Saturday, January 21, 2012

Adler’s Jewish Times a shanda for Atlanta

Last week Andrew Adler was little known in the world of Jewish publishing. Today, the owner and publisher of the Atlanta Jewish Times has become a blemished footnote.

A column Adler penned earlier this month has gone viral. It was an idiotic essay focusing on three ways to deal with the threat of Iran going nuclear – strike Hezbollah and Hamas, strike Iran or assassinate the President of the United States.

Making matters even worse is Andrew’s fantasy-fueled notion that Israeli leaders share his na├»ve and dangerous ideas. Here’s his thinking in his own words: “… Give the go-ahead for U.S.-based Mossad agents to take out a president deemed unfriendly to Israel in order for the current vice president to take his place, and forcefully dictate that the United States' policy includes its helping the Jewish state obliterate its enemies … Think about it. If I have thought of this Tom Clancy-type scenario, don't you think that this almost unfathomable idea has been discussed in Israel's most inner circles?”

Well, ah, no Andrew, I don’t really think that Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders are in favor of offing Barak Obama or that fiction – even fiction once on the New York Time’s bestseller’s list – is part of the geo-political conversation in Jerusalem.

Andrew has embarrassed himself. Far worse, he’s opened a can of worms that anti-Semites, loony liberals and right-wing kooks are using to bash Israel, raising questions about U.S. foreign aid to the Jewish state, and re-examining the world of “Israel Firsters” – Americans who promote Israel’s position on Iran and other issues over those of the U.S.

Hundreds of news organizations and websites – Gawker, Huffington Post, ABC News, Fox, The Guardian, Haaretz – have picked up on the story, offering up an audience of millions literally around the world. The Atlanta Jewish Times, btw, has a weekly circulation of a few thousand.

The stories and commentary show Andrew to be a fool. Andrew is even quoted in several posts detailing how a few Atlanta-area rabbis have told him he’s meshuggah – crazy!

Andrew says he’ll be printing an apology next week. He says he actually supports Obama, believes deeply in Israel and was just trying to get a little response from his reading audience. Hey, Andrew, mission accomplished. Mazel Tov!

I’ve met Andrew a few times over the years. I’m thinking he’s harmless. Yet this isn’t the first time he’s embarrassed himself with his ill-conceived and poorly written columns.

Last year, after the death of a well-respected leader of the Jewish community, Andrew lashed out at others in Atlanta who he said, essentially, could never fill the void left by the man’s passing. The only problem with that notion is that Atlanta is fortunate to have many leaders – all successful, hugely supportive of the Jewish community in their philanthropic efforts – with vision and grit.

A bit later, Andrew offered up a nonsensical essay on how best to heal the economic problems of several iconic Jewish institutions by merging the organizations and their missions. All he accomplished was irritating and alienating his core constituency.

Truth to tell, it has been years – long before Andrew took over ownership – since The Atlanta Jewish Times has been a vital part of the local Jewish scene or wielded any clout. Andrew has been forced to sit on the sidelines, a peripheral figure mostly ignored and viewed as a silly crank.

Simply put, his recent splash across the web is a shanda. In a world that moves at the speed of light, where a tiny publication can momentarily find itself center stage, Andrew needs to put down his pen. He’s stuck it too deeply up his tush to ever get it out. It’s time that both Andrew and The Jewish Times simply go away.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Don’t look now, but someone’s watching

I saw that one of Bruce Willis’ films was going to be airing on the tube the other night. I couldn’t recall the plot, so being a high-tech sort of guy I googled the flick and was rewarded immediately with several sites that offered details – plot summaries, reviews, facts and gossip about the cast and crew.

I mention all this as preamble, a little context to give weight to my gentle reminder that anything – and I mean absolutely everything – you do on the web is being watched. So it was that shortly after my little research project on Willis and Die Hard: With a Vengeance was complete, I skittered over to Facebook.

The "free trial" offer above was waiting for me along the right hand rail. Big Brother’s digital cousin apparently had been watching when I clicked onto IMDb; stored the info and fed it through a series of algorithms that instantaneously found me on the web.

It’s not as if I didn’t already know that whatever happens on the web is pretty much available to anyone with decent computer skills or, more likely, any company with enough cash to hire tech geeks to do its snooping. It’s the speed, sophistication and pervasive nature of the eavesdropping that’s grabbed my attention.

If I do a little window shopping on Amazon, visit Orbitz, or try out a pair of shoes at Zappos.com, it doesn’t surprise me at all that for the next few hours – days, weeks – that I’ll be hit with a series of ads pushing stuff on Amazon, Orbitz and Zappos. The Netflix offer, however, caught me by surprise.

I didn’t go to the Netflix site; it came to me, casually winking and offering up a film that it thought I was interested in watching. Of course the folks at Netflix knew I wanted to watch the film; they had been watching me!

Can you imagine the number of hits – hundreds, thousands, millions – various movie sites get in a day; the give and take between these sites and Netflix – all, btw, at the speed of light!

Now factor all that by 10 – a hundred, thousand, kajillion – and you start to have a sense of all the snooping about on various sites, mostly attempting to sell goods and services. The really scary stuff is the snooping that’s stealing – social security numbers, bank accounts, credit card numbers.

I’m thinking that in our collective effort to jump into the future, we’ve been hurled back into the past. The World Wide Web – is that a phrase that’s used anymore? – is looking pretty much like the Wild, Wild West and the problem is there’s only one sheriff to corral a million grizzled cowpokes sporting black hats --and digital guns!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

New high-tech toys need a dose of magic

Back in the dark ages of the mid-1990s, I was editing a story about Israel. I had a few questions and needed to reach the reporter who worked out of Jerusalem. So I picked up my phone, tapped in a few numbers and only seconds later was chatting with the writer on his cell phone as he was finishing up an evening jog to Bethlehem.

BTW, Bethlehem means house of bread! But I digress. I’ve forgotten the details of the story I was editing for that place with the printing press here in the Land of Cotton, but I still recall the sense of wonder I felt at being able to reach the reporter, dashing about on the other side of the world.

I have some vague idea how the whole communication network comes together – radio signals, cell zones, transmitters, receivers and satellite uplinks – and, well, pixie dust. Truth to tell, cell phones and other such high-tech gizmos are scientific wonders; but for me, it’s magic that makes them work!

I mention all this now, because the magic has lost its power in my little corner of the world – at least for the moment. I’ll explain.

The lovely Miss Wendy and I decided to jump into the 21st century recently. We dusted off and packaged up the ancient box televisions that had served us well for years and bought a couple of those ginormous, oh-so high-tech flat screen TVs.

Fortunately, there’s a magician in the family – that would be Josh, my son-in-law – who tossed about some pixie dust, waved his magic wand and, voila, our new TVs were up and running. Life was good!

For a week or so – and the timing was perfect – I was able to watch college bowl games and the NFL playoffs in a very up close and personal sort of way. My favorite programs were much more vivid, the color stronger, the acting sharper. Okay, the acting was pretty much the same; but everything was bigger and, for the most part, better!

All of this was playing out on regular cable; I had yet to upgrade to HD – that’s one of those new miracle thingies that provide sharper and clearer images. The new stuff had been ordered and several days ago I received all the upgraded equipment – HD boxes, a DVR, and HDMI connectors; a bit of mandrake root, toad spittle and saffron for coloring!

The family magician managed to get by over the weekend, set up the new components, tossed on a bit of pixie dust and stirred it all ever so gently. We stood by waiting for the magic to take hold and, ah, nothing! Well, actually there was something – an error code.

Josh wiggled some stuff around, tossed on some more toad spittle and waved his, ah, magic wand yet again. And, wait for it, nothing! Unfortunately, the magician and his beautiful assistant had places to go and I was left staring at a blank screen.

I knew I had no choice but to skip down the yellow brick road and actually attempt to reach the, ah, wizard. It’s a scary proposition but sometimes a man has to do what a man has to do. So I screwed my courage to the sticking place and called my cable provider.

After working my way through the obligatory phone tree, I only had to wait 10 minutes to reach the wizard. She asked a few pertinent questions, had me dash around a bit in search of serial numbers hidden away on the back of the new component parts, punched a few buttons and, wait for it, nothing – again!

It was time, the wizard suggested to jiggle a few more wires and reboot. I suggested it was time to wave a white flag and send in reinforcements. The wizard laughed and arranged for an elf techie to drop by tomorrow.

Here’s hoping he brings along lots of pixie dust, a fresh magic wand and a whole bunch of patience. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Big tree, big men and my tax dollars at work

Who says government doesn’t work? Out here in the Land of Cotton it’s humming along fine, taking care of all the little details – especially when there’s an emergency.

Wednesday morning I dashed out to take a walk. Despite overcast skies, a few sprinkles and some wind gusts tossing about debris, it was nice to be out an about. After running a few errands, I was headed home a few hours later when, to my surprise, a huge tree blocked my path.

Apparently one of those little wind gusts tossing me around on my walk had also grabbed hold of a towering pine in my neighbor’s yard and tossed it into the street. I was forced to make a u-turn, swing around the corner and approach my house from another direction. The tip of the tree was actually just touching the corner of my property. Its bulk was splayed out across the street, a mess of broken limbs, pine needles and cones and a weighty trunk that I couldn’t begin to budge.

A few neighbors gathered about, circling the problem, trying to figure out the best way to clear the area. One hearty soul went looking for a chainsaw, another for a bottle of beer. I decided this was a grand opportunity to put my tax dollars to work.

It only took a moment of research to find a directory of numbers for various government agencies in my little corner of the world and only another moment or so to contact a clerk charged with handling road complaints and emergencies.

I didn’t have to cool my heels and listen to piped in music over my phone; didn’t have to listen to someone explain that they couldn’t help and that I needed to reach another department; didn’t have to punch my way through an endless phone tree.

The clerk asked a few questions – my name, address, area of the county I called home – and then said she’d dispatch a crew immediately. Now it’s been my experience that immediately, especially when dealing with government agencies, can mean an hour or a week; in this case, immediately meant 30 minutes!

For a moment I thought I’d stumbled into a Keystone Kops video – and I mean that mostly in a good sort of way. Three trucks, filled with at least a dozen workers pulled up in front of my house. The workers – at least half seemed to be prison trustees – took only a minute or two to examine the problem, then started picking up debris. Meanwhile, a few other guys grabbed the heavy equipment – chainsaws, axes and other such stuff – and began whacking away at the pine tree with great gusto.

After only 10 minutes or so, all the debris was neatly piled into one heap and the tree’s trunk nicely cut into manageable sections. Then yet a fourth truck, waiting patiently off in the distance, wheeled in a mammoth chipper to finish up the job.

In less time than it takes to renew my driver’s license, or purchase a new auto tag, or pay my property tax, the downed tree was cut, quartered, chipped up and carted away. Only a small bit of the trunk remains in my neighbor’s yard, a little reminder of the towering pine that had once towered over this corner of the neighborhood for decades.

I’m still not certain why and how all this happened so quickly. But I’m thinking that maybe the county commission chairman might live nearby or the workers are getting paid by the job, not the hour.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A Jewish film festival for the ganze mishpacha!

It’s that time of year again and the lovely Miss Wendy and I are well positioned to set personal records for most films attended at next month’s Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. There are still a few weeks before the annual fest airs its first movie, but we’ve studied the schedule and already purchased tickets for a bunch of stuff – that’s official movie talk for narratives and documentaries.

The really good news is film fest officials have decided that there’s apparently an audience for what they’re offering in the northern suburbs, significantly increasing the number of films to be aired this year in my little corner of the world. The even better news is that one of the selected theaters is only a hop, skip and a short jump from my house.

The movie marathon, at least for Wendy and me, begins with “Wunderkinder”, a German film that focuses on the friendship of three musical prodigies; their passion for music and efforts to remain connected – and alive – after the Nazis invade their homeland.

Over several weeks – the festival begins on Feb. 8 and runs through the end of the month – we’ll be sitting back and enjoying entries from Israel, France, Germany and the U.S.; comedies, dramas and a few documentaries.

One of the highlights worth mentioning is “This Is Sodom”, a bit of comedy fluff from Israel that has attracted huge audiences in the Jewish homeland. It’s being touted as a raucous and bawdy flick in the best tradition of Monty Python and Mel Brooks.

I’m thinking I’ll be bumping into several of my neighbors and oh-so many Members of the Tribe during the run of the festival, all out and about for a little fun and distraction. That’s because event officials have found a magic formula.

The secret? Festival organizers manage each year to offer up a way for Jews of all stripes – those who believe absolutely in the laws of Moses and those who mostly believe in lox and bagels – to come together as a community; a cultural happening that taps into our collective souls.

But if you’re hoping to be part of this happening, you best hurry. Tickets are selling out fast. For additional information and to purchase tickets, just Google Atlanta Jewish Film Festival or click right HERE! No need to thank me. As another blogging friend often says, I’m just a sharing kind of person.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Holiday fun and games with Josh and Lauren

Having nothing better to do and being absolutely nuts, the lovely Miss Wendy and I started the new year off with a visit to IKEA Sunday morning, waiting at the door – along with one homeless guy – when the home furnishing store opened for business.

While the rest of the folks in the Land of Cotton were sleeping in after a night of celebrating, Wendy and I were on a mission. A day earlier – that would be Saturday – we decided to dive into the 21st century and bought a ginormous flat screen TV. Now we were in search of something smart, chic and relatively cheap to rest it on in style.

After a short detour for breakfast – scrambled eggs, a beefy bit of treif, home fries and a biscuit; all for 99 cents – we wandered through the vast warehouse, spinning about Scandinavian creations that were sleek, modern and just about perfect – if you happen to be moving into a dorm!

That said, once we managed to stumble into the right corner of the furniture palace, the room filled with cabinets, bookshelves, media centers and TV stands was calling our name – hello! Just a few days earlier and we’d probably have been jostling our way through a packed house of holiday shoppers. Early Sunday morning all we needed to do is step around the one homeless guy we’d beaten to the front door to capture our prize.

We played out the IKEA shuffle – writing down the product number, aisle and bin numbers for the cabinet we coveted – then began the 20 minute hike to the basement where most everything is warehoused.

An hour later we were back home, an 80-pound box of stuff – boards, screws, hinges, knobs – and a 15-page manual featuring absolutely no text, a few stick figures and a bunch of indecipherable diagrams that, I was assured by the officials at IKEA, was all I needed to whip together my wondrous new TV cabinet. Right!

Did I mention that when God was handing out the DIY genes, I was still standing in the line for good looks! Fortunately, my wonderful and talented daughter Lauren came to the rescue. Knowing this moment would arrive one day, she had the very good sense several years ago to marry Josh.

Now Josh is a handsome and gifted man who knows his way around a screwdriver. So it was only, ah, three hours after studying the manual; sending the lovely Miss Wendy and Lauren out for a walk; my coaching earnestly from the sidelines; Josh doing a little fancy footwork and some jury rigging that the work was done and we all agreed that it was good – and yet it was still evening of the first day; still time enough to unpack the ginormous tube and set it right.

That little project – a simple matter, the manufacturer says, of fitting on a stand, plugging in a few wires and programming some software – wiped out another hour and the sun had long since called it quits and dipped below the horizon.

Truth to tell, if Josh hadn’t come to my rescue, the ginormous TV would be gathering dust in a corner for the next several months and the IKEA cabinet would now be kindling. The good news is after a celebratory meal at one of Lauren and Josh’s favorite restaurants, I made it home just in time for, wait for it, Sunday Night Football – Giants, Cowboys and one whopping big television. It turns out – at least in the case of TVs – that size really does make a difference.

All of that is a long and windy way to say thanks Josh. Now if you can put down your screwdriver – or, ah, maybe pick it up – and start working on that other little project with Lauren, maybe 2012 will be a really special year for all of us ... I'm just saying ...