Friday, December 28, 2007

Israel's first Sextival

Nitzan Kirshenboim, a former Israeli model, is getting some prurient-mixed-with-pious attention for organizing the Jewish state's first sex festival. I'm not that titillated, but I found this quote comical:
"The Sextival will showcase the wildest things your imagination can come up with," the excited Kirshenboim promises. "You know, some people have a fetish for women with really-really big noses, and this will also be represented in the event."

The Fresh Prince of the Third Reich?

Will Smith has been getting a lot of grief for an off-hand invocation of Hitler in a recent interview.
"Even Hitler didn't wake up going, 'let me do the most evil thing I can do today'," said Will. "I think he woke up in the morning and using a twisted, backwards logic, he set out to do what he thought was 'good'. Stuff like that just needs reprogramming."
This is the kind of statement that can be seriously misconstrued and misappropriated. (And it was.) I don't hear this as a defense of Hitler, but it seems an odd anecdote nonetheless. Esther K has a sober assessment of what she thinks Smith meant and the impact it will have on his popularity.
Do I believe that Will Smith is an anti-Semite? No. Will I never look at his movies the same way again, like what happened in the wake of Mel Gibson's trip to Crazytown? No. Will I insist, as the local JDL is, that Hollywood "shun any future projects involving Smith." Clearly not. But do I find it surprising that Smith would invoke Hitler, the most hated, and most acknowledgedly-evil human to have walked the planet (at least in recent memory) through a haze of attempted comprehension? Uh-huh.

The report continues that "Smith himself is angry at the way critics have interpreted his words" [I bet he is] "saying there's no way they should be read to imply that he believes Hitler was anything but "a vile, heinous vicious killer."

Good. We all agree. Let's move on. And please, celebrities...whether you yell at Matt Lauer for the evils of meds-prescribing psychologists or try to understand Hitlerian logic, even as an intellectual exercise that challenges the concepts of good and evil, I implore you: think before you speak.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

'Remembering Greenberg'

Every day that I go into the office, I walk past one of many poster-sized covers of The Jewish Journal that always grabs my attention.

Ryan Braun might be nicknamed The Hebrew Hammer, and he deserves it. But this cover is of the original semitic slugger, Hank Greenberg.

The former Tigers star bears no relation to me. (Need proof? Just watch me play softball.) But few names in sports that aren't Koufax merit more pride for the Tribe than Hank Greenberg.

Long before Shawn Green said he wouldn't play on Yom Kippur, and then did, Greenberg sat out a crucial game against the Yankees. The 2000 story focused on the documentary, "In the Life and Times of Hank Greenberg."
Greenberg's greatness is undisputed. In a career interrupted for most of five seasons by World War II, the lumbering first baseman hit 331 home runs,compiled a .313 career batting average and knocked in 1,276 runs. In 1937, his 183 runs batted in were one fewer than Lou Gehrig's league record. His 58 home runs in 1938 were second to the 60 hit by Babe Ruth in 1927. "No question that he was the greatest Jewish hitter of all time," said Steve Greenberg, one of Greenberg's two sons and a former deputy commissioner ofMajor League Baseball. "But that's not how he wanted to be remembered. If you talk to players of that era, they knew he was one of the greatest players.Ted Williams said he was his idol." In Ms. Kempner's homey documentary — a quilt of newsreel footage, interviews and spirited music selections like Mandy Patinkin singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" in Yiddish — Greenberg is a quiet hero flawed only by his fielding range. To the worshipful fans who adored him as "Hankus Pankus,"Greenberg was a "messiah," "a Jewish god," a Moses-like savior who refuted the stereotypesabout what Jews could do.

"I had this Captain Marvel, Hank Greenberg, on my shoulder," Rabbi Reeve Brenner says in the film. "He was my big brother, my mishpocheh" (family). Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard Law School professor, adds, "He was what "they" said we could never be." When the Tigers traded Greenberg to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1947, Don Shapiro, an oral surgeon and fan, felt as if "your bubbe" — grandmother — "moved to Mississippi." The passion is poignant, humorous and over the top, like Ms. Kempner's. Yet those who admired Greenberg know his achievements came in the face of ethnic baiting by fans and rival players and the anti-Semitic rantings of the Rev. Charles E. Coughlin, the so-called radio priest from the Detroit suburb of Royal Oak, and Henry Ford.

"At the height of domestic anti-Semitism and the Nazis overrunning Europe, here was a Jewish player so good, so powerful and almost breaking Ruth's record," Ms. Kempner said."Two months after Hank nearly broke Ruth's record, Kristallnacht happened in Germany." In a 1984 interview used in the film, Greenberg recalled: "There was always some leatherlung yelling at me. I found it was a spur to make me do better because I could never fallasleep on the field. As soon as you struck out, you weren't only a bum, you were a Jewish bum."

Monday, December 24, 2007

Yes, Virginia, there is an obese Santa Claus

Everyone knows Santa Claus is supposed to be fat. It's not possible for one man to eat 5 billion or so sugar cookies on the night before Christmas and be anything but a butterball. Furthermore, if he weren't fat, then we'd know he wasn't eating the cookies, and that would raise all sorts of other doubts. We thought everyone understood and accepted this logic.

But now the British say Santa's corpulence isn't cute, it's a health hazard, an apple-shaped advertisement for Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. After a study released in October found that, by 2050, more than half of Britain's population will be obese, a cabal of fitness zealots at malls and shops in Merry Olde England decreed that their Santas must be trim. That's right -- skinny Santas, buff Santas and, we tremble to think of it, Santas with six-pack abs. According to news reports, a shopping center in Kent even set up a boot camp for Santas who couldn't slim down on their own.

How could this happen? Didn't England unload all of its joyless Puritans in the 17th century? Has there been some vast repatriation we failed to notice? Is it possible that the eternally erroneous Bill O'Reilly is actually correct, and Christmas is under siege?
No, it's not. The celebration of Christmas is alive and well, regardless of the propaganda aimed at making Christians at large believe they are an oppressed minority.

This LA Times editorial reminds me of the famous "Yes, Virginia," the most reprinted editorial in history:

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Silent nights without 'Silent Night'

Can anyone remember the last time Christmas carolers knocked on their door and sang "Away in a Manger" or "Frosty the Snowman?" The reason it's probably been a while, USA Today reports, is that caroling is increasingly passé among Americans.
The reasons range from the paranoid (it's a plot by secularists against Christians) to the prosaic (most people would rather stay home and watch football). Americans are too busy or too lazy or too intimidated to sing in public. People are afraid of offending neighbors or interrupting their privacy. Neighborhoods are less close-knit.

It hasn't completely disappeared, but caroling in the 21st century has adapted.

People carol on horseback in San Antonio and Virginia Beach. They organize to carol citywide to raise money for charity in St. Louis. They're professional singers dressed up in Victorian costumes in cities all over the country, caroling for cash (not figgy pudding) at parties and malls. And in California, caroling is a Hollywood spectacle on a truck with scores of costumed singers, dancers and musicians gamboling through the streets (only in L.A., kids, only in L.A.).

Here and there, in neighborhoods rich with community spirit, energetic organizers and church choirs, residents get together in evenings before Christmas to ramble around crooning Jingle Bells or Silent Night on sidewalks and porches, then dash home to drink hot cider and snack on sweets in a mood of Christmassy bonhomie.

"Maybe there's a need for communities like this, where people who come together are longing for a Norman Rockwell kind of America," says Sandra Aresta, one of the organizers of the annual neighborhood caroling in Chevy Chase West, in the Maryland suburbs of Washington.

But Rockwell's America departed with Rockwell, and in any case, caroling wasn't all that common in the USA to begin with. Polls conducted for the National Christmas Tree Association found that by 1996, only 22% of those surveyed said they planned to go caroling, and by 2005, that number had dropped to an anemic 6%.
(Hat tip: the new and improved DMN religion blog)

Friday, December 21, 2007

Anti-Semitism on rise in Europe

Harper's keeps sending me subscription renewal notices. The most recent one pointed to a few topics the magazine had explored recently, including European nationalism and the rise of anti-Semitism (something I've written about here and here and here and here). I couldn't recall seeing this article, so I did a search, and it turns out that "recent" refers to August 1990. In other breaking news, the Berlin Wall has fallen.

Anyway, the article was a good read, and it complemented a piece in The New Yorker last month about a French demagogue, the anti-Semitic comedian Dieudonné.
The beginning of l’affaire Dieudonné came in December, 2003, when he appeared on “You Can’t Please Everyone,” a popular political talk show, in which celebrities discussed issues in a civil roundtable atmosphere. To the surprise of everyone there, he arrived on the set wearing a camo jacket, a black ski mask, and an Orthodox Jewish hat with fake sidelocks. He launched into a speech that called on the audience to join “the Americano-Zionist Axis—the only one . . . that offers you happiness, and the only one to give you a chance of living a little bit longer.” While the panel of comedians invited for the show (it included Jamel Debbouze, France’s most popular Muslim comic) laughed, the show’s host, Marc-Olivier Fogiel, looked on nervously. Dieudonné finished his polemic by raising his arm and crying, “Isra-heil.” He then took off his mask and joined the panel, to a standing ovation.
The most troubling part of the profile, though, is not so much Dieudonné, but the new France that he represents:
On February 13, 2006, Ilan Halimi, a twenty-three-year-old cell-phone salesman, was found—naked, gagged, and handcuffed—near a train station south of Paris. He had burns and traces of torture on eighty per cent of his body, and died on the way to the hospital. Halimi had been kidnapped and held for three weeks in a cellar in the suburb of Bagneux. The police traced the crime to a group that became known as “the gang of Barbarians,” allegedly led by Youssouf Fofana, the twenty-five-year-old son of African immigrants, and determined that Halimi had been abducted because he was Jewish. Eighteen people were arrested in France, and after a manhunt that led to the Ivory Coast, Fofana was taken into custody. Fofana denied killing Halimi, and that his actions were motivated by race, but other detainees told the police that “Jews have money,” and that they believed that Halimi’s parents, a working-class couple, or “the rabbi” would pay half a million dollars for Halimi’s release.

Sammy Ghozlan, the head of a French group that monitors anti-Semitism, said that the words of an “alleged comedian” influenced the killers, and Julien Dray, the spokesman for the Socialist Party and a founder of S.O.S. Racisme, declared that Halimi’s death was a result of “the Dieudonné effect.” Dieudonné denounced Dray for throwing around murder accusations lightly. In a statement he released at the time, Dieudonné attributed the torture-abduction to the neo-liberalism that “has established the cult of profit as the central value of society” and to the “American drift in French society.” On February 26, 2006, pamphlets depicting Dieudonné and Fofana above the words “Thinker. Murderer” were distributed during a March in Paris to protest Halimi’s murder.While French politicians were holding vigils for Halimi, Dieudonné invited to his theatre the family of another victim of a kidnap-murder and called for an end to the “discrimination among victims” that allegedly favored Jews. A few days later, Dieudonné held a rally on the theme of “Republican equality against discrimination among victims,” adding an Algerian and an Armenian to the list of those whose killings had gotten scant notice. At about this time, Dieudonné added to his show impersonations of Hitler (“You’ll see, the future will present me as a moderate!”) and the French Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson.

In Bagneux, the suburb where Halimi was murdered, Jean-Claude Tchicaya, a government social worker, organizes workshops and field trips to foster understanding among blacks, Arabs, and Jews. “Halimi was tortured in the town where I live, in the neighborhood where I live, in the building where my mother lives,” Tchicaya told me. “I even knew personally some of the young people who were part of the murder gang. To believe that all Jews are rich is an anti-Semitic prejudice that didn’t exist in the neighborhood twenty years ago.” He added, “Dieudonné is cunning, insinuating. He touches parts of people’s minds that are vulnerable.”

In May, 2006, a group calling itself the Tribu Ka marched down the Rue des Rosiers, the main street of the Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Le Marais, chanting anti-Semitic slogans. The Tribu Ka’s leader, Kémi Séba, a French-born man of Ivory Coast and Haitian parentage, reportedly issued a “warning” to France’s Jewish community: “If by any chance the French Jews brush even a single hair of Brother Fofana’s head, we will take care of the curls of your rabbi.” In July, Sarkozy, who was then the interior minister, had the Tribu Ka banned. All of this meant further embarrassment for Dieudonné, who, it was revealed, allowed Séba to use the Théâtre de la Main d’Or for meetings in which he reportedly praised Hitler’s ideas on race. Dieudonné’s office issued a statement emphasizing the gulf between Séba and himself, and pointing out that Séba’s “ethnically based organization”—the Tribu Ka excludes non-blacks from its meetings—was the opposite of the “republican project defended by Dieudonné.” (Two months ago, the Théâtre de la Main d’Or announced Séba’s stage début, a “street politic” production called “Sarkophobie.”)

In August, 2006, Dieudonné left town on an “anti-Zionist solidarity mission,” and arrived in Beirut in the wake of Israel’s war with Hezbollah. He was accompanied by his Presidential campaign manager, Marc Robert; the September 11th conspiracy theorist Thierry Meyssan; and Ahmed Moualek, the leader of the youth organization La Banlieue S’Exprime! (The Suburbs Speak!). Dieudonné met with the chief of Hezbollah’s television network, Al Manar, and was photographed shaking hands with Jesse Jackson, who looked befuddled. By his side during all these encounters was his new friend from the National Front, Alain Soral.

I saw Soral again this past May, two weeks after the French Presidential elections. Le Pen had won only ten per cent of the vote—his worst showing in years—and failed to qualify for a second round. Though the victorious Sarkozy campaign managed to win National Front supporters by promising a tough new immigration policy, N.F. insiders blamed the outcome on Soral’s “banlieue” strategy and the alliance with Dieudonné, who, they believed, had alienated white voters as well as moderates. “We have passed into the Republic of Show Business, a schmatte monarchy,” Soral said glumly. “There was almost nobody on the Champs-Élysées for Sarkozy’s victory, but on TV it looked like crowds. It was just like in Baghdad, with the tearing down of Saddam Hussein’s statue. It was all staged television, recycled crowds, Jews. The French people don’t care—they’re like cows watching a train go by.”
(Photo: Time)

Catholic League to Huckabee: Stop selling your Christian creds like a used-car salesman

The snickering and sniping over the supposed subliminal message in Mike Huckabee's Christmas ad is just silly. But, I can't say I've ever agreed more with a statement from the Catholic League's Bill Donahue.
"Every other word out of [Huckabee's] mouth is that 'I'm Christian.' He's calling into question Romney's Mormonism...let people talk about there faith, but don't sell it on your sleeve."

Added Donahue, "Yeah, I believe in freedom of speech and freedom of religion, but don't become a salesman. Don't hawk it like that on the street."

Ave Maria and the pizza man's unanswered prayers

Tom Monaghan, the founder of Domino's Pizza, has been receiving a lot of attention for his ambitious -- and pious -- community-building project in Florida. One of my favorite writers at The New Yorker penned this piece last February about Monaghan's plans to build a Catholic seminary and city based on Catholic values, both bearing the name Ave Maria.

But, in another long piece, Portfolio reports that Ave Maria's in need of a miracle. (Cliche writing intentionally added.)
Monaghan and his partners—the Barron Collier Co., a major Florida real estate firm, and Pulte Homes, the country's third-largest residential builder—say it's too early to judge the viability of the project, which, after all, is still in its infancy. But the circumstances of Ave Maria's birth could not be more challenging. It was conceived in 2001, at the onset of the real estate boom, during which the median home price in Naples would double in just five years. The developers were originally hoping to construct 1,000 houses a year at Ave Maria, reaching a goal of 11,000 over the next decade, while also creating parks, shops, restaurants, and 500,000 square feet of office space. That's not going to happen, at least not at the pace the developers had hoped, for reasons that are both symbolic of wider market conditions and peculiar to the unique—and controversial—nature of Monaghan's project.

Ave Maria is coming into being at the dawn of the worst real estate recession since the early 1990s, in a place that could fairly be called the epicenter of the bust. According to one recent study, the Naples area is the spot in America most at risk for a steep drop in home prices. But the deeper problem may be a conflict between Monaghan and his partners over Ave Maria's identity. At this perilous juncture in the town's existence, they can't agree about how Catholic it should be. Barron Collier and Pulte, both of which are far more interested in profits than prophets, are downplaying the role of religion in the town's development, marketing Ave Maria as a place no more intrinsically Catholic than St. Louis or Corpus Christi, Texas.

But Monaghan and the believers who surround him say that the town's religious character is its great strength, not only spiritually but commercially. They worry that by pitching the development to home buyers as just another anodyne suburb, Barron Collier and Pulte risk alienating the very people most inclined to make Ave Maria their home. "I wonder sometimes whether they don't treat this as if it's the same as every other development they do," Monaghan says of his secular partners. "I think if they put a lot of money into marketing to the general population, they might be wasting a lot of it."

Early indications suggest he may be right.
Which raises the question of the day: Would you want to live in a town of not only homogeneous religious beliefs but also moral values?

Muslim Americans feel left out of campaign Godtalk

Mejgan Afshan's father warned her about the danger of discussing religion and politics, but as a girl, she couldn't resist the two things she thought mattered more than anything else. Now 28 and watching the 2008 presidential campaign closely, Afshan sees how uncomfortable those topics can be when they intersect.

While an unholy amount of campaigning has been in the form of Godtalk -- former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee talking about how much he loves Jesus, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney swearing there's nothing wrong with being Mormon and Sen. Barack Obama reminding potential voters that he's not Muslim -- Afshan feels like the greatest effort candidates are making with Muslim Americans like her is to distance themselves.

"It's like when you are a kid, and everybody is getting a piece of candy, and you don't get one," said Afshan, who spent the past three years as a field representative for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and recently left to join the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC). "I want some attention, too."

That is a sentiment shared by many Muslim Americans, including many of the 1,000 who came to the Long Beach Convention Center last Saturday for MPAC's annual convention.

"Today in the country," said Shakeel Syed, executive director of the Islamic Shura Council, a federation of Southern California mosques and nonprofits, "Muslims are treated as some permanent foreigner who by mistake landed in America."

That was echoed by an absence of candidates at the convention. Speaker invitations were sent both to the Republicans and Democrats running for president; only Mike Gravel, the former Democratic senator from Alaska who is considered a fringe candidate, accepted, and he cancelled his keynote address the night before because of pneumonia.

And a few missed R.S.V.P.s isn't the only reason Muslim Americans feel snubbed by some of the presidential candidates.
I wrote about the rest of the reasons, about the Muslim-American-immigrant evolution and about their primary domestic concerns in this week's Jewish Journal. I didn't have space to discuss foreign-policy interests, but it's safe to say the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the war in Iraq are at the top of that list.

As a sidebar to that story, I spoke with U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, who last fall became the first Muslim American to be elected to federal office. His campaign was filled with all kinds of questions about whether he was linked with Islamic extremists that want to destroy our government. And after he was elected, the controversy didn't die down.
JJ: What did you think when Dennis Prager, among other people, criticized your decision to take the oath on the Quran, saying, "The act undermines American civilization?"

KE: I chalked that up to him trying to increase ratings. The people who complain about what I swore in on and what others did, too, these people are poor students of American history. In the United States Constitution, not only does the First Amendment say there is no state religion, but it also says later on in Article Six that there is no religious test for service in public office. It says it in the Constitution. No religious test.

JJ: Forty-five percent of Americans in a Fox News poll earlier this year said they would be less likely to vote for a Muslim presidential candidate; John McCain a few months ago said the same. How far along do you think American Muslims are, and how long until we see a greater presence?

KE: Like every other ethnic group or every other religious group in American society, people need to get engaged and get active. America in many ways has been a recurring expansion of participation and inclusion.

A lot of Muslims today are very concerned about civil rights in America as it relates to Muslims -- things like rendition, things like immigration detention centers, things like the FBI visits to every foreign-born Muslim in America after 2001, things like watch lists in the airports. Maybe there are some people who truly need to be focused on, but because we have this broad prophylactic, you catch a lot of people who didn't do nothing but go on a business trip.

It's also important to note that in a Pew Research poll, 71 percent of Muslims said if you work hard in America, you can make it, whereas only 64 percent of the general population would report that level of optimism. You've got people who love their country, are glad to be in America, feel like America is a great country, but also in this post-Sept. 11 world feel like they are the scapegoated group.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

'Our Worst Ex-President'

Among the top 10 quotes of 2007, according to the Yale Book of Quotations, via Mother Jones, former President Jimmy Carter's comment to my friend the Bible Belt Blogger came in at No. 10.
"I think as far as the adverse impact on the nation around the world, this administration has been the worst in history."
I can't say I disagree about President Bush, and neither would these people. But, to many Jews, especially these ones, ain't nobody been a worse former president than James Earl Carter.

This story from February continues to dominate the top of Commentary's online archive. It talks about Carter's unexpected political ascendancy, his continued geopolitical meddling and his problem with Israel.
Carter’s frequent pronouncements on issues of the day and his free-lance diplomacy—have had a much sharper edge. He has injected himself into several foreign crises, sometimes with the grudging acquiescence of existing U.S. administrations but sometimes in open defiance of them.

One remarkable instance grew out of Carter’s strong opposition to the use of force to reverse the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait in 1990. Not satisfied with issuing a torrent of statements and articles, he dispatched a letter to the heads of state of members of the United Nations Security Council and several other governments urging them to oppose the American request for UN authorization of military action. In this letter, writes Carter’s admiring biographer Douglas Brinkley, he urged these influential world leaders to abandon U.S. leadership and instead give “unequivocal support to an Arab League effort, without any restraints on their agenda.” If this were allowed to occur, Carter believed, an Arab solution would not only force Iraq to leave Kuwait but at long last also force Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories.

The U.S. government under President George H.W. Bush learned of Carter’s missive only from Prime Minister Brian Mulroney of Canada. Brent Scowcroft, Bush’s National Security Adviser, called it “unbelievable” that Carter would “ask . . . the other members of the Council to vote against his own country. . . . [I]f there was ever a violation of the Logan Act prohibiting diplomacy by private citizens, this was it.” Later, Carter justified his action by noting that he had sent the letter to President Bush, too—as if this disposed of Scowcroft’s point. And even that was only a half-truth. As Brinkley reports, the copy to Bush was dated a day after the letter was sent to the others.

Despite Carter’s appeal, the Security Council voted 12-2 to authorize military action, with only Cuba and Yemen taking Carter’s side. But this was not the end of the ex-President’s efforts. Just days before the announced deadline for Iraq to withdrawal from Kuwait, Carter wrote to the rulers of America’s three most important Arab allies in the crisis—Egypt, Syria, and Saudi Arabia—imploring them to break with Washington: “I urge you to call publicly for a delay in the use of force while Arab leaders seek a peaceful solution to the crisis. You may have to forgo approval from the White House, but you will find the French, Soviets, and others fully supportive.” This time, he did not share a copy of his appeal with his own government even after the fact.

Why, one may ask, was Carter so adamant on the point of “an Arab solution”? After all, the so-called “Carter doctrine,” which he had laid down in his 1980 State of the Union address in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, explicitly threatened war in circumstances similar to those created by Saddam’s naked aggression in the Persian Gulf. What, then, led him to take a different tack in this instance? Brinkley’s gloss supplies a possible answer. It appears that Carter saw the fruits of Saddam’s aggression as providing valuable leverage against Israel that he did not want to see squandered. Why he might have been thinking in such terms is a subject to which we shall return.
When the article does return to Israel, it offers point-by-point grievances with Carter's book "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid."' Here's one:
It is not only Arafat whose pacifism Carter credits. Now that the PLO has been upstaged by Hamas, he finds peaceful intentions in that quarter, too—even in the face of Hamas denials that it adheres to any such view. Reporting credulously that “Hamas would modify its rejection of Israel if there is a negotiated agreement that Palestinians can approve,” he has urged Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to forge a coalition government with this terrorist organization that is sworn to Israel’s destruction.

Hamas, Carter writes, has “meticulously observed a cease-fire commitment,” and “since August of 2004 [it] has not committed a single act of terrorism that cost an Israeli life.”
This was, of course, before Hamas militants rebooted their daily rocket attacks on the town of Sderot and the surrounding Kibbutzim.
Ever since his presidency, there has been a wide gap between Carter’s estimation of himself and the esteem in which other Americans hold him. This has manifestly embittered him. For all his talk of “love,” the driving motives behind his post-presidential ventures seem, in fact, to be bitterness together with narcissism (as it happens, two prime ingredients of a martyr complex). But he has worked hard to earn the reputation he enjoys. In contravention of the elementary responsibilities of loyalty for one in his position, he has denigrated American policies and leaders in his public and private discussions in foreign lands. He has undertaken personal diplomacy to thwart the policies of the men elected to succeed him. And in doing so he has, at least in the case of North Korea, actively damaged our security.

At home, Carter’s criticisms of the policies of his successors are offered up with reckless abandon. For example, when the Patriot Act and related measures curtailed the rights of defendants accused of terrorism, Carter editorialized that “in many nations, defenders of human rights were the first to feel the consequences.” The charge was simply a concoction, and not a single example was offered to substantiate it. In this manner, Carter has made himself a willing hook on which foreigners can hang their anti-American feelings. When he was given the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002, the chairman of the committee allowed that the award “should be interpreted as a criticism of the line that the current administration has taken. It’s a kick in the leg to all who follow the same line as the United States.”

Carter’s special rancor toward Israel remains to some degree mysterious, as such sentiments often are, but it is likely we have not heard the last of it. As the protests and criticisms of him continue, he may well sink deeper into his sense of angry martyrdom, following the path recently trod by academics like John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, who fancy themselves victims of the very Jewish conspiracies they set out to expose. It is sad that a President whose cardinal accomplishment was a peace accord between Israel and one of its neighbors should have devolved into such a seething enemy of Israel. It will be sadder still if this same man, whose other achievement was to elevate the cause of human rights, ends his career by helping to make anti-Semitism acceptable once again in American discourse.

Christianity Today's top 10 stories of 2007

The list, available here, shares some of the same top stories with Time's list, including the South Korean hostages, the Anglican schism, the Rev. Jerry Falwell's death and the popularity of atheist books. CT also noted:
*Religion on the presidential campaign trail
*The passing of Ruth Graham
*The murders of three Turkey Bible sellers
*The president of the Evangelical Theological Society returning to Catholicism
*The failed ouster of the NAE's eco-conscious Richard Cizik
*The Supreme Court upholding the 2003 partial-birth abortion ban

Spinka leader charged with tax fraud

The leader of an Orthodox Jewish sect was arrested Wednesday after authorities unsealed a sweeping 37-count indictment alleging that he operated a decade-long tax fraud and money laundering scheme stretching from Israel through New York to downtown Los Angeles' jewelry district, authorities said.

Grand Rabbi Naftali Tzi Weisz, head of the Spinka religious group, and his executive assistant, Gabbai Moseh E. Zigelman, are accused of soliciting "tens of millions of dollars" in contributions to Spinka charities while secretly promising to refund up to 95% of contributors' donations, federal prosecutors said. The contributors then illegally claimed tax deductions on their bogus donations.
Spinka is a Hasidic brand that hails from Romania. If the charges, reported here by the LA Times, are true, this scheme would be based on a pretty familiar model. Also in hot water:
Six associates, four of whom were arrested Wednesday, were charged in connection with the scheme. Those arrested were identified as: Yaacov Zeivald, 43, of Valley Village; Yosef Nachum Naiman, 55, of Los Angeles; Alan Jay Friedman, 43, of Los Angeles; and Joseph Roth, 66, of Tel Aviv. Authorities are looking for Los Angeles diamond merchant Moshe Arie Lazar, 60, and Tel Aviv attorney Jacob Ivan Kantor, 71, both believed to be in Israel.

Five Brooklyn-based Spinka charities are also defendants in the alleged money laundering scheme: Yeshiva Imrei Yosef, Yeshivath Spinka, Central Rabbinical Seminary, Machne Sva Rotzohn and Mesivta Imrei Yosef Spinka. The charities are accused of making out false receipts for phony donations as well as receiving the money laundering fees, according to the indictment.

America's 'Holy Highway'

From CNN:
DALLAS -- If you turn to the Bible -- Isaiah Chapter 35, Verse 8 -- you will see a passage that in part says, "A highway shall be there, and a road, and it shall be called the Highway of Holiness."

Now, is it possible that this "highway" mentioned in Chapter 35 is actually Interstate 35 that runs through six U.S. states, from southern Texas to northern Minnesota? Some Christians have faith that is indeed the case.

It was with that interesting belief in mind that we decided to head to Texas, the southernmost state in the I-35 corridor, to do a story about a prayer campaign called "Light the Highway."

Churchgoers in all six states recently finished 35 days of praying alongside Interstate 35, but the prayers are still continuing.
This sort of reminds me of this story.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Ron Paul won't return neo-Nazi donation

Now it's really hard to believe there actually is a group called Jews for Ron Paul.

(Hat tip: FullosseousFlap)

Cheryl Hines, 'the accidental shiksa'

Cheryl Hines graces the cover of Heeb's annual goy issue. She's certainly a worthy selection because if anyone has a right to be an anti-Semite, it's Larry David's fictitious wife on "Curb Your Enthusiasm." (And I say that as not only a devoted David fan, but an at-time-unintentional impersonator.) A nice feature accompanies the cover photo:
In the original HBO one-hour Curb Your Enthusiasm special, Larry David’s wife was supposed to be Jewish. “On the first day we were shooting the actual series,” says actress Cheryl Hines, “Larry turned to me and said, ‘You know, I don’t know if anybody is going to believe that you’re Jewish.’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘do I have to be?’”

And so Cheryl David the TV shiksa wife was born.

But to the show’s credit, her ethnicity has never been manipulated to explore anxieties about class and race. The fictitious David marriage (separation at the time of writing) may be fraught, but that tension isn’t attributed to cultural differences as it might have been in decades past. The relationship is fraught simply because Larry is an a--hole.
Also inside, "The Secret Lives of Shabbos Goys."

MacArthur: Wouldn't lie to hide Jews from Nazis

On his blog, my former college pastor, Rhett Smith, recalls why he stopped reading and listening to John MacArthur, the megachurch pastor of Grace Community Church in the San Fernando Valley:
I used to read and listen to MacArthur on the radio all through college, but I stopped one night in about 1996 or 1997 after he said something to the effect of not lying to officials if he was hiding Jews in his house. The underlying idea being, that God is sovereign and doesn’t need us to lie to accomplish His will, etc. Which brings about all sorts of thoughts, but here is just two: 1) I’m glad I’m not a Jew hiding in his house; 2) God is Sovereign but seems to use us and all sorts of methods to bring about his way (i.e. lying being one of them, Rahab for example). Here is that question being asked by a person and answered by John.
Rhett recommends that anyone looking for good Christian theology on fighting against Hitler and protecting persecuted Jews read Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a refusenik Lutheran minister who died in a concentration camp.

A suspension of disbelief

Also from UCLA, "End of Faith" author Sam Harris, who has quietly been pursuing a doctorate in neuroscience at my alma mater, reports in the January issue of Annals of Neurology that fMRIs show clear differences in areas of the brain involved in belief, disbelief and uncertainty.
Noting that uncertainty differs from both belief and disbelief by not allowing us to settle upon "a specific, actionable interpretation of the world," the authors suggest that the basal ganglia may play a role in mediating the cognitive and behavioral differences between decision and indecision.

Taken together, these data offer insight into the way in which our brains work to form beliefs about the world.

"What I find most interesting about our results is the suggestion that our view of the world must pass through a bottleneck in regions of the brain generally understood to govern emotion, reward and primal feelings like pain and disgust," Harris said. "While evaluating mathematical, ethical or factual statements requires very different kinds of processing, accepting or rejecting these statements seems to rely upon a more primitive process that may be content-neutral. I think that it has long been assumed that believing that two plus two equals four and believing that George Bush is President of the United States have almost nothing in common as cognitive operations. But what they clearly have in common is that both representations of the world satisfy some process of truth-testing that we continually perform. I think this is yet another result, in a long line of results, that calls the popular opposition between reason and emotion into question."

College juniors on deeper spiritual quest than freshmen

UCLA today reported the follow-up to its national survey of spirituality among college freshmen, which I wrote about here and here.
Compared to when they were entering freshmen, college juniors are more likely to be engaged in a spiritual quest, are more caring, and show higher levels of equanimity and an ecumenical worldview. While 41.2 percent of freshmen in 2004 reported they considered developing a meaningful philosophy of life “very important” or “essential,” just three years later in 2007 a 55.4 percent majority of those same students agreed. Additionally, “attaining inner harmony” was reported as “very important” or “essential” by 48.7 percent when they were freshmen in 2004, and jumped to 62.6 percent by 2007.

“Many students are emerging from the collegiate experience with a desire to find spiritual meaning and perspective in their everyday lives,” said UCLA Emeritus Professor Alexander W. Astin, Co-Principal Investigator for the project. “The data suggest that college is influencing students in positive ways that will better prepare them for leadership roles in our global society.”

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Surprising religion mention in ESPN story about NBA trade value

In Bill Simmons' annual column on the trade value of NBA stars, Dwight Howard comes in at No. 2, "completely and utterly untouchable," right behind LeBron James. Makes sense. The Magic center is a physical freak who has two 30-20 games already this year. But here is a quality you don't often hear mentioned in trade talks:
One other bonus with Howard that nobody mentions: Because he's a devout Christian, even when he turns 35 in 2020, those will be Christian years -- he won't have any of that smoking-drinking-partying mileage on him, which means he could play at a high level until his early-40s (much like how Kurt Warner keeps chugging along at age 36).

The danger of being gay in Iraq

The president of Iran might think his country is free of gays, but, for many years, gays and lesbians lived openly in Iraq. No longer, the NYT reports, largely due to increased sectarian violence:
In January, a United Nations report described the increased persecution, torture and extrajudicial killing of Iraqi lesbians and gay men. In 2005, Iraq’s most revered Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, issued a fatwa, or religious decree, calling for gay men and lesbians to be killed in the “worst, most severe way.”

He lifted it a year later, but neither that nor the recent ebb in violence has made Mohammed or his friends feel safe. They yearn to leave Iraq, but do not have the money or visas. They agreed to be interviewed on the condition that their last names not be used.

They described an underground existence, eked out behind drawn curtains in a dingy safe house in southwestern Baghdad. Five people share the apartment — four gay men and one woman, who says she is bisexual. They have moved six times in the last three years, just ahead, they say, of neighborhood raids by Shiite and Sunni death squads. Even seemingly benign neighborhood gossip can scare them enough to move.

“We seem suspicious because we look like a cell of terrorists,” said Mohammed, nervously fingering the lapel of his shirt. “But we can’t tell people what we really are. A cell, yes, but of gays.”

Hitchens' right to oppose 'a smirking hick like Mike Huckabee'

Christopher Hitchens invokes Article VI of the Constitution in a rather virulent attack on Mike Huckabee, the Bible Belt former governor, minister and weight-loss extraordinaire, not to mention surging presidential candidate:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

As so often, the framers and founding fathers meant what they said, said what they meant, and risked no waste of words. A candidate for election, or an applicant for a post in the bureaucracy, could not be disqualified on the grounds of his personal faith in any god (or his disbelief in any god, for that matter). This stipulation was designed to put an end to the hideous practice of European monarchies—and the pre-existing practice of various American colonies—whereby if a man did not affirm the trinity, or deny the pope, or abjure Judaism (depending on the jurisdiction), he could be forbidden to hold office or even to run for it. Along with the establishment clause of the First Amendment, and the predecessor-language of the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom, it forms part of the chief glory of the first-ever constitution that guaranteed religious liberty, religious pluralism, and the freedom to be left alone by priests and rabbis and mullahs and other characters.

However, what Article VI does not do, and was never intended to do, is deny me the right to say, as loudly as I may choose, that I will on no account vote for a smirking hick like Mike Huckabee, who is an unusually stupid primate but who does not have the elementary intelligence to recognize the fact that this is what he is.

Friday, December 14, 2007

My interview with author Michael Chabon

This was cool. God Blog readers know I enjoy the writings of Michael Chabon, and last month I got to interview him after the Celebration of Jewish Books at the American Jewish University. JTN put it on their Web site a few weeks ago, but we just got it up on YouTube for your embedded enjoyment.

I asked Chabon about his "frozen chosen" hit "The Yiddish Policemen's Union," about being called an anti-Semite and about being comfortable as a geek.

Interview with an atheist lobbyist

I spoke with Lori Lipman Brown, Washington's first lobbyist for atheists, last fall when I wrote about godless missionaries. Last week, Jewish Transcript News caught up with her in Seattle.
JTNews: How are you being received in Washington?

Brown: Better than any of the people who started this organization ever could have dreamed. There was so much fear that I wouldn’t get into any doors, that groups like Interfaith Alliance, the Baptists Joint Committee and even Americans United for Separation of Church and State might be hesitant to bring a non-theist voice into the mix. None of that happened. Day One, I was invited to a briefing by public education groups on vouchers. Day Two, I was sitting at the table, lobbying with the religious and other church-state separation groups. Even on the marriage amendment, when we lobbied against that, I was afraid that the

LGBT community might not want the non-theist voice in the mix. But that wasn’t the case at all. Bottom line, it’s been a wonderful reception.

JTNews: What about in the media?

Brown: Now in the media, there’s been a lot more interest from right-wing than [from] left-wing media, even though Mother Jones did a nice article about our coming on the scene. For television, it’s been Fox News and Bill O’Reilly. I’ve also gotten a lot of requests from right-wing or Christian radio, which I always find interesting because it may be the first time they’ve ever heard someone like me.


JTNews: You’re a Humanistic Jew yourself. Where do you feel Secular Jews, or just Jews in general, fit in when talking about non-theistic rights?

Brown: When you look at issues like stem cell research, or sex education, there’s so much overlap both with Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism and Humanists, and even Conservative Jews, to a large extent. I think, also, if you look historically, Jews have often been allies in other people’s civil rights struggles. They were so active in labor rights, in civil rights for African Americans, in the LGBT equality movement. So even religious Jews understand that you can’t just stand up for yourself, you have to stand up for people who are not religious Jews. So I think they can overlap and be our allies because they understand tikkun olam and they understand that it’s important to have diversity. They’re a minority in a Christian nation, so they have that understanding.

JTNews: Aside from the Secular Jewish Circle, do you work with other religious organizations very often?

Brown: Oh yeah. We work a lot with the Interfaith Alliance. We work a lot with the Baptists Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and the Unitarian Universalist congregations. All of these groups lobby with us from time to time — we work well together, we share materials, we help each other, and that, I think, has made us really powerful.
(Hat tip: Bintel Blog)

Germany moves to ban Scientology

I've touched on Scientology here before. Yesterday, FaithWorld posted a good run-down of the movement to ban the half-century-old religion -- some call it a cult based on the opportunistic teachings of a prolific science fiction writer -- in Germany. Regardless of the merits of Scientology, there are, obviously, some bad parallels for this kind of thing in Germany.
Germany has sought to nurture tolerance as a national characteristic since World War Two, but it doesn’t stretch to the Church of Scientology. A new Forsa poll shows 74 percent of Germans think Scientology should be banned. The survey comes hard on the heels of a declaration from federal and regional ministers that the movement is unconstitutional. That announcement, the culmination of a row with Scientology dating back to the 1970s, opens the way for a possible ban.

Germany is not alone in refusing to recognise the Church of Scientology as a religion, but it goes further than many other countries in its rejection of the body. It see Scientology as a cult masquerading as a church to make money, a view Scientologists reject.

Agents of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, a kind of German FBI, are already gathering information on Scientology and a whole chapter is devoted to it in the intelligence agency’s 2006 report. It describes the movement as having a “totalitarian character” because it seeks to exert control over its members. But the agency is not sure the government will be able to get enough evidence to ban it.

Read the rest here.

Hollywood goes to the Holy Land

Davis Guggenheim wasn't raised Jewish, and he has long had trouble understanding what Israel means to him. But when he traveled there last month with a delegation of fellow entertainment decision makers, the director-producer realized instantly the centrality of Israel not just to his own life but to all humanity.

"It happens the minute you step off the plane: You just start to feel the history that has taken place there; the sense of time and history and the scale of human events is so huge, and it is easier to see your place in it," said Guggenheim, who was an executive producer of "Training Day" and director and executive producer of "An Inconvenient Truth." "In L.A., the scale of history is so short and miniscule and confusing because you don't have any references of time and place. [Israel] feels like the nexus of history and the nexus of everything that is good about the future and everything that is potentially cataclysmic."

Guggenheim was joined by former Paramount Pictures president Donald DeLine; George Freeman of the William Morris Agency; Nina Jacobson, former president of the Walt Disney Motion Picture Group; Amy Pascal, co-chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment and her husband, former New York Times writer Bernard Weinraub; and Brad Silberling, director of "Lemony Snicket's: A Series of Unfortunate Events." Sponsored by talent agent David Lonner and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the delegation of Hollywood heavy hitters landed in Tel Aviv the Friday before Thanksgiving, on the eve of the Annapolis peace conference, which added a bit of salience to their helicopter tour of the tiny slice of Mediterranean desert.
Here is the rest of this story I had in this week's Jewish Journal. I wrote earlier this year about how Hollywood Jews are becoming a bit more comfortable publicly supporting Israel. Lonner, who is co-head of the motion picture department at the William Morris Agency, and former Consul General Ehud Danoch deserve a lot of credit for that.

Top 10 religion stories of 2007

Time magazine has 50 top-10 lists for the year, and, of course, one of them focuses on religion stories.
10. South Korean missionaries kidnapped in Afghanistan.
9. The Creation Museum opens.
8. New Life Church struggles on.
7. Atheist books go bestseller.
6. Evangelicals go green.
5. The Episcopal-Anglican schism over gays.
4. Pope Benedict XVI makes it easier to celebrate the Latin Mass.
3. Jerry Falwell dies.
2. Democrats find religion and Mitt Romney tries to shake his.
1. Mother Teresa's dark moments.

I can't see I agree with all these selections or their arrangement. Somehow every major religion story last year either involved Christians or atheists, and I find that hard to believe. What's missing from this list?

Palestinian civil war and the Annapolis conference both made the Mideast top 10, but the intra-Jewish fight over the future of Jerusalem did not. Also worthy, how about the rise of Mike Huckabee and evangelical GOP dissension, God and the Colorado Rockies or Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week?

Coming soon: The Not Top 10 of 2007.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The art of intuition

Last month, I sat down for a Q&A with Jonah Lehrer, who's made quite a splash -- if an expert on the intersection of art and neuroscience can do so -- with his first book, "Proust Was a Neuroscientist." The book was well-reviewed, and the LA Times just listed it one of the 25 best non-fiction books of the year. Here's the first chapter.

To me, what makes Lehrer's thesis so profound is it's simplicity: We expect artists to explain in words and pictures human experiences long before science has caught up. But his understanding of the two, and his ability to weave them together, makes for a good read, even if a review in The Jewish Journal thought it was boringly obvious.

Here's the beginning of my interview:
Jewish Journal: In your book, you are particular to refer to these works of art as intuitions, not predictions. Why?

Jonah Lehrer: [Art] is very different from science, which does try to predict the results of experiments -- you generate hypotheses, you have control variables. These artists were very rigorous in their own sense. They were very sensitive observers of experience, but they weren't trying to predict. They were trying to look at their experience, and introspect on it, and intuit on that. We tend to disregard experience and say, "Oh, that is just wishy-washy stuff." These artists demonstrate that you can learn important things just by paying attention.

JJ: Toward the end of the book, you write, 'You don't even exist.'

JL: That is one of these surreal ideas of neuroscience, which is that there is no cell that represents you, there is no discreet circuit from which you emerge. You are just a distributed parallel processor. You've got all these neurons doing their thing and you emerge somehow simultaneously from this helter-skelter of activity.

At the same time, it's not very meaningful to say that is all we are. Clearly we are self-conscious creatures. We feel like so much more, and there is a mystery there which science won't be able to solve: How the water of the brain becomes the wine of the mind.... That is the question that art is uniquely able to interrogate and try to solve.

Undie Run: What have we done?

That is a photo from LAist of last night's Undie Run at UCLA. It's been a "tradition" for Bruins to drop down to their drawers and jog off studying at midnight the Wednesday of finals week since spring 2002. And, as my wife just noted, this giant display of debauchery was, gulp, started by a few Christians.

'Judge orders priest to recite Psalms for parking illegally'

From CNN:
A judge in southern Chile has sentenced a Catholic priest to recite psalms daily during three months as punishment for a traffic violation.

Judge Manuel Perez said he issued the unusual sentence after Father Jose Cornejo said he could not afford the 50,000-peso ($100) fine that would have been the regular sanction for illegal parking in the city of Puerto Montt.

"He will have to recite seven psalms from a book in the Old Testament," Judge Perez told the Santiago daily La Tercera.

"This is not a sentence that just occurred to me," he added.

"I did it as a tribute to Galileo Galilei, one of the greatest scientists of all time, who received a similar sentence from the Catholic Church during three years for saying the Earth rotates around the sun."
(Hat tip: Affad)

The better soda: latke or Christmas ham?

This is one of those ideas you know was drummed up just for free press and white elephant gift exchanges. Why? Because nobody would otherwise think Egg Nog soda would sell well -- and that was the best of the eight Jones Soda flavors that come in the Chanukah and Christmas packs.

After the Chanukah pack arrived at The Jewish Journal last month, I knew I wanted to contribute to the unnecessary discussion of whether your special someone really wants Christmas Ham soda. So I called Jones' PR person half a dozen times and asked her to send a Christmas pack to our office. I wish I hadn't.

A few weeks apart, we set up both gimmicks in the GeekHeeb's office and invited our colleagues to sample the holiday fare.

Latkes and jelly donuts might have tasted good last week, but not when they are liquefied and carbonated and, in the donut's case, atomic pink. The apple sauce and chocolate coins (think Tootsie Rolls) flavors weren't much better.

Yesterday, in the waning hours of Chanukah, I threw the Christmas pack in the fridge and got ready. I had been hungry all day. Surely I could pound a Christmas Ham, even one that came in a bottle and wasn't called Spam.

I started with Sugar Plum and Egg Nog, the latter being better, in my mind, than the real thing. Then I moved on to Christmas Tree, which smelled like pine needles and went down like liquid Ben Gay.

Finally, Christmas Ham, the beverage I'd been waiting about a month to savor, or at least sample. All I can say is that after drinking a small cup of it, which I threw back like a shot, I immediately felt ill. The best way to describe the flavor: Imagine squeezing hot dogs dry and than carbonating that juice.

Happy holidays, Jones Soda.

The young reporter and a really old dinosaur

So, some journalism dinosaurs have a problem with young reporters writing for Page One. Obviously as a young reporter I am biased, but I don't see why news articles can't be judged on merit instead of their author's age. Anyway, one of the more interesting stories I've read in the LA Times in the past few years -- "Adam, Eve and T. Rex" -- was penned by Ashley Powers, who at the time was fairly fresh out of college.
Cabazon, Calif. - Dinny the roadside dinosaur has found religion.

The 45-foot-high concrete apatosaurus has towered over Interstate 10 near Palm Springs for nearly three decades as a kitschy prehistoric pit stop for tourists.

Now he is the star of a renovated attraction that disputes the fact that dinosaurs died off millions of years before humans first walked the planet.

Dinny's new owners, pointing to the Book of Genesis, contend that most dinosaurs arrived on Earth the same day as Adam and Eve, some 6,000 years ago, and later marched two by two onto Noah's Ark. The gift shop at the attraction, called the Cabazon Dinosaurs, sells toy dinosaurs whose labels warn, "Don't swallow it! The fossil record does not support evolution."

The Cabazon Dinosaurs join at least half a dozen other roadside attractions nationwide that use the giant reptiles' popularity in seeking to win converts to creationism. And more are on the way.

"We're putting evolutionists on notice: We're taking the dinosaurs back," said Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis, a Christian group building a $25-million creationist museum in Petersburg, Ky., that's already overrun with model sauropods and velociraptors.

"They're used to teach people that there's no God, and they're used to brainwash people," he said. "Evolutionists get very upset when we use dinosaurs. That's their star."

The nation's top paleontologists find the creation theory preposterous and say children are being misled by dinosaur exhibits that take the Jurassic out of "Jurassic Park."

"Dinosaurs lived in the Garden of Eden, and Noah's Ark? Give me a break," said Kevin Padian, curator at the University of California Museum of Paleontology in Berkeley and president of National Center for Science Education, an Oakland group that supports teaching evolution. "For them, 'The Flintstones' is a documentary."
Not far from Cabazon, in Yucca Valley, is another Christian public exhibit, Desert Christ Park. I wrote about the decaying statues years ago for The Sun, but I can't find the article online or on LexisNexis. This isn't it, but it covers the park's constitutional and struggle.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Sibling spat: Mormons believe Jesus and Satan are brothers

Get ready for an uproar, folks. Mike Huckabee apparently told a New York Times reporter that Mormons believe that Jesus and Satan were brothers. The story isn't going to run until Sunday, but somebody leaked details to the Associated Press. AP has now moved a story suggesting that Huckabee's a nut and an ignoramus for making such a crazy intolerant statement. There's only problem -- Huckabee is right...

That's from my man in Arkansas, the Bible Belt Blogger. Read the rest here.

(Image: FrenBlog)

Pope attacks 'climate change prophets of doom'

Pope Benedict XVI has launched a surprise attack on climate change prophets of doom, warning them that any solutions to global warming must be based on firm evidence and not on dubious ideology.

The leader of more than a billion Roman Catholics suggested that fears over man-made emissions melting the ice caps and causing a wave of unprecedented disasters were nothing more than scare-mongering.

And I thought President Bush was a Methodist.

However, when the reporter for the Daily Mail got to the meat of the pope's statement, which will be part of his message for World Peace Day in January, I had to agree.

"Humanity today is rightly concerned about the ecological balance of tomorrow," he said in the message entitled "The Human Family, A Community of Peace".

"It is important for assessments in this regard to be carried out prudently, in dialogue with experts and people of wisdom, uninhibited by ideological pressure to draw hasty conclusions, and above all with the aim of reaching agreement on a model of sustainable development capable of ensuring the well-being of all while respecting environmental balances.

"If the protection of the environment involves costs, they should be justly distributed, taking due account of the different levels of development of various countries and the need for solidarity with future generations.

"Prudence does not mean failing to accept responsibilities and postponing decisions; it means being committed to making joint decisions after pondering responsibly the road to be taken."

In other papal news, the Vatican will issue Friday a doctrinal document on "some aspects of evangelisation."

(Hat tip: Luke Ford)

Kevin Everett walks, even if it's not on water

It's difficult to imagine Kevin Everett, the Buffalo Bills tight end who was paralyzed only three months ago, recovering any quicker than he has. Some might call it a miracle. Whether divine intervention or medical innovation, Everett knows whom to thank:
If he has despaired, he does not admit it. Instead, he describes only a transforming strength that has come with his injury. "I look at my life in a whole new fashion," says Everett. "You realize how blessed you are. You thank God even more when you wake up in the morning and for every little thing you have. I thank God for sparing my life and letting me be here for my family and my fiancée. I've been able to see how much people love me, and how much I love them."
That's from a long story Sports Illustrated published online yesterday, complete with a photo gallery that shows Everett walking in the park and working out at the gym. This for a guy who couldn't even twitch a few days after incurring his injury in the season opener. Here's how it begins:

Every step is precious now. Every movement is a gift. Every morning brings another sunrise, full of sweet promise. When Kevin Everett was a little boy growing up in Port Arthur, Texas, he would sit with his grandpa James Nico, and the older man would explain to him life's lessons. One of them was this: Don't ever be bitter. Just keep doing your best, even when things aren't looking so good.

Even when you are lying, helpless and twitching, on the floor of a football stadium, unable to move your limbs and unable to take a deep breath. Even when you drift to the surface from a deep, chemically induced sleep two days later and find yourself in a hospital bed, with tubes in your throat and in your groin and machines beeping in every corner of the room and your mother gently rubbing your forearm, asking you through her tears, Baby, can you feel this? Please blink your eyes once if you can feel this.

You know I love you, don't you, baby? Please blink once if you know. And you slowly blink once, though you don't remember it.

Even when you're at a rehabilitation hospital almost a month later and an occupational therapist puts a tiny, one-pound weight in your right hand and asks you to do one biceps curl with the same arm that once blocked NFL linebackers on Sunday afternoons. And you just can't do it. Even when your life is unfathomably changed at the age of 25. Even then.

Here is Kevin Everett now, sitting at a breakfast table in a corner of the house the Buffalo Bills' tight end bought last year for his family in the Houston suburb of Humble. His fiancée, Wiande Moore, a sprinter whom Kevin met when both were athletes at the University of Miami, sits to his left, and the two of them pick at the remnants of supper. His mother, Patricia Dugas, is in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on a Christmas gingerbread house with Kevin's youngest sister, Davia, 11. His other two sisters -- Herchell, 15, and Kelli, 14 -- are sitting nearby on family room couches in front of a wall-mounted TV tuned to MTV but muted because Herchell is tapping out a social studies paper on her laptop. It is a family place at a family time.

"I'll tell you what," says Kevin. "I'm still trying to figure out everything that's happened in my life lately. But I don't think anybody has life figured out. I know you've got to take the good with the bad, and you've got to be strong. Plain and simple. Just because you get knocked down doesn't mean you've got to stay down. That's what I feel about all of this. If you get knocked down, you've got to get back up."

So he gets up. He rises from his chair and walks easily to the kitchen, opens the refrigerator and takes out a drink. Then he walks back. Simple as that. And yet not simple at all.

The intersection of religion and politics

I just stumbled across this image from the the 2003 issue of Heeb magazine, the one with the Beastie Boys on the cover. Here's my question: Are religion and politics more or less intertwined today than they were four years ago?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

'Father killed daughter for not wearing hijab'

This tragedy happened not in Saudi Arabia or Iraq but in Canada. From AFP:
Friends and classmates of a 16-year-old girl who police say was murdered by her devout Muslim father in a Toronto suburb told local media Tuesday she was killed for not wearing a hijab.

Police said in a statement they received an emergency call at 7:55 am local time Monday from "a man who indicated that he had just killed his daughter."

The victim, Aqsa Parvez, was "rushed to hospital with life-threatening injuries, but tragically passed away late last night."

Her father, Muhammad Parvez, 57, was arrested at the scene and will be formally charged with murder when he appears in court Wednesday, said police.


According to her friends, Aqsa had worn the hijab at school last year, but rebelled in recent months.

They said she would leave home wearing a hijab and loose-fitting clothes, but would take off her head scarf and change into tighter garments at school, then change back before going home at the end of the day.
The victim's 26 year-old brother was also charged with obstructing police in the investigation.

(Hat tip: GetReligion)

'Your brain on drugs' meets Jack's customer with the munchies

This is incestuous blogging at its best, but the video below justifies it. See, I posted this commercial for Israeli HDTV. Then, Esther Kustanowitz -- yeah, that Esther -- posted the video with a hat tip to me. But she also added this video which is like the bastard child of the Partnership For a Drug-Free America and Jack in the Box.

Not the typical Christmas dilemma

That, would of course be the challenge of what parents should do if they are raising their children Muslim or Jewish or Hindu but don't want them to be the only giftless kids on the block Dec. 25. But, no, this story deals with a Christmas dilemma for families that actually are Christian.
Come each December, high atop the choir loft of St. Luke Community United Methodist Church in Dallas sit the traditional three purple and one pink Advent candles for several Sundays.

But as the month comes to a close, another candelabra appears when the Kwanzaa kinara — with its seven black, red and green candles representing principles of black heritage — is placed on the altar below.

“We'll light the Advent candles and we'll light the Kwanzaa candles,” said the Rev. Tyrone Gordon, pastor of St. Luke, where stained glass windows depict the civil rights movement. “Both have prominent places. The Advent candle, of course, is higher up and that's symbolic because we're Christian.”

At some predominantly black churches, celebrating Christmas and Kwanzaa is a matter of both/and instead of either/or. Some congregations, especially those with an Afrocentric emphasis, mark both holidays, singing carols about Jesus and reflecting on Kwanzaa's principles of unity and collective responsibility throughout December.

But some Christians say Christmas should be the sole holiday at year's end because Kwanzaa lacks a clear biblical message.
Indeed, Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday but is a pan-African celebration started 41 years ago by Maulana Karenga, a former black studies professor at Cal State Long Beach.

So, who's right? Should it be both/and or either/or? (I know that sentence is really hard on the eyes.)

Esther on Auslander

No, not that Esther. But Esther Kustanowitz does have a Web site called The Book of Esther. She also carries a ridiculous number of titles in Jewish journalism -- senior editor for PresenTense, contributor to papers including mine and blogger here, here and here.

She's a talented, prolific writer, and has a good piece in the current American Jewish Life magazine about Shalom Auslander's foreskin, er "Foreskin's Lament." Here it is:
In the beginning, the name of a child represents not so much the child himself, but the hope of his parents. As the child grows, he might grow into the significance of that name, or spend his life running from it. Shalom Auslander was named for a peace that his parents hoped to find after the death of one child and the deafness of another. But Auslander's memoir, Foreskin's Lament, illustrates that, sometimes, peace of mind is just not in the cards.

Auslander's narrative is both shocking and familiar, especially to those of us who graduated from yeshiva day schools. We, too, struggled to translate tradition's archaic foibles into contemporary resonance; attempted to integrate individuality into a blindingly black-and-white context of sameness; and looked everywhere for peace of mind and spirit. His description of "Holocaust fatigue" - a condition experienced by yeshiva kids exposed to graphic images perhaps earlier than is emotionally optimal - is particularly spot on, as is how he illustrates the inefficacy of parental invocation of the Holocaust as justification for contemporary observance. Our generation feels the Holocaust keenly as part of our history, but its existence doesn't necessarily mobilize us for action or infuse tradition with meaning: it creates guilt, and if you're already prone to God-fearing, anxiety about a horrific repeat.

"It is my job as a man to get to know God," Auslander proclaims at a book reading in Manhattan the night before his international book tour begins. "This is the book I wrote about Him." The author shares his yearning for the peace of atheism, which he is unable to attain. "I do believe in God," he sighs, "but 'believe' sounds positive. I'm more 'terrified'. I would kill for [atheist Richard] Dawkins' certainty, so I could sleep for just one night."