMID AND COMPLEX IDEAS, LIKE CARTER OR BUSH THE ELDER.  FEW AMERICANS CAN SAY WITH A STRAIGHT FACE, 'I DIDN'T AGREE WITH THE BIG O, BUT GOSH, I KNEW WHERE HE STOOD!' [UNLIKE BUSH THE YOUNGER]

Next, we can put Americans to work today building the infrastructure of tomorrow. From the first railroads to the interstate highway system, our nation has always been built to compete. There’s no reason Europe or China should have the fastest trains, or the new factories that manufacture clean energy products.

Tomorrow, I’ll visit Tampa, Florida, where workers will soon break ground on a new high-speed railroad funded by the Recovery Act. There are projects like that all across this country that will create jobs and help our nation move goods, services, and information. We should put more Americans to work building clean energy facilities, and give rebates to Americans who make their homes more energy efficient, which supports clean energy jobs. And to encourage these and other businesses to stay within our borders, it’s time to finally slash the tax breaks for companies that ship our jobs overseas and give those tax breaks to companies that create jobs in the United States of America.

JUST READING THIS MAKES ME FALL ASLEEP.  IS ANY OF THIS LIKELY TO MOVE THE UNEMPLOYMENT RATE MORE THAN HALF A POINT? 

The House has passed a jobs bill that includes some of these steps. As the first order of business this year, I urge the Senate to do the same. People are out of work. They are hurting. They need our help. And I want a jobs bill on my desk without delay.

But the truth is, these steps still won’t make up for the seven million jobs we’ve lost over the last two years. The only way to move to full employment is to lay a new foundation for long-term economic growth, and finally address the problems that America’s families have confronted for years.

We cannot afford another so-called economic “expansion” like the one from last decade – what some call the “lost decade” – where jobs grew more slowly than during any prior expansion; where the income of the average American household declined while the cost of health care and tuition reached record highs; where prosperity was built on a housing bubble and financial speculation.

TOO VEILED.  SINCE DAY ONE, OBAMA SHOULD HAVE HAMMERED AWAY AT THE FAILED POLICIES OF THE PAST THE WAY REAGAN DID.  I REMEMBER THE 1984 AND 1988 REPUBLICAN CONVENTIONS AS BEING ABOUT CARTER-MONDALE.  AND NO, I DON'T THINK THERE WAS ANYTHING WRONG WITH THAT! 

From the day I took office, I have been told that addressing our larger challenges is too ambitious – that such efforts would be too contentious, that our political system is too gridlocked, and that we should just put things on hold for awhile.

For those who make these claims, I have one simple question:

How long should we wait? How long should America put its future on hold?

You see, Washington has been telling us to wait for decades, even as the problems have grown worse. Meanwhile, China’s not waiting to revamp its economy. Germany’s not waiting. India’s not waiting. These nations aren’t standing still. These nations aren’t playing for second place. They’re putting more emphasis on math and science. They’re rebuilding their infrastructure. They are making serious investments in clean energy because they want those jobs.

Well I do not accept second-place for the United States of America. As hard as it may be, as uncomfortable and contentious as the debates may be, it’s time to get serious about fixing the problems that are hampering our growth.

One place to start is serious financial reform. Look, I am not interested in punishing banks, I’m interested in protecting our economy. A strong, healthy financial market makes it possible for businesses to access credit and create new jobs. It channels the savings of families into investments that raise incomes. But that can only happen if we guard against the same recklessness that nearly brought down our entire economy.

We need to make sure consumers and middle-class families have the information they need to make financial decisions. We can’t allow financial institutions, including those that take your deposits, to take risks that threaten the whole economy.

The House has already passed financial reform with many of these changes. And the lobbyists are already trying to kill it. Well, we cannot let them win this fight. And if the bill that ends up on my desk does not meet the test of real reform, I will send it back.

BORING BUT IMPORTANT.  DOES IT REALLY BELONG IN SOTU?

Next, we need to encourage American innovation. Last year, we made the largest investment in basic research funding in history – an investment that could lead to the world’s cheapest solar cells or treatment that kills cancer cells but leaves healthy ones untouched. And no area is more ripe for such innovation than energy. You can see the results of last year’s investment in clean energy – in the North Carolina company that will create 1200 jobs nationwide helping to make advanced batteries; or in the California business that will put 1,000 people to work making solar panels.

But to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives. That means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country.

BIG CONCESSION TO REPUBLICANS, NOT THAT I DISAPPROVE.

It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development.

DITTO.  BUT WILL HE ASK FOR SOMETHING IN RETURN [E.G. CAP AND TRADE]?  AND IF SO, WILL REPUBLICANS GIVE IT TO HIM?

It means continued investment in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies. And yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America.

I am grateful to the House for passing such a bill last year. This year, I am eager to help advance the bipartisan effort in the Senate. I know there have been questions about whether we can afford such changes in a tough economy; and I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change. But even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future – because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. And America must be that nation.

Third, we need to export more of our goods. Because the more products we make and sell to other countries, the more jobs we support right here in America. So tonight, we set a new goal: We will double our exports over the next five years, an increase that will support two million jobs in America. To help meet this goal, we’re launching a National Export Initiative that will help farmers and small businesses increase their exports, and reform export controls consistent with national security.

We have to seek new markets aggressively, just as our competitors are. If America sits on the sidelines while other nations sign trade deals, we will lose the chance to create jobs on our shores. But realizing those benefits also means enforcing those agreements so our trading partners play by the rules. And that’s why we will continue to shape a Doha trade agreement that opens global markets, and why we will strengthen our trade relations in Asia and with key partners like South Korea, Panama, and Colombia.

MORE BORING ISSUES THAT DON'T BELONG IN SOTU

GENERALLY, I THINK THE PRESIDENT SHOULD HAVE JUST GIVEN A 30 MINUTE SPEECH ABOUT HEALTH CARE AND JOBS, INSTEAD OF TRYING TO COVER EVERY ISSUE AND BORING PEOPLE TO DEATH THE WAY PRESIDENTS NORMALLY DO. 

Fourth, we need to invest in the skills and education of our people.

This year, we have broken through the stalemate between left and right by launching a national competition to improve our schools. The idea here is simple: instead of rewarding failure, we only reward success. Instead of funding the status quo, we only invest in reform – reform that raises student achievement, inspires students to excel in math and science, and turns around failing schools that steal the future of too many young Americans, from rural communities to inner-cities. In the 21st century, one of the best anti-poverty programs is a world-class education. In this country, the success of our children cannot depend more on where they live than their potential.

When we renew the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, we will work with Congress to expand these reforms to all fifty states. Still, in this economy, a high school diploma no longer guarantees a good job. I urge the Senate to follow the House and pass a bill that will revitalize our community colleges, which are a career pathway to the children of so many working families.

IF EVERYBODY GOES TO COLLEGE HOW MUCH IS A DEGREE WORTH?

To make college more affordable, this bill will finally end the unwarranted taxpayer-subsidies that go to banks for student loans. Instead, let’s take that money and give families a $10,000 tax credit for four years of college and increase Pell Grants. And let’s tell another one million students that when they graduate, they will be required to pay only ten percent of their income on student loans, and all of their debt will be forgiven after twenty years – and forgiven after ten years if they choose a career in public service. Because in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they chose to go to college. And it’s time for colleges and universities to get serious about cutting their own costs – because they too have a responsibility to help solve this problem.

SOUNDS GOOD BUT HOW MUCH WILL IT COST?

Now, the price of college tuition is just one of the burdens facing the middle-class. That’s why last year I asked Vice President Biden to chair a task force on Middle-Class Families. That’s why we’re nearly doubling the child care tax credit, and making it easier to save for retirement by giving every worker access to a retirement account and expanding the tax credit for those who start a nest egg. That’s why we’re working to lift the value of a family’s single largest investment – their home.

HAVEN'T WE SPENT SEVERAL DECADES DOING THAT?  WHEN WE WERE MOST 'SUCCESSFUL' AT IT, WE CREATED A NATIONAL AFFORDABLE HOUSING CRISIS, THEN FOLLOWED IT UP WITH A TOTAL ECONOMIC COLLAPSE WHEN PRICES WENT DOWN.   AMERICANS SHOULD GROW UP AND STOP WISHING FOR HOME PRICES TO INCREASE WHEN PRICES DON'T. 

 

The steps we took last year to shore up the housing market have allowed millions of Americans to take out new loans and save an average of $1,500 on mortgage payments. This year, we will step up re-financing so that homeowners can move into more affordable mortgages. And it is precisely to relieve the burden on middle-class families that we still need health insurance reform.

Now let’s be clear – I did not choose to tackle this issue to get some legislative victory under my belt. And by now it should be fairly obvious that I didn’t take on health care because it was good politics.

IT COULD BE IF YOU HADN'T MISMANAGED THE ISSUE.  BY PUNTING THE ISSUE TO CONGRESS, OBAMA INSURED THAT NO ONE REALLY KNEW FROM ONE DAY TO THE NEXT WHAT 'HEALTH CARE REFORM' MEANT, THUS ALLOWING OPPONENTS TO FOCUS ON WORST-CASE SCENARIOS.

A COMPETENT POLITICIAN WOULD HAVE HANDLED IT THE WAY BUSH II HANDLED TAX CUTS AND IRAQ- SAY 'THIS IS WHAT I WANT' IN A WAY THAT ENABLED ANYONE WITH AN IQ OVER 80 TO SAY 'THE PRESIDENT WANTS BLAH.'   BUT WE DON'T HAVE A COMPETENT POLITICIAN AS PRESIDENT, AT LEAST NOT ON THIS ISSUE.

I took on health care because of the stories I’ve heard from Americans with pre-existing conditions whose lives depend on getting coverage; patients who’ve been denied coverage; and families – even those with insurance – who are just one illness away from financial ruin.

After nearly a century of trying, we are closer than ever to bringing more security to the lives of so many Americans. The approach we’ve taken would protect every American from the worst practices of the insurance industry.

WHO'S WE? THE HOUSE? THE SENATE? 

It would give small businesses and uninsured Americans a chance to choose an affordable health care plan in a competitive market. It would require every insurance plan to cover preventive care. And by the way, I want to acknowledge our First Lady, Michelle Obama, who this year is creating a national movement to tackle the epidemic of childhood obesity and make our kids healthier.

Our approach

DOES ANYONE KNOW WHAT 'OUR APPROACH' IS OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY?  MOST PEOPLE JUST KNOW WHAT FOX NEWS TELLS THEM.

would preserve the right of Americans who have insurance to keep their doctor and their plan. It would reduce costs and premiums for millions of families and businesses. And according to the Congressional Budget Office – the independent organization that both parties have cited as the official scorekeeper for Congress – our approach would bring down the deficit by as much as $1 trillion over the next two decades.

Still, this is a complex issue, and the longer it was debated, the more skeptical people became. I take my share of the blame for not explaining it more clearly to the American people.

AMEN, BROTHER!  BUT I THINK IT WOULD HAVE MADE MORE OF AN IMPACT IF HE'D SAID THAT AT THE BEGINNING OF HIS HEALTH CARE DISCUSSION. 

 

And I know that with all the lobbying and horse-trading, this process left most Americans wondering what’s in it for them.

WELL, AT LEAST HE SEES THE PROBLEM.  THAT'S A START.

But I also know this problem is not going away. By the time I’m finished speaking tonight, more Americans will have lost their health insurance. Millions will lose it this year. Our deficit will grow. Premiums will go up. Patients will be denied the care they need. Small business owners will continue to drop coverage altogether.

GOOD- FOCUS ON WHAT'S URGENT.

I will not walk away from these Americans, and neither should the people in this chamber.

As temperatures cool, I want everyone to take another look at the plan we’ve proposed. There’s a reason why many doctors, nurses, and health care experts who know our system best consider this approach a vast improvement over the status quo. But if anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors, and stop insurance company abuses, let me know.

BETTER THAN WHAT? SOMEONE WHO HADN'T FOLLOWED THE NEWS CLOSELY WOULD NOT KNOW THE ANSWER.

Here’s what I ask of Congress, though: Do not walk away from reform. Not now. Not when we are so close. Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people.

AGAIN, TRUSTING CONGRESS TO DO WHAT'S RIGHT WITHOUT LEADERSHIP IS LIKE TAKING YOUR GUINEA PIGS TO THE OTHER SIDE OF TOWN AND EXPECTING THEM TO FIND THEIR WAY HOME.

Now, even as health care reform would reduce our deficit, it’s not enough to dig us out of a massive fiscal hole in which we find ourselves. It’s a challenge that makes all others that much harder to solve, and one that’s been subject to a lot of political posturing.

So let me start the discussion of government spending by setting the record straight. At the beginning of the last decade, America had a budget surplus of over $200 billion. By the time I took office, we had a one year deficit of over $1 trillion and projected deficits of $8 trillion over the next decade. Most of this was the result of not paying for two wars, two tax cuts, and an expensive prescription drug program. On top of that, the effects of the recession put a $3 trillion hole in our budget. That was before I walked in the door.

Now if we had taken office in ordinary times, I would have liked nothing more than to start bringing down the deficit. But we took office amid a crisis, and our efforts to prevent a second Depression have added another $1 trillion to our national debt.

SURPRISINGLY HONEST. 

I am absolutely convinced that was the right thing to do. But families across the country are tightening their belts and making tough decisions. The federal government should do the same. So tonight, I’m proposing specific steps to pay for the $1 trillion that it took to rescue the economy last year.

Starting in 2011, we are prepared to freeze government spending for three years. Spending related to our national security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will not be affected.

IN OTHER WORDS, WELL OVER HALF THE BUDGET, THAT [IN MY OPINION] DOES LESS THAN HALF OF THE GOVERNMENT'S USEFUL FUNCTIONS.  SOONER OR LATER, WE NEED TO DEAL WITH SPENDING ON THOSE THINGS OR RAISE TAXES TO PAY FOR IT.  PERIOD. 

 

But all other discretionary government programs will. Like any cash-strapped family, we will work within a budget to invest in what we need and sacrifice what we don’t. And if I have to enforce this discipline by veto, I will.

We will continue to go through the budget line by line to eliminate programs that we can’t afford and don’t work. We’ve already identified $20 billion in savings for next year. To help working families, we will extend our middle-class tax cuts. But at a time of record deficits, we will not continue tax cuts for oil companies, investment fund managers, and those making over $250,000 a year. We just can’t afford it.

Now, even after paying for what we spent on my watch, we will still face the massive deficit we had when I took office. More importantly, the cost of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will continue to skyrocket. That’s why I’ve called for a bipartisan, Fiscal Commission, modeled on a proposal by Republican Judd Gregg and Democrat Kent Conrad. This can’t be one of those Washington gimmicks that lets us pretend we solved a problem. The Commission will have to provide a specific set of solutions by a certain deadline. Yesterday, the Senate blocked a bill that would have created this commission. So I will issue an executive order that will allow us to go forward, because I refuse to pass this problem on to another generation of Americans. And when the vote comes tomorrow, the Senate should restore the pay-as-you-go law that was a big reason why we had record surpluses in the 1990s.

I know that some in my own party will argue that we cannot address the deficit or freeze government spending when so many are still hurting. I agree, which is why this freeze will not take effect until next year, when the economy is stronger. But understand – if we do not take meaningful steps to rein in our debt, it could damage our markets, increase the cost of borrowing, and jeopardize our recovery – all of which could have an even worse effect on our job growth and family incomes.

From some on the right, I expect we’ll hear a different argument – that if we just make fewer investments in our people, extend tax cuts for wealthier Americans, eliminate more regulations, and maintain the status quo on health care, our deficits will go away. The problem is, that’s what we did for eight years. That’s what helped lead us into this crisis. It’s what helped lead to these deficits. And we cannot do it again.

Rather than fight the same tired battles that have dominated Washington for decades, it’s time to try something new. Let’s invest in our people without leaving them a mountain of debt. Let’s meet our responsibility to the citizens who sent us here. Let’s try common sense.

CLINTONOMICS.  IT CERTAINLY WORKED IN THE EARLY 90S BUT I'M NOT SURE WHEN THE ECONOMY WILL BE WELL ENOUGH TO TAKE STRONG MEDICINE ON THIS ISSUE.  IN THE LATE 30S, FDR MOVED TO THE RIGHT AND STARTED TO RAISE TAXES AND CUT SPENDING, AND GOT THE 1938 RECESSION AS A RESULT.  

ON THE OTHER HAND, WORRYING ABOUT WASHINGTON BEING TOO FISCALLY AUSTERE MAY BE LIKE WORRYING THAT THE TALIBAN WILL BECOME TOO SECULAR.

To do that, we have to recognize that we face more than a deficit of dollars right now. We face a deficit of trust – deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years. To close that credibility gap we must take action on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to end the outsized influence of lobbyists; to do our work openly; and to give our people the government they deserve.

That’s what I came to Washington to do. That’s why – for the first time in history – my Administration posts our White House visitors online. And that’s why we’ve excluded lobbyists from policy-making jobs or seats on federal boards and commissions.

But we can’t stop there. It’s time to require lobbyists to disclose each contact they make on behalf of a client with my Administration or Congress. And it’s time to put strict limits on the contributions that lobbyists give to candidates for federal office. Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests – including foreign corporations – to spend without limit in our elections.

THE 'FOREIGN CORPORATIONS' LINE IS FACTUALLY QUESTIONABLE. ITS CERTAINLY NOT TRUE THAT THE COURT EXPLICLITLY AUTHORIZED THIS.  ON THE OTHER HAND, US SUBSIDIARIES OF FOREIGN CORPORATIONS MAY BE A GRAY AREA SO I AM NOT SURE THIS RISES TO THE LEVEL OF OUTRIGHT FALSEHOOD.

Well I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and that’s why I’m urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong.

I’m also calling on Congress to continue down the path of earmark reform. You have trimmed some of this spending and embraced some meaningful change. But restoring the public trust demands more. For example, some members of Congress post some earmark requests online. Tonight, I’m calling on Congress to publish all earmark requests on a single website before there’s a vote so that the American people can see how their money is being spent.

Of course, none of these reforms will even happen if we don’t also reform how we work with one another.

Now, I am not naïve.

OH, YES YOU ARE.  [SEE REMARKS ABOUT HEALTH CARE ABOVE]

I never thought the mere fact of my election would usher in peace, harmony, and some post-partisan era. I knew that both parties have fed divisions that are deeply entrenched. And on some issues, there are simply philosophical differences that will always cause us to part ways. These disagreements, about the role of government in our lives, about our national priorities and our national security, have been taking place for over two hundred years. They are the very essence of our democracy.

But what frustrates the American people is a Washington where every day is Election Day. We cannot wage a perpetual campaign where the only goal is to see who can get the most embarrassing headlines about their opponent – a belief that if you lose, I win. Neither party should delay or obstruct every single bill just because they can. The confirmation of well-qualified public servants should not be held hostage to the pet projects or grudges of a few individual Senators. Washington may think that saying anything about the other side, no matter how false, is just part of the game. But it is precisely such politics that has stopped either party from helping the American people. Worse yet, it is sowing further division among our citizens and further distrust in our government.

So no, I will not give up on changing the tone of our politics.

IF YOU PLAY NICE AND THE OTHER SIDE CONTROLS EVERYTHING THAT GOES ON THE RADIO AND THE MOST POPULAR NEWS NETWORK, YOU ARE A SUCKER.

 

I know it’s an election year. And after last week, it is clear that campaign fever has come even earlier than usual. But we still need to govern. To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve some problems, not run for the hills. And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that sixty votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town, then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well. Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it’s not leadership. We were sent here to serve our citizens, not our ambitions. So let’s show the American people that we can do it together. This week, I’ll be addressing a meeting of the House Republicans. And I would like to begin monthly meetings with both the Democratic and Republican leadership.

HE'D BE BETTER OFF BEGINNING MONTHLY MEETINGS WITH THE RETIRING REPUBLICAN SENATORS [BOND, VOINOVICH, ETC].  MAYBE SNOWE AND BROWN AS WELL, BUT I THINK THEY ARE TOO AFRAID OF PRIMARY CHALLENGES TO DEVIATE FROM THE PARTY LINE RIGHT NOW.

 

I know you can’t wait.

Throughout our history, no issue has united this country more than our security. Sadly, some of the unity we felt after 9/11 has dissipated. We can argue all we want about who’s to blame for this, but I am not interested in re-litigating the past. I know that all of us love this country. All of us are committed to its defense. So let’s put aside the schoolyard taunts about who is tough. Let’s reject the false choice between protecting our people and upholding our values. Let’s leave behind the fear and division, and do what it takes to defend our nation and forge a more hopeful future – for America and the world.

That is the work we began last year. Since the day I took office, we have renewed our focus on the terrorists who threaten our nation. We have made substantial investments in our homeland security and disrupted plots that threatened to take American lives. We are filling unacceptable gaps revealed by the failed Christmas attack, with better airline security, and swifter action on our intelligence. We have prohibited torture

WE HAVE? DON'T WE STILL HAVE RENDITION AND STUFF?  I THINK NAT HENTOFF WROTE AN ARTICLE ABOUT THIS IN THE VILLAGE VOICE.

and strengthened partnerships from the Pacific to South Asia to the Arabian Peninsula. And in the last year, hundreds of Al Qaeda’s fighters and affiliates, including many senior leaders, have been captured or killed – far more than in 2008.

THE 'BODY COUNT' THEORY OF DECLARING VICTORY- LIKE THAT WORKED SO WELL IN VIETNAM.

In Afghanistan, we are increasing our troops and training Afghan Security Forces so they can begin to take the lead in July of 2011, and our troops can begin to come home. We will reward good governance,

BY SUPPORTING KARZAI WHO STOLE THE ELECTION? GOOD LUCK WITH THAT. 

reduce corruption,

WITH THE SAME MAGIC WAND YOU USED TO REWARD GOOD GOVERNANCE?

and support the rights of all Afghans – men and women alike. We are joined by allies and partners who have increased their own commitment, and who will come together tomorrow in London to reaffirm our common purpose. There will be difficult days ahead. But I am confident we will succeed.

As we take the fight to al Qaeda, we are responsibly leaving Iraq to its people. As a candidate, I promised that I would end this war, and that is what I am doing as President. We will have all of our combat troops out of Iraq by the end of this August.

AS PRESIDENT CLINTON WOULD SAY, IT ALL DEPENDS ON THE MEANING OF THE WORD 'COMBAT.', DOESN'T IT?

We will support the Iraqi government as they hold elections, and continue to partner with the Iraqi people to promote regional peace and prosperity. But make no mistake: this war is ending, and all of our troops are coming home.

Tonight, all of our men and women in uniform -- in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world – must know that they have our respect, our gratitude, and our full support.

YEAH, BUT IF RON PAUL WERE PRESIDENT THEY'D HAVE SOMETHING BETTER- A ONE WAY TICKET HOME! 

 

And just as they must have the resources they need in war, we all have a responsibility to support them when they come home. That is why we made the largest increase in investments for veterans in decades. That is why we are building a 21st century VA. And that is why Michelle has joined with Jill Biden to forge a national commitment to support military families.

MORE WAR LEADING TO MORE DISABLED VETERANS LEADING TO MORE MONEY FOR THE VA.  AS THE SAYING GOES, BOMB AND BOMB, SPEND AND SPEND.  

Even as we prosecute two wars, we are also confronting perhaps the greatest danger to the American people – the threat of nuclear weapons. I have embraced the vision of John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan through a strategy that reverses the spread of these weapons, and seeks a world without them.

GREAT.  IF NOBODY HAS ANY NUCLEAR WEAPONS, AND A FEW AL-QAEDA TYPES BUILD ONE WITH A LITTLE MATERIAL FROM THE INTERNET AND A LITTLE FISSILE MATERIAL FROM HERE AND THERE, GUESS WHO WOULD HAVE NUCLEAR SUPERIORITY?

To reduce our stockpiles and launchers, while ensuring our deterrent, the United States and Russia are completing negotiations on the farthest-reaching arms control treaty in nearly two decades. And at April’s Nuclear Security Summit, we will bring forty-four nations together behind a clear goal: securing all vulnerable nuclear materials around the world in four years, so that they never fall into the hands of terrorists.

SOUNDS GOOD, BUT WHY 44 WHEN ONLY ONE OR TWO HAS A PROBLEM WITH THAT? [I'LL GIVE YOU A HINT: P----------N]

These diplomatic efforts have also strengthened our hand in dealing with those nations that insist on violating international agreements in pursuit of these weapons. That is why North Korea now faces increased isolation, and stronger sanctions – sanctions that are being vigorously enforced.

YEAH, THEY ARE SOOOOOOOOOOOOO SCARED OF BEING ISOLATED! 

That is why the international community is more united, and the Islamic Republic of Iran is more isolated. And as Iran’s leaders continue to ignore their obligations, there should be no doubt: they, too, will face growing consequences.

DITTO.

That is the leadership that we are providing – engagement that advances the common security and prosperity of all people. We are working through the G-20 to sustain a lasting global recovery. We are working with Muslim communities around the world to promote science, education and innovation. We have gone from a bystander to a leader in the fight against climate change. We are helping developing countries to feed themselves, and continuing the fight against HIV/AIDS. And we are launching a new initiative that will give us the capacity to respond faster and more effectively to bio-terrorism or an infectious disease – a plan that will counter threats at home, and strengthen public health abroad.

As we have for over sixty years, America takes these actions because our destiny is connected to those beyond our shores. But we also do it because it is right. That is why, as we meet here tonight, over 10,000 Americans are working with many nations to help the people of Haiti recover and rebuild. That is why we stand with the girl who yearns to go to school in Afghanistan; we support the human rights of the women marching through the streets of Iran; and we advocate for the young man denied a job by corruption in Guinea. For America must always stand on the side of freedom and human dignity.

Abroad, America’s greatest source of strength has always been our ideals. The same is true at home. We find unity in our incredible diversity, drawing on the promise enshrined in our Constitution: the notion that we are all created equal, that no matter who you are or what you look like, if you abide by the law you should be protected by it; that if you adhere to our common values you should be treated no different than anyone else.

We must continually renew this promise. My Administration has a Civil Rights Division that is once again prosecuting civil rights violations and employment discrimination. We finally strengthened our laws to protect against crimes driven by hate. This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are. We are going to crack down on violations of equal pay laws – so that women get equal pay for an equal day’s work. And we should continue the work of fixing our broken immigration system – to secure our borders, enforce our laws, and ensure that everyone who plays by the rules can contribute to our economy and enrich our nations.

YEAH, I REMEMBER THE DAYS WHEN PEOPLE ACTUALLY WANTED TO BE ILLEGAL ALIENS IN THE UNITED STATES.  RIGHT NOW, I'M A LOT MORE WORRIED THAN I'LL LIVE TO SEE THE DAY WHEN NO ONE WANTS TO BE AN ILLEGAL ALIEN IN THE UNITED STATES. 

In the end, it is our ideals, our values, that built America – values that allowed us to forge a nation made up of immigrants from every corner of the globe; values that drive our citizens still. Every day, Americans meet their responsibilities to their families and their employers. Time and again, they lend a hand to their neighbors and give back to their country. They take pride in their labor, and are generous in spirit. These aren’t Republican values or Democratic values they’re living by; business values or labor values. They are American values.

Unfortunately, too many of our citizens have lost faith that our biggest institutions – our corporations, our media, and yes, our government – still reflect these same values. Each of these institutions are full of honorable men and women doing important work that helps our country prosper. But each time a CEO rewards himself for failure, or a banker puts the rest of us at risk for his own selfish gain, people’s doubts grow. Each time lobbyists game the system or politicians tear each other down instead of lifting this country up, we lose faith. The more that TV pundits reduce serious debates into silly arguments, and big issues into sound bites, our citizens turn away.

No wonder there’s so much cynicism out there.

No wonder there’s so much disappointment.

I campaigned on the promise of change – change we can believe in, the slogan went. And right now, I know there are many Americans who aren’t sure if they still believe we can change – or at least, that I can deliver it.

But remember this – I never suggested that change would be easy, or that I can do it alone. Democracy in a nation of three hundred million people can be noisy and messy and complicated. And when you try to do big things and make big changes, it stirs passions and controversy. That’s just how it is.

Those of us in public office can respond to this reality by playing it safe and avoid telling hard truths. We can do what’s necessary to keep our poll numbers high, and get through the next election instead of doing what’s best for the next generation.

But I also know this: if people had made that decision fifty years ago or one hundred years ago or two hundred years ago, we wouldn’t be here tonight. The only reason we are is because generations of Americans were unafraid to do what was hard; to do what was needed even when success was uncertain; to do what it took to keep the dream of this nation alive for their children and grandchildren.

Our administration has had some political setbacks this year, and some of them were deserved. But I wake up every day knowing that they are nothing compared to the setbacks that families all across this country have faced this year. And what keeps me going – what keeps me fighting – is that despite all these setbacks, that spirit of determination and optimism – that fundamental decency that has always been at the core of the American people – lives on.

It lives on in the struggling small business owner who wrote to me of his company, “None of us,” he said, “…are willing to consider, even slightly, that we might fail.”

It lives on in the woman who said that even though she and her neighbors have felt the pain of recession, “We are strong. We are resilient. We are American.”

It lives on in the 8-year old boy in Louisiana, who just sent me his allowance and asked if I would give it to the people of Haiti. And it lives on in all the Americans who’ve dropped everything to go some place they’ve never been and pull people they’ve never known from rubble, prompting chants of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A!” when another life was saved.

The spirit that has sustained this nation for more than two centuries lives on in you, its people.

We have finished a difficult year. We have come through a difficult decade. But a new year has come. A new decade stretches before us. We don’t quit. I don’t quit. Let’s seize this moment – to start anew, to carry the dream forward, and to strengthen our union once more.

ZZZZZZ....

Thank you. God Bless You. And God Bless the United States of America.


Posted by lewyn at 11:18 AM EST
Monday, 25 January 2010
Recent blog posts

On CNU group blog

http://www.cnu.org/node/3332

and misc posts on the Planetizen group blog

http://www.planetizen.com/blog/63


Posted by lewyn at 9:29 PM EST
Thursday, 31 December 2009
The movies I saw in 2009
(not counting film festival movies)  
 
 1. Waltzing with Bashir>
2. Gran Torino
3. Nixon/Frost>
4. Slumdog Millionaire>
5. Milk>
6. Benjamin Button >
7. Revolutionary Road (really liked)
8. Star Trek (ditto)
9. Julie/Julia
10. District 9
11. Inglorious Basterds (really liked)
12. Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg
13. A Serious Man
14. Up in the Air
15. Avatar
16. Fantastic Mr. Fox
17. Sherlock Holmes

Posted by lewyn at 8:20 PM EST
Wednesday, 30 December 2009
What I read in 2009

1. Brothers in Battle, Best of Friends, Guernare et al>
2.  Steinsaltz, The Thirteen Petalled Rose
3. Popkin, Song of the City>>
4. Cohen, The Boy on the Door on the Ox>>
5. Goodman, A Plain Pine Box>>
6. Galyan, Destined to Choose>>
7. Helstosky, Pizza>
8. Elliott, A Better Way To Zone>
9. Pava, Business Ethics: A Jewish Perspective>>
10. Blumenthal, The Banality of Good and Evil>>
11. McNally, Germania
12. Mann, The Rabbi’s Daughter
13. Shlaes, The Forgotten Man
14. Konner The Jewish Body
15. Hartman, Israelis and the Jewish Tradition
16. Felder, Seven Prayers That Can Change Your Life
17. Rosenberg, But Were They Good for the Jews?
18. Laufer, Exodus to Berlin
19. Bloom, Postville
20. The 12-Year Reich (Grunberger?)
21. Heilman, Cosmopolitans and Parochials
22. Angell, The Search Committee
23. Telushkin, Love Your Neighbor as Yourself
24. Gager, The Origins of Anti-Semitism
25. Harris, Creeping Conformity
26. Harris, Unplanned Suburbs: Toronto’s American Tragedy, 1900 to 1950
27. Cairns, How to Live Dangerously
28. Dorff, Matters of Life and Death
 29. Sewell, The Shape of the City
30. Leon, The Jews of Ancient Rome
31. The Bread Givers, Yezierska                                                                 

32. Sewell, The Shape of the Suburbs
33. Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem
34. Abraham Miguel Cardozo, Selected Writings
35. Schacter-Shalomi, Paradigm Shift
36. Ronson, Them
37. Glatzer, Franz Rosenzweig" His Life and Thought
38. Susskind, The One Percent Doctrine
39. Boyne, The Boy In The Striped Pajamas
40. Kertzer, The Popes Against the Jews                                               41. Gordon, The Last Jew
42. Eidelberg, The Jews And The Crusaders
43. Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird
44. Gibbons, Cold Comfort Farm
45. Singer, The Slave
46. Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition
47. Firestone, An Introduction to Islam for Jews
48. Bauman, Harry H. Epstein and the Rabbinate As Conduit for Change
49. Lorinc, The New City
50. Hallie, In The Eye of the Hurricane
51. Swartz et al, Avodah>
52. Linetsky, Saadiah Gaon Commentary On The Book of Creation
53. Leibowitz, Accepting the Yoke of Heaven>
54. Foran, Expansive Discourses: Urban Sprawl in Calgary 1945-78>
55. Japhet, Rashbam on Quoheleth>
56. Filion, The Urban Growth Centres Strategy In The Greater Golden Horseshoe>
57. Eskenazi et al, The Torah: A Women’s Commentary>
58. Schochet, Tzavaat Harivash
58.5.  Solomon, Toronto Sprawls [half a book because so short]
59.  Dunham-Jones et al, Retrofitting Suburbia
60.  Strickman, IbnEzra's Commentary on the Pentateuch: Genesis
61.  Ferguson, The Heritage of Hellenism
62. Browning, Nazi Policy, Jewish Workers, German Killers 

BY CATEGORY

38 Judaism/Jewish history/religion/ethics

8 urban planning etc

7 fiction

3 misc politics

3 misc history

3 other

 


Posted by lewyn at 5:15 PM EST
Updated: Wednesday, 30 December 2009 5:20 PM EST
Tuesday, 24 November 2009
Studying Torah

Went to interesting Torah class at Shaarei Shamayim (modern O synagogue in Toronto).  Rabbi talked about I Samuel 21-22, in which the following happens: David (on the run from Saul) deceives priest into thinking he is on secret mission from Saul, and gets food and arms. 

Saul finds out, and instead of accepting the priest's good faith, he has not only the priest, but the priest's entire village (with the exception of one escapee who joins David) killed.  As a result of this atrocity, David builds up his forces.

Rabbi drew this lesson: Saul's attitude was "you're with me or you're against me."  David, by contrast, sought to turn enemies into friends.

Couldn't help thinking: Saul = neocons.  David = Nixon.

Or perhaps: David= Nixon abroad.  Saul = Nixon at home. 


Posted by lewyn at 11:15 AM EST
Tuesday, 10 November 2009
Got to see Michael Walzer speak (at U of Toronto)

Last night I saw Michael Walzer, an eminent political scientist, speak at U. of Toronto.  He addressed the relationship between the “wisdom books” of the Jewish Bible (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job) and the prophetic books (by which he means not just the prophetic books, but Deuteronomy since it addresses some of the same issues). 

 

Key points:

 

*Wisdom books have high ethical standards, but nevertheless have a different focus.  They are about how one person makes his way through life, not really on future generations.  Prophetic books are about an entire people.

 

*Wisdom books take the existing social order for granted, and tell you how to get along with (or rise in the service of) a king.  If the king is wrong, just obey him or stay out of his way.  Prophetic books criticize the misconduct of king and nation.  Wisdom books tell you to avoid evil; prophetic books tell you to root out evil.

 

*Because of its focus on prudence, wisdom literature was ultimately inadequate to deal with the challenges of the world, because it doesn’t tell you what to do when prudence and morality diverged, or when (as in times of political turmoil) worldly prosperity seems not to be an option.  Prophetic books do.

 

*The prophetic books differ among themselves, addressing different kinds of challenges.  Proverbs a bit complacent, more about success in normal times, more optimistic.  Ecclesiastes sees even success as futile.  Job about situations where wisdom inadequate to deal with life’s problems.


Posted by lewyn at 11:47 AM EST
Friday, 16 October 2009
Interesting things in Toronto

As some of you know, I am in Toronto for the next six months or so getting an LLM.

Over the past week, I carved out a little free time and saw a bunch of neighborhoods- Regent Park, Cabbagetown, St. James Town, Broadview- Gerrard (non-downtown Chinatown, less busy than the downtown one),  Little India, the beginnings of a Little Ethiopia, Rosedale (old money WASP) and Greektown.  (Photos not online yet).  Some very interesting things:

1.  Visited housing projects AND a neighborhood between two housing projects.  Three surprising facts:

a) housing projects didn't seem nearly as scary as American ones- can't quite explain why (maybe its knowing that Toronto's murder rate is about 1/10 that of Atlanta's and 1/6 that of Jacksonville's!)

b) that Cabbagetown (gentrified area between them) is nice despite the fact that it is between the housing projects, and

c) someone is apparently trying to develop a high-rise condo just south of one of the projects (I saw it from said project). 

2.   In Rosedale, saw small apartment buildings in a basically single-family area- proof that if the rents are high enough the multifamily lion can lie down with the single-family lamb. 


Posted by lewyn at 11:55 AM EDT
Sunday, 30 August 2009
Health care reform: an admittedly oversimplified explanation

Imagine that you have an appliance (say, a refrigerator) that you've had for awhile.  It works well most of the time.  But it costs more every year to maintain, and sometimes it doesn't work so well.   The appliance is our health insurance/care system- mostly effective, but hugely expensive for the results we get (and of course, some people fall in the cracks and don't get the benefits).

The Libertarian position: who needs a refrigerator anyhow?  (Read "insurance" for "refrigerator")

The Republican Establishment position: Our refrigerator is the best in the world.  And if you disagree you're a socialist or a Nazi or something.  (Or alternatively, see variations of Libertarian position above).

The Democratic position: We need a really expensive new refrigerator, we'll pay for it with a credit card that we don't plan to ever pay the balance on it, and we just hope that our grandchildren can afford to pay for it. 

Somehow none of these positions really seem ideal.  


Posted by lewyn at 12:01 PM EDT
Wednesday, 19 August 2009
Neat book

I just skimmed Gregg Easterbrook's "The Progress Paradox."  Some interesting facts-

 *Today, the world life expectancy is 66- while the US life expectancy was 41 in 1900 (77 now).

 *The age-adjusted, population-adjusted cancer rate has fallen since 1993. (I knew cancer deaths had declined, but didn't think cancer incidence had).

*Californians spend more time inside their cars than outdoors.

*In 1850, the typical American was twice as likely to be the target of a lawsuit as an American today.

*Global adult literacy was 47 percent in 1970 and 73 percent today.  

 


Posted by lewyn at 9:54 PM EDT
Globalization and inequality

It seems to be conventional wisdom in some quarters that globalization is a cause of increased income inequality and various other noxious results.

I'm not a real expert in these matters, but as I was browsing through the World Almanac it occurred to me that there might be some way of measuring which countries were the most "globalized".  It also occurred to me that imports as a percent of GNP might be a way of doing this- that countries with a lot of imports were the ones most tied into the global economy, and that it might prove something if those countries were especially rich, poor, egalitarian, inegalitarian, etc.

I spent an hour or so doing this, and I'm not sure if the results prove all that much.  But certianly they do suggest that countries isolated from the world economy don't do all that well.

Countries where imports are under 10 percent of GNP tend to be on the poor side, with the partial exceptions of Argentina (8%), India (8%) and Brazil (just under 7%, I think the lowest) three countries not noted for egalitarianism.  Our murderer's row of economic isolationism includes: Azerbijan, Benin, Bolivia, Burundi, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Ethiopia, India (!), Iran, North Korea, Malawi, Pakistan, Nepal, Niger, Pakistan, Peru, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Timor, Uganda, Uzbekistan. Notice the number of European social democracies on the list- somewhere between zero and zero.

The most globalized countries are a much more diverse list.  Two very poor countries clock in at over 100 percent- Zimbawe and Liberia (foreign aid perhaps?)

In the 50-100 range: Austria (51), Belgium (85), Denmark (51), Estonia (50), Holland (63), Iceland (51), Lesotho (51), United Arab Emirates (59), Slovakia (53), Slovenia (54), Switzerland (61).  With the exception of Lesotho, not a bad group.  Some other social democracies were within shouting distance of this group- Sweden 45, Finland 42, Germany 39. (Though some poorer countries in this group too- Jordan at 43, Malaysia and Burma at 40).

And what of North America?  All in the boring middle- USA 14%, Canada 30%, Mexico 22% (UK and France were about the same as Canada). 

Not sure what to make of it all.   Certainly, however, a highly internationalized economy is not a barrier to a relatively egalitarian economic structure.  But I'm not sure how any of this correlates with trends over time- maybe when I'm in a library I'll look up an old World Almanac and see if the patterns are similar. 


Posted by lewyn at 5:33 PM EDT
Friday, 14 August 2009
Normally, I don't comment about national politics on this blog..

But I couldn't help myself from writing the short play below.


SOCIAL SECURITY AND HEALTH CARE REFORM: A BRIEF EXPLANATION

NARRATION: Once upon a time, there was a land where old people got a lot of stuff from government, and young people got quite a bit less.  This is the story of how Republicans and Democrats tried to change that status quo.

REPUBLICANS: You can't have something for nothing, to let's cut Social Security, or privatize it, or something.

OLD PEOPLE: Right-wing fanatics are trying to take away our Social Security!

Boo, hiss, boo! 

REPUBLICANS: Never mind. 

DEMOCRATS: Not only can you have something for nothing, but the young people can have it too.  Health insurance for everyone!

OLD PEOPLE: The socialists are giving everything away to anybody, and maybe there won't be enough socialized medicine to go around!

Boo, hiss, boo!

DEMOCRATS: Never mind. 

 


Posted by lewyn at 11:02 AM EDT
My Toronto photo colllection
http://atlantaphotos.fotopic.net/c1739146.html

Posted by lewyn at 9:41 AM EDT
PEDS forum

Yesterday I went to a forum on walkable design sponsored by PEDS (www.peds.org).  A few of the more interesting points:

*The mayor of Decatur claimed that Decatur vehicle counts were lower now than in the 1990s.

*Lots of people pointed out the importance of street design.  Uses and transportation facilities change, but streets are forever; for example, Attilla the Hun sacked Rome, but the Roman street pattern survived him.  Unfortunately, this means bad streets are hard to change.

*Long blocks are unpleasant for pedestrians; for example, Manhattan's long avenues are unpleasant, its short north-south streets much more pleasant.  

*Too few streets means low connectivity (i.e. very few ways for pedestrians to get around): for example, one big-box Whole Foods takes up 11 Manhattan blocks.

*Sally Flocks showed a table with an alarming correlation between street width and pedestrian fatalities.  Once a street got more than about 24 feet wide, fatalities started to rise. 

*Grass can be bad (e.g. a lawn that sets back a building from the street); asphalt can be good (e.g. sidewalks).

All common sense when you think about it. 


Posted by lewyn at 9:39 AM EDT
Tuesday, 4 August 2009
Toronto

Since I am spending the next academic year on leave at the University of Toronto, I spent last week there looking for apartments.  A few observations:

 *Women are better dressed, men not as well.

*Some things are more expensive, some things less.  Beer costs two or times as much as in the states, kleenex no more so, restaurants more but only slightly.   Museums outrageously expensive.

*Much more focus on recycling.  Virtually every public trash can has three boxes, one for nonrecyclable litter, one for paper, one for other recyclables.

 *More powerful unions.  When I was there Toronto was in middle of garbage strike.

*By well dressed I mean standard synagogue/church/job interview attire: skirts that are not real short for women, ties for men. 

*More ethnically diverse, lots more Asians.  In a typical southern American, almost everyone is either WASP or black. 


Posted by lewyn at 10:25 AM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 4 August 2009 10:26 AM EDT
Wednesday, 15 July 2009
another trip

Had a layover in Memphis between a bus from Little Rock and a plane to Atlanta, and visited Harbor Town (one of the first New Urbanist developments, mentioned in one of Jim Kunstler's books).

Positives: beautiful houses, lots of mixed use (not just shopping, but both apartments and single-family houses, unlike some NU developments that appear targeted to just families or singles).  Great park space - a major park bordering the Mississippi plus lots of small parks throughout the development.

Con: Entry to development is through six-lane street, no visible employment centers (though since I only took a 30 minute walk I could be missing something), no visible public transit- looks like most people would have to drive to work. 

Incidentally, Memphis has a nice looking downtown: lots of historic structures left, plus some nice looking apartment houses, a Walgreen's open till 8 (an indicator of residential development) and a Family Dollar- not much by the standards of Northern big cities, but pretty good compared to Little Rock. 


Posted by lewyn at 12:31 AM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 15 July 2009 12:35 AM EDT
Monday, 13 July 2009
Jewish urbanism: grading cities

A few weeks ago in a Planetizen blog post (http://www.planetizen.com/node/39364 ) I proposed a way of grading cities by the quality of their urban Jewish life.  Basically, an "A" city has lots of urban Jewish life, a "B" city usually has a minimal downtown or near-downtown presence and some nearby urban Jewish life, a "C" city has synagogues which are suburban but accessible via public transit, and a "D" city has almost nothing that is even on a bus line.

So here's my read on the cities I am most familiar with:

New York City: A+.  Everything you could possibly want is in Manhattan.

Philadelphia: A- .  Lots of congregations downtown; only thing missing is a Jewish day school.

Washington: B+.  At least three (small) synagogues (counting Chabad, but not counting the mini-congregations meeting at the old 6th and I shul) in what I think of as downtown.    But definitely not the level of Jewish life you would find in Center City Philadelphia. 

Atlanta: C+.  Chabad Intown is a couple of miles from downtown, a very long walk but still sort of doable.   Lots of other congregations on bus lines, not much real close to the subway.

St. Louis: C.  A Reform congregation and a traditional minyan are in the Central West End, a few miles from downtown (but to a much greater extent than in Atlanta I would not feel safe making the walk).

Buffalo: C.  Pretty comparable to St. Louis. 

Cleveland: C.  Very suburban Jewish community, though significant transit accessibility in Cleveland/Shaker Hts.   Only one (Reform) synagogue within city limits. 

Little Rock: C-.  One suburban synagogue is pretty close to a bus line, two others are less so. 

 


Posted by lewyn at 10:08 AM EDT

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