Sunday, September 30, 2007

Evangelicals to split from Republican Party?

I've shared that evangelical Christians, widely credited with establishing the Bush presidency (I'm so embarrassed), are not happy with either Mitt Romney or Rudy Giuliani. This is leading, according to the NY Times blog The Caucus, to a potential revolt led by Focus on the Family's James Dobson and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council to support a third-party candidate, though who is not clear.
A revolt of Christian conservative leaders could be a significant setback to the Giuliani campaign because white evangelical Protestants make up a major portion of Republican primary voters. But the threat is risky for the credibility of the Christian conservative movement as well. Some of its usual grass-roots supporters could still choose to support even a pro-choice Republican like Mr. Giuliani, either because they dislike the Democratic nominee even more or because they are worried about war, terrorism and other issues.


For months, Christian conservatives have been escalating their warnings about the risk that nominating Mr. Giuliani could splinter the party. Dr. Dobson wrote a column declaring that he would waste his vote before casting it for either Mr. Giuliani or a Democrat who supports abortion rights like Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. Richard Land, the top public policy official of the Southern Baptist Convention, has said that nominating a Republican candidate who supports abortion rights would make white evangelical votes “a jump ball” between the Republicans and Democrats, with other issues taking the fore.

I don't imagine this coalition of evangelical leaders will be throwing their weight behind Michael Bloomberg.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

A love song for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Last weekend, there was all kinds of concern about Columbia inviting the crazy president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to speak to students while here to address the United Nations about his country's illicit nuclear program. I too shared the concern, but the "petty and cruel dictator" opened his mouth and said, "In Iran, we don't have homosexuals, like in your country."

This was great fodder for all, and thank you to "Saturday Night Live" -- which on a rare occasion I was DVRing tonight because King James is hosting -- for taking advantage of the opportunity. They just pilloried Ahmadenijad with a brilliant serenade from Andy Samberg, who loves Mahmoud's "silly brown eyes, butter pecan thighs and hairy butt."

Samberg, who is both Jewish (sorry, Mahmoud) and half of the "Dick in a Box" team, had some other choice lyrics:
They call you weasel
They say your methods are medieval
You could be the Jews
I'll be your Jim Caviezel

You're crazy for this, Mahmoud
You can deny the Holocaust all you want
But you can't deny there is something between us
The digital short is online here and embedded below.

Friday, September 28, 2007

No Jews allowed: Judenrein U.S. program

The U.S. State Department and the University of California had this genius program to give Middle Eastern businessmen a leg up. Jordan, Kuwait, Yemen, even Israel. That is, so long as you're not an Israeli Jew. I guess some people think Jewish businessmen already have too much power.
Jerusalem-based marketing specialist and businesswoman Miriam Schwab uncovered the bias last week when she checked into applying to the university's San Diego branch Beyster Institute program for Middle East Entrepreneur Training (MEET). She discovered that the program was open to citizens of "Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Israel (limited to Israeli Arab citizens), Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, West Bank/Gaza and Yemen."


In response to an question for confirmation of the restriction in Israel, program manager Mona Yousry verified, "It is only for Arab Israelis." A subsequent question as to why Israeli Jews are not eligible for the program elicited the following reply from the Institute's Director of Entrepreneurial Programs, Rob Fuller: "I’m sorry for the unfortunate misunderstanding about eligibility for the new MEET program. To be clear, for the programs for which we are now recruiting to be held in 2008, ALL Israeli citizens are eligible to participate. Sorry for any confusion we may have inadvertently caused."

Israeli Jews originally were excluded despite the program’s stated advantage as "an important cultural exchange." Fuller did not explain the initial "confusion" in barring Israeli Jews.

The programs are to be held in Jordan, Egypt and Morocco, all of which have relations with Israel.

Following the e-mail complaints to Beyster, the US Embassy of Yemen online document which announces the program was down for more than a day until the words "limited to Israeli Arab citizens" were deleted. [View the document announcing the program by clicking here. (I've disabled this link because it was virus-ridden.) When prompted with "Do you want to open or save this file," click on "Open."]

The US official who made the online edit, however, reposted the story in "track changes" format so that the document displays in the left margin, at the time of this writing, the words: "Deleted: Limited to Israeli Arab citizens." (See pics below).

That story came up in our budget meeting Wednesday, but long before next week's paper will be published it's been making the rounds on Jewish blogs. Big time. Yid with Lid appears to have been the first to follow the INN scoop:
Where was the ACLU? How come Congressman Ellison isn't screaming about profiling. Here we go again with another example of how the PC police only cares when things are convenient for them.

The religious politics for '08

I couldn't make it to the Religion Newswriters Association's annual conference this week in San Antonio, but fortunately Jeffrey Weiss of the Dallas Morning News has been blogging the details. I found interesting the political insights he relayed from one of my favorite religion and politics sources: John C. Green of the Pew Forum.
Recent polls, he says, show that just about every segment of religious belief in the US is breaking toward the Democrats at this point. These are very early and pretty abstract polls -- asking if people would be more inclined to for Dem or GOP without any candidate involved. With the exception of evangelicals who say they regularly attend church, other segments of the US population are leaning Dem, including groups that helped elect President Bush twice.
Green thinks those Democratic attempts to be religious are working. Just as they bought the religious Republican line for the last 30 years, the public is now gobbling up the juicy pew details of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, et al.

But despite Clinton's best efforts to put on a faithful face, her most unfavorable ratings are among people who don't think she's religions.

(Somebody better let Elisha Shapiro know that now is the wrong time to run for president.)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A porn star and 'Jew forts' on Sukkot

When I went to Las Vegas to write about Christians reaching out to porn stars, I met a heavily-tattooed and pierced woman about my age named Joanna Angel. She's an "alt-porn" performer and entrepreneur, and thanks to Luke Ford I just learned that Angel grew up an Orthodox Jew.

Curious, I searched Wikipedia and learned that Angel's mother was Israeli and her father American. It sounds like Angel still identifies as Jewish; Luke greeted her by phone two years ago with a "Shabbat Shalom." This is not unusual. Ethnic Jews are prevalent in the porn industry, a story I will get around to one of these days.

But what I found interesting was a Q&A Angel had with a smutty British lad mag called Bizarre. (The link was on her Wikipedia entry, I swear.) Today, it turns out, is the beginning of Sukkot, the Feast of Booths, on which occasion Jews eat and sometimes sleep under tents they have erected outside their homes, and the interviewer asked Angel about the holiday. Sort of.
Can you explain to me the deal with Jew forts?

Jew what?

Jew forts. You know, once a year the Jews build these treehouse things.

OK, there's this holiday called Sukkot. And you build these little huts next to your house and you're supposed to eat in them for eight days. You're supposed to appreciate nature on that holiday or something.

They're kind of crazy-looking.

Yeah, well, some people think Christmas trees are weird. A tree you decorate is really weird. Lights and balls and a big star on top of a cut-down tree; that's weird. You're just accustomed to seeing them that's all.

Latinos who love Israel, maybe Jews too

Wandering through a sukkah at Sinai Temple, Jesus Alfredo Alfonso, a Pentecostal Christian, wore a navy tie embroidered with the Star of David, a menorah and the words "Amigos de Israel."

"Every day," Alfonso said, "me and my congregation pray three times for you. For Israel."

Alfonso is the pastor of Iglesia Centro Christiano de Los Angeles, a 14-member church he founded two months ago. He was among about 200 Latino evangelical Christians who were guests for a Sukkot meal and Israeli flag ceremony hosted Monday by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the Israeli consulate.

The event was designed to strengthen relations between Jews and a specific segment of the Latino community -- evangelicals. On the whole, surveys have found that Latinos harbor stronger feelings of anti-Semitism than most Americans. But among Latino evangelicals there resides a powerful love for Israel and gratefulness to Jewish tradition.

"Ahavat Zion," said Randy Brown, AJC-LA's director of inter-religious affairs. "They are lovers of Israel. They've followed the history; some of them have visited Israel. They clearly are Christian in their faith, but for the roots of their faith they are very appreciative of Judaism."

That's the opening of a story I wrote for today's Jewish Journal, and it's welcome news considering the Anti-Defamation League and Pew Hispanic Center have found that Latinos often don't think warm fuzzies about Jews. A 2005 ADL survey found that 35 percent of foreign-born Latinos held "hardcore" anti-Semitic opinions, down from 44 percent in 2002.

Observers generally blame this on a South American Catholic Church slower to adopt the Nostra Aetate declarations of the Second Vatican Council. But the pentecostal Latinos hanging out at Sinai Temple are more theologically in line with other evangelical Christians who see the state of Israel as part of God's continuing covenant with his children and as the staging ground for the end of the world.

Free OJ -- are you nuts?

As if I didn't already have enough reasons to hate Trojans and their fans, here's a priceless photo from Deadspin.

(Thanks to Kelly Rayburn, who always has great links on his gchat.)

Nixon's Jewish paranoia

Remember Nixon's infamous inquiry into just how many Jews worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics? I don't, but that's because it happened well before I was born. (As for his ranting on the Jewish drug of marijuana, that rings more familiarly thanks to my interviews with Craig X Rubin.)

Anyway, the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia this week released the transcript of that conversation (Nixon really should have turned the tape off once in a while), and they shed new light on an infamous conversation. Slate has the run-down, beginning with this conversation with to-be imprisoned and later born-again Christian Chuck Colson.

Nixon: Well, listen, are they all Jews over there?

Colson: Every one of them. Well, a couple of exceptions.

Nixon: See my point?

Colson: You know goddamn well they're out to kill us.

Also that day, Nixon and his chief of staff, H.R. "Bob" Haldeman, had the following conversation (this, too, is from the July 3, 1971, tape that was released in 1999):

Nixon: Now, point: [Fred] Malek is not Jewish.

Haldeman: No.

Nixon: All right, I want a look at any sensitive areas around where Jews are involved, Bob. See, the Jews are all through the government, and we have got to get in those areas. We've got to get a man in charge who is not Jewish to control the Jewish … do you understand?

Haldeman: I sure do.

Nixon: The government is full of Jews. Second, most Jews are disloyal. You know what I mean? You have a [White House Counsel Leonard] Garment and a [National Security Adviser Henry] Kissinger and, frankly, a [White House speechwriter William] Safire, and, by God, they're exceptions. But Bob, generally speaking, you can't trust the bastards. They turn on you. Am I wrong or right?

Haldeman: Their whole orientation is against you. In this administration, anyway. And they are smart. They have the ability to do what they want to do—which—is to hurt us.

Wow. Nixon really suffered from that other kind of Jewish paranoia.

Was Pope John Paul II allowed to die?

An Italian doctor has the Vatican defending that Pope John Paul II was not allowed to kill himself by denying necessary medical treatment, which in his case was the administration of a feeding tube. The pope, who died in April 2005 after a long bought with Parkinson's, didn't receive a tube until three days before his death.
The physician leveling the mercy killing allegation, Dr. Lina Pavanelli, heads the intensive care medical school at Italy's University of Ferrara.

"The doctors had done something, the doctors didn't inform the pope completely, or the pope decided," Pavanelli told CBS News. "These are the three conclusions that I reached."
If true, such an action would violate the Catholic Church's own doctrine. During the Terri Schiavo drama the following winter, a Vatican bishop said: "The administration of food and water even by artificial means is, in principle, an ordinary and proportionate means of preserving life."

The problem is Pavanelli reached her conclusion with no more information than I had: Watching the pope's deterioration on TV. I'm probably being a cynic, but it sounds like a certain doctor was looking for some attention.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Bob Dylan a Chabadnik?

Bob Dylan's religious journey has been a passing interest for his cult following of fans. It looks like the former Robert Zimmerman, once a born-again Christian, is again a Torah-reciting (though I doubt -observant) Jew.
While in Atlanta for a September 22 concert with Elvis Costello and Amos Lee, Dylan (ne Robert Zimmerman) attended the Chabad-Lubavitch of Georgia’s Yom Kippur services, where he was called up to the Torah and recited the blessings in Hebrew, the organization reported.
How great would Dylan look with sidelocks?

(By the way, if my wife gives it another two months, my hair will look just like that.)

Pew: Americans know little about Muslims, Mormons

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released a poll today on American understanding of Muslims and Mormons and opinions of Pope Benedict XVI. It's a follow up on this May report on American Muslim attitudes.

U.S. Navy Nazi sympathizers?

Do you think the architect cried mulligan after these barracks went up on an amphibious base in Coronado?

Whatever the case, it's amazing that they've stood for the past four decades, especially when you consider their proximity to downtown San Diego skyscrapers and Lindbergh Field. The Navy has finally decided to spend the money -- $600,000 -- to remedy the problem.
"We don't want to be associated with something as symbolic and hateful as a swastika," said Scott Sutherland, deputy public affairs officer for Navy Region Southwest, the command that is responsible for maintaining buildings on local bases.

The collection of L-shaped buildings is at the corner of Tulagi and Bougainville roads, named after World War II battles.

Navy officials say the shape of the buildings, designed by local architect John Mock, was not noted until after the groundbreaking in 1967 -- and since it was not visible from the ground, a decision was made not to make any changes.

It is unclear who first noticed the shape on Google Earth. But one of the first and loudest advocates demanding a change was Dave vonKleist, host of a Missouri-based radio-talk show, The Power Hour, and a website,

In spring 2006, he began writing military officials, including then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, calling for action.

That August, he received a response from officials in Coronado, who made no promise to take action and said, "The Navy intends to continue the use of the buildings as long as they remain adequate for the needs of the service."
Not long after, the San Diego chapter of the Anti-Defamation League took the issue to Rep. Susan Davis, who is Jewish. But, seriously, did the Navy really need to wait for public outcry before doing something about this?

Mitt Romney sits down with Christianity Today

We all know Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who is Mormon, could use some evangelical support. So it's no wonder he chatted with my former editor at Christianity Today, who recently left to attend seminary. The Q&A went online this morning.

Many Christians voted for President Bush out of a feeling of faith kinship. Do you see any drawbacks to that type of voter affinity?

People should be able to vote for who they like on whatever basis they like. I try not to counsel my fellow Americans on how they make their decisions. I think by and large democracy works pretty well.

Many times, people are misinformed about a candidate or their positions, and that's unfortunate. But if they have accurate, complete views, I say let them vote as they wish.

How are voters misinformed about you?

I just don't think many people know me very well at this stage, and that's to be expected. I'm a governor, and therefore not yet a national figure. I anticipate by the time the primary season rolls around next year that I will be very well known and will either be strongly supported or will be someone people don't want to back. I'm pleased that I'm connecting with voters in the states where I've spoken most frequently—states like Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan, South Carolina, and Florida.


But has your candidacy exposed differences between the two religions?

While the doctrines of my church are quite different from evangelical Christian doctrines, the values of our faiths are very much the same. I don't know of a doctrinal difference that would suggest a different policy outcome or that would suggest that a President of my faith would lead in a different direction than President Bush, an evangelical Christian.

When I was governor here in Massachusetts, a number of Catholics wondered what it would mean to have a Mormon as a governor. After some time, one of the leading Catholics in our state remarked to my Catholic deputy chief of staff, "The best friend we have on Capitol Hill (Beacon Hill) is the Mormon governor, not the Catholic legislators." He was joking a bit, but the value base that we share is so pronounced that the differences of doctrine really disappear.

Perhaps it's difficult for some when two faiths have been in the battle place of ideas to say that we disagree on doctrine but share a very strong value base. It's almost like a strong Republican and a strong Democrat have been battling for ideas in America for 50 years, and they suddenly find themselves in a foxhole fighting the Germans. They have no problem working with each other, because whether you're a strong Democrat or a strong Republican, you share the same American hope for the future.

How do you answer evangelicals who want their President to have faith but not your faith?

It depends on what they worry about. Do they want agreement on doctrine, and does that really effect how someone leads as President? Or does someone want a President who shares values and will preserve the values and culture of America? That will only happen if people band together where we share common values.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I wish people wouldn't vote for politicians based on their purported religious views. I'm fairly confident that Mitt Romney is a sincere Mormon; if not, he would have dropped the shtick a while ago because it's been nothing but campaign baggage. But I'm very skeptical of other candidates who profess to be the flavor-of-the-decade brand of Christian.

You know what I'd like this time around? A good president.

Gay 'Last Supper' sparks outrage

Say you are a God-fearing Christian, not puritanical but also not one to take blasphemy lightly. How would you feel about a gay festival promotion that depicts leather-clad men as Jesus and the Apostles partaking of the Last Supper?

I would find it ridiculous, but I wouldn't get all worked up over it. I can't speak for other Christians, though, who use some pretty loaded language in attacking the ad, which some liken to cartoons of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad.

On TownHall:
On September 30, a Sunday – the Lord’s Day in the Christian church – San Francisco will host the Folsom Street Fair, perhaps the most hedonistic event held in public in America. The fair is the San Francisco homosexual community’s annual celebration of promiscuity, sadomasochism and debauchery. The ad for this year’s fair mocks Da Vinci’s The Last Supper, with a half-naked beefcake Christ and disciples bedecked in all manner of leather and chains. The bread and wine of The Last Supper are replaced with sex toys.

From WorldNetDaily:
"Senator Larry Craig was arrested and driven out of the Senate for allegedly soliciting public 'gay' sex, yet during this event the city of San Francisco suspends the law and allows 'gay' men and women to parade the streets fully nude, many having sex – even group orgies – in broad daylight, while taxpayer-funded police officers look on and do absolutely nothing," (said Concerned Women for America policy director Matt Barber).

Barber encouraged mainstream media to cover the event with cameras in hand.

"There's an unbelievable news story here," he said. "The Folsom Street Fair is reminiscent of biblical Sodom and Gomorrah, and the media should document exactly what the city of San Francisco is allowing to occur – in public – in the name of 'tolerance.'"

Of course, Bill Donahue of the Catholic League had something to say.

CBS Sports not aware of prayer

There was some discussion here recently over whether God cared about people praying for injured football player Kevin Everett. I said he does, and got some criticism for it. This morning, GetReligion takes issue with CBS' lack of attention to the prayer circle going on Sunday while Houston Texans DT Cedric Killings laid motionless on the field.
The CBS announcers, filling the time-gap, commented on their hopes for Killings health and commented on the number of Texans players holding hands. There was no mention of the fact that the players were on their knees, in circles, holding hands with their heads bowed.

Apparently all the announcers saw at first was a bunch of players holding hands because it wasn’t until the very end that they mentioned that the players were likely praying for the recovery and health of Killings.

The AP comes right out and says what everyone else saw during this scary moment:

In a scene eerily reminiscent of the one played out in Buffalo two weeks earlier, the Colts and Houston found themselves unified in prayer as Texans defensive tackle Cedric Killings left the field strapped to a stretcher before resuming the game. . . .

As part of the Texans’ “wedge” unit, the 310-pound Killings ran up the field at full speed, going head first to open a hole. Rookie receiver Roy Hall met him at about the Texans’ 15, turning his left shoulder slightly in an effort to break through and make the tackle as players are taught. Both dropped instantly to the ground, and while Hall eventually walked away, Killings did not. . . .

It appears Killings and Hall will, fortunately, be all right.

Killings spent Sunday night in a Houston hospital with a neck injury and had feeling in his arms and legs. Hall walked briefly into the Colts locker room Monday wearing a bulky harness over his left shoulder, and Dungy said he expected Hall back within a few weeks.

The good news is that Killings has been able to stand in the hospital. For more good reporting on the situation, here’s the Houston Chronicle’s Richard Justice.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

That neighborhood racket is a bunch of atoning Jews

The Jewish Journal is getting in the mood of 24/7, and today, instead of waiting until Thursday, uploaded Tom Tugend's explanation of what went wrong Friday with LA bureaucrats' Yom Kippur sin.

The scene was a Kol Nidrei service at Yeshivas Yavneh, a Hebre
w academy run out of a former Tudor estate in Los Angeles' pricey Hancock Park neighborhood, not far from the mayor's official residence. After 8 p.m., two building inspectors showed up and told a congregant that it was closing time, but the 200 Orthodox Jews observing Yom Kippur refused to leave. Then the anger spread.
As word of the strange incident spread through the closely knit Orthodox community in Hancock Park, tempers and outrage rose.

The Web site declared that the incident was "reminiscent of the cowardly sneak attack on Israel during the Yom Kippur War," and quoted one woman worshipper, a wheelchair-bound Holocaust survivor, "I was frightened. I started crying. I don't want to go to jail. I want to pray."

By Sunday evening, top aides to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and City Councilman Tom LaBonge, joined by Councilman Jack Weiss, met with Orthodox community rabbis and officials of the offending department in City Hall for some hasty damage control.

On Monday evening, the mayor and two councilmen released a statement condemning the "outrageous intrusion" on erev Yom Kippur, "which caused great pain and anguish."
This is not the first time Jews have clashed with their less-than-welcoming neighbors in the once WASPy Hancock Park. It's also not the first time LA city officials have shown insensitivity when dealing with religious observance (remember that story I did about the cops allegedly tearing down a mezuzah at a pot pharmacy?).

(Hat tip: LAObserved)

My interview with Sy Hersh goes global

So my interview with Seymour Hersh brought 3,000 visitors to yesterday. LAObserved, Romenesko, Huffington Post and War and Piece all linked to it. My Web editor just called to say he heard it quoted on Nick Madigan's "Minding the Media" program on KCRW this afternoon. Here's a link to the transcript:

What will the journalism of the future look like? Will it continue to obsess over absurd, half-in-the-bag teenybopper celebrities, and insist on making up silly headlines to describe criminal sports figures and tin-pot dictators?

With fewer and fewer jobs available in traditional journalism, will aspiring reporters and editors dedicate their energy to the fluid, often irresponsible blogosphere, where opinion is king?


In an interview with the Jewish Journal, another veteran journalist, Seymour M. Hersh, who is 70 and writes for the New Yorker, said he has embraced the new order.

"There is an enormous change taking place in this country in journalism, and it is online," said Hersh, who received a Pulitzer Prize in 1970 for uncovering the My Lai massacre.

"I hate to tell this to The New York Times or The Washington Post," he said. "We are going to have online newspapers, and they are going to be spectacular. And they are really going to cut into daily journalism."

"We have a vibrant, new way of communicating in America," Hersh said. "We haven't come to terms with it. I don't think much of a lot of the stuff that is out there. But there are a lot of people doing very, very good stuff."

When I was learning the difference between a nut graph and a set-up and why "lede" is spelled so oddly, Hersh was a journalistic hero of mine. (I think I always related because of the glasses he wore.) What I found most interesting from our conversation was this bit of honesty:
JJ: You turned 70 this year. Why keep working so hard?

SH: I don't work that hard. I write four or five pieces a year. Secondly, what do you want me to do? Play professional golf? I can't do that. You do what you can do. And I'm in a funny spot because I have an ability to communicate with people I have known for a number of years. They trust me, and I trust them, so I keep on doing these little marginal stories.

JJ: That's all they are? Marginal?

SH: With these stories, if they slow down or make people take a deep breath before they bomb Iran, that is a plus. But they are not going to stop anybody. This is a government that is unreachable by us, and that is very depressing. In terms of adding to the public debate, the stories are important. But not in terms of changing policy. I have no delusions about that.

God's not dead, but is religion?

My copy of UCLA Magazine, with my story about the intersection of God and grades on the cover, finally arrived in the mail today. Flipping through my story -- the first thing all journalists do is turn to their story -- I noticed a nugget from a sidebar that was worth discussion.
"The prediction made by some intellectuals at the end of the Second World War that by the year 2000 religion will have withered and only be a matter of personal interest to some folks -- like some folks are Dodger fans and others are Orthodox Jews -- that hypothesis has been thoroughly falsified," claims Scott Bartchy, UCLA history professor and director of the College of Letters & Science's interdepartmental Center for the Study of Religion. "The role of religion is enormous in current events."
Forty-plus years ago, Time magazine asked whether God is dead? As Sun-Times religion columnist Cathleen Falsani noted three years ago in an award-winning story that pre-dated the divine presidential election of 2004, the answer has been a resounding no.
Standing around the watercooler or in line at Starbucks these days, conversation is just as likely to turn to early Christianity and whether the apostles spoke "street Aramaic" or a more formal version of the near-dead language, as it is to whether Tony and Carmella Soprano can repair their failing marriage.

A few channels away from HBO -- on CNN, FoxNews or even Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" -- and in the newspaper each morning, competing factions wrestle with some of life's most basic questions, including what a family is, what marriage is, what it means to be "under God," and whether life may be manufactured artificially. In one way or another, God's name is invoked in the battle to answer each of those questions.

God is in high-demand -- in politics, music, court, film, books, even to a certain extent in fashion with "What Would Jesus Wear?" accessories, and the increasingly popular "Jesus is My Homeboy" T-shirts. About 40 percent of Americans today say they have attended services at a house of worship in the last week.
Well, I'll forgive her for neglecting to mention the popularity and influence of The God Blog (three years before it went live) but, certainly, it seems that Nietzsche was wrong. Do you agree?

An 'oasis of peace' in Israel

NEVE SHALOM, ISRAEL -- The music blared in Arabic as a knot of women twirled slowly around the bride-to-be. Well-dressed onlookers, some in traditional Muslim head scarves, clapped and swayed.

On this evening of celebration, the fireworks sizzled, sweets beckoned and jubilant guests congratulated the Arab bride's parents with a double kiss and hearty "Mazel tov!"

Mazel tov

"It's very normal," said Nava Sonnenschein, one of the Jews clapping at the edge of the dance circle. "For here."

The usual rules of the Middle East often don't apply in Neve Shalom, founded in the 1970s as a utopian village on a hilltop in Israel's midsection. For nearly three decades, its inhabitants have sought to defy the polarizing tugs of politics and nationalism.

Though most Jews and Arabs in Israel are kept apart by segregated communities and long years of mutual mistrust, Neve Shalom and its 250 residents -- half Jews, half Arab citizens of Israel -- represent a living experiment in integration.
This was the lede of the Column One in today's LA Times.
Neve Shalom's residents, mostly left-leaning professionals and academics, have been tested by two Palestinian uprisings, war in Lebanon and a steep deterioration in relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel. At times, the two groups here triumphed over those divisive pressures. At others, they fell prey.

To much of the rest of Israel, Neve Shalom is a harmless if worthy novelty. But Jewish extremists once declared the Jews here traitors and sprinkled nails on the road to pop tires. The village's Arab residents, who refer to themselves as Palestinian citizens of Israel, often are asked by fellow Arabs if they really believe that Jews can accept them as equals.
Neve Shalom, though, is not a novelty. There are many villages and towns in the north near Lebanon, like Acre (Akko), where Arab Israelis and Jewish Israelis live side by side.

"Older, Wiser Ex-Gay Movement'

Discussion of the "ex-gay" movement made some appearances on The God Blog this summer. Here's a longer piece about the maturation of the movement from Christianity Today.
Since its beginnings in the 1970s, the ex-gay movement has engaged gay advocates in a battle of testimonies. Transformed ex-gay leaders are the best argument for their movement. Likewise, those who've left the ex-gay movement in despair and disgust are the best counterargument. The debate continued this June, when Exodus International held its 32nd annual conference in Irvine, California, featuring dozens of speakers and seminar leaders who have quit homosexuality. Down the road outside the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, a news conference featured three former Exodus leaders saying "ex-gay" is a delusion.


An older, wiser ex-gay movement is certainly clearer about what it has to offer. Early hopes for instant healing have given way to belief that transformation occurs through a lifetime of discipleship.

Tanya Erzen, a professor at Ohio State University, spent 18 months studying New Hope Ministry, a live-in program led by the Worthens in San Rafael, California. Though unsympathetic to ex-gay goals, Erzen came to empathize with the people she met. In Straight to Jesus: Sexual and Christian Conversions in the Ex-Gay Movement, she describes their view of change.

"Ex-gays undergo a conversion process that has no endpoint, and they acknowledge that change encompasses desires, behavior, and identities that do not always align neatly or remain fixed," she writes. "Ex-gay men and women are born-again religiously, and as part of that process, they consider themselves reconstituted sexually. … In the words of Curtis [one of the program's participants], 'Heterosexuality isn't the goal; giving our hearts and being obedient to God is the goal.' … Desires and attractions might linger for years, but they would emerge with new religious identities and the promise that faith and their relationships with one another and God would eventually transform them."

Erzen's point, I believe, is a valid one. It's the reason scientists don't believe in "ex-gay" therapy. If homosexuality is a genetic predisposition -- and the Rev. Al Mohler is willing to admit that possibility -- then how could Christian counseling affect it? Instead, working with the premise that God doesn't approve of homosexuality (despite the perceived contradiction that he would have given people a desire he prohibits), the mission of these therapists should be to train their patients hearts more fervently on what they believe to be God's desire for man.

I'm sure there are plenty of people who disagree with this.

Anti-Semitic Patriot Dames

Sometimes, the best blog posts I could write are those I don't because I keep waiting for the perfect moment when all my thoughts and the clutter on my desk will be aligned. Because that never happens, some of these stories fall by the wayside, which is what happened with the Patriot Dames.

These two Ohio sisters have a Web site where they like to propagate bigotry, and last month one of the sisters, Susan Purtee, got in trouble with her employer, the Columbus Police Department. It turned out city officials didn't think it was appropriate for their employees to be attacking blacks and blaming Jews for the world's problems. (Of course, the ADL agreed.)

There video ranting against Jews has been taken down from YouTube, which is too bad because it's really a hoot. You can still see it at their Web site: Just click on the "download" button and then click on "Jews." Here's a sampling of what they say:

"We are going to investigate to see if the Jews are the problem in the United States, as they were in other countries. So if your feelings are going to get hurt, it's best not to watch."

The sisters than praise Sen. Joseph McCarthy as the greatest American from the 20th Century. They blame immoral Jews for the "filth" in the media that "pollutes" Americans.

"They started to tell us, the Gentiles, how to live. Because if we lived that way they would make a lot of money. ... It's all about money."

Not all Jews. Just those who follow Torah.

"We're not talking about the Jews that live like normal regular people. But as long as you are a Jew, you have that thinking that everybody else is beneath you. ... We are nothing. We are dirt. We are people they can suck off of, the Gentiles. ... Mel Gibson was right. The fact this man can say what was on his mind, whether he was drunk or was straight. ... The Jews cause problems."

Monday, September 24, 2007

Jewish authors date to Moses

I'm a Michael Chabon fan -- "Wonder Boys," "Final Solution," "Yiddish Policemen's Union," and, oh yeah, that Pulitzer-Prize winner I haven't yet read. It was a treat, then, to see last week that the Jewish weekly in San Francisco, j., had a cover story on Chabon and his wife, best-selling author Ayelet Waldman.

Being a Jewish author “is a great tradition to be part of, stretching back to …” She pauses.

“Moses?” suggests Chabon.

“Moses,” states Waldman definitively, adding Cynthia Ozick, Saul Bellow and Mordecai Richler for good measure.

Bintel Blogger Daniel Treiman, though, notes a glaring gap in the j.'s story, which doesn't touch the controversy surrounding "Yiddish Policemen's":
Critics — some more sober than others — have argued that the book is hostile to Israel. It’s a disappointing omission, given that some have already started casually referring (perhaps unfairly) to Chabon as an anti-Zionist. It would have been good to hear what Chabon has to say on this issue.
You know what I would also consider unfortunate? That an author is branded an anti-Zionist -- which has become a synonym for anti-Semite -- because they write a fictional account of the efforts to create Zion in a parallel reality.

Live from Tehran ... I mean Columbia U

The New York Times' City Room blog has live updates on Ahmadinejadathon.

All Saints cleared by IRS

Remember all that hub-bub in late 2005 when the Internal Revenue Service said it was investigating an anti-war sermon delivered at All Saints Episcopal in Pasadena? Well yesterday, congregants were told the liberal church is in the clear. Sort of.

The investigation is over, the church did not lose its tax-exempt status, but the IRS still said the speech -- seen by some as supporting Kerry over Bush, which non-profits can't do -- was illegal. The LA Times reports that the rector wants a clarification and an apology. Good luck.
"To be sure, we are pleased that the IRS exam is over," the Rev. J. Edwin Bacon Jr. said in his 9 a.m. sermon, which was interrupted several times by applause. "However, the main issue of protecting the freedom of this church and other religious communities to worship according to the dictates of their conscience and core values is far from accomplished."

Bacon predicted that the vague, mixed message from the IRS after its nearly two-year investigation of the All Saints case would have a continued "chilling effect" on the freedom of clerics from all faiths to preach about moral values and significant social issues such as war and poverty.

Although the church no longer faces the imminent loss of its tax-exempt status, All Saints has "no more guidance about the IRS rules now than when we started this process," the rector said. He said the church would continue its struggle with the IRS, which he said so far had cost the 3,500-member congregation about $200,000.
(A quick note: The next line of the article -- "One of Southern California's largest and most liberal congregations"-- is so far from accurate its comical. All Saints is both prominent and liberal, but certainly its not at the extreme end of the spectrum. But more hyperbolic is the "largest" claim. In the era of 7-Eleven mega-churches, a 3,500-member congregation seems quaint.)

Come to Columbia, Mein Fuhrer

This one has been creating quite a furor while I was away this weekend. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad, the American antagonist and Holocaust denier, is scheduled to speak at Columbia University in New York today.

In defending the Ivy League university's invitation, Dean John Coatsworth told Fox News that they'd invite Hitler if he were in town. Glad I live on the Left Coast. The dean's message can be seen here and below:

The Manhattan campus has long been a destination for bright Jewish high school seniors, well before other Ivies dropped the Jew quotas. The New York Sun notes the irony of Jewish students learning of today's globe-trotting guest after breaking fast and singing online after Yom Kippur ended Saturday.
Dean Coatsworth seems to be laboring under the illusion that had Columbia actually hosted Hitler in the late 1930s, World War II and the war against the Jews might have been prevented. The dean appears to be ignorant of history. The archives of the New York Times disclose that in December 1933, Columbia's president, Nicholas Butler, extended an invitation to Hitler's ambassador, Hans Luther. A protest was made by the Social Problems Club, which, according to the report in the Times, said: "Inviting the Nazi envoy to lecture on the foreign policy of his government and giving him an official reception means not only failing in our duty to oppose the Nazi onslaught on culture and in our duty to defend our German colleague but signifies, if not an open endorsement of the Nazi actions, at least placing their principles on the same level with other viewpoints."

Saturday, September 22, 2007

A nihilist for governor

Note: This post was prompted by that story about Simi Valley billing a church for policing a protest against the congregation

When I interned at the Ventura Count
y Star, I sat across from one Zeke Barlow. (Yes, in large part he can be blamed for what I have become.) Zeke wrote great stuff before I met him and has had even better since. But one of my favorite Zeke's was "A Candidate for Governor With a Sense of Humor? Believe it."

Unfortunately, the Star's archives leave much to be desired, and I can't even find a cache for this story online, so I'm going to paste the entire June 29, 2006, piece below. Happy weekend reading.

Elisha Shapiro is a candidate for governor you just can't believe in. Why should you? He doesn't. He doesn't believe in anything. He's a nihilist.

In a chaotic world, Shapiro thinks believing in anything - God, religion, Democrats, clubs, love, any notion of right or wrong - does more harm than good. So he's not about to ask people to start believing in something, much less him.

But he thinks - not believes - that as the National Nihilist Party write-in candidate, he could make a better California governor than those other two guys.

"I'm not trying to make people better off, and I'm not trying to proselytize," Shapiro said after a Tuesday campaign stop in Ventura. "I don't think it's going to make a bit of difference if people think like me or not."

Shapiro, 52, just wants people to know there is another choice, that it's OK to think differently, to not buy what the media are selling, and that everything in this world is always changing.

He also wants California to secede from the United States. No point in those folks in the middle of the country dictating what we here on the left coast need to do about abortion, gay marriage or how our taxes are spent, he said.

On Tuesday, when Shapiro handed out his campaign material to potential voters as he gnawed on a toothpick that poked out from two days of gray stubble, he offered his constituents a caveat: "It's a little unusual."

His platform includes, but is not limited to: legalized marijuana so as to provide the world a quality product; friendly relations with Cuba and Venezuela to ensure good cigars and quality vacation destinations; marriage for gays only and no public kissing between straight couples; and support for scientists who actually discover things.

But while his stance may seem unusual, Shapiro himself seems somewhat normal.

Growing up in Southern California, the man named after a Biblical character always felt a bit different from other children. He was the artsy kid who didn't fit into school cliques, much less his parents' Jewish temple.

"I always felt like an outsider," he said. "I'm not much of a joiner."

Every time he explored one group or theory, he found that where an ideal might be right in one situation, it would be wrong in another. The only absolute was change.

After attending an experimental college in Berkeley where he studied philosophy and political science, he had a eureka moment when he first heard of nihilism, which Webster's dictionary defines as "the denial of the existence of any basis for knowledge or truth."

And so a nihilist performing artist was born.

He started putting on obscure performances like the Nihilist Olympics in downtown Los Angeles, where anyone could compete in the U-turn driving competition. He snapped moody black-and-white photos of his favorite things: guns, genitals and TV. And he started his political life when he ran for president in 1988. He lost.

Actually, he wasn't even officially a candidate because he didn't jump through the hurdles of paperwork in all 50 states.

When he ran for Los Angeles County Sheriff in 1994, he registered as an official write-in candidate. He lost again. But he did receive 241 votes, which, he said, was more than any other write-in candidate.

He didn't get involved in Gray Davis' recall election because "it was a zoo." Then, the nihilist would have had to compete with a porn star, an aging childhood actor and a Hollywood macho man. This time around, the political arena was wide open. So Shapiro, who teaches remedial writing at Santa Monica College when he's not making a spectacle, jumped in with his latest performance-art piece.

"Behind all the humor is a serious message," he said.

As much as anything, he's running against what he sees as a growing push by the right wing to control everything. While he doesn't believe in anything, he especially doesn't believe in President Bush.

His campaign through the state is a modest one, and he wants to keep it that way.

His goal is to spend less than $1,000 because any more than that and he has to file all sorts of cumbersome paperwork. One thousand is also the number of votes he's gunning for - just enough to justify his coffeehouse talks in San Diego, Sacramento and San Francisco.

And as much as he wants to get people to think a little, he wants them to laugh a lot. Nobody views his campaign as a bigger joke than the jokester himself.

His stumping in Ventura -which was really an opportunity for him and his live-in-girlfriend to browse Main Street's thrift shops - took place in front of the offbeat punk store, Wild Planet, where bongs, Buddhas and bumper stickers adorned the front window.

"The people who frequent this place might have some sympathy to my solution," said Shapiro.

Shapiro also ran into an old acquaintance who remembered him from junior high. Shapiro was a character then, and he hasn't changed much, said Irv Hansen.

Shapiro continued, giving a piece of his mind to anyone who would take it.

"Have some literature," he said. "I know it's scary. You might like it."
So next fall, when you're thinking about all those presidential candidates who claim they stand for something, think about Elisha Shapiro. He'll admit that he stands for nothing.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The intersection of God and grades

In the latest addition of UCLA Magazine, which went online today and should be in the mail for alumni, I have a cover story about the intersection of spirituality and scholarship.

I've written here that religion gets passing grades on college campuses, even secular ones like my alma mater. In this article, I focused on four students -- a Christian, a Jew, a Hindu and a Muslim -- and told their stories through the findings of the largest national study of college student spirituality.
Brandon Kuiper arrived at UCLA with a strong Christian faith and an inquisitive scientific mind. He didn't believe in evolution, but he was intent on studying neuroscience. Something was bound to give, but the biggest spiritual crisis in Kuiper's 20 years came not from South Campus but from studying the philosophy of Voltaire and Hobbes and Kant and Freud.

"I was reading that stuff and I thought, ‘This makes so much sense.' I had to stop and evaluate why I am a Christian and what I believe," he recalls. "I remember thinking, ‘What if I've been wrong all along?' "


There's certainly no shortage of seekers. A study by UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) found that three-fourths of freshmen are "searching for meaning/purpose in life" and that half are either "seeking" or "doubting" their spiritual understanding of the world. Forty percent said it was very important they follow a set of religious teachings.

"It is the nature of the beast of people that age. It's just part of being a college student," says Alexander Astin, co-leader of the "Spirituality in Higher Education" study and an emeritus professor of higher education. "College students are on a developmental adventure."

My favorite vignette was that of Marco Gonzalez, a Mexico Jew who arrived at UCLA with little understanding of his heritage. That led him to the Chabad House (I guess all their outreach on campus does attract some students).

On a Wednesday night, Gonzalez enters the upstairs classroom at Chabad and pulls out his textbook, Jewish Essentials: A Spiritual Guide to Jewish Life & Living.

"In the last couple of classes, we learned about the paramount importance of the Torah," Rabbi Dovid Gurevich, the Chabad campus co-director, says. "The Torah was received at Mt. Sinai, and the next holiday we celebrate, Shavuot, reminds us of that. That is very nice, but we have to make it practical and real ... We have to learn ways to make it real in our daily lives."

Tonight Gonzalez and three other students learn about the mezuzah (a sacred parchment hung on door posts to make holy the room inside) and tefillin (the boxes containing passages of the Torah and the leather straps Orthodox Jews use for prayer).

On college-ruled paper, Gonzalez takes detailed notes. "I want to be able to pass on these traditions to my children," he says. "I want to know what I'm talking about, so that when they have questions I don't have to say, ‘Ask a rabbi.' "

Gonzalez departs about 9:30 and heads straight to Powell to finish studying for a midterm the next day on international relations of the Middle East. But he doesn't mind staying up late and getting up early if it means not missing the time at Chabad.

"I would rather go to Chabad and learn it and enjoy it there, and just put in some extra time into my classes," Gonzalez says. "I've been taking the class at Chabad, and it's almost like having another class for school. But it's a more important subject. It is the subject of our lives."

The art for this story is amazing, and, to be honest, does a good job embarrassing my reporting. Let's hope the Bruins football team doesn't add insult tomorrow.

God responds to senator's lawsuit

I heard on NPR this morning that God had filed a response in Nebraska court to that ridiculous lawsuit against Him for "widespread death, destruction and terrorization."
"This one miraculously appeared on the counter. It just all of a sudden was here - poof!" said John Friend, clerk of the Douglas County District Court in Omaha.
Here's the rest of the legal briefing from the Associated Press:
Signed by "God," the response filed Wednesday argues the defendant is immune from some earthly laws and the court lacks jurisdiction over God.

Blaming the Almighty for human oppression and suffering misses an important point, it says.

"I created man and woman with free will and next to the promise of immortal life, free will is my greatest gift to you," according to the response.
The Archangel Michael is listed as a witness. No, this blog, nor the AP, has not been hijacked by The Onion. Heaven help us.

Syria in charge of U.N. nuclear watchdog

People say the United Nations is a joke. But what a punchline:
Two weeks after Israel's alleged bombing raid in Syria which some foreign reports said targeted North Korean nuclear material, the UN's nuclear watchdog elected Syria as deputy chairman of its General Conference on Monday.

The 51st session of the General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) opened in Vienna on Monday and will run through Friday.

The Syrian news agency SANA proudly reported the election on Tuesday, adding that Syria was also successful in including "the Israeli nuclear arsenal as an item on the agenda of the conference."

That's right. The country that's suspected of buying nuclear material from North Korea is now ostensibly policing non-proliferation. Yeah, right. Seraphic Secret likens the appointment to:

1. Putting a pedophile in charge of a kindergarten.

2. Appointing Goering to head up the Nuremberg Trials.

3. Having Lindsay Lohan as your drug counselor.

Who cares what kind of Christian John McCain is?

GetReligion has a good round-up of the story of John McCain telling a reporter that he's not an Episcopalian but a Baptist. I know this sounds like a thrilling topic, but it touches on an important issue: The way we view Christians depends on what kind of Christian we assume they are.

This is why I've never liked specifying my beliefs as more denominationally biased than "Christian." It seems McCain doesn't either:
AIKEN, S.C. (AP) — Republican presidential candidate John McCain said Monday that questions over whether he identifies himself as a Baptist or an Episcopalian are not as important as his overarching faith. “The most important thing is that I am a Christian,” the Arizona senator told reporters following two campaign stops in this early voting state.

But GetReligion notes an interesting story from The Charlotte Observer’s columnist Dannye Romine Powell:

I don’t care whether Republican presidential candidate John McCain is an Episcopalian or a Baptist.

But the implication in Monday’s paper that he’d been caught at something — outed while trying to pass as an Episcopalian — hit a nerve.

Why do we diss Baptists?

Powell’s story is one of church social rankings, avoiding the term “Baptist” and whether one’s church parking lot is filled with “Mercedes and BMWs” or “Fords and Chevys.”

Thursday, September 20, 2007

What Seymour Hersh thinks of W and the world

I mentioned last week what Seymour Hersh told me about the academics behind "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy." Today, The Jewish Journal published my interview with the legendary muckraker. Here's a sampling:
JJ: You're not a fan of President George W. Bush. Do you look at things in terms of Jan. 20, 2009?

SH: Absolutely. Absolutely. No matter who will be there.

JJ: Do you have one of those countdown clocks on your desk?

SH: No. Somebody gave me one, but I thought it would be too cute. You know, he's got power. He's still president.

JJ: You mentioned that there are plenty of things you know that you can't write about.

SH: The bottom line is nobody in this government talks to me. I've been around for 40 years -- in Bush I, in the Reagan years, certainly in Democratic regimes, but even in Republican regimes where I am more of a pain -- I've always had tremendous relationships with people. This is the first government in which in order to get my stories checked out to make sure I'm not going to kill some American, I have to go to peoples' mailboxes at night, people I talk to and know, and put it in their mailbox before turning it into The New Yorker, to get them to read it and say, "Oh, Page 4, you better not say that, Hersh."

I can't do that with the government. I used to always go and sit down and talk with the heads of the CIA and heads of other agencies. These guys are just really quantitatively different. You are either with us or against us across the board. And this is why I count days.


JJ: New York magazine has a profile this week of Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report, and they call him "America's Most Influential Journalist." What have bloggers like Drudge done to journalism, and how do you think it compares to the muckrakers that you came of age with?

SH: There is an enormous change taking place in this country in journalism. And it is online. We are eventually -- and I hate to tell this to The New York Times or the Washington Post -- we are going to have online newspapers, and they are going to be spectacular. And they are really going to cut into daily journalism.

I've been working for The New Yorker recently since '93. In the beginning, not that long ago, when I had a big story you made a good effort to get the Associated Press and UPI and The New York Times to write little stories about what you are writing about. Couldn't care less now. It doesn't matter, because I'll write a story, and The New Yorker will get hundreds of thousands, if not many more, of hits in the next day. Once it's online, we just get flooded.

So, we have a vibrant, new way of communicating in America. We haven't come to terms with it. I don't think much of a lot of the stuff that is out there. But there are a lot of people doing very, very good stuff.


JJ: Bush recently compared Iraq to Vietnam in a positive way. What do you think he learned from the Vietnam War?

SH: He seems to have learned from lessons that were not very valid. Nobody wants to be a loser. Bush is going to disengage to some degree, and he's going to claim the country is more stable. He's just going to say whatever he wants, and he's going to get away with it because who knows what is going on in Basra. Nobody I know in their right mind would go down there. You'd get whacked.

And the Democrats have fallen into the trap of saying, "We shouldn't get out." As far as I am concerned, there are only two issues: Option A is to get out by midnight tonight, and Option B is to get out by midnight tomorrow.

City bills church for anti-immigration protest against it

SIMI VALLEY - In an unusual twist on the national immigration debate, the city of Simi Valley sent a $40,000 bill Wednesday to a church harboring an undocumented immigrant after a protest there over the weekend prompted a police presence.

The United Church of Christ has played host for several months to a Ventura woman named Liliana, a Mexican citizen seeking sanctuary from immigration laws.

On Sunday, the anti-illegal immigration group Save Our State sent a contingent of 100 protesters to Royal Avenue outside UCC, hollering slogans into bullhorns, toting signs and waving American flags. The church's advocates dispatched more than two dozen counter-protestors who chanted in opposition.

Four Simi Valley Police Department officers arrived to keep an eye on things, swelling to 15 cops as the crowd grew. Aside from a minor scuffle between two protestors, all sides agreed the standoff was peaceful and orderly. Police arrested no one.

But the city was unhappy with footing the bill for the overtime and associated costs and decided someone had to pay.

The church got left holding the check.

That's from the LA Daily News. But one of my other former employers, the Ventura County Star, reported today that Simi Valley is fixing for a lawsuit because its action stifled the church's right to protest immigration policies.
"Paying for the cost of a political demonstration like this is paying for protection of freedom of expression, which is the price of living in a democracy," ACLU attorney Peter Bibring said Wednesday. "If people had to pay, no one would ever demonstrate."
Blogger and UCLA legal scholar Eugene Volokh makes an appearance, saying that a) regardless of whether the UCC congregation was breaking immigration laws, the city's action was out of line and b) that Simi politicians are sticking their nose where it doesn't belong (in federal business).
"They are complaining about a violation that isn't their law and they are talking about an expense that is an indirect consequence of their illegal conduct," he said. "On balance, their argument is so very weak, they are likely to lose."
This is one of the first flashpoints I've seen for the sanctuary movement, which was announced with a lot of bluster but has failed to materialize much.

The fastest growing religion

Have you heard this phrase: _____ is the fastest growing religion in the U.S.?

That blank is often filled with Wicca, Mormonism, some even claim atheism (seriously). These numbers are notoriously difficult to verify, but earlier this month the Delaware News Journal ran a big Sunday piece headlined "More Americans converting to Islam."

Drew Marshall could have been any of the dozen or so university students studying and sipping coffee at a Newark cafe.

About 6 feet tall, with a close beard and a light blue shirt, not much about him stands out.

Until he offers an Arabic greeting.

Marshall, or Ahmad, as the 23-year-old white American from Hockessin now calls himself, converted to Islam two years ago.

Wearing a dress shirt and slacks, carrying his school bag like a briefcase, Marshall looks more like a member of the faculty than a college senior.

But is Ahmad part of a movement or simply a novelty (which is how the lede treats him)? Certainly, Islam is drawing converts in Europe. But what about here in the States? What kind of numbers are there to support the article's headline?
Despite or perhaps because of Sept. 11, conversions to Islam have increased, making it the fastest-growing religion in the world, said Muqtedar Khan, associate professor of political science and international relations at the University of Delaware. About 23 percent of American Muslims are converts, about half of which turned to Islam before age 21, according to a May report from the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan think tank.

"There's a curiosity about Islam today," Khan said. "Islam has become the major thing everyone in the world is talking about."

According to the Pew report, there are an estimated 2.35 million American Muslims, about 35 percent of whom were born in the United States. About 850,000 are under age 18.

Well, I like that turn of phrase -- "despite or perhaps because of" -- but unfortunately this article doesn't support the headline's premise with facts, simply anecdotes. Is 23 percent a larger portion of American Islam than it was five years ago? Have the numbers of all American Muslims increased or decreased during that time? Demographers and Muslims organizations can't even agree on how many Muslims are in the United States (Pew says its about 2.35 million while CAIR says six million plus).

What to believe?

* Updated: No matter how many Muslims there exactly are, Rep. Peter King from New York thinks it's too many.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The saga of Shankster Gangster

Brent Hopkins, a good friend of mine and the lead reporter behind the "Exposed: Porn in the Valley" series I contributed to, had a great read in yesterday's LA Daily News.

Somewhere between the time David Steinberg helped Chris Walsh move out of his apartment and the day Walsh ended up shot five times and stuffed in a trash can, their friendship went south.

Or so went the dramatic tale that opened Steinberg's murder trial Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court downtown. Once described by his former attorney as a kiddie gangster, the 39-year-old Granada Hills man is now balding in a rumpled gray suit, accused of executing Walsh, his former housemate, in 2003.

The prosecution opened its case against Steinberg and co-defendant Jeffrey Weaver, 37, promising a story involving a member of the Nazi Lowriders prison gang and "people with dark hearts."

That neo-Nazi informant is Tony Shane Wilson, AKA Shankster Gangster, a bombastic bigot with swastikas tattooed on his earlobes. Anyone want to claim that Steinberg's being sunk by anti-Semites?