11.22.2017

our papyrus painting is finally on the wall

You can read the story of how we got these: here.










This, below, is the smaller painting that the salesman added to the pot after the price would budge no further. It is possibly painted on banana leaf, a cheaper and less durable papyrus substitute.




There is also a third, yet smaller painting, also "thrown in," but not display quality or worth framing.

The celery-looking stuff is fresh papyrus.
We watched Papyrus Guy make a small sheet.

That's our painting behind them!

11.15.2017

things i heard at the library: an occasional series: #26

In library school, you learn that the most important part of the reference transaction, or reference interview, is asking questions. Customers, it seems, rarely know how to describe what they are actually looking for. Most people ask for something entirely different than what they want. Tonight was a classic example.

Woman: Where would I find paperback nonfiction?

This is a bit of a strange question, because normally people don't specify hardcover or paperback when it comes to nonfiction.

Me: Nonfiction is in a few different places, depending on the subject. Do you have a title, or a call number? Or the topics you're looking for?

Woman: I want to read about kings and queens from a certain time period. You know, how they lived, what they did.

Me: That would be on the third floor--

Woman: But the stories aren't necessarily what really happened. It's real kings and queens but in made up stories.

Me: Ah, so you're looking for historical fiction.

Woman: Oh is that it?

Me: What have you read that you like? An author you like?

Woman: I can never remember...

Me: No problem. Give me a few seconds...

Usually in this genre, people read by author. I gathered the top names, and we went to the shelves.

Working backwards in alphabetical order, we stopped first at Alison Weir. We pulled a few books and looked them over, but she seemed hesitant.

Me: If this doesn't work for you, it's not a problem. Have you read much Philipa Gregory?

Woman: Who?

Now this is a clue. Philipa Gregory is the top name in historical fiction featuring royalty. If the customer doesn't know her, something is off.

We walk over to dear Philipa, but I'm losing the customer. She's starting to mutter to herself. Never a good sign!

Me: Here's a paperback of a popular Philipa Gregory book.

Woman: The books are usually much smaller than this. And in the title there's, you know, duke or rogue, or maybe a rake... (A bell goes off in my head.) ...and there'll be a man on the cover, you know... (She gestures as if she's ripping a shirt open.)

Me: I know exactly what you're looking for.

We laugh and easily find some books. She walks out with any of the gazillion titles of historical romance novels, covers graced with dukes, rogues, rakes, scoundrels, pirates, and "highlanders," their bare chests gleaming, their lusty conquests dressed in long gowns, off the shoulder, with plenty of cleavage.

To think I almost sent her to the third floor for history!

All the men are barechested, all the
women in gowns.

Sometimes the encounter has advanced
a bit further.

These books come in many flavours,
but the readership is almost entirely female.

11.11.2017

11.11: remembrance day readers' advisory

I've posted 11 anti-war songs, and I've done Labour Day readers' advisory, but I don't think I've ever done anti-war readers' advisory. Here are 11 great books with an anti-war themes.

1. The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins

2. Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut

3. War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, Chris Hedges (nonfiction)

4. Regeneration, Pat Barker

5. Johnny Got His Gun, Dalton Trumbo

6. Hiroshima, John Hersey (nonfiction)

7. Mother Courage and Her Children, Bertolt Brecht (drama)

8. A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway

9. Catch-22, Joseph Heller

10. The Deserter's Tale, Joshua Key with Lawrence Hill (nonfiction)

11. And finally, the greatest anti-war novel of all time, All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque

There are many, many others: here are some lists.

Honour the dead by working for peace.

11.03.2017

listening to joni: a new wmtc feature

Two new books about Joni Mitchell have come out, with -- strangely -- the same title.

Reckless Daughter: A Joni Mitchell Anthology, edited by Barney Hoskyns, is a collection of stories about Joni* and reviews of her work. It's part of an ongoing collection called Rock's Backpages, which looks at rock through accomplished music writers of the last 50 years. I'm reading this now.

Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell, by David Yaffe, is a biography of the artist and her music. It's especially noteworthy because of the unusual access Yaffe had to his subject. I'm going to read this after I finish the anthology.

While reading reviews and impressions of Joni's earliest performances and recordings, I realized how long it's been since I've heard her early music. In some cases, at least her first two albums, I probably have never played as an adult! I decided I would listen to all her albums in chronological order, starting from the beginning. I'm going to try to write about the listening experience on wmtc.

I don't know how this will go. I don't think I have anything particularly insightful or interesting to say about these albums, and I've never been able to write very well about music. My response to music is very emotional -- not intellectual, not analytical, and not verbal. My love for Joni Mitchell and her place in my consciousness is intense -- profound -- and thus very difficult to articulate. But if I'm going on this musical journey, wmtc is coming with me. 

Your comments, as always, will be very welcome.









* I normally hate when female artists and athletes are referred to by their first names, often in contexts where men are referred to by their last names. But to her legion of devoted fans, Joni is Joni.

10.31.2017

the worst part of trump is not trump

The freak show that is the Donald Trump presidency gives us so many things to lament, and mourn, and goggle at. But for one organization, it is a singular gift, valuable beyond all measure: that is the Democratic National Committee.

For me, the worst part of the Trump presidency is not Trump. It is the enormous setback to -- maybe the death of, in my lifetime -- building a progressive alternative in the United States.

Four decades of deindustrialization, job loss, corporate welfare, and ever-widening income inequality has brought progressive economic ideas to the forefront in the US, and has rejuvenated the appetite for making them a reality. The evidence is plentiful, from the fight for a $15/hour minimum wage to the jubilant crowds that greeted Bernie Sanders at every campaign stop. People are hungry for change, and many people are hungry for change from the left.

Fill in the blanks. A vote for ____ is a vote for ____.

And now we have Trump.

Hillary Clinton supporters -- and of course Clinton herself -- blame Sanders and Sanders' supporters for the election of Donald Trump.

While not surprising, this is as misguided as those who blamed Ralph Nader and his supporters for George W. Bush's installation in the White House in 2004. It has been proven beyond any reasonable doubt that both the 2000 and 2004 elections were riddled with fraud and vote-fixing. Florida alone was the product of massive fraud, and the Supreme Court (not the voters) decided the results, something at least one Supreme Court justice regrets. Yet loyal Democrat voters blame Nader -- and they vowed never to let it happen again.

This time, there is plenty of blame to go around, beginning with the corruption and arrogance of the DNC, insisting on running the candidate who was anointed by the party, rather than one who was chosen, you know, by the voters. They did everything they could do rig the results, and when that didn't work, invoked arcane rules that were designed to thwart democracy. When they were caught, the DNC defended their actions. (The lawsuit against the DNC was not dismissed because it lacked merit, but because the judge ruled it was not a matter for the judiciary.)

In the DNC's bubble of unchallenged power, they overlooked one crucial variable: people loathe Hillary Clinton. It doesn't matter why. It doesn't matter if it's based on fact or fiction or how much sexism is or isn't mixed in. Millions of people detest her and would never vote for her, no matter what the choices.

If Sanders supporters chose Trump over Clinton, that's not Sanders' fault. It's Clinton's, and it's the DNC's. But like Homer Simpson, the DNC cannot accept responsibility for any outcome. It's Sanders' fault. It's the fault of you people for wanting to build a movement for economic justice.

Learning all the wrong lessons

Now that we're witnessing the debacle of the Trump White House, the lesson could not be clearer: don't ever dare vote for a third party, or this is what will happen. You must vote Democrat, no matter what. If you dare to start building a viable party on the left, you will move the country even further to the right (even if only in appearance). Millions of anti-Trump voters now believe more strongly than ever that it is their sworn duty to Always Vote Democrat, no matter what. This must be an especially powerful lesson for the young voters who rallied around Sanders.

For decades, Allan and I have referred to "the circus coming to town" as a shorthand for the theatre of  US election campaigns, lending a thin (and getting ever thinner!) veneer of democracy to a corrupt, undemocratic system. This time, the circus never ended. The threat of real change on the left was more feasible than it had been in a long time, so the distraction had to be even bigger and more lurid.

As I was writing this, as if on cue, an Economist/YouGov poll found that 51 percent of Democrat voters now have a favourable opinion of George W. Bush. If Democrat voters feel that way about Bush, any Democrat candidate who can put a sentence together -- anyone who waves the words "woman's right to choose" and "the rights of all families" around -- will get their vote.

The worst part of Trump is not Trump.

The worst part of Trump is the lost hope of building a new party.

* Personal disclosure, to avoid assumptions. Although I am a dual citizen (Canada-US) and am eligible to vote with an absentee ballot, I do not vote in US elections. While I agree with Bernie Sanders' ideas and his platform, I did not support him. Sanders played the role historically assigned to the most left-leaning Democrat in the primaries, used by the party to bring in the progressive vote. There's one in every election. They do their job and are never heard from again. In Congress, Sanders voted with the Democrats 98% of the time.

10.23.2017

the mysterious case of kars4kids: deceptive advertising for orthodox jewish proselytizing

When I watch baseball, I always watch the Red Sox broadcast, and almost always choose local radio for the audio feed. (Hooray for MLB streaming on Roku!) And while I always mute the ads between innings, hundreds of ads are stuffed into the broadcast itself, so it's impossible not to hear and see a lot of advertising.

One advertising staple is something called "Cars for Kids". The ad exhorts you to make a cash donation or to donate your used car, and tells you how Cars for Kids makes it very simple. I've been hearing this for years, but only recently wondered, what is Cars for Kids? Who are the kids, and how are cars helping them?

I assumed it had something to do with fundraising for children with a serious illness. The Red Sox are linked to an organization called The Jimmy Fund, which supports the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. The Make-A-Wish Foundation of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, is also a Red Sox sponsor. So I assumed that Cars for Kids was something similar.

Wrong!

First, I discovered Cars for Kids is actually "Kars 4 Kids," which is stupid and pointless. Since the misspelling is pronounced the same way as the proper spelling, why misspell?

Next, I discovered that when you visit the Kars 4 Kids website, it's not immediately apparent what the vehicle donations actually support. The FAQs are all about how to donate your car. The donor comments are about how easy it was to donate a car. The "How It Works" link, same.

Those links are in all-caps, bold, right up front when you first go to the site.


In a smaller font, not all-caps, not bold, on the left, there are links to "charity" and "about us". Click on one of those, and for the first time, you see the word Jewish on the site.

The website for Kars 4 Kids Canada (I guess they realized Kanada would be a mistake), shows this.


Both websites (and all the Kars 4 Kids websites) keep the purpose of the charity pretty vague. They help "children develop into productive members of the community", they "keep kids busy in a healthy environment", they "give Jewish children and their families the support, resources and guidance they need". What does that mean?


All the Kars 4 Kids websites mention something called Oorah. In the US: "our sister charity, Oorah", with no further explanation. The Canadian site says "Your car donation will benefit Kars4Kids, d/b/a Oorah Charitable Organization, a registered charity dedicated to addressing the educational, emotional and spiritual needs of Jewish children and their families."

Having been raised Jewish, when I see those words -- the educational, emotional, and spiritual needs of Jewsih children -- I know exactly what it means. I have the code book.

Next stop, Oorah. Oorah appears to sponsor programs exclusively for Jewish people to explore Judaism. This is code for trying to get Jews to become Orthodox.

People who practice Judaism generally fall on a continuum from Reform, to Conservative, to Orthodox; these are called movements. (They are sometimes known as sects, but they're really not equivalent to, for example, the Protestant sects.) In addition to the three movements, there are sub-divisions, such as Reconstructionist, Modern Orthodox, and several others. This is a huge, complex political and cultural stew, full of hypocrisy and arrogance, full of people looking down on other people for choosing or taking paths different than their own. To someone like me who was raised in a Reform but observant household, the words "make their Judaic heritage more personal, relevant and meaningful" are heavily loaded.

More importantly, why would the general, non-Jewish public donate to this charity? I'm not sure why anyone, Jewish or not, would care about making "Judaic heritage more meaningful to Jewish children", but surely non-Jewish people wouldn't care about this, would they?

The absence of information -- who are the "kids"? how are the cars helping them? -- is obviously not accidental. Ad copy isn't found in nature, it's purposely and carefully written. And once I discovered Kars 4 Kids' mission and purpose, the omission of the word "Jewish" in ad copy seems purposely misleading -- deceptive.

I'm not the only person who thinks so.

From Tablet, a online magazine of "Jewish news, ideas, and culture": Kars 4 Kids Rakes In The Buckz: "A well-branded Jewish charity goes to great pains to avoid calling itself Jewish—and takes in millions nationwide."

From CharityWatch: Costly and Continuous Continuous Kars4Kids Disguise Charity's Real Purpose. (Clever use of alliteration!) From this story I learned that Kars 4 Kids advertises everywhere, especially on sports TV and radio, and apparently has an incredibly annoying jingle. CharityWatch writes:
Cars for… an Orthodox Jewish Cause

Nowhere in the Kars4Kids ads (in most states) does the charity inform potential donors of how their car donations will help kids. A visit to the "kars4kids.org/howtohelp" website displayed at the end of the TV commercial is similarly vague as to how kids will benefit, simply encouraging people to "take action" for the "1.2 million kids [that] leave school without a diploma each year" by volunteering to "mentor, fundraise, advocate or run an awareness campaign." (This "take action" message likely is a strategic one designed for Kars4Kids to take advantage of an accounting rule that allows charities to report a portion of advertising costs as program instead of fundraising expenses.) When going to the website address shown in the TV commercial, only by scrolling all the way down to the fine print that includes Kars4Kids' copyright notation at the bottom of the page will donors eventually learn what activities their donated cars support: [emphasis mine]"Your donation will benefit Kars4Kids, a national organization dedicated to addressing the educational, material, emotional and spiritual needs of Jewish children and their families [emphasis from CharityWatch]."

In CharityWatch's view, the Kars4Kids ads deceive potential donors by failing to inform them that donated cars will benefit a Jewish organization and kids of Jewish faith. Furthermore, the youth programs Kars4Kids supports promote an Orthodox Jewish lifestyle, which CharityWatch believes compounds the deception perpetrated by the Kars4Kids ads. Oorah, Kars4Kids' "sister charity," is the organization that actually runs the "educational, developmental, and recreational programs for Jewish youth and their families" described in Kars4Kids' mission statement. Kars4Kids and Oorah share a principal officer, Eliyohu Mintz, the son of their founder, Rabbi Chaim Mintz, and both organizations are located at the same address in the heavily-Orthodox Jewish town of Lakewood, New Jersey. Oorah, which means "awaken" in Hebrew, "specializes in outreach to non-observant Jews, operating summer camps and other programs that seek to make non-Orthodox Jews more observant," according to an October 2016 article in the Forward, which covers news for a Jewish-American audience.
CharityWatch continues:
While supporting Orthodox Jewish organizations is a worthy endeavor for those donors who are intending to do so, many donors of other faiths may not be pleased to learn that the car they donated to Kars4Kids may have funded religious teachings that are in conflict with their own faith or personal beliefs. Orthodox Jews, who follow the traditional interpretations of Jewish law with strict observance of Jewish ritual, make up only about 10% of Jewish adults in the U.S., according to a 2013 survey published by the Pew Research Center in August 2015. Moreover, many secular Jews are not enthusiastic about funding Orthodox organizations...

If the truth about Kars4Kids' mission as a Jewish organization and its funding of Oorah's Orthodox Jewish outreach is an unwelcome surprise to some donors, perhaps they will be comforted to learn that since 2010, Kars4Kids also has conducted various charity events and giveaways for the benefit of needy children, regardless of their religious affiliation. These events have included several backpack giveaways and coat distributions in parts of New Jersey and New York. Kars4Kids also released a free smartphone app in mid-2014 designed as a safety alert for parents to remind them not to leave young children in the backseat of hot cars. Nonetheless, Kars4Kids' grants to Oorah still represented more than 91% of its program spending over the two-year period from 2014-2015, thereby making Jewish children the primary "kids" that benefit from its car donation proceeds – a fact that many Kars4Kids donors likely never end up knowing.
I also found stories, showing that less than one percent of funds raised even goes to the "kids". Oorah is also the subject of a million-dollar lawsuit, accused of using a synagogue to hide questionable financial dealings and putting the synagogue on the hook for a million bucks.*

Even more troubling than Kars 4 Kids deceptive practices are their unwitting donors. Do people really donate to organizations without knowing what they support? Never mind researching what percentage of donations goes to the actual cause -- start with the basics! What is the cause? Where does your money go?

According to everything I'm seeing online, millions of people -- which by definition means millions of non-Jewish people -- are forking over their hard-earned money to support Orthodox Jewish indoctrination education? Seriously?

Are tax deductions from car donations so amazing that donors don't care where the money goes, so long as they get their deduction? From CharityWatch: Car Donations: Taking Taxpayers for a Ride, and from Nonprofit Quarterly: Nation's Largest Car Donation Charity a Self-Dealing Mess.

* Since someone will undoubtedly point this out in comments, Bill O'Reilly "exposed" Kars4Kids on Fox News. I don't even want to click. I'll just call O'Reilly a stopped clock and move on.

10.15.2017

what i'm reading: turtles all the way down, the new book by john green

I don't usually write about a book while I'm still under its spell, but there are always exceptions. John Green's Turtles All the Way Down is an exceptional book.

One reason Green's writing is so powerful is that he conjures both the specific and the universal at the same time.

The Fault in Our Stars, for example, is about two teens who have cancer, and how they fall in love and have a relationship, even with the awareness of their own looming mortality.

The Fault in Our Stars is also about how we all love, even with the awareness of our own mortality always looming, be it far or near. We humans must love and be loved, and we must lose our loves, and they us. That is the paradox of homo sapiens sapiens, the animal who knows it knows. TFIOS is about nothing less than the human condition.

Green masters both of these, at the same time, and wraps it in an accessible package that is easy to read, to understand, and to love. The specific lives are vibrant and authentic, and the universal truths are recognizable and powerful.

Green brings that same duality to his long-awaited new youth novel. Turtles All the Way Down is a book about a girl, Aza Holmes -- her struggles to cope with her mental illness, while trying to be a good friend, find love, and cope with life after the sudden death of her father some years back.

And it is also a book about mental illness -- how it might feel, what it might make us do, how it might be survived, how our society frames it, how it impacts everyone in its sphere.

And it is a book about all of us -- our doubts, our fears, our self-hate and, we hope, our acceptance of ourselves. Aza wants to know how anyone will ever love her, given her limitations. Don't we all.

When I count the people in my life, over the course of my lifetime, who have been affected by mental illness, it becomes a long list. I think most people could say the same. We are only just beginning to recognize the prevalence and reduce the stigma of mental illness. Turtles All the Way Down will stand as a soldier in that important and necessary battle.

You'll notice I haven't written at all about the plot of this book, only the themes. The plot is excellent -- strange enough to be unique and unpredictable, and authentic enough to be convincing. You should read it to find out.