Another big up to WaPo for publishing my festive holiday meditation on mortality and memory. The (hopefully!) final installment of my confrontation, exactly one year ago, with some very real and non-negotiable limitations of body and mind—and what it taught me about life, death, and #YOLO. Also: pics! Check it out, hit me back, share, etc. Happy Hanukkah!
I’m pretty sure it’s just a muscle cramp,” I assured her, because that’s what it felt like: at the end of each breath, a tightening of the muscles in the right side of my chest. It was the holiday season, and I had spent the afternoon walking around Jerusalem with my sister, on a mission to find Hanukkah presents for my niece and nephew. By the time we returned home, my whole body was tired and sore. I knew I was overdoing it, but I didn’t care. The way things were supposed to have played out, I should have been in Day 4 of a seven-week recovery. I’d just survived multiple strokes and a heart tumor. A little overexertion, I was certain, was not going to kill me.
In the interview to approve my release, my surgeon had said there were no restrictions on my activity level, including sex, which he told us to pursue “Vis ensuziasm!” They had already kept me under observation for three days following the canceled surgery. The strand that had been hanging off my mitral valve, periodically breaking off and giving me strokes, had degraded into a smooth, non-threatening second skin on my hart. The final degradation had occurred by way of a stroke an hour before the scheduled surgery. It had been my surgeon’s game-time decision to perform another ultrasound before cracking my chest open. I’d emerged from general anesthesia with nothing more than a headache and a sore throat.
By the time the taxi dropped us off at the emergency room at 6 a.m. the next morning, I could barely breathe.
If you in some way are any kind of dissident to the United States government and the private corporations that essentially have merged with it in the intelligence and national security worlds, then you’re going to suffer serious repercussions in terms of legal prosecutions or other kinds of recriminations that are formal in nature, and it’s happened to every single person who has done that. I remember when those emails were first divulged about how they were going to try and put me in a position where I had to choose between cause and career, meaning if I continued to support Wikileaks they would try and destroy my career….What it really indicated to me was that this is how people in that world think — that if you oppose them in any meaningful way, even through constitutionally protected activities like whistleblowing or journalism — that you should be and will be punished, and the point of this is to create a climate of fear where people are intimidated out of opposing the U.S. government or working against its interests or opposing its policies, not through the ballot box, which they don’t care about, but through more aggressive action, and that I think is the lesson of Edward Snowden and Barrett Brown and Bradley Manning and Aaron Schwartz and a whole variety of other cases that we’ve seen similar to it, and the persecution of whistleblowers as well, that are all designed to bolster this point.
I have some disagreements with GG, but with his biggest story he is clearly, to me, on the right side of history. The persecution of whistleblowers and journalists is one of democracy’s grizzliest slow-motion car wrecks. The fetishization of secrecy cloaked in the mantle of security, upheld by the calculated stoking of fears — fears based on reasons which, because of, you know, secrecy and security, may never be revealed and thus can never be held accountable — is an assault on human freedom and dignity and new stage in the infantilization of the American citizenry. Young people of vision and conscience are being targeted and pursued, literally, with a vengeance—strung up in the city square as grim warnings to any others of their generation who might feel a twinge of inspiration to take up their examples of civil disobedience and meaningful dissent.
Hopefully GG’s reporting from the scene of this gruesome pileup, and the conversation it has sparked, will spur us to start pumping the brakes.
Thanks Washington Post for publishing my essay about waking up from open-heart surgery—or so I thought…
Before the operation, a nurse advised me that when I woke up I would be intubated and unable to speak. She emphasized that the first thing I should do upon gaining consciousness was to move my hands and feet and lift my head, implying that I should be able to do these things.
A profound & experimental meditation on the name of God and the nature of human existence…in the form of a compulsively catchy pop song.
Fuck you, Vampire Weekend. Seriously.
"Through the fire and through the flames/
You won’t even say your name./
Only, ‘I am that I am.’
But who could ever live that way?
Ya Hey, Ya Hey…
According to Jewish tradition, the possibility of non-being hovers over us at all times—not just that we will eventually cease to be, but that we may never have been in the first place. And the most constructive human response to this low-hanging angst?
In fact, according to at least one avenue of rabbinic thinking, this is both one of the central themes of the Psalms — ancient poetry originally chanted to musical tunes — and the existential mood out of which they were composed.
"Ya Hey" knows something of this pathos, channeling it through the sparse lyrical verses and transforming it in the crisp, distorted chorus, which sounds like a kabbalist’s brain deep in the midst of a mystical meditation. Strange and familiar and weirdly sublime. The Outkast Inversion of the title creates a virtuous loop and a legit moment of pop-cultural transcendence.
Hats off, you precocious motherfuckers. I cannot stop listening to this song.
Happy Passover Everybody! This is an op-ed, penned by myself and the excellent Tova Hartman, about a group of devoted religious women “chained” to their marriages (agunot) by a scandalous collusion of sadistic spouses and systemic indifference to their suffering. Israel’s new governing coalition has promised liberalizing reforms in the Chief Rabbinate, and in religion-state policy more broadly. The fate of Israel’s chained women will be a key barometer for judging whether they are willing to take bold, substantive steps toward this goal, or merely cosmetic ones.
Is anyone listening?
Let us confront, this Passover season, not only the Pharaohs who threaten us from without, but the Pharaohs who subjugate us from within.
There is a widely quoted rabbinic tradition that credits women with a central role in the Jewish People’s liberation from slavery in Egypt. Worn down by the rigors of slavery, the men lost their desire to procreate. The women then went to great lengths to ply their husbands with food and drink, whereupon they took out mirrors and used them for flirtatious foreplay to reawaken their men’s dormant drives. According to tradition, these mirrors were later donated to the Tabernacle, where they were re-formed as the laver used by priests to purify themselves for Temple rites.
Of course, mirrors don’t always reflect such happy endings. Which is precisely what we need them for.
We recently became aware of the story of a young woman with two small children, who was part of a mainstream National Religious community in Gush Etzion. Her husband was addicted to Internet pornography and serially unfaithful, and she had resolved to leave him. Yet he insisted he was still in love with her, and thus refused to grant her a divorce under any circumstances.
And that—for the moment, and for the foreseeable future—is where the conversation stands.
If Tzohar, with the backing of Yesh Atid-Jewish Home, succeeds in its plans for the Chief Rabbinate, will its rabbis allow themselves to look into the mirrors of these enslaved women? Will they allow a better version of themselves, the tradition, and society to be reflected back at them?
To offer no resistance to life is to be in a state of grace, ease, and lightness. This state is then no longer dependent upon things being in a certain way, good or bad. It seems almost paradoxical, yet when your inner dependency on form is gone, the general conditions of your life, the outer forms, tend to improve greatly.
The ever-human Ze Frank. Always good to be reminded that envy and jealousy are the negative imprint left by a deficit of gratitude and self-worth. Seriously though…let’s stop and think about that for a minute.
And if afterward you’ve got some time you’re looking to toss down the internet hole, his show "The Show with Ze Frank", which ran for exactly one year from 2006-2007, is a work of hilarity and genius.
I’ve always gotten a good vibe from Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig, who seems like a fighter and a mensch. This interview, both an informative summary and a compelling tribute, bolsters that impression.
"In a world where the architects of the financial crisis dine regularly at the White House, it’s ridiculous to think Aaron Schwartz was a felon."