Friday, May 28, 2010

Celts and the City

They are a group of likable stars who have kept audiences entertained night after night. Now they are coming back, a little bit older, and there are questions about whether they can keep up the same level of success. And this week marks their sternest test yet.
I'm actually talking about two groups -- the Big Three of Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce on the Boston Celtics, and the Big Four of Carrie Bradshaw, Samantha Jones, Miranda Hobbes and Charlotte York Goldenblatt on "Sex and the City." The Celtics' Big Three must hang on to win their NBA playoff series against the Orlando Magic, while the Big Four must show they can still command box-office mojo with "Sex and the City 2" opening this week.
The Big Three have the tougher task. After a meteoric 3-0 start to their series against Orlando, the Celtics suddenly look as old and broken-down as they did during the regular season. The Magic and their young star, Dwight Howard, have won the last two games, including a deflating 113-92 decision Wednesday. Now the Big Three need to step up, especially since their teammates have been shaken up, like Glen "Big Baby" Davis and Rasheed Wallace. If the old guard falters in Game Six tonight, Boston faces a potential double humiliation: A second straight pro sports team winning the first three games of a playoff series ... and then getting eliminated by losing the next four. (This unlikely scenario already befell the Bruins this month.)
Meanwhile, the Big Four (their real names are Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Cynthia Nixon and Kristin Davis) have opened their new movie to scathing reviews. The New York Post slammed the film for such elements as having Liza Minnelli sing "Single Ladies" at a gay wedding, and denounced the decision to set the movie in anti-feminist Abu Dhabi. The New York Times groused that "the movie itself, and perhaps the culture it stands in for, has lost interest and can’t figure out what to do with them as they tiptoe toward middle age."
Age before beauty, the saying went ... but in the youth-obsessed United States, the motto has reversed itself. Americans want their icons to be young and hip, like the Magic's 24-year-old Dwight Howard. As the Times noted of Manhattan, the location of the SATC TV series and first movie, "the party girls of yesteryear are tomorrow’s Ladies Who Lunch." And yet perhaps we should say that there is beauty in age, and that age is beauty. There is something inspiring in seeing the guys or girls we grew up watching continue their craft on the court or on the screen.
"I'm not as good as I once was," old-timer Toby Keith crooned. "But I'm as good once as I ever was." Whether the Big Three win or lose, whether the Big Four impress or flop, they deserve kudos for showing us how to age gracefully and have fun along the way.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Humanity Still Stuck on Oil?

Gulf Oil Spill Cartoon, originally uploaded by rbtenorio.

What a sad sight to see in the Gulf of Mexico: The pollution caused by an oil spill that has dwarfed the impact of the Exxon Valdez catastrophe in 1989. (There has also been a human toll: the 11 BP employees who lost their lives in the explosion that caused the spill.) Is mankind condemned to such sights because of the car-crazed culture of the United States? Read more in the latest episode of "The Devil Made Me Blog It"!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Forgetting the Fundamentals

The relationship between the Secular Left and the Religious Right often resembles a battlefield. And the Left needs to know when to call a cease-fire and recognize opportunities for alliance-building, not ideological warfare.
This came to mind on an issue that is bitterly contested between American liberals and conservatives: The Israel-Palestine conflict. The Left has shown a tendency to demonize its opponents without realizing that some of those foes might actually share liberal goals.
Last week, in the New York Review of Books, Peter Beinart bemoaned that young liberal American Jews have lost their parents' identification with Israel and Zionism. Yet this became an unfair jeremiad against young American Jews whose identification with Israel and Zionism is strong: the Orthodox, who tend to be more right-wing.
Beinart's description of liberal young'uns shows his bias. "Because they have inherited their parents’ liberalism, they cannot embrace their uncritical Zionism," he writes. "Because their liberalism is real, they can see that the liberalism of the American Jewish establishment is fake." The assumption is that only young liberals can be so perceptive, so discerning.
Of course, Beinart ignores the fact that Israeli conservatives have worked quite well on occasion in forging peace deals with their Mideast neighbors. It was, after all, the former Irgun terrorist/prime minister Menachem Begin who signed the historic accord with Egypt ... and the former Lebanon warmonger/prime minister Ariel Sharon who got the settlers out of Gaza.
Yes, current prospects on the right, whether in Israel or the US, do not look terribly appetizing, especially with unsavory characters like Avigdor Lieberman holding power in Israel. If young liberal American Jews turn away from Israel and Zionism as a result, and the leadership vacuum is filled with more bellicose voices, then what could result is Beinart's nightmare scenario of "an American Zionist movement that does not even feign concern for Palestinian dignity and a broader American Jewish population that does not even feign concern for Israel."
If the liberal movements in both the US and Israel want to reverse this trend, they should stop demonizing the right-wingers and seek common ground with them toward a peaceful future. If Begin and Sharon found paths to peace, there is no reason why today's right-wingers can't do the same. Here's a thought: Maybe whoever buys the wine for Orthodox services in Israel and the US could get it from Cremisan Cellars, a winery located on the border between Jerusalem and the West Bank. Such small yet significant steps could help move both Left and Right in the direction of a peaceful future.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Elitist Elena Vs. Judge Judy

Kagan Elitism Cartoon, originally uploaded by rbtenorio.

President Obama has nominated former Harvard Law School dean Elena Kagan for the Supreme Court, and some are unhappy with the alleged elitism of the pick, noting that Kagan will represent yet another Ivy League connection on the court. Perhaps Obama should have picked New York Law alum Judge Judy instead? Obama and Satan engage in a little trash talk over this in the latest episode of "The Devil Made Me Blog It"!

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Brussels of America

It was a big weekend for Boston pro sports rivalries. In basketball, the Celtics beat the Cleveland Cavaliers, 97-87, to even their playoff series at two games apiece. In baseball, the New York Yankees won two of three against the Red Sox. The question underlying each rivalry is the same: Who's better? Not which team is better ... but which city. The rivalries aren't ending anytime soon, but we may have a surprise winner in the "which-city-is-best" category. Cleveland.
This may surprise some readers. Boston has history and an intellectual tradition, and merits the title "The Athens of America." New York, with its Wall Street power, has drawn comparisons to Sparta. Next to these East Coast metropolises, Cleveland is "The Brussels of America." (Brussels, the Belgian capital, was voted the most boring city in Europe.)
Last week, Boston Globe sportswriter Dan Shaughnessy made a case for Cleveland over Boston, but his reasoning had little to do with what daily life was actually like in either city. (A sample point in Cleveland's favor: "It’s where Eliot Ness served as city safety director.") Worse, many of his Cleveland anecdotes worked against the Mistake By the Lake, such as the infamous 10-cent beer night at a Cleveland Indians game in 1974, "when fans rioted after consuming too many eight-ounce Stroh’s." Based on such logic, Bostonians and New Yorkers might dismiss pro-Cleveland sentiment.
It was the Cleveland Plain Dealer, however, that made a plainer, more effective case. City residents enjoy day-to-day advantages over Bostonians (and, by extension, New Yorkers). The cost of living is cheaper, housing is less expensive, museums are free. And oh yes, there is the traffic issue.
Twenty-minute commutes in Cleveland put you home, in your driveway and walking in the front door. You want to run an errand in Cleveland, you just run it. You don't have to plan it out like a trip to Europe, trying to figure out the few times when the roads won't be so clogged that you lose an entire day just to buy some laundry detergent.
Those statements would make Cleveland the envy of anyone who has idled in traffic on the Tobin Bridge in Boston or the George Washington Bridge in New York.
And how often do East Coasters like me go to all the museums and monuments and stadiums, anyway? What's more important -- having civic ornaments we rarely visit, or having less stress when we go to work, look for housing, or balance a budget? Ironically, the most effective line in Shaughnessy's column was one he took to be a point against Cleveland: "It’s got clean, wide streets that are (unfortunately) never crowded with traffic nor people." No, Dan, the word is "fortunately."
Cavaliers superstar LeBron James has a chance to leave Cleveland after the season as a free agent. Don't do it, LeBron. The Cavs may never win a championship, but like everyone else in Cleveland, your day-to-day happiness will continue to sprout in the Brussels of America.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Sharansky: Power to the Peoplehood

Natan Sharansky, the former Russian refusenik and Israeli Cabinet member and the new head of the Jewish Agency, has a mission: Peoplehood. He wants Jews to think more about themselves as a worldwide people and less about the religious and Israel-connected aspects of Judaism. Reports the Forward:

(Sharansky) and a tight group of ideological allies … believe that the Jewish Agency must now become a global promoter of Jewish identity, particularly among the young. Peoplehood, according to its proponents, is defined as a sense of connectivity between Jews who share a common history and fate.

This could spark the biggest redefinition of Jewish identity since Moses came down from Mount Sinai, and it seems like a positive step. The Diaspora scattered us across the globe, and its effects keep us disunited today. Most of my coreligionists in the greater Boston area of Massachusetts are fellow Ashkenazim and not Sephardim or Mizrahis. When I think Jewish cuisine, I imagine bagels, lox and latkes instead of a Mediterranean meze. There are differences in how the different strands of my people celebrate holidays, but I couldn’t tell you what those differences are.
That said, Jewish organizations in Greater Boston have taken laudable measures to welcome Jews from other countries into the community. Several years ago, an Ethiopian Jew working in the Boston area spoke about her heritage at the Vilna Shul. The Boston Jewish community has also come together to mark the anniversary of the tragic bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires, Argentina. These steps are heartening, for belonging to a people implies a sense of collective care, and we can’t care about each other if we don’t know about each other: who we are, where we live, how we worship. (Argentina was No. 7 on the list of countries with the largest Jewish populations in a 2006 study.) More steps in this direction would certainly be welcome.
What is troubling, though, about Sharansky’s idea of peoplehood is that it “is not predicated on having any kind of religious or spiritual identity,” the Forward reports. One possibility for this is rooted in Sharansky’s own experiences in Israel. In “Israel at Sixty: An Oral History of a Nation Reborn,” he said:

(There) are so many groups that belong to different worlds that religion becomes not something that unites us with the generations before and with our future, but a political tool that divides people, a lack of tolerance among different groups…

Yet it seems that if Sharansky encourages Jews worldwide to think of ourselves as one people across many cultures, he can similarly encourage us to think of ourselves as one people across many religious wavelengths. No matter where we are today, our ancestors were there in some form when Moses recited the Ten Commandments. (Whether they heeded them or not is another story.)
Overall, though, Sharansky’s idea deserves praise. The Diaspora may have scattered us, but appreciating our cultural diversity can bring us back together.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Bay State H20 Hijinx

H20 Cartoon, originally uploaded by rbtenorio.

What caused Saturday's water main break in the greater Boston area? Faulty construction? A minor earthquake? Maybe Gov. Deval Patrick should investigate another possible cause ... one from down below ... Read more in the latest episode of "The Devil Made Me Blog It"!