Friday, December 30

Great KDE Introduction

While I still like IceWM best (on my 6 year old 1Ghz Athlon workhorse), KDE has developed into an extremely useful (albeit resourse-intensive) environment. I still find myself logging into KDE often, because it works well.

A KDE evangelist has posted a very useful document here.

And no, I am not going to slam GNOME. It also has some great features. In fact, I would recommend GNOME over any other environment to any new Linux user.

Mike is Spot On -- Go to His Place and Read

I haven't had much time to make in-depth posts lately. However, Mike over at the Last Best Place has been posting some very well written, insightful and interesting posts over at his place. And all while in vacation in Quebec.

Go read these posts; they deserve your attention.

And Mike? How is Poutine Kosher?

Thursday, December 29

Get Back your Virtual Terminals

One of my favorite productivity tools in Linux are virtual terminals (you know, the six terminal screens you can get by pressing ALT+CTL+F1 - F6). Unfortunately, they seem to be disabled by default in Mandriva 2006.

To get them back, you need to edit the /etc/inittab file. Specifically, you need to either uncomment or add the following lines:

# Run gettys in standard runlevels
1:2345:respawn:/sbin/mingetty tty1
2:2345:respawn:/sbin/mingetty tty2
3:2345:respawn:/sbin/mingetty tty3
4:2345:respawn:/sbin/mingetty tty4
5:2345:respawn:/sbin/mingetty tty5
6:2345:respawn:/sbin/mingetty tty6
Be warned, each getty consumes system resources. If you are running low, comment out a few of the terminals.

OK, now back to work!

A Foot of Powder Yesterday

This blog is still technically on 'hiatus' for a few more days, but I thought I would make a brief post to let you know that a FOOT of freshies fell at Showdown yesterday. Unfortunately, I am here at my desk.

The week between xmas and New Years has gone very well so far. Lots of skiing, and I managed to spend four whole days without looking at a computer. Now, I am trying to dig out from the avalance of paper and email waiting for me when I got back ...

(And Geeguy, note the proper use of the ellipse ...)

Friday, December 23

And To All a Good Night ...

I probably will not be posting anything for a few days. So, as the upcoming holiday I will be celebrating is a minor festival, I would like to wish my coreligionists a Happy Chanukah, and more importantly a good shabbos.

For the rest of my readers, I would like to wish you a peaceful and enjoyable holiday. Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa -- may your festivals be filled with the joy of your families and friends.

Thursday, December 22

Election Workers Need to be Above Reproach

Today's Trib had a story about an election worker that may have tried to influence voters during our recent municipal election. According to the story, that worker may or may not have damaged or destroyed ballots.

The Trib uses this as ammunition for the County's effort to move the city to one polling place.

Logistically, elections are hard to administer. I understand that. I sympathize with the hard work that Cascade County Clerk and Recorder Peggy Carrico has to do to make elections happen. However, making the voting process difficult for the voters is not the answer.

That said, election workers need to be above reproach. We cannot afford to question the impartiality of the people that safeguard and count our ballots.

Enough is Enough

That last post is the last "Jewish" post I hope to make for a while.

While this blog is called "Treasure State Judaism," I have never wanted to make an examination of Judaism a major subject here. Hopefully, we will be back to local coverage now.

Columnist in the Independent Record Paints with a Big, Wide Brush

The other day, the Helena Independent Record published a syndicated column by Mona Charen, titled "Jews are Useful Idiots."

The thrust of the column was a criticism of recent political positions taken by the Union for Reform Judaism. While I may have more to say on the movements stands later, that column went really beyond the pale. It decried Reform Judaism as a movement, and categorized its members as "arrogant," "obtuse," "pompous," "chumps" and "leftists."

I have never read Charen before. However, I don't like being called a useful idiot. I would ask the IR to stop publishing this columnist. Replace her with someone with the same political ideology, but hopefully with someone who will paint with a much narrower brush.

In any case, I would like to thank a few people for attracting attention to this column. The first is Rabbi Allen Secher, for writing a very reasoned response, which was published in today's IR. The second is David Sirota, who has been organizing a response to this column among the Jewish Communities in Montana. The third is Matt Singer, who wrote about the issue this morning.

On Israel and Anti-Semitism

You know, it is a crying shame that race must be brought into so many discussions. I don't think it is usually relevant, and just serves to cloud most issues.

Of course, I am talking about the big Montana blog mess that you can read about here and here. While it may upset people that they feel that they cannot criticize Israel without being branded an anti-Semite, I think it upsets me more that I cannot criticize those Israel-detractors without people assuming that I am branding them as anti-Semitic.

Let me be clear. Anyone can criticize Israel without being anti-Semitic. I will call out anti-Semitism if I see it, but I don't here. The only person that I have ever charged in these pages with such bigotry is the Baby-faced Neo-Nazi in Bozeman. He, I believe, would readily agree with such a charge.

As for my excitable correspondent from Billings, I have only charged him with a cavalier disregard for the personal safety of a person he doesn't know, hasn't ever met and is not a part of this debate. That is not anti-Semitism. I leave you to come to your own conclusions about what it does, however, represent.

Tuesday, December 20

Droidel, Droidel, Droidel; I made it out of parts ...

OK, I know that I promised that my next post would deal with more weighty matters, specifically any role the Israeli intelligence may have had in the run up to the Iraqi war. I am still doing research, and will post on this subject soon.

However, this post will be of significantly less import. I just found this very wondeful project for an R2D2 dreidel. What fun!

Monday, December 19

Israel and the AIPAC case

Over the past few days, one particular Billings-based blogger has been saying some very unkind things about Israel and AIPAC. I won’t give the link, but you are welcome to Google for his website. I am sure he will say some unkind things about me soon after this is posted. Oh well …

Among other things, he charges that Israel is an enemy of the United States. He places his credence for that charge on a) supposed false intelligence given to the US during the run-up to the war against Iraq and b) supposed espionage against the US by Israel.

Before I begin, let me be clear that I am not an expert on any of these matters. I know what I read in the paper and from reputable internet sources. I have not made a study of any of these particular cases. I say this because it is important to judge a source. The blog to which I am responding here casts himself as an expert, but I suggest that he is an even less informed source than I am.

Let’s discuss the AIPAC espionage case first. There is a wiki on this case, here. It is a good objective place to start. In essence the case is about a mid-level DoD staffer, Larry Franklin, who has plead guilty to passing along information about Iran to two AIPAC staffers, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman (no relation). Rosen and Weissman are charged with passing this information on to Israel and the US National Security Council. Franklin has plead guilty, and Rosen and Weissman are still awaiting their day in court.

Please note that at no time has any source alleged that Israel requested or in any way attempted to receive this information. No source has alleged that Israel ever paid anything for this information. In fact, Israel might have believed that it was receiving legitimate information, that it was authorized to receive, as she passed along additional information they had gathered on Iran to Franklin, as a sort of quid pro quo.

Franklin’s motivations may have been borne out of more personal or ideological reasons. In fact, an unnamed U.S. intelligence official told Newsweek: "for whatever reason, the guy hates Iran [the Iranian government] passionately."

So, because this guy hated Iran, he tried to forward on information to harden US policy against the country. Israel is not really involved here, except as a passive recipient. For this my excitable friend in Billings suggests that we … wait for it … invade Israel? Maybe instead the guitar shop needs a better ventilation system; the fumes are apparently getting to him.

My next post will discuss my correspondent’s first charge, about false intelligence given by Israel to the US regarding Iraq.

They are Going to Stop Feeding the Addiction!?!?

My RSS reader of choice, Bloglines, will be off-line for the afternoon. No new feeds into the account until tonight. See you then.

An Amazing Nation, and a Strong Ally

Parts of the Montana blogosphere have lately been alight with some very incendiary comments about Israel. In this space, I will soon be posting some specific comments that answer some of those allegations.

However, before I do so, I thought that it might be useful to look again at a small, endangered country in the Middle East that has always stood as a friend and ally of the United States.


The Middle East has been growing date palms for centuries. The average tree is about 18-20 feet tall and yields about 38 pounds of dates a year.

Israeli date trees are now yielding 400 pounds/year and are short enough to be harvested from the ground or a short ladder.

Israel,the 100th smallest country, with less than 1/1000th of the world's population, can lay claim to the following:

The cell phone was developed in Israel by Israelis working in the Israeli branch of Motorola, which has its largest development center in Israel.

Most of the Windows NT and XP operating systems were developed by Microsoft-Israel.

The Pentium MMX Chip technology was designed in Israel at Intel.

Both the Pentium-4 microprocessor and the Centrino processor were entirely designed, developed and produced in Israel.

The Pentium microprocessor in your computer was most likely made in Israel.

Voice mail technology was developed in Israel.

Both Microsoft and Cisco built their only R&D facilities outside the US in Israel.

The technology for the AOL Instant Messenger ICQ was developed in 1996 by four young Israelis.

Israel has the fourth largest air force in the world (after the U.S, Russia and China). In addition to a large variety of other aircraft, Israel's air force has an aerial arsenal of over 250 F-16's. This is the largest fleet of F-16 aircraft outside of the U. S.

Israel's $100 billion economy is larger than all of its immediate neighbors combined.

Israel has the highest percentage in the world of home computers per capita.

According to industry officials, Israel designed the airline industry's most impenetrable flight security. US officials now look (finally) to Israel for advice on how to handle airborne security threats.

Israel has the highest ratio of university degrees to it's population in the world.

Israel produces more scientific papers per capita than any other nation by a large margin - 109 per 10,000 people -- as well as one of the highest per capita rates of patents filed.

In proportion to its population, Israel has the largest number of startup companies in the world. In absolute terms, Israel has the largest number of startup companies than any other country in the world, except the U.S. (3,500 companies mostly in hi-tech).

With more than 3,000 high-tech companies and startups, Israel has the highest concentration of hi-tech companies in the world -- apart from the Silicon Valley, U. S.

Israel is ranked #2 in the world for venture capital funds right behind the U. S.

Outside the United States and Canada, Israel has the largest number of NASDAQ listed companies.

Israel has the highest average living standards in the Middle East.

The per capita income in 2000 was over $17,500, exceeding that of the UK.

On a per capita basis, Israel has the largest number of biotech startups.

Twenty-four per cent of Israel's workforce holds university degrees, ranking third in the industrialized world, after the United States and Holland and 12 per cent hold advanced degrees.

Israel is the only liberal democracy in the Middle East.

In 1984 and 1991, Israel airlifted a total of 22,000 Ethiopian Jews (Operation Solomon) at Risk in Ethiopia, to safety in Israel.

When Golda Meir was elected PrimeMinister of Israel in 1969, she became the world's second elected female leader in modern times.

When the U. S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya was bombed in 1998, Israeli rescue teams were on the scene within a day -- and saved three victims from the rubble.

Israel has the third highest rate of entrepreneurship -- and the highest rate among women and among people over 55 - in the world.

Relative to its population, Israel is the largest immigrant-absorbing nation on earth. Immigrants come in search of democracy, religious freedom, and economic opportunity. (Hundreds of thousands from the former Soviet Union)

Israel was the first nation in the world to adopt the Kimberly process, an international standard that certifies diamonds as "conflict free."

Israel has the world's second highest per capita of new books.

Israel is the only country in the world that entered the 21st century with a net gain in its number of trees, made more remarkable because this was achieved in an area considered mainly desert.

Israel has more museums per capita than any other country.

Medicine... Israeli scientists developed the first fully computerized, no-radiation, diagnostic instrumentation for breast cancer.

An Israeli company developed a computerized system for ensuring proper administration of medications, thus removing human error from medical treatment. Every year in U. S. hospitals 7,000 patients die from treatment mistakes.

Israel's Givun-Imaging developed the first ingestible videocamera, so small it fits inside a pill. Used to view the small intestine from the inside, cancer and digestive disorders.

Researchers in Israel developed a new device that directly helps the heart pump blood, an innovation with the potential to save lives among those with heart failure. The new device is synchronized with the camera helps doctors diagnoseheart's mechanical operations through a sophisticated system of sensors.

Israel leads the world in the number of scientists and technicians in the workforce, with 145 per 10,000, as opposed to 85 in the U. S., over 70 in Japan, and less than 60 in Germany. With over 25% of its work force employed in technical professions. Israel places first in this category as well.

A new acne treatment developed in Israel, the Clear Light device, produces a high-intensity, ultraviolet-light-free, narrow-band blue light that causes acne bacteria to self-destruct -- all without damaging surrounding skin or tissue.

An Israeli company was the first to develop and install a large-scale solar-powered and fully functional electricity generating plant, in southern California's Mojave desert.

All the above while engaged in regular wars with an implacable enemy that seeks its destruction, and an economy continuously under strain by having to spend more per capita on its own protection than any other county on earth.

Israel has the highest ratio of university degrees to the population in the world.

THE STATE OF ISRAEL .. .continues to EXCEL !


Friday, December 16

File Under "Unforeseen Consequences"

The Trade Deficit numbers were announced this morning. Surprisingly, the Trade Deficit was "only" $195.8 Million for the quarter, as opposed to $197.8 Million for the preceding quarter.

Why? Well foreign insurance companies had to send a lot of money to the Gulf Coast to pay hurricane related claims. If not for those claims, the current account deficit would have reached new records.

IceWM Rocks!

I have recently cut the apron strings and switched to IceWM as my default GUI environment.

While it is not pretty and doesn't have the eye candy of the other environments, I have found that I don't need all the bells and whistles in KDE or GNOME for 95% of the stuff I do. IceWM is just blazing fast, and leaves plenty of processor and memory space to the apps I do use.

Give it a try. You'll be impressed.

Thursday, December 15

Wal-Mart is Not Evil

Now for the Left's turn.

Lately, it seems that I cannot turn around without some do-gooder telling me why I shouldn't shop at Wal-Mart. In response, I usually ask what laws the company has broken or how they are cheating their customers or employees.

I never get much of a response to that question. Oh, I know that several Wal-Mart's were guilty of immigration hiring violations. To my knowledge, the company has been punished for the violations and is now in compliance with the law.

The reason that I don't get much of an answer is that the company, for the most part, follows the law. Where it does not, it should be punished to the fullest amount allowed by the law, but that is not the point.

The biggest complaint that the Left levees against Wal-Mart is low wages earned by its employees. Personally, I wonder how we can castigate a company for following the rules? We tell a company to pay at least a certain minimum wage and Wal-Mart does. In fact, its average starting wage is almost double the national minimum. For this we should boycott the company?

Another study I have recently heard debunks that myth, as well. I can't remember where I read it (perhaps someone here can point us in the right direction), but I have seen studies that argue that an average family can expect to save over $1,000 a year in their grocery and clothing bill by shopping at Wal-Mart as opposed to other retailers. That works out to about a $1/hour in increased purchasing power, and can be considered a raise that Wal-Mart gives to all of us, including their employees.

I have also heard criticism that Wal-Mart doesn't allow its workers to work enough hours to earn overtime. What responsible company does? The wage rules in this country strongly incentivize employers to arrange their staffing so no employee has to work that many hours. We are going to criticize the company for good management?

Then I usually hear about how Wal-Mart has put local retailers out of business. Being someone who was in the hard good retail business, and was driven out of it by the way the marketplace changed, I know something about this argument as well.

As I have argued before, local retails are less a victim of Wal-Mart then they are a victim of industry wide changes, mostly spurred by the development of information technology that allows large corporations to control small amounts of inventory. With such IT tools at their disposal, large retailers like Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Lowes, etc. (and to a smaller extent commercial suppliers like Grainger) are able to exercise purchasing power to drive down the cost of their supplies. In addition, the same technology frees them from being saddled with dead inventory, as their forecasts kept them from buying it in the first place.

Local retailers only have one option in the face of these kind of changes -- to get in the niche business. The big boxes will only stock the 80% of a merchandise line that will sell quickly. People still want the other 20%, and will usually pay more for it since they can't get it from the big guys. But I digress.

If Wal-Mart had not done it, some other company would have used this new technology to do the same thing. Blaming Wal-Mart for the collapse of the downtown is just another Luddite meme.

Wal-Mart employs 1.3 million people. It pays Billions in income and property taxes. However, it is not a monopoly that gouges customers; its blended markup is only 30% and it only has net income of 3.5% of gross sales. In other words, its success is due to buying items at the best possible price and passing those savings along to customers.

I am not going to go as far as the Wall Street Journal and argue that Wal-Mart is good for the Country. (Subscription Required). It is just a retailer, and it succeeds because it understands that price is the driving factor behind most consumer's purchasing decisions.

However, as long as it follows the law it should not be anyone's bogeyman.

A Pox on BOTH Their Houses

Both the Left and the Right are at it again.

To hear the cranks from the far periphery tell it, a boogeyman is about to get us all. The world is going to come crashing down at it is our fault for not doing something about the problem.

As we can all glean from just turning on Bill O'Reilley or Fox News for a brief instant, the Right wants us all to fight against a “War on Christmas” that is going to cause our country to fall into a pagan orgy that would put Caligula to shame.

And as we can all tell from the film list at local library's throughout the US, the Left wants to make sure that none of us shop at Wal-Mart.

Funny thing, that. The Right does not want us to shop at Wal-Mart either. Maybe the Right and Left own stock in Target ...

Both of them are full of balderdash and hooey. There is no War on Christmas and Wal-Mart is not evil.

Let's talk about the Right's cause d'jour first. My next post will talk about the Left's bullpucky.

In a country where the vast majority of the people identify themselves as Christians, who celebrate Christmas and among virtually omnipresent in-your-face reminders of the holiday on December 25th, suddenly we have a “War on Christmas.” Why a war? Well, the clerk at Wal-Mart said “Happy Holiday's” while bagging the Christmas Tree decorations, Christmas Cards, Christmas Tinsel, and Christmas Presents purchased at the large Red-and-Green Christmas Display in the front of the store.

A War on Christmas? Are you friggin' kidding me? I can't turn around after Thanksgiving without seeing another reminder of Christmas and another “Remember the Reason for the Season” billboard while driving around town.

Oh, yes – the public schools did have a “Holiday Programme” and they probably did not sing any songs that mentioned the word “Jesus.” That First Amendment certainly is a sticky wicket, no?

Well, I am sorry that you feel that the public schools are a place for a parochial education. I send my children to public school to receive an education, not to study theology.

Just a question; if the public schools were to be more parochial, would you object if they taught a theology that differs from the one taught by your priest, pastor, reverend, bishop or imam? After all, the Vatican recently announced that Intelligent Design had no business being taught in science classes. Also, I seem to remember that Catholic and Protestant theology differ on a few points. Which version of Christianity do you think the schools should preach?

In any case, there is a great place that your children can go to perform in a Christmas Program. It is the program put on by your church.

When it comes down to it, this manufactured crisis is obvious attempt by the Right to throw some "Red Meat" at a base of voters that were getting upset at their betters. After all, they derailed the Harriet Mier nomination! What better way to assuage their hurt feelings than to defend Christmas. Who would oppose Christmas?

And if it gives some people more opportunity to stick it to the Jews, why not?

War on Christmas, indeed. Bah, Humbug!

RIP William Proxmire; Upstanding Public Servant

Sen. William Proxmire, WI, died this morning at the age of 90.

Proxmire was a tireless fighter against wasteful government spending. Through his "Golden Fleece Awards," he alone did more than any other group of politicians to curtail waste, fraud and abuse in the expenditure of the public purse.

Proxmire's example should be a model for our current representatives of both parties at all levels of government.

Monday, December 12

The Problem with "Logical" Answers for Mid-East Peace

Take a look at this video that aired in the Middle East. It was taped by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).

It shows a beautiful 3 1/2 year old girl, proudly answering questions from a reporter. Among the questions;

Q: Do you hate the Jews?
A: Yes
Q: Why do you hate the Jews?
A: Because they are apes and pigs.

THREE AND A HALF YEARS OLD. And already learning hate.

The reporter goes on to praise the child as a "true Muslim" and that all parents should wish for such a devout child.

I need to go throw up now.

Sunday, December 11

Chabad Rabbi to Celebrate Chanukah in the Big Sky

I just received the following email from Rabbi Chaim Bruk, of Chabad. He will be in the Big Sky this Chanukah. Here is his schedule.

I have redacted addresses, so contact me if you are interested in attending an event. aaron AT weissman DOT com.


Dear Friends,

I will once again have the joy & pleasure of joining my fellow Jews in Montana, during this upcoming Chanukah holiday. I hope you can celebrate with me at one of the following parties:

Helena and Butte:

I may be in your area on Tuesday morning December 27th. Due to my schedule, I will not get to visit with everyone, so if you would like me to stop by and visit, email me and I will put you on a priority list.


Tuesday Evening December 27th @ 7:00 PM At the home of:


Wednesday December 28th @ Noon at Congregation Beth Aaron,


Wednesday Evening December 28th @ 7:00 PM - at the home of

If you live in Kila or Miles City, Kalispell or Great Falls, you are welcomed to join any of the parties. You can brave the weather and come on out and celebrate, and I guarantee your soul?s inspiration will warm you up!!!

With G-d?s help and decent weather we will have great celebrations!

Feel free to forward this to all your Jewish friends!

Hope to see you there!

Happy Chanukah!!

Rabbi Chaim

So, Remember the Ten Grand we Spent on "Unbreakable" Planters for Central?

Turns out that "unbreakable" is another word for "won't be broken for six months."

I was walking down Central this morning, and saw this planter at 4th Street. See the big missing chunk? That chunk is missing due to either a) shoddy workmanship, or b) breakage (which apparently is possible if a vandal is sufficiently motivated).

Either way, at this rate the things will be in a sad shape in only a few years. But hey, its only money, right?

A Plea for the Poor Midway Skier

To the operators of the Double Chair at Showdown:

Please have pity on us poor midway skiers. Even on busy days, we are waiting at the midway point for a chance to ride to the top.

It makes us very sad to have to ski all the way to the bottom of the mountain. So please, consider allowing at least a single every five chairs or so.

Did that sound pitiful enough? ;)

Absolutely INCREDIBLE Skiing at Showdown

I took my kids to Showdown yesterday to enjoy opening weekend at the hill. I have been skiing at Showdown for more than 20 years, and the conditions were as good as I have EVER seen them.

28° F. Sunny. Powdery snow EVERYWHERE!

That, and I never had to wait more than 5 minutes to get on the lift (except on the midway, more on that later).

Go to the hill. Enjoy the snow. You'll be glad you did! I can personally recommend the right side of Glory Hole and Geronimo as fabulous runs.

Does this mean that they are all under twelve?

Take a look at this front page story in today's Tribune. It highlights an important need in the community, and I encourage anyone who is able to welcome foster children into their family.

However, that is not what I am going to talk about here. From the story:

Eighty percent of the children placed in foster homes in Cascade County are between the age 12 or younger.
Between the age 12 or younger? Does the Tribune even have a copy editor?

I mean, there are a lot of typos in this blog. However, the only "editing" that I get here is the little paperclip in MS Word. I expect more from a daily paper.

Friday, December 9

OK, I can't resist posting this one

Silly, I know. I couldn't resist posting this particular meme. As you can see, I haven't ever spent too much time in the South.

Have a Good weekend!

create your own visited states map

Nat Closes for Annual Maintenance Tomorrow

I just finished my last work-out of the year at the Morony Natatorium. Managed 1,050 yds., with two 100 IMs and a 200 back.

The Nat reopens after its annual maintenance on January 3. Since the UGF pool closed, the only other olympic sized pool that is open to the public in Great Falls is the GF High School pool, in the Bison Fieldhouse. I think that closes for the school's winter break in two weeks.

Great Falls Blogosphere in a Buzz about Golf

And the scandal continues.

The $200 grand that is bleeding from the cities coffers due to its (mis)management of the municipal golf courses is resulting in a lot of angry bloggers (including yours truly). In a series of posts on three blogs, a number of facts have been revealed that the Tribune must of thought were not worth printing.

I will let you decide. However, to me these un-reported facts make mis-management seem like a smokescreen for an invitation to corruption. So here is the roundup:

My own 2¢ on the anonymous posts that have begun to appear, defending the cities operation: It is nice to give people part time jobs to mow lawns, but is that really the point of operating the golf courses?

The point of operating the golf courses is to operate golf courses. As such, they need to be run in an efficient manner. The private courses in and around Great Falls (MLCC, Emerald Green and Gannons) understand that, and I am sure that they are not hemorrhaging money like the municipal courses.

The attitude that the courses are nothing but make-work projects designed to give people paychecks is the kind of wrong-headed thinking that keeps our city from breaking through and achieving success.

Red Crystal "Compromise" is Really a Capitulation

After almost six decades, the International Red Cross/Red Crescent society is making a magnanimous gesture. Or at least, that is the impression that they are spewing to whoever will listen.

Israel's Magen David Adam society has been denied membership and affiliation with those "humanitarian" societies because it would accept neither a symbol of Christianity nor one of Islam. As the only Jewish state in the world, it adopted the Magen David, the Jewish Star.

Since that time, Islamic countries have denied Israel's society membership since it utilized an "offensive" symbol.

Well, since Israel's pull back from Gaza, the Red Cross/Crescent societies were willing to "talk." Israel's society could be a member, but couldn't use the Magen David Adam; it would have to use a "neutral" symbol, a diamond shaped crystal.

Today's WSJ editorial (subscription required) really hammered the nail right on the head. This is a disgrace.

One Polling Place???? For the Whole City???

Well, I don't read the paper for a day and what a doozy I missed.

In case you didn't see it, the county is now proposing that we use one polling place for all of Great Falls. Ideally, fifty-thousand people, all crowding into the Four Seasons Arena to place their vote.

I understand the need to be efficient with taxpayer dollars. I usually applaud the sentiment. However, spending money on voting is one thing that government should do willingly.

Why? The franchise is IMPORTANT. I suggest to you that it is the MOST important difference between our form of government and all the others.

Making the exercise of that franchise as convenient as possible for as many people as possible should be our goal. Period.

If handicap accessibility is the reason for this move (and I think it is just an excuse), then a single alternate facility could be set up for those that need it. However, local polling places should remain local.

I, for one, will not schlepp over to the fairgrounds, fight traffic and stand in line for an hour to place my vote. If this goes through, I will do all my voting by mail. And that, I submit, is the real goal of this measure -- to make more people vote by mail.

For all of its convenience, I cannot support that, either. Voting by mail makes one more susceptible to voting interference. It also threatens the secret ballot.

Voting is one of our last refuges of local civic participation. We need to make sure that it remains such a bastion.

Thursday, December 8

Drash on Veyeitzei

This week, I have the honor of chanting from our shul’s sefer Torah, reading from the parsha Veyeitzei (Breisheit 28:10 – 32:3, but I will only be reading Breisheit 28:10-17). Accordingly, here is a small drash on the parsha. Enjoy, and I welcome any comments.

This week, we read of Yaakov’s stay with his uncle Lavan. Fleeing from his brother Eisav (who had announced his intent to kill Yaakov, Breisheit 27:41), he sojourns with his uncle for 20 years. For the first seven years, he works for Lavan to earn the right to marry Rahel, but Lavan tricked him into marrying her sister Leah. During the next seven years, he works for Lavan to marry Rahel, and during the last six years he works for a flock of his own. (He also takes two additional wives/concubines, the half-sisters of Rahel and Leah, Zilpah and Bilpah.)

During this parsha, Yaakov bears twelve children; eleven sons and a daughter (Binyamin is born later). By the sweat of his brow, he builds a mighty host and an impressive flock. The parsha ends with Yaakov, by this time a man of 97 years of age, traveling back to Eretz Yisroel to confront his brother, Eisav, whom he had cheated from his birthright and blessing 35 years before.

(Yes, thirty-five. The midrash teaches that when Yaakov first flees Canaan, he is attacked by Eisav’s son Elifaz. Elifaz does not kill Yaakov, but takes all his clothes and belongings. Hashem then sends Yaakov a horseman, who dies upon meeting Yaakov. Yaakov takes his clothes and hides at the yeshiva of Shaim and Aiver for fourteen years, studying torah.)

What can we learn from these long years in Yaakov’s life? For Yaakov, these years are a time of constant struggle and hard work. Indeed, the midrash teaches that while Yaakov worked for Lavan, he devoted such time to his labors that he never slept a full night. He is rewarded for his hard work by nothing but lies and trickery from his Uncle. We are told in the midrash that during this parsha, Lavan changed Yaakov’s wages one hundred times.

Although he may have been a tzaddik, Yaakov seems to be cursed. While Hashem has given Yaakov a mighty family, G-d also seems to imply that he must repay a moral debt.

What is that debt? It seems to me that Yaakov must suffer trickery and deceipt from Lavan in order to pay for the trickery and deceipt that he inflicted on both Eisav and Yitzchak! In other words, Hashem is showing that what comes around, goes around.
This parsah then goes on to give us another parable, teaching the same lesson! Throughout this parsha, Lavan, the trickster and thief, is nothing but disingenuous in his treatment of Yaakov. As I said above, he changes Yaakov’s wages one hundred times (perhaps most significantly, tricking him into marrying Leah). In the last seven years of Yaakov’s servitude to Lavan, what goes around comes around.

Toward the end of the parsha (Breisheit 30:31) we read that Yaakov’s wages are to be all the speckled and spotted animals born after that time in the flock. Although Lavan attempts trickery to ensure that Yaakov is left with few, if any animals, it is Lavan that is left with a feeble flock and Yaakov with a great host.

Among the teachings of this parsha is the importance of dealing honestly with and forthrightly. If not, what goes around may well come around.

May the source of Peace bring Peace, Kein Yehi Ratzon.

Chanukah, Oy Chanukah!

I usually refrain from either posting or forwarding re-forwarded jokes. However, this time I couldn't help myself. Now, if anyone asks you what the difference is between Christmas and Chanukah you will know what and how to answer!

  • Christmas is one day, same day every year, December 25th. Jews also love December 25th. It's another paid day off work. We go to the movies and out for Chinese food and Israeli dancing. Chanukah is 8 days. It starts the evening of the 24th of Kislev, whenever that falls. No one is ever sure. Jews never know until a non-Jewish friend asks when Chanukah starts, forcing us to consult a calendar so we don't look like idiots. We all have the same calendar, provided free with a donation from the World Jewish Congress, the kosher butcher or the local Sinai Memorial Chapel (especially in Florida) or other Jewish funeral home.
  • Christmas is a major holiday. Chanukah is a minor holiday with the same theme as most Jewish holidays. They tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat.
  • Christians get wonderful presents such as jewelry, perfume, stereos, etc. Jews get practical presents such as underwear, socks or the collected works of the Rambam, which looks impressive on the bookshelf.
  • There is only one way to spell Christmas. No one can decide how to spell Chanukah, Chanukkah, Chanukka, Channukah, Hanukah, Hannukah, etc.
  • Christmas is a time of great pressure for husbands and boyfriends. Their partners expect special gifts. Jewish men are relieved of that burden. No one expects a diamond ring on Chanukah.
  • Christmas brings enormous electric bills. Candles are used for Chanukah. Not only are we spared enormous electric bills, but we get to feel good about not contributing to the energy crisis.
  • Christmas carols are beautiful...Silent Night, Come All Ye Faithful. Chanukah songs are about dreidels made from clay or having a party and dancing the hora. Of course, we are secretly pleased that many of the beautiful carols were composed and written by our tribal brethren. And don't Barbara Streisand and Neil Diamond sing them beautifully?
  • A home preparing for Christmas smells wonderful. The sweet smell of cookies and cakes baking. Happy people are gathered around in festive moods. A home preparing for Chanukah smells of oil, potatoes and onions. The home, as always, is full of loud people all talking at once.
  • Christian women have fun baking Christmas cookies. Jewish women burn their eyes and cut their hands grating potatoes and onions for latkes on Chanukah. Another reminder of our suffering through the ages.
  • Parents deliver presents to their children during Christmas. Jewish parents have no qualms about withholding a gift on any of the eight nights.
  • The players in the Christmas story have easy to pronounce names such as Mary, Joseph and Jesus. The players in the Chanukah story are Antiochus, Judah Maccabee and Matta whatever. No one can spell it or pronounce it. On the plus side, we can tell our friends anything and they believe we are wonderfully versed in our history.
  • Many Christians believe in the virgin birth. Jews think, "Yossela, Bubela, snap out of it. Your woman is pregnant, you didn't sleep with her, and now you want to blame G-d? Here's the number of my shrink".
  • In recent years, Christmas has become more and more commercialized. The same holds true for Chanukah, even though it is a minor holiday. It makes sense. How could we market a major holiday such as Yom Kippur? Forget about celebrating. Think observing. Come to synagogue, starve yourself for 27 hours, become one with your dehydrated soul, beat your chest, confess your sins, a guaranteed good time for you and your family. Tickets a mere $200 per person.

Wednesday, December 7

I don't play Golf, and this makes me see red

I haven't ever been too interested in the game of Golf. For that reason, I confess that I usually don't pay too much attention to discussions about the city owned golf courses.

However, the articles in the Trib the past two days (here and here) have got me paying attention. Those courses bled over $200 thousand from our city treasury this year.

With the Lewis and Clark party mess, that means that our municipal tax dollars are going to have to make up about $750 thousand, just from losses on city projects THIS YEAR. Is there any wonder why we elected a new mayor?

To compound insult to injury, the city hired a consultant to tell them what is wrong with the management of the golf courses. At a fee of $24 thousand, he gave some commonsense advice that should already have been obvious to our city manager, parks and rec director and city commission. Segregate the operation of the courses to a separate department, lower the labor costs and stop running the courses like a lemonade stand.

Well, now we have the expensive report. These changes should be implemented. Now.

Geeguy has written a great post about this issue here. Go read it, and be prepared to start getting even more upset about city management.

Tuesday, December 6

Showdown's Base is almost SIX FEET!

Showdown got ANOTHER foot yesterday! I can't recall a year with better snow this early.

Take a look at Showdown's page -- they just posted a video from 11/29, showing them digging out from their 4 foot dump. Since then they have had about 2 more feet of that white, powdery gold.

The hill opens up for the year on this coming Friday. Work (and the fact that I am chanting Veyetze at shul that night) will keep me from the hill on Friday. However, all of Great Falls should be coming out to the hill for Saturday. See you there!

Annoying Firefox Problem on Mandriva

I have been running into a WEIRD problem on my home system (Mandriva Linux 2006.0 on a 1Ghz AMD Athlon).

The internet connection works fine, and I can browse the web just fine using Konquerer. However, Firefox times out with what appears to be DNS problems (a site will load just fine if you enter the IP address in the address bar).

So, why? The problem has to be a Firefox configuration issue, as other applications can resolve DNS lickety-split.

I think I found the answer. A few websites recommend turning off IPv6 by toggling the network.dns.disableIPv6 key in Firefox's about:config page to true. Let's hope it works!

UPDATE: Worked like a charm!

Sunday, December 4

Retail Development should not Encroach Malmstrom

I am not opposed to retail development. To my mind, development brings both jobs and retail shopping "opportunities" help an area bring new residents. Sometime in the coming weeks, I will write more about this.

However, I am concerned that the planned retail development on the East side of 10th Avenue South will encroach on the Malmstrom runway. Today's Trib ran a very informative story about the issue.

More than any other factor, Malmstrom Air Force Base is the lynchpin of the Great Falls economy. Without Malmstrom, we might as well all close up shop and find somewhere else to live. Our town will die without that base. Period.

That runway is not now being used. However, reviving that runway into a future flying mission for the base is a goal that every Northcentral Montana resident should support.

Nothing should be built that encroaches on that runway or the mission of the base. A retail mall can be built elsewhere.

Keeping the Air Force happy with our hospitality is just too important.

Montana Ski Season Has Arrived!

Our local hill, Showdown, might not be open yet, but there is skiing to be enjoyed in our great State.

My kids and I had a great time yesterday at Great Divide, a very nice hill right outside of Helena. They haven't had nearly as much snow as much of the rest of the State, so only the lower part of the mountain was open for skiing.

So, get out your rock skis and have a good time! Oh, and Showdown opens this Friday. They have had more than four FEET of snow over the past few weeks. Time to enjoy the winter!

Friday, December 2

I Don't Want to Write about Evil, Stupid People Today

However, luckily Wulgar! does. The National Alliance is at it again, spewing their vitriol and hatred. Rob, thanks for staying on top of this.

Bah, Humbug!

Excuse the rant.

While there are many things to love about this time of year (finally, some decent weather, the beginning of ski season, a general feeling of camaraderie with fellow Great Falls residents, etc.), December always brings me to something of a funk.

Why? Because it is during December that so many of our public institutions go out of their way to hammer home a Christian message throughout this month.

I don't care what private individuals and organizations do. I think it is actually very nice that they show their faith as loudly and proudly as they can. However, I suggest to you that displays of faith are inappropriate for public institutions (school districts, city and county government, etc.)

What rises my ire? Let me count the ways.

School holiday/Christmas programs. These are a particular joy. Nothing better than a teacher giving my child songs to sing about the birth of the baby savior. I have a wonderful Faustian choice; either tell my child that she cannot perform a song that I find offensive (and make her upset that she cannot perform a song that her entire class has been practicing for at least two months, subject her to difficult questions from her classmates, etc.) or sit through the horrid thing and keep my mouth shut, wincing the whole time. UGH.

School holiday schedules. Is it just me, or is there more celebrating than learning during the month of December in our schools? I want my children to enjoy school, but it seems to me that there is just too much emphasis on the Holidays, and not enough on the curriculum.

Government displays of faith. I really couldn't care less about Christmas trees. Let everyone have their tree. I am not excited by a decorated tree, but I don't find it offensive. What does offend me are manger scenes on government property (like the scene in front of the civic center.)

To me, these scenes have no other purpose than to say that I am not a full participant in this society. Excuse me, but I am. I am as much a citizen of these United States as any Christian.

I am not looking for equal time here. I do not want to see a menorah or a shofar in front of the Civic Center or County Courthouse. I want my government to stay out of religion. Period.

OK, the rant is over now. I can go back to saying nice things, for at least a little bit.