Posted by: derbybeast | August 16, 2008


Just recently my wife and I celebrated 7 years of marriage.

Our daughter will be four months old soon.

My wife is a Ph.D. candidate.

I am starting back to grad school in 1 week.

In three weeks my reign … er, time as Director of a Jewsih religious school officially begins.

…My life is so completely different than I could have ever imagined just 5 short years ago – but life is great right now.


* Note: My wife pointed out how amazingly dorky/nerdy/lame/uncool it was of me to have an internet debate/fight about a somewhat obscure Sci-Fi TV show AND introduce comic books to the argument.  My love, I’m a 30 something, wanna-be-academic with a mortgage and I drive a sensible, fuel-efficient car.  The ship for cool island set sail a long time ago and I wasn’t anywhere near the port-of-call. Sorry.

** Yes I know, I suck … 1 month between posts is unacceptable. Apologies.

So I had this long drawn out finale about Byronic heroes, understanding feminism n media, etc.  But it just got unwieldy and incoherent and long over-due (again).  A few more things on this subject:

I could go on and on about how involved Whedon is with Equality Now and how the Can’t Stop the Serenity project has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for EN.  Or that in 2006 EN recognized Whedon as one of the “men on the front lines” fighting for women’s rights. And that’s just his involvement in one organization. And so what if he talks the talk better than he walks it? He’s actually doing something. I think Whedon put it best when he said:

If I made Buffy the Lesbian Separatist [as] a series of lectures on PBS on why there should be feminism,” he has said, “no-one would be coming to the party, and it would be boring. The idea of changing culture is important to me, and it can only be done in a popular medium.”

It’s almost as if he was speaking directly to Allecto, like he’s heard the same charges levied against him before.

Feminism is useful and relevent today, maybe even more so because of how colonized our minds are by things like Girls Gone Wild, obessing as a society over Britney and Christina, video games where you can beat up and kill women, etc, etc.  But let’s put our energies into attacking the aspects of culture that NEED to be attacked.  Whedon ain’t perfect in his depiction of women, but he’s much better than most and just because he makes some mistakes doesn’t mean the positive work he’s done should be completely disregarded.

Anywho, I have another post on feminism as the father of a newborn daughter brewing somewhere in my head, but more on that later.

Next up: A defense of Texas and shortly thereafter the long awaited (at least by me) part 2 of WBTHTGP.

Cheers for now.

This post is a response to this critique of Joss Whedon and his short-lived Sci-Fi/Space Western Firefly. A friend of mine pointed me to this blog accurately believing I would find it upsetting. Allow me to preface a few things: I am a fan of Whedon’s work but I am not a fanatic. There is plenty of things to be critical of in his work and a great deal of scholarship has been dedicated as such. Entire academic conferences have been dedicated to Buffy the Vampire Slayer – whether or not such scholarship is justifiable it’s indicative of Whedon’s cultural relevancy. And while I enjoyed Buffy and some of Angel my personal favorite is Firefly in all of its short-lived glory.

I also consider myself to be a feminist, or if you prefer – a pro-feminist male, and it is from this position (not as a fan) that I take issue with Allecto’s “feminist analysis” of Firefly. Additionally, while I am no expert of feminism some of my past scholarship (including my MA thesis) dealt specifically with issues of gender and masculinity – a field that is an extension of feminist studies. I have taken multiple Women’s Studies courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels and am familiar with most major feminist scholars. I would describe my feminism as an amalgamation of traditional liberal feminism, post-modern feminism, and Jewish feminism.

Moving on …

A great benefit of being a student of history is attention to detail and a nose for evidence. Allecto professes to have watched Firefly in its entirety (more than once) and read multiple scripts for both the show and ensuing movie Serenity, yet she easily misses obvious details that dismantle many of her arguments. And while I’m not going to take Allecto to task on each and every one of her points (I have neither the time nor the inclination) I feel a few “illuminations” are in order.

Immediately, Allecto takes issue with the beginning of episode 1 when Zoe (a black female soldier) calls her white military RANKING superior (Cpt. Malcolm Reynolds) “sir.” Yet she mentions nothing of the several white characters in the scene who also call Mal “sir.” Allecto is digging for something here that just doesn’t exist. Then, Allecto offers up this summary:

The next scene is set in the present. Mal, Jayne, and Zoe are floating about in space. They come into some danger. Mal gets all panicky.

Zoe says, “This ship’s been derelict for months. Why would they –”

Mal replies, (in Chinese) “Shut up.”

So in the very second scene of the very first episode, an episode written and directed by the great feminist Joss, a white man tells a black woman to ‘shut up’ for no apparent reason. And she does shut up. And she continues to call him sir. And takes his orders, even when they are dumb orders, for the rest of the series.

Please allow me to fill in some of the gaps Allecto neglected to provide. Mal “gets all panicky” because an Alliance vessel happens upon his crew while they are engaged in an illegal salvage operation. Oh, and the Alliance is the enemy Mal and Zoe were fighting against in the opening scene – they also remain the primary “bad guy(s)” throughout the series (and movie). Regarding Mal telling Zoe to shut up “for no apparent reason,” well either Allecto didn’t watch the same episode I did or I’m watching something else entirely because in no way, shape, or form could it be seen or interpreted that Mal singles out Zoe and tells her to shut up. He’s talking to Wash (the ship’s pilot) and trying to ascertain the severity of their predicament. Zoe says several things then Jayne (white male goon) says “I don’t like this” (or something to that effect) and it is at that precise moment that Mal says shut up. A reasonable person would infer that Mal tells Jayne to shut up or MAYBE that he’s telling both Jayne and Zoe to shut up, but no one can reasonably (and that is the operative word here) suggest that Zoe was the exclusive target of Mal’s outburst. And insofar as the “no apparent reason” goes – Mal was trying to understand Wash and he couldn’t because of Jayne’s (and possibly Zoe’s) talking – it’s quite obvious why he says shut up. But don’t take my word for it – see for your self (both instances take place in the 1st 6 minutes or so of episode one titled Serenity)

Allecto is willfully misinterpreting simple plot devices (she does this repeatedly throughout her “analysis”) which immediately makes me question her motivations for writing this piece.

As such, it would be easy to stop there while dismissing Allecto’s entire premise for critiquing the show as flawed – and it is – but she goes on to make even more ludicrous accusations and interpretations that I want to refute.

In my estimation she mis-reads the character of Zoe and her relationships to her husband Wash and Mal. While it’s true that Zoe and Mal’s relationship is partially one of superior and subordinate – that dynamic exists because it is a military relationship and thus would likely exist in the same form regardless of either character’s gender or ethnicity. I would assert that Mal and Zoe’s relationship is one of mutual respect and completely asexual – they trust each more than any of the other crew members aboard Serenity precisely because of their experience in war and the ensuing friendship. This trust/friendship/relationship is the very source of conflict between Zoe and Wash, as Wash knows there is a part of Zoe he will never know the way Mal does – an issue addressed particularly well in the episode War Stories.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing Allecto says in her entire rant is that:

Let me just say now that I have never personally known of a healthy relationship between a white man and a woman of colour (emphasis mine). I have known a black woman whose white husband would strangle and bash her while her young children watched. My white grandfather liked black women because they were ‘exotic’, and he did not, could not treat women, especially women of colour, like human beings. I grew up watching my great aunts, my aunty and my mother all treated like shit by their white husbands, the men they loved. So you will forgive me for believing that the character, Wash, is a rapist and
an abuser, particularly considering that he treats Zoe like an object and

At least she qualifies this generalization to her own personal experience. So while it may be true that Allecto has never witnessed a healthy relationship between a white man and a non-white woman (which probably is more indicative of her environment than having any universal truth), I have known plenty of people in just such a relationship and they were as healthy as any other I’ve known.

Taking her characterization of Zoe further, Alecto insists she is intentionally un-developed to perpetuate sexist stereotypes of the “sidechick.” I would say under-developed and that it is more a result of the series being canceled after only airing 11 episodes (although 14 made it to DVD) than intentional neglect on Whedon’s part. Additionally, anyone familiar with Whedon’s work knows he takes his time developing characters – frequently dedicating entire episodes to said development. Had the series continued in production Zoe’s character would have undoubtedly been given a complete backstory and personality. That said, she isn’t even the most under-developed character on the show – that distinction belongs to either Kaylee or Wash which probably made it an easy choice to kill off Wash in Serenity.

Allecto descends into full-on idiocy when she claims that two female characters (Saffron and Patience) should not have been treated so harshly by mean ol’ Mal for certain transgressions perpetrated against Mal and his crew. Allecto insists Saffron simply engages in lies and deceit and that Mal unjustifiably enacts violence upon her. Nevermind the fact that Saffron left Mal and his entire crew for dead, not just as an unintended consequence of her deceit but rather with full intentionality. According to Allecto, the character of Patience is simply “disloyal” to Mal and as a consequence he leaves her trapped under a horse carcass. Nevermind the fact that in a previous run-in with Mal Patience shot him with the intention of killing him – a point made clear as the crew repeatedly and vocally question Mal’s sanity in visiting Patience this time around, there’s no way Allecto could have missed that point unless she did so willfully. Oh, and why does Mal leave her trapped under a horse? Well you see Patience tried to cheat him and kill him – but I guess Capt. Reynolds should have just let her shoot him.

And in one of the more astounding passages from a person who claims to have been a fan of Buffy and watched Firefly and Serenity multiple times as well as read the scripts, Allecto offers up this gem:

And just a tip Joss, from one writer to another. If you believe that women should kill men who try to kill them then, quite frankly, I agree with you. If you want to show your encouragement and support for women who defend themselves from men, then write a female character that kills a man who is trying to kill her AND GETS AWAY WITH IT (emphasis mine).

Seriously? Umm, Buffy Summers, Willow Rosenberg, Dawn Summers, Cordelia Chase, Anya, Faith, Drusilla, Zoe, River Tam … need I go on? Additionally, Allecto is obviously unaware that Whedon regularly writes for comics such as X-Men and Runaways in which the EXACT scenario she describes happens over and over. If anything is lacking in Whedon’s writing, murder without consequence is not it.

Sigh … Next up I will address Allecto’s attacks on Whedon and his wife and offer a critique of Allecto’s brand of feminism and why it actually hurts the women’s movement more than it helps it.

Posted by: derbybeast | June 8, 2008

Updates and Apologies

Yes, I suck at blogging – or at least being consistent about it (and possibly the actual writing part) but in my defense a lot has been happening, but I apologize for not writing more frequently.

On April 29th my wonderful wife and I welcomed our beautiful baby girl Anneliese Simone into this world. She weighed 6 lbs. and 13 oz. and stretched 19 and 1/2 inches in length. She was born without complications and healthy and her mother was and is fantastic (as she always is). A future post will confront my thoughts on fatherhood, but for now here is a picture:

I can’t believe she’s almost 6 weeks old! How time flies … we celebrated her Brit Bat (naming ceremony) a few days after her birth, but more on that in a later post.

Also, I was recently offered the position of Director of the local Jewish community religious school, which I am accepting. All of this coupled with classes in the fall should make for an interesting, if not exhausting year – yet I look forward to it with great excitement and anticipation.

And in a follow-up to my last (distant) post: Jordan Farmar, back-up point-guard for the L.A. Lakers is Jewish … but I still hate the Lakers.

Up next – a defense of Joss Whedon’s (perceived?) feminism. See you soon.

Posted by: derbybeast | April 9, 2008

My New Favorite Basketball Player

Now I think there’s some kind of rule against being a student at Purdue and cheering for anyone affiliated with Indiana University but I’m going to have to fight the law on this one: Eric Gordon is Jewish.

Who knew? I mean we’ve got Red Auerbach and Larry Brown so we can coach, and then there’s David stern the head honcho of the NBA, but when is the last time there was a Jewish basketball player of note? Doug Gottlieb? Please. 1st of all the guy played at Notre Dame; 2) he got kicked out for stealing credit cards; 3) went on to play at Oklahoma State under the drunken slimeball that is Eddie Sutton; 4) he could NOT shoot free-throws. A point guard that couldn’t shoot free-throws! Seriously, he had to be taken out of games when opponents were in fouling situations. He shot 46% on FTs and 24% on 3 pointers. I’m not kidding.

Anyway, didn’t mean for this to become an “I hate Doug Gottlieb” post. Kol tuv to Gordon – he’s a likely lottery pick and should make a decent combo guard in the NBA…

And he shoots 83% from the free-throw line.

Posted by: derbybeast | March 26, 2008

100% Kosher


It’s official, as of 3/25/08 (or if you prefer the 18th of Adar II) I’m Jewish. Well, at least to the majority of the Reconstructionist, Reform, and Conservative Jews anyway – the Orthodox are a bit more problematic. Anyway, I’ll have a much lengthier post about my conversion up soon, for now I’ll leave you with this NY Times article on Jewish identity.

How do You Prove You’re a Jew?

Posted by: derbybeast | March 16, 2008

When Bad Things Happen (Part 1)

The first time I read When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Rabbi Harold Kushner I was probably 11 or 12 years old. I was in therapy for a variety of reasons that I won’t go into here, but let’s just say I wasn’t a very happy child. So anyway, my therapist assigned it to me, I read it, and I forgot about it. It really had little to no impact on me whatsoever.

Please indulge me a not-so-insignificant tangent: Much of this blog will be dedicated to my personal spiritual and religious journey – especially my investment in Judaism. I was born into a non-religious family with an agnostic mother with protestant Christian leanings and a father who lived somewhere between agnosticism and atheism; however, I was baptized Catholic at the behest of my paternal grandparents. After that I don’t think I saw the inside of a church until after my parents divorce when my mother began looking for a church. We (Mom, my middle brother, and I) settled on a mainstream Methodist congregation and I became somewhat active in the youth group and choir. During that same time my father was involved with a women who would eventually become my stepmother – she was Jewish, but only in name. She knew little to no Hebrew, didn’t attend Temple or shul, and did not become a Bat Mitzvah until much later in her adult life. At Dad’s house we celebrated a secular Christmas and Chanukah. When I was almost 13 my youngest brother was born and suddenly (at least how I remember it) the religiosity at my Dad’s house increased 100-fold. We had a bris (sort of) and soon started attending Passover seders and began checking out the local Temple. I found this odd considering I perceived Dad’s reaction my middle brother’s and my involvement in a church and a youth group to be a hostile one.

From ages 14-18 I pretty much checked out of any religious worship or practice. At 18 I dabbled in Catholicism, going so far as to complete the rites of passage started at my baptism to become “fully Catholic.” To this day I’m not sure if it was genuine interest or an attempt to agitate my Dad by embracing the faith he rejected many years ago – I think it was mostly the latter with a smattering of the former. Regardless it didn’t last long and throughout my early twenties I dabbled in Bhuddism, other branches of Protestantism, occasional lapses back into Catholicism, until I settled on a nice general agnosticism. It wasn’t until my youngest brother became a Bar Mitzvah that I felt a pull toward Judaism. I read a few books on it, looked into learning Hebrew (but didn’t act on it), and somewhere in all this my Dad converted to Judaism so he became a useful resource on the subject.

Throughout this spiritual quest/journey I came to only one clear conclusion: I believed in God. I wasn’t sure what he/she/it was but I believed. From there I came to a few more understandings: The God I believed in was in everything, everywhere, and all-powerful – otherwise, to me It wasn’t God – but beyond that there wasn’t much else I could know about God. So I set out to find a religion that fit that paradigm, if there was such a thing. Enter Judaism (more on this subject in a later post).

Many of you who read RDNE know that two-and-a-half years ago my youngest brother was murdered. There’s no need to fully recount the horrific events but for those of you who don’t know he was shot and killed on October 30th, 2005. 11 months earlier his mother (my stepmother) died after an 18 month battle with cancer and almost exactly a year before his murder my paternal grandfather died. May their memories be a blessing. Three significant family deaths in a single year and two of the people were far too young to have died. To put it lightly, I was overwhelmed with grief and as a result I was reading every book on the subject of loss and grief I could get my hands on. In the process I re-read When Bad Things Happen … and it didn’t sit well with me but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.OK, so that tangent was longer than I intended (please forgive me) but it brings us back to WBTHTGP and sets up why I find Kushner’s book so problematic and fundamentally flawed from a Jewish perspective. Kushner’s book was 1st published over 25 years ago, has had multiple editions and printings, sold millions of copies, and undoubtedly helped countless people. For those that haven’t read it, Kushner lost his son Aaron at the age of 14 to a genetic disorder known as Progeria or “rapid aging.” WBTHTGP is Kushner’s attempt to grapple with that loss and how the God he believed in could allow such a thing to happen. Ultimately Kushner concludes that God is in fact NOT omnipotent because if he was, things like his son’s death wouldn’t have happened. Basically, Kushner concedes he would rather believe in a “good” God than an all-powerful God. Kushner states:

They [tragedies] happen at random, and randomness is another name for chaos, in those corners of the universe where God’s creative light has not yet penetrated. And chaos is evil; not wrong, not malevolent, but evil nonetheless, because by causing tragedies at random, it prevents people from believing in God’s goodness. (pg. 53)

This belief is fundamentally un-Jewish. Chaos isn’t evil, people are evil and tragedy is never random for the people to whom it happens. We (people) are the randomness in the world, we are violent, selfish, unpredictable, callous, hateful, vengeful, fearful, etc. etc.

To be continued …

Posted by: derbybeast | March 9, 2008

Back At It

Inconsistency was the undoing of my last blog and 4 months between posts ain’t exactly the definition of consistent. My apologies. Quite a bit has happened in that time so this post will be relatively short and provide some updates.

On the personal front, my wife and I are expecting our 1st child on/around April 25th and we couldn’t be more excited. Family and friends hosted our first baby shower back in Texas last weekend and that event made things oh so much more real. Currently, I’m readying the nursery by painting and putting together furniture.

On February 9th I ran in my 1st 5k race in an excruciatingly slow 36 minutes (give or take) but I ran (or more accurately jogged) the entire time and didn’t stop once. That said, bronchitis has knocked the wind out of my post-race sails but I hope to be back at it this week.

On the professional front, I was accepted into several Ph.D. programs and decided to accept a position in an American Studies department that extended me a fellowship. I’m excited to get back into school and work towards something I meant to start 4 years ago.

On the spiritual front: I just finished teaching an eight week course at the local Jewish community religious school to 7th, 8th, and 9th graders on the subject of “Israel at 60.” Overall, I believe the class was a success, but not without its problems and I think the curriculum I developed will be useful in teaching a modern Israel class if the opportunity presents itself.

In the next few days I’ll have my post up on Harold Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen to Good People, a post I meant to have up about … oh four months ago. Anyway, that’s about it and it’s good to be back.

Posted by: derbybeast | October 26, 2007

The flowing robes, the grace, bald … Striking.


So I figure writing about hearing the Dalai Lama speak is as good of topic as any to start a new blog and this past Friday (10/26) I did just that. Back in August I was surprised to find out he was coming to Purdue because I assumed His Holiness doesn’t just choose where and when he visits on a whim and West Lafayette isn’t exactly a destination city. Come to find out his older brother founded The Tibetan Cultural Center in Bloomington, IN and somehow Purdue finagled an appearance out his visit to The Hoosier State. Anyway, I was excited to get to have the rare opportunity to see him, granted I wasn’t expecting him to impart any grand piece of wisdom. I went primarily so that I can say I’ve been to see the Dalai Lama, and who knows, maybe he’ll say something profoundly life changing – after all, this is his 14th life here on Earth, he’s bound to know a thing or two.

Finally, after 45 minutes in a security check line, another 45 minutes waiting in our seats, some Tibetan music, some audience participation chanting, and a ridiculous amount of pomp and circumstance on Purdue’s behalf the DL comes on stage, sits in a chair, takes off his shoes and crosses his legs, pops on a visor to keep the stage lights out of his eyes, and then proceeds to tells the 6,000 present to not expect any miracles, divine knowledge, or profound wisdom. Bam! There it is, I should just leave now. But I can see why the guy has such a following in religious and secular circles as his charm, humility, and sense of humor are disarming; he kind of just sucks you in.

I’ve heard a lot of people, mostly grad students, around here criticize The DL for a variety of reasons: Some accuse him of being a pawn of the CIA while others attack him for his position on homosexuality. Personally, I thought he ducked a question on the Iraq War. However, if you were willing to wade through all the pomp, the glad-handing, the self-deprecation, and the “well duh” – common sense of his talk, he hammered home a relevant theme: Compassion. His entire spiel could be summed up as follows: If we were all more compassionate the world would be a better place and we would all be happier people.

Well no shit Sherlock. Hmmm, that thought wasn’t very compassionate. Damn. But I already know this crap and surely everyone else in this auditorium does too, we’ve all heard the Golden Rule ad nauseum, so we don’t need to hear it from a little old bald dude in a red robe and thick glasses. But the question lingered: If we know this why aren’t we more compassionate? Why am I not more compassionate? Perhaps this sentiment is one that bears repeating as many times as people will listen.

I began thinking about the fact that I’m just not a very compassionate human being. I think I’m a generally good person, but I’m easily agitated, impatient, quick to judge people … maybe I’m not so good. Maybe this religious awakening I’ve been going through isn’t really taking. Maybe I’m not paying close enough attention to Rabbi on Friday evenings. Maybe I’m missing the point in studying Torah and Talmud. I needed to take stock of how compassion fits in with Judaism so I began looking into it and I determined learning what the Hebrew word for compassion is would be a good starting point.

Rachamim is compassion in Hebrew, rachum is compassionate, and racham is to show compassion. All share the same root word: Rechem which translates to womb. Interesting… When the DL was talking about compassion he related back to motherhood and the connection a mother has to her child(ren) as the source for compassion in the world. I think traditional feminism would probably have some serious problems with this way of thinking and they have reason to be concerned: Victorianism and The Cult of Motherhood (and similar ways of thinking) held that motherhood was a woman’s destiny and it was the mother that imbued her children with certain qualities, compassion being one of them. Along with this notion came isolation – both physical and emotional – and sexual repression all justified by the belief that women were inferior to men and must be protected from the danger and sins of the world. Reactions against this way of thinking have justifiably allowed women to choose to reject motherhood. However, later waves of feminism have recognized that throwing the baby out with the bath water probably isn’t the only option. A woman can choose to be a mother without being a tool of the patriarchy and a father can help teach a child about compassion as equally well as a mother. However, there exists an undeniable bond between a mother and child and I agree with the DL that said bond, if it is a healthy one, can be a source of great compassion.

Too many studies have demonstrated that abandoned children and children raised in orphanages without much human contact drastically increases their chances of having attachment disorders or other severe behavioral problems. The DL even referenced several recent studies indicating that infant rats separated from their mothers early on suffered not only behavioral abnormalities but biological effects as well such as slowed neural development in the brain.

Compassion is a major theme in Judaism: The Jewish mandates to be a “light onto the nations” and to work for tikkun olam (the healing, repair, and perfecting of the world); the mitzvot to pursue justice and righteousness and to emulate God in His attribute of compassion; the implications of such mitzvot as “love thy neighbor as thyself”, “be kind to the stranger for you were strangers in the land of Egypt”, and “seek peace and pursue it” all demonstrate that compassion plays an integral role in the day-to-day practice of Judaism, but Rabbi Rick Brody expand on the already established connection of compassion to motherhood as he offers these thoughts on the Mi Shebeirach – the Jewish prayer for healing the sick:

Specifically, the tradition is to say the name of the person, followed by ben or bat (son or daughter of) and then the person’s mother’s Hebrew name. This is because one of the enduring images of motherhood is comfort and healing. After all, every human being grew inside the protective care of a mother’s womb. In Hebrew, womb is rechem, which is directly related to the word rachamim, compassion. The idea is that by invoking the person’s mother’s name, we are asking for the natural healing power that brought that person to life from the womb to again surround the sick individual, restoring him to full health.

So what does all of this talk of compassion mean? Those of you who read my previous blog know something of my spiritual journey as I documented parts of it there. I will continue that process here on this blog, and keeping in that vein for my upcoming conversion I am required to select a Hebrew name (a born Jew has his Hebrew name given to him by his parents) and I’ve been struggling to find one that I like and has meaning for me. I think I’m going to choose Racham – to show compassion – not because I’m particularly good at it, but to remind me on a daily basis to exercise compassion.

So while I was not promised total consciousness on my death bed, The Dalai Lama reminded me of something I already knew but now I plan to put it into action – so I’ve got that going for me. You’ve read my impressions of the DL so now I’ll leave you with Carl Spackler’s tale of his encounter with the “big hitter”: