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Mummy Dearest: February 18, 2018

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A recent issue of the New York Times Sunday Magazine featured two articles on artificial intelligence. One story described the use of a deep neural network in determining when to switch from curative care to palliative care. This decision, to switch from healing to comfort, is agonizing and emotional, for patients and families that must consent, for those who provide care and realize that there will be no cure. The timing of the decision is critical, for there is a sweet spot, a window between three and twelve months before death, when making the right decision makes a world of difference, can make for a good death.

Enter Anand Avati, a graduate student at Stanford. His team started with data on 200,000 deceased patients. They entered all of the data for the first 160,000, including medical records of diagnoses, procedures, hospitalizations, and treatments, as well as the actual date of death, then used the remaining 40,000 patients to test the accuracy of their algorithm. The results were remarkable. Not only did the algorithm successfully predict those who would die within the nine-month palliative care window with 90% accuracy, but it also was 95% accurate in identifying those who would live longer than twelve months, in other words, those for whom it was definitely too early to switch from curative to palliative care. Continue reading →

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Manufacturing Enemies: February 11, 2018

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In an age of dangerous tweets, we can easily forget that our hyper-connected world is not the first to see relationships and anger ping-pong across the globe, though admittedly things are way faster today, much too fast for some of us. In fact, there were key people, connectors if you will, long before six degrees of Kevin Bacon, people who seemed to know everybody even before Facebook “friends” and SnapChat, especially in small elite worlds like those of royalty, the super rich, and the arts.

Let us start with the British naturalist Gerald Durrell, who spent an important part of his childhood on the Greek island of Corfu, seen in both the BBC television movie “My Family and Other Animals,” named after his first autobiographical work, and in the recent ITV and Masterpiece co-produced mini-series “The Durrells of Corfu.” Gerald’s career was one of only two distinguished careers in the same family. His older brother Lawrence was a novelist best known for his Alexandrian Quartet, at one time seriously considered for a Nobel Prize. And it is Lawrence, not Gerald,who appears on the list of lovers of that infamous 20th century connector, writer, memoirist, and sexual revolutionary Anaïs Nin, best known for her liaison with the novelist Henry Miller and possibly his wife June. Continue reading →

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Wells and Walls: February 4, 2018

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The emperor Hadrian is best known for the wall constructed during his reign to mark the northern border of Roman Britannia, appropriately called Hadrian’s Wall, but the empire he ruled was massive, half again as big as the continental US, stretching from modern England to the Middle East, and it is to that eastern edge of that empire that we turn our attention this morning, to the Palestine of those ancient Roman times and to the Palestine of today.

The Bar Kokhba rebellion, a full-scale war between Judeans and Romans, broke out in the year 132 of the Common Era, while Hadrian was emperor and a little over a century after the execution of Jesus. This third and final Jewish War was devastating for both sides. It is believed that more than 580,000 Jews were killed, with many more dying of famine and disease in the following years. Countless thousands of Jews were carried off in chains, enslaved, while all the rest were prohibited from Jerusalem and the region around it. Roman casualties were heavy as well, with the 22nd Legion disbanded completely due to heavy losses, and the 9th never recovering, disbanding a few years later. The only worse defeat suffered by Roman forces to that date might have been against the Germanic tribes at Teutoburg Forest, an infamous battle that left Augustus literally banging his head into the wall while shouting “Quintilius Varus, give me back my legions!” Continue reading →

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Peter Beatbox: January 28, 2018

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The public intellectual Andrew Sullivan, in a recent piece for New York magazine, wrote about what some believe are excesses in the #MeToo movement. And there appear to be some excesses, cases like that of Aziz Ansari, where morning after regret can morph into the public pillory, or that of James Franco, where there was no force or power involved, just general sleaziness and a man making promises he didn’t intend to keep. Do we really need to tell young people that seducers lie? They should even be able to figure that out even with their faces down to their smartphones.

In his article, Sullivan described his own experience with hormone replacement therapy and the very real emotional and physical effects of testosterone washing though his body. The piece, titled “#MeToo and the Taboo Topic of Nature” in no way challenges the right of women to be free from assault, harassment, and even pressure. The things that have been in the news have been both breathtaking and really not at all surprising. As we watched the Met simulcast of Tosca yesterday, I mentioned to Dr. Garfield that the operatic villain Scarpia looks relatively mild compared to Harvey Weinstein. Continue reading →

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Mr. Miyagi: January 21, 2018

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Some of you grew up in multi-cultural environments. I can’t imagine how awesome that must have been.

I never saw a bagel as a kid, never ate Indian food. My late ’60’s world was pretty mono-chromatic and mono-cultural, so it was quite exciting when I was ten years-old and the scandalous divorcee who lived in the house behind ours sold it to an elderly Chinese couple who had, stereotypically, made it in America by opening a laundry business. Their discarded Chinese newspapers were sources of mystery and wonder to the neighborhood kids.

As is typical for immigrant families, they had worked hard, and the second generation thrived, going on to colleges, professional schools, and successful careers. But we were no sophisticates, didn’t quite understand the gifts that every wave of immigrants has added to our stew-pot nation. The most important topic of neighborhood discussion wasn’t the wonder of their success. It was the vegetables Mr. Yip was growing in what seemed chaotic disorder in this suburban paradise of orderly rows, beans that were too long and cabbages that didn’t look like cabbage. He had a sense of humor about it all, no doubt a necessary survival trait as a stranger in a strange land. One day, when my dad and his close friend Baxter were standing where the four backyards joined, Baxter yelled out to ask Mr. Yip why he was digging such a deep hole. Without missing a beat, he responded that he was going home. Continue reading →

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Never Mind Him: January 14, 2018

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It was a pretty amazing career that has Al Capone near the beginning and the #MeToo campaign at the end. She had a significant following on Twitter, and when she died on December 28, that platform was just one of the many, from traditional newspapers to social media, where she was celebrated. Television artist Nell Scovell called her the “patron saint of female comedy writers,” thought that was really just a role she performed as an actor. It all started with a vaudeville father and the 1929 release of the Vitaphone sound short “Baby Rose Marie the Child Wonder.”

Rose Marie Mazzetta, just Rose Marie in the credits thank you, had a career lasting almost seven decades, though she was best known for her role as Sally Rogers, one part of the comedy writing team for the fictional “Alan Brady Show,” the show within the meta show, “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” It starred the eponymous Dutch kid from Missouri, and had a cast that included Rose Marie, an Italian from Manhattan, and of course, Mary Tyler Moore, who would move into the workforce, like so many women, with her next role. But “The Dick Van Dyke” show was really a tribute to the great tradition celebrated in Jeremy Dauber’s recent book “Jewish Comedy: A Serious History.” In fact, “The Dick Van Dyke Show” was an homage to the writer’s room at “Your Show of Shows,” an early television hit that ran from 1950 to 1954 starring Sid Caesar and Imogene Coco. Caesar’s comedy writing incubator would produce names like Neil Simon, Mel Brooks, Larry Gelbart, the creator of M*A*S*H, and, unfortunately, Woody Allen, accused of sexual misconduct long before the current wave of #MeToo. Continue reading →

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Communion Rite

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I have been asked on occasion to share the Communion Rite I adapted from traditional forms. This is the basic rite, though it has been adapted, and has one version with the Words of Institution done responsively by the congregation.

Invitation to the Table Our Savior loved, welcomed and served Gentile and Jew, male and female, sinner and saint. Why should we place barriers where Christ did not? This is the table of love. We welcome all who wish to follow on the Way of Our Savior to receive communion.

Instructions on how communion will be served are inserted here.

Communion Prayer Let us pray.

O Divine Mystery we name as God, it is right and proper that we should come together as your people to offer you thanks and praise, acknowledging our utter dependence on you. In holy creativity you wrote a new story, calling the world into being, choreographing the dance of the atom, composing cosmic symphonies. Continue reading →

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Traveling Light: January 7, 2018

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The scene on Jeopardy might play out something like this:

“I’ll take pop groups with strange names for $800, Alex.”

“Here’s the clue: This group, named after the sound an infant might make, was a one and a half hit wonder, first with the group’s single “Too Shy” in 1983, then with the lead singer’s solo hit “The Neverending Story” the following year.

“What is Kajagoogoo.”

“That is correct.”

It was the age of big hair, and Christopher Hamill, using the anagram stage name Limahl, had big hair when he recorded the title track for the popular fantasy film based on the first half of a recently published children’s book by the German author Michael Ende. Continue reading →

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Christmas Eve Homilies 2017

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Family Service 10:00AM

On my recent trip to Florida, I had the joy of seeing Toad the Wet Sprocket, an alternative rock band first founded in 1986. They are a personal favorite, as is the solo work of the lead vocalist and guitarist Glen Phillips. But before they can even consider the music, most folks stumble over the name, which seems nonsensical, unless you are a Monty Python fan, in which case it is still nonsensical, but exactly as it should be. The band took Toad the Wet Sprocket, the name of a made-up band in the “Rock News” sketch on Monty Python’s Flying Circus, as a temporary name and never got around to changing it. Continue reading →

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Out Standing in Our Field: December 10, 2017

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The great Jewish artist Marc Chagall, while immensely talented, would probably have never achieved the fame he would come to enjoy, much less the commissions and sales, if he had remained in Belarus, if he’d even survived Stalin’s purges. Paris called and Chagall answered, not once, but twice, before and after the revolution. It is the City of Light, drawing painters and poets like moths to the flame, a thousand locks weighing down a lovers’ bridge, dissolute genius

Toronto has its own charms, but it is no Paris. There must be dissolute artists in Toronto, but I’ve never heard of them. Nonetheless, in the same way that Paris acted as the incubator for the genius developing in Chagall and countless other artists, musicians, and writers, so Toronto acted as an incubator for an American genius. Continue reading →

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