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Thursday, July 27, 2006

And So It Begins...

The Nine Days have started. No meat. More yummy fish. Last night:

PT: What are you making?

Mrs B: Salmon.

PT: Mmmm...are you gonna fry it?

Mrs B: I thought I'd put some spices on and cook it in the microwave.

PT: How 'bout frying it?

Mrs B: Nah, it'll make the house smoky and stinky.

PT: Yeah, but how 'bout frying it?

Mrs B: I could bake it if you want.

PT: How 'bout frying it?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Top Ten Tag Ting

Tzipster, my neice, is trapped at Boy Scout Camp (you'll have to ask her why, as a girl, she is trapped at Boy Scout Camp), and apparently has nothing to do all day, so she's been blogging up a storm and has tagged me to blog about a Top Ten anything list.

This is, of course, an excuse to proclaim myself the King of Relative Bloggers, meaning I believe that I have the most Bloggers who are directly related to me by first or second degree. I'm not saying that I inspired all these people to start blogging, but....actually I am saying that.

So without further ado, the Top Ten List of Bloggers Who are Related to Me:

10. Tzipster (The daughter of the sister of my wife)

9. Laya (The sister of my wife)

8. Glazerbeam (The father of the sister of my wife)

7. Eli (The son of the sister of the mother of my wife)

6. Frozen Custard Butter Burgers (aka Major Moron, aka Larry, the son of me)

5. One Half of 30 (aka 30Cal, aka Moe, the other son of me)

4. More Tales of Crime and Treason on the High Seas (aka Fudge, the daughter of me)

3. Our Kids Speak (Ok this is technically me, but the wife and daughter are members too)

2. Rose's Story (the mother of me, although I am the official scribe)

And finally

1. Mrs. Balabusta (the wife of me)

Oops, out of numbers

-1. Camp Mommy (the wife's other blog)

Whew! Is that everyone? Have I left anyone out??

Hey!! If you're related to me and you need to be on this list, leave a comment!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Book Review: Matches



Many moons ago, Alan Kaufman sent me a copy of his book, Matches, to review. This despite my warning that I am neither a literary critic nor a fast reader. So here we are more than half a year later, and I’m ready to cautiously recommend the book. To quote one of my favorite rabbis, it’s not for everyone.

I had a hard time getting through this book. This is not a reflection on Mr. Kaufman’s writing style. The novel, based very closely on Kaufman’s own experience - as an idealistic Zionist American serving in the Israeli Defense Force in Gaza during the late ‘80s, and then again during Intifada II - reads much like a Mickey Spillane novelization of Apocalypse Now. Its prose is colorful, at times over the top, as befits a pulp fiction account of ordinary people in extraordinarily bizarre and difficult conditions, and Kaufman’s roots in poetry are clearly evident. (Excerpt)

Still, it took me more time to get through the book than even I had anticipated. And I think it’s because I didn’t like what it was saying to me. The comparison to Apocalypse Now is apt. Just as that movie took what we thought about American soldiers during the Vietnam War and turned it upside down, so too does this book do for the IDF. Throughout its 245 pages, the author takes one preconception after another and peels it away like an overzealous tourist peeling an artichoke, until all that is left is the exposed pulpy heart. And I found that it made me quite uncomfortable. But I suspect that was the desired effect.

I prefer to think that the IDF is different than any other army in the history of the world. Israeli soldiers are the most moral, the most caring, the most efficient, and the most just of the world’s fighting men. And while I think Kaufman seems to imply that that may still be the case, one cannot come away from this book without the feeling that maybe the margin of superiority is just not that wide.

Kaufman seems to blame this internal sickness present in the IDF on more than 50 years of constant warfare, highlighted by the disastrous effects of enforcing an occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, which has turned young idealistic Jewish boys defending their homes into policemen, constantly going where they are not wanted and under continuous threat of death and dismemberment.

Protagonist Nathan Falk, the American who joins the IDF, puts his finger on the problem in a discussion with a squadmate:

"You and I are soldiers. We are not policemen. We are soldiers. No matter what they say about us in the world, we are not cops. We are not John Waynes. We are soldiers. Do you hear me? We are soldiers.”

This statement may be the source of the sickening malaise which takes hold of the soldiers in Falk’s platoon. Deep down, they all started as Nice Jewish Boys. But exposure to constant death, torture, killing, and world-wide condemnation has turned them into something else, something that they despise. Has service in the territories made them not so different from their enemies? When you dehumanize others, do you end up dehumanizing yourself as well?

Kaufman seeks to be balanced in this book, and he portrays the Arab side at times, or at least his perception of it, and his conclusion that there will be no good resolution to this conflict. In an imaginary conversation with a Palestinian boy, Falk asks:

“Do all you people hate us?

"His face hardened into reflection. A long minute passed. He looked up and said: Many hate you—most—but some, a very few, don’t. Not because they think you should live but because it is not easy to hate. Some don’t have any strength for this. They just want to have a good life. But if they could I’m sure they would hate you too. There is no forgiveness for what has been or what is or even for what is to come. But you know what…? It is not a matter of hating but something much deeper that I have no words for. There is no word for it. My people will fight yours for as long as there is memory. This is our pride. And there is no way out of this but by your own door, because my people will not leave.”

Now, Kaufman is not some kind of Post-Zionist revisionist who thinks, like Richard Cohen, that Israel is a “mistake” and that as a result it can’t possibly survive. Rather, I think he wants to make clear to us what the Israelis (and in particular, their soldiers) are facing, and no matter how much we want to project our own internal logic onto the situation, the enemy feels very differently.

He spares no sympathy for the media either, whom he rightly takes to task for distorting and inflaming the situation. A general recalls a conversation with a fictional American editorial writer:

“What is the army? I asked him: nothing! Who am I? I asked: nothing! But you, you and Claybone from the Washington Post and Tessman from NBC and of course, the great almighty Poppel, yes, even Poppel himself, are the true miracle workers. You take the molehill and make it into the mountain. You make the wolf the lamb, the lamb the wolf, and Little Red Riding Hood into a venereal slut. I don’t know how you do this! But it fills me with such wonder. What a power to have, to completely rearrange the face of reality into your own ideas of things: why, into something that does not resemble itself even a little! Journalists make China into Canada, the Pacific into the Baltic, Russians into leprechauns! Two hundred million Arabs attempting to crush and annihilate five million Jews, and guess who comes out the bully and the bad guy? That’s two hundred Arabs for every Jew. Imagine: one Jew faces two hundred Arabs and the Times reports that we commit massacres, oppress people, and I don’t know what else. The Arab landmass is six hundred times that of Israel, but we are the land-grabbing, greedy conquerors. Journalists!”

It is notable that these exerpts come from the last half of the book. There's a reason that it took me so long to get through this thing. Halfway through, I stopped reading it. I couldn't bear what he was doing to my beloved IDF. It seemed to me that he was dragging it through the dirt, and then every few feet, stopping to jump up and down on it. The generals gave idiotic commands, the missions had no point, and the soldiers were a jaded, nasty, unsympathetic lot. Worst of all was what had become of Falk, who had come to Israel to help protect his fellow Jews, and found not spiritual enlightenment and renewed national pride, but intense self-loathing which had transformed him from gentle poet to cold-blooded killer, boozer, and adulterer. I didn't know where Kaufman was going with this, and I was afraid to find out.

---

And then the current conflict with Lebanon arose, and suddenly Israel is in a war on two fronts. No, three. There is Gaza, there is Lebanon, and there is the World Media. And suddenly again, Jewish Boys, thrust into the roles of soldier and protector, are being compared to Nazis, and moral equivalence rears its ugly head again, saying that the Jewish Army which bends over backwards to route out terrorists while sparing civilian casualties is no better than the terrorists themselves, who go out of their way to target the innocent.

So I went back to Matches, and I picked it up again. I thought, if ever we needed a book to explain to the world what it is to be a Jewish Soldier, now was the time. And interestingly, I did find a more positive turn as the book approached its conclusion, almost as if Kaufman had second thoughts. Maybe even he couldn't bear all the negativity. Or maybe this was where he was going all along, and I was just too much of a spoiled American to endure the whole ride. Whatever the case, the book does leave one feeling that, although soldiers in the IDF must sometimes do terrible things, they do them because they must, because failure to do those things has real implications on their country and their loved ones, but they never forget the toll it takes on their humanity.


So I do recommend the book. It is powerfully written, and it will teach you things about the IDF that you never wanted to know. But as the rabbi says, it's not for everyone. There is profanity aplenty, and there is graphic sex. And conspicously MIA in this book about the Jewish Army is Judaism itself. Absent are any scenes of religious soldiers donning tallis and tfillin on the battlefield, scenes which have been heart-warming and encouraging to me and many of us in the Diaspora throughout Israel's many conflicts. Perhaps this is the piece of the puzzle that Kaufman is missing. He sees no end to this conflict, because he can't really define the Jew's claim on the land itself, other than the Holocaust and two millenia of anti-Semitism and the social justice of the world that it is right for the Jews to have a homeland.

But the world is not just, and it has proven time and again that it cares little for the plight of the Jews. It is more than these things that tie the Jews to the land of Israel. It is Judaism itself. And I think that is what his soldiers need to win this war.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Israel Solidarity Rallies



Click the image below for a comprehensive list of Rallies supporting Israel in her current attempts to rid her northern border from the constant assault by Hezbollah terrorists. Israel is doing what no one else has the guts to do. I very much like the cancer analogy used by the Israeli UN Ambassador regarding the ridiculousness of calls by the UN and other world leaders for a premature ceasefire:

"When you operate on a cancerous growth you do not stop in the middle, sew the patient up and tell him keep living with that growth until it kills you," Israel's U.N. Ambassador Dan Gillerman said. "You make sure it is totally removed."

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Our Kids Make us Laugh

I just want to remind everyone that during this time of War we should take a few moments to realize what this is all about. Keeping the world safe for the next generation. It is our children, with their wide-eyed innocence, that bring happiness and light into this world.

So let's take a break from the constant news coverage and laugh at all the goofy things that they say.

Cell Phone Pictures




























Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Everything Is Illuminated



Wow.

I love this movie. Based on the book by Jonathan Safran Foer (which I did not read), and starring Elijah Wood, this film about an odd Jewish man who travels to the Ukraine to find the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis is cross between Napoleon Dynamite and Fiddler on the Roof. Minus the shmaltzy music. Unless you think Gypsy Punk is shmaltzy.

If you like quirky films that are a little left of the beaten path, give it a try.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Psalm 83

A Song, a Psalm of Asaph.

O God, keep not Thou silence; hold not Thy peace, and be not still, O God.

For, lo, Thine enemies are in an uproar; and they that hate Thee have lifted up the head.

They hold crafty converse against Thy people, and take counsel against Thy treasured ones.

They have said: 'Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation; that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance.'

For they have consulted together with one consent; against Thee do they make a covenant;

The tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites; Moab, and the Hagrites;

Gebal, and Ammon, and Amalek; Philistia with the inhabitants of Tyre;

Assyria also is joined with them; they have been an arm to the children of Lot. Selah.

Do Thou unto them as unto Midian; as to Sisera, as to Jabin, at the brook Kishon;

Who were destroyed at En-dor; they became as dung for the earth.

Make their nobles like Oreb and Zeeb, and like Zebah and Zalmunna all their princes;

Who said: 'Let us take to ourselves in possession the habitations of God.'

O my God, make them like the whirling dust; as stubble before the wind.

As the fire that burneth the forest, and as the flame that setteth the mountains ablaze;

So pursue them with Thy tempest, and affright them with Thy storm.

Fill their faces with shame; that they may seek Thy name, O LORD.

Let them be ashamed and affrighted for ever; yea, let them be abashed and perish;

That they may know that it is Thou alone whose name is the LORD, the Most High over all the earth.

Live-blogging the War in Israel



Why is this war different from all other wars? Because the J-Bloggers are on the scene and bypassing the biased mainstream media to tell us what's really going on.

Check in at JBlogosphere for up-to-the minute news.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Stay Off the Roads!

Yesterday marked a momentous occasion:

I received a call from Fudge and Moe. They had successfully borrowed my car and driven themselves to the book store and made it there without any fatalities.

However, anyone who remembers my experience teaching Fudge to drive last year will know to exercise caution whenever she is out and about.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

More Shows

If you still want to see the band perform live this Summer, you have two more opportunities:

August 13, 3pm - Club Timbuktu

August 23, 7:30pm - St. Joseph's Concerts in the Park

Both shows are in Milwaukee, but worth the pilgrimage.

Details here.

Moshe B. Goode

During the '70s, it seemed like every serious Rock band did their own cover version of "Johnny B. Goode." That Chuck Berry song was the quintessential I-IV-V Rock song. For many of those artists, it all started with Chuck Berry. Heck, even Shlock Rock covered "Johnny B. Goode."

For Jewish Rockers, though, there is only one seminal I-IV-V song--Moshe Shur's "Hafachta." Now, I'm not talking about the watered-down acoustic version that appeared on The Diaspora Yeshiva Band's first album. I'm talking about the Lynyrd Skynyrd Southern Rock version on the Live from King David's Tomb album. That's the one that started it all. You may be able to argue that there were a few Jewish Rock tunes out there before this, and you may be right. But none of them went on to such mainstream popularity with the traditional Jewish Music world, and none of them inspired legions of frustrated Jewish Jimmy Pages to finally start playing Jewish Music.

Because for years, that was all there was. There was Polka, there was Disco, there was Chazzanus, there was Eastern European folk music, and there was Hafachta. I remember joining my first band (Tohu Vavohu--don't laugh), and having quite the dilemma. You see, I really wanted to be playing Zeppelin, and The Kinks, and Squeeze, but I knew that joining a band to do that meant playing in bars on Friday nights. But listening to what was out there in the Jewish world was quite frankly, depressing.

Then my guitarist's father took out the Live from King David's Tomb album and cued up "Hafachta." I couldn't believe my ears. There was a wailing guitar solo. And an amazing bassline. And a back-beat! It had a backbeat (you couldn't lose it)! And it was in English!!! We immediately added it to our repertoire. There was no going back from there.

Over the years, I have played that song in virtually every Jewish band I've been in. Tohu Vavohu (1985), Kesher (1985), Kabbalah (1987), and now, The Moshe Skier Band:

Monday, July 10, 2006

Original Tunes

I wrote dozens of songs during the '80s. I wrote very few during the '90s. The main reason for this is that I left my band, Kabbalah, behind when I left New York. Without a regular group of players, I lost the motivation to write. I did write a few interesting solo tunes during this time, but I've always found more inspiration in collaboration. To me, it's always been about taking different players with different influences and interests, and fusing them together to create a new sound. I love seeing what my players will come up with.

After I've played with a bunch of guys for a while, I start to anticipate what they will do, and it becomes easier to write for them. And so it was that by 2000 or 2001 I had gotten comfortable enough with the guys (and gal) in the Moshe Skier Band that I began to get the urge to write for them.

Shoshanas Yaakov was my first new song in several years. I wanted something to play at an upcoming Purim Chagiga at the Yeshiva. Believe it or not, I originally wrote this for the acoustic guitar (and it still sounds good that way). Once I gave it to the band though, it took on completely different overtones. It has a distinct Rush influence, courtesy of our former drummer, and you may hear bits of Clapton or Ringo Starr in there as well. If you dig down into the radio.blog on the sidebar, you can hear the original version, with keyboards and violin.


Around that same time, I also wrote Hashkivenu. The drummer and I shared a deep appreciation of The Eagles ("Wait for the roto-tom solo!") and I wanted to write something in that style. I wanted to invoke "Peaceful Easy Feeling," and I think the original version (again, with a violin solo) did a nice job of this. But the drummer left the band, as did the violinist, and for some reason, the song just wasn't working for me anymore.

Then I started doing more acoustic guitar work and decided to try playing it on guitar instead of bass, tightened up the tempo a bit, and suddenly it became one of my favorite songs. Also, having the different instrumentation adds a little variety to the show. The only problem is that I do miss the bassline. I think Mendel does a great job playing the violin part that I wrote.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

"...former Shlock Rock member..."

I can still remember vividly the first time I saw the words "Shlock Rock." I was in Lenny Solomon's JPSY (Jewish Public School Youth) office and he showed me a cassette labeled "Shlock Rock". He had apparently recorded a parody of Van Halen's "Jump" called "Bench" in a "Record Your Own Song" booth at Great Adventure with Tzvi Pill. I thought it was a big joke.

A few months later, he came up to me at a concert we were doing at Yeshiva University (ironically with Kabbalah, Piamenta, and Kesher) and asked if I'd be interested in going into the recording studio with him to play bass on an album of these song parodies. I always jumped at any opportunity to do studio work, so I said yes.

Soon thereafter, we were spending Midnight to 4am in a 39th Street recording studio where they had a picture of Chuck Berry hanging over the toilet and my roommate "Edgardo" and I were doing old man voices and we drank "Shlock Champagne (Hawaiin Punch)." Good times, good times.

Anyway, I don't think either of us had a clue that it would get as popular as it did.

So over the years I've been introduced as "former Shlock Rock member" Moshe Skier, but it's not fair to describe me that way since I still play with Lenny at least once a year. Every time I try to get out, he keeps pulling me back in! OK, bad Pacino reference there.

So here are a few of the Shlock Rock tunes that we cover, just because they are great songs and people always love them:

Jonah and the Whale



Amen

Friday, July 07, 2006

That Piamenta Song

In 2004, The Moshe Skier Band did a show at a club in Chicago with Piamenta, sponsored by KFAR Jewish Arts Center. We played well, but Yosi's act really blew us away. Mendel (my guitarist) and I were totally impressed with their over-the-top prog-rock medley "Od Yishama/Baruch Atah." I think it was the first time Mendel really heard something that made him think that Jewish Music could be interesting to play and listen to (instead of what you were left with because goyish music was inappropriate).

So of course, we figured, we had to play that song. It is wild.

As an aside, stumbling across that review by Velvel was what turned me on to the world of J-Blogging. So I guess you have Piamenta to thank for Psychotoddler.



BTW I keep forgetting to mention that all the video (including "The Rider" was shot by my daughter, Perel (AKA Fudge)).

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Kabbalah Live(s)!

Here are two songs from yesterday's Summerfest show. These are covers of two songs I wrote for my old band, Kabbalah. Enjoy!

Adon Olam


Shiru Lo

Monday, July 03, 2006

The EAA Museum

As a kid growing up in New York, I recall that when people wanted to refer to a place that was so far out that nobody had ever heard of it, they would call it Oshkosh. As in, "yeah, keep going down that road until you hit Oshkosh." I had always thought it was an imaginary place, like Yehupitz.

Well, it turns out Oshkosh is indeed a real place, and home to one of the coolest Museums in the world. Oshkosh, Wisconsin is the home of the EAA, the Experimental Aircraft Association, and its museum, the Airventure Museum. We've been members of the museum ever since our kids got tired of dinosaurs, and we try to make it out there at least once a year.

Every year, the EAA hosts Airventure, in which hundreds of planes fly in from around the world. We don't go that week. It's too crowded and too expensive for us. We usually go out a week before or after and wander around the museum and soak in the coolness. So here are some pictures from this weekend. For more of the PT "Airventure", check out Camp Mommy.

First of all, you need to understand one thing: This is a serious museum. This isn't some little hick place out in the middle of Yehupitz. When they say "No Smoking, Food, Gum," they mean it!

Get with the program!

Anyway, once you spit out your gum, you enter the lobby and look up and see not one, not two, but three full-sized aircraft suspended above your head. Good thing Wisconsin isn't in an earthquake zone. There's a nice little gift shop with shirts and models and books and videos, or you can pay admission (very affordable by big-city standards) and go into the main hall.

Before we got too far in, we did notice signs for an exhibit on Spaceship One. Spaceship One is the privately built craft that won the Ansari X prize for flying 100 km above the Earth twice in a two-week period in 2004, and was a guest fly-in to Oshkosh last year. Unfortunately, the exhibit was not yet completed, but the work area was easily accessible and we were able to get a nice view of the mock-up under construction.

The work area is off of the main hall, which features a variety of different private and experimental planes, as well as historic craft like The Spirit of St. Louis. The main hall is fun to wander around in. It even has one of those vomit machines flight simulators (but you have to pay extra for that).



The area is also pretty nice for kids, as there seems to be an airplane for every sized person.

From here we decided to go upstairs, where they actually did have an exhibit (and a film) about dinosaurs, but I mean, that's like, sooo 1993, so we didn't spend much time trying to figure out why it was there. We instead moved to the kids' area, which was unbelievably amazing.


The first thing we saw was an almost full-sized mock-up of an F-22 Raptor. Oh, don't know what that is? Time to start playing more videogames, suXXorz, because it's only the most awesomest stealth fighter ever to come out of Lockheed-Martin. I've been, like, flying Raptors since 1995. They handle sooo much better than F-15s.

Anyway.

You can walk around to the front of the plane and climb up the access stairs and sit in the cockpit. Now, it is a little smaller than the real thing, so it is for kids only. No, you won't see a picture of me sitting in it; the cockpit is clearly labeled "Kids Only." I vehemently deny the existence of any such image, and should it be discovered at any later date, I'd have to say that it could only have been produced using the most sophisticated computer magic available.













Notice how none of the boys are sitting in the cockpit.


Anyways...

From there we went into an area that's specially set up for kids and schools and contains numerous interactive displays on physics, thrust, airplane and helicopter controls, etc.

The museum directors apparently understand something very important about kids today, and that is that given a choice of almost any imaginable activity, kids would much rather be playing videogames. It's true; there's no use in denying it. Most kids would rather stick themselves in front of a computer or a TV all day than go swimming, horseback riding, hang-gliding, ballooning, etc. So the directors, in their wisdom, set up a whole bank of computers with big screens, force-feedback joysticks, cockpits, and Microsoft Flight Simulators. They also set up computerized simulations of, you guessed it, hang-gliding and ballooning, with enormous panoramic surround-screens and mock-up contollers. You have to pull a rope to let air out of the balloon, or move your body in the suspended seat to steer the glider. Awesome!

Here is a little video of Fudge attempting to use one of the remote controlled robot arms.




After dragging our kids out of this area, we went to look at the military planes in the Eagle Hanger.

There are many historic WWII planes here, including P-51s, a Spitfire, a P-38, and some bombers.

On the upper deck, there is a briefing room where you can watch a video about the war and read some interesting period-specific signs:












The lower level has most of the airplane collection, including a display on Naval Aviation with very cool models and dioramas.












I don't care what anyone says, but to me this looks like the middle part of a TIE fighter.








All in all, it was a fun afternoon and highly recommended for anyone who has kids, or was once a kid.