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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Transparently Pointless

I was in Boston this week and naturally could not avoid getting exposed to the Democratic Convention taking place in Denver. I was meaning to write about my impressions from this vacuous event, but after reading The Economist's correspondent's post on about the American talent for "creating transparently pointless political rituals", I don't have much to add.

There is one other remarkable American talent I wonder about: the ability to stomach cheesiness and fake emotions without puking (or hurling some heavy object at the TV). Michelle Obama's address was a masterpiece of fake emotions; how can anyone possibly believe the her voice genuinely hang, every so precisely, during critical moments in her speech? And when Hillary Clinton got to the "No way! No How! No McCain!" part, the camera showed Bill smiling and shaking his head, as if amazed to hear this gem come out of his wife's mouth; how can anyone possibly believe he has not heard this before?

I keep asking myself whether most Americans believe this blatantly fake nonsense or if this entire charade is just a perpetuum mobile that nobody can stop.

Sunday, August 17, 2008 - My Library Online

For years I've had this dream to create an electronic catalogue of all the books I own. I looked at various software packages but all of them required too much effort and too much time. The improvised solution I use for cataloguing my movie collection (using an Excel spreadsheet...) works well for a few hundred DVDs, but is inefficient for all my books.

So you can imagine the "Eureka!" scream I let out last week when I stumbled upon I kicked myself hard when I saw the site/service has been around for more than two years. And then I kicked myself even harder for not thinking about such a service myself.

The idea is very simple: you enter the book's ISBN (or, if you don't have it, some key words like title or author) and the site searches for the book in hundreds of databases worldwide. One click on the book's title adds it to your online library, including the cover image and various details about the book. The site has several other nifty features, making the entire experience quite enjoyable.

I've only just started adding my books to my library (a permanent link is on the right sidebar of the blog), so it's going to take a while before they are all online. I can't wait.

Friday, August 15, 2008


Uniqlo is a clothing retail chain from Japan. They came up with a brilliant branding idea: Uniqlock. Explanation here. I'm hypnotised.

Nachamu - Zion and Jerusalem

על הר גבוה עלי לך מבשרת ציון, הרימי בכח קולך מבשרת ירושלים, הרימי אל תיראי, אמרי לערי יהודה הנה אלהיכם

(ישעיה מ', ט')

This shabbat we read the first of the seven haftarot of consolation (sheva de'nechamata), the first one being from chapter 40 of Yeshayahu, known also as nachamu, nachamu ami ("comfort ye, comfort ye, My people"). The prophet calls upon Zion and Jerusaem to comfort the people of Israel:

"O thou that tells good tidings to Zion, get up into the high mountain; O thou that tells good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah: 'Behold your God!'"

(Yeshayahu 40, 9)

So who is the one that brings good tidings to Zion? And who is the one that brings good tidings to Jerusalem? And what is the difference between Zion and Jerusalem?

Some commentators explain that the verse refers to the prophets themselves, those who bring good tidings to the people. Most of the prophets were men, and the Hebrew word for "brings good tidings" here is mevasseret which is in the female form; this is explained in several ways, one of which is that the verse refers to the congregration of prophets, rather than to a single prophet, and whe word congregation in Hebrew - eda - is indeed in the female form.

But more interestingly, other commentators explain that Zion and Jerusalem are themselves the bringers of good tidings. And from this explanation we can try and understand the difference between the two.

Zion and Jerusalem are mentioned earlier in Yeshayahu (chapter 2), a verse we read every time we open the ark: "For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of God from Jerusalem." The Malbim writes that Zion is a name given to the seat of the Sanhedrin, the high court of 71 sages that sat in a designated room in the Temple (lishkat ha'gazit), and hence "the law" goes forth from Zion. Jerusalem, on the other hand, is the city itself, from which the words of the prophets, "word of God", goes forth to the rest of the land, the cities of Judah. This distinction holds also in our case. Zion, a symbol of the Temple, needs to "get up into the high mountain", as befits the Temple Mount and the high place reserved for kings, sages and priests. Jerusalem, a symbol of the prophets of the city, needs to "lift up its voice in strength", so that God's message is heard all over the world.

The same idea is further expounded by R. Avraham Kook. The double consolation of the prophet (nachamu, nachamu) refers to two types of redemption: an earthly redemption - Jerusalem - which is similar in nature to the national aspirations of all people on earth. And a spiritual redemption - Zion - which is unique to Israel and will come with the restoration of the Temple and the kingdom of Israel.

Our generation has been blessed to have witnessed the first redemption, that of Jerusalem. God willing, we shall also be blessed to witness the second redemption, that of Zion, soon in our times.

This idea for this week's thought is from R. Avraham Rivlin.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

No Short-Nosed Dogs Allowed

I connected to the internet in the ANA lounge at Narita airport this morning. After connecting, the browser is automatically directed to the ANA home page. Just before closing the browser window, I spotted the following headline under "ANA News": Resumption of Carriage of Short-nosed Dog. Obviously, I couldn't resist the temptation to click on this intriguing piece of news.

And here's the full story, copied here for posterity (the Japlish is ANA's, not mine):

Thank you for choosing ANA flight.

W accept a pet particularly carefully during the traveling. ANA will suspend carriage of certain breeds of short-nosed dog from July 1st to September 30th. In accordance with professional veterinarian viewpoint, Short-nosed dogs are vulnerable to environmental health condition in the summer season compare to other breeds, ANA decides that, at the current moment, we can not confirm to provide safe carriage of pet.

We apologize for any inconvenience and appreciate your understanding and patience.

1. The term for effective: July 1st- September 30th,2008

2. Applicable Flight: All ANA Group operating flights (Domestic and International)

3. Applicable Breeds: Bulldog, French Bulldog, Boxer, Shih Tzu, Boston Terrier, Bull Terrier, King Charles Spaniel*, Tibetan Spaniel, Brussels Griffon, Chow Chow, Pug, Chin, Pekingese

* Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is NOT same as King Charles Spaniel, ANA can accept Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

It's a shame I didn't bring my Cavalier King Charles Spaniel with me on this trip, as it would have been allowed on board!