Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sin City Summary

Well, I have returned to Jersey from my vacation in Las Vegas with a little less of my liver, tons of new photos and only 33 cents lost to the gambling gods. Of course, I spent a whole lot more money on food, drinks and a fantastic hot stone massage - BUT only 33 cents on the slots. Since I'm still working off some of my red-eye flight's jet lag, I figured I'd offer my trip high (and low) lights here in a condensed format.
FRIENDS: I managed to see all the ones I had made plans with during my trip, which was totally awesome! Thanks to cell phones we met up in various locations throughout the city for drinks, laughs and pics.
BOOZE: My first night in town I discovered a stellar drink special in the most unlikely of places - Wolfgang Puck's Chinese restaurant in the Caesar's Palace Forum Shops offers $3 Fat Tire beers during happy hour! Then, on my way out of the mall, I stopped some gentlemen sporting badass grills and bottles of Fat Tire. They told me that the Tourneau watch store was inexplicably offering free beer and food. Score!!!! Besides the opportunity to enjoy my favorite brew at a reasonable price, Vegas offered some solid buzzes, but no major binges.
FOOD: A lot of mediocre and overpriced crap, but also some redeeming meals including super tasty tuna at a fancy steakhouse and animal style veggie burger at In 'N Out.
GAMBLING: A friendly dealer gave me a brief craps lesson that sorta cleared up the intricacies of the game for me, but it still doesn't really make sense. Ultimately, I bet $6 on the slots and won back $5.67.
DIGS: We stayed at the Planet Hollywood Resort which is conveniently located across from the Bellagio and next to the Paris, but costs a lot less. However, the hotel lacks the nightclubs offered by many of the others on the Strip and isn't as big or as glamorous. Also, since it used to be the Aladdin, the rooms still feature magic carpet decor elements and genie-esque lamps. But the price was right and who spends that much time in their hotel room in Vegas anyway?
SIGHTSEEING: I gotta give it to Steve Wynn, the man designed a fucking beautiful hotel. I loved the floor tile, it was so fabulous. Props also to the Venetian for major glam without typical Strip excess. I liked it better than the Bellagio, which is only cool for its Chihuly ceiling and dancing fountains. Thanks to everyone who offered tips in this arena - they were much appreciated and put to good use.
BOYS: The trip started slow with no discernable prospects, and honestly that was OK. Then on our last night in town, a pre-partying excursion to a Mexican restaurant revealed a very cute guy. We began chatting across the bar and when he and his friend got up to leave, we exchanged phone numbers. Myriad text messages later and we made plans to rendezvous in the Planet Hollywood casino since both of us were staying in the hotel. We hit the bar and settle into a black leather banquette with a few beers. However, rather than swap spit, I manage to pick up the one guy in Vegas who only wants to talk. Apparently, he likes me for my intellect, which at home would be flattering but in Sin City this is beyond frustrating! He leaves me with a quick peck at my hotel room door and my conquest is over.
All in all, a great trip and a definite fulfillment of spending Sukkot the way G-d intended - in the desert.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Vegas, Baby!

Because I'm having a little trouble these days remembering how "money" I am (and because I have two days off from work), I've decided to embark on a trip to Las Vegas on Wednesday with my friend Dana. I haven't been outside the airport in Vegas since I was 16, so I'm pretty sure this will be my best visit to Sin City.
Thanks to my adventures in the Ukraine and in Israel on the famed MLOS 2005 trip, I possess some basic poker skills that have been further honed with episodes of Celebrity Poker on Bravo during slow afternoons in grad school. I have a suspicion that the Lost Wages reputation may fall upon me, I plan to lose greater funds at the spa than at the tables.
Besides Dana, my aforementioned travelling companion (shout out to San Diego), I'm looking forward to seeing a few other friends during this trip, including my friend Danielle who I last saw in Prague shortly after MLOS. Hopefully, Cho and Maggie will make an appearance on my itinerary as well.
I have downloaded ample Elvis tunes onto my MP3 player, started packing up my carry-on suitcase and reminded myself not to come home married. In 36 hours, I'll be there!!!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Whole Wide World

As we all learned in the fourth grade, the French gave the United States the Statue of Liberty back in 1886, as a gesture of friendship. Marking the 100th anniversary of our country's formation, the Statue symbolically welcomes visitors, returning Americans and immigrants. It's this last group that Emma Lazarus (another fiesty Jewish chick) honors in her poem, "The New Colossus" which is engraved on a plaque mounted inside the Statue. The poem describes Lady Liberty as the Mother of Exiles and includes the oft-quoted line, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free," thus solidifying the United States' reputation as a haven for immigrants.

Fast forward 121 years and while the numbers support Ms. Lazarus's vision, that reputation is on shakier ground than Liberty Island itself.

In March 2003, the most recent year that statistics are available, the U.S. Census recorded the civilian, noninstitutionalized foreign-born population at 33.5 million, representing 11.7 percent of the total American population. Of these, more than 50 percent were born in Latin America (including South & Central America and the Caribbean), 25 percent were born in Asia, 13 percent in Europe and eight percent in Other Regions. While I could get sidetracked by the incredibly uniformative "Other Regions" designation that includes Africa, Oceania and Northern America, that's for another blog post.

The Census also recognized that among the foreign born in 2003, 13.6 percent entered the United States since 2000, 36.6 percent came in the 1990s, 24.0 percent came in the 1980s, 13.7 percent came in the 1970s, and the remaining 12.2 percent arrived before 1970. For this earliest wave before 1970, 80.9 percent had obtained citizenship by 2003. The report goes on to compare income earned, education level and poverty between the native and foreign born populations. To spare you the nitty-gritty, let me tell you that overall , those of us who followed Bruce Springsteen's example and were born in the USA, fare better on all the measures.

With all these people constantly coming into our country and with the native born generally faring better, you'd think that most Americans would recognize their own immigrant pasts and embrace these newcomers. But, as anyone who follows the news knows, that sadly is not the case. Americans bemoan the latest waves of immigrants and berate them for failing to learn English quickly enough, not sufficiently assimilating into our culture and taking away resources from deserving naturalized citizens. From a Jewish perspective, where so many of our ancestors came to this country seeking liberty and freedom under duress of war and/or pogrom, these attitudes are especially disturbing. While I'm not arguing for flinging our doors open like a Toys R' Us on the day after Thanksgiving, I am unequivocally demanding a comprehensive, cogent and compassionate set of new immigration policies. And, since according to the University of Maryland at Baltimore County, I know a few things about public policy, here are a few suggestions... presidential candidates take note.

According to the 2000 Census, 18 percent of the American population (or 47 million people) speaks a language other than English at home. The most widely-spoken language is Spanish, and Chinese, French, German, Italian, Polish and Korean rank in the top 10. Speakers of these languages, whether foreign or native born, speak English with varying degrees of ability that 99.9 percent of the time vastly outrank our abilities to speak their languages with any level of fluency.
So my first suggested policy is sorta like a foreign exchange student program done with a much more local focus. For every 10 kids who need to learn English, take another 10 and teach them a foreign language and make them fluent. Don't let them stop when they know how to ask where the bathroom is and don't wait until junior high to get started. Begin in kindergarten and dual-language track where possible. Are there lots of Spanish, Chinese or Russian speakers in your school district? Great, you have free tutors! Are there three kids floating around who speak something a little less universal, like Gujurathi? Great, teach everyone a little Chinese? Bottom line - we Americans have GOT to stop being monolingual. It's embarrassing and it's beginning to affect our ability to compete in the increasingly global marketplace.

Now that more of us can communicate with each other, let's talk about hanging out. Very often, immigrants cluster in specific neighborhoods because of the availability of services and friends with similar experiences. The entire immigrant generation might not leave that designated area until the next, native born population ages into the public school system or goes to college. This isolates immigrants and provides few opportunities for interaction. Unique cultures and values absolutely merit a place in American society - but we seldom understand them because of geographical separation (even of a few blocks). So I encourage people to venture into these areas, eat some food, shop in the local stores (they are usually a great source of cheap goods) and make some friends. This isn't so much a policy as a recommendation... but maybe if more people try this out, we won't need so many cumbersome policies.

Finally, rationing services such as health care, education and police and fire protection between legal immigrants/citizens and undocumented immigrants becomes incredibly daunting when there are already substantial gaps in access between various groups of Americans. A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation determined that immigrants are twice as likely to not have health coverage because of fear, language barriers and other factors. So what to do? How about remembering our obligation that Emma Lazarus pointed out and stop using citizenship as a determinant for helping people! We need to help our own, and as immigrants, these people are now our own and therefore merit the services that Americans receive.

All right, enough ranting for one night.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Shana Tova

A happy and healthy New Year to everyone out there in blog-land! Thanks to everyone for their support, readership and excellent comments (I like the comments best). I hope you all enjoy a year of blessing, peace, success and joy!
Check back for new and deeply insightful posts in 5758, including: "Babies, Seriously?" "The Nasty Side of the Ethiopian National Project," "Sukkot the way G-d Intended - in the Desert of Las Vegas," and "Whole Wide World - My Rantings on Immigration."

Shana tova from the Shtetl!

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Good on Paper

There's a widely-circulated theory in the world of dating about the "good on paper" guy or girl. The general gist is that given the right pedigree of education, job type and status, domicile and family relationships that one's dating target will yield suitable results. Of course, with the law of averages sometimes the person may prove better on paper than in real life.
Case in point: a few years ago I dated a classically attractive guy who was about to embark on a master's degree in international relations, had traveled throughout Thailand and called his mother weekly. Too bad he had no sex drive and treated me badly. So much for all those Ivy League dating advertisements.

But what happens when you encounter someone who isn't necessarily good on paper? Does that mean that perhaps he/she will prove all your preconceived theories wrong and be that incredible person you've been waiting for? I guess I ask because my current dating scene has put me in that milleu.
Bachelor #1 is 30, Jewish, an accountant in New York City and has a ragingly bad Jersey accent. He comes from a similar Jewish background to me. He's a huge Giants fan and even has tickets, but is overweight, lost a year of salary to disability and lives in an apartment with his mother. In the algebra of good on paper dating, this guy barely makes the grade.
Bachelor #2 goes against every logical assumption I've made about the kind of guy I want to date. He never went to college, isn't Jewish, served 2 years in the Navy, doesn't own a car and I had to drive on our first date. Oh, and did I mention he lives above a funeral home where he also happens to work? And yet, it was a great date.

I think at the end of the day, the theories about dating and relationships are simply that. Human chemistry often overrides any conceptual or pre-ordained objections and generally finds a way to bite you in the ass when you least expect it. Who knows where any of these entanglements will take me in the new year, but they're sure to provide excellent material for this blog.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

What Year is it?

Admittedly, I consume a bulk of my news diet from a strange blend of the Daily Show, the Times, the Post, NPR, Slate and MSN online, the morning TV news and of course, The Onion. I find it gives me a reasonably full dose of the hard information, the quirky features, the slightly parodic, and my grandmother's second favorite - the wedding section.
Generally, I can peruse these with a minimal of outrage, these less-calm moment most frequently sparked by the misadventures of the current presidential administration. However, in the past week I came across a few things that raised the proverbial eyebrow and forced me to question what year we're living in.

Item One: Larry Craig's Resignation
In case your end-of-summer vacation did not involve any connection with the outside world, let me recap. Veteran Republican Senator, Larry Craig, resigned under extreme pressure from his party following an arrest in an undercover vice operation in an airport bathroom well-known for George Michael-esque activity. Over the years, people have questioned Craig's sexual identity, despite his avowed statements of heterosexuality and staunch anti-gay rights voting record.
My question for Sen. Craig and the entire Republican party is why? Why continue to live an ugly, closeted lifestyle and vote against your own civil liberties? Why force people into secrecy about whom they love and how they choose to express it? Is this 2007 or 1950?
This issue concern us all and it hurts me to see that as far as we've come in the quest for equality we still have such a long way to go. Public figures - be they politicians, athletes, actors or celebutants should feel able to come out without fear of scorn or ridicule. Besides, it helps thin out my dating pool.

Item Two: First Female Beefeater
In a far less hyped story across the Pond, Britian appointed its first Beefeater at the Tower of London to have two X chromosomes. Since 1485, all the guards at the Tower (who routinely pose for pictures in their adorable fuzzy hats) have been men and Class Two Warrant Officer Moira Cameron was selected over 5 men who also applied for the position.
First off, a big up to Moira for breaking down a centuries-old barrier on what is ostensibly a ceremonial position. Secondly, I have ask again - why? Why did it take more than 500 years to break through those thick Tower walls? Sure, I'll give them the first 450 years on the whole, men ruling the world thing, but why not any other women in the last 30?
Overall, my purpose here is to just broadcast the excellent news and to suggest that feminism and women's equality are far from dead issues. There are still many arenas in which women have yet to achieve parity including politics, the pay scale, professional sports and many of our daily work environments. To all my ladies reading, I hope you take this small victory and use it as inspiration to keep up the good fight. And to the fellas, you've been warned.

Item Three: Don't like abortion? Don't have one.
This one I can barely even blog about it makes me so angry. Just when you think we've won a tiny victory like item two, the man seems to have a way of telling those of us with a vagina that we simply can't own it. In the real estate metaphor of sexual politics - it seems I often have a tenuous, illegal sublet situation going on with my own reproductive system and that certain legislators periodically swoop in to conduct raids as some perversely-motivated landlord of Cuntsville.
I guess that sage who said "if you're not angry, you're not paying attention," was right after all. Here's some sites if you want to take action:,,