You all (or rather, most of you, even if you're not Jewish) have at least heard of Kol Nidre, the ancient Jewish prayer and rite that, in synagogues worldwide, ushers in Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), the holiest and most solemn day in the Jewish calendar which this year begins at sundown this coming Tuesday (22 September), and have heard as well its ancient, haunting, plaintive melody which has moved several classical composers, none of them Jews, to set it for various instruments or instrumental ensembles, right?
Would you be surprised to learn Kol Nidre is no prayer at all but a legalistic formula for the annulment of certain types of vows (Kol Nidre translates as "All Vows")?
There's much that's surprising, even mysterious, about this ancient formula and its melody, a melody that survived for centuries via person-to-person sung transmission, and you can read all about Kol Nidre in this superb, scholarly but lucidly written 1968 article by Rabbi Herman Hayyim Kieval (1920-1991) for the excellent and venerable magazine Commentary.
And let us take this opportunity to wish our Jewish readers Gmar Chatimah Tova, for you and all your loved ones.
Khaled Meshal, the political leader of Hamas, gave a defiant speech on Saturday, vowing to build an Islamic Palestinian state on all the land of Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Speaking [in Gaza] before tens of thousands of supporters on the 25th anniversary of the founding of Hamas, Mr. Meshal said the Jewish state would be wiped away through “resistance,” or military action. “The state will come from resistance, not negotiation,” he said. “Liberation first, then statehood.”
His voice rising to a shout, Mr. Meshal said: “Palestine is ours from the river to the sea and from the south to the north. There will be no concession on any inch of the land.” He vowed that all Palestinian refugees and their descendants would one day return to their original homes in what is now Israel.
“We will never recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation, and therefore there is no legitimacy for Israel, no matter how long it will take,” he said. “We will free Jerusalem inch by inch, stone by stone. Israel has no right to be in Jerusalem.”
We're aware this entry belongs more properly on S&F's Rants & Screeds adjunct blog but time is too short and the matter too important to not have it appear here on S&F's Main Page due the appalling and as recently as a few weeks ago utterly unexpected dead-heat dash to the finish line of the contest between the President and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney for the office of President of The United States. What's desperately needed now is an Obama champion to travel the closing circuit along with Mr. Obama; one who's even more persuasive, compelling, and electrifying than the justly vaunted Bill Clinton. We speak, of course, of that stellar, beloved, and legendary former president Josiah ("Jed") Bartlet (who bears a remarkable resemblance to that dashingly handsome and superbly skilled actor Martin Sheen) whose considerable gifts should be employed for the purpose of galvanizing the country on Mr. Obama's behalf, President Bartlet's speeches written, it should go without saying, by none other than the brilliant Aaron Sorkin.
Obama campaign managers take urgent note. The clock is ticking and time is fast running out.
The RNC was (is) embarrassed by it, Mitt Romney's staff flummoxed, and the pundit class mostly negatively critical. From all accounts the speech was largely extemporaneous (no teleprompter and sans notes) and, in our view, on-message humorous: the lone oasis in a vast desert of (boring and predictable) bullshit shot-through with outright lies.
Judge for yourselves.
The following is apropos of nothing whatsoever, on- or off-message, but is so beautifully astonishing we couldn't resist posting it. Her name is Boyanka Angelova, a Bulgarian gymnast, and at the time of this performance was fourteen years of age.
[NOTE: This entry has been updated (1) as of 1:37 AM Eastern on 31 Aug. See below.]
We've been watching the satellite view of Irene's progress on and off all day today. It's an almost unprecedented East Coast hurricane in terms of its size and extent which is simply mammoth. We're aware of just how deadly a storm like this can be even at its present relatively mild (relatively mild as hurricanes go, that is) Category 2 wind speed (100mph), and just how much property and infrastructure damage it's capable of causing at landfall, but all we can think about as we watch it via the satellite image is how magnificently majestic it appears as it makes its slow, resolute, wheeling way up the coastline. We of course will curse it when it takes out our power and we lose our most essential appliance, our air conditioner, for what is certain to be days rather than hours, but right now and at this remove we feel nothing but privileged to be eyewitness to one of Nature's most awesome phenomena.
Update (1:37 AM Eastern on 31 Aug): Just in case you were wondering, Irene passed us by with nothing more untoward than a few hours of fairly heavy rainfall and wind which did zero damage locally that we're aware of and, mercifully and miraculously, no interruption of our power. And we're but a scant ten miles west of the New Jersey coastline.
It wasn't something gone very wrong with our perception of reality when we felt our entire apartment building shake and sway for some ten seconds or so this afternoon accompanied by a horrible noise. It was an actual magnitude 5.9 earthquake, never mind that this is the East Coast and we don't have no steenkin earthquakes here. This was our first experience of an earthquake of a any magnitude and it was scary as hell. Not nearly as scary, however, as the thought that it might have been just a figment of our altered sense of reality.
A relief — sort of.
[NOTE: This entry has been updated (1) as of 1:16 PM Eastern on 5 Jul. See below.]
Here is Glenn Gould playing the Sarabande from Bach's French Suite No. 1. We post it here simply because it's beautiful and as an excuse to display our new MP3 player, an adaptation of an elegant WordPress plug-in designed by Martin Laine.
Update (1:16 PM Eastern on 5 Jul): If you thought you saw a green stripe crawling from left to right across our new MP3 player when you opened it earlier you weren't hallucinating. We were experimenting with colors for what's called the "tracker" and at one point tried green with the thought that perhaps a splash of color might add a nice touch to our otherwise grayscale color scheme but decided ultimately that all it managed to do was tart-up the player's elegant design and so abandoned the idea and re-coded our player template — then promptly forgot to re-code the player actually embedded in our above entry(!).
It seems that our Senior Moments are becoming more frequent with each passing month.
Advice to the young: never get old. It sucks.
We don't know Christopher Hitchens nor have we ever exchanged a word with him nor even so much as read any of his several books. We have, however, a long acquaintance with his appearances on various talk shows and panels and with his writings in various periodicals all of which served to make us value the man whether we agreed with his positions or not, and feel a kind of real affection for him due his always virtuoso performance in both speech and print. Just how deep that affection went we didn't realize until we learned of his being stricken with esophageal cancer and received the news as if it had been news about one of our most bosom buddies. Thoroughly irrational, we know, but there it is. At least, we consoled ourself, he can still write and speak so the terribleness of this killer disease is thereby to that extent mitigated both for Hitchens and for admirers such as we. Then, today, we read this by Hitchens in Vanity Fair:
On a much-too-regular basis, the disease serves me up with a teasing special of the day, or a flavor of the month. It might be random sores and ulcers, on the tongue or in the mouth. Or why not a touch of peripheral neuropathy, involving numb and chilly feet? [...] On the less good days, I feel like that wooden-legged piglet belonging to a sadistically sentimental family that could bear to eat him only a chunk at a time. Except that cancer isn’t so...considerate.
Most despond-inducing and alarming of all, so far, was the moment when my voice suddenly rose to a childish (or perhaps piglet-like) piping squeak. It then began to register all over the place, from a gruff and husky whisper to a papery, plaintive bleat. And at times it threatened, and now threatens daily, to disappear altogether. I had just returned from giving a couple of speeches in California, where with the help of morphine and adrenaline I could still successfully “project” my utterances, when I made an attempt to hail a taxi outside my home — and nothing happened. I stood, frozen, like a silly cat that had abruptly lost its meow.
Again thoroughly irrationally, and this time almost embarrassingly, we were thunderstruck and could not keep from hearing, over and over again in our innermost ear, the musical excerpt we quoted in our last entry;viz.,
We can think of nothing consoling to say at this point, either to Mr. Hitchens or to ourself. Would that we believed God and miracles possible.
Before last week, we never so much as heard the name of that curious, um, instrument so beloved of soccer fans (which name we won't repeat here for reasons that will become immediately apparent). When we searched it out on Google and then on YouTube and heard the sound it made, it reminded us instantly of another instrument of more ancient vintage which is pitched a couple octaves lower, and so was born our whimsical post titled simply the one-word name of that curious instrument so beloved of soccer fans.
S&F has been virtually inundated with hits on that post to the extent that the rotating, first-in-first-out, 500-entry-limit database of our stats provider is all but filled with entries listing visitors to that single S&F page, leaving no room for anything else. Turns out, if one enters the name of that curious instrument so beloved of soccer fans into Google's search box, S&F comes up as the third entry in the listing on Google's first page (excluding ads, and grouped entries for news and YouTube videos) right after entries for Wikipedia and a site devoted exclusively to that curious instrument so beloved of soccer fans.
We'll never do anything that stupid again.
Although no fan of the products of Apple Computer (we, for instance, wouldn't even so much as consider switching from a Windows machine to a Mac or MacBook laptop even were they given to us gratis), we readily confess to hugely admiring the design of most of Apple's products; design so compellingly beautiful aesthetically that, for instance, even though we have no imaginable use whatsoever for Apple's iPhone, we can but barely succeed in triumphing over our thoroughly irrational impulse to go out and buy one. The iPad, however, as beautiful aesthetically as it is, is an altogether different story. New York Times technology columnist David Pogue ends his review of the iPad with the following question:
The bottom line is that the iPad has been designed and built by a bunch of perfectionists. If you like the concept, you’ll love the machine.
The only question is: Do you like the concept?
To which our response is: What concept? From what we can see, the iPad is nothing more or other than a monster-sized iPhone display on which one can select and run "apps" just like on the iPhone. The notion that the iPad could in any way replace a full-featured laptop computer or even act as a stand-in is simply prima facie absurd. The iPad has, of course, all that sexy touchscreen stuff going for it, but, for us, far from being sexy, touchscreens are a huge turnoff. We hate touchscreens. They seem to us almost perverse. We, for instance, could have had the display of our new Dell laptop be a fully functioning touchscreen and didn't even consider the option, inexpensive though it is. The last thing one should do with a computer display is touch it with one's fingertips (or anything else, for that matter). The proper function of a computer display is to do one thing and one thing only: display text and images with the utmost in detail, accuracy, and clarity. Period. Full stop. For us, the thought of touching a computer display with one's fingertips is as repugnant a thought as, say, the thought of a surgeon operating on a patient without first donning sterile surgical gloves.
So, what's the point of an iPad? No point at all that we can discern other than to be a slick new toy for those with too much disposable income on hand (the entry price of the bloody thing is on the order of some $500, for which money one could buy a fairly decent, full-function Windows laptop), or for those who are Apple devotees or cultists (which latter abound for reasons which elude us entirely).
Will the iPad turn out to be a commercial success? If one subscribes, as we do, to Mencken's (in)famous, barbed, but spot-on dictum that no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public, and broaden its reach to publics beyond America, it almost surely will.
Score another victory for the aesthetic brilliance of Apple's designers, the genius of mass marketing, and the stupidity gullibility of the American public and publics beyond.