Monday, January 26, 2009

1 Shevaṭ 5769: Spouse’s Day/Australia Day/Chinese New Year/Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day


Worthy cause of the day: “Tell Your Representative to Support the Omnibus Public Land Management Act”.

Relevant to Divine Misconceptions:
  1. Last night on TV there was a made-for-TV movie called Loving Leah dealing with a little-discussed feature of Judaism, levirate marriage (yibbum).  The basic concept can be found in Deuteronomy 25:5-10, namely that if a married man dies childless, his brother should marry the widow in order to produce children.  If the brother does not want to marry his sister-in-law, he must undergo a degrading ceremony knows as ḥaliṣah, after which the widow is free to marry another man. The practice these days in the rare situation described is to perform ḥaliṣah (out of fear that levirate marriage may be consumated for anything other than the purest intents).  Loving Leah deals with a case where the brother and widow decide to contract levirate marriage, the brother out of respect to the deceased and the widow as a means of being able to escape her community and go to college.  (There is a Ḥaredhi-versus-Reform aspect to this story.)  Though starting out with no intention of the marriage being anything other than pro forma, the couple of course fall in love, thus making for a happy ending.

    Despite the fact that the reaction of any rabbinical court these days to anyone who wanted to be part of a levirate marriage would probably be to the tune of “Are you insane?”, I am not aware of anything they could do to really stop it.  On the other hand, the couple in the movie do not do initially the one thing I am aware of which makes it a done deal:  sexual intercourse.  As a whole, the movie is riddle with a strange mixture of awareness of the practice of Judaism with utter ignorance.  Alongside an awareness of washing cups, blowtorching ovens to kasher them, married women covering their hair, not using telephones on Shabbath, and not eating meat and dairy together are a paradoxical ignorance of not using non-kasher vessels for food, details of ṣeni‘uth, the constant practice of Torah study, any trace of ṭaharath hammishpaḥah, or what being observant means to an Orthodox Jew.  Intuition suggests whoever is responsible for this film was either peripherally familiar with Orthodox Judaism or that some aspects of Jewish practice fell victim to incompetence in development and production.
  2. More self-promotion: 2009 Darwin Week in Charleston | February 09-15. Come see me February 10 and tell me I completely misunderstand (what passes for) the theology of Ben Stein!
Today’s news and commentary:Today’s weird thing is a non-serious article written by Barry some time ago, included below. Enjoy and share the weirdness.


It's everywhere now.  In homes and apartments across
the country, people are doing it. Teenagers do it to
impress their friends. It props up the egos of people
in their midlife crisises. People are putting
pictures of it on the Internet.

But what exactly is extreme gardening?

Extreme gardening is a form of indoor container
gardening where people try to grow the most outrageous
plants in the most outrageous places. People do it on
their own, or sometimes compete to do the most bizarre
gardening stunts imaginable. Some people grow
enormous plants inside their homes, such as Granny
Smith apple trees, saguaro cactuses, and in one case,
a redwood which grew through a skylight. Some let ivy
plants crawl up inside walls or kudzu over
refrigerators. There has been purposeful cultivation
of poisonous plants indoors such as foxglove and
belladonna. Others make topiary furniture, turn their
bathtubs into cranberry bogs, cultivate shitake
mushrooms under their dining-room tables, or set up
holly and prickly pears as deterrants to burglars. It
has become disturbingly popular. But is it safe?

"This is the most dangerous fad in recent memory,"
says Dr. Hieronymous Pickles of the University of
Pennsylvania. "Most people have no idea how dangerous
plants can be."

Dr. Pickles points to a number of incidents involving
plant-related injuries. Some of them are as simple as
people falling on cacti and thistles, or allergic
reactions to poison ivy. But there are a number of
incidents in which plants turn on their owners.

"Attacks on people by plants are disturbingly common,"
says Dr. Pickles.

The most common attacks are by spider plants, which,
when planted in hanging pots, can become quite
violent. "Most people don't realize that spider
plants are prone to vertigo," said Timothy Dork of the
Burpee Seed Company. "The slightest breeze can get
them dizzy, making them liable to take out their
frustrations on others. We have spent many years
trying to develop friendlier spider plants."

Fortunately there have been no fatalities caused by
spider plants. But other plants have caused serious
injury or death. Cabbage and its variants, such as
broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts, are
extremely ill-tempered and liable to bite. Rose
bushes often get cranky if not kept properly pruned
and have been known to beat their owners with their
canes as they sleep. Even harmless-looking geraniums
and pansies have been known to have bad reactions to
powdery mildew and send their owners to the hospital.

But perhaps the plants causing the most injuries are
fruit-bearing vines such as cucumbers and squash.
Pumpkins especially have gotten a bad reputation.
Dangling their vines out windows, they have been known
to grab children and pets and eat them. They've also
been known to aggressively use their fruits as
weapons. In Cincinnati, two people suffered
concussions after being smacked on the head by an
acorn squash. There have been instances of vines
shoving their zucchinis down peoples throats,
suffocating them, in Seattle and New York. And in New
Orleans, a cucumber plant attacked several drunks and
tried to knock them into the path of an oncoming

The situation is made worse by some extreme gardeners
encouraging this behavior. All across the country,
police have been reporting an ever-increasing number
of organized aloe fights. Some flower shops now
advertise the visciousness of their petunias and
suggest sending them as a "revenge bouquet." But
perhaps most disturbing are reports that strains of
Big Max and Dill's Atlantic Giant pumpkins now exist
which drop their massive fruits on people's heads.

"The law has not kept up with what gardeners are
doing," says Dr. Pickles. "If we don't do something
soon, we could well be overrun by these dangerous plants."

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