The holiday of Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks, falls this year on Wednesday in Israel and on Wednesday and Thursday in the Diaspora. It falls every year exactly seven weeks after Passover. The latter holiday celebrates the Israelites’ liberation from slavery in Egypt; Shavuot (which means “weeks”) celebrates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, which followed some arduous trekking through the desert.
Shavuot, though, has a whole other, agricultural dimension. Also known as the Festival of the First Fruits, in ancient Israel Shavuot marked the end of the spring barley harvest and the bringing of the first fruits to the Temple in Jerusalem. Theorists of these matters believe the agricultural layer of the holiday is the older, original one, and the commemoration of Sinai was added later.
In any case, the Sinai dimension of the holiday is more portable and can be practiced in synagogues anywhere; the agricultural dimension is more tied to the land of Israel. In fact, growing up in a secular Jewish family in upstate New York, I didn’t know about Shavuot at all. We had a Passover meal every year, and I thought it pretty much ended with that.
It makes sense, then, that during the period of Zionist resettlement of the land of Israel, the agricultural aspect was intensely revived. In fact, it was revived particularly by the kibbutz movements — which, at the time, were doctrinally socialist and mostly atheist, but seeking roots in the soil of the land.
Editor’s Note: Click here for Part 1 in Becky Graebner’s dissection of how Netflix’s House of Cards series compares with real life in the political jungle of Washington D.C. And drop by PJ Lifestyle each Wednesday for new installments in the series.
The topic of infidelity isn’t exactly funny—or a subject that many T.V. producers and writers can write into their plots without making the audience completely hate the characters engaged. House of Cards’ writing involving the marriage and unfaithfulness of Frank and Claire is subtly genius and creepy–because the audience doesn’t necessarily come to completely dislike either characters for their moral derailment. This might mean that the writing is so genius, the audience is tricked into not judging the cheating characters, or it might simply shed some light on the moral condition of D.C. and greater society. I think it is a little bit of both.
When people gain power, they start to feel untouchable. And when they think they are untouchable, they are more likely to engage in risky behaviors. They are also more likely to become a target for those who also seek fame, power, and wealth. Celebrities and politicians frequently fall prey to a false sense of indestructibility, as well as to power-hungry, attention gremlins…and some are lead astray from their marriages.
Infidelity is not a phenomenon specific to Washington, D.C.—it occurs from sea to shining sea–but the sinful game has higher stakes in The District. Due to the nature of the cheating players’ jobs, their environment, and media coverage, unfaithfulness seems to be both concentrated and magnified in D.C. History is full of famous “D.C. wanderings.” It’s pathetic that I have so many to choose from. Let’s start at the top…
During the Boston manhunt, while Paula Bolyard listened to the police scanner and “evolved on guns”, a few others tweeted verses of ‘this would never happen in Texas.’ Before all non-Texans dismiss this as idle boasting, there is a hidden truth worth noting, which Bolyard helpfully illustrates. In the second piece of her “evolving” series, she writes:
While I understand that many who grew up around guns accept them as a normal part of life, for me, it’s a decision that requires serious introspection and moral evaluation. Though I passionately support the Second Amendment, I confess that I had never taken the time to earnestly contemplate its practical applications.
Bolyard starts by analyzing what she is prepared to do to defend herself. But she’s not the exception, she’s the rule. Taking the time to “earnestly contemplate” self defense is the essence of the gun culture. So much so that we hardly notice it.
I didn’t until the London Riots of 2011. While friends described locking their doors and hoping for the police, Zoe Williams wrote that she had never contemplated defending her home. This shocked me. But then I thought back to the 2001 massacre in Norway, when the shooter rampaged for about an hour, taking 77 lives. They waited for the police.
Most people outside the gun culture have been conditioned to wait for the police. Unarmed, without good options for self defense, they’ve never considered it. They assume we haven’t either, hence their worry that every charged situation would collapse into a shootout at the OK Corral. But in a gun culture, we plan self defense. In a gun culture, we accept that ultimately it is our responsibility to defend ourselves. Follow Bolyard’s series. She’s asking, learning, and practicing while guided by those who have already done so. This is commonplace.
Submit your questions about friendship, relationships, careers, family, or life decisions to PJMBadAdvice@gmail.com or leave a question in the comments section, and I’ll answer it in Bad Advice, PJ Lifestyle’s new advice column!
Hello Bad Advice readers! This week I got a question that I’ve heard many times from friends, mostly Millennials, who get the classic “I’m not really standing you up because I texted you five minutes ahead of time” line from their friends. As we emerge from social hibernation this spring, take heed: all your friends are jerks. Get used to it.
Dear Bad Advice,
Have you ever had a friend that seems to always bail on plans? Not only do they bail, but do they wait to the very last possible minute to not-so-gracefully bow out?
A close friend of mine is almost ALWAYS doing this to me and it absolutely drives me nuts! Now, I hate double-standards, but are they necessary when it comes to teaching people a lesson?
Is it wrong for me to give her a taste of her own medicine a few times by doing the same exact thing she repeatedly does to me? Or, is this too childish?
I should note that I hate confrontation and yes, I admit to being a bit passive aggressive sometimes to avoid it.
- Fed Up with Being Stood Up
This is going to sound like bad advice, but stop expecting your friends to show up for things. If they don’t give a crap about you, don’t give a crap about them.
This week has been very bad for writing. By now I hoped to be twenty five thousand words in. I’m not.
If you keep in mind that when pushed and under the gun — such as when I got an invitation for an anthology and had an afternoon in which to deliver – I can and have written eleven thousand words in three hours, it seems as though there could be no possible excuse. And there isn’t.
I can give you all the reasons for why I’m not further advanced than the first few pages of the novel.
First, my time has been horribly cut up. But then, when isn’t it? Mostly I write in the intervals between cooking, cleaning, shopping for groceries, helping my sons with whatever project needs help, helping my friends with whatever project needs help, looking over page proofs, editing, running promotions on my self-published stuff, keeping track of the labyrinthine tax and business law affecting small businesses, getting exasperated at the news, trying to get in at least an hour of physical exercise… Sometimes it’s a miracle I write at all.
A lot could be said about women and women’s role in a family, and how much I do, and not prioritizing my profession over the day to day of family routine. Most of it would be wrong.
I know for a fact, talking to my male writer friends, that the ones who stayed home to write – i.e. were lucky enough to have a wife who could support them – faced the same pressures as any woman. It’s not a sexist thing, but an example of trying to make it in a field that very rarely pays and even more rarely pays well.
In my long, long apprenticeship (thirteen years before selling my first short story, but keep in mind that for a lot of that time I was barely writing, and rarely submitting because of this process) when it seemed highly unlikely I would ever sell, if the choice was between writing a new chapter or really cleaning the kitchen, a spit-shine (only not literally, because yuck) of the kitchen always won out. The kitchen, after all affected other people now. Writing another chapter on the novel merely fractionally increased the chances of my selling a novel and since those chances were minimal to begin with, to write or not to write was not a question.
This week is Bike to Work Week in Washington, D.C., which is a perfect opportunity to point out why the vast majority of bikers are huge jerks who ruin the road for the rest of us. I’m not saying they’re jerks all the time; just when they’re on their bikes. Kind of like how someone turns into a Mr Hyde version of himself when he climbs into a Prius.
I’m not even saying all bikers are this awful. Just most of them. Enough of them to give bikers a bad rep, even when some of us actually try to be considerate, safe, and respectful. So this Bike to Work Week, please do bike to work — just don’t be a jerk about it.
5. Biking on the road, without following the rules of the road
You know what I’m talking about — the bikers who use the bike lane or actually drive in the traffic lanes, but breeze through stop signs without pause, creep past red lights, cross lanes when they turn, and generally act like the rest of traffic should bend around them. This is incredibly unsafe — for bikers, drivers, and pedestrians. As someone who walks to work every day here in D.C., I could count on two hands (and a few toes) the number of times I’ve nearly been run down by a bike that had no intention of stopping for a red. Hills are no excuse. If your brakes are too poor to come to a full stop when you’re pointing downhill — or your legs are too weak to stop then start again while climbing uphill — then you shouldn’t be biking on the road. Get in shape, get a tune-up, and come back when you’re ready to bike safely.
“Mistah Kurtz – he dead.”
Oh, come on, you know:
The novel, and the poem, about the terminal termitic decay of what we laughingly call “civilization,” and the “hollow men” who (barely) populate Western society?
With all that scarecrow and “straw men” and trophy-heads-on-pikes imagery?
“This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a wimper” and all that?
Or maybe you don’t.
And you don’t want to know, either. Not anything.
In a world where “Benghazi was a long time ago,” expressing what used to be called “common knowledge,” or asking what once was considered “a normal question,” is verboten.
Jason Collins is gay, therefore Jason Collins has always been gay.
That he’s gay is everybody’s business, but it’s nobody’s business that John Maynard Keynes was.
Some slaves prefer slavery: “A prominent Saudi female activist,” Emirates 24/7 reported last Thursday, has come out against Saudi Arabia’s lifting its ban on women driving cars.
Rawdah Al-Yousif complained that campaigns to give women the right to drive ,
“continue despite the clear response by the rulers of this country that any decision to allow women to drive cars is up to the community not to just 3000 people or to some articles in newspapers or online. I hope there will be no decision to allow women to drive at this stage because we have first to respect the wish of the people and the society…Women are also not ready yet to bear their responsibility and leave their homes at a time when news of blackmail against the women are widespread.”
Ah, yes. Women are not yet ready to bear their responsibility, just as we heard in the antebellum South that black Americans were not yet ready to bear the responsibilities of freedom, or in the Jim Crow South that they were not yet ready to bear the full responsibilities of citizenship. This is a common argument that oppressors make to justify oppression; it is unusual to hear it offered by one of the oppressed themselves.
Yet Rawdah Al-Yousuf is the prime mover behind a recent campaign in Saudi Arabia called “My Guardian Knows What’s Best For Me.” This involved, according to Emirates 24/7, “sending letters to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in which women confirmed their full support for an Islamic approach in administering the Kingdom.” Al Yousif expressed her “dismay at the efforts of some who have liberal demands that do not comply with Islamic law (Shariah) or with the Kingdom’s traditions and customs” and railed against what she characterized as “ignorant and vexatious demands” to abolish the guardianship system.
When news of a horrific crime like the Cleveland kidnappings and subsequent escape and rescue breaks, what follows is a media circus and 24-hour news cycle. It’s not unusual to hear reporters, in their quest to fill space and time, making vapid comments and asking extraordinarily dumb questions. We can always count on Piers “That’s Appalling” Morgan to add to the collective tomfoolery. On Friday night he asked a “man on the street” in Cleveland (in his most earnest, probing voice), “Is there a sense of collective guilt?”
Morgan was referring to all the people who certainly overlooked clues that something was terribly wrong at the house on Seymour Avenue in Cleveland. How could a man keep three young women imprisoned in his home for ten years without anyone noticing? Shouldn’t the neighbors have known that something ghastly was going on there and then done something about it? Shouldn’t service workers like meter readers and mail carriers have noticed signs that this wasn’t a normal home with one resident? And perhaps most disturbing, shouldn’t police have investigated alleged calls by neighbors who reported odd things they saw at the residence?
Somebody should have done something, right?
According to Virginia historian Matthew Page Andrews, “As soon as the settlers were thrown upon their own resources, and each freeman had acquired the right of owning property, the colonists quickly developed what became the distinguishing characteristic of Americans — an aptitude for all kinds of craftsmanship coupled with an innate genius for experimentation and invention.”
American exceptionalism — to the extent it remains — is not the product of some sort of genetic superiority. The settlers who made something of Jamestown after Dale’s reforms were the same ones who were bowling in the streets instead of working when he arrived.
What is exceptional about America — at least, what’s been exceptional up to now — is the extent to which individuals were allowed to keep the fruits of their own labor instead of having them seized by people in power for their own purposes. The insight behind American exceptionalism is that people work harder and better for themselves, as free people, than they do as servants for some alleged communal good.
Abraham, in becoming a patriarch in Canaan, also becomes a sort of political entity. He has “flocks, and herds, and silver, and gold, and menservants, and maidservants, and camels, and asses.” Like the restored political entity known as modern Israel — a distant descendant of that of Abraham — he has to conduct a sort of “international relations” with the surrounding peoples.
Israel’s conduct of its affairs, of course, seems to arouse more controversy than that of any country except the United States. The political Left — within Israel, in the larger Jewish world, and in the non-Jewish world — accuses Israel of immorality; the Right — mostly within Israel and the Jewish world — accuses it of weakness and cowardice. In fact, upholding a democracy while dealing with rough surroundings is not at all simple and requires a constant balancing act between moral standards and self-preservation.
It wasn’t so different for Abraham. On the one hand, God expresses confidence in him to “do justice and judgment”; on the other, he has to interact with tribal leaders and others who are sometimes decent and sometimes ruthless. Living in Zion, asserting independence, means being connected to the spiritual realm while at the same time having one’s feet firmly on the ground of the “real world.”
I was reading Drudge and saw that he and other intense internet users were enlisting the help of Esther Gokhale, author of 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back: Natural Posture Solutions for Pain in the Back, Neck, Shoulder, Hip, Knee, and Foot:
Mr. Drudge is one of thousands of people who have trained with Esther Gokhale, a posture guru in Silicon Valley. She believes that people suffer from pain and dysfunction because they have forgotten how to use their bodies. It’s not the act of sitting for long periods that causes us pain, she says, it’s the way we position ourselves….
Mr. Drudge read Ms. Gokhale’s book, “8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back,” before training with her in person. “I needed her touch, her observations and her humanity,” he said.
I read and reviewed this book several years ago and it has really helped with computer-related pain:
I tried some of the exercises in the book which show how to sit, stand, bend and walk correctly and was pleasantly surprised that they seemed to ease some of the stiffness of the computer. The exercises with bands (that I already had in the house) were most helpful and stretched my legs out and felt great! I very much recommend the book if you spend too much time on the computer. If nothing else, the photography and illustrations make this book worthwhile on their own.
And if these methods work for Matt Drudge with his sitting up to 17 hours a day, maybe they will work for the rest of us.
Although it was many years ago, the image of a young woman with a tear-streaked face and blank stare is forever etched into my memory. She sat in front of the television cameras, shredding a soaked tissue, telling her story. Once a happy new mother, now distraught and on trial for the death of her baby — the infant died in her arms. The cause of death was starvation and malnutrition.
The first-time mother said she loved her baby and breastfed her regularly. She cared for the child to the best of her ability. She claimed that she had no idea the newborn failed to get the nourishment she needed. Nevertheless, the baby languished in her arms until she became too weak to suckle. It was only then that help was sought.
Of course the outrage came quickly. Bony fingers of blame pointed in all directions. Some held the hospital responsible, believing the first-time mother got released too soon. No doubt a direct result, others moralized, of the cold, cost-calculating insurance companies. Always pressuring hospitals for earlier discharge of maternity patients. Others cast the blame on social services. The government let this poor young woman slip through the cracks. Over and over, the resounding cries filled the airways.
Their haughty laments over that young mother’s fate still echo in my mind: “Where were the pediatricians? Where were the lactation experts?”
The answers were never found. Perhaps because no one asked the right question.
Where was her mother?
The end of my second 13 week season: low-carb diet and more exercise, tracking my weight, blood glucose, and body fat. You can follow me at my 13 Weeks Facebook page for daily updates, and you can join Fitocracy (free!) and follow my daily exercise, and maybe even start tracking your own. A new 13 week experiment starts June 1 2013. Join in!
So this is the end of the second 13 week season. That’s 26 weeks, six months, on this attempt to get my heath and weight under control. It seems like an appropriate time to summarize what has happened and think about what happens next. I started the first 13 weeks insisting it was an experiment; I think I lost track of that for a bit. Evaluated dispassionately, as an experiment, what we’ve learned so far is that the low-carb diet, in me, is very successful at controlling blood sugar. It doesn’t turn out to have resulted in continuous weight loss, although it did result in significant weight loss. (Charts and tables are at the end of this article.)
- First of all, I’ve lost significant weight, about 10 percent of my body weight. On the other hand, my weight loss has plateaued fairly dramatically.
- My blood sugar has been a definite success: my average blood sugar has been right around 110 mg/dL. Maybe too much of a success, since I’ve been having trouble with hypoglycemic episodes.
- Cutting out wheat has certainly appeared to help my really life-long stomach troubles.
- The intention to get more exercise hasn’t worked out as well so far; in fact, after my accident a few weeks ago, I slacked off pretty well completely.
- Measuring body fat flat out doesn’t work, at least for me and at least on a time scale of 13 weeks. Basically, no two methods have agreed within 5 percentage points, and the range has gone from 26 to 42 percent. This is just nuts; you can’t do anything useful with those numbers.
But what about the experience itself? I’ve been following a pretty radical carb restriction regime for six months now. As a diet, it’s not been particularly difficult. I’ve had few lapses and only rare cravings, usually for chocolate. Even so, most cravings for sweet things have been easily satisfied with sugar-free gelatin. Cutting out wheat has been harder, not because I craved it so much as because it’s freaking everywhere: noodles, bread, soups, sauces, I’m not nearly as sensitive to wheat as a real celiac sufferer, so it doesn’t make as much difference to me if I get exposed to a bit of flour used to thicken a sauce, but it’s given me new sympathy for a friend who really does have all-out celiac disease.
The exercise thing — well, look, I’ve never enjoyed exercise. Long walks bore me, and my knees are too bad for running. Riding a bike makes my, er, man-bits go to sleep. My exercise bike and kettlebells watch reproachfully from the corner of my bedroom to which they’ve been assigned. At least I don’t have clothes hanging on my exercise bike. And frankly, exercise enthusiasts don’t seem to be able to stir any matching enthusiasm in me. Mostly, personal trainers make me want to turn a hose on them.
Still, damn it, I know exercise has good effects and know it makes me feel better when I’m doing it. The Crossfit enthusiasts, like David Steinberg, have what seems to me a basically good basic approach: do things that correspond to real tasks faced in real life. Measure power output — weight moved times distance over duration. (A little algebra tells us that this is basically saying how many calories are expended per unit time, and God this is one of those times I wish we just used metric.) So far, I just don’t think I’ve got a good handle on the exercise thing.
Not long ago I bought a book, published in 1922, titled Syphilis of the Innocent. Needless to say, the title implied a corollary: for if syphilis could be contracted by the innocent (as, for example, in the congenital form of the disease), it could also be contracted by the guilty.
In general, however, physicians do not inquire after the morals of their patients, except in so far as those morals have immediate pathological consequences. They do not refuse to treat patients because they find them disgusting, because they find them unappealing, because they are appalled by the way they choose to live. They try to treat them as they find them; they may inform, but they do not reprehend.
However, in practice things are sometimes more complex than this ecumenical generosity of spirit might suggest. According to an article in a recent edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, some doctors have been turning away patients on the grounds that they were too fat (one physician suggested that she did so because, ridiculously, she feared for the safety of her staff once the patients weighed more than 200 pounds), or that their children have gone unimmunized. Is such discrimination by physicians legitimate or illegitimate, legally or morally speaking? Is there not a danger that physicians may hide behind pseudo-medical justifications to express their personal prejudices or to coerce patients into doing what the physicians think is good for them?
We don’t see a whole lot of genuine faith in the movies or on TV these days. Instead, characters who exhibit religious faith on fictional films and programs are more likely to show up as fodder for mocking or as social deviants in disguise. Obviously, we can easily forget that the concept of faith played a much greater role in Hollywood’s earlier days, even in the films made by the Disney Studios.
Walt Disney held a deep, private faith in Jesus Christ, though he was not an outwardly religious man. His parents raised him in the theology of the Congregational Church, and he firmly believed in the power of prayer and Bible study. Rarely, if ever, did Disney attend church, but he made sure his daughters were involved in Sunday School programs, even allowing them to choose the denomination that suited them best in their teen years. Walt also said:
I ask of myself, “Live a good Christian life.” Towards this objective I bend every effort in shaping my personal, domestic, and professional activities and growth.
I believe firmly in the efficacy of religion, in its powerful influence on a person’s whole life. It helps immeasurably to meet the storm and stress of life and keep you attuned to the Divine inspiration. Without inspiration, we would perish.
Clearly, Disney understood the importance of faith as part of the American cultural fabric. Another quote of his underscores this fact:
I have watched constantly that in our movie work the highest moral and spiritual standards are upheld, whether it deals with fable or with stories of living action.
We can see these moral and spiritual standards at work in Disney’s classic films. In fact, the concept of faith plays a role in many of the great films of the Disney canon. Today, I’m going to look at five examples of the value of faith in Disney’s classic films: I’m taking a look at two of the big themes that emerge, and then we’ll delve into three characters who exhibit faith in different ways. These movies are not necessarily religious in nature, nor do I claim that they are theologically accurate in any sort of way. With that said, let’s dive in…
The critics are chattering about Baz Luhrmann’s highly anticipated The Great Gatsby. They fall into two camps: those who watched the movie for itself, and those who closely compared it to the book. Even though I appreciate F. Scott Fitzgerald’s seminal work, I’ll be going to the theater as a member of the first camp. Adaptations are rarely successful when the goal is a strict translation of the book to the screen. Even if a movie’s based on a book, I try to judge it as a movie in its own right, as if the book had never existed. Just to prove how unimportant The Great Gatsby’s faithfulness to the book is, here are four examples of absolutely amazing, beautiful, gripping, classic movies (and a TV show) that took an existing story and threw expectations out the window to make something completely original.
5. The Adaptation Most People Don’t Know Is an Adaptation: O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Did you know that O Brother Where Art Thou?, the Coen brothers’ rollicking adventure comedy through the Depression-era South, is a loose retelling of Homer’s Odyssey? If you didn’t, pick up the DVD and rewatch it (well, you should rewatch it anyway even if you did already know because it’s that good) and see if you can recognize the sirens, the cyclops, and the hydra.