Friday, February 29, 2008

Bloomberg as Obama's running mate?

Putting New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on the ticket with Barack Obama might finally quell those Internet rumors about Obama being an undercover Muslim and an anti-Semite and a Palestinian sympathizer. But would Bloomberg play second fiddle? The NY Daily News, via the Bintel Blog, editorializes about why he might and why Obama should inquire.

Bloomberg gives Obama instant economic credibility, exemplifies postpartisan partnerships, offers a deep resume, even deeper pockets, experience confronting terrorism and the ability to think big. The downside?
Let's be frank, some fraction of Americans would vote against any black-Jewish ticket. In a close election, that could hurt.

But the rewards far outweigh the risks. With a bold move, Obama could signal he really is a different kind of politician — and one who can win it all.

As one New York political heavyweight commented recently: No one wants to be the vice president ... until they're asked to be vice president.

Visit Sderot: Zionism reborn

The Los Angeles Jewish community has been forced this week to take notice of the daily rocket attacks that for the past seven years have been visited upon Sderot and the surrounding kibbutzim and moshavim. The Live for Sderot concert attracted more than 2,000 Tuesday night, and 10 children from the western Negev have been sharing their stories at LA college campuses and high schools.

Still, it's difficult to grasp the precariousness of life along the Gaza border unless you visit. After I spent two days there last summer, my perspective changed dramatically. Starting today, an Israeli travel company is offering that first-hand experience.
the trips will leave from Tel Aviv stopping in a few places along the way including locations of significant battles in the 1948 War of Independence. They will visit areas blossoming with the coming of spring in the northern Negev area and then continue onto Sderot for a two-hour visit.

In the rocket-battered town, the organizers have not planned any specific activity. They are hoping that participants will roam the town's streets and spontaneously speak with residents about what they are going through and purchase products at Sderot's various commercial centers.

Smadar Bat-Adam, the person responsible for the Eretz Nehederet tour, told Ynet that "in every bus, there will be a tour guide who will add to the trip. In addition, Uzi Landau, (former Minister) Avigdor Kahalani and others will be among the passengers and they will also give explanations. ...

Landau said that "Sderot is a manifestation of Zionism renewing itself, we are turning to all who are Zionist and care about the land." However, the former minister emphasized that "the calling is for the entire public – from left to right. We're touring without political arguments – this is not a place for politics – everyone can be his own solution. We're going in order to tour, to identify and to aid the resident by purchasing (products from them)."
(The top photo came from Rick Richman's blog, where he recently has been chronically in pictures and words the situation in Sderot.)

For sale: 'Sketch that roiled the Muslim world'

AARHUS, Denmark -- Kurt Westergaard is in hiding from Islamic militants who want him dead. Now, the Danish cartoonist says he's ready to part with the source of his travails, a small ink sketch of the Prophet Muhammad with a bomb in his turban.

But first there is the ticklish question of price.

"I would like to think that it has some value," says Mr. Westergaard, the 72-year-old creator of one of the world's most famous cartoons and one that inflamed Muslims world-wide. "It is a symbol of democracy and freedom of expression. I think I should have a little money for this," he says.

[Kurt Westergaard]

The drawing is locked in a bank vault while the cartoonist shuttles between temporary havens the Danish secret police have found for him around this blustery port city. His is by far the best known of 12 Muhammad-related cartoons published in September 2005 by Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. But how do you fix the value of something that auction houses won't touch, that museums won't hang on their walls and that still inspires murderous passions?

Two weeks ago, Danish authorities said they had foiled a plot to kill Mr. Westergaard in his home. Seventeen Danish newspapers, outraged and eager to show solidarity, reprinted his drawing. Muslims again took to the streets. Iran and others demanded an apology. "I always had a feeling this cartoon crisis would not end," says Mr. Westergaard. "Now I know."

Yet the new round of trouble may only increase the cartoon's worth eventually. "Things gain value from public interest and history," notes Sebastian Lerche, a director of Denmark's biggest auction house, Bruun Rasmussen. He is quick to add he has no interest in testing the market: "We see no point in offending millions of people," he says.

Some Muslims here want the bomb-in-a-turban drawing destroyed. Salah Suleiman, an activist in a mosque that helped whip up the fury over it in early 2006, delights in the artist's troubles and says no amount of money can save him from God's wrath: "He is living like a rat.... He is living in hell already."

This story from today's Wall Street Journal is headlined "Price of Notoriety," and doesn't Westergaard know it. Coincidentally, The Jewish Journal had an op-ed today from the culture editor of Westergaard's paper.

Sadly, the plot to kill Westergaard is not an isolated story, but part of a broader trend that risks undermining free speech in Europe and around the world. Consider the following recent events: In Oslo, a gallery has censored three small watercolor paintings showing the head of the prophet Muhammad on a dog's body, by the Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who has been under police protection since the fall of 2007. In Holland, the municipal museum in The Hague recently refused to show photos of gay men wearing the masks of the prophet Muhammad and his son Ali by the Iranian-born artist Sooreh Hera; Hera has received several death threats and is in hiding. In Belarus, an editor has been sentenced to three years in a forced labor camp after republishing some of Jyllands-Posten's Muhammad cartoons. In Egypt, bloggers are in jail after having "insulted Islam." In Afghanistan, 23-year-old Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh has been sentenced to death because he distributed "blasphemous" material about the mistreatment of women in Islam. And in India, Bengal writer Taslima Nasreen is in a safe house after having been threatened by people who don't like her books.

Every one of the above cases speaks to the same problem: a global battle for the right to free speech. The cases are different, and you can't compare the legal systems in Egypt and Norway, but the justifications for censorship and self-censorship are similar in different parts of the world: Religious feelings and taboos need to be treated with a kind of sensibility and respect that other feelings and ideas cannot command.

This position boils down to a simple rule: If you respect my taboo, I'll respect yours. That was the rule of the game during the Cold War until people like Vaclav Havel, Lech Walesa, Andrei Sakharov and other dissenting voices behind the Iron Curtain insisted on another rule: It is not cultures, religions or political systems that enjoy rights. Human beings enjoy rights, and certain principles like the ones embedded in the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights are universal.

Unfortunately, misplaced sensitivity is being used by tyrants and fanatics to justify murder and silence criticism.

Eating his way to the spiritual center of LA

For the LA Weekly's Jonathan Gold, who last spring became the first food critic to win the Pulitzer Prize, eating is a spiritual experience, a journey that has led him to the many dark counters and illuminated eateries in this town. Through eating, Gold, who is Jewish, believes he has found the true identity of a city with more than 100 spoken languages and 600 religious denominations. I wrote a short profile of him for the current issue of UCLA Magazine.
There's just one problem when trying to grab lunch in Westwood Village with L.A.'s culinary connoisseur: He can't think of anywhere to go. "There is sort of a disconnect between the words 'favorite restaurant' and 'Westwood,' " he says. "But I'll think about it."

Gold settles on Flame, a Persian restaurant a few blocks south of Wilshire Boulevard, a corridor that he says makes up for the Village's lack of choices — there's Ambala Dhaba for Indian food, Sunnin for Lebanese and Junior's Deli serving up Jewish soups and meats. This will be Gold's first of several visits before he reviews Flame, which after the meal he determines offers a common Persian menu executed to near perfection.

He typically frequents a restaurant under review five times over the course of a month to get an in-depth sense of what the restaurant is about; in one notable case, he ate at the Nice Time Deli in San Gabriel 17 times.

"It was a Taiwanese place. I absolutely hated the food," he recalls. "There is a certain sweet, smoky taste that is very off-putting — almost like liquid cigarette smoke. They like mucousy texture. There is something called bitter melon, which is like cancer medicine; you eat it and your eyes pop out. ... But I recognized that they were cooking it exactly how people liked it."

Gold's taste is curious and critical, sensitive and incisive. Take, for example, this portion of "Home of the Porno Burrito," one of 10 columns that earned Gold the Pulitzer.

"The potato taco may be El Atacor's enduring glory, but its fame in the online world comes mostly from its Super Burrito, a foil-wrapped construction the size and girth of your forearm, which drapes over a paper plate like a giant, oozing sea cucumber or, perhaps more to the point, like an appendage of John Holmes," he wrote. "It is impossible to look at a Super Burrito without marveling at the flaccid, masculine mass of the thing. It is probably even harder to bite into it without laughing."

Stop me if you've heard this one

Anita Renfroe didn't become a star overnight. It took a few months of her "Mom Song" video bumping around YouTube to go viral, and then, almost overnight, she became an unlikely and lovable entertainer.
Renfroe is a suburban mom from flyover country — specifically, Cobb County, Ga., home of Newt Gingrich. She is round and soft, loves butter, carbs and sugar and worries routinely about her weight. She is maternal to just about everyone, even people she doesn’t know very well. She pinches pennies and worries that her spotless house isn’t clean enough. Renfroe is a former stay-at-home mom who for some years home-schooled her kids. Now that those children are past the age of consent, she still cannot stop telling them what to do; she is always just a little bit anxious.

Renfroe is also a devout Christian and for about eight years has been slowly building a career as a comedian on the Christian women’s circuit. Like Mike Huckabee’s easy humor, Renfroe’s wit comes as a surprise to nonevangelicals. She performs what she calls “estrogen-flavored musical comedy” in large halls and arenas, often with an inspirational group called Women of Faith. At those performances she sells her DVDs and humorous books with religious undertones: “If It’s Not One Thing, It’s Your Mother,” “If You Can’t Lose It, Decorate It” and “Purse-onality.” “I love the way God lets you use everything in your life,” she says about her chosen career as a comic. “It’s cool how it all comes together.”
The headline for this article from the New York Times Magazine, "Did You Hear the One About the Christian Comedian?," reminded me of this sort of lame article I wrote a few years ago. (Coincidentally, the magazine's piece has bristled a lot of Christians because of the condescending tone, discussed here.)
Comedian Mark Fitter's greeting is also his opening joke.

"Hi, my name's Mark, and I am a pastor of a church."

Audience members and bar patrons laugh and clap. Someone shouts, "Amen!" Another, "Hallelujah!"

Performing on the same bill as comics whose repertoire revolves around lewd innuendos and blatant bawdiness, the Victorville resident cracks clean jokes.

"You know, the tough thing about being a pastor is most people only see you work on Sundays," Fitter said as he performed at Tuesday at Omaha Jack's Grillhouse and Brewery in Rancho Cucamonga.

"And most give you a hard time about it. 'Hey Mark, it must be great having a job where you only have to work one day a week.' That really ticks me off because I don't work one day a week I only work an hour per week."

Cheesy reporting aside, there is an industry of Christian comedians -- just like there are Christian karate instructors and Christian tattoo parlors. Between 2002 and 2005 alone, the Christian Comedy Association grew tenfold, from 35 to 350. Clean comedy is not always humorous (something I witnessed Sunday at a celebration of Biola's 100th birthday) but its wholesome, often encouraging and sometimes entertaining.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

'The Nazi in the hot tub'

Jews like to raise money. And two weeks ago, during the LimmudLA super-Jew megaconference in Costa Mesa, my editor found an unusual cause.
I headed for the hotel hot tub.

There were a few Limmudniks already there, and one man with his back to me, lounging in the bubbles. I stepped in beside him, said my requisite, "Ahhhhh," then turned to say hi.

And noticed -- I could not not notice -- that his chest was covered with a large tattoo of a swastika.

The man was big, maybe 6-feet, 250 pounds. And when I say there was a swastika on his chest, I mean it was blue black, inked in one-inch wide lines and went from nipple to nipple. My first thought, of course, was, "Maybe that's the Navajo swastika." My second was, "Please let that be the Navajo swastika." My third was, "No, that's not the Navajo swastika."
Rob Eshman got to talking to the guy -- his name was Don -- and learned that the tattoo was a membership card for the Aryan Brotherhood, which his tubmate had joined in an Arizona prison. Don said he wanted to get the tattoo removed but couldn't afford the expense. Rob offered to walk back into the hotel lobby and raise the money; he said he could get it in 45 minutes.
The man had a tense, unsettled energy. He was twice my size, and we were alone in a hot tub at night, practically naked. It didn't seem the place to explore his ill will toward the Jewish people. I just wanted to keep things practical.

We set a time to meet later and exchange numbers.

At the appointed hour, Don wasn't anywhere to be found. I didn't know his room number or last name, and I tried in vain to find him.

In the meantime, telling the story to others at Limmud, I had raised enough in pledges for Don to get his swastika removed, get lipo, a facelift, a ranch house in Encino -- whatever he wanted. But Don was gone. I laid out the whole story to Jessica at the Hilton front desk, and she passed my e-mail and phone number on to all the guests registered from Phoenix, but they claimed never to have heard of Don.

Which Jews get to decide the fate of Jerusalem

Shmuel Rosner, who is Ha'aretz man in Washington, has an article on Slate debating whether Diaspora Jews should have a say in the future of Jerusalem.
Olmert's life is complicated by more than just Israelis' opposition to compromises on Jerusalem. In the last several months, he has also faced a revolt by diaspora Jews, who are making demands strangely analogous to the claims of Muslims in the broader Arab world. Abbas can't give up on Muslims' historic claims over the holy sites of Jerusalem, and Olmert is hearing similar voices from the Jewish community, especially in the United States. The more extreme advocates for diaspora input say he does not have the right to compromise on Jerusalem without broader Jewish consent. More moderate voices concede that the final decision will be taken by Israel, but they demand to be consulted, whatever that means.

Israelis do not necessarily like the idea of diaspora Jews meddling in the affairs of the state. A survey conducted for the Jewish organization B'nai B'rith International a couple of weeks ago revealed that Israelis' view on this issue is largely driven by their political stance. The more traditional an Israeli is, the more he opposes concessions in Jerusalem: Fifty-one percent of secular Jews, 80.1 percent of somewhat observant Jews, and 91.1 percent of strictly observant Jews oppose concessions in Jerusalem.

And what about the right of American Jews to be part of the decision-making process? Thirty-one-point-seven percent of secular Israelis do not want them involved, but for religious Israelis the opposite is true: Almost 60 percent want U.S. involvement, probably hoping it would make Olmert's life more difficult when it comes to the holy city.
This is an unbelievably, endlessly challenging issue. Jerusalem is the eternal homes of Jews around the world. It is also linchpin of any peace plan and the most difficult element for either side to compromise on, a reality Jeffrey Goldberg discusses in "Prisoners."

When I was researching my story on Jewish hawks, I asked Gary Ratner, western head of the American Jewish Congress, who speaks for Jerusalem. He said, "Diaspora Jewry have an absolute right to weigh in. Jerusalem belongs to the Jewish people, not the Israelis."

Yesterday, though, I spoke with Tom Dine, the man who built the American Israel Public Affairs Committee into the mastodon, save for extinction, it has become, and he said the only way to increase Israeli security in its hostile neighborhood is to realize a practical peace plan with the Palestinians. That means, he said, budging on the boundaries of Jerusalem.

"I know it is an emotional issue," he said. "I used to throw out that red meat when I was at AIPAC."

Prime Minister Olmert learned that the hard way when he floated the possibility of dividing the Holy City. (An Orthodox rabbi in L.A. similarly caught flak when he asked American Jews to let Israel do its own negotiating.)
The prime minister's suspicions were further inflamed by a letter from Ronald Lauder, the leader of the World Jewish Congress. Lauder, a supporter of Olmert's rival, Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, wrote that "[w]hile recognizing Israel's inherent prerogatives as a sovereign state, it is inconceivable that any changes in the status of our Holy City will be implemented without giving the Jewish people, as a whole, a voice in the decision." Olmert retaliated by canceling a planned speech to the WJC's board of governors.

Elsewhere, Olmert kept his anger in check. His advisers told him his attitude had alienated U.S. Jewish leaders—leaders Israel wants to keep onside. According to a recent American Jewish Committee survey of Jewish-American public opinion, a majority of diaspora Jews oppose compromises in Jerusalem. Complicating matters even further, the more active on Israeli issues the Jew is, the more he is prone to oppose concessions.

So, in a conversation with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in mid-January, Olmert was more conciliatory: He told the attendees he wants their voices to be heard on the future of Jerusalem. Last week, meeting many of those leaders in Jerusalem, he tried, again, to calm things down. He told them Jerusalem "will be the last issue that is negotiated upon. It is the most sensitive issue and the most difficult." And he assured them he will listen.

But the exact role of world Jews was not determined, and it never can be. Not in a way that can satisfy both diaspora leaders and Israelis. Either non-Israeli Jews have a voice and some influence in this process, on the premise that Jerusalem belongs to all Jews, or they don't, because Israelis get to make decisions related to their country, their security, and their daily lives. Olmert is right in thinking this question is nothing more than a trap. If he consults with diaspora leaders and goes on to reject their advice, they'll say he didn't act in good faith. If he accepts their opinion as a real factor, how will he ever be able to reach an agreement?
And, as Rosner mentions in the following paragraph, this debate hasn't even broached the "Christian opinion." The article then ends as it began: without resolution.

'This is the end, beautiful friend ...'

You know when a friend dies and you are so paralyzed by grief that you can't mourn their loss in words? That was how I felt yesterday afternoon when I got an e-mail about the staff cuts visiting my former paper tomorrow.
* 22 jobs will be eliminated Friday, bringing us to 100 total in the newsroom.
* the layoff package will be the same as the voluntary buyout package last year.
* anyone who wants to voluntarily step forward and take a buyout (same terms) has until noon Thursday to let ron or melissa know.
* those affected include both PT and FT; both guild and non-guild
* ron will stay.
* ron will notify those affected on friday.
* those who take voluntary buyouts will affect the list of those on friday.
* if you have jobshare suggestion, etc., let him know.
* industry and us are screwed, but i still believe in what we're doing and have some hope.
* will help with references etc.
* accrued vacation will be paid out too. exempt worker max is four weeks.
* this is the least of the worst options - dean saved ten reporting jobs
* it's gonna be tough to look good workers in the eye and tell them we have no room for you anymore.
* decide for self whether it's fun, worthwhile, worth saying in, or moving on.
* can't sugarcoat things, can't say there won't be more cuts or that any paper will survive.
At Bible study last night, the fate of my former colleagues was my main prayer request. We journalists have long known these were bad times to be in the business; it's been that way since I started four years ago. And that was one of the reasons I left the LA Daily News for The Jewish Journal.

But I don't think anyone could have expected the cuts to be this stark and this severe. How could they? A nearly 20 percent reduction overnight. Employees given less than 12 hours to decide whether they should take a buyout or risk being laid off anyway. Others knowing that by staying they are costing a friend their job.

I know Ron Kaye, the editor, fought hard to save jobs, and fortunately he didn't lose his in the process. He was so stricken yesterday, I was told he started crying during the staff meeting. Brent Hopkins', the shop steward and eternal optimist who for seven years has fought the good fight, laments what comes next:
This is the worst day I've ever seen here at the paper and I'm sure Friday will be even worse. There is nothing I can say that will make it OK or even make it make sense. These are disastrous cuts that will seriously hamper our ability to produce the paper and Web content at the level our readers expect. It risks erasing all the great leaps forward we've made online and in print.

The next few months will be intensely painful, both for the people who lose their jobs and those who stay behind. As I've said to many of you, the real losers are the people who rely on this newspaper-- they won't be able to find the information they need anymore. Their events won't get covered. Their sense of community will get a little shakier. Once the dedicated journalists who've made this place what it is leave, their expertise will never be replaced. Maybe people won't notice it right away, but in a year, maybe two, maybe more, they'll realize there's a gaping hole left behind that can never be filled in.

This is particularly heartbreaking to me because you guys have given this place everything and asked for little in return. You've sacrificed yourselves for love of the craft and love of the community and the work you've done is amazing. The paper's thinner and our coverage isn't as expansive as it once was, but the stories, photos, layouts, headlines-- everything-- has been fantastic. I'm so proud to see the work you do on a daily basis and honored to be a part of it. I'm heartsick to see such a great operation so callously dismantled.

This is not the end of the Daily News and the people who stay behind will continue to put out as good a paper as they possibly can every day, but it will be very hard. Then again, it's never been easy and the crazy folks who make this place so vibrant and alive will never let this company's mismanagement snuff them out. You'll continue to give more than the beancounters deserve and keep coming back before because y'all are the most wonderful, talented, bad-ass journalists around. Somehow, the spirit will survive, as it always does.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Jewish boys team may forfeit Shabbat playoff

Evidenced by Jordan Farmar and contrary to what Cartman told Kyle, Jews can play basketball. Observant ones just can't play on Shabbat. And that is causing a problem for some boys in Colorado.
DENVER -- State senators have taken up the cause of a Jewish boys basketball team whose playoff run may be halted because its players can't play on the Jewish Sabbath.

The Herzl/Rocky Mountain Hebrew Academy team could be headed for a regional championship on Saturday, March 8, if it wins one more game. But the Denver team's religious beliefs prohibit students from playing on the Jewish Sabbath between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday.

If Herzl/RMHA makes it to the regional championship and refuses to play a Saturday game, another school would be chosen to take its place, CHSAA commissioner Bill Reader said.


Sen. Tom Wiens, R-Sedalia, said there must be a way for the CHSAA to accommodate the team.

"It just seems like the bureaucracy has run amok here," Wiens said.
Hat tip to my wife for sending this story, which is a fairly familiar one.

(Image: UCLA Jersey)

WFB's dead: Reflections on the great conservative

The voice of conservatism died today when William F. Buckley Jr. passed away at his desk in his home study. This news is getting blogged about everywhere, so I will avoid the pontificating. Instead, I direct you to a lengthy obit in the NY Times, the wall-to-wall coverage of the magazine Buckley founded, National Review, and this sentimental appreciation from a former colleague of mine and protege of WFB.
To say "he will be missed" is not only to resort to the sort of cliche which Buckley despised, it's also to be guilty of understatement. I can't think of anyone with more friends to leave behind. The world knew WFB as a great intellect and writer, which he certainly was, but he was also as decent, gentle, kind and loving a man as those of us blessed to make his acquaintance would ever know.

It will take some time for me to formulate my thoughts and write something more about this extraordinary life, but till then I offer this excerpt from a profile I wrote about Buckley for Salon nearly nine years ago:
One almost forgets, when WFB refers to lunch with Henry, a stroll with Ronald or a trip with Milton, that he is speaking of a former secretary of state, a former president or a Nobel Prize-winning economist. But if Bill Buckley walks with kings, he has not lost the common touch. At a recent celebration commemorating Ronald Reagan's 88th birthday, Buckley, the keynote speaker, was seated at the head table with Nancy Reagan, two former cabinet secretaries and the ex-governor of California. The moment the dinner ended, he ditched the dignitaries, dodged hundreds of autograph seekers and sneaked out to the parking lot to meet old friends for a nightcap.

Many conservatives say that government is unimportant, but behave as though every legislative or electoral defeat is a personal disaster. Buckley is different. He loves politics, he's intrigued by its sport and he enjoys wrestling with big ideas. But he has other passions -- sailing, skiing, playing the harpsichord, studying the English language and, of course, being with his friends, who are legion and just as likely to include a former research assistant as a former president of the United States.

Before all of them, however, comes Pat, his wife of 49 years, a Vassar-educated one-time Miss Vancouver. Whenever she admonishes Bill to fix his tie, or sends a dinner party into a fit of laughter with a well-timed wisecrack, he gazes at her with relentless affection. They are unembarrassed to call each other by pet names, no matter who else is present. Their son, Christopher, is the father of two and a successful humorist -- facts that Pat and Bill proudly advertise.

But the work that helps to explain Buckley's character more than any other is his 1997 book "Nearer My God: An Autobiography of Faith." "It seems to me," he once said of his faith, that "a balanced life begins by acknowledging the insufficiency of purely materialistic considerations, and therefore one instinctively looks out for the other dimension that religion supplies you with." His is a quiet devotion, which he'd previously made little effort to discuss publicly. But his generosity, his patience, his compassion are all indicative of a grace that strives not only to believe the faith but to live it -- even if humility bars him from saying as much.
(Image: Time)

'Pornographic' Jesus sculpture protested at London Shabbat service

The strangest story about Jesus and art since the chocolate messiah is this one involving a Jewish art collector in London and a statue she owns "depicting Jesus with a phallus."

An advocacy group called Christian Voice has been up in arms over the "blasphemous" and "pornographic" sculpture, and has added a clock to the top of its home page counting:
Time which billionaire Jewish art collector (and friend of the Chief Rabbi) Anita Zabludowicz has had to destroy her blasphemous, pornographic statue of Jesus Christ with a phallus attached, since getting it back from the Baltic Centre in Gateshead at 6.00pm on Saturday 20th January 2008.
Christian Voice has written letters to the chief rabbi and distributed fliers outside the synagogue as people should up for minchah last Shabbat. Christian Voice's leader explained:
“Just as the sin of Achan in taking a valuable but accursed thing from Jericho brought judgment on the whole community of Israel, so his [Mr Zabludowicz’s] actions and those of his wife, in clinging on to this valuable but accursed statue, is bringing the slur of blasphemy against the whole Jewish community.

“The rest of the council too are complicit in his and Anita’s continuing scorn for the One whom Christians hold most holy of all, and that includes the Chief Rabbi, who appears to have told them to ‘Carry on blaspheming’.”
(Hat tip: Bintel Blog)

'Terrorism is the lousiest shortcut to failure'

An old colleague of mine, Alex Dobuzinskis, recently interviewed Maher Hathout, whom you might remember from that ugly battle over a humanitarian award and those even uglier comments about Israel.

In the interview, Hathout promotes himself as a "progressive" and an admirer of Malcolm X, calls terrorism as "the lousiest shortcut to failure" and stands by his criticisms of the Jewish state.

Q: You follow a more progressive Islam, one that respects a woman's independence and a right to an education. Is this version winning out in the United States among younger Muslims or are they becoming more radicalized like their peers in Europe, the Middle East and Asia?

A: I underscore a version of Islam that I think is the real Islam ... from the higher sources, from the Koran and the model of prophet Muhammad. And we believe that our fair and neutral reading will lead to emancipation of women, equality of genders and to mercy and justice. ... I am afraid that this is sometimes overtaken by overwhelming anger and feelings of injustice.


Q: In 2000, during the height of the second Palestinian Intifada against Israel, you gave a speech using the word "butchers" to describe the state of Israel. Would you refer to a Palestinian suicide bomber in Tel Aviv as a butcher?

A: I refer to them as suicidal (people) who are committing crimes against civilians, and that's absolutely wrong.

Remember, at that time, the Intifada was called the stone Intifada because they didn't use weapons, they threw rocks. And I was very angry about (Israel's harsh reaction), and I expressed that anger in the tone of my speech.

There was great brutality committed against the Palestinians ... which led me to say what I said. I clarified and, as a matter of fact. I apologized for the tone, not for the principle.


Q: What is terrorism's appeal? Doesn't it really just come down to the fact that it's easier to hide in a crowd and lob bricks than to get involved in civil society, which always involves compromise and concessions?

A: Yes. Terrorism is the lousiest shortcut to failure. Terrorism does not achieve results. And I'm not talking only about this wave, I'm talking about history, whether in Russia ... or in Germany or in Europe or Ireland. Terrorism does not achieve things. What achieves things is the ability to deal with the opposite side ... to reach a compromise that does not violate human rights and justice.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

LA Times poll: McCain would beat Democrats

We already know Hillary Clinton's campaign has one foot in the grave. But is the Democrat's overall effort to take back the White House also moribund? Another shocker in a wild presidential election:
WASHINGTON -- After a sometimes bitter primary campaign, presumptive Republican nominee John McCain now presents a stiff challenge to either of his potential Democratic opponents in the general election, a new Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll has found.

The findings underscore the difficulties ahead for Democrats as they hope to retake the White House during a time of war, with voters giving McCain far higher marks when it comes to experience, fighting terrorism and dealing with the situation in Iraq.

Both Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton have made ending the war a centerpiece of their campaigns. But in hypothetical matchups against either Democratic senator, about half of voters polled said McCain, a Vietnam veteran, was best able to deal with the war. Just over a third of voters polled favored the Democratic candidates on that issue.

Overall, McCain would beat Clinton 46% to 40% and Obama 44% to 42%. His lead over Obama is within the poll's three-point margin of error.
Last night, Karl Rove offered two contradictory remarks/jokes that could explain how Democratic enthusiasm is now behind the eight ball. Rove said he was certain he could get either Clinton or Obama elected, but wouldn't say how. "I only work for Democrats -- and Joe Lieberman." Lieberman is, of course, a friend and supporter of McCain; Rove is too, despite an icy introduction. But at another moment in his lecture, Rove joked that he secretly was advising both Clinton and Obama, explaining why they had turned so hard against each other.

Such a scenario would certainly bare what President Bush's former chief strategist said has become known as "the mark of Rove." "If you can't explain," he said, "Rove is responsible."

Too much credence probably shouldn't be put into this hypothesis.

Karl Rove and the politics of religion

Last spring, Karl Rove was outed by atheist superstar Christopher Hitchens as a fellow nonbeliever.
"He doesn't shout it from the rooftops, but when asked, he answers quite honestly. I think the way he puts it is, "I'm not fortunate enough to be a person of faith."
But last night Rove told me he is in fact a religious person, though he didn't specify how his Christian roots manifest themselves in his life.

Rove was in Los Angeles to speak at the Gibson Ampitheatre, one of a number of distinguished voices in this year's Public Lecture Series by American Jewish University. His invitation had caused a bit of consternation in the Jewish community, but he quickly won over many of his skeptics, which I wrote about in an article that will be online Thursday.

"I spent part of my childhood in Utah," Rove said at a VIP dinner before the lecture. "I went to a high school that is 95 percent Mormon, and only in Utah could a Presbyterian and a Jew both be gentiles."

Regardless of his own beliefs, Rove, who left his post as chief adviser to President Bush in August, was instrumental in helping Bush monopolize the support of evangelical voters and making religious rhetoric an essential part of presidential campaigns, something we are seeing plenty of this year.

"Roosevelt used to say to his speech writer, Rosenman, Don't forget the God stuff at the end. That's a bit colloquial," Rove said, "but the point is Americans have always valued leaders of faith."

In fact, as early as 1800, in the race between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, religious piety and divine reverence played an important role in politics.
As Jefferson and John Adams, a publicly devout Christian, slugged it out on the campaign trail, the Gazette of the United States ran this:

At the present solemn and momentous epoch, the only question to be asked by every American, laying his hand on his heart, is: “Shall I continue in allegiance to


Or impiously declare for

Jefferson was vehemently attacked for being a godless, slave-owning (-impregnating) sinner. But the underlying issue was what kind of liberties would this country afford its few voting members and everyone else who lived here. Jefferson favored greater freedoms while Adams sought to strengthen the office of the president. (A proto-Bus

Still, many people couldn't get over the fact that Jefferson didn't believe in God. And though he eventually won through a complicated process in the Electoral College, some members who didn't want to give their vote to an atheist said they would rather "go without a Constitution and take the risk of civil war."
Now, though, Godtalk dominates -- whether it is about what kind of Christian John McCain is, why evangelicals can't stand Hillary Clinton or whether Barack Obama is a "covert Muslim." The question, and it's one Rove didn't answer, is why did religious rhetoric has become so central to running for president. So-called "moral-values issues" were just as important to voters in elections that brought Bill Clinton to the White House as those that elected and re-elected George Bush. Something else is certainly at play.

LA's mayor a member of the Tribe?

The Forward has a short profile this week of L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, whom reporter Rebecca Spence calls "something of an honorary member of the tribe."

Los Angeles is a small town, and with half a million Jews in the greater L.A. area, it's no surprise Villaraigosa has leaned heavily on many Jews along the way, whether it was high school teacher Herman Katz or his best friend on the City Council, Jack Weiss, or chief of staff Robin Kramer.

His predecessors, most notably Tom Bradley, benefited similarly. But Spence presents a man whose philo-Semitism goes a good deal further than political expedience (though he's still no Mark Paredes).
According to local Jewish leaders, the mayor himself has made a habit of attending synagogue services, beyond the public appearances L.A. mayors tend to make at High Holiday services. He has been spotted at Temple Valley Beth Shalom and at Adat Ariel, both located in the San Fernando Valley — a region that tends to skew somewhat more conservative when it comes to local politics and that, unlike the Westside, went for Villaraigosa’s predecessor, James Hahn, in 2005.

The mayor has also attended Friday Night Live, a popular Sabbath service with live music held at Sinai Temple, a 2,000-family Conservative synagogue located on the Westside. In fact, said Sinai’s rabbi, David Wolpe, when Villaraigosa showed up this past September at his synagogue for Kol Nidre services, he sat in the back, didn’t come up to the bimah and left quietly. “In my experience, that is unprecedented,” Wolpe said. “It’s unheard of that a political figure should desire to come just to be there.” (Despite the frequent synagogue attendance, Villaraigosa, it should be noted, is a practicing Catholic.)
Villaraigosa also has made a point of attending major Jewish events, from Super Sunday to a major rally for Israel during the war with Hezbollah to the recent groundbreaking of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. And he's developed political relationships with some Israelis, including Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal. (I asked Villaraigosa's office for an interview last August when I wrote about life in Sderot; they got back to me in late December.)

Jesus Christ's rockstar

The Godfather of Christian Rock, Larry Norman, died Sunday at the age of 60. Admired by the Jesus movement, thought of as a Bob Dylan for Christian music (when Dylan wasn't Christian), Norman's influence can't be understated. At least, that's what I've read; I'd never heard of him. Here's more from the CT Liveblog:
“His influence outweighed his sales so much that it’s comical,” Willman said. “He certainly had a heart for evangelism, almost to his detriment I might say. He really could’ve been a star if he were singing about something other than Jesus.”

Norman’s 1972 Only Visiting This Planet album is regarded as one of the top contemporary Christian music albums of all time. His many hits were cutting edge, said Larry Eskridge, associate director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College.

“The song ‘Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?’ was one of his enduring trumpet blasts against the stogie, old Christian establishment,” Eskridge said. “‘I Wish We’d All Been Ready’ fit with the end times, apocalyptic feel that was in the air at the time.”

“I Wish We’d All Been Ready” was also featured in the 1972 end times film A Thief in the Night. In concerts, the singer would give his trademark "One Way" gesture, pointing an index finger toward heaven. Eskridge said Norman was an icon during the Jesus People of the 1960s but distanced himself from the movement when it became a fad and eventually faded.

Norman became less prominent on the music scene after suffering head injuries in an airplane accident 30 years ago, and later he had severe heart problems. He dictated a message to a friend just before his death.

“I feel like a prize in a box of cracker jacks with God’s hand reaching down to pick me up,” Norman said. “I have been under medical care for months. My wounds are getting bigger. I have trouble breathing. I am ready to fly home.”

Monday, February 25, 2008

Anti-Semitism: 'Jealousy born of envy'

Also in the new Atlantic is a piece by Christopher Hitchens about Jews and "the 2,000-year-old panic." Pegged to the re-release of an old novel, Hitchens writes that Jews are discriminated against for the opposite reasons other minorities are.
Almost every tribe or ethnicity has a rival tribe or ethnicity that it views as inferior or dirtier or more primitive: the Hutu with the Tutsi, the Sinhalese with the Tamil, the Ulster Protestant with the Irish Catholic, and so forth. The “other” group will invariably be found to have a different smell, a higher birthrate, and a lazier temperament. These poor qualities are sometimes attributed even by Jews to Jews: elevated German and Austrian Jews once wrinkled their nostrils at the matted sidelocks and large families of the poor Ostjuden who had come from the backwoods of Galicia and Silesia; and Ashkenazi-Se­phardic rivalry in Israel sometimes recalls and resembles this hostility. But garden-variety racists do not usually suspect the objects of their dislike of secretly manipulating the banks and the stock markets and of harboring a demonic plan for world domination. Gregor von Rezzori, in his newly reissued novel Memoirs of an Anti-Semite, meshes the micro and macro versions of interwar anti-Semitism very skillfully indeed:
They spent their childhood skipping among mounds of horse dung and flocks of gay sparrows, warbling Hebraic words of wisdom in Jewish schools … disappearing then to the next town. They returned gangling, cheeky, precocious, and self-confident a couple of years later, unfurled little red flags, and chanted socialistic marching songs; then they went off again. The next time they came back they were unrecognizable -- polished, poised, coiffed, and manicured, lugging doctorates on their proud shoulders; they dug themselves in and became dentists, high-school teachers, professors of music, and God only knows what other intellectuals, married similar solid burghers and produced streams of progeny, teaching them to speak refinedly through their noses, packing them off to the Sorbonne to get equipped the better to meddle with the course of the history of civilization.
“Jealousy born of envy” is the way that Rezzori (1914–1998) elsewhere summarizes this combination of anti-intellectualism fused with the hatred of material success and the suspicion of social and international mobility. If the Jew isn’t a mutinous prole, he is a stinking bourgeois!
(Hitchens began the piece with a joke about Der Stürmer, the Nazi rag depicted above: "A sour old joke from prewar Germany has two elderly Jews sitting in a Berlin park, with one of them reading a Yiddish paper and the other one scanning the pages of Der Stürmer. The latter Jew is laughing. This proves too much for the former Jew, who says: 'It’s not enough you read that Nazi rag, but you find it funny?' 'Look,' replies the other. 'If I read your paper, what do I see? Jews deported, Jews assaulted, Jews insulted, Jewish property confiscated. But I read Der Stürmer, and there’s finally some good news. It seems that we Jews own and control the whole world!'")

Traditionalists: 'Pope has felt obliged to change the very venerable prayer for the Jews'

No surprise here regarding the new language for the Tridentine Mass, which will be uttered in four Fridays. The traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X issued a statement over the weekend that it was none too happy that language regarding the conversion of Jews was watered down in the Good Friday prayer.
“Following foreign pressures on the Catholic Church, the pope has felt obliged to change the very venerable Prayer for the Jews, which is an integral part of the Good Friday liturgy. This prayer is one of the oldest and goes back to about the third century. It has thus been recited throughout the whole history of the Church as the full expression of Catholic faith.

The SPPX said the change, which it called an “amputation,” had “the allure of a real transformation, expressing the new theology of relations with the Jewish people. It is part of the liturgical upheaval that is the characteristic mark of the council and the reforms that followed it. While the necessity to accept the Messiah to be saved has been retained, one can only profoundly deplore this change.”

Understanding the college spiritual journey

Speaking of the Pew Forum, the religious research center's home page features a lengthy Q&A with a leader of UCLA's "Spirituality in Higher Education," which I wrote about for the fall cover of UCLA Magazine.

The study found that nearly three-of-four students who are now juniors agreed that "most people can grow spiritually without being religious." That's up 12 percent from when these students were freshmen.

I think you have to realize that we have, on the one hand, the students' individual faiths and practices, and on the other hand, their viewpoints about students who might follow a different faith or no faith. To us, this is a positive finding in the sense that students display a good deal of tolerance for differing approaches to religion and spirituality on the part of their peers. In other words, they're not imposing their own standards upon their fellow beings.

Does that mean that they're seeing the world in more relative terms and in less absolute terms?

Yes, I would say so, and this is consistent with the finding that their tendency to embrace an ecumenical worldview also increases during college.

This would seem to be bad news for many organized religions, especially the ones making truth claims.

Not necessarily. We have organizations like the National Council of Churches and other worldwide religious organizations that try to think about how to enhance understanding across different religions and faiths. Looking ahead to the condition of the world down the road, one would hope that this kind of understanding and tolerance would increase with time. That, of course, may not fit certain belief systems, but I think, on balance, that it's reassuring to see that the college experience is associated with an increase in this kind of tolerance and understanding of the other.

Americans change faiths frequently

A new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that "constant movement characterizes the American religious marketplace": more than a quarter of Americans leave the faith they grew up with, that about 16 percent aren't affiliated with any religion and that Protestants are approaching minority status. Some explaining from The New York Times:
While the unaffiliated have been growing, Protestantism has been declining, the survey found. In the 1970s, Protestants accounted for about two-thirds of the population. The Pew survey found they now make up about 51 percent. Evangelical Christians account for a slim majority of Protestants, and those who leave one evangelical denomination usually move to another, rather than to mainline churches.

To Prof. Stephen Prothero, large numbers of Americans leaving organized religion and large numbers still embracing the fervor of evangelical Christianity point to the same desires.

“The trend is toward more personal religion, and evangelicals offer that,” said Mr. Prothero, chairman of the religion department at Boston University, who explained that evangelical churches tailor many of their activities for youth. “Those losing out are offering impersonal religion and those winning are offering a smaller scale: mega-churches succeed not because they are mega but because they have smaller ministries inside.”

Sunday, February 24, 2008

A Muslim at Hebrew College

It's not often a reader offers you a hat tip on a story you wrote, but thanks Gershon, who sent me an e-mail that said, "Good Muslims are hard to find these days, but it is good to profile them when you do."

He was referring to a story I had in this week's paper about a Muslim scholar teaching at Hebrew Union College. (He was not referring to the other story I had about anti-Israel rhetoric at UC Irvine.) Here's a bit about Ismail Bardhi, who was brought to the attention of HUC's Scholar Rescue Fund by Reuven Firestone, a professor of Islam and Medieval Jewish studies.
Firestone first met Bardhi in Macedonia six years ago, when the latter was helping organize an international conference on religion and peace, the first to bring together the country's Muslim Albanians and Orthodox Christian Slavs.

The conference coincided with a violent build-up between the two ethnic groups -- including shootings, retaliation shootings and torchings of churches and mosques -- that put the young nation on the brink of civil war. But the dialogue that began with Bardhi and his Orthodox Christian counterpart helped dissolve the tension, and the conflict fizzled.

"In Skopje, Mr. Bardhi was the voice of Muslim moderates who greatly promoted in a nonpolitical manner the process of reconciliation between Albanian Muslims and Macedonian Orthodox," Paul Mojzes, organizer of the conference and co-editor of The Journal of Ecumenical Studies, wrote in a letter of recommendation. (Last March, in an essay titled, "Orthodoxy and Islam in the Balkans," Mojzes identified Bardhi as "the best Muslim proponent of inter-religious dialogue in the Balkans.")

The Macedonian peace, however, was short-lived, and two years ago, when Bardhi was nominated to become president of the Islamic Religious Union of Macedonia, he discovered that the problems had bled into his own religious community. After a former student who had become affiliated with the Muslim nationalists smashed Bardhi's face with the butt of a gun, Bardhi spent weeks secluded in his home, withdrew from the political race and eventually lost his job for political reasons, he said.

"During the latest elections within the Islamic Religious Union of Macedonia, professor Bardhi has been the most prominent and trusted candidate," Ahmet Sherif, a professor at Macedonia's Institute of National History, wrote in a letter to the Scholar Rescue Fund. "But unfortunately, due to the threatening and sinister actions toward him and his collaborators he chose to withdraw his candidacy as an act of protest."

Bardhi's problem was an unwillingness to politicize his faith. He is, as Firestone described him, an "Islamic humanist," a religious progressive willing to see Islam as "the perfect expression of the divine will," but not alone and superior on the world stage.

"My topic is quranic exegesis and how we have to be more open between the Quran and Torah, to see how they could speak together," said Bardhi, 50. "We have spent too long using religion against each other. This is not good for religion or for human beings."

Putin files: Anti-Semitism never dies in Russia

MOSCOW - The Jewish community of Russia is worried over a rumor campaign by nationalist parties claiming that Dmitri Medvedev, President Vladimir Putin's handpicked successor, is Jewish.

Russian Jewish leaders declined to comment on the rumors officially, fearing to lend them credibility. Off the record, however, one said: "I pray it isn't true, because it would only make trouble, for him and for us."

Medvedev, who recently told a Russian weekly that he was baptized into the Russian Orthodox Church at age 23, has not commented on these rumors. But Russian Internet sites are full of reports about his alleged Jewish roots.

The rumors are based in part on the fact that his maternal grandfather's first name was Veniamin - similar to the Hebrew Binyamin (Benjamin) - while his family name, Shaposhnikov, is sometimes a Jewish name. But beyond that, accusing an electoral rival of being Jewish is a tactic that nationalist parties have employed in the past, both in Russia and in other former communist countries.
The concern here is that such "accusations" will arouse centuries-old anti-Semitism in the former czarist state. Russia is, after all, the birthplace of "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion."

Huckabee campaigns on SNL

"I'm not a math guy. I'm more of a miracle guy."

The words of Mike Huckabee a few minutes ago on "Saturday Night Live's" mock news show "Weekend Update." The former Arkansas governor was there to explain, in self-deprecating form, why he remains in the race for the Republican presidential nomination even though he'd still be trailing John McCain if he swept each and every remaining delegate.

"Mike Huckabee does not overstay his welcome," he said. "When it's time for me to go, I'll know. And I'll exit out with class and grace."

He then remained behind the anchors' desk, even after anchor Seth Meyers made it clear it was time to go.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Scholar: Muslims will vote Obama

Politicians usually appreciate capturing voting blocs. But I have to wonder if predications like this -- that Barack Obama is the overwhelming favorite for Muslims -- will hurt the candidate more than it will help.
Many American Muslims are genuinely invested in finding a candidate who actually sees the United States as responsible member of a global community, and not just a bully.

And that's why the overwhelming support of the Muslim community now has shifted to the Democratic side, and specifically to Sen. Barack Obama.

Sen. Hillary Clinton generates little interest among Muslim-Americans. She favors an "undivided" (i.e., all Jewish) Jerusalem, which would signal even further suffering and catastrophe -- even ethnic cleansing -- for Palestinians who for more than a thousand years have called Jerusalem home.

And Clinton has signed on to a bill that makes war with Iran more likely, as it specifies that Iran is waging a "proxy war" against the United States in Iraq. It is this kind of language that got us ensnared in Iraq in the first place.

Obama, on the other hand, condemned Clinton's vote on Iran and stressed diplomacy. Obama's cosmopolitanism -- raised in Hawaii and Indonesia, son of a white Midwestern mother and a Kenyan father -- also resonates with many Muslims who want their president to be a global citizen, for a change.

When he began his political career, Obama courageously supported the idea that the United States should be a real honest broker between Israelis and Palestinians. Over time, however, he has distanced himself from the Palestinian side.

Yet many American Muslims remain hopeful that a President Obama would bring his vision of peace and justice back to all the areas of U.S. foreign policy, including the bleeding wound that is Palestine/Israel.

Pundits, take note: Overwhelmingly, American Muslims will be casting their votes for Obama.
George Bush owned the Muslim vote in 2000 because of campaign promises that came up exceedingly empty after 9/11, and in 2004 93 percent voted for John Kerry. Observers have been predicting American Muslims would vote strongly Democratic in November. And it's little surprise that Obama, whose father was Muslim and whose middle name is Hussein, would be the fan favorite.

The problem for the Illinois senator is that one of the efforts to torpedo his campaign has been a handful of Internet rumors that he is a Jew-hating undercover Muslim. Despite assertions to the contrary, and the defense of many prominent Jews and despite the fact that the right Muslim could be a good president, the fear seems to linger with many people I talk to, even though who should know much better.

'Jews should chill out'

Jewish organizations, like the ADL and AJC, were on edge last year after the pope announced he was softening restrictions on the Tridentine Mass, which before the Second Vatican Council had called for the conversion of "perfidious Jews." This op-ed in The Forward calls for an end to the "Tridentine Mass hysteria."
In this day and age, Jews should not be overreacting to Pope Benedict XVI’s revision of the Good Friday prayer calling for our people “to acknowledge Jesus Christ the Savior of all men.” A very small minority of Catholics saying these words in 2008 is very different in its threat to Jews than every Catholic saying these words in 1668.

Of course, it would have been wise and surely more comforting to Jews — not to mention educative to Catholics — if the pope, in permitting this prayer and rewriting it, had also recalled the historical violence that such prayers and attitudes evoked throughout history. But Jews should chill out rather than turn this into one more drama of how the world hates us.

Rick Warren On Faith

I wish I had a viral marketer to send my best blog posts out in press releases. The folks at The Washington Post and On Faith do, and their publicist just sent me a plug for a taped interview with Rick Warren, who you might know as "founding and senior pastor of the largest Christian church in California, best-selling author and influential evangelical leader Rick Warren."

I'm having problems embedding the video, but here is a link to the highlights, in which Warren talks about why Jesus couldn't have been "a good man," why music is a proof for God's existence and why atheists don't believe.
A lot of times our morality tends to dictate our theology. And that is, well, like I said to Sam Harris. I said, Sam, if there was a God, would you have to change your lifestyle? And he said, 'yeah' and I said, 'Well, I think really, Sam, you just don’t want a boss. The bottom line is you don't want a solving God who tells you this is right or this is wrong. And, you want to live a kind of life where you make your decisions rather than God saying this is what I want you to do with your life.

Which religion will usher in an era of peace?

One scholar's answer makes that question seem like a trick. It can be found in the new issue of the Atlantic Monthly, which follows the November issue of The Economist and asks the question, "Which Religion Will Win?" Inside are articles on "The Contest for Africa," "America's Evangelical Future" and "The Coming Religious Peace."

The last piece is what really caught my attention. I wondered, How could this be? How could we be primed for religious peace after a history of warfare, from David collecting the foreskins of 200 slain Philistines to the 500-year-long and mostly bloody war between Catholics and Protestants to the hatred between Sunnis and Shiites (and Kurds for that matter) preventing Iraq from creating a cohesive society?

The answer, according to scholar and scribe Alan Wolfe, is simple: None.
Consider what is occurring within the growing American evangelical movement. It has built megachurches that meet the needs of time-pressed professionals by offering such things as day-care centers, self-help groups, and networking opportunities. Its music owes more to Janis Joplin than to Johann Sebastian Bach. Its church officials learn more from business-school case studies than from theological texts. And its young people—well, as the children of parents who have gone through a born-again experience, they are not likely to be as obedient as the evangelical leader James Dobson wants them to be. Having opted to grow on secular terms, American evangelicalism is becoming less hostile to liberal ideas such as tolerance and pluralism. New efforts to take it in directions sympathetic to environmentalism and social justice are a direct result of the maturing of the faith, which followed from earlier decisions to make the movement more appealing to large numbers of Americans, especially the young.

Does the pattern hold outside America? After all, it is often said that the promulgation of secular values and lifestyles, one result of globalization, is prompting a reactionary religious backlash. There is some truth to this argument, but it misses the bigger picture. Most of the religious revivals we are seeing throughout the world today complement, and ultimately reinforce, secular developments; they are more likely to encourage moderation than fanaticism.
Agree or disagree with the prediction, there is logic to Wolfe's argument, one he borrows from Marx and Freud and Weber.

Wolfe writes, "When God and Mammon collide, Mammon usually wins," which is a bit too broad but often rings true. Nowhere is there more Mammon for most than in the United States, and religion has responded to the many demands placed on our lives in the pursuit of Mammon by making participation more convenient and more entertaining.

But, at the same time, the churches that are hiring the MBA-carrying applicants, the churches that are growing, are also the churches less tolerant of the tenants of secularism. Whereas the churches that are more traditional, the churches that are dying, are on the liberal end of the Christian spectrum.

If you look at the graph below from the magazine, based on data from Pew, it's incredibly clear that the United States is anomalous for the religious devotion of its denizens.

But does this mean American religion is destined for a "bubble burst," so to speak? I don't think so. The talk of the U.S. going the way of Europe -- of empty churches and godless worldviews -- is overblown. Especially when considering the fact that right now Mammon is becoming a lot harder to come by.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

UC Irvine student: 'Israel will be wiped off the face of the earth'

Fast forward to the 5:40 mark of the above video and you will see a number of Muslim students at UC Irvine interrupt a lecture by Daniel Pipes. After they are escorted out, the crowd marched through the dark, chanting:
"Anti-Israel!" "Anti-Israel!" "Anti-hate!" "Anti-Israel!" "Anti-racism!" "Anti-Israel!" "Anti-occupation!" "Anti-Israel!"

The crowd moved to a plaza and then quieted. After a few moments and a word from one student, another student thanked the protesters, claiming that it would depress the Zionists who witnessed the act.

"They are going to go out and try to make it look like they are powerful," the young man said. "But they're going to go home and go, 'Crap, we are in the middle of America, in Irvine, at a public campus, and everybody hates our guts.' They have no future, and it is just a matter of time before the State of Israel will be wiped off the face of the earth."

The crowd rejoiced and shouted: "Allahu Akbar!"
The scene was captured by Reut Cohen, an Israeli-born student who graduated last fall. It serves as the closing scene of a story I have in this week's Jewish Journal about anti-Israel rhetoric that has become synonymous with the UC Irvine brand. A report last week by a task force that was created by Hillel (and later cut loose) blames the administration for not doing more to prevent speeches by radicals like Muhammad Al-Asi and Amir Abdel Malik Ali; the report encourages Jewish students to attend other colleges. Religion aside, with my beard, curly hair and square, black glasses, I know I would.

Natalie Portman's Israel

Natalie Portman is really smart, wears t-shirts with skulls on them and looks cute no matter how her hair is cut. (My wife agrees.) She also has been in a few good movies and "Mars Attacks!". And this week she really upped the stock of The Jewish Journal staff when she contributed her byline. Portman, who was born in Jerusalem, reflects on what Israel means to her in a short column under the paper's "Israel@60" heading.
Israel is ...

Where I was born. Where I ate my first Popsicle and used a proper toilet for the first time. Where some of my 18-year-old friends spend their nights in bunkers sleeping with their helmets on. Where security guards are the only jobs in surplus. Where deserts bloom and pioneer stories are sentimentalized. Where a thorny, sweet cactus is the symbol of the ideal Israeli. Where immigrating to Israel is called "ascending" and emigrating from Israel is called "descending." Where my grandparents were not born, but where they were saved.

Where the year passes with the season of olives, of almonds, of dates. Where the transgressive pig or shrimp dish speaks defiantly from a Jerusalem menu. Where, despite substantial exception, secularism is the rule. Where wine is religiously sweet. Where "Arabic homes" is a positive real estate term with no sense of irony. Where there is endless material for dark humor. Where there are countless words for "to bother," but no single one yet for "to pleasure." Where laughter is the currency; jokes the religion. Where political parties multiply more quickly than do people. Where to become religious is described as "returning to an answer" and becoming secular "returning to a question."

Where six citizens have won Nobel prizes in 50 years. Where the first one earned an Olympic gold in 2004 for sailing (an Israeli also won the bronze for judo). Where there is snow two hours north and hamsin (desert wind) two hours south. Where Moses never was allowed to walk, but whose streets we litter. Where the language in which Abraham spoke to Isaac before he was to sacrifice him has been resuscitated to include the words for "sweatshirt" and "schadenfreude" and "chemical warfare" and "press conference." Where the muezzin chants, and the church bells sound and the shofars cry freely at the Wall. Where the shopkeepers bargain. Where the politicians bargain. Where there will one day be peace but never quiet.

Where I was born; where my insides refuse to abandon.

More than a bad feeling

AP, via the Bible Belt Blogger:
CONCORD, N.H. - The chief songwriter and founder of the band Boston has more than a feeling that he's being ripped off by Mike Huckabee.

In a letter to the Republican presidential hopeful, Tom Scholz complains that Huckabee is using his 1970s smash hit song "More Than a Feeling" without his permission. A former member of the band, Barry Goudreau, has appeared with Huckabee at campaign events, and they have played the song with Huckabee's band, Capitol Offense.

Scholz, who said Goudreau left the band more than 25 years ago after a three-year stint, objects to the implication that the band and one of its members has endorsed Huckabee's candidacy.

"Boston has never endorsed a political candidate, and with all due respect, would not start by endorsing a candidate who is the polar opposite of most everything Boston stands for," wrote Scholz, adding that he is supporting Democratic Sen. Barack Obama. "By using my song, and my band's name Boston, you have taken something of mine and used it to promote ideas to which I am opposed. In other words, I think I've been ripped off, dude!"