Recently I've been worrying about:

1. The government's unwillingness to actually do what economists tell them they need to do to fix our broken country and to take care of people who need help

2. The fact that the Senate is too dysfunctional to do anything at all

3. The possibility that the Republicans might actually nominate someone electable (and all non-incumbents will be pretty electable in 2012 due to #1 and #2 above, as well as due to the European debt crisis, which is kind of #3b on this list)

4. Google suspending people's accounts for no reason

5. Brain aneurisms

6. Police brutality

7. A cold winter

8. The environment being destroyed, thus ruining everything for the next generation

9. The hasty arrival of the next generation before I'm ready, in the form of all my pregnant friends

So how are you?

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lyrics meme

Because I really can never get enough of it. Not that many of you read this journal anyway, but dammit, I don't care!

Below are the first lines of twenty songs picked kind of at random from my music collection (or sometimes second lines if the first line is a giveaway). Comment with the artist/song for the ones you know, and the one who gets the most right wins the top prize: pride at getting the most right.

Comments screened. Google is cheating.

1. Movin' to the country, gonna eat a lot.
2. Hunger and the lights are off, honey. Trying to find my head. Don't recall lying down in this black bed.
3. Dance your cares away.
4. I thought the ghost was starting to fade. It hadn't haunted me in days.
5. I liked the way my hand looked on your head.
6. My little dog ran away the other day. Yeah, yeah.
7. This here is the place where I will be staying. There isn't a number; you can call the pay phone.
8. I'm me, me be. Goddamn, I am. I can, sing and here me, know me.
9. Behind her eyes there's curtains, and they've been closed to hide the flames.
10. That young boy without a name, anywhere I'd know his face. In this city the kid's my favorite.
11. I'm undecided about you again. Mightn't be right that you're not here.
12. I wanna see him. I wanna wish him luck. I wanna shake his hand, wanna call his name.
13. I'm suffering lonely ones too, and I can't resist sending this on a whim.
14. Did you hear about the elephant? Ran wild from the circus tent, killed a crowd of ten, before they shot him dead.
15. Well women and children need kisses, not the man in my life I know. And I been going to mystery misses; I respect the art of the show.
16. One dream one soul, one prize, one goal, one golden glance of what should be.
17. For every calm there is a storm, but it is often out of view. It changes paths, it changes forms, just like our souls, like they often do.
18. See this ancient river bed. See where all my follies led.
19. Hey there little man. Get out of my frying pan.
20. Pistol shots. Gun shots. Pistol shots. Gun shots. Bullets from a revolver. Bullets from a gun.

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So with the promotion I got gradually over the past 6 months or so, one of my responsibilities, as of a month ago, is teaching a technical class to other folks in my department and 2 related departments. The proprietary system we all program in is really esoteric, with a bunch of strange and confusing aspects that have built up over the years. Newer features make more sense and are easier for people with programming backgrounds to understand, but they're still often complicated. Older features are just plain ridiculous. Those of us who have been here awhile have gotten used to these quirks, and were around for the creation of many of them, but the majority of folks in these 3 departments have been around for 2 years or less. So they gotta learn (and old timers may need refreshers), and classroom-style learning is an important component of that learning that was missing.

Now, I should point out that teaching kind of terrifies me. I imagine this is relatively common in the world at large, but not in my circles. For many of my friends, teaching Hebrew School or doing bar/t mitzvah tutoring is a good default part-time job to get if they need a little more money. Many of those same folks regularly give d'var torahs ("word of torah", basically a short teaching on a Jewish topic, often given during Shabbat services at places where a full-fledged sermon would be out of place) without it being an issue. They might teach 1-hour workshops or 6-hour (over 4 days) classes at learning-based Jewish retreats I go to. Not to mention the people employed full-time as teachers! I don't do any of those things; they all intimidate me a lot. Often I feel like I don't know enough to teach about anything. Often (especially when it comes to teaching kids) I know that I know enough, but I still worry about filling up the time, moving too fast, controlling the class (yes, less relevant for adults), and so on. It's a hard job, and I have a ton of respect for people who do it for a living.

Before last month, I've had 2 main teaching experiences in my life. Collapse )

Anyway. I was really nervous for the first class at work 3 weeks ago. The class existed in a previous incarnation years ago (taught by the people who were writing the system features, not those of us who design and implement their use), and one complaint I had was that the examples were under-prepared. So I went whole-hog, spending a good day and a half preparing what I was going to say and which examples (taken from our real code rather than made-up) I was going to use. I spent a ton of time on it and I was really nervous, even though it was all material I knew very well. And even though I was only teaching for half of the 1-hour block; my plan has been to have different people teach different topics.

So it went really well. As did the 2nd class (when I again taught about half the time) and the 3rd (where I planned the lesson but didn't teach at all). I started getting less nervous.

Yesterday was the 4th class, and I didn't spend as much time preparing. I think I was still prepared enough, but I also think the class went terribly. The concept I was teaching was much more complicated than I realized, and I lost people early on. I tried to make up for it by making it more interactive, calling on people to explain the next step rather than just explaining it myself. But the same few people (most of whom have been here for years, like me) kept volunteering to answer, and none of the new people were getting it at all. This may be the nature of the material, that they need to see and try it multiple times before it sinks in, but that's not what I anticipated happening at all. We all left frustrated, I'm sure, and now I'm worried again about next time.

This stuff is hard!

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actualizing TV

I feel like I've finally actualized being the TV addict that part of me has always wanted to be. Here's what I'm watching these days:

Current Dramas
Sherlock (dammit it still counts as current even though there's almost a 2-year gap between seasons)
L&O: SVU (I can't quit you)

Current Comedies
Modern Family
New Girl
2 Broke Girls (at least for one more episode)

Shows I'm Actively Watching Back Seasons Of
In Treatment
Arrested Development
The Wire (on hiatus for now but will start on Season 3 soon)
Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist (a bit)
[I finally tried Always Sunny, but gave up quickly. Not for me.]

An Approximately Ordered List Of Current Shows I May Try
Big Bang Theory
Person Of Interest
Breaking Bad

Any other suggestions?

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Explanation of my yeshiva summer to my company

[I spent this summer in Yeshivat Hadar in New York while on sabbatical from work. As part of the sabbatical process, after I returned, I was to explain my sabbatical at an all-staff meeting. I gave that explanation today. Here's what I said.]

Hi. I'm [personal profile] desh, and here's what I did on my summer vacation.

So first of all, I want to start off by apologizing. I don't normally like talking about religion at work very much. I try to never bring it up. So I want to apologize, but this is the one time I'm going to bring it up, especially to anyone who has particular distaste for religion for whatever reason. I'm always happy to talk about it. If you want to ask me and start a conversation, great. But this is the only time I'm going to bring it up.

So I spent two months this summer in the exotic, tropical land of New York City. I attended a yeshiva called Yeshivat Hadar. A yeshiva is an old, traditional model of Jewish learning for its own sake. It's not with a goal of earning a degree or becoming a rabbi or even learning a particular body of work. Learning is considered a value for its own sake. Yeshivas are usually all men; sometimes all women. This is, I think, the only egalitarian, men and women learning together, yeshiva outside of Israel. When I was there for, I did the math, I think 54 hours a week, I was there learning and praying, doing community service, and basically living this lifestyle for two months.

Most mornings, the primary thing we learned, we spent 3 hours or so every morning studying talmud. This is a page of talmud. [Throughout the presentation, a page of gemara, Sanhedrin 45a, was on the projector.] Talmud is a Jewish rabbinic oral tradition, after the bible, that was transmitted orally from scholars to scholars, and was eventually codified and written down about 1500 years ago or so. It's not even in Hebrew. So Hebrew, is, you know...I'm bad at languages. My Hebrew is not very good, even though I've been involved in the Jewish world for a long time. This is mostly in Aramaic, which no one speaks now. It's a dead language. It was the common spoken language among the people who were writing this, but now it's only used for scholarly purposes like learning this. The talmud is giant; I think there's like 2 million words or something in it.

This is one page, though this isn't a page we studied. We studied law regarding self defense when someone is breaking into your home, good Samaritan laws regarding chasing down someone who is pursuing someone else to kill them, and the very problematic law regarding whether it's OK to have your child murdered if he's being disobedient.

[In response to a question "So IS it OK?"] It's complicated. The torah, the bible says "yes". And this spends pages and pages on, "What does 'yes' mean? Can we restrict it?"

The Talmud doesn't codify law at all. It just discusses it, and people weigh in with their opinions, but it doesn't actually finalize what the law is. Jewish law can be analogized to American law, and I spent all summer thinking about: What does the Talmud compare to in American law, with the different texts we have? The best thing I could come up with is the U.S. Federal Code as it applies to things like Medicaid. A lot of us are familiar with this. The Federal Code doesn't talk about implementation rules for Medicaid in particular states. It just sets down guidelines, and the states have to figure out how to implement their laws within those guidelines. So this is kind of that big picture stuff.

[In response to a question "So is the Constitution analogized to the Torah?"] Yes, exactly. It's imperfect, but that's what I've been working on.

So this was our mornings. And then in the afternoons, there were a bunch of other classes. We had more Jewish law, but this time on the more concrete side, the more policy side if you will. And also classes on prayer, music, philosophy, and a whole bunch of other things. There was also a direct service component: Every Wednesday afternoon, we were in a nursing home in New York City visiting residents and interacting with them, having conversations with them. That's the first and most obvious connection that I could think of in terms of how what I did this summer relates to my work here. Just the idea of service to the community.

Some other connections are: In the end, a legal system is a legal system. A set of laws functions like any other set of laws in the world. The analogy I was building before is not just for the sake of argument and explaining to you what Talmud is. Really, studying this is similar in a lot of ways to studying the stuff that the Research department puts out or looking at actual laws, code, and policy. I really think it helped me get a different perspective on the same kind of work that's a part of my job here.

And in terms of the big picture, I really think of Judaism as being primarily about social justice and supporting the underprivileged in our world, and working and advocating for big picture societal justice issues. Which is what we do here.


Q: "It's a system of law without authority, without civil authority."

A: "True. A lot of this, especially the part about killing your disobedient son, probably never had authority at any point in history."

Q: "Can you tell us how to read that thing?"

A: "Very briefly, sure. So the middle section is..." [I don't think it would help anyone much to type this out, but if you really want me to, I can.]

Q: "So this is the original hypertext?"

A: "Maybe the original wiki? It's very much an appropriate analogy"

And several other questions about the talmud itself, the layout and the age and who decided who gets onto the page (esp. stuff on the outside) and who doesn't.

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My Sunday

-- The Eagles lost, looked awful in the process, and their season is likely lost.
+ The lost brought the best Eagles blogger ever out of retirement
-- The Phillies lost a playoff game, keeping me up way too late in the process.
- If the Phils win one and lose one of the next two playoff games, the most important game of the season will fall right in the middle of the most important service of Yom Kippur, the most important day of the Jewish calendar.
++ Managed to wire up my slingbox and a cable box under my bed. Now I can use my slingbox again, without the cable box taking up any usable room anywhere in the increasingly-shrinking apartment. Bonus points for ridiculousness of the setup, and for the $0.95/month subscription fee for an extra cable box with ultra-basic cable service.
+++ Arrested Development is coming back!!!

Net plus!

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Troy Davis

Troy Davis was executed tonight. Many people believe he was innocent. I didn't really want to post about it at all, but I don't see anyone saying what I want to say, and it's kind of gnawing at me, so I don't think I have any other choice.

I think the US should never execute anyone. It's indefensible financially (it's cheaper to keep someone locked up for life), societally (no other first-world country executes anyone), and morally (for a whole host of reasons, including the horrible racial disparities in executions, the fact that we've made mistakes before and will make them again, the fact that revenge is not an appropriate motivation for punishment, and the fact that I simply don't believe we have the right to deliberately kill anyone).

Any argument you want to make along those lines, I fully support. The death penalty is wrong and should be abolished. Full stop.

I don't know if Troy Davis was innocent. You don't know either. Only a very few people know for sure. The best we as a society can do is use some sort of deliberative process to determine our best guess. In this case, that involves evaluating post-conviction recantations in some way.

Most of the people decrying the execution today on the merits (i.e. that Davis was innocent or deserved a new trial, rather than that all executions are wrong) seem to be implying that no one ever took seriously the recantations or other post-conviction evidence. That's not true. A Federal district court did so, and issued an order upholding the execution. It's here: . I particularly recommend the last 49 pages, starting at page 126, for a detailed analysis of the recantations and other evidence.

Now, I'm not willing to take a federal judge as the final word. I would love to hear someone who has read and digested the above link explain to me why Davis was "innocent enough" to not be convicted by a jury. The judge says there is still no reasonable doubt. I'd love to hear a response to that.

Instead what I'm hearing is people not acknowledging the above order. Most people probably haven't read it. That's fine. It's long. But I still feel like I haven't heard the rest of the conversation, and I'm not able to form a conclusion on Davis without it.

Have you read the order, and do you have a response to it? Or do you have a link to a blog post responding to it? Please, send it my way. Otherwise, I'm going to continue going on being pretty sure Davis deserved his conviction.

Though he didn't deserve to be executed. No one does. Davis was no different.

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(no subject)

I just found out that my grandfather is going to be honored at Arlington National Cemetery in November. Awesome.

(It's not exactly a funeral, given that he passed away over five years ago and was cremated. But my dad is still taking advantage of the right for veterans to be memorialized there.)

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Yeshivat Hadar Final Week, Day 3

The schedule today was totally clear: A Tuesday morning schedule, followed by a Wednesday afternoon schedule and a Thursday evening schedule. Of course!

Wednesday afternoon meant the final nursing home visit. These visits never got much easier for me over the summer, and today, when I was preoccupied with other things in my mind, going there was even harder. I've realized that the only way I can visit nursing home residents is by "acting", by deliberately not bringing my whole self to the interaction. Today I was under too much stress to act at all well, so I cut back a lot on the amount of time I usually spend visiting.

In our final post-visit processing discussion group, most of the conversation was focused on what's next. Will we stay in touch with residents we met? Will leaving them be hard? And so on. All of these questions presupposed a sort of bonding with residents that some people definitely experienced, and that I definitely didn't. I wonder: how much of that difference was due to the dumb luck of the people I met and only sort of hit it off with, how much was due to my general reluctance to visit or spend a long time, and how much was specifically due to my choice to "act"? Regardless, my only reflection on this part of the summer was that it was a stressful activity that I'm glad to be done with. Perhaps I should examine further what that means about me, but I'm not particularly inclined to. I'd rather just leave this as something I'm not good at and don't enjoy.

I enjoy most of the rest of the yeshiva experience a lot more, but this conversation, and the fact that we only have a few days left, left me wondering what I'm going to get out of yeshiva as a whole, and whether I had any of this sort of "bonding" with the students, the faculty, the learning, the lifestyle, the dedication, the material we learned, or any of the other aspects of yeshiva I experienced this summer. I'll be thinking about that a lot the next few days, but I don't think I'll have the real answer for at least another couple months, if not a couple years. I'm enjoying myself, for sure, but I don't know what it means yet.

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