In my last post, I wrote about explaining the laws of kashrut to our nanny and I ended with this paragraph:
Keeping kosher is something we do; it’s part of our tradition and part of who we are. But it’s not the easiest thing to explain. I mean, it’s easy enough to say, “There are a bunch of passages in the Torah that are all about dietary restrictions and Jews have stuck with those for an awfully long time.” But it takes a good deal more than that to explain why those dietary restrictions are ones that we — in this house in this time and place — still find meaningful and worth following, especially since we don’t read the Torah literally and we don’t take to heart all of the rules-and-regulations passages from right alongside the passages about keeping kosher. But it’s a worthwhile endeavor to try to explain oneself to others … despite, or perhaps because of, the difficulty that often attends making sense of one’s beliefs and actions.
And so a number of people wanted to know why I keep kosher.
In the first place, it’s a return for me to the way I did things when I was growing up. My grandparents kept a kosher home and so did my parents; I went to a private Hebrew day school from kindergarten through eighth grade. So keeping kosher was the standard for me until high school. I didn’t keep kosher in high school, college, or graduate school. Returning to it now that I have a family of my own is a sort of homecoming for me.
But it wasn’t necessarily a choice I would have made for myself. It was my wife’s idea and it was important to her; when we drove out to Nebraska from Virginia back in 2008, she suggested it and, over many hours in the car, we debated and decided to give it a try. It was actually pretty difficult to do when we lived in Lincoln; there was no kosher meat available in the city until Trader Joe’s opened shortly before we moved, so we had to drive to Omaha and stock up on frozen meat. Most of the time, we were de facto vegetarians. Despite the challenges, I have to say that it was a great feeling to know that my grandparents could eat anything in our house, using the proper dishes and silverware, when they came to visit. My grandfather never would have said anything, but I’m sure it was a concern when he visited me during my grad school stint in North Carolina.
Having moved to Omaha, it’s much easier. The Jewish community is larger here and there are many more kosher items available in the grocery stores. Buying kosher meat, separating dairy from meat, choosing to have a whole bunch of sets of dishes, or asking questions about ingredients when you’re at a restaurant are all things that could be a hassle but, at this point in my life, they bring a sense of intentionality to a meal. Rather than just choosing anything from the fridge and putting it on a plate, each meal represents an opportunity to pause and consider what’s important to me.
Finally, and very much related to the last point, keeping kosher has become something that’s a part of our identity because we’ve joined a vibrant Jewish community here in Omaha and we’re raising our kids in that community. Keeping kosher is something we do to explain Judaism to our kids; it’s a connection with the history and tradition of the Jewish people. And it’s part of consciously creating a particular identity as Jews in a place where Jews are a very, very small minority. My sense is that this will pay dividends as the kids get older, as their Judaism always will have been a clearly defined part of who they are just as it was for me.
In candor, I have been a dirty old man ever since I was a very young man. Except, that is, when it comes to my daughters (and other young women that I care deeply about). And that brings me to the amusing debate about how (mostly) young female lawyers dress these days.
That’s Richard Kopf, a Senior U.S. District Court Judge here in Nebraska, writing on his blog earlier this week.
Kopf explains to female lawyers that they should dress more conservatively, giving the example of a young lawyer who draws a great deal of attention to herself — very positive attention from men and very negative attention from female law clerks — as a result of her physical attributes and her clothing choices:
“She is brilliant, she writes well, she speaks eloquently, she is zealous but not overly so, she is always prepared, she treats others, including her opponents, with civility and respect, she wears very short skirts and shows lots of her ample chest. I especially appreciate the last two attributes.”
In the comments, when challenged by someone who said that at least three female law clerks had no idea who this young lawyer might be, Kopf argued that he wasn’t really referring to a specific person but to “an amalgam,” though he begins his description of the woman with the words “True story.”
Not surprisingly, the blog post has garnered a lot of negative attention. In a follow-up post, Kopf doubles down:
I honestly don’t care how you (or others) remember me.* I do care passionately that federal trial judges be seen as individuals with all the strengths and weakness (baggage) that everyone else carries around.
If, on balance, you think the post was harmful to the image of the federal judiciary and truly treated women as objects, I am very, very, very sorry for that, but I would ask you to pause and reread it. I hope you will find upon objective reflection that the mockery I make of myself and the hyperbole and somewhat mordant tone I employed, made a point worth considering.
In the rough and tumble world of a federal trial practice, it is sometimes necessary to see and react to that world as it is rather than as we wish it would be.
In other words, there are lots of men in the world of federal trial practice (and in the world, generally) who are sexists, who leer at women, who care less about the work done by a women than about her physical attributes. And the reality of this situation, the judge believes, obviously necessitates that women need to change their behavior and pay careful attention to the choices they make.
At some point, I have to assume, we’re going to move past this kind of nonsense as a society. But in 2014, when a federal judge feels totally confident about expressing this sort of opinion publicly for the good of women everywhere … well, we’re pretty clearly not there yet, are we?
The DNA Testing Act gives inmates access to evolving scientific technology, but it was not intended to allow an inmate a second chance to perform DNA testing which was available at trial.
That’s Nebraska Supreme Court Judge Michael McCormack, writing for the court in a decision to deny an inmate’s request for DNA testing of evidence in a 2007 murder for which the inmate is serving life in prison.
So … rather than allowing a couple of tests that will help determine whether or not Antoine Young committed the murder for which he’s serving life in prison, the Nebraska Supreme Court is arguing that he should have asked for the tests back in 2008.
They’re right: His lawyer should have done so. But if the DNA Testing Act can’t account for mistakes made by lawyers, and potentially keeps innocent men in prison because of those mistakes, there’s a problem with the law.
As for Young, maybe he’s innocent, maybe he’s guilty … but it doesn’t much matter to the judges. Their job isn’t to make sure an inmate has access to any evidence that might raise doubts about his guilt; their job is just to determine whether or not the state, which has an interest in not considering any more evidence in this case, is following the law as it avoids doing so.
Lots of great comments today in response to my post from this morning about the immigration ordinance in Fremont, Nebraska.
Tumblr blogger MDL Unit writes:
Wow. They should have called it the “Intimidate the Latinos Out of Town Act”
Mike Gruz says:
May the chances of absolutely zero economic development forever be in their favor.
Brian Shreck chimes in with the voice of experience:
Having been to Fremont many times, I’m not quite sure what they’re trying to protect.
Two different readers, though, wisely take Nebraska fiscals conservatives to task for their support of this legislation:
- Nothing screams small government like red tape and bureaucracy.
- Plus it’s so fiscally responsible to allocate $1.5 million to chase away a portion of the local tax base.
No comment yet from State Senator Charlie Janssen, the ordinance’s biggest cheerleader, about exactly how this bill is good for Fremont or why it’s worth discrimination lawsuits, alienating Latinos, and spending a ton of taxpayer money on the off chance that a couple hundred undocumented workers won’t be able to rent apartments. He’s probably still too excited about yesterday’s anti-immigrant vote to spend any time online; perhaps he’s out there right now himself, issuing housing permits to anyone with $5 who solemnly attests that they’re in this country legally …
Look how happy these white conservative Nebraskans are!
They’re celebrating because they convinced a small number of other people in a tiny town to vote in favor of keeping an ordinance that’s likely to mire the town in expensive legal battles for several years.
Why does this make them happy? I have no idea.
The ordinance is theoretically designed to make things more difficult for undocumented workers who make up some percentage of a whopping 1,150 noncitizens living in the town. But my sense is that it will mostly make Latinos — all 3,000 of them who live there — feel uncomfortable about living or working in or near the town.
You see, the ordinance requires “anyone who rents a home or apartment to apply for a $5 permit and attest to their legal status, but there is no mandate to show proof. New permits are needed for every move.” The idea that this will prevent undocumented workers from settling in Fremont seems pretty ridiculous on its face.
But it might very well lead to discriminatory practices with regard to Latinos. That’s what the ACLU will be looking for. And it almost certainly will lead Latinos to feel unwelcome, if they don’t already (after three years of battling this ordinance out in the courts and at the ballot box).
But maybe that’s actually what these happy folks want … ?
Here’s what I wrote back in 2010, quoting a story from the New York Times:
Still, some in Fremont point, with worry, to other Nebraska towns — places like Schuyler and Lexington — as communities that no longer look or feel the way they once did.
That last bit there, that’s “code” for “I’m a racist but I shouldn’t say that to the New York Times so I’ll say that my town feels different now.”
What are your thoughts on research faculty participating in extension and community outreach programs? Do you feel it's a suitable use of their time?jakke
I suppose it’s difficult to say what’s a suitable use of someone’s time. When we’re “graded” as faculty, it’s almost entirely for our research productivity and the quality of our work in the classroom. The “service” requirement of my job counts for just 10% and it encompasses a dozen or more types of activities, like serving on committees at the university, advising student organization, doing editorial work for journals, reviewing book manuscripts for presses, and so on.
With regard to community outreach, here at Nebraska, we have the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and several of my colleagues have been invovled teaching courses for that program. I’ve generally heard very positive things from those who have been involved, both teaching and learning.
I tend to do other sorts of “outreach” activities that aren’t affiliated with the university … mostly because my university-related service cup runneth over already. In the past few years, I’ve given occasional lectures at retirement homes, and to religous or community groups, and I’ve served as a board member for local and national non-profit organizations.
For me, these things are a lot of fun and they allow me to interact with really interesting people so, even though it doesn’t really “count” for much with regard to my job, I’d say it’s a good way to spend some of my time.
The Omaha Tribe of Nebraska explains the meaning of “Omaha” to Peyton Manning and invites him to visit the Omaha Tribal Reservation.
It would be pretty fantastic to see him take them up on their offer.
True story: When I interviewed for my job, the most serious question the graduate students asked me was what item I would bring to the department’s holiday potluck. Without hesitation, I answered with the best recipe I’ve got, perfected over a decade of experimentation: Guacamole.
Needless to say, that’s what landed me the job.
I’m not humble about my guacamole, people; it’s just plain better than yours.
Last semester’s course evaluations are in for my contemporary political philosophy course and I thought I’d post some of the highlights. As is the case every semester, students reported that they were overworked but that they enjoyed themselves. In fact, there wasn’t a single negative evaluation. In response to the question, “What, if anything, did you like about the instructor?,” several students wrote, “The cult of personality.”
So, this semester the results were crazily positive; this might have something to do with the fact that all the students who despised me, my class, or political theory more generally dropped or withdrew before the end of the semester:
- “He is amazing. He was upbeat and could banter with the best of them. He also could break down the challenging info.”
- "He’s cooler than he looks."
- "Could sometimes be a little arrogant. But the attitude worked well for the class. He was every bit a philosopher."
- "It’s a course you can apply to all other courses."
- "I always knew that if I didn’t understand the reading, I could come to class & get my questions answered."
- "The instructor was younger [than I expected]."
- "Maybe slow down a little so students can type the important parts of the lecture, many holes in my notes (and others) because we were all too busy listening to ask him to slow down — which is hilarious."
- "I thought, from what I’d heard, that he was an angry old man.”
- "Pushed students to work harder and think about their life and passions in addition to the material."
- "I didn’t know if I was going to like this class. I ended up loving it. It challenged me to think in ways that I haven’t before."
- “It was insightful, challenging, and captivating. I will never view the world the same.”
- “Dr. Kohen is the best prof. I’ve had in my 4½ years at UNL. The last three semesters w/him have changed me for the better.”
Unlike previous semesters, where one student would recommend one change to the course and another would recommend the exact opposite, students agreed about changes they’d like to see. They universally hated the 50 minute/3 day a week format, as I do, because our discussions were constantly interrupted just as they got underway, and they want the political science department to offer more political theory classes rather than fewer:
- Give him longer class periods. Maybe a seminar or TV show.
- Switch back to Tuesday/Thursday schedule.
- It will be very sad if this class is no longer offered.
- Make it longer than 50 minutes.
- The classes seemed a little more rushed than previous courses he teaches due to the 50 minute class length.
- The instructor would be more effective if he were allowed to teach more political philosophy classes.
Finally, there’s one question on the evaluation sheet that always makes me laugh; it asks, “Did the instuctor’s lectures, comments, and interactions with students display respect for (sensitivity to) differences in gender, race, ethnicity or other characteristics?” This semester, a bunch of students answered with a reference to the veil of ignorance in John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice (which we read at the very beginning of the semester).
That might be the best measure of the success of the class.
Technically, no one is required to take any of the courses I teach (at either the undergraduate or graduate level).
There is a political theory requirement for undergraduate political science majors, but it’s only one course and it can thus be fulfilled by taking the introductory course (which is taught by one of my graduate students) rather than one of my upper-level courses.
For the past six years, undergrads in political science at the University of Nebraska who wanted to make political theory one of their three subfields of study would have to take at least one course with me because the subfield requirement called for at least two courses. This won’t be the case any longer, as my department voted to eliminate political theory as one of the subfields of undergraduate study last semester. My suspicion is that, over time, the number of students in my courses will dwindle as more and more students simply elect take the intro course and steer clear of the upper-level courses (less because of my grading practices and more because they don’t fulfill any sort of degree requirement).
There might still be one or two students who choose to take all of the classes I offer. In his or her final semester, I might buy a weekly doughnut for such a student.
A fair number of Nebraskans apparently have absolutely nothing troubling them. As a result, they’ve gotten themselves all worked up about a bill that would allow the Tourism Commission to change the state’s official slogan … because they don’t want the unofficial slogan to be changed:
The Nebraska Tourism Commission is in the final stages of a study to come up with a new, and official, state slogan and symbol to better promote the state for visitors.
But several citizens appear ready to fight to keep Nebraska’s unofficial tag line, “The Good Life,” which has been stamped on state highway signs for decades.
The idea is to give the state a more up-to-date “brand” to attract visitors, said Kathy McKillip, executive director of the tourism commission.
The official state slogan dates to 1963: “Welcome to NEBRASKAland: Where the West Begins.” McKillip suggested that it might be time to retire “The Good Life,” too.
On Wednesday, a bill was introduced in the Legislature to give the tourism agency the power to change the state symbol and slogan.
This is one of those times when you have to really question the virtues of democratic governance. Everyone assumes that the state slogan is “The Good Life” and so, when someone suggests changing the slogan, they become irate. They don’t, however, look up the actual state slogan. Instead, they just yell at one poor legislator who just wanted to empower the Tourism Commission to change the terrible old slogan from 1963 that no one even knows is the official state slogan:
Claims that LB1024 repeals “The Good Life” are inaccurate. My statement correcting the record: http://t.co/Tm6XH7A8lz— Heath Mello (@heathmello)January 22, 2014
Meanwhile, my own slogan — “Nothing to see right here but just keep driving and I promise you’ll see something nice” — is seemingly not up for serious consideration.
Noted awesome rich old guy Warren Buffett is launching a contest with a payday that’s bigger than any lottery: Get a perfect bracket during March Madness, and you’ll win a billion dollars from Warren’s company, Berkshire Hathaway—and the 20 people who get closest will win some prizes from Quicken Loans. The problem: The odds are 1 in 9.2 quintillion that you’ll actually get on the mark.
Well … this is better than the extra credit I’ve always offered to students in my Spring semester classes. But, in this as in so many things, I simply can’t hope to compete with my well-to-do neighbor.
As I did yesterday, I’m once again linking to the top blog posts of the year. These are the posts that drew the most unique eyeballs; the list doesn’t include the About page, where several thousand people each year go to find out whose writing they’re reading, the Ask page, where people write in with questions or to say kind and unkind things to me, or the front page, which is always the top draw since it’s the way that people access the site directly (rather than via some referring site).
Perhaps you missed some of these posts. Or maybe you just want to have another look since it’s been a little while. Feel free, of course, to share them with friends and loved ones because each click tells me that you’d like for me to keep writing these sorts of things.
Here, then, are the Top 5 most viewed posts of 2013:
#4. “Whither Aristotle?,” a reflection on the decision of my colleagues to eliminate political theory as a subfield of undergraduate study in the Department of Political Science at the University of Nebraska (10/3/13)
#2. “Twitter Assassins,” in which a whole bunch of people went online to reflect on President Obama’s inauguration by calling for someone to assassinate him (1/21/13)
It’s been a fun and fascinating year of writing for me, full of arguments and thoughtful exchanges of ideas. I plan to have a brief reflection tomorrow that looks back at some of the things I learned from blogging this year and looks forward to 2014.
Thanks for reading, for engaging with my ideas, for sharing my blog posts with your friends, and for asking for my thoughts on issues or events as they’ve come up.
Happy New Year!