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  • July 23, 2014

Max Steinberg grew up in the same part of Los Angeles where I did, and he grad­u­ated from my high school, though it was a decade after I was last there. So I never met him. But I’ve read a lot about him this week, after he died while serv­ing in the IDF in Gaza and his story became the par­a­dig­matic nar­ra­tive about Americans who go to Israel to join the army.

And I read with inter­est when one of my favorite writ­ers, Slate’s Allison Benedikt wrote about Steinberg yes­ter­day in a much-Facebooked arti­cle.

birthrightThe piece has come under fire because Benedikt seems to be claim­ing that Birthright killed Max Steinberg. Or at least that’s what the crit­ics are say­ing.

I don’t think that’s what Benedikt was try­ing to say. As I read it, she’s answer­ing a ques­tion that a lot of non-Jews (and non-engaged Jews) might be ask­ing: What made this kid — who never seemed to be all that Jewy before — decide to pick up and join the Israeli army? That’s a legit­i­mate ques­tion. How many American kids ship off to fight for the Dutch army or the Argentinian navy? (Not very many, I would think.)

Benedikt answers the ques­tion by explain­ing that (a) Steinberg’s par­ents credit Birthright, and (b) Birthright’s goal is to get American kids to care about Israel. Her assess­ment seems to be: Look! It worked.

And, “at some point dur­ing their all-expenses-paid ten-day trip to a land where, as they are con­stantly reminded, every moun­tain and val­ley is inscribed with 5,000 years of their people’s his­tory,” there is “the moment”— the moment when par­tic­i­pants real­ize just how impor­tant Israel is to them, to their fun­da­men­tal iden­tity, and how impor­tant they are to Israel.

According to Steinberg’s par­ents, that is exactly what hap­pened to Max.

Birthright’s defend­ers should take her arti­cle as a com­pli­ment, not an attack.

Benedikt does make one impor­tant crit­i­cal point:

People say Birthright is “just like camp,” and it sure sounds like a very con­densed ver­sion of the Jewish camp I attended as a kid, whose pur­pose was, at the very least, to fos­ter a con­nec­tion to Israel in young Jews—and at best, to get us to move to the coun­try and fight for it. My camp, filled with the chil­dren of lib­eral American Jews, did this by pre­sent­ing a very sim­plis­tic pic­ture of the polit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion in Israel and the threat to Jews world­wide, all within the con­text of help­ing to fix the world while hav­ing the time of your life. Birthright does a form of the same.

Um… are peo­ple say­ing she’s off base here? It seems to me that it’s a fair crit­i­cism. Birthright is a ten-day trip, partly because the 6‑week sum­mer trips that existed before its incep­tion weren’t attract­ing unen­gaged, dis­con­nected Jews (like, um, Max Steinberg). Since it’s begin­nings, I’ve heard lots of Jewish edu­ca­tors who are Birthright sup­port­ers (and I think I count myself in that group) admit that ten days is just a taste, and that it presents a “sim­plis­tic pic­ture.” (And we usu­ally say that if Birthright does its job, we’ll have lots of chances to add lay­ers of com­plex­ity to that pic­ture as the attendee engages post-trip.)

Is Benedikt’s atti­tude toward Birthright a lit­tle cyn­i­cal? Sure. It should be. It’s a multi-mil­lion dol­lar PR cam­paign for Israel and Jewish iden­tity. It deserves to be exam­ined with some healthy cynicism.

Moral of the story: Chillax. Allison Benedikt said noth­ing wrong.

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  • June 14, 2014

Lets say that for some rea­son you needed a SATA cable or two. Or six. You think to your­self, “I guess I should head down to the store,” or you mozy your online self over to Monoprice or Amazon or whatever.

sata-cablesYeah. Don’t do that. I’m pretty sure I have twenty extras lay­ing around. They’re angled and I needed straight, or I already bought some and hooked them up before open­ing up the mount­ing cage to find that it came with five, or they’re just attracted to me… I don’t know. Somehow I ended up with more SATA cables than any one per­son could use in a life­time. And how did I end up with six or seven extra case fans in var­i­ous sizes?

While I’m at it, I’m pretty sure I have dozens of HDMI, DVI, and DisplayPort cables. And USB (3.0 and 2.0) cables in the hun­dreds. And at least a cou­ple extra Thunderbolt cables. Don’t even get me started on 4‑pin Molex power cables.

Moral of the story: If you need any of this stuff, message/email/call/text. Most of it’s free to any­one who’ll give it a good home. (OK… I can’t give away the Thunderbolt cables for free. But the rest.) Think the cable/adapter/dongle you need is insanely obscure? I prob­a­bly have six of them. Try me.

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  • May 23, 2014

6 was the monkey who brought in the mail

Found the above pic in Maurice Sendak’s strange count­ing book One Was Johnny.

Freddie_OGWhat’s weird is that he looks an awful lot like Freddie (at right), the mas­cot for MailChimp.

This incar­na­tion of Freddie has been around since 2008, but it seems he was born August 17, 2001. So the mon­key in Sendak’s book has got to be a dif­fer­ent mail-deliv­er­ing pri­mate. In case you’re unfa­mil­iar, MailChimp does awe­some email mar­ket­ing (and email newslet­ters, and that kind of thing). It’s one of my favorite soft­ware-as-a-ser­vice com­pa­nies. If you’re using ConstantContact, there are about a gazil­lion rea­sons to switch. (If that sounds scary, I can help.)

Anyway, I’ve decided that Sendak’s mail mon­key must be Freddie’s dad, since it would make sense that he’d go into the fam­ily business.


Look at those two. They just gotta be related.

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  • May 14, 2014

item 1.

dbgToday is Israel’s inde­pen­dence day, if you’re Gregorically inclined. That’s because Ben Gurion declared inde­pen­dence on May 14, 1948.

Of course, he declared on that day that the new coun­try’s inde­pen­dence would be effec­tive the fol­low­ing day, imme­di­ately fol­low­ing the ter­mi­na­tion of the British Mandate. So if you’re cel­e­brat­ing the dec­la­ra­tion, today’s the day on the Gregorian cal­en­dar. If you’re cel­e­brat­ing inde­pen­dence itself, then I sup­pose you should hold off til tomor­row. Yom HaAtzma’ut, he offi­cial state hol­i­day in Israel (and the cor­re­spond­ing hol­i­day for Jews liv­ing else­where) is com­mem­o­rated on the fifth day of Iyar, or on the sixth day of the month if it turns out that Yom HaAtzma’ut (or the day before it — Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day) would fall on Shabbat.

This year, Israel cel­e­brated its own inde­pen­dence on Tuesday, May 6, which was the sixth day of the month of Iyar. Had they cel­e­brated on the fifth, then Yom HaZikaron would have fallen on Shabbat. So they pushed em both up a day. How do I know all this? Well…gcal-hebrew2

item 2.

This just in from Google: You can now dis­play Hebrew cal­en­dar dates (along­side the nor­mal Gregorian head­ings) in Google Calendar on the web. To enable it:

  1. Log into to your cal­en­dar.
  2. Go into Settings (click the gear icon in the upper right and select “Settings” from the menu).
  3. Under the General tab (which should be the one that’s active), scroll down to the “Alternate Calendar” option (it’s third from the bot­tom for me).
  4. Select “Hebrew cal­en­dar” from the dropdown.
  5. Click the Save but­ton at the bottom.

Now, you should see Hebrew dates along­side the English ones in your calendar.

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  • May 10, 2014

Turn Your Phone 90 Degrees:

Video is a panoramic medium (embrace it).

[Hat tip.]

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  • May 6, 2014

On some days I feel like I’m in awash in awe­some online tools… I’ll dis­cover one, and then it’ll lead me to another, and then another. Before I know it, I’ve signed up for twelve cool ser­vices that promise to make me more pro­duc­tive, cre­ative, orga­nized, inspired. ((To clar­ify, by “awe­some,” I mean: clever, time-sav­ing, fun-to-use, use­ful, innovative.))

I finally signed up for a kippt account today. Good timing.

The Next Chapter:

This marks the end of the jour­ney for us at Kippt. Although our ser­vice has been loved by many, we never achieved the growth and the scale that would allow a sus­tain­able future for Kippt. Building per­sonal knowl­edge online con­tin­ues to be a unsolved prob­lem. While we are switch­ing direc­tions, we hope that Kippt and Inc have con­tributed to the future of online col­lab­o­ra­tion and knowl­edge sharing.

Read the rest

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  • May 1, 2014

I have no idea if he’s right about Silvercar. But as some­one who used to have all kinds of élite sta­tus with all kinds of travel com­pa­nies, I can tes­tify to the big­ger truths he’s get­ting at.

The Future of Luxury: Avoiding People:

When Silvercar sells you car rental that “doesn’t suck,” they’re really sell­ing you car rental that doesn’t involve ordi­nary peo­ple, that end arounds the inef­fi­cien­cies of large-scale prac­tice by buy­ing out of it. The truth is, Hertz doesn’t suck. Avis doesn’t suck. Sure, things about them suck, like the usu­ri­ous fuel charges they impose if you return a car with­out refill­ing its tank… It’s not car rental that sucks, but deal­ing with the every­man, being in his pres­ence, even know­ing he exists…

This isn’t a busi­ness meant for the pub­lic any­way. It’s a tech startup ulti­mately des­tined to ser­vice the beau monde élite pro­duced by enter­tain­ment, by energy, by finance, by other tech star­tups. A lux­ury car only gets to be a lux­ury if not every­body gets one…

My dri­ver pulls up to the Delta ter­mi­nal, curb­side, directly in front of the Medallion pri­or­ity check-in (I nod as he asks, “You have pri­or­ity with Delta, right?”). I check in for my flight—my upgrade had cleared—and head to the Delta SkyClub to cash in on unearned elit­ism. As I sit in the quiet of the lounge sip­ping my com­pli­men­tary latte, I try to remind myself how good I have it. How can I even tell this story, full of priv­i­lege and for­tune? Few will empathize with me and my priv­i­leged upper mid­dle-class lifestyle perks, nor should they.

Read the rest

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  • April 28, 2014

The Overprotected Kid:

It’s hard to absorb how much child­hood norms have shifted in just one gen­er­a­tion. Actions that would have been con­sid­ered para­noid in the ’70s—walking third-graders to school, for­bid­ding your kid to play ball in the street, going down the slide with your child in your lap—are now rou­tine. In fact, they are the mark­ers of good, respon­si­ble par­ent­ing. One very thor­ough study of “children’s inde­pen­dent mobil­ity,” con­ducted in urban, sub­ur­ban, and rural neigh­bor­hoods in the U.K., shows that in 1971, 80 per­cent of third-graders walked to school alone. By 1990, that mea­sure had dropped to 9 per­cent, and now it’s even lower. When you ask par­ents why they are more pro­tec­tive than their par­ents were, they might answer that the world is more dan­ger­ous than it was when they were grow­ing up. But this isn’t true, or at least not in the way that we think. For exam­ple, par­ents now rou­tinely tell their chil­dren never to talk to strangers, even though all avail­able evi­dence sug­gests that chil­dren have about the same (very slim) chance of being abducted by a stranger as they did a gen­er­a­tion ago. Maybe the real ques­tion is, how did these fears come to have such a hold over us? And what have our chil­dren lost—and gained—as we’ve suc­cumbed to them?

Read the rest

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  • April 27, 2014

My Students Don’t Know How to Have a Conversation:

As I watched my class strug­gle, I came to real­ize that con­ver­sa­tional com­pe­tence might be the sin­gle-most over­looked skill we fail to teach stu­dents. Kids spend hours each day engag­ing with ideas and one another through screens—but rarely do they have an oppor­tu­nity to truly hone their inter­per­sonal com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills. Admittedly, teenage awk­ward­ness and nerves play a role in dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tions. But stu­dents’ reliance on screens for com­mu­ni­ca­tion is detracting—and distracting—from their engage­ment in real-time talk.

Read the rest

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  • April 26, 2014

gefilte fish

Gefilte Fish in America:

Born in Europe out of reli­gious oblig­a­tion, poverty, and inge­nu­ity, gefilte fish sur­vived in America due to bot­tling tech­nol­ogy, inno­v­a­tive adver­tis­ing, and an American Jewish desire to expe­ri­ence faith through the large intestine.

For the strange and awe­some story of gefile fish’s rise to power, read the whole story

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  • April 26, 2014


Portraits In Faith: Parker Palmer:

When you are lost in the dark you still have a self that you can use to try to nav­i­gate and nego­ti­ate and grope your way towards some light. But when you become the dark, you don’t have any­thing to work with. And all sem­blance of reli­gious faith or a feel­ing of God’s pres­ence just dis­ap­pears. What I don’t under­stand is how some peo­ple are able to come through depres­sion and find them­selves more alive and more whole on the other side. I don’t under­stand the mys­tery of tenac­ity or what­ever you want to call it that allows some peo­ple to go through that pro­found expe­ri­ence and find them­selves back in the light with a bet­ter life than the one they had before.

Read the rest

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  • April 26, 2014

The inter­net is fucked:

We’re really, really fuck­ing this up.

But we can fix it, I swear. We just have to start telling each other the truth. Not the dou­ble­s­peak bull­shit of reg­u­la­tors and lob­by­ists, but the actual truth. Once we have the truth, we have the power — the power to demand bet­ter not only from our gov­ern­ment, but from the com­pa­nies that serve us as well. “This is a polit­i­cal fight,” says Craig Aaron, pres­i­dent of the advo­cacy group Free Press. “When the inter­net speaks with a uni­fied voice politi­cians rip their hair out.”

We can do it. Let’s start.


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  • April 24, 2014

Field of Dreams

Field of Dreams’ cast will have a Father’s Day reunion for film’s 25th anniver­sary:

Details were announced Monday for a Father’s Day week­end (June 13–15) cast reunion and cel­e­bra­tion of the film that will include star Kevin Costner and other cast mem­bers, as well as base­ball play­ers Bret Saberhagen, Glendon Rusch and Ryan Dempster. Bob Costas will emcee and Matt Lauer of NBC’s “Today” show, who will lead a Q & A with the film’s cast. This will, of course, take place in Dyersville, Iowa, where “Field of Dreams” was filmed.

Read the rest