Woo Hoo! Bereisheet is Back!

Posted in Judaism, formal learning with tags , , , , , on October 16, 2017 by ThommyMac

Last year’s Bereisheet ended with the summer. People had things to do and our awesome cantor had the house she was renting sold out from under her. She found and bought a new one, so that had a happy ending. I was almost bugging her as to when the new class would start but I knew it would not be until after the high holidays. Every year I am happily a greeter for every service. I don’t do it to cheese it up or be a member of the in crowd there (if there is such a thing). In fact I always man the back doors of the synagogue. I started doing it 5 (Hebrew) years ago. Back then a mini-bus would hit some of the senor homes and they needed someone who could lift 80 lbs. there. It’s not the most popular entrance and egress but I enjoy it. There is usually a cop back there with me and 90% of them were interesting and enjoyable company. At the risk of sounding sexist, one was drop dead gorgeous. All had some questions about Judaism and every year has really been more enjoyable than the previous. The new (At the time) cantor and assistant rabbi have been a great addition, nothing against their predecessors. SO, anyhow, the holidays have passed and a new year of classes begin.

I have started a video series for folks who want some information as they go through the lengthy conversion process. When my mother passed away I found out my maternal grandmother’s family were Jews. I am going to cover that and more in depth later and maybe in some videos. The thumbnail is after a decade of soul searching, I started attending services 10 years ago, started formal schooling four years ago and passed the beit din two years ago. Although the Reich would certainly consider me a Jew before it all started I have no problem being lumped with the converts. Indeed, I was raised Roman Catholic so when I returned to the fold I took and still take every class I can. It went like this. A couple months after attending my first service Rosh Hashanah rolled around. It may read corny but I loved every second of it. Kol Nidre then Yom Kippur both flew by leaving me eager to recapture those feelings. As luck would have it, there was a 3 night midrash covering the Amidah. My assigned prayer partner turned out to be one of the grand matriarchs of the community. To this day she is still helping me, encouraging, and seeing how I am doing.

OK, now I attend another two years, mainly Friday night Shuls to greet the Shabbat. Those Shuls, Shabbat, and living a little more kosher each week allowed me to reach a point where my formal classes started. Reaching the point where I had fulfilled all the requirements to join the community as an adult finally came two years ago. Now, like so many moments in life, this was just the beginning. Bereisheet helps me fill in the details and learn the practicalities between the BIG concepts. I don’t want to keep cribbing from my “Journey into Judaism” scripts so I’m going to close paraphrasing two quotes. When I first approached rabbi, he asked me “Why do you want to acknowledge you belong to a group of people who, for whatever reasons, people seem to enjoy disliking?” My response was “Because whether I like it or not, I am one.” And my best, longest, and most intelligent friend said “Only you would decide to tell the world you are a Jew at the worst time since 1933.” Somehow, it fits. So now my weeks will be started with an hour of bereisheet and I already feel better.

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Resident Evil 7 Biggest Disappointment since RE 6

Posted in Gaming with tags , , , on March 15, 2017 by ThommyMac

Who writes the reviews? It has zero to do with the original, the scenario is terrible and the gameplay is even worse. Hiding from some hick with a shovel? DO NOT BUY IT NEW! Get a copy from the library or a friend. It may be your cup of tea but play it 1st. But calling Resident Evil 7? Heck,. The Last of Us Remastered is far closer to the feel and spirit of the 1st three Resident Evils. Those are the only ones worth owning. Heck the PS2 for PS4 original Resident Evil is 10x better. IMHO, that is. You may LOVE it. Me? I suspect shills writing reviews and padding metacritic but whatever.

New Year for Trees

Posted in Current Events, Judaism with tags , , on February 10, 2017 by ThommyMac

Things have been rough but I am OK. Thank you for asking about me. I foolishly let my guard down for someone who asked me to.  That gave me the most painful lesson I have ever received. Hopefully I can use it to grow or something. Bitter and mean is EXACTLY how I do NOT want to end up. So, like many, I sought comfort in my religion. It really does help, regardless of what your faith and\or church is. Cheerio.

Today is Tu B’Shevat ("the 15th of Shevat") which marks the beginning of a "New Year for Trees." This is the season in which the earliest-blooming trees in the Land of Israel emerge from their winter sleep and begin a new fruit-bearing cycle.

Legally, the "New Year for Trees" relates to the various tithes that must be separated from produce grown in the Holy Land. We mark the day by eating fruit, particularly from the "Seven Kinds" that are singled out by the Torah in its praise of the bounty of the Holy Land (wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates). On this day we remember that "Man is a tree of the field" (Deuteronomy 20:19) and reflect on the lessons we can derive from our botanical analogue.

For more on Tu B’Shevat go here

Movies I Almost Missed… Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

Posted in Movie Reviews, Opinion with tags , , , , on October 20, 2016 by ThommyMac

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OK, this is a biggie and it was thanks to my dearly departed and very sadly missed younger brother Tony that I saw it. He turned me on to it as well as the original Robocop*, I had zero intention of seeing either. He rarely said “No, you will really dig it” so when he did, I would. Good ol’ IMDB says:

An examination of the machinations behind the scenes at a real estate office. (Maybe why it didn’t reach the audience levels it deserves.)

Director: James Foley Stars: Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alec Baldwin, Alan Arkin

Sometimes when a play is made into a film, the cast and director fit so well as a team and run with the material so that the sum really is greater than the parts. And what a team! Jack Lemmon, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, and Al Pacino are in the zone, pretty much in that order. Surprisingly (to some) Alec Baldwin is absolutely p-e-r-f-e-c-t in his small role. For some reason that role doesn’t seem much of a reach, hence it’s realism and believability. Kevin Spacey does what he does best, which is hold his own. Looking at the cast that he is “holding his own” with shows how he got his reputation. I did not realize how many folks have missed this gem. Willy Loman’s rat race was a conga line compared to what these cats faced, let alone what sales must be like in our so-called information age. “Oh come on, what’s the point? What’s the f*ing point? in any case I gotta argue with you, I gotta knock heads with the cops, I’m busting my b*lls selling your dirt to deadbeats”

As a one-time owner of a one-man IT company, I hit a voice over IP webinar that, who knows how, got my cell phone number. The sheer numbers of sales calls generated by that one slip-up was amazing to behold. If you had the same problem due to attending one by a clip joint who pretends it assists nonprofits, my user name at Gmail is a good way to get a hold of me. It’s in the Philly area and had to change its names, allegedly because folks were getting wise to them. The reason I bring that up is the horrible desperation that hangs over most salesman. By “men” I mean “human” which embraces female as well. Before I forget the movie does NOT have any of the usually pleasant “B“s such as bare breasts, blood, bodies, or beasts. What it does have is an awful lot of swearing. I don’t mind but it does have as much as a Tarantino film. I do mind all the “C” words being bandied about. I understand not everyone grew up in the south side of Pittsburgh way back when it was allegedly a tough neighborhood but calling someone any of the “C” words in my day? It was generally a warning to put up your dukes. Then again, nowadays a simple fistfight will get you charged with simple assault. Then you’ll even have to pay for the counseling of the punk who started it but called the cops after he lost. **embarrassed silence** Or so I have heard. “Get on the phone to Pittsburgh. American Express there and tell them Mr. Morton is on the one o’clock.”

In the ‘Premier Properties’ office, where 90% of the story takes place, there is an old time dot matrix banner. It’s on the left, hanging on the wall above the window into Williamson’s office. It is with no little irony the words are “Salesman are born not made.” As a long time IT guy for a variety of endeavors, I have seen many positions and departments in action. Sales is a world unto itself but there seems to be three distinct types of salesman. Before we go any further I should say that I genuinely admire successful sales people. Like any hack politician, I could say some of my best friends work in sales. OK, time to move on. The first is what all of them aspire to be as personified by Ricky Roma. A smoothie, naturally born con man who can manipulate people the way an artist can put their imprint on a medium. Indeed, these guys and gals are artists and people are their medium. Sales quota? They haven’t missed one since they first heard their calling working the phones for a phone spam company. Maybe it’s the gullibility of the folks who actually buy tickets to those fireman or police benefit magic shows. “When I talk to the police I get nervous.”

Their first trick is absorbing 99% of the donation in admin costs. Then they go perfect their chops with a standard cattle call sales gig like working an automobile lot. They watch the newbies burnout their built in leads such as family and friends and then flame-out or fall by the wayside. After a gig or three they find their niche. Real estate, high end cars, software, or whatever needs moved and they can move it. I knew a salesman got his A.S. in programming but didn’t dig it much. It did give him some connections and he went on to sell enterprise level software way back when 3.5″ floppies were being phased out. During routine email archives I truly by accident saw one about his great job in landing some huge sale. His commission? $18,000 for that single sale and he was nailing them. Keep in mind this was back when your car couldn’t hold $20 worth of gasoline.They are born salesmen and stand on a pyramid whose base is made of failures and newbies. This leads us to the second class of salesman, “the failure”. Almost any who are not a “Ricky Roma” class salesman fall into this one. “A man doesn’t walk on the lot lest he wants to buy.”

Like Willy Loman, these deluded fools have always felt it is far more important to be liked instead of known. They have tried and tried but from Fuller Brushes to Real-estate Developments to Used Cars, they can’t make quota 3 fiscal quarters in a row. Before this seems hypocritical and mean-spirited, my past problems were self-medicating and now a dozen years in the past. These folks are either masochists or have a weaker grasp on reality than yours truly. Like Willy, they dream of the day when they can call buyers, line them up with sellers and make a mint with a phone call each morning. I used to want to play guitar and be a rock star but that was outgrown by my second year in the Army. The point is there is a talent requirement that just isn’t there and most of us know when we just ain’t got it. “They’re standing out there waiting to give you their money! Are you going to take it? Are you man enough to take it?”

Almost 20 years ago I walked in to do Saturday maintenance on the servers at the best job I ever had. We did it on Shabbat because, ironically, sales would cry they were finalizing some big deal on any given Friday. This was long before I became a practicing Jew but G-d wants us to earn a living, so 1 out 4 each month wouldn’t haver been too bad. Anyhow, that particular Saturday was a beautiful summer day. To this day, I don’t mind off-hour server maintenance. That day I knew if things went without a hitch, it would be over soon. No big updates or patches to cause any of the heartache that NT 4 was infamous for. Plus the drive to and from Oakmont, PA was along the very picturesque Allegheny River Boulevard and was usually a pleasant one. As was my habit, I went to each area to tell whoever was there I was taking the systems down. I would make an announcement over the PA after that physical verification. If it was end of quarter, there was even odds some poor sap would be in the sales department area, running on their self-made hamster wheel of pain. “We’re adding a little something to this month’s sales contest. As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Anybody want to see second prize? (Holds up prize) Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you’re fired.”

On that particular Saturday the lone sales guy who was there about defecated when I told him I was taking the systems down. I remember it as if it were yesterday. He looked like the bald guy popular in commercials during my youth. He was the one who always ran out of Miracle Whip right before finalizing a sandwich. Being a kinder, gentler soul back then I patiently let him rant and then replied. “Guy, first off MIS does this every Saturday morning even on holiday weekends. Second, who are you going to reach on a Saturday morning? Seriously. Nobody important would be my guess. Third, if you are this close to quarter and not making quota, ruining a Saturday ain’t going to help. If I were in your shoes I would go play with the kids or walk in the park and leave the pain for Monday.” Instead of being touched, as I had hoped, he did the usual flurry of sales department bullshit. Sputtering about telling the VP on me, some deal worth a million bucks on the line, dedication, blah blah blah. For those wondering, in another quarter he was forced to walk the plank. Who are the third type?, you ask. They are one of the newbies who all hope to conquer the world. English or Art majors with student loans already on their backs, mostly. Almost all of them hope they are the one in a hundred “Ricky Romas”. All I can say to that is “Coffee is for CLOSERS

*Yes, his recommendation of the 1st Robocop was on the money as well.

Sad News from Temple Sinai Pittsburgh

Posted in Info, Pittsburgh with tags on October 19, 2016 by ThommyMac

It was with numbing horror I read this in my emails:

Dear Friends,

It is with great sadness and a heavy heart that I am writing to let you know that Rabbi Gibson’s father, Larry Gibson, passed away last night, as a result of injuries he sustained when he was struck by a car earlier this week.  On behalf of the congregation and staff, we extend our deepest sympathies to the entire Gibson family.  Rabbi Gibson’s parents visited Pittsburgh and attended our services on many occasions over the years; I’m sure we all feel we know Larry Gibson from the stories that are a regular feature of Rabbi Gibson’s sermons. 

Naturally, we want to comfort Rabbi Gibson as a community, as he has comforted so many of us individually. 

As a community, we mourn the passing of Larry Gibson

Father of Rabbi James A. (Barbara) Gibson

Grandfather of Micah (Catherine) Gibson, Avi and David Gibson

Great-grandfather of Noa

For those who would like to make a donation in Larry Gibson’s memory, donations may be made to Temple Sinai or the Gibson Education Fund at Temple Israel, Minneapolis.

Our deepest condolences to the entire Gibson family.

Sincerely,

Nancy E. Gale

President, Temple Sinai

 

Rabbi Gibson has been a HUGE influence in my road to becoming a truly practicing and contributing adult in the Jewish Community. It’s been 3 decades since my own father passed away and it STILL can sneak up on me and reduce me to tears. I sincerely wish the Gibson family comfort in their time of grief.

Movies I Almost Missed … Dark Planet 1997

Posted in Movie Reviews with tags , , on October 19, 2016 by ThommyMac

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The IMDB short descriptions is “Two sides, one known as the Alphas and the other the Rebels, struggle in a brutal war on Earth and in outer space… (99 mins.)”

Director: Albert Magnoli Stars: Paul Mercurio, Harley Jane Kozak, Michael York, Maria Ford

Tagline: There wasn’t one listed but the poster said “One Final Step For Mankind.”

Like so many of the gems covered here, I caught this on Netflix.  I could tell that most of this flick would take place on a spaceship. Well, it didn’t have the best budget BUT it had very good acting, and a good story. I also liked the World War VI angle. That gives so much leeway towards the technology. A couple dark ages and a theocracy or two could really limit things to day to day technology being 1950s with space flight or whatever. York is so underrated, no kidding. He needs a “Private Ryan” level role so he can bow out with an Oscar. For this flick he is very believable, as are the two chicks. The main character’s portrayal by solid acting is what makes this work. Indeed, the acting is how it crosses over from potentially MST3K fodder to a movie worth watching, especially SciFi fans. The rest of the cast goes from above average to very good. Definitely worth a watch. Sometimes sophomore actors supporting some masters gets everyone in character and then a clever director goes from there.  Another example of talent overcoming budget constraints.

Seven stars for Waterloo (1970) ? SEVEN?

Posted in Movie Reviews, Opinion with tags , , , , on October 17, 2016 by ThommyMac

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Tagline: One incredible afternoon Napoleon met Wellington . . . at Waterloo.

Waterloo 1971  Director: Sergey Bondarchuk

Starring Rod Steiger, Christopher Plummer, plus many others, and thousands of Soviet soldiers.

**shakes head in mixture of disbelief and sadness** Fan boys and shills inflating IMDB’s ratings system would be my guess. Then again, members of the TCM forum react to this film much like People magazine’s average coverage of JFK Jr. , so you got me. Now, if this were a very expensive comedy, Rod’s portrayal of Napoleon would be BRILLIANT. Rod Steiger, per usual, playing to the rafters should not be a surprise to anyone. His Napoleon? Think Bugs Bunny, hand on stomach while sporting Nappy’s infamous chapeau and you’re close to the delivery. To be fair, Bugs’ director probably explained the character a little better. Plus rumour has it that Bugs was infamously easy to work with. Chris Plummer, whose in more bombs than most folks realize, is not going to have some Yank out do him. Not quite as bad as say fellow Canadian big Billy S. but he does slap some glazing on. Him and Rod’s declarations on the battle field had me feeling like I broke the Kosher dietary law regarding ham. Using that clever bit of foreshadowing, the battle scenes are the main reasons to watch this.  Those scenes were incredible and would be well nigh impossible to create in this era of CGI cut n paste.

For friends who are not that big into 19th century European history, one of the most infamous bad calls using one’s cavalry occurred at Waterloo. Nappy thought he had Wellington on the ropes, mistaking him pulling back to tighten his line for THE retreat he was hoping for, so he sends out the Emperor’s reserves. I know this is a movie review but bear with me for a second. General de Brigade (Brigadier General if you ain’t already figured that out) Pierre Farine du Creux, of the 14th Cavalry Division was told to prepare his brigade, and six squadrons of the 5th and 10th Cuirassier Regiments, to charge the ridge in the center of Wellington’s position. His superior Charles, Count Lefebvre-Desnoettes gets wind of this and begins a urinating contest too complicated to get into right now. You’d probably have to be a fellow combat arms vet to get it, anyhow.  The bottom line is Boneyard’s cavalry were squandered in a move more like the Chicago stockyards than a battle.  That is all included in a combination of helicopter and dolly shots that have to be seen to be believed. I would give up many things to have seen this at the theatre with a new 70mm print.  The incredible amount of extras with a skill set are due to Dino De Laurentis’ always creative financing.

To get more dough and cut down costs Dino went to good ol’ Mosfilms. If you weren’t a teenager during the Cold War, that is most likely only gonna elicit a shrug. Mosfilms was the Soviet Union’s state owned and operated film industry. Your folks probably better remember it as the evil empire’s propaganda machine. Having a Russian mom, I grew up hiding that fact. Institutionalized racism against Russians in the guise of “Anti-Communism” was the order of the day for 40-some years. I could name some US propaganda flicks of my own but that’s beyond the scope here. Let’s just agree Dino going to Mosfilm with hat in hand was unique and VERY uhhhh ballsy at the time. That unlikely marriage led to the following end credit:

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Having watched this 3 more times to correct the review, it is definitely worth watching. The aforementioned battle scenes are inimitable and using the Red Army for extras gives it a depth and realism that would be close to impossible to film today.

“Waterloo” stirred up some deep nostalgia for me. The first time I watched it I was 12 and it was with my dearly departed Dad. A little black and white with aluminum foil attached to the rabbit ears. This was a noble, if doomed, attempt to overcome Jones & Laughlin’s steel mill. That mill was between us and WTAE Pittsburgh until my 1st year in the Army. Again, I can only dream of what it looked like in Panavision with a screen with the proper ratio. It also reminded me of the hours and hours of playing Stratego with one of my favourite persons on the planet, Mike Janesko. Goodness, we could spend an entire rainy day playing it.

Then again, the 2011 farce “No Strings Attached” got 6 stars so I really oughta chill on Waterloo getting 7. Like any old man, I just don’t deal with inflation too well.

But if 5 is middling, 7 ain’t too bad at all. On examination, 7 stars is fine.

-Thom MacIntyre