Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Friday, May 23, 2008

Jewish Press: Obama's 'not some ogre'

There has been an obnoxious number of stories lately about Obama's Jewish problem.

I found Jodi Kantor's much-discussed NYT piece yesterday to be heavy on anecdotes and light on evidence. Last week, Jeffrey Goldberg published his interview with Obama, in which they discussed Israel, Hamas and the "kishke question," a conversation that has had more traction than any in recent memory and to which the New York Times followed with this piece on Obama's Jewish campaign.

Thomas Friedman added to the din this Sunday with "Obama and the Jews," a good column about the whisper campaign against the Illinois senator, but, frankly, I'm a bit tuckered out.
I don’t want a president who is just going to lean on Israel and not get in the Arabs’ face too, or one who, as the former Mideast negotiator Aaron D. Miller puts it, “loves Israel to death” — by not drawing red lines when Israel does reckless things that are also not in America’s interest, like building settlements all over the West Bank.

It’s a tricky business. But if Israel is your voting priority, then at least ask the right questions about Mr. Obama. Knock off the churlish whispering campaign about what’s in his heart on Israel (what was in Richard Nixon’s heart?) and focus first on what kind of America you think he’d build and second on whether you believe that as president he’d have the smarts, steel and cunning to seize a historic opportunity if it arises.
I've argued before that the claim that American Jews need to choose between Obama and Israel is false. The right-wing Jewish Press agreed, and quoting from Goldberg's interview ran this editorial:
Sen. Obama is very forthcoming about his commitment to the survival of Israel. This is not some ogre with a hidden anti-Semitic agenda. The devil, however, is in the details.
That's where, of course, they question just what his commitment would look like. And I'd say that's a fair exercise to do with any presidential candidate on any issues you as a voter care about. (Again, this is why I don't vote for politicians based on their purported religious beliefs.)

(Hat tip: Bintel Blog)

Protesting gay marriage

Look beyond the kissing dudes to the folks protesting the ruling of California's Supreme Court regarding same-sex marriage. The message reminds me of another guy nobody takes seriously.

By the way, it was nice to see Mollie at GetReligion shares my frustration with the poorly reported, knee-jerk news features about how Christians were struggling with and celebrating the court's decision.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The God Blog gets a new look

For the past year, I've appreciated Blogger's free hosting, but, then again, you get what you don't pay for, and there have been a lot of bugs. So starting tomorrow, The God Blog should have a totally new look (and content management system).

The switch coincides with the launch of The Jewish Journal's new Website. You may already be reading this post on the new site, which has the same address as the old blog. The blog archives also are now fully searchable through the Journal's home page.

But there likely will be some problems with the launch, and I may have trouble posting during the next two days. My advance apologies.

Also, you will notice that, as of right now, comments are missing from posts less than a month old. This is because the designers of our new site made the error of migrating over all the blogs too close to our original launch date. I spent much of today moving over the 100 or so posts I'd written since then and over the next week will have to add the comments by hand. For once I'm glad comments here aren't too numerous.

McCain rejects Rod Parsley's support too

Well, John McCain didn't wait long to answer my question about what he would do with Rod Parsley.

McCain kicks Hagee to curb for Hitler remarks

It seems John McCain has tired of John Hagee, and rightfully so after it was reported that the leader of Christians United for Israel considered Hitler a divine agent, called by God to return the Jews to the biblical Land of Israel. Those six million butchered in the Holocaust? Collateral damage, I guess. Via CNN:
“Obviously, I find these remarks and others deeply offensive and indefensible, and I repudiate them. I did not know of them before Reverend Hagee's endorsement, and I feel I must reject his endorsement as well,” McCain said in a statement to CNN Thursday.

He added that his relationship with Hagee did not compare with Obama’s lengthy association with Rev. Jeremiah Wright. “I have said I do not believe Senator Obama shares Reverend Wright's extreme views. But let me also be clear, Reverend Hagee was not and is not my pastor or spiritual advisor, and I did not attend his church for twenty years. I have denounced statements he made immediately upon learning of them, as I do again today,” said McCain.
Now, what to do with Rod Parsley?

Court sides with polygamist families

Breaking news in the Texas polygamy raid from the NYT:
A Texas state court of appeals ruled Thursday afternoon that the state of Texas had no right to seize more than 400 children from a polygamist ranch in Eldorado, in the western part of the state.

The ruling asserted that the state’s child protection agency not only acted hastily in removing the children from the Yearning for Zion Ranch in April but also failed to show that they were in immediate danger. According to the court, the state did not establish proper grounds to remove the children from their families, who belong to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or F.L.D.S. The F.L.D.S. broke off from the mainstream Mormon church after it had disavowed polygamy in 1890.

At news conference in San Angelo, the closest city to Eldorado, a lawyer for the sect said it was unclear when the families would be reunited, and that the team was reviewing the next legal steps in the process.

Getting furry for the Omer

Jay Firestone has given us a matzo taste test, shown the post-party perils of Purim and hit the streets to talk politics in Pico-Robertson, but this is by far his best video dispatch so far.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

ADL adds to literature on Kevin MacDonald

That image, which appears to have been "borrowed" from The Journal, is now at the top of the Anti-Defamation League's homepage. (I wanted to put a screen grab up but, as usual, Blogger had other ideas.) Accompanying the image is a long-awaited report, published today, by the ADL that is short, uncontroversial and includes no new information that I could find.
"Kevin MacDonald is someone who is hailed among the bigots not just for his beliefs about Jews, but because of his ability to lend to his anti-Semitism a scholarly veneer," said Dr. Kevin O'Grady, ADL Orange County Regional Director. "Because he is a tenured professor who couches his views as a form of academic inquiry, he defies the mold of more traditional anti-Semites like jackbooted neo-Nazis or robe-wearing Klansmen."

MacDonald is a celebrated figure in the world of white supremacy because his views about Jews -- many of which promote classical anti-Semitic conspiracy theories -- are given added legitimacy by his ability to present them in a scholarly guise, according to ADL. The League has added MacDonald to its definitive online guide to extremist groups and individuals in the United States, Extremism in America.

ADL says that MacDonald has evolved from a writer of books to a blogger and prolific contributor to anti-Semitic publications both in print and online.
A lot more info about MacDonald, whom I profiled for The Jewish Journal two weeks ago, can be found in a much more lengthy bio page the ADL created, which includes an overview of the man, his ideology and affiliations and his own words:

“[H]atred toward all things European is normative among a great many strongly identified Jews.”

“Can the Jewish Model Help the West Survive?”
Jack London Literary Prize acceptance speech, October 31, 2004

American Bible Society goes on alert

From Gary Stern at Blogging Religiously:
I got this ominous-sounding press release today from the American Bible Society, a NYC-based group, nearly 200 years old, that tries to make the Bible available to everyone:
New York – May 20, 2008 – The American Bible Society Board Chairman, Dr. Dennis C. Dickerson, announced today that two American Bible Society executives, Dr. Paul Irwin, President, and Richard Stewart, Chief Financial Officer, have been placed on leave at the request of the Board of Trustees.

The Board has committed to a full and independent review of the financial stewardship of the American Bible Society.

The American Bible Society’s Executive Vice Presidents, Dr. R. L. Vest and The Reverend Simon Barnes, will assume responsibility for day-to-day operations, reporting to the American Bible Society Board of Trustees Chairman, Dr. Dennis C. Dickerson.
Sounds like a bit of cleaning house. The New York Times had reported Sunday that the American Bible Society paid $5 million to an "electronic commerce" mogul whose clients included pornographers. Irwin denied knowing of Richard J. Gordon's business with adult entertainers.

The singularity will give you eternal life

I read a few years ago in The Atlantic of an impending "death shortage," an unfortunate consequence of technological advancements that would turn 70 year olds into early-career professionals. These people -- we people -- would still die; it was just going to take a lot longer to happen.

But leafing through back issues of Wired last night, I came across an article about a technology prodigy trying to buy eternal life. Not the kind paid for with the blood of a lamb, but the kind that could be achieved here on earth if you were to download your brain to your laptop. You just have to live long enough.

Let me explain.

This ambition is based on a theory called the singularity, the point at which technology will surpass human intelligence and become independent, like Skynet without the nuclear winter. "AIs will help us see and hear better. They will give us better memories and help us fight disease. Eventually, AIs will allow us to conquer death itself," Gary Wolf writes in Wired. Believers say the singularity will arrive in phases:
First, lifestyle and aggressive antiaging therapies will allow more people to approach the 125-year limit of the natural human lifespan. This is bridge one. Meanwhile, advanced medical technology will begin to fix some of the underlying biological causes of aging, allowing this natural limit to be surpassed. This is bridge two. Finally, computers become so powerful that they can model human consciousness. This will permit us to download our personalities into nonbiological substrates. When we cross this third bridge, we become information. And then, as long as we maintain multiple copies of ourselves to protect against a system crash, we won't die.
So Ray Kurzweil, who has written a few books that are the Bible of the movement and is the focus of the article, is spending a lot of money, and taking 180 to 210 vitamins a day (so many he has a "pill wrangler"), to try to stay alive until the singularity arrives.
As a driver he is cautious. He frequently bicycles through the Boston suburbs, which is good for physical conditioning but also puts his immortality on the line. For most people, such risks blend into the background of life, concealed by a cheerful fatalism that under ordinary conditions we take as a sign of mental health. But of course Kurzweil objects to this fatalism. He wants us to try harder to survive.

His plea is often ignored. Kurzweil has written about the loneliness of being a singularitarian. This may seem an odd complaint, given his large following, but there is something to it. A dozen of his fans may show up in Denver every month to initiate longevity treatments, but many of them, like Matt Philips, are simply hedging their bets. Most health fanatics remain agnostic, at best, on the question of immortality.
(That last line could just as easily be a criticism of a lot of religious people, ambivalent agnostics "simply hedging their bets." See what the Apostle Paul's commentary on this.)

Clearly Kurzweil and the growing faithful have removed God from their religion. Oddly, though, Mark Anderson argues they've done away with science too.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Villaraigosa renews his Israeli ties

To celebrate Israeli@60, Jewlicious started a feature called 60Bloggers, which has included a few notable names thus far, including Gary Wexler and The Calendar Girls. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa added his name Monday, drawing comparisons to the "culture and commerce, and ties of blood and family":
Los Angeles and Israel are both homes of creativity and bastions of innovation - places defined by a deep respect for diversity, a longstanding belief in what’s possible, and the fervent hope, dream and commitment to build a peaceful tomorrow.

Here in Los Angeles, we celebrate the state of Israel and our own Israeli community in a variety of ways. We host the largest showcase of Israeli films in the United States and we have built a strong relationship with our sister city, Eilat. Thousands of Israeli students of all ages have attended and enriched our schools and synagogues, and Israeli security specialists have come to the Tom Bradley International Terminal at the Los Angeles International Airport to help protect airline passengers and foreign visitors. Each year, the city’s Israel Festival brings together over 40,000 people in the largest celebration of Israeli culture anywhere. And, overcoming the obstacles faced by so many immigrant groups, the vitality and vibrancy of L.A.’s Israeli families never diminish and only grow stronger every day.

Israel’s 60 years have been shaped by the resilience, strength and devotion of its people. Through criticism and condemnation, the Jewish state has stood up for the values and principles that have long made the Jewish people a “light unto the nations.” Israel’s citizens have kept faith with the hope – “ha-tikvah” – that they might live as a free nation, in peace and security, in the land of their ancestors. I know the City of Los Angeles and our people will continue to benefit from a close relationship with the State of Israel long into the future.
Villaraigosa has a very close relationship with L.A.'s Jewish leaders. He's been called an "honorary member of the Tribe" and his best buddy on the City Council is Jack Weiss, who represents the city's most Jewish district.

As Speaker of the California Assembly, Villaraigosa twice visited Israel, and two years ago he developed a relationship with Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal. Efforts last summer to organize a mayor's trip to the Jewish state were unsuccessful; I've been told his calendar is marked for a week-long trip next month.

Though he couldn't see the holy sites or dignitaries from the San Fernando Valley on Sunday Villaraigosa had the chance to speak with several thousand Israelis at the annual Israel Festival at Woodley Park.

I was there, but, vainly attempting to avoid the heat of the day, before the mayor arrived. Between dripping buckets of sweat and being shown how to solve a Rubik's cube by a Messianic Jew, I enjoyed fake Hebrew coke and picked up books about Spinoza and Koufax. It reminded me of something a former field deputy for U.S. Rep Brad Sherman, who is Jewish and represents part of the Valley, once told me:
The biggest threat to Israel is Tarzana, Calif. It looks like Israel; it feels like Israel; and the people all speak Hebrew.

Orthodox Jews torch pile of New Testaments

And you thought reaction to the Messianic Jew who wanted to compete in the Bible Quiz was ugly. Orthodox Jews pull a page from Nazi playbook in this AP report:
Or Yehuda Deputy Mayor Uzi Aharon said missionaries recently entered a neighborhood in the predominantly religious town of 34,000 in central Israel, distributing hundreds of New Testaments and missionary material.

After receiving complaints, Aharon said, he got into a loudspeaker car last Thursday and drove through the neighborhood, urging people to turn over the material to Jewish religious students who went door to door to collect it.

The books were dumped into a pile and set afire in a lot near a synagogue, he said.

The Israeli Maariv daily reported Tuesday that hundreds of Jewish religious school students took part in the book-burning. But Aharon told The Associated Press that only a few students were present, and that he was not there when the books were torched. Not all of the New Testaments that were collected were burned, but hundreds were, he said.

He said he regretted the burning of the books, but called it a "commandment" to burn materials that urge Jews to convert.
Just imagine if this had happened with distributed copies of the Quran. The Arab world would be looking for Jewish blood. Oh, nevermind.

NY Wasps candidly share anti-Semitic attitudes

It seems like shameless anti-Semitism in this article online at Vanity Fair:
“It is an act of the worst kind of buffoonery. Schwarzman is horrid.”

This statement was made to me by a member of New York’s Protestant establishment in reference to the renaming of the New York Public Library on 5th Avenue at 42nd Street after Stephen A. Schwarzman, C.E.O. of The Blackstone Group, a private equity company. In March news broke that Mr. Schwarzman had agreed to lead the library’s current fundraising campaign by pledging a $100 million gift—the largest the institution has ever received. In recognition, the library announced, his name would be would be carved onto the exterior of the lion-guarded building.

Within senior Wasp circles, Schwarzman and the distinction he has received for his gift have set off a great deal of concealed outrage. Perhaps the best way I can describe it is to say that when I sat and talked with several Wasps about the diminishing influence of their clan, they often waited until the interview was winding down and I had folded up my notebook, and then they jumped back into conversation about Schwarzman and the library.

Old-guard Wasps appear to feel threatened by the newly rich and their growing influence around the city, and dismiss new money as “tasteless and gauche.” When discussing vastly rich people who are Jewish, it is not uncommon for them to use anti-Semitic slurs.

“Come on, though, it’s not Wasps giving Jews a bad name, it’s Jews giving Jews a bad name,” one said. Another told me, “The Astors knew to put their name on the inside. It’s good taste, that’s the difference between old and new.” A third said Schwarzman, who is Jewish, “is cleaning himself up, that’s what new money does. I suppose my family had to do the same thing hundreds of years ago, but look at us now, we’re like deities.”
I imagine this is what it sounded like in Hancock Park years ago as the tony L.A. neighborhood transitioned from the Waspyist address in town to the center of many a fights over Orthodox Jewish practices in residential neighborhood.

But today we are enlightened and Jews in America probably enjoy the most privileged diaspora lives since at least Islamic Spain if not Joseph's years as viceroy of Egypt. (Anyone want to make a case for pre-Nazi Germany?) Which is why it's surprising to see anti-Jewish sentiments so openly aired by somebody not named Kevin MacDonald or his anti-Semitic admirers. Even if they are being expressed anonymously.

The mere mention last summer by Tom Wolfe that many of the new hedge fund managers, like Schwartzman, were Jewish led Moneybox's Daniel Gross to say, "When you finish reading the piece, the faintest whiff of anti-Semitism lingers."

I read the article, and while I agree its quality did not meet Wolfe standards, likely because of the unavoidable comparisons to "The Bonfire of the Vanities," I didn't close Portfolio thinking Jews were money grubbers scouring American society.

Then the housing market tanked ...

There is no question Schwartzman is a jerk. Anybody who throws himself a $3 million birthday party has to be. But this should have nothing to do with Schwartzman being Jewish. In fact, it's worth arguing that if he were a better Jew, he'd be a little less selfish (regardless of how much money he's worth, or was worth).

Maybe Mondoweiss is right. Maybe something historic is happening.

Jerusalem bans 'Sex and the City' ads

Good for the Holy City.
Outdoor advertising company Maximedia has notified the distributors of 'Sex in the City' Forum Films and its publicist, Golan Advertising - that the movie based on the popular TV series of the same name will not be allowed to advertise in Jerusalem and Petah Tikva, because the word "sex" appears on the signs.
I don't agree on religious grounds, partially because it is not "Sex in the City" as the Haaretz reports states, despite letters larger than Sarah Jessica Parker. I just can't stand that show.

'Jews Against Obama'

It was only a matter of time.

Rod Parsley: firebrand and gonif

I strongly disagree with Rod Parsley's characterization of Islam (based on "revelations from demon spirits" and "an anti-Christ religion that intends, through violence, to conquer the world"), but as someone who believes there is Truth and not just religion, he has the right to be divisive. But to what end?

More troubling to a God-fearing Christian -- me -- is that Parsley appears to be a purveyor of the Prosperity Gospel, that vile distortion of the Bible infamous for conning little old ladies out of their social security checks. (Though it may be true in a different context that giving makes you rich.) From the Huffington Post:

You've probably seen the prosperity gospel on television if you've surfed past the Trinity Broadcasting Network, where you could see Parsley, John Hagee, who also endorsed McCain, or Kenneth Copeland, who supported Mike Huckabee. Prosperity preachers tell their followers that if they "sow a seed" -- in other words, donate to the televangelist -- they will "reap a harvest," or get a supernatural return on their investment. The promise of God's blessing in return for lining the preachers' pocket is the movement's organizing principle, bolstered by promises that believers are "little gods" who possess "revelation knowledge" entitling them to ignore the media and academia, and the ability to positively confess things -- that is, just say, "in the name of Jesus, that Cadillac is mine!"

Operating their churches with an iron hand and complete secrecy around their finances, these televangelists command their troops by declaring themselves prophets, God's "anointed," not to be criticized or questioned. "Touch not mine anointed ones, and do my prophets no harm," a verse from Psalms, is invoked as their autocratic shield. It's that secrecy that provoked a Senate Finance Committee investigation into the financial affairs of six of them, including Copeland, who continues to refuse to cooperate with Congressional investigators. Because they view the world through the prism of spiritual warfare, anyone who questions their doctrine or their wealth must be instruments of Satan.

Revelation knowledge lies at the heart of this autocratic movement's powerful hold. Don't let Satan eclipse what revelation knowledge tells you. Revelation knowledge always trumps reason. If this movement's followers believe that they only need to listen to God's word, as delivered through the mouths of their pastors, and that the media, scholarship, and reason are to be ignored, what does this say about the political choices, not to mention the life choices, followers of this movement make?

The embrace of these televangelists by Republican politicians -- exposed in my new book, God's Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters -- elevates them in the eyes of their followers and promotes their ideology as moral and pure. Parsley, whom McCain called a "moral compass" and "spiritual guide," proudly boasts about how presidential candidates seek his advice. Hagee claims the admiration of the White House, members of Congress from both parties (Joe Lieberman has compared him to Moses), Republican Party officials, and even the former director of the CIA, James Woolsey. When President Bush compared Barack Obama to Nazi appeasers last week, he was tipping his hat to Hagee, who routinely charges political enemies with appeasement as well, while portraying himself and his followers as modern-day Churchills.


If you were to turn on your television and watch Parsley or Hagee, you would undoubtedly see them pleading for money. But you might also see Parsley calling for spiritual warfare against Satan, faith-healing homosexuals from the "bondage" of their sin, or prophesying a bloody apocalyptic showdown with Islam out of secret codes in Genesis. You might see Hagee proclaiming that he doesn't care if someone who doesn't work starves, because welfare is satanic. He might be calling environmentalists "wackos" or feminism witchcraft or describing the Bible's plan for men to maintain authority over their wives or predicting God's wrath on the United States if it supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Watching Word of Faith on television, though, is nothing compared to experiencing it -- sitting in the pews while everyone stares you down for not waving your offering envelope in the air, watching a televangelist demand money while people are in an ecstatic religious state; or being crushed by a euphoric crowd at a faith-healing service, during which Parsley claimed he had healed a baby born without a brain, and moments later bragged about how he's a coveted guest in the halls of Congress.

'The Ned Testament'

flanders.pngThe 2001 cover story about the evangelical presence of Ned diddly ed Flanders on "The Simpsons" is one of the most popular to run in Christianity Today. It's author, Mark I. Pinsky, cobbled the article from his reportage for "The Gospel According to the Simpsons," and it was based on details like these:
An Oral Roberts University graduate who is never without a Bible and a large piece of the True Cross (which saved his life in one episode when he was shot), Ned believes that an essential element of a good life is "a daily dose of vitamin church."
Pinsky returns to CT with a short review of a tract by "Simpsons" creator Matt Groening called, "Flanders' Book of Faith."
There are two running features in the book that elucidate Flanders's religious faith and its practical application. One is "What Would Ned Do?" Among the things he would do is sacrifice his son, as the patriarch Abraham was ordered to do, without question. He'd also audit his own taxes and charge himself an additional $65.42.

There is also an ongoing dialogue in which the children of The Simpsons ask him deceptively simple questions that require profound responses. "If God is love," Lisa asks, "why does he send people to hell?" Ned thinks a moment, and then explains, "Technically, God doesn't send anyone to hell, Lisa. People send themselves there. It's what we call 'free will.'" Bart scoffs that the Bible "is filled with trick questions."
Bart is, of course, right. My favorite example is when Jesus was asked whether his followers should pay taxes in an act of submission to secular authority.
"Show me a denarius. Whose portrait and inscription are on it?"

"Caesar's," they replied.

He said to them, "Then give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."

Monday, May 19, 2008

God gets a blog to discuss stuff He hates

This supposedly sayeth the Lord:
Of the many human body parts I intensely dislike, there is none I hate more than the foreskin. I believe this small stretch of penile tissue is responsible for turning more men away from Me, the Almighty Lord your God, than anything Lucifer has ever done.

See, back when I was designing the first man, I decided to just make him look exactly like Me. Perfect in every way. I sat naked in the Heavenly Hall of Mirrors for a couple of hours and sculpted Adam’s body to look just like Mine.

And so I gave Adam a huge penis. With some balls. And a foreskin.

And as you all know, that accursed foreskin made sex such a wondrous experience for Adam that he turned away from Me for that dirty-slut-whore Eve.

I blame Eve, but I mostly blame the foreskin, with its thousands upon thousands of pleasure-inducing nerve-endings. Damn you foreskin!

Despite all My best efforts, of the total number of penises worldwide today, 87% still have foreskins. This is a travesty!

I consider every male attached to those foreskins My forsworn enemy! I also consider any woman who has sex with an uncircumcised man equally culpable! As Myself as My witness, they will all burn with Eve in the fiery pits of hell!
These are the alleged ruminations of the Almighty on His new blog dedicated to Stuff God Hates. It's not very believable, what with the pettiness and f-bombs. I did, however, enjoy the post about cats.

A little while back, my editor suggested such a gimmick might be a cool addition to The God Blog -- a regular feature called God's Blog, in which I would speak as the Lord on the big news of the day. I liked the idea, and still might try it, but when I thought about how to make it work, I realized my voice would likely be either dull or melodramatic.

Stuff God Hates opts for the latter. The tone might not work, but the blog has the exact same design, and even object-noun-verb domain, as Stuff White People Like, and that has certainly been successful. It's not clear, but I'm going to gander that they're written by the same Christian Lander of Culver City. Lander launched that blog in January, which has had 28 million hits (that's ridiculous), and by March signed a book deal for their musings on white people. Example:
Plain and simple, white people don’t just like Apple, they love and need Apple to operate.

On the surface, you would ask yourself, how is that white people love a multi-billion dollar company with manufacturing plants in China, mass production, and that contributes to global pollution through the manufacture of consumer electronic devices?

Simple answer: Apple products tell the world you are creative and unique. They are an exclusive product line only used by every white college student, designer, writer, English teacher, and hipster on the planet.
The writing as God doesn't work as well. Instead of being sharp it sounds silly and mean (when is the last time I packaged those two words together?).
Asia is a huge waste of space and I despise every last country, animal* and heathen-commie-bastard living there. However, I don’t hate the topography. Unlike Africa - which I am deeply, deeply ashamed of – I’m actually kind of satisfied with the land I made in Asia (with the exception of the Russian, Mongol and Kazakhstani areas).

No, it’s strictly the people and the governments of Asia I loathe. Why you ask? Because they don’t Worship Me! I mean, for f--ks-sake! I’m only the Flawless Creator of the Entire Universe, but do they care? No!
This was posted May 14, right after the cyclone death toll in Burma had passed 30,000 and at least 10,000 Chinese had died in a massive earthquake. Heaven help us if a book publisher wants to ink this too.

Saban accused of trying to bribe superdelegates

Haim Saban, a major financial supporter of Hillary Clinton, allegedly attempted to buy two superdelegates with a million-dollar gift to Young Democrats of America. Saban denied it, but the Huffington Post has some damaging information from four independent, and, of course, anonymous, sources:
Members of the Young Democrats agonized about the potential fallout of Saban's call; his financial offer represented one-third of the group's 2008 budget. Democratic officials and fundraisers were consulted about how to respond, and at times the discussions were "emotional," one participant said. "It is scary for them, Haim is very powerful, he has great influence over donors who give to them."

Another source said that Hardt and others were acutely aware of Saban's status within Democratic circles and were concerned that their organization would suffer long-term harm if they declined his offer or if news of the proposal became public.

"I said I thought that the appropriate response was to call Haim back and say thank you but we are not interested," said the source. "I also said that it was surely the case that this story would get out because it is too interesting not to and they should think about how to deal with it. It was a day or two [before they responded]. They felt afraid. They were like, 'Holy sh--, this is Haim Saban.'"
Clinton's Israeli-American supporters living in Los Angeles sure have been causing a stir.

U.S. prez says Islam 'fanatic and fraudulent'

Not that president. But give me a second to mention this week's paper first.

I like The Jewish Journal's cover for Israel@60 because it shows some of the diversity of Israeli society. Inside is the thickest issue we've published since at least High Holy Days, and quite a few notable bylines -- Avraham Burg, Yossi Klein Halevi and, my favorite, Tom Tugend.

There also is an article titled, "Israeli Heart, Jewish Soul," written by Michael Oren,, author of the bestseller "Six Days of War." Oren's most recent book is "Power, Faith and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to Present," and I've been working through it for the past month and marked up countless pages to blog about. Here's one nugget, surprising for what it reveals about Americans' early view of Muslims, and for who's saying it.
John Quincy Adams ... believed that Islam was a "fanatic and fraudulent" religion, one that was founded on "the natural hatred of Mussulmen towards the infidel" and the subjugation of others by the sword."
Actually, those words don't sound so unfamiliar. Americans may no longer use the term "Mussulmen," but too many still look cockeyed at all Muslims.

Honorary wandering Jew: Barack Obama?

In Jewcy post titled, "How Jewy Should We Want Our Presidents To Be?" Daniel Koffler doesn't really answer that question but does argue that Barack Obama, who has had a "Jewish problem," may, metaphorically, be the biggest Jew yet:

Obama in particular embodies that common thread between my community and his by being (again from Samuels) "a self-made man, part con artist, part performer, living in an imaginary future that will make him and his audience whole."

The flip side is that, truly unlike any potential president since the early days of the Republic (except Lincoln, maybe), he is a person of the book, and of books, and of philosophy and literature. If he does get to be president, his memoirs will be vastly more penetrating in their insights than anything a president has produced since Ulysses Grant more than a century ago, and radically unlike any president's literary output since presidents stopped writing for themselves sometime last century. That literariness is balanced by an Ivory Tower-trained analytic intelligence --- as the Clinton campaign found out to their chagrin, he was in fact a fairly skillful and accomplished legal academic.

All of which means that if elected, Obama will be the first president in ages (if not ever) to suffer from what Joyce called the agenbite of inwit (from ME, meaning "remorse of conscience"), the near-universal soul-sickness of introspective literary and intellectual types in the modern age, grasping for and unable to find concrete, stable concepts of identity and historical progression by which to gain a foothold on their world.

The condition is a two-edged sword for scores of reasons. For example, on the positive side of the ledger, it can provide fuel for empathy, for a creativity in problem-solving, and for just enough misanthropy to motivate the enlightened governance that rejects crude, short-sighted populism (his stand against the gas tax pander, his connections to and education from people like Austan Goolsbee and Lawrence Lessig are the encouraging data points here). And on the negative side, consider that Woodrow Wilson was the closest precedent in this regard, and one of the worst presidents we've ever had, and Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon are next closest. Intellectuality, especially when self-aware, can be a straitjacket and an amplifier for mistakes.

But more to the point here, the agenbite is, if not a Jewish condition, then more pervasive among Jews than any other group, by a wide margin. (It was no accident that Buck Mulligan described Stephen Dedalus as "a jesting jew jesuit," nor was it coincidental that the greatest song ever written about the suffering and dispossession of American southerners in the Civil War was written by a half-Jew half-Mohawk from rural Ontario.) Virtually every significant feature of Obama's biography --- from his name, to his twice-over paternal abandonment, to the clash of skin colors with all his relatives, to his drug years, to his Ivy League education, to his admission to modern day Talmud study in a law faculty --- scream of the agenbite, and through it, to a connection with the experience of overwhelming numbers of post-Haskalah Jews (which may or may not come to the same thing as the Jewish experience).

Times blogger: MacDonald 'blends creepiness, crackpottery and a surprising forthrightness'

Tim Cavanaugh, the administrator of the Times' Opinion L.A. blog who I mentioned in my profile of Luke Ford, complimented the tone of my article about Kevin MacDonald ("perfectly dry") and from it made a familiar observation of Cal State Long Beach's infamous academic:
MacDonald himself, who blends creepiness, crackpottery and a surprising forthrightness into a weird form of amiability that I can sort of respect. I hate to use such a hoary cliché, but he's a quintessentially American type of oddball, the kind you don't want to listen to because he occasionally makes you say "Hm, he's got a point."
In case you don't recall, MacDonald's point is that Jews are too smart and far too well organized for his people's good.

I agree with Cavanaugh to a point; as I wrote in the article, MacDonald's "affable" and "seems every bit a slice of Midwest Americana." And some of his arguments are uncontroversial

Yes, Jews have been encouraged to marry within the faith, to promote their own culture and to support Jewish causes and charities. There's probably some value in his theory that Judaism serves a "group evolutionary" purpose.

But the Nazis were a mirror image of Jewry that punished the Other for their success in science and the arts and business? And the Talmud was not for religious purposes but instead to weed out the dim witted? Hmm ... I don't think he has a point.

Martin Fiebert -- a fellow psych professor at The Beach who warned MacDonald in 1993 that his first book may find a "treasured place in the bookcases of neo-Nazis along with 'Mein Kampf' and the 'Protocols of Zion'" -- told me that he at first found MacDonald's writings on Jews to be an "intellectual excercise." He disagreed with MacDonald's argument but not so much with his desire to make it.

That changed for Fiebert when MacDonald decided to serve as an expert witness for Holocaust denier David Irving in a lawsuit against Jewish historian Deborah Lipstadt.

Waiting for doomsday

From a short blog post Jeffrey Goldberg wrote about reaction to his op-ed in the Sunday Times,
For Israel's sake, it seems important to acknowledge, and then fix, its mistakes. Or we can just hunker down and wait for doomsday.
Anti-Zionist Philip Weiss, who considers Goldberg the most powerful Jewish American journalist, has been all over the op-ed as "a sign of hope for the Jewish community, a sign of hope that the monolithic orthodoxy is splintering."

Monday morning editor

In a letter to the editor this week, Paula Van Gelder, like Shoded Yam, argued that The Jewish Journal was the wrong place to report on the "ridiculous ramblings" of Kevin MacDonald. She went on to make a strange comparison that, if it were appreciated, would mean few articles about the environment should ever be written again.
This editorial decision makes about as much sense as The Journal's recent publication of a thick "green" issue, thereby destroying even more trees than usual in order to decry the destruction of our environment.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

U.S. sniper used Quran for target practice

The U.S. military reported today that they canned an American sniper after he used the Quran for target practice.
Iraqi police found the bullet-riddled Quran with graffiti inside the cover on a firing range near a police station in Radwaniyah, a former insurgent stronghold west of Baghdad, U.S. military spokesman Col. Bill Buckner said.
I hope there is more veracity to this report than when Newsweek reported a soldier at Gitmo had flushed the Quran down the toilet. Not that I advocate desecrating sacred materials, but that toilet story turned out to be potty talk, and a handful of people died from the Muslim rioting that resulted and America's rep sunk a little lower.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Sectarian bloodshed in a familiar place: Lebanon

One of the most powerful, raw, emotional photos I've seen in a long time. This shooting, but one bout of recent warfare between Sunnis and Shiites, occurred during a funeral procession last week. The story is here.

Katherine's story: more on the Problem of Pain and how faith has buoyed a family and thousands of friends

I thought about mentioning a personal story Monday when I talked about the Problem of Pain, It was a recent event, with ongoing recovery, that has both shaken my wife and I emotionally and encouraged us spiritually.

Last month, one of the leaders of the Young Marrieds group at Bel Air Presbyterian that we've been involved with suffered a brain hemorrhage. Katherine Wolf is my age, and my wife had just seen her two days before at a baby shower. Beautiful mother of an adorable six-month-old son, husband weeks away from finishing law school -- prime of her life in every cliché sense. So young, and yet there she was at death's door.

The emails for prayer went out immediately: "Important -- prayers needed immediately" was the first subject line I saw. And after an unbelievable 13-hour surgery that doctors at UCLA weren't optimistic about her chances to come out of, Katherine was stable. Very sick, but stable:
My beautiful girl was fairly unrecognizable until she opened her eyes and a shot of that unique aqua blue flashed out. She had a huge ventilator tube twisting her swollen, torn lips to one side and a feeding tube distorting her nose. Since we’ve switched to a tracheotomy and feeding tube in the stomach, she looks more like Katherine, although her face and neck are still swollen. Her head has been shaved in patches. It looks like an unlovely patchwork quilt. There is a square on the right front part of her head with several angry-looking holes, one of which has a tube coming out of it. There is a large shaved area across the back, where the main vertical incision was. But she still wears the matted ponytail of what’s left on top, darkened by crusty dried blood. Clear tape covers much of the whole mess. There are ‘boo-boos’ all over her body from one ghastly life-saving procedure after another. Tiny machines are attached to tubes entering her arms, hands, abdomen, thighs...which are hooked up to big scary-looking machines crowded around the bed.
Her mom went on in this April 29 account; you can read it here.

Katherine continues to make progress, chronicled at this blog and on this Facebook page, which are followed closely by her friends, who pretty much haven't left the lobby of the UCLA Medical Center since April 21. (My wife and I slept there one night last week.) There is no sugarcoating, only the portrayal of profound faith and an awareness of the steep hill Katherine will climb before she leaves the hospital.
Katherine had a steady day yesterday. Our medical friends continue the attempt to open her natural brain drains by increasing the cranial pressure. The process slows Katherine’s responsiveness but is showing some results. However, her friend, Whitney, brought a “People” magazine and it received 2 “thumbs up” from Katherine! The medical team is fabulous and they are offering superlative care.

Katherine’s heart rate was high and she spiked a fever so they are backing off a bit on her breathing and physical therapy efforts. This is a huge battle. God encouraged Joshua as His people moved to new territory, “Be stong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:)
Katherine's husband, Jay -- I previously admired him for sporting a beard -- has shown a spiritual maturity that has left me in awe. In his shoes, I fear I'd be very angry with God. Healthy angry, hopefully. But angry nonetheless. Jay, however, has been a warrior with immeasurable wisdom.

To me, the most amazing story here has been the outpouring of love and support from Katherine and Jay's friends, particularly those at Bel Air Pres, which became their home after they relocated here from the South. "This is the body of Christ," a pastor said at a special service the Sunday after the next step in Katherine's life began, referring to the way the community had rallied, the way people had forgone work and sleep to comfort and counsel. Katherine's friends also started a little movement to memorize Romans 8, a portion of Paul's letter that reminds us we are "more than conquerers through him who loved us."

At the prayer service, Katherine's mom, Kim Arnold, joked that her daughter had always wanted to be famous; her story now has been told on news programs in Jay's native Montgomery, Ala., where his father is a Baptist pastor, and last night on Fox 11 in L.A. Here is the link to the Fox report and the transcription of a bit that discusses how faith has buoyed the Wolfs, Arnolds and their church family:
Fox: Prayer is what this family knows and does best.

Jay: God has given us everything, in saving her life and in healing her in miraculous ways everyday.

Fox: Still in intensive care, Katherine is showing signs of recovery -- the answers, say the Wolfs, to their prayers.

Pastor Wolf: I believe I am sitting on the frontrow of a miracle, and God is showing up and showing off.

NY Jews protest attack on teen

New York Chasids responded with a lot more anger and outrage to the assault and robbery of a Jewish teen early Friday morning than Jews in Pico-Roberston did this time last year, when a spate of Shabbat muggings had the community on edge, or the attack last fall on the prominent rabbi of Young Israel of Century City. The difference seems to be that the L.A. attacks were crimes of opportunities while NY authorities are looking into Friday's incident as a possible hate crime.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Evangelical leaders: global warming 'uncertain'

Oy vey. It's statements like these that convince atheists good evangelicals have no brains:
WASHINGTON – While it may seem like everyone believes in global warming and the impending catastrophe it will bring, a group of conservative Christians countered that message Thursday by launching a national campaign to gather one million signatures for a statement that says Christians must not believe in all the hype about global warming.

The “We Get It!” declaration, which currently has nearly 100 signers, is backed by prominent Christians including Tony Perkins of Family Research Council, Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family, award-winning radio host Janet Parshall, and U.S. Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma.

What supporters of the statement seek is to inform Christians about the biblical perspective on the environment and the poor, and to encourage them to look at the hard evidence, which they say does not support the devastating degree of climate change claimed by mainstream society.

“How can you create policies on uncertain science?” asked Dr. Barrett Duke, vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

“How can you say what it is that needs to be done when you don’t really know and you don’t really have real consensus on the state of the problem or what is causing the problem?”
I've never understood who the Tony Perkinses and James Dobsonses of the world speak for. It's certainly not me or a lot of other evangelicals like the NAE's Richard Cizik. Maybe the pope.

Sitting down with NY's most influential Muslim

Reuters religion editor and FaithWorld administrator, Tom Heneghan, recently interviewed Mohammad Shamsi Ali, New York's "most influential Islamic leader" and the Muslim emissary to local police and the mayor's. Here's what Ali had to say about being Muslim in America and dealing with radical Islamists:
“We feel at home here. To be honest with you, those people who are really sincere with their religion and understand the religion properly, they see many things Islamic in America, more Islamic than in many Muslim countries. First of all, freedom and Islam are like fish and water. Islam cannot live without freedom … Here in America we have freedom. You can express yourself freely. It is guaranteed by the Constitution. Then you have justice for all, equality. We have to say there are some interruptions because of the security. But it doesn’t at all change the real nature of America. For those Muslims who understand the teaching, this will make them feel that America really belongs to them and they belong to America.”


“Some Muslims like the Islamic Thinkers Society are against Jews and against non-Muslims. I consider them ignorant and in need of an education. I feel a deep responsibility to bring them back to the right track. It makes me worry when I see what Imam Shamsi Ali, 23 April 2008/Tom Heneghanhappened in Britain, in London with Hizb ut Tahrir and Al Muhajiroun. They are very much fundamentalist radicals. I don’t think these will give any benefit to our community, nothing at all. Among the Jewish community there are also fairly radical people. It is the responsibility of us in the middle to strengthen our unity and come together and try to find solutions to problems that surround our communities. I say to non-Muslims: let us do the job but have confidence in us … In a meeting with the NYPD, I told them we acknowledge the presence of radicals in the Muslim community — but it doesn’t mean we support them. In fact, the radicals are marginalised in many ways right now … So I don’t feel we need aggressiveness. I feel we need to reach out … We need confidence in us (from non-Muslims) and we need support. Don’t put suspicions over us. We are not confident enough to do the job. All good Muslims must have good intentions for America because this is the country where we live and we consider this our own country. The opposite is true too — if you’re not good Muslims, you’re not good Americans.”

Hagee: Hitler God's chosen to get Jews to Palestine

The Revealer unearthed a scary recording from the Rev. John Hagee.
in which Hagee elaborates on his view that Hitler and the Nazis were divine agents, sent by God to (with gruesome inefficiency it would seem) chase Europe's Jews towards Palestine. In his 2006 book "Jerusalem Countdown", Hagee proposed that anti-Semitism, and thus the Holocaust, was the fault of Jews themselves - the result of an age old divine curse incurred by the ancient Hebrews through worshiping idols and passed, down the ages, to all Jews now alive. In the sermon Hagee also clarifies a point, on his theological views, that has long concerned me...[Note: excerpt from John Hagee sermon, given probably in the late 1990's - with its themes plied into the John Hagee books "Battle For Jerusalem" (2001, reprinted 2003) and "Jerusalem Countdown" (2006), begins 1:00 minute into the video]

Einstein's 'childish' letter sells for $400k

Albert Einstein's letter dismissing the Bible as "a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish" fetched a real adult price at auction. The collector signing the $400,000 check was not identified.

I cross-posted my earlier mention of this letter at Christianity Today' Liveblog. The comments turned into an interesting back and forth between evangelicals and atheists. Such as:
I dare say I could find many religious "zealots" who have a far higher intellectual capacity than yourselves and who certainly do not have primitive minds. You betray great intellectual insecurity yourselves by resorting to name-calling rather than actual debate.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Open thread on Palestinian awareness week

I returned to UC Irvine today for the final day of Palestinian awareness week. Amir Abdel Malik Ali, who, days after the terror attack on a Jerusalem yeshiva, stood in front of the Israeli consulate in L.A. and called Zionists the new Nazis, delivered a lunchtime tirade about America the imperialist, in bed with the Zionists, and the quick death that would soon befall one and then the other. I agree Rome is burning and worry about what that would mean for Israel, but I try not to undercut my argument by praising Hamas and Hezbollah as freedom fighters.

The scene at UC Irvine, however, was a lot tamer than in years past, and I'll be writing more about that later. For now, I just wanted to share one of the photos I snapped, this of a torn and bloodied Israeli flag.

The comment board is open.

The dangerous world of religion reporting

I've been there, attacked by fellow Christians for critical articles I've written about them.

Religion reporting has proven not only challenging but humorous for a Christian named Greenberg. Christians blame negative stories on my Jewish byline; Jews offer guilt-laden responses to articles that buck the corporate line (or what they wish were); and Muslims, I think, don't know what to expect.

Once considered a backwater of journalism, the God beat feels to me quite chosen, home to immensely important and interesting news. Religion, after all, is the rubric through which each person uniquely sees the world. Science, education, politics, entertainment -- it regularly serves as an undercurrent in these fields. (That was, in fact, part of my pitch at The Sun three years ago when they were looking for a reporter for the newly created position and I was eager to get out of Rialto.) The religion angle also is occasionally relevant when trying to understand peoples' beliefs in God, their perspectives on the life hereafter and that which gives every day meaning.

Think of the God beat as the Jerusalem of journalism. Seriously.

On this topic, Tim Townsend, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's excellent religion reporter, has an amazing piece in the current Columbia Journalism Review. He discusses the religious origins of the United States, the Dover monkey trial in 2005 and the challenges of sensitively reporting on other peoples' religious beliefs.

The portion I found most fascinating, however, was the ugly description of what happened when Townsend wrote an article that was considered too favorable to CAIR and got on the bad side of the Little Green Footballs blog community. Here it is (and was):
Just a few weeks ago, in late February, I got an e-mail from the Council on American-Islamic Relations. This was not unusual. Like most beat reporters, I get hundreds of press releases a day. Some I look at, some I don’t. From CAIR alone, I typically receive from one to three e-mails every day, and I had never acted on one before. But this one was different. It involved a mosque I cover in south St. Louis. The CAIR press release said that the FBI had been asked to investigate several comments on two blogs, which threatened a minaret being built outside the mosque.

I had covered the groundbreaking of the minaret—the first to be built in St. Louis. The mayor had been there to praise pluralism and throw a little dirt around for the cameras. In Muslim countries, the minaret is the tower from which the muezzin chants the call to prayer. But as I noted in the original story, this particular 107-foot minaret was symbolic, not functional.

Now I wrote a second story, which was maybe twelve column-inches long and ran the next day on the bottom of B2. It was workmanlike—it did what it had to do for our readers—and nothing more. I wrote that the author of a local blog, Gateway Pundit: Observations of the World from the Heart of Jesusland, had posted some photos of the minaret covered in scaffolding. One of the photo captions read, “Those calls to prayers ought to go over really well with the people of this South St. Louis neighborhood.”

I quoted the imam, who confirmed what I’d already written—that the minaret had no sound system or speakers and would not be used to call Muslims to prayer. I also quoted an FBI spokesman as well as a CAIR spokesman, and then detailed some of the comments that had alarmed Muslims and caused them to inform the FBI.

For example, one visitor to Gateway Pundit had written: “It is really hard on us white, nonMuslims to have to live with these folks taking over our neighborhood and community. Our government helping these people relocate into America’s heartland is like inviting the enemy into your camp. It’s totally disgusting.” On another blog, Little Green Footballs, a visitor named “Amer1can” upped the ante: “Would be a shame if it were to be vandalized or destroyed. Just a shame I tell you….wink wink STL youth.” Another visitor to the same blog added: “I suppose dynamite would be considered an extreme response.”

That was it. Twelve inches. Bottom of B2.

But of course, B2 doesn’t really exist anymore. Not on the Internet. The next morning, the e-mails started coming in at around nine. Many of them complained that I had written a story “planted” by CAIR, which was, I was told over and over again, a front for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, and a fundraising arm for other Islamist terrorist organizations. But it was only after my testy e-mail exchange with Charles Johnson, the proprietor of Little Green Footballs, that the real fun began—especially after Johnson posted our correspondence on the blog.

Over the next two days, I received more than one hundred e-mails from Little Green Footballs readers. One suggested I should look into a job at Taco Bell, since I was obviously going to be fired for messing with Johnson. (Little Green Footballs fans credit Johnson with taking down Dan Rather after his 60 Minutes story on George W. Bush’s National Guard service.) Another called me “a self-righteous numskull with the literary prowess of a dodo bird. A dodo bird that dropped out of college and is on drugs.” Still another suggested that there was “no way you could possibly be any more of a dick.”

In two related threads on Johnson’s blog, which ran to nearly 1,500 comments, my photo, bio, and home address were all posted. Someone ran my name through an anagram site and listed the results (Demon Shitty Town, Howdy Mitten Snot, Hindmost Yet Wont). Another participant wrote a song, to be sung to the “Toys ‘R’ Us” theme: “I don’t want to be a St. Louis Post-Dispatch journalist, because if I was. There wouldn’t be heaven after death.” And let’s not forget the haiku:
Tim shills for haters While wearing moderate robes He does not fool us
Besides being called ignorant, arrogant, balding, stupid, rude, fat (my new nickname was Burger Boy), lazy, and incompetent, I was depicted as a Satanic baby. My mother was insulted. I was accused of lying about my academic degrees, having a comb-over, being a paid agent of the Saudi government, and acquiring “numerous social diseases.” I was, apparently, a plagiarist and a terrorist. Someone did a search to see if I was a pedophile. Others stuck with more generalized invective:
Tim Townsend—you’re a smarmy little f---, aren’t you? [my editing]

Townsend really should have checked on Dan Rather’s career before he messed with Charles.

What a chickenshit little cocksucker. Another journalouse prick with a face for radio.
Finally, there were suggestions that I should be murdered. To his credit, Johnson deleted the death threats and the comments with my address. Blessed are the peacemakers.

Bush to Israel: 'Masada will not fall again'

Speaking today to Israel's parliament, the Knesset, President Bush said the bond between the United States and Israel was unbreakable and promised that "Masada will not fall again."
"Some people suggest that if the United States would just break ties with Israel, all our problems in the Middle East would go away," Bush said in his prepared address.

"This is a tired argument that buys into the propaganda of our enemies, and America rejects it utterly. Israel's population may be just over 7 million. But when you confront terror and evil, you are 307 million strong, because America stands with you."
Masada is the desert fortress near the Dead Sea where, after the destruction of the Second Temple, 960 Jewish zealots committed suicide rather than surrender to the Romans.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

GodTube likes big bucks

I've never used GodTube, the evangelical equivalent of YouTube, but apparently enough people have that a London hedge fund thought the company deserved a $30 million investment. The NY Times explains:
When it was formally introduced last August, GodTube was the fastest-growing Web site, as rated by comScore, attracting 1.7 million unique visitors for the month. The traffic remains about the same today. “People thirst for more than just a once-a-week relationship with the Lord and Savior,” said Jason Illian, Big Jump Media’s chief strategy officer. “They desire something that they can live out 24/7.”

Unlike its secular cousin, YouTube, GodTube is proudly filtered: all content must gain approval from the site’s headquarters in Plano, Tex. Vulgar and overtly sexual material isn’t allowed. Neither are videos promoting other religions — for that, there are and (Appropriately enough, the domain name is for sale.)

Mocking Christianity is definitely not allowed. James O’Malley, a 20-year-old from Leicestershire, in Britain, posted a series of videos last year that jeered at evangelical theology. During a videotaped walking tour of the Natural History Museum in London, he referred to a plesiosaur fossil as a “liar-saur” and noted that volcanoes tended to erupt in non-Christian countries.

“The first couple of videos, where I spoke about Biblical infallibility and homosexuality, remained on GodTube and were treated like any other video,” Mr. O’Malley said. “It was only when I posted a third video suggesting that the earth was flat and that astronauts were part of the ‘round earth’ conspiracy that they finally cottoned on to the fact it was a hoax, and I was banned.”

More in line with GodTube’s spirit is “Baby Got Book,” a satire of the rapper Sir Mix-A-Lot’s ode to the full-size derrière, “Baby Got Back.” In it, Dan Smith, a 34-year-old minister at a church near Cleveland, simultaneously praises godly women and pokes fun at aspects of Christian culture. He dances around with a gold neck medallion reading KJV (for King James Version) and tweaks Sir Mix-A-Lot’s lyrics so that “butt” becomes “Bible” and “she looks like a total prostitute” turns into “looks like Mother Teresa.”

The video has logged more views on GodTube than it has on YouTube. Mr. Smith says he appreciates the exposure, though he prefers promoting his music in places where he can reach nonbelievers, like call-in radio shows. “I just know there aren’t a lot of unchurched or de-churched people going to GodTube,” he said.
I just watched "Baby Got Book" while typing this, and it was worth a few good laughs. Not $30 million, but at least $5. I'm interested to see how GodTube makes money off its popularity.

More Ruth Wisse, Jews and Power

Nextbook's second annual "festival of ideas" will be held Sunday in New York. This year's theme is "Jews and Power" and it will feature thinkers like J.J. Goldberg and Ruth Wisse. In preparation, Wisse, who recently wrote a book bearing the same name as the conference, penned a piece for The Forward that argues how the world would have changed if the Jews had remained the masters of their own universe.
Had Jews always remained a self-governing people in their land, there would have been no Crusader wars over Jerusalem, no Spanish Inquisition and no Holocaust. Karl Marx would not have concluded that “the bill of exchange is the Jew’s actual god” and Stalin would not have mounted a lethal campaign against Jewish “rootless cosmopolitans.” Host nations would not have wreaked upon Jews some of the most terrible evils in the history of humankind. The Jewish contribution to the welfare of the world would have been all the greater had the Jews managed to secure for themselves their aboriginal land.
She talks about how Jews saw their exile as punishment for poor Torah observance and the challenges of Jewish self-governance in Europe, which usually ended in expulsion, and then concludes:
Today’s Jews rightfully resent the assaults against them, wishing that they could be allowed to live in peace. New generations of Israelis dislike having to soldier; American Jewish students dislike having to defend Israel on campus. But paradoxically, Jews cannot achieve peace for themselves, never mind for the rest of the world, unless they convince their enemies they are unbeatable and home for good. Jews can only help to “repair the world” by insisting that their assailants begin to repair themselves.

College administrator fired over 'anti-gay' column

You can say a lot of things as a tenured faculty member that you could not say as a service worker or administrator -- positions that are not tenured. Case in point: Crystal Dixon was fired as the associate vp of human resources at the University of Toledo after she wrote a column criticizing comparisons between the drive for legalizing same-sex unions and the civil rights movement.
I cannot wake up tomorrow and not be a Black woman. I am genetically and biologically a Black woman and very pleased to be so as my Creator intended. Daily, thousands of homosexuals make a life decision to leave the gay lifestyle evidenced by the growing population of PFOX (Parents and Friends of Ex Gays) and Exodus International just to name a few. Frequently, the individuals report that the impetus to their change of heart and lifestyle was a transformative experience with God; a realization that their choice of same-sex practices wreaked havoc in their psychological and physical lives.
Dixon has sought the help of the conservative ACLU, the Thomas More Law Center.

Creator's note: I've been trying to publish this post and another on "Jews and Power" all day. However, I have been unable due to some irregular blogging issues that should be resolved soon.

Inside the wacky world of Christian pop culture

At my high school graduation party, a friend who was not a Christian walked up and commented on the music playing over the outdoor speakers at my parents' house.

"Why is it," he asked, "that Christian bands always have the best musicians?"

I was a bit perplexed: The tunes he was hearing belonged to Midtown, a pop-punk quartet whose members, as far as I knew, were not Christian.

I also disagreed with my friend's assessment. I mean, I was a big fan of MxPx and Slick Shoes ... but the best musicians? Hardly. (For evidence, listen to"Rappin for Jesus" by Stephen Wiley.)

Until a few years ago, Christian bands occasionally would have a radio hit or two -- dc Talk and Jars of Clay had their moment, as did Sixpence None the Richer -- and then disappear back into oblivion.

Switchfoot, whose CD a friend of mine picked up in a South Dakota pawn shop during our 2001 road trip around the country (that's a different, longer story), seems to have bucked that trend. Being heard on TV promos and Star 98.7, or whatever the pop rock station is in your town, for years to follow, Switchfoot has been one of the lucky few who have broken through without significantly changing their message, though I would argue they too have watered it down and published one really bad album.

This music is part of the bigger, "parallel universe of Christian pop culture," as Daniel Radosh dubs the industry in his new book "Rapture Ready!" (Radosh's list of the top 10 Christian songs begins with Larry Norman's "Why Don't You Look Into Jesus?")

"Rapture Ready!" details the exploits of a secular New York Jew on a quest to the center of evangelical culture. Radosh visits the International Christian Retail Show, the Holy Land Experience and Stephen Baldwin World; serves as part of the mob calling for Christ's crucifixion in Arkansas' Great Passion Play; and goes backstage with Bibleman, AKA "Batman for Jesus." I'll forgive Radosh for avoiding VeggieTales night at a minor league baseball stadium and the giants who break burning stacks of bricks in Jesus' name.

Radosh intersperses Christian camp with more sober accounts of economics and theology. Chapter 4 focuses on the Bible-publishing business and originally appeared in The New Yorker, and Chapter 5, which, believe it or not, appeared in Playboy, is about pre-millenialism and the "Left Behind" phenomenon.

"In the end," Brian McLaren, author of "A New Kind of Christian," proclaims on the book jacket, "he offers evaluations and insights that might be considered downright prophetic, and compassionate too. No evangelical insider could have done as good a job as Daniel Radosh."

He's definitely more sensitive to things he finds strange than Matt Taibbi. The book has been well-reviewed by Relevant magazine and The Forward, among others. I read through a chunk of it last night and, for some reason, found the style quite similar to A.J. Jacobs' in "The Year of Living Biblically." (Jacobs, possibly not by coincidence, also wrote a review for the book jacket.)

In the intro, Radosh explains that Christian culture is no laughing matter, at least not from a business perspective: It is a $7 billion a year industry.

"At some point," Hanna Rosin wrote for, "Radosh asks the obvious question":
Didn't Jesus chase the money changers out of the temple? In other words, isn't there something wrong with so thoroughly commercializing all aspects of faith? For this, the Christian pop-culture industry has a ready answer. Evangelizing and commercializing have much in common. In the "spiritual marketplace" (as it's called), Christianity is a brand that seeks to dominate. Like Coke, it wants to hold onto its followers and also win over new converts. As with advertisers, the most important audience is young people and teenagers, who are generally brand loyalists. Hence, Bibleman and Christian rock are the spiritual equivalent of New Coke. Christian trinkets—a WWJD bracelet, a "God is my DJ" T-shirt—function more like Coca-Cola T-shirts or those cute stuffed polar bears. They telegraph to the community that the wearer is a proud Christian and that this is a cool thing to be—which should, in theory, invite eager curiosity.
This is significant because, according to research by The Barna Group, 61 percent of twentysomethings were "spiritually active" teens but have since lost their religion. Christians leaders see culture as the new channel through which to reach the lost and distracted. Radosh writes:
A less reliable statistic -- but one that has galvanized pastors who believe it reflects what they see in the pews -- is that if current trends continue, only 4 percent of today's Christian teens will be "Bible-believing Christians" as adults.
"Less reliable" is far too generous. That factoid is pure fiction. But, nonetheless, Christian culture can increase the fervency of the faithful, something I saw countless times as a teen at P.O.D. and Dogwood concerts (the latter for which I actually skipped my senior prom). They may not be the best musicians, but their message often carries more weight than typical Christian influencers.

As Radosh relays in the first few words of the book when describing a concert on a rural Kansas airfield:
A lanky teenager made his way out of the crow and ran to where his friends were waiting on the periphery, sweat smearing his thick black eyeliner. "Awesome performance." He grinned broadly. "They prayed like three times in a twenty-minute set."