Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Midrash Doctor Who on Marvelous Midos Machine

One of the delights of parenthood has been the excuse to use the gargantuan music collections of iTunes and Amazon to track down and acquire childhood favorites to play for my son. Holding a place of prominence on my son's playlist is the Marvelous Midos Machine series. This series of tapes (three when I was growing up with a fourth added several years ago), tells the story of Dr. Midos, who invents a machine that can tell when Jewish kids are about to do something wrong and attempts to correct their behavior by projecting songs from nearby objects. In this endeavor, Dr. Midos is helped by three kids, Dizzy, Shnooky, and Shloompy. The series' many terrific songs and its ability to introduce children to basic concepts of ethical behavior are more than enough to make up for a ridiculous hole filled plot that often veers ironically into morally questionable territory. For example, where did Dr. Midos acquire the resources to put a satellite in orbit? How could he be so reckless as to endanger the residents of Brooklyn by sending up a rocket from a street corner? How was he planning on feeding Dizzy? What purpose did Dizzy serve in outer space, besides for being captured by Dr. Doomstein, considering that he is able to come home in episode two, after being rescued? Is not the depiction of the cannibal villagers of Mumbo Jumbo quite racist? Finally, are we really comfortable with a machine that allows for "1984" levels of surveillance? To answer such questions, I sought to turn to one of my favorite television shows, Doctor Who. This show features an alien with a police box-shaped time machine/spaceship, who goes around with a team of human allies saving the universe from all sorts of evildoers (including those shaped like pepper shakers). I find Who to be particularly useful as a means of explaining MMM, because the show often takes popular myths, such as Robin Hood and Santa Claus this season, and offers a science fiction twist so that the stories make an odd sort of sense (at least within the madcap universe of Who).

Dr. Midos is actually a Time Lord operating within the New York Jewish community during the late twentieth century. He is a "doctor," but what is he a doctor of? Clearly, like the Doctor, he is a doctor of everything. Dr. Midos owns a Kwisatz Haderach machine, which allows one to go anywhere in the universe and a time machine (contrary to what he tells Shnooky in episode three, it really is a time machine and not a sleeping machine, but more on this later). Put these two machines together and you have a fully functional TARDIS. Dr. Midos follows a Maimonidean brand of Judaism, which he interprets in a manner consistent with Time Lord values. As a Maimonidean, Dr. Midos values halakha and is scrupulous in his personal observance, not because he expects any reward from some deity, but because Dr. Midos believes that Judaism is useful in creating the sort of society in which specific true ideas about the ultimate nature of reality can be nurtured. This does not mean that most Jews have been enlightened with these ideas. On the contrary, most Jews are mired in superstition. It is, therefore, necessary to hide one's true beliefs from the masses by making it seem that you value ritual for its own sake and possess no loyalties that transcend Judaism. As a Time Lord, Dr. Midos sees two stages to enlightenment. The first stage is a universalized set of ethics that values all intelligent life. This moral enlightenment allows for a technological enlightenment in which one masters all of space and eventually all time. This must be done merely for its own sake. A Time Lord does not use his TARDIS for personal material gain, but merely seeks to help others and gain knowledge. As such, Dr. Midos hopes to train his Jewish students and even the wider Jewish world in universal ethics so that they would eventually be worthy of Time Lord technology to master space and time. Dr. Midos' attempt to make midos the center of Judaism presents a major challenge as Judaism is built on a particular ethic that values loyalty to the Jewish community over other humans. If "midos are the way we act and how we think and feel," then we cannot accept the premise that the "Torah shows us just what we should do." The later must be read as a question to be answered by "if you want to do what's right and really be a mensch, you have to have good midos through and through." Dr. Midos handles this problem simply by staying silent and relying on the fact that it is only the enlightened, who understand universal ethics. Thus, Dr. Midos can simply train people in midos and they will not realize that a consistent allegiance to midos will require a rejection of Judaism as understood by most people until they are ready for this knowledge.

Episode one has Dr. Midos sending his student Dizzy into space, officially to operate the Midos Satellite, but really to further his midos education. It is Dr. Midos' hope that getting a small taste of space will cause Dizzy to intuit the fact that he needs to think big. Not only are Jews a small part of the human race, but humanity is a small part of the entire cosmos. Back on Earth, Dr. Midos employs his new student Shnooky to help him. Dr. Midos hopes that eventually, once Shnooky has learned about midos, he too will be ready to go into space. Obviously, the rocket is not a conventional one, but one designed with Time Lord technology in Dr. Midos' possession; there was no risk of endangering Brooklyn with the lift-off. Dr. Midos' larger plan for Judaism relies on the MMM. On the surface, this machine serves to observe Jewish children and play songs. These songs, though, serve as cover for the machine's real purpose, which is to alter people's brains to make them more open to the song's message. This explains why the kids prove so willing to change their behavior. As can be demonstrated by the limited ability of the songs to actually change the behavior of listeners in real life over the past several decades, people are highly unlikely to change their behavior simply because they hear a sermon, even one framed in a catchy song.

This brings us to Dr. Doomstein. Clearly, Dr. Midos had previous encounters with Doomstein. This is because Doomstein was Dr. Midos' first student. Doomstein's break with Dr. Midos came about not because Doomstein rejected Judaism. On the contrary, Doomstein came to realize the threat posed to Judaism by the existence of midos. Midos require a completely different method of thinking and value system. Midos cannot be taught as specific commands of thou shall or shall not. It is impossible to ever demonstrate perfect midos. Midos apply to everyone and do not allow you to distinguish between Jew and gentile. On the contrary, midos force you to acknowledge the reality of Jews with bad midos and gentiles with good midos. According to Doomstein, he became "bad" because, when he was a little boy people told him he was no good and so he decided to become the nastiest person in the world. By this, he meant that Dr. Midos told him that he was bad because he could not accept the authority of midos over halakha. This caused Doomstein to respond by developing a Sith Lord brand of Judaism. (Dr. Midos had previously shown him Star Wars in order to get him interested in space.)

According to Sith Judaism, the only thing that matters is power. Jews can gain power by scrupulously following halakha and not getting caught up in valuing other things like midos or philosophy. Doomstein takes strength in this belief from the fact he was able to build a starship with technology he stole from Dr. Midos. The fact that Hashem would use a kofer like Dr. Midos to reward a true believer like Doomstein with such cargo, proves that Hashem wants Jews to reject midos and only follow the Torah. The fact that Doomstein was able to use his Torah knowledge to argue that it was muter to steal the intellectual property of an apikores demonstrates that the power of Torah encompasses all knowledge and therefore everything else is kefira.

Furthermore, according to Sith Judaism, Jews can best be protected from modern ideas like midos through hierarchical authority. There should be one supreme Sith Gadol Hador to wield the power of Judaism and one apprentice Sith Gadol Hador to crave that power. The Gadol Hador's power frees him from having to submit to consistent logical principles, which is the path to good midos (a terrible thing). Instead, he wields the power of absolute arbitrary decrees. Sith Gedolim wield light sabers that allow them to cut through all kashas. Regular people can connect to this power and protect themselves from midos by submitting themselves and their puny intellects completely to the will of the Sith Gedolim.

Doomstein needs to save Jewish children from being brainwashed by the MMM. He, therefore, uses his spaceship to hijack the Midos Satellite and kidnap Dizzy. He wants to turn Dizzy away from Dr. Midos by allowing to come to the realization that he and not Dr. Midos is the one truly loyal to Judaism. Dizzy will then destroy the MMM himself. For this to happen, it is of critical importance that Doomstein not simply come out and explain the situation to Dizzy. Since Dr. Midos operates with subconscious suggestions, any intellectual argument based on facts will fail. Dizzy will only be able to believe that Doomstein is the Sith Gadol Hador if Doomstein makes every effort to pretend not to be. He, therefore, leaves Dizzy in a cell and tells him that he is going to tack a nap, while he was really going to learn in order to harness his full Torah powers to be able to counteract the brainwashing of Dr. Midos and save Dizzy's neshamah. Note that Doomstein is a Litvak. He relies on the power of Torah instead of davaning.  

Dr. Midos' response is to contact a French Time Lord known as Professor Double Talk in order to get some invisibility spray. Double Talk is clearly a Time Lord as his name is obviously a cover and he has designed a hyperspace rocket engine and an anti-gravity umbrella. Dr. Midos then tricks Shnooky into spraying himself and agreeing to go on the mission to save Dizzy. He wants to force Doomstein into an intellectual trap, either harm a Jewish kid like Shnooky or allow Jewish children everywhere to be exposed to the kefirah of midos. The fact that Shnooky finds Doomstein sleeping instead of learning simply demonstrates that Doomstein was aware of his presence and therefore needed to pretend to be sleeping in order to maintain the fiction that he was not the Sith Gadol Hador. Dr. Midos' plan, though, succeeds as Doomstein finds himself with no choice but to pretend that his laser gun uses bullets, which can be replaced with bubble gum. He is left bemoaning the fact that he lacked the courage to harm Shnooky even to save Judaism and he would be the only "nasty" one around, the only one still willing to place halakha over midos. At this point, with Doomstein shaken in his emunas hachamim (mainly in himself), that Shnooky starts to play the tshuva tape, reformatting Doomstein's mind to transform him into a practitioner of midos. Doomstein starts to give in, but resists by telling himself "I am going to become a new man," meaning that to give in to Dr. Midos would be no different than committing shmad, becoming a Christian "new man." He continues by saying that is "going to do lots of mitzvoth," which is more important than midos. Doomstein turns to the Torah, whose laws encompass everything and render midos irrelevant. Finally, he offers to "try to have good midos." By this, Doomstein defeats the song by seeming to submit himself to midos. In reality though, Doomstein only vowed to "try," leaving midos as a handmaiden to halakah that one can choose to practice when convenient. You can study midos from a didactic legalistic text for a half hour a day, which defeats the point of midos anyway, while leaving the bulk of the day honing one's pilpul powers. Doomstein is then able to trick Dr. Midos into letting him escape to Yeshiva Aish Sameach in Jerusalem, where he plans to reach out to the kids that Dr. Midos has brainwashed and bring them back to the true path of Sith Judaism.   

Meanwhile, Shloompy wastes the only bottle of anti-invisible spray due to his inability to balance the midos directive toward cleanliness and the directive to not mess with other people's things. This means that Dr. Midos has to turn once again to Double Talk, who tells him that he must acquire some wooky jukie from the village of Mumbo Jumbo in 'Africa. Dizzy notes that going to 'Africa is "just as exciting as going into outer space" as they are not going to the continent of Africa but the planet of 'Africa, which houses the twenty-third century Neo-Victorian theme park village of Mumbjo Jumbo, designed to replicate a prejudiced nineteenth-century vision of an African village. The problem with this theme park is that robot villagers hewed to their programming of being Victorian era stereotypical pulp fiction Africans too well. They developed cannibalism and killed all the tourists. Abandoned, the planet fell through a time rift into the twentieth century. It was during the journey through the rift, that the planet was seeded with wookie jukie. Dr. Midos manages to avoid the fate of the tourists by playing on the robot's superstition that he could unleash the Mighty Shnooky against them. Dizzy then completes the task by introducing the robots to cholent, which creates a logical paradox in their circuitry trying to explain why anyone would eat such food and causes them to explode.

Unbeknownst to Dr. Midos, wookie jukie, as the product of a dimension existing between the spaces of time, gives the user temporary Time Lord powers. After coming home, Shnooky goes to sleep in Dr. Midos' time machine chair and accidentally sets it in motion. On this trip, Shnooky manages to convince George Washington to tell his father that he chopped down the cherry tree, before crashing in 1968 where he meets an earlier version of Dr. Midos. The reason for this crash was not a leak in the gas tank as time machines do not run on gas, but because of a time clamp placed on the machine by the Time Lords when they exiled Dr. Midos (as they did with the third Doctor) to Earth. Their reason for doing so can easily be surmised when you consider the host of questionable decisions made by Dr. Midos in this series. The present-day Dr. Midos uses the bein hazmanim radio in his attic to talk to Christopher Columbus before finding the 1968 version of himself. The fact that his house would not appear to have an attic demonstrates that Dr. Midos' house possesses Tardis technology and is much bigger on the inside.  Back in 1968, Dr. Midos realizes that the time machine only worked in the first place because of Shnooky and, because Shnooky was not trained as a Time Lord, it would only work if Shnooky subconsciously willed it to do so. Dr. Midos, therefore, tells Shnooky that he does not have any unleaded gas. In a panic that he would not get home for his bar-mitzvah, Shnooky falls into a trance and successfully wills himself home. When he wakes up, Dr. Midos tricks Shnooky by only telling him part of the truth. Obviously, Double Talk had previously spoken to him about the effects of wookie jookie, but Dr. Midos decided to only mention the part about dreams. He then dodges the issue about the attic. While Dizzy and Shloompy know something about the truth, which is in keeping with Dr. Midos' plan to interest them in time travel, he forces them to not tell Shnooky. The reason for this is that Dr. Midos wants to hone Shnooky's time-traveling abilities, which for now require his ignorance of their true nature, in order to escape from the exile he has been placed in.    

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Saving Water with Etta Israel's Public Service Video

Since I have moved to Los Angeles, I have been privileged to be occasionally involved with Etta Israel, a support organization for people with special needs in the Jewish community. I would particularly like to thank Josh Taff, who reached out to my wife and I. Etta offers a wide range of programs for both children and adults with the goal of integrating people with special needs into the Jewish community instead of simply shuffling them of to a corner where they can be ignored. One of Etta's projects is an initiative to design environmental education programs for people with special needs. Unfortunately, this is being paid for by a government grant. We can hope for the day when the Los Angeles water department will be privatized. Until that day, people should be looking to save money to make up for all the money that government wastes and to demonstrate that human beings are actually quite rational and can be relied upon to be environmentally conscious without a government gun pointed at their heads. In that spirit, my wife took part in the making of a public service video this past summer.  

Kalman wants everyone to know that he is really the star of the entire video and was directing everything from the side all while engaging in epic shloofy.