Wednesday, April 08, 2009

It's what's for dinner


What other power on earth could unite:
  • Jewish folks...
  • Irish folks...
  • Vietnamese folks...
  • and redneck Texan folks... one big, fat, happy, circle of sloppy carnivorous love?

It's enough to make a grown man sniffle.

We are the world, people.

And to all of my Jewish friends enjoying their Seder brisket this Passover evening, Chag Pesach Sameach! (Save your goyische Uncle Swan a slice, yeah?)

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Monday, March 09, 2009

I'll be home for Purim

A joyous Purim to all my friends of the Jewish persuasion!

For the benefit of my fellow goyim, Purim commemorates the events depicted in the Biblical book of Esther, in which a young Jewish woman marries the king of the Persian Empire. Using her influence on her powerful husband, Esther ultimately saves her people from a genocidal government official named Haman.

Which reminds me...

If you haven't seen Christopher Guest's film For Your Consideration, you should. It's not one of Guest's familiar "mockumentaries" (i.e., Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, and the Rob Reiner-directed, Guest-scripted film that launched the genre, This is Spinal Tap), but it features most of the same cast and is almost as funny.

For Your Consideration centers around the production and release of a low-budget film starring three hapless actors played by Harry Shearer, Catherine O'Hara, and Parker Posey. When the trio are nominated for Academy Awards, everything in their lives changes.

The original working title of the film-within-a-film is Home for Purim. (Its plot revolves around a Jewish family in the Deep South during World War II, whose adult daughter — the Parker Posey character — comes out as a lesbian.) When pressured by an anti-Semitic studio executive (British comic Ricky Gervais), Home for Purim's producers are compelled to "tone down the Jewishness" and retitle their movie Home for Thanksgiving.

If you and your family celebrate Purim this evening, I hope that you enjoy a grand and memorable celebration.

Don't tone down the Jewishness for anybody.

Memo from the Did You Know? Department, Old Testament Division: Esther is one of two books of the Bible that never mention God. (The Song of Solomon is the other.)

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

So bubalah, save the last levivah for me

Here's a warm wish for a joy-filled Hanukkah for all of my Jewish friends and blogosphere buds (you know who you are — if I start rattling off names, I'll be in trouble with the one person I forget), as they begin celebrating the Festival of Lights this evening at sunset.

May your menorah burn brightly, and surround you and your family with the light of love and life.

It would be a real mitzvah if you kept the blintzes warm for your goyische brother until I get there. And don't bogart all the cherries.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

The L. Ron Hubbard School of Mathematics

Just in case anyone still needed proof that Scientology rots the brain:

In an interview published in the December 8 issue of Newsweek, Will Smith extols the virtues of his boon companion Tom Cruise, whom the Fresh Prince of All Media describes as "one of the most open, honest and helpful people I've met in Hollywood, or really anywhere."

Reporter Allison Samuels follows up: "No one else gave you that kind of support in all your years in the business?"

To which Will responds: "Well, Eddie Murphy and Bill Cosby reached out and really helped me back in the day, but they were older. Tom is my age..."

Umm, Will...

Tom Cruise is your age, but Eddie Murphy is "older"?

Will Smith was born September 25, 1968. Save the grab for your calculator: He's 40.

Eddie Murphy was born born April 3, 1961. He's 47. Okay, so he's older than Will — not as much as Bill Cosby, who's 71, but still, a few years older.

Tom Cruise was born July 3, 1962. That makes him 46... just one year younger than the apparently ancient Eddie Murphy.

Will: Put that copy of Dianetics down now, before your skull implodes.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Drinking the Kool-Aid

Thirty years ago today, a madman named Jim Jones led 909 of his disciples — known collectively as the Peoples Temple — to mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana. Nearly 300 of the dead were children.

The method of self-destruction chosen by the brainwashed masses (though not Jones himself, who put himself out of the world's misery with a bullet to the brain) lent an enduring new metaphor to the American vernacular: "Drinking the Kool-Aid."

Ironically, it wasn't Kool-Aid, but instead a similar powdered drink called Flavor-Aid, that delivered the fatal cyanide.

History makes mistakes like that sometimes.

The day before the mass suicide, Jones's personal security force, the self-styled Red Brigade, murdered U.S. Congressman Leo J. Ryan, two NBC News staff members, a photographer from the San Francisco Examiner, and a Peoples Temple member on the airstrip at Port Kaituma, Guyana. Ryan, representing California's 11th District, had led a delegation of journalists to Jonestown to investigate allegations of abuse within the Peoples Temple, whose followers had relocated from the Bay Area to Guyana in the summer of 1977. As Ryan and his party attempted to flee with 15 Peoples Temple defectors, the Red Brigade opened fire.

Ryan's assistant, 28-year-old Jackie Speier, survived the attack, along with about a dozen other members of the delegation. Speier suffered five gunshot wounds, including shattered bones in her right arm and leg. Today, Speier represents California's 12th District in Congress.

Jonestown was the biggest news story in the Bay Area since the 1906 earthquake — until ten days later, when Dan White, a former member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, assassinated Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk in their offices at San Francisco City Hall.

I remember the events of what came to be known as the Jonestown massacre vividly. Because my family was both black and religious (the largest proportion of Peoples Temple members were African-American), relatives from all over the country called our house on the day the news broke, fearing that somehow we had been involved in the tragedy. Clearly, we were not.

909 other people — plus Leo Ryan and the four who died alongside him — were.

Until the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the deaths at Jonestown represented the largest single-event loss of American lives resulting from human causes.

Three decades later, the massacre remains burned with laser-like intensity into the memories of those of us who lived in the Bay Area at the time. Jonestown stands as a permanent reminder of the seductive nature of power, as well as the dangers of blind faith.

At least the Kool-Aid company recovered.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Ain't no party like an Orthodox party

On Saturday, KJ and I attended the 20th anniversary of Glendi, the annual ethnic food fair sponsored by the local Russian Orthodox church.

Sonoma County's Russian heritage stretches back more than two centuries, when Russian traders established settlements in the area. A handful of geographic names — our primary waterway, the Russian River; the West County town of Sebastopol — serve as reminders of this historical connection.

Saint Seraphim of Sarov hosts Glendi (which means "party" in Greek) the third weekend of September every year. And every September, we see the placards all over town and say to each other, "We should go." Then other things intervene, or we simply forget. This year, we planned ahead.

The fair spotlights the food of nations where Orthodox religion is the dominant faith: Greece, Russia, the Balkans, and Eritrea. Because I spent two years in Greece during my youth, I harbor a fondness for Greek cuisine. Thus, I was looking forward to sampling some authentic Greek eats, as well as other delicacies.

Before we ventured into the food court, KJ and I stopped to view the sanctuary of Saint Seraphim, which the church is in the process of renovating. Although Saint Seraphim is culturally Russian, its architecture and iconography bears strong similarities to those of the Greek churches I often visited on Crete and in Athens. KJ had never seen anything like it, and was fascinated by the frescoes. One of the priests was leading a tour, explaining the process of fresco painting.

In the food court, we salivated over the numerous offerings. KJ enjoyed a juicy pork kabob and a tasty serving of spanakopita. I dined on a portion of perfectly roasted, sliced lamb, then dug into a plate of zigni, a spicy Eritrean beef stew that reminded me of a sharp-flavored chili, which I sopped up with a hunk of a spongy bread called ingera. After we walked around for a bit, I found room for a gyro piled high with meat, tomatoes, and cucumbers smothered in tangy tzatziki.

All of the food was spectacular — cooked fresh on the premises with obvious passion, by folks thoroughly steeped in the representative cuisines. And it was fun to watch our fellow clueless Americanos stumbling through eastern European dance steps in and around stuffing their faces.

As we departed with a package of dessert pastries for noshing later, we silently kicked ourselves for missing the Glendi experience during the previous two decades. We'll be sure to mark the calendar well in advance of next September.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Welcome to Matzo Search 2008

If you thought Where's Waldo was challenging, try finding matzo this Passover season.

There's a nationwide dearth of matzo — the unleavened bread that forms the foundation of the Jewish Passover observance — and it's especially critical here in the Bay Area. Thousands of our Jewish neighbors have been hitting local supermarkets and specialty stores in search of the dry, flat, cracker-like substance, and are coming up empty.

That's a problem, because matzo is the only bread that observant Jews can eat during the Passover season, which began at sundown on Saturday and continues throughout this week.

By all reports, a combination of factors contributed to the matzo shortage. Manischewitz, one of the largest U.S. suppliers of kosher products, recently shut down production of certain matzo varieties at its New Jersey plant due to problems with a new oven. At least two major retailers, Costco and Trader Joe's, decided not to carry matzo for Passover this year. Many other markets, including some that target the Jewish community specifically, simply underestimated the demand, and didn't stock up in time.

According to this morning's New York Times, the shortage is being felt all over the country. The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting that the Bay Area, which is home to more than a quarter of a million Jews, has been affected most acutely.

The supermarket where we shop regularly had a scant two boxes of matzo remaining on an endcap of Passover staples yesterday morning. I wouldn't be surprised if both have been snapped up by now.

For what it's worth, our church uses matzo for communion service every Sunday, so we always have a few boxes on hand. (We buy a huge case at a time — because it contains no yeast, matzo keeps pretty much indefinitely if left in the package.) Not all matzo, however, meets the particularly stringent kosher requirements for Passover. Since we don't purchase our matzo with those criteria in mind — we're only concerned that it's unleavened, which all matzo by definition is — I'd have to check the label to see whether the stock we have is Passover-worthy. (If it were, and you really needed a box, I could probably hook you up.)

If you're keeping Passover this week, I hope you've got all the matzo you need. And if you've got any to spare, my friend Neilochka over at Citizen of the Month has a terrific recipe for matzoh brei, an omelette-style dish made with eggs and matzo.

Hag Pesach Sameach!

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Saturday, April 05, 2008

A real-life episode of Big Love

Here's an interesting juxtaposition of stories, headlined cheek-to-jowl on the front page at MSNBC:
"Mormons affirm new church leader"
right underneath...
"Standoff emerges at polygamist ranch"
Sort of goes from Brigham Young to dig 'em young, doesn't it?

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Religious dead pool update

It's an unhealthy week to be the leader of a major religion.

Both Archbishop Christodoulos, the head of the Greek Orthodox church, and Gordon Hinckley, the president of the Latter-Day Saints, died within the past two days.

If you see Pope Benedict and the Dalai Lama checking each other's pulses, you'll understand why.

No one wants to be the third leg of the trifecta.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Nes gadol haya sham!

It's almost sunset here on the Left Coast, so...

Happy Hanukkah to all of my friends and readers of the Jewish faith! (Or of Jewish heritage, if faith isn't your bag.) That includes — but certainly isn't limited to — Sank, Max (my brother from another mother), Eugene, Leah, Bruce, Marc, JK, and anyone else I may be forgetting at the moment.

Spin the sevivon for your goyische Uncle Swan one time, and keep your doggoned hands off my chocolate gelt.

Would someone pass me the sufganiyot, please?

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

You wear my kufi, I'll wear your kippah

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, begins today at sunset.

Ramadan, the Islamic holy month, begins at precisely the same time.

Wouldn't it be awesome if all of our Jewish and Muslim friends got together this evening for dinner (kosher/halal, of course), followed by a big ol' group hug?

Well, it would.

And while my Muslim and Jewish friends are dispensing hugs, perhaps they could all give one to this guy. I think he needs a hug.

Britney could probably use one, too.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

The way of the wind

Life can be described as a roller coaster ride between joy and heartache. We’ve experienced that ride acutely at our house in the past few days.

First, the joy.

Our only child became a legal adult yesterday. Happy 18th, KM.

Although my memory for events is spotty at best and practically nonexistent at worst, I can recall vividly the moments surrounding my daughter's birth on the Saturday before Easter 1989:
  • My wife's doctor, summoned urgently to the hospital from a supermarket errand — she literally left a cart filled with Easter dinner fixings stranded in the aisle at Safeway — thrusting her head into the delivery room to ask whether she had time to change clothes, only to be told by the attending nurse, "Just barely."

  • The seemingly eternal seconds as the doctor labored to free the umbilical cord that had looped around the baby's neck as she made her way toward daylight.

  • All of the sights, sounds, and smells of the delivery room, from KM's first cry, to the eerie flesh-cutting noise the scissors made in my hand as they dug into and through her umbilical cord.
I can scarcely believe that 18 years have flown past. And even though I realize that this squirming infant whose tiny hand clutched the edge of the scale as she weighed in for the first time has now blossomed into a lovely, intelligent, funny, and curious young woman, it baffles me how it could have happened so quickly.

KJ and I have shared many laughs with — and many tears — for our daughter. We have watched with fascination and trepidation as she has grown and matured. And we could hardly be more proud of the person she has become.

And then, the heartbreak.

On Thursday afternoon, a call from the oncologist confirmed our fears — that the leg pain KJ has suffered for the past few weeks is the result of a metastasis, located in her left hipbone, of the breast cancer for which she was treated six and a half years ago.

As clearly as I recall our daughter’s birth, I remember with equal vividness that day in the fall of 2000 when we first learned that my wife had cancer.

I remember the horror on her face as the surgeon broke the news to her over the telephone.

I remember the blood pounding behind my eardrums as the doctor repeated the diagnosis to me.

And I remember:
  • The two surgeries: first the biopsy, then the radical mastectomy.

  • The numerous physician visits during which I scribbled furiously in my little brown notebook words that I hoped would make sense later.

  • The interminably long hours at the infusion center while KJ received her chemotherapy treatments.

  • Leafing through countless magazines in endless waiting rooms.

  • The terror of a dire present and an inscrutable future.
A very long time ago, a wise king summarized human existence with these words:
In the morning sow your seed, and in the evening do not withhold your hand; for you do not know which will prosper, either this or that, or whether both alike will be good. Truly the light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to behold the sun; but if a man lives many years and rejoices in them all, yet let him remember the days of darkness, for they will be many. (Ecclesiastes 11:6-8)
The abridged version: Life is uncertain, kid. You've gotta accept the bad with the good.

As a father, I have expansive hopes for my newly adult daughter. I hope that the Lord grants her a long, healthy, and happy life. I hope that she someday finds a great love with a worthy man. I hope that she finds joy and inspiration in all of her pursuits. I hope that she chooses to serve the God who made her faithfully all the days of her life.

Likewise, as a husband, I have expansive hopes for my wife. I hope that she triumphs over this dreaded disease again, even as she did — by God's grace — six years ago. I hope that she, too, will enjoy yet many joyful years of life. I hope that she will live to see all of our hopes for our beloved daughter realized.

Whether any of my hopes for my wife and daughter will be realized, I do not know:
As you do not know what is the way of the wind, or how the bones grow in the womb of her who is with child, so you do not know the works of God who makes everything. (Ecclesiastes 11:5)
All I can do is pray.

Thanks for listening, friend reader. I promise you something less serious tomorrow.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

What's Up With That? #44: Tim Hate-Away

When he was a backcourt star for my beloved, perpetually frustrating Golden State Warriors, Tim Hardaway's signature move was the "killer crossover," a rapid-fire maneuver in which Tim dribbled the basketball between his legs from one hand to the other.

Now, Hardaway's going to be even more famous for his killer voiceover.

The Timinator, who now works in the NBA's front office, was being interviewed on Dan Le Batard's sports radio show in Miami when he offered his opinion about former NBA center John Amaechi's recent acknowledgment that he is gay. Quoth Hardaway:
You know, I hate gay people, so I let it be known. I don't like gay people and I don't like to be around gay people. I'm homophobic. I don't like it. It shouldn't be in the world or in the United States.
So tell us how you really feel, Tim.

Today, Hardaway issued a public apology, which didn't prevent the NBA from banning him from this weekend's All-Star festivities:"
As an African-American, I know all too well the negative thoughts and feelings hatred and bigotry cause. I regret and apologize for the statements that I made that have certainly caused the same kinds of feelings and reactions. I especially apologize to my fans, friends and family in Miami and Chicago. I am committed to examining my feelings and will recognize, appreciate and respect the differences among people in our society.
Hardaway's comments started me thinking about something that has always puzzled me. Why is it necessary for people to hate others who do things of which they themselves disapprove? Let's say homosexuality is contrary to your belief system. I can relate to that. But do you have to hate gay people, because you believe homosexuality is wrong? Does your disapproval of what gay people do — or what you might imagine they do — require that you hate them?

I can name many things people do that I think they should not. For example, I can't abide cigarette smoking. I can't comprehend why someone would want to roll dead leaves in paper, set the product on fire, and suck on it. I detest the smell of tobacco, I despise seeing cigarette butts scattered about the landscape, and I certainly don't want to share the carcinogenic air of those who smoke. But I don't hate smokers. I don't even dislike smokers — at least, not just because they're smokers. My antipathy for smoking doesn't cause me any animus toward the people who do it, as long as they aren't befouling my personal atmosphere. I certainly don't hate them.

Why does Tim Hardaway hate gay people? Again, my question is not why he believes what he believes about the rightness or wrongness of homosexuality. Let's grant him his views so far as that goes. But even allowing for the fact that Tim may hate homosexuality, does that necessitate his hating gay people? What does other people's gayness (gayitude? gayosity?) have to do with him?

So Hardaway's afraid a gay teammate might scope out his twig and berries in the locker room. There are practical ways of dealing with that issue. I'm guessing that millions of females are ogled daily by males (and perhaps even by some females, 'cause that's how they roll) by whom they would prefer not to be ogled. As long as no one is harassed or harmed, it's a fact of life. If harassment or harm occurs, that's entirely another matter. But I don't think the overwhelming majority of those women getting ogled hate all men in general, just because some ogle.

Again, the question: Do you have to hate an entire group of people, just because you don't like something they (or even just some of them) do?

This carries over into numerous areas of conversation — religion, to choose one. If you disagree with the practices of someone's faith, should you have to hate them personally? If you're a Protestant, should you hate Catholic people because you dislike Catholicism? If you're a Christian, should you hate Jews because they don't embrace Christ? If you're a Muslim, should you hate Christians because they don't pray to Allah?

Take it another step. If someone engages in illegal or immoral activity that doesn't directly impact you, should you hate them? Even if a person is committing the most heinous, unspeakable act imaginable — pick one that offends you — but they're not hurting you or yours in any way, should you hate them? Does condemning the person's actions mean you have to hate the person?

I'm not saying my answer would be right. But I think the question's worth asking.

Just don't hate me if we disagree.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

One's gay, the other not so much

It's like a page from my "Common Elements" comic art gallery: Two otherwise unrelated stories, united by a common theme...

First, former pro basketball player John Amaechi (no relation to the late Don Ameche, a fine comedic actor who couldn't bury a jumper from outside the paint to save his life) — who played center for the Orlando Magic and three other teams during a five-year journeyman NBA career — would like you all to know that he is a gay man.

Second, former Colorado megachurch pastor Ted Haggard — who resigned as president of the National Association of Evangelicals (no relation to the National Basketball Association) following revelations (no relation to the Biblical book of Revelation) that, when he wasn't thumping the Good Book, Pastor Ted was thumping rent boys and crystal meth — would like you all to know that he is once again a straight man.

Just so everyone's clear before we go on:

Gay man...

...straight man.

Pay attention — there's likely to be a quiz later.

Previously best known for being the first British player in NBA history — although born in Boston, Amaechi grew up near Manchester, England — Amaechi becomes the first NBA player, active or retired, to come out publicly.

Which is interesting, because you've gotta figure Amaechi's not the only gay dude who ever laced up a pair of Chuck Taylors. (So far as I know, Chuck Taylor was not one of them. Not that that would make his sneakers any less cool.)

But the fact is, only six male athletes in American professional team sports have ever come out as gay — NFL players Dave Kopay, Esera Tuaolo, and Roy Simmons; Major League Baseball's Glenn Burke (who died from HIV-related disease in 1995) and Billy Bean (no relation to Billy Beane, the former player and current general manager of the Oakland Athletics, who would like you all to know that he is a straight man — not that there's anything wrong with that); and now Amaechi. Not one of the six came out while still active in his chosen field.

Six gay men in the history of American pro sports? Yeah, right. Given the number of out (or nearly so) lesbians in women's athletics, the law of averages alone says there have to be at least a few gay men in those clubhouses and locker rooms. No one, however, wants to be the first to raise his hand and admit it.

But I guess that's why they call it "the love that dares not speak its name."

And then, there's Pastor Ted, who apparently has decided that if he can't speak it, he won't do it. According to Tim Ralph, one of the current pastors at Haggard's former church in Colorado Springs:
"He is completely heterosexual. That is something he discovered. It was the acting-out situations where things took place. It wasn't a constant thing."
Let's break that quote down, shall we?
  • "He is completely heterosexual." Completely, except for the whole gay male prostitute thing.

  • "That is something he discovered." How does one "discover" that he's "completely heterosexual"? "Yeah, I dabbled in a few sessions of hot, sweaty man-on-man action, but I discovered in the process that I am completely heterosexual." To borrow a line from the immortal Flip Wilson, "You better discover yourself away from here."

  • "It was the acting-out situations where things took place." To be more specific, it was a motel in Colorado Springs "where things took place." Or perhaps it was in the conservatory, with Colonel Mustard and some rope.

  • "It wasn't a constant thing." How exactly does that work? "I'm gay, but it's not a constant thing. I'm only gay on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and alternating weekends." You know, I've only been heterosexual myself, but it's been pretty darned constant since at least 1969. (No innuendo intended.)
I'm just puzzled as to how Haggard could be gay — or at the very least, bisexual — three months ago, yet "completely heterosexual" now. I couldn't change favorite Chinese restaurants in three months, much less my entire sexual identity.

I'm going to send my checkbook to that counseling center Haggard attended. Maybe they can work a miracle on that in 90 days or less.

At least John Amaechi has a book to sell.

All right, ready for the pop quiz? Here we go:

Which is the gay man...

...and which is the straight man?

You thought this would be easier, didn't you?

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

Sned yur childern to skool hear!

If you — as do I — lament the state of English language instruction in today's America, you'll weep with me at this.

(Or laugh. Your choice.)

The church around the corner from my house operates a private elementary school on its campus. Below is their marquee sign as it appears this very afternoon. I'm not certain that you'd want your kids learning their three R's in this environment.

Now that's "priceless."

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Jesus, take the wheel

While running errands earlier this afternoon, I found myself sitting at a traffic light next to a blue Chrysler minivan. In the window of the van's right-side sliding door was a sticker that read:

"WARNING: This vehicle is protected by Jesus Christ."

Which might not have caught my attention...

...were it not for the badly dented and primer-coated front fender, on the same side of the van where the sticker appeared.

Maybe the Lord was on break when that happened.