Monday, August 31, 2009

Cook County's finest vs. my Cobra

I had wanted one for years. After Thanksgiving 2007, I saw one on sale--unbelievably, less than $50. So I splurged and bought my first radar detector.

I don't like leaving it connected in the car because I think it invites theft. I know at least one person who has had her car broken into numerous times, and she doesn't have any accessories like a radar detector or GPS. So I only set it up when I'm taking a long drive. Sunday was one of those times. I took I-294 to I-90 northwest to Randall Road, down to North Avenue in St. Charles--a distance of about 50 miles.

On expressways, tollways and freeways, Americans typically have two choices: exceed the speed limit or get run over. While most speeding tickets are for 9+ mph over the limit, the traffic court judge issues the standard warning at the beginning of her court call: one mile over the limit is still illegal. So if a police car wants to ticket a motorist, he almost always can. I saw on YouTube a boast by a police officer that he can identify a traffic violation by any driver after following him for just four blocks. My point is: I don't use the Cobra specifically so I can break the law without being punished. It really doesn't work that way. If a police officer who is not using radar sees me speeding, he can probably paint me with his gun before I have a chance to slow down. I use it to fight back against cops lying in wait for unsuspecting motorists who are truly following the flow of traffic. The resultant ticket is "arbitrary and capricious"* if everyone is going 75mph. McCormick Boulevard, at Albion: on a grassy knoll. Farther north, at Dempster: behind a park sign. Dempster Street, in Morton Grove: Shoe Carnival parking lot. Yesterday, on I-90 near Sears Centre: behind an old building. This trap was set up in advance with Cook County Sheriff's deputies in at least three separate squad cars, most likely using the Wisconsin Play**: one would hit motorists with his gun and radio to his colleagues, who would chase then down the speeders. Fortunately, thanks to the Cobra having a panic attack, I knew the cops were there. Others were not so fortunate.

Is lying in wait for motorists on a pedestrian-free roadway (I-90) where most drivers are safely driving approximately the same speed (until they realized the police presence, anyway) really a positive way to raise revenue for a government entity?

*The U.S. Supreme Court has deemed such punishment unconstitutional.
**Wisconsin state troopers employ the Wisconsin Play on northbound I-94 between the Illinois state line and Milwaukee, hitting mainly Illinois drivers. Speeding isn't really necessary here as the limit is 65mph.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Rosh Hashanah menu at Di Pescara

Di Pescara is an upscale Italian restaurant in Northbrook Court. It is part of the very popular Lettuce Entertain You chain of Chicago-area restaurants. These restaurants are very popular with Jews. A relative told me last night Di Pescara is offering a Rosh Hashanah menu.

To me, this is deeply offensive. Aside from the shomer yontif concerns of driving to the restaurant and paying for the meals, Di Pescara is a non-kosher restaurant that includes crab legs on the menu. (Are crab legs on the Rosh Hashanah menu? I hope not.) If the restaurant stipulated: new/cleaned equipment dedicated for this menu; all-kosher, dairy-free ingredients with kosher wine; by prepaid reservation only--that would be all right. Not strictly kosher without supervision, but at least following the spirit of traditional Jewish cuisine. But we know that will not be the case. The restaurant will welcome Jewish diners right around candle-lighting Friday night (6:35), for lunch on Saturday and dinner on Saturday night. The restaurant will offer the Rosh Hashanah menu. Round challah too?

I realize most Rosh Hashanah celebrants will not be eating a strictly kosher meal. But at least families should have the meal at home, away from the distractions of a non-kosher restaurant where it's just another Friday or Saturday night.

I saw an ad in a Jewish newspaper in 2003 for a Yom Kippur dinner (after sunset, on Kol Nidre/Yom Kippur night) for secular Jews. The ad explained, "Most Jews aren't religious. This dinner is for Jews who don't observe Yom Kippur." I was very curious about the response the advertiser received. Perhaps he didn't know that the percentage of Jews who fast on Yom Kippur is actually higher than the percentage of Jews who believe in G-d. (Hedging their bets.) And just his luck: the Chicago Cubs played the decisive Game 5 of the National League Division Series that night, beating Atlanta to advance to the National League Championship Series. So I suspect most secular Jews were too busy watching the game to attend his dinner.

I thought of that dinner when I heard about Di Pescara. I see a distinction between targeting Jews with non-kosher food; and labeling a restaurant's non-kosher food as a Rosh Hashanah menu. Remember the photo of the ham at the deli labeled "Chanukah special"? Let the Jews make their own holiday food.

Monday, August 24, 2009

District 9 (spoilers)

District 9
Tri-Star (Sony)
Opened Aug. 9

District 9 is notable for being shot almost entirely on location in Johannesburg, a first for a major motion picture release. My South African friends were surprised and impressed, and one pointed out to me how the Republic was a pariah among the nations for decades due to its apartheid system. All the actors were South African--either Afrikaners or black South Africans. Sharlto Copley stars as Wikus ven der Merwe, a friendly, low-key employee of a large, private company, MNU (Multi-National United) that operates the District 9 slum. Wikus reminded me of William H. Macy's character in Fargo because both have powerful, wealthy fathers-in-law who see their sons-in-law as weak. Wikus' physical transformation reminded me of Jeff Goldblum in The Fly.

The eviction procedure that set the plot in motion was a military-style operation, and that's why I found Wikus' poor preparation so troubling. He should have been wearing full body armor and should have left alien contact to the soldiers who accompanied him. The aliens have the strength to project a human 20 feet in the air, and they're just wearing bulletproof vests? Come on. Instead, walking around unprotected and inadvertently spraying the fluid canister is what got him into trouble. He pointed out he didn't know what the canister was except that it was alien; he should have bagged it and tagged it without trying to operate it.

Also, the door-to-door notice could have been accomplished with bilingual leaflets dropped from the air, but I suppose that is beside the point.

The movie didn't make Nigerians look very good, did it? Prostitutes and slum profiteers.

Did the movie suggest that the aliens' planet was dying when they arrived? I missed that part. A slave ship's arrival over Los Angeles in 1988's Alien Nation set the scene for the humanoid aliens in that film living among us. It was unclear whether the District 9 residents would have been permitted to leave District 9 to go home if given the chance.

I'm glad I did not see the trailer until after I saw the film because it really gave away a lot.

Speaking of mass murder....

Communism was responsible for the deaths of over 100 million innocent people in the previous century.

Vladimir Lenin. Josef Stalin. Mao Tse-Tung. Pol Pot. Heroes of Communism. All were mass murderers. The reason Pol Pot's personal death toll was "only" two million was because his small country had only seven million people. His colleagues were more successful.

These men are still celebrated as heroes in left-wing political groups. They meet at conferences on a regular basis (always in Chicago) to bash Israel and extol the virtues of their political system and their deceased leaders, who were surely misunderstood by the democracies that eventually prevailed.

I saw Joel Pollak speak at a political meeting Aug. 13. His focus was health care, but he spoke briefly about Communism. He pointed out that there is a Holocaust Museum in Washington which teaches children and adults too young to remember about the evils of Nazism. There should be a Museum of Communism, he said. I think he's right. Someone needs to remind us of the evils of a murderous political theology that specialized in arresting and murdering those who dared speak out against the dictatorship. For some reason, Jews always suffered under those dictatorships, too, and modern Communist groups continue to be terribly antisemitic. (Ask them why. They'll insist they're just anti-Israel. Right.) In a triumph of this century's moral relativism, Communism doesn't receive the widespread criticism, disdain and vitriol it deserves.

Remember who the Nazis were

Comparisons of Israelis or the President of the United States to the most horrific genocidal maniacs in human history are insulting to the memory of the victims of Nazi terror.

Posted on Wed, Aug. 19, 2009
We need a history lesson about Nazis

I hope this column makes you sick.

See, we'll be talking about Nazis, something many of us are doing lately. Indeed, just this week a fellow named Joseph e-mailed me about a caller he heard on a radio show. The man, vexed over healthcare reform, likened President Obama to Adolf Hitler. Asked why, he said, ``Hitler took over the car companies, then healthcare and then he killed the Jews.''

Said Joseph: ``I almost swerved my vehicle off the road when I heard that.''

But the caller is hardly unique. Google ``Obama + Nazis'' and you get almost seven million hits. Nor is the phenomenon new. Substitute President Bush's name and you get nearly 2.8 million.

An invasion of sorts

Even granting that many of those hits are benign, it seems obvious the Nazis have invaded American political rhetoric in a big way. As in Rush Limbaugh declaring healthcare reform ``a Hitler-like policy,'' swastikas popping up at protest rallies, a poster depicting Obama with Hitler's moustache and a pamphlet that says: ``Act Now To Stop Obama's Nazi Health Plan!

It's important to remember that the Nazis are passing out of living memory; U.S. soldiers of that era are said to be dying at the rate of 1,200 a day. Which makes it too easy, I think, for a nation of notorious historical illiteracy to remake the Nazis as some kind of all-purpose boogeymen for slandering political enemies and scoring cheap rhetorical points.

So I thought it would be good to make you sick, i.e., to spend a few minutes reminding some and teaching others what you invoke when you invoke the Nazi regime.

For the record, then: It was Nazis who shoved sand down a boy's throat until he died, who tossed candies to Jewish children as they sank to their deaths in a sand pit, who threw babies from a hospital window and competed to see how many of those ``little Jews'' could be caught on a bayonet, who injected a cement-like fluid into women's uteruses to see what would happen, who stomped a pregnant woman to death, who once snatched a woman's baby from her arms and, in the words of an eyewitness, ``tore him as one would tear a rag.''

Ideology over reason

That's who the Nazis were, ladies and gentlemen -- those obscenities plus six million more. They were the triumph of ideology over reason and even over humanity, the demonization of racial, religious and political difference, the objectification of the vulnerable other. And the authors of a mass murder that staggers imagination, still.

You would think, then, that where they are invoked to draw a parallel or make a point, it would be done with a respect for the incalculable evil the Nazis represent. You would think people would tread carefully, not because of the potential insult to a given politician (they are big boys and girls) but because to do otherwise profanes the profound and renders trivial that which ought to be held sacred by anyone who regards himself as a truly human being.

But in modern America, unfortunately, rhetoric often starts over the top and goes up from there. So fine, George W. Bush is ``a smirking chimp.'' Fine, Barack Obama is ``a Chicago thug.'' We have a Constitution, after all, and it says we can say whatever we want. It doesn't say it has to be intelligent.

Historical amnesia

And yes, you are even protected if you liken Obama or Bush to Hitler. Yet every time I hear that, it makes me cringe for what it says about our collective propensity for historical amnesia and our retarded capacity for reverence. Once upon a lifetime ago, six million people with DNA, names and faces just like you and I, were butchered with gleeful sadism and mechanistic dispatch. Six million people.

You and I may no longer respect one another, but is it asking too much that we still respect them?

© 2009 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved.

How anti-war is the anti-war movement?

I was listening to the Michael Medved Show last week when I heard Jonathan Leaf talk about his new book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Sixties. He made an interesting point: the anti-war movement wasn't really anti-war. It was anti-America-winning-a-war. I thought of that while thinking of Chicago ANSWER, the local arm of the national left-wing extremist group Act Now to Stop War and End Racism. ANSWER was very successful in organizing marches against the war in Iraq during the Bush Administration. The Chicago chapter is now jumping into the parking meter debate. How does the city's parking meter lease connect to an anti-war movement? It doesn't. I believe Chicago ANSWER is using the very unpopular parking meter lease--an easy issue to latch onto--in order to publicize its more extreme views. For example:

--ANSWER continues to blame Israel for Gaza's problems despite the fact Israel has not controlled Gaza since 2005 and has not had a presence in Gaza at all except for a brief period in 2008. This incursion was intended to stop the rocket barrage from Gaza into the Israeli town of Sderot.

--anti-war ANSWER opposes any U.S. intervention in the Darfur conflict, preferring to allow the Sudanese government to continue its massacre of innocent black Africans by Arabs. Sounds pretty racist to me.

--ANSWER supports the dictatorship of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe--a dying nation with worthless currency and a corrupt government in desperate need of reform. But ANSWER supports the dictatorship.

Let's be perfectly clear. ANSWER is not absolutely opposed to war. If Syria invaded Israel, ANSWER would gleefully support Syria's actions against "Western imperialism." If Cuba brutally suppressed a revolt, ANSWER would celebrate another victory for the Revolution. ANSWER's opposition to war depends on which side is winning.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Mr. Ricketts: Demand 55 night games at Wrigley

As the Ricketts family takes control of the Chicago Cubs, an ownership era comes to a close (1981-2009). A new one begins, and the owner has a large stack in his in-box already. Among the issues that confront him: what to do about that dump Wrigley Field.

A Sun-Times article said the new owner has a plan for a $250 million renovation for the main grandstand that would be complete in time for the renovated ballpark to host the 2012 All-Star Game. (I believe the next two are scheduled for Phoenix and Anaheim.)

My suggestion for the owner is to call a meeting with Ald. Tom Tunney (44th--the ballpark's ward) and Hizzonerdamare Richard M. Daley. As calmly as possible, Ricketts should explain to Ald. Tunney and Mayor Daley he will not put one dime into the ballpark unless the night game restrictions are lifted. There are two restrictions: the number of night games per season (30) and the days of week (Monday through Thursday only, with exceptions permitted for ESPN Sunday Night Baseball). I believe very strongly these restrictions wear the Cubs down in the heat of the summer and are actively keeping them from pursuing a world championship. I also believe very strongly a majority of Wrigley residents favor more night games. The neighbors who originally forced the restrictions on the Cubs when the Cubs installed Wrigley's lights in 1988 have had 22 seasons to make peace with night games. It's high time the Cubs' home schedule look like its rivals' home schedules.

I wouldn't object to a gradual lifting of the game limit, by five games per season. But the Friday/Saturday night ban must be lifted immediately, in time for the 2010 season. If the alderman and mayor refuse, that's fine. The Ricketts can afford to build a 21st-Century replica of Wrigley Field in the northwest suburbs. Then the mayor would need to figure out how to replace that missing geyser of tax revenue the Cubs produce: property taxes, entertainment taxes (tickets), excise taxes (beer, hard liquor), and sales taxes (tickets, concessions). There's even a parking tax when the Cubs operate their night-game parking lot at Lane Tech.

With its fantastic new scoreboard and new upper deck, Wrigley Field was state-of-the-art in 1938. Now it's an aging dump with abhorrent restrooms and substandard facilities and amenities. If the Ricketts can renovate the ballpark and make it look new, more power to them. If not, it's time to move on.

Rosh Hashanah is less than 4 wks away

This is a short piece the Lubavitcher Rebbe z"l wrote about preparing for Rosh Hashanah. Copyright 2009 The Shluchim Office of Lubavitch.

A series of five fantastic days of dazzling Creation from light to solar systems to grass and trees--yet none of those days were designated as the Head of the New Year. Why isn't Day One of Creation designated as Rosh Hashanah? Why Day Six, the day on which G-d blew the breath of life into the very soil to create Adam?

Chassidic thought explains that G-d created the universe for a purpose and equipped the universe for that purpose. And only when Man was created could the purpose of the universe begin to be realized.

We may often wonder why G-d created a universe in which we spend most of our time on rather ordinary pursuits, not spiritual treks. Life finds us stuck in traffic far more often than it finds us contemplating infinity.

But that's precisely the plan. G-d wants us in that traffic, on the go, pounding that pavement, to make it all a place where He is welcomed and not feared or shunned.

For maximum results, G-d needs partners, not well-wishers--people who put aside what they want and do what He wants. G-d pledges the same: He will move heaven and earth (literally!) for your sake.

As a new year begins, we commit ourselves to more than loyalty--we commit ourselves to partnership with G-d in His plan for the Universe. On Rosh Hashanah we make G-d's objective our personal objective, doing for Him what only we can do for Him.


I found that piece beautiful, inspiring and spiritually uplifting. Thank you, Rebbe.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Miley prances on stage; parents surprised?

Here we go again.

Parents allow their children--well, daughters--to idolize (worship?) a teen icon--in this case, Miley Cyrus. Then they are shocked, shocked, when this icon starts to look and sound like a sexy adult starlet.

Welcome to the land of fame and sex
am I gonna fit in?

Full lyrics are here. I would like to see Miss Cyrus explain to the ladies on The View how she plans to fit in to the land of fame and sex.

That couplet is from the song "Party in the U.S.A.," which Miley Cyrus sang at the Teen Choice Awards Monday night, Aug. 10. While giving shout-outs to LAX, Britney Spears and Michael Jackson, the song also mentions arriving at a club in a taxi. Cyrus is 16 years old. Um, what club would that be, Miley?

According to this story from L.A.T., parents are upset over Miley's sexy dance moves and her choice of shorts. Look, I wish she had picked a full-length skirt, too. Which decade is this? As I mentioned in a previous post, skirts and girls'/women's shorts are shorter than ever. Parents, puh-lease. You let your little girls pick role models from the Hollywood entertainment industry--a world very different from yours. Don't be surprised when these singers and actresses "go Hollywood." Here's an idea: if you must allow your daughters to watch, forewarn them: "Miley sings and dresses like that to attract attention. You and I live in the real world."

Hmmm. What if Cyrus had worn a full-length skirt--not unheard of--and minimized her dance choreography? Would it have made a difference? Maybe the buzz surrounding this story will end up helping her career and her transition to adult roles.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Send PayPal any phishing email msgs you recv

PayPal's email box for suspicious messages is Remember, never click on a link to access PayPal. Always type "" on your own. A link you see in an email message could be fraudulent.


Hello Kenneth M. S.,

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How many haredim saw The Devil Wears Prada?

How many haredim (ultra-orthodox Jews) saw the 2006 smash hit from Twentieth Century Fox, The Devil Wears Prada, starring Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway?

Supposedly, none of them. Haredim don't watch tv or go to the movies. As to whether haredim are permitted personal DVD players to watch DVD's without the additional benefit of a tv signal: consult your LOR (local orthodox rabbi). Some would say that's all right. Some would say absolutely not.

A scene from The Devil Wears Prada occurred to me when my ba'alas habayis (my hostess for last shabbos) told me about an article she read in a magazine with an all-frum (orthodox Jewish) readership. Every week, she told me, there is an article about the worldwide shidduch (matchmaking) crisis. One week, my hostess read a quote from a shadchan (matchmaker) who said she would not "red a shidduch" (suggest a match) to a single woman larger than a size 2.

Now, I don't know much about women's dress sizes. Fashion designers Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen wear a size 0, which is the smallest size. Former First Lady Barbara Bush famously wore a size 14. She was quite large. When her husband George H.W. Bush, as president-elect, said, "America is going to love Barbara Bush," I think he meant, "America hates Nancy Reagan because Nancy wears a size 2." The average woman has hips and breasts, which a size 2 barely permits.

In The Devil Wears Prada, Nigel (played superbly by Stanley Tucci) tells Andi (Hathaway) "Size 2 is the new size 4," meaning the fashion industry has even higher expectations for women to be smaller. That's fine for the fashion industry, which is truly an upside-down world. But the frum community has no business following the fashion industry's lead. My hostess told me single women are making themselves sick (implying to the point that they are missing menstrual periods) in an effort to lose weight.

This is how we wait for Moschiach, our messiah? By demanding that women starve themselves in hopes of getting married?

There are two male ideals: the boy and the man. There are two female ideals: the girl and the girl with implants.

The frum community often prides itself on marching to the beat of its own drum, without regard to current trends--skirt length included. This should apply to waist size as well. I'm not saying it's okay to be overweight--quite the contrary, as obesity is terribly unhealthy. I am saying there are limits to weight loss, and that common sense must be a part of any discussion thereof. Some women will never be a size 2. And that's okay.

I don't suffer idiots well

We've been through this before.

If you are going to eat at someone else's shabbos table, dominate conversation, annoy the other guest, demand everything be repeated, chew with your mouth open, hum while you chew and ask the hosts inappropriate least have the decency to show up on time.

Ned doesn't do that. He knocks at the door just as we are settling down to our scrumptious lunch. Besides asking our hosts how long it takes them to drive to New York and quizzing them about the Pennsylvania Turnpike, he asked me something, too. (I don't remember.) I declined to get into a major discussion with Ned, knowing doing so would only cause problems and drive me crazy.

I should be thankful I haven't seen him for quite some time. I wish my visits to this particular host were not also The Plague of the Annoying Guests. I was really going to criticize Ned sharply here, and then I remembered The Other Side of the Story. Let's look at his situation. He's divorced/widowed or NBM (never been married)--an older single with no children. He probably doesn't have much of a social life; and if he doesn't work, he doesn't have much to do. Maybe lunch at my hosts is the highlight of Ned's week. (I know a guy like that; I tried to help him. His social life doesn't extend beyond his shabbos meals.) Maybe he's hard of hearing, and that's why he needs everything repeated. Maybe he's a nice guy who just needs a friend.

So I shouldn't be judgmental. But Ned still drives me crazy.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Attacks on men in Lincoln Park continue

It happens every few months in Chicago. The typical situation: women walking alone at night are sexually assaulted in North Side neighborhoods with high concentrations of white women, such as Lakeview and Lincoln Park. Last week and yesterday, men were the target--just robbery. In Monday morning's incident, apparently the victim used a bike lock to fight off his attackers while giving up $137.

These perpetrators know they are preying on an unarmed and disarmed populace. Possession of handguns in Chicago is illegal. When the handgun ban ordinance went into effect in 1982, handgun owners were allowed to keep their weapons, avoiding an unpleasant situation of mandatory turn-in or possible door-to-door confiscations. I do not know if "grandfathered" handgun owners are permitted to replace non-working weapons. I do know Chicago Police Headquarters in Bridgeport, at 3510 S. Michigan Ave., has a "Handgun Registration" window.

The biggest proponent of the handgun ban is Hizzonerdamare Richard M. Daley, who has 24-hour armed, taxpayer-financed Chicago Police protection, as well as a taxpayer-financed Chicago Police squad car in front of his South Loop home at all times.

I sympathize with the victims and anyone who must walk alone at night in the Windy City. From my days of being Carless in Lakeview, there were a few very scary incidents. Fortunately, none resulted in violence or the loss of my wallet/cash, thank G-d. But I know I would have felt so much safer if I had been able to carry a handgun with me, on my person. (Concealed carry is illegal only in Illinois and Wisconsin. The other 48 states respect their citizens' constitutional rights.) Thanks to Chicago law, I was only permitted my wits and pepper spray. Pepper spray is ineffective on attackers under the influence of controlled substances, and many of them are, desperate for cash to fuel their addictions.

The sexual assaults are obviously more serious than robbery attacks, although one victim last week was hospitalized with a broken jaw. I keep hoping that one night, a potential victim will whip her handgun out of her purse and blow her attacker's head off. I would pay to see Mayor Daley's press conference the next morning. What could he say? Would he congratulate the heroine? Would he be furious at her for daring to defend herself in Daleyland, his imaginary crime-free metropolis? Would such an incident encourage the aldermen to consider repealing the handgun ban, against the mayor's threats to their cushy taxpayer-financed jobs?

One of my Facebook Friends posted a news story today on the attacks to warn her male friends. After I suggested someone ought to defend himself with a weapon, another Friend teased me for using the term "pack heat." A loaded phrase, perhaps--pun intended. But the situation is absurd. The city with one of America's highest murder rates has a handgun ban. Exactly how does the handgun ban reduce street violence? It doesn't. It just makes it more difficult for us to defend ourselves against the violent perpetrators who prowl the city, looking for hapless victims.