tablet on drumpf at aipac: something’s rotten?
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  • March 21, 2016

Tablet’s edi­to­r­ial board says AIPAC fails to rep­re­sent both the left and the right when it comes to advo­cat­ing for Israel on American Jews’ behalf.

The invi­ta­tion to Trump is a sym­bol of what AIPAC has become — an orga­ni­za­tion staffed by mid-level incom­pe­tents who dis­grace our com­mu­nity with their evi­dent lack of both polit­i­cal savvy and moral sense. Let’s be frank: Some of us would be com­fort­able with a bunch of back-alley polit­i­cal knife-fight­ers whose only cause is the active defense of the Jewish peo­ple, while oth­ers want lead­ers devoted to mak­ing sure that our com­mu­nal goals embody uni­ver­sal morals and social-jus­tice values—regardless of how this might play on the geopo­lit­i­cal chess­board. Whichever camp you find your­self in, one thing is clear: What we have now in AIPAC is an orga­ni­za­tion with the fail­ings of both, and the virtues of nei­ther.
Headless Community in Bottomless Spiral

This is a fas­ci­nat­ing piece of polit­i­cal rhetoric. The Tablet edi­tors are say­ing that both sides can agree AIPAC is a poor rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the American Jewish com­mu­nity, and then make their case from each side.

If they are able to step away from the par­ti­san­ship and actu­ally offer cogent ana­lyt­i­cal insight into AIPAC’s fail­ings on both the left and the right, then that’s admirable and use­ful. But the prob­lem is that vir­tu­ally no one (at least no one who is actively engaged in/with the Jewish com­mu­nity) is able to actu­ally back away from the fra­cas and say any­thing that isn’t seen by one side or both as an unfair attack. In other words, I’m won­der­ing if Tablet’s edi­to­r­ial team falls into the very trap into which they accuse AIPAC of falling: try­ing to be a voice for all sides and end­ing up being a voice for none.

Nonetheless, as an attempt to be ana­lyt­i­cal of AIPAC with­out stak­ing ground (or, being trans­par­ent about your ide­ol­ogy but attempt to tran­scend it for the pur­pose of analy­sis), I think it’s a good try, and a thought­ful, intel­lec­tu­ally deft, and inter­est­ing one at that.


At the same time, despite some strong lan­guage attack­ing AIPAC lead­er­ship (which we’ll get to in a sec­ond), the authors seem to be danc­ing around the point they really want to make: this is entirely about the organization’s lead­er­ship, or lack thereof. I think that’s a fair point to make, espe­cially if you can sup­port it with a well-rea­soned argu­ment. But a prob­lem with the Tablet edi­to­r­ial is that its authors hint at hav­ing a well-rea­soned argu­ment to back up their claims, but it’s hard to believe them when (a) they don’t present much evi­dence of orga­ni­za­tional chaos to sup­port their claims ((By “evi­dence,” I mean thought­fully-pre­sented fac­tual infor­ma­tion that sup­ports their claims, not, “AIPAC failed to stop the Iran deal… Can’t those screwups do any­thing right?”)), and when (b) they take numer­ous cheap shots and engage in petty ad hominem attacks ((Exhibit A: “…an orga­ni­za­tion staffed by mid-level incom­pe­tents who dis­grace our com­mu­nity with their evi­dent lack of both polit­i­cal savvy and moral sense.”)) on AIPAC lead­ers.

It should be fair game to claim that spe­cific peo­ple lack polit­i­cal savvy or that they have exhib­ited behav­ior that calls their moral sense into ques­tion, espe­cially if you sup­port those claims in a man­ner that’s con­vinc­ing or at least intel­lec­tu­ally hon­est. But call­ing unnamed AIPAC employ­ees “mid-level incom­pe­tents who dis­grace” the com­mu­nity that they’ve ded­i­cated them­selves (with pre­sum­ably best inten­tions) to serv­ing? That state­ment Trump-esque diss, a petty and rhetor­i­cally lazy turn of phrase that must have felt cathar­tic and won­der­fully naughty to type into the essay’s first draft, says more about its author than its sub­ject. It under­mines the edi­to­r­ial board’s entire point (as do the other cheap shots sprin­kled through­out), and it should have been excised before an edi­tor clicked “Publish.”

And also, it’s mean. I believe in the impor­tant prac­tice of a publication’s edi­to­r­ial board writ­ing with one voice, espe­cially on impor­tant issues like this. But it comes off look­ing like cow­ardly bul­ly­ing when an unnamed writer (writ­ing on behalf of a seem­ingly face­less edi­to­r­ial team) attacks a group of indi­vid­u­als with­out nam­ing names but with a nod and a wink that says, “We’re way too classy to name names but you know who we’re talk­ing about, right?”

With all due def­er­ence to the folks behind the pub­li­ca­tion (for whom I hold an immense amount of respect and awe-filled admi­ra­tion), Tablet’s typ­i­cally eru­dite edi­tors should be above that kind of shoddy writ­ing, and as a pub­li­ca­tion that endeav­ors to ele­vate pub­lic dis­course (instead of con­tribut­ing to the absence of dis­course down in the gut­ter on social media), it should be Tablet’s pol­icy to steer clear of lashon hara.

Moreover, if the point is that the root of the prob­lem AIPAC’s staff, then the nat­ural solu­tion is that the mem­ber­ship (who the edi­to­r­ial claims to stand with/for/behind) should act to replace said “incom­pe­tent” staff, since it’s incum­bent on a non-profit’s employ­ees to advance the mis­sion artic­u­lated by the organization’s mem­ber­ship. Of course, the editorial’s stance seems to be that the prob­lem is with AIPAC on the whole, so the sug­ges­tion that the orga­ni­za­tion is fun­da­men­tally bro­ken makes sense. But in that case the shots at staff are both irrel­e­vant and mis­placed, since it’s the mem­ber­ship who made/let it hap­pen (and if AIPAC is bro­ken on a fun­da­men­tal level, the prob­lems surely run deeper than some “mid-level incom­pe­tents”).

If, how­ever, the organization’s mem­bers and mis­sion are still wor­thy of sup­port, then the solu­tion is an easy one: Get rid of the staff who don’t get it and hire peo­ple who do. Otherwise, Tablet ought to be blam­ing the thou­sands of peo­ple who donate to AIPAC, show up at AIPAC events, and part­ner with AIPAC in their own com­mu­ni­ties.

main photo credit: Photo Cindy (Flickr)

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  • March 16, 2016

Louis Brandeis

Brandeis, c. 1916

Merrick Garland

Garland, c. 2016

One hun­dred years ago (Jan. 28, 1916), President Wilson nom­i­nated Louis Brandeis to the US Supreme Court. What fol­lowed was one of the most con­tentious con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings in his­tory, due to Brandeis’ reli­gious her­itage and his unabashed lib­er­al­ism (espe­cially his record of fight­ing big Wall Street bankers).

One hun­dred years later, Merrick Garland is unlikely to face anti-Semitism on the Senate floor, and he’s a far less polar­iz­ing pick than Brandeis was. Nonetheless, his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings — if they even hap­pen — are likely to be even more con­tentious.

Funny how much has changed. And how lit­tle.

The Women Take Over” by Dahlia Lithwick (Slate​.com):

… it’s hard to imag­ine President Obama con­jur­ing up, from even the dark­est, most devi­ous under­ground lab, a new jus­tice who would be half as fierce as the four-car train of whoop ass we saw today.

It’s hard to imag­ine any­one con­jur­ing up a bet­ter com­men­ta­tor on the Supreme Court than Dahlia Lithwick.

Her writ­ing on yes­ter­day’s oral argu­ments in Whole Woman’s HealthHellerstedt is a beau­ti­ful illus­tra­tion of why I’d rather read her than pretty much any other jour­nal­ist work­ing today.

benedictine chili.
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  • February 26, 2016

Toasted English muf­fin topped with chili con carné, sour cream, shred­ded cheese, fried egg (one for each side) with the yolk still runny, and a lit­tle more cheese.

(I dare you to come up with a bet­ter use for left­over chili.)

Douglas Rushkoff is cred­ited as the ide­o­logue behind the “dig­i­tal Sabbath.” He’s a smart guy: Professor of Media Theory and Digital Economics at CUNY; media com­men­ta­tor; author; first coined the terms “dig­i­tal natives,” “social cur­rency,” and “viral media”… yada yada… his whole bio is on Wikipedia if you want it.

Several years ago, he argued that peo­ple needed to take time away from dig­i­tal media. And because he was into the Jewish thing at the time, that idea mor­phed into the notion of a “dig­i­tal Sabbath.” And then some­thing called The National Day of Unplugging was estab­lished by ReBoot. (ReBoot is an orga­ni­za­tion built on an annual gath­er­ing which Rushkoff helped to con­vene, ini­tially. But he now calls it elit­ist.) The National Day of Unplugging exists to encour­age peo­ple to take their own dig­i­tal Sabbaths, all on the same day.

Now, Rushkoff says he does­n’t like the idea any­more. From the Guardian, Douglas Rushkoff: ‘I’m think­ing it may be good to be off social media alto­gether’:

I came up with this thing which I now don’t like: the dig­i­tal sab­bath. It feels a lit­tle forced and arbi­trary, and it frames dig­i­tal detox as a depri­va­tion. I would much rather help peo­ple learn to value look­ing into other people’s eyes. To sit in a room talk­ing to peo­ple – I want peo­ple to value that, not because they aren’t being inter­rupted by dig­i­tal media but because it’s valu­able in its own right.

That’s novel, I sup­pose. (Though I’m pretty sure Ari Kelman would­n’t think so.)



Today was the GOP pri­mary in South Carolina. Jeb Bush just dropped out of the race because he failed to receive the sup­port of pri­mary vot­ers in three states whose del­e­gates — com­bined! — make up 3.5% (19/538) of the elec­toral col­lege.

(In other words, these states are basi­cally irrel­e­vant in the national elec­tion, yet some­how some­one gave their most extreme vot­ers — the ones who show up for the pri­maries — the power to sink a viable can­di­date’s chances of get­ting the nom­i­na­tion in favor of a guy who is demon­stra­bly loony toons.)

I’m by no means a fan of Jeb Bush, and a part of me won­ders if it helps Dems’ chances in November if the Republicans end up let­ting extrem­ist vot­ers in small states nom­i­nate an openly racist can­di­date to the par­ty’s ticket. But seri­ously… if this isn’t enough to give some legs to efforts to change the pri­mary sys­tem, I don’t know what will.

Also, won­der­ing: After the way Trump took every oppor­tu­nity to pub­licly bad­mouth, embar­rass, shame, and vil­ify him and his fam­ily, if Trump ends up being the can­di­date will Jeb even cast a bal­lot in November?

for our daughter.

On the occasion of your naming. February 27, 2015.
Peninsula Temple Beth El, San Mateo, California

Sara's baby naming.
October 1981.

Sela Penina Mason-Barkin, or Penina Selah in Hebrew.

A big name for a very, very lit­tle girl. But we know that no mat­ter how small you are now, you will grow into this name — this name that was so care­fully cho­sen for you.

Sela Penina, you are named for two very strong, intel­li­gent, lov­ing, and beau­ti­ful women.

Your first name, Sela, is for your GG – your Great- Grandma Selma. Sela, you are your GG’s six­teenth great-grand­child, so we know exactly how much she would have loved to meet you. Just like she loved meet­ing your cousins and your big brother, watch­ing you play would have made her blue eyes twin­kle and when we placed you on her lap, I know she would have chuck­led deeply.

In her absence, we have given you a name that not only sounds like hers but that we also hope will inspire you live up to some of her most spe­cial qual­i­ties.

Your GG pos­sessed a quiet strength and a grace that allowed her live an incred­i­ble and full life, even after the death of your great grandpa, Carl. At her funeral, many spoke about the ways that she con­tributed to her husband’s busi­ness suc­cess – and how in another day and age she would have been run­ning the store her­self. Well my lit­tle Sela, here you are – in another day and age. I know that it wouldn’t mat­ter to your GG what your pas­sion comes to be – whether you find your­self lov­ing writ­ing or music or math: but it would mat­ter to her that you put your whole self into it. This is our wish for your, too.

Another endur­ing les­son from your GG that we hope you will always take to heart is the impor­tance of fam­ily. Your GG made it a pri­or­ity to make sure that fam­ily always got together, and really got to know one another. You have already begun to live this with­out even know­ing it, when you wel­comed two of your big cousins to come visit you when you were still in the hos­pi­tal. Your brother Charlie and all your big cousins Zachy, Eliza, Aviva and Caleb already love you so much – and you have so much to learn from them. Your GG would have loved to know how impor­tant they already are to you, and our hope for you is that fam­ily will always come first – and that you will always make this a pri­or­ity.

Your mid­dle name, Penina, is for your Great Grandmother, Ina. We find the let­ters of her name at the end of yours. Your Great Grandmother was also a source of strength for her fam­ily and force in her com­mu­nity. She was a Dean at Clark University and val­ued edu­ca­tion and learn­ing for her­self and for her fam­ily. If your Great Grandmother was still here, she would want to play scrab­ble with you, teach you three syl­la­ble words, and talk with you about cur­rent events. As you strive to reach your big dreams, we hope you do so with a thirst for knowl­edge and love of learn­ing that would make your great-grand­mother so proud.

Your great-grand­mother was very cere­bral, but also appre­ci­ated beauty and detail. One of her most won­der­ful qual­i­ties that I, unfor­tu­nately, did not inherit, was to set a beau­ti­ful table and host a gor­geous hol­i­day meal. She always hosted with plea­sure and beauty. Whether or not you love to cook, we hope that you will always strive for bal­ance between the intel­lec­tual and the aes­thetic. We want you to find beauty every­where you look, just as we see beauty when we look at you.

Sela Penina, or Penina Selah in Hebrew:

Penina in Hebrew means Pearl. Your great-grand­mother Ina had ter­rific taste in jew­elry, and a few years ago she gave me a beau­ti­ful pearl neck­lace of hers, which will some­day be yours. When I wear it, I think about not only the beauty of the pearls, but about the pearls of wis­dom that your great grand­mother would share as she tried her best to help me in the kitchen, as she set a beau­ti­ful table, or as she quizzed me on the mean­ing of a new word.

Selah in Hebrew means Rock. Just a few months ago, at your GG’s funeral, we remem­bered her lov­ingly as ‘the rock’ of our fam­ily. She kept us all, and con­tin­ues to keep us all together as she heads the fam­ily with her lov­ing strength. In the book of Deuteronomy, God is described as nurs­ing Israel with dvash mis­e­lah, honey from a rock. Like your GG, a rock is strong. It is stead­fast and with­stands much. But like you, and like your GG, this imagery shows us a rock filled with honey: a rock that is sweet, a rock per­form­ing an act of love. This describes your GG to a tee, and so too may you be as strong as you are sweet.

Our lit­tle Sela Penina, Penina Selah, we real­ize these names are a lot to live up to for a lit­tle tiny baby. But there are no two women more deserv­ing of a name­sake as pre­cious as you. Welcome to the world, we are so proud to be your par­ents.


Mom and Dad

From “Synagogue-based Religious Schools: A Community Responsibility,” by Lisa Harris Glass and Stephanie Hausner

We have spent a gen­er­a­tion dis­pro­por­tion­ately focused on day schools, thereby rel­e­gat­ing sup­ple­men­tal reli­gious schools to sec­ond-class sta­tus. Our efforts have done noth­ing to increase day school choice in the major­ity of the Jewish com­mu­nity; but have served to suc­cess­fully demor­al­ize sup­ple­men­tal school edu­ca­tion direc­tors and dec­i­mate the bench of qual­ity, qual­i­fied, inspir­ing reli­gious school teach­ers. We have con­signed our num­ber one oppor­tu­nity to inspire/ignite a life­long love of Judaism and pos­i­tive Jewish iden­tity to “less than,” “wannabe” sta­tus.

Whoa. Because truth.

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  • January 6, 2015

Twenty years ago, I was always read­ing at least one book. And I’d read dozens — maybe hun­dreds — each year.

Now? I can’t remem­ber the last time I read a book. But…


I’m def­i­nitely read­ing more than ever.

unlocked iPhone 6 works great in the uk.
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  • December 29, 2014

The short ver­sion: This arti­cle from MacWorld UK is wrong. A US-pur­chased unlocked iPhone 6 works just fine in the UK. (If that’s all you wanted to know, I fig­ured I’d spare you the details. If you want to know more, read on…) Read More

limmud handouts available for download.
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  • December 28, 2014

Here’s where you’ll find my hand­outs from Limmud 2014 in Coventry, England. (I’m post­ing them live on the day of the ses­sion. All hand­outs should be up as of January 1, 2015.)

If you have any ques­tions, or if you’re look­ing for some­thing that should be here but isn’t, drop me an email.

the handouts.

Hacking Hanukkah to Design the Jewish Future:

This return to the blog has turned into a shar­ing of other peo­ple’s wis­dom rather than my own. That is prob­a­bly the best assur­ance that it is actu­ally wis­dom! Today is no excep­tion.

Read the rest

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  • October 25, 2014

Just text me, ok?

Please Do Not Leave A Message: Why Millennials Hate Voice Mail:

We’ve all heard that auto­mated voice mail lady, telling us what to do after the beep. But fewer peo­ple than ever are leav­ing mes­sages. And the mil­len­ni­als, they won’t even lis­ten to them — they’d much rather receive a text or Facebook mes­sage.

So true. I really really hate voice­mail.

Read the rest

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  • August 28, 2014

I backed a Kickstarter cam­paign. And it paid off, which is to say that I even­tu­ally received an actual prod­uct in the mail. Here it is, ladies and gen­tle­men: the Almond+ wifi router. (Pics inside.)

Read More

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  • August 26, 2014

Instagram’s new Hyperlapse app is amaz­ing.

Basically, it sta­bi­lizes video as it shoots it (or soon there­after) and allows you to play back at var­i­ous speeds. It’s time­lapse pho­tog­ra­phy in super-smooth mode, or a replace­ment for a very expen­sive video sta­bi­liza­tion rig.

Instagram HyperlapseThe secret, accord­ing to a Wired pro­file, is that the app does­n’t try to sta­bi­lize with any­thing like the fancy (and very proces­sor-inten­sive) soft­ware found in high-end video pro­duc­tion soft­ware. Rather, it uses data from the iPhone’s built-in gyro­scopes to sim­ply adjust for move­ment.

My ini­tial reac­tion to the app was (a) won­der­ment, and (b) hope­ful­ness that the app would let me import media (like, um, from my GoPro?).

After read­ing the Wired arti­cle, it’s clear that the Hyperlapse app won’t work with imported mate­r­ial, since the whole point is that it records the gyro­scopic data as it’s record­ing (and adjusts the video accord­ingly).

But what if…

  1. We use a rig that mounts an iPhone directly to a GoPro, cam­corder, or DSLR. (There’s this cool mount for GoPro, or you could just use any dual-cam­era tri­pod mount, like this one.)
  2. We have an app on the phone (like Hyperlapse) that records the gyro­scopic data.
  3. We then take the video footage from the GoPro/camcorder/DSLR and plug it into a desk­top app along with the iPhone app’s gyro­scopic data. It could then sta­bi­lize the video using that data — just like the Hyperlapse app, but as a post-pro­cess­ing tech­nique rather than “in-cam­era.”

For this to work, you need to be able to pre­cisely (!) sync the gyro­scope’s data with the video. For that rea­son, I’m won­der­ing if the app might record audio, which the post-pro­cess­ing desk­top app could use to sync the recorded data’s time with the footage. As you begin record­ing, it could even emit a beep or clap­per sound or some­thing sim­i­lar that would be picked up by the video cam­er­a’s mic. (The desk­top app could know to look for that pre­cise sound.)

Or… we could sync even eas­ier. Both my GoPro and my Canon 6D can be con­trolled by cor­re­spond­ing iPhone apps. What if the gyro­scope data col­lec­tion was sim­ply built into those apps. Then, you could trig­ger record­ing on the cam­era direct from the phone and simul­ta­ne­ously begin record­ing the data needed for sta­bi­liza­tion.

I have no idea what kind of patent that Instagram (err… Facebook) has on this tech. My point is that this one amaz­ing inno­va­tion has the poten­tial to be a big-time game changer, since all the other pieces already exist (or, in the case of the desk­top app, should be doable by apply­ing exist­ing tech). With some­thing like I described above, you could replace an expen­sive sta­bi­liza­tion rig with an iPhone, a mount­ing bracket, and some sim­ple (ish) soft­ware.