This tisha b’Av is very strange for me: my doctor ruled that it would be dangerous to fast for the full time, so based on that I had to break my fast at hatzot (mid-day, 1:14 EDT here). Interestingly, that wasn’t optional: I was no more allowed to continue fasting than I would be allowed to get a(nother) tattoo.

So this puts me out-of-step with the community once more. A surprising thing to me is that many of the people I’ve told have responded with “lucky you,” or the like; I was expecting more of “I’m sorry”! It isn’t like I’m getting told this because things are good, eh? No, my health is actually pretty poor right now- I have a moderately serious case of persistent vertigo ever since the cruise (meclizine is a big “meh”), more migraines, louder tinnitus, and increasing incidence of nerve pain radiating from my spine to my arms whenever I hold them out. Fortunately I’ll be seeing some doctors this week, so maybe something will come of that.

But more to the point, I have the sense of being outside looking in, prevented from sharing the communal experience. Communal fasting is a huge deal – it is said that one who does not mourn the destruction will not experience the redemption, and I have no desire to cut myself off from this.

And of course, there’s Eikha (Lamentations) – the third chapter introspectively examines the sins and physical afflictions of the author, and in so doing provides a template for seeing fault in physical suffering. So, no, I’d much rather be fasting today.


So the UMD has decided to bam smoking on the entire campus. My understanding of smoking bans is that the reason is not due to (say) the obnoxiousness of smokers, or cigarette butt litter, but rather due to issues regarding the dangers of secondhand smoke.

I double-checked my memory, and was correct: the vast majority of literature describing ill effects from secondhand smoke is about a repeated or continuous exposure: a non-smoking spouse of a smoker, or nonsmoking workers in a smoky bar. While there are many statements about there being “no safe level of exposure”, the same can be said for gasoline fumes or car exhaust, and yet cars are not being banned from public places, so there is something more at work here.

I wrote before about the damage alcohol on campus does – it’s implicated in the overwhelming majority of sexual assaults, and there are a number of people who directly die from alcohol poisoning each year – as compared with smoking-related deaths, which tend to be delayed and indirect.

There is something to be said for the straightforwardness of a direct ban: this effectively means that smokers can’t live on campus, but the administration can’t be accused of sending mixed messages. It’s definitely irritating and nannyish, but there is at least a fig leaf of public health interest here. The curious thing to me is this: why tobacco and not alcohol? The public health impacts of alcohol on campus vastly outweigh the effects of smoking (and given that smokers were already not allowed near entrances, the effects were surely minimized), and the people harmed by alcohol on campus are very often the minor students for whom the university is acting in loco parentis.

Now, the above is a rhetorical question: I know that college sports apparently require booze, and alumni would not stand for a ban. Apparently sports at UMD require rioting as well, and the halfhearted efforts to ban that have been as effective as half-measures usually are. It’s worth noting, however, that refocusing the puritanical instinct in this case could actually make the environment on campus better for women and for those who feel pressured to conform. As it stands, I doubt that this smoking ban will actually change any outcomes.


(I just realized I had left this as “draft” back in June, so it’s late.)

Sarah and I got a bag of some of the most delicious grapefruit last week. These particular ones were from Yafo (Jaffa), Israel, and due to this, we were required separate terumah and maaser. A discussion with a friend at the synagogue pointed out that those routinely ignored laws are actually a bigger deal than 90% of the stuff we routinely obsess about regarding kashrut.

And so the bigger lesson for me here is to remember what matters, and put the effort and intentions there, rather than elsewhere. That is, I should not let myself go down a rat hole.

So welcome back, world. I’ve missed you.

I’m glad someone is listening

The DC council begins to push PEPCO around. It’s about time. Now, if Montgomery County will follow suit (perhaps in a stepwise fashion), we could stop having these extremely common, highly problematic outages.

An accumulation of flakes (or, “I can see Russia from my porthole!”)

Like a glacier, the oldest stuff is on the bottom.

The “Ghosts and Good-time girls” tour, which Sarah and I had been calling the hookers and blow tour, was exceptionally corny, but was still enjoyable.

I’m beginning to get a sense of blasé about the beautiful mountains: they are all quite magnificent, but there’s a sensory overload in the magnitude. Then again, as I look now at the view from the harbor in Skagway, the mountains and valleys look like God’s handprints on the world.

How is it possible that there aren’t Jews in Juneau? In any case, the true highlight of this trip was taking a helicopter to the west fork of the Herbert glacier and going dogsledding with some Iditarod drivers. There were 3-week old puppies, whom we got to hold (and whom they counted before we left!)


It was also cool to see an ADSB system in operation:


There is a shelter in Juneau with a very unfortunate name: “The Glory Hole”. Yikes.

I had had severe dread regarding the cruise, because the “premium kosher” option (which had been a big factor in deciding to go) had been canceled, and the folks at the Royal Caribbean head office were being total douchebags about solving the problem. Once we got on board, we told guest services about the trouble we had had, and they said they’d get back to us.
I thought nothing would come of this, and I’d have the first-world problem of being the only cruiser (on a ship, not in a bar) to lose weight. However, that night executive chef Jason Baynor came up to talk to us, and really wanted to make things right. And how! Due to the virtues of double-wrapping and new cookware, we’re effectively getting custom meals made by the top chef on the ship twice per day. Happily, he’s quite experienced with kosher travelers, and this is a better accommodation than I could have hoped for. Boy, that fish is good.

An awesome shipboard presentation was the “behind the scenes” galley tour- as someone who deals in operations and has managed restaurants, I was particularly interested in how this worked. The logistical scale is mind-blowing: 900 meals in 30 minutes. For comparison, at domino’s, 30 seconds to make a large pizza is considered quite good, so that’s 60 pizzas in 30 minutes with one cook. Even better, a whole bunch of stuff is made in-house on dedicated equipment (think bread & ice cream), and that made kashrut investigations a lot easier.

A sign of the coming zombie apocalypse

I agree with the Center for American Progress on something.

Clearly, the world will be ending soon: stock up on shotguns, torches, and brain-protection headgear.

Power to the People (or, Fight the Power!)

I have been thinking about the recent mega-outage in the mid-Atlantic. Now, I am writing this from a car driving us to LGA, and the only outage we experienced was our DSL, so I don’t mean to imply that we suffered from this. The power lines in Georgetown are buried (which previously had led to the exploding manhole covers, before Pepco installed breathable ones), and in 9 years of living there we have had one power outage (when a transformer exploded nearby), and that lasted about 3 hours.

In any case, here are a few observations:

1. It’s often said that burying power lines is prohibitively expensive. However, the net aggregate cost of these major outages sure is expensive too! Perhaps a compromise would e helpful, so here is one: on a per neighborhood basis, *start* burying power lines, adding a temporary surcharge for some period of time. Select some of the bigger offenders (alternately, do the easiest to accomplish) first, and then at the next big storm the outage will be spottier than it is now, which means that the cascading load movement from one failure will be less likely to take down other neighborhoods. Additionally, people would not have to go as far to reach power, and hopefully some of the secondary effects (food spoilage, heat stroke, etc) could be minimized.

2. Subsidize per-house generators in neighborhoods where it’s bad (perhaps the ones which will be later in step #1?). Perhaps there could be neighborhood block-installs, where PEPCO (et al) would make a marketing push to get installs done (with a “do it now” discount?). This too makes big problems a bit smaller.

3. I cannot think of a better argument for rooftop solar panels. Encouraging non-grid sources of power likewise reduces the problem. I think too much is said about the whole carbon/climate change stuff- I think solar is only slightly better than useless if that’s the issue (although vastly better than wind, which should really only be used for pumping water up towers) due to not being a baseline power source, but as a backup it really can’t be beat.

There’s a current “all-or-nothing” meme out there about the power problems, and I don’t think that’s helpful. We didn’t build the system all at once, so why should a retrofit require that level of forklifting?

When Eddie said he didn’t love his teddy, you knew he was a no good kid

Alice Cooper does indeed put on a wicked-good show. I was surprised that he had 3 lead guitars in his band: most of the songs don’t sound like they need that amount of sonic depth. I was even more surprised when he was guillotined on stage (!) before the finale (a mash-up of “School’s Out” and “Another Brick in the Wall, pt 2”), where he was dressed as Satan’s drum major (but with as many sequins as Elvis in the jumpsuit stage). Great warm up.

Of course, the real treat is Iron Maiden themselves. I don’t want to have as much energy as they do when I’m their age; I want to have half as much energy is they do now.


I was pleasantly surprised at how many songs I recognized (being a n00b fan and all)- one I particularly liked was “afraid to shoot strangers” from Fear of the Dark. There were many, many animatronic Eddies- one danced around the with the band during “the Trooper,” and the one holding his beating heart (from Seventh Son) also had fire shooting out of his head during the finale.

As Beavis & Butthead said, “if Iron Maiden ever played ‘unplugged’, they wouldn’t unplug the explosion machine.” Yes, oodles of pyro, fireworks, etc.

Up the Irons.


A New York (city) of Mind

Amtrak is so vastly more civilized than any airline I’ve traveled. I had no idea that if you get one of the Union Station porters, they’ll breeze you right past the line to pre-board. I think e only thing which would improve the train is perhaps fans in the bathrooms (and sinks which don’t require significant force to draw water, but at least I understand that).

New York is big- I’m always overtaken by the scale – but much more prosaically, I’m blown away by how ridiculously easy it is to keep kosher here: why, when I want donuts and *hash browns* after minyan, that’s a mere 1.5 blocks from OZ, a shul which has not one, but three solid shaharit minyanim each morning.

It’s refreshing to feel so normal: where the Vibrams and t-shirts, rather than the Orthodox Judaism, are the weird part.

Additionally, the Wall Street Journal is so very much better than the Post- the level of both the writing and thinking is a dramatic improvement. Even the letters are more thoughtful: as an example, from today’s WSJ

It has finally become clear to me what the status of the Constitution is to most Americans. It has come to serve the same purpose as does the monarchy in Britan- revered in theory, exalted in speech, and ignored in practice. The rule of law is now a quaint anachronism, soon to be relegated to the dustbin of history.
The only remaining question is: how far down the road to serfdom are we?

edit: the author of that letter is Ed Nelson of Tupelo, MS (famous as the birthplace of Elvis Presley)

Now, whatever your politics, that is an extremely well written, pointed letter.

Ah, New York, how you make it so hard (as is the required custom of Washingtonians) to hate you!