11/30/06

Chevrolets for Hitler


The Jewish Standard's investigative cover story this week by Edwin Black describes the inside story of how General Motors helped mobilize the Third Reich.

Singing songs out of shul

Jewish music has been banished from the shul. Orthodox synagogues no longer are places where one can go to hear professional renditions of Jewish melodies. Ninety percent or more of the shuls have amateurs leading the services. While these laymen may have nice voices and may sing on key (sometimes), they mostly are not professional singers.

So where does a Jew go these days for good religious musical inspiration? Lots of places apparently.

That is what reporter Abigail Leichman asks and answers in today's Bergen Record:

Music is 'cultural cue' for young secular Jews

By ABIGAIL LEICHMAN
STAFF WRITER

The crowd at Chana Rothman's show at Mo Pitkin's House of Satisfaction last August was young and Jewish. As is Rothman herself, who describes her music as "an urban-influenced take -- reggae, pop, funk -- on Jewish teachings."

Anyone who's heard Hasidic reggae phenom Matisyahu on Top 40 radio knows something big is brewing in the world of Jewish music: It's become a cultural touchstone for young Jews with little religious education or identity.

The trend, says Rothman, "reflects the changing face of how people want to live out their Judaism."

Raised in a Canadian household where "Judaism is something you do and create yourself," Rothman traces the revolution to Rick Recht, a touring musician who took contemporary Jewish tunes from the summer-camp/synagogue scene to concert venues.

"We as Jews want to pop Rick Recht into the stereo the way we pop in Jack Johnson; to consume music the way Christians consume music," says Rothman.

The comparison is not accidental. "The Christian evangelical world spent time worrying about the decline of young people going to church," says Roger Bennett of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, a major Jewish funding organization.

"Rather than try to make young people attend [church], they focused on communicating values and utilized the burgeoning Christian music industry to deliver those messages. The Jewish community is just beginning to understand they can do something similar, albeit with a much smaller target audience."

The genre has seen explosive growth, with artists ranging from Basya Schechter (her band, Pharaoh's Daughter, performs Doors-like improvisations and liturgical chants with Middle Eastern and Hasidic stylings) to Jerusalem native Ayelet Rose Gotlieb, whose newest release is a reinterpretation of biblical love poetry from the Song of Songs.

There's also a growing niche of artists from the Orthodox world, like Matisyahu and the Moshav Band, whose shows at colleges, New York City clubs, and venues such as Mexicali Blues in Teaneck attract religious and secular Jewish audiences alike.

Both streams were among the crowds at Oyhoo, the weeklong New York Jewish Music and Heritage Festival in September featuring newcomers like Rothman and veterans like "the Hasidic Hendrix" Yossi Piamenta.

"These are two groups that ... complement each other because you have cultural Jews in search of a Judaism and Orthodox Jews in search of a culture," says Steven Weiss, editor and publisher of CampusJ Jewish Collegiate News.

Even traditionally synagogue-centered cantorial music is finding a new fan base. Organizers of Sunday's "Helfgot Sings," a solo concert at the New York Metropolitan Opera featuring the "Jewish Placido Domingo," Cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot, expect the 4,000 attendees to include young, secular Jews.

"People are looking for music that inspires them," says Cantors World spokesman Benny Rogosnitzky, cantor at the Jewish Center of the West Side in Manhattan. "Cantorial music is a vocal art that tells a story, much like opera. Even if you don't understand the words, the notes in minor keys touch you and you get the point."

Whether or not they're personally observant, these performers aren't aiming to strengthen religious observance, just cultural pride and identity.

For the majority of aficionados, says Weiss, "This is their Judaism. It's their prayer service."

Bennett predicts the music phenomenon could be a big piece in the puzzle that philanthropists seek in assuring American Jewish continuity, but only if they understand its potential.

"Right now, Jewish funders seem to see it as a marginal thing, but for young audiences the messages and the community that music allows them to form is a critical manifestation that should be encouraged," says Bennett.

He is the creator of "Slingshot," a book available at www.2164.net that catalogs innovative Jewish programs helping young Jews build new cultural and religious connections. Among them is Storahtelling, a troupe that performs weekly Torah portions in nightclubs and theaters, and JDub Records, a label that promotes Jewish reggae and hip-hop artists. It represented Matisyahu until his recent switch to Sony.

Bennett's involved with Reboot Stereophonic, a non-profit record label "dedicated to digging through the crates of the Jewish past and rescuing forgotten gems to tell new, unexpected stories."

The release of "Jewface," its unique anthology of Jewish minstrel songs, got coverage in both the mainstream press and "trend-setting outlets where Judaism is hardly ever present, like Flaunt," he says.

Rothman, who teaches music in two non-denominational Jewish schools in New York City, considers creating her own indie label for female Jewish artists. Many of them are Israeli, or worked or studied there for a few months as she did.

"Spending time in Israel is key for some of the people involved in this trend," says Rothman, referring to both artists and fans.

"I wrote a song called 'Yisrael Ani Shelach' [Israel, I am yours] about the experience of feeling so inspired and then coming back and although you want to say all these huge, intense things, all you can say is 'It was good' because you can't really sum it up."

If the songs are drawing kids to Israel or reminding them of time spent there, they surely aren't drawing them to the synagogues and community centers where their parents may have forged their own Jewish identities.

"Buildings don't matter as much anymore," says Weiss. "The local JCC used to be a universal cultural cue and now it's music."

E-mail: leichman@northjersey.com

11/29/06

YU Museum: Biblical Joseph translated into fabric wall hangings


I attended a wonderful opening last night of the exhibit of fabric wall hangings at the Yeshiva University Museum. Sylvia Herskowitz has directed the museum for many years and her magnificent achievements are evident throughout.

The building that houses the museum is substantial. The exhibits are high quality, logical and professional. The staff is attentive.

The opening featured several speakers who came right to the point. Jerry Hochbaum, Director of the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture praised the artist and the museum. Jerry has been doing wonderful things in support of Jewish culture and especially Jewish scholarship for over thirty years. I should know since I received a dissertation fellowship grant from the foundation in 1973.

Here is the press release for the exhibit:

THE STORY OF JOSEPH: UNVEILING THE TEXT
through - MARCH 25, 2007

New York, NY: October 25, 2006 -- Yeshiva University Museum (YUM) in Chelsea will present an exhibition of fiber artworks interpreting the Biblical story of Joseph, by Israeli artist Chana Cromer. Cromer’s multi-layered fabric hangings shed light on the complex layers of Joseph’s personality and the symbolism in his “coat of many colors.” Among the 12 works on view are several colorful garments as well as tapestries suspended from the ceiling. Close inspection reveals a number of distinct artistic techniques that are interwoven within individual works, including collage, embroidery, etching, silk-screening and staining with natural plants, berries and leaves. When installed together, the exhibition provides an insightful fusion of fine art, craft and Biblical narrative.

The Story of Joseph: Unveiling the Text is Cromer’s first New York solo show and reflects the artist’s interest in the Bible. Using the story of Joseph from the first Book of Genesis as her point of departure, the artist points out that “clothing plays a part in every stage of Joseph’s life: as favored son, prisoner, servant, and Egyptian official, he wears clothes of different textures.” Cromer’s fiber artworks display her mastery of textile surface design and printmaking, as well as her understanding of text and commentary. The exhibition is accompanied by a full-color catalogue published in Israel with the generous support of the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture.

Chana Cromer is the daughter of Holocaust survivors, born in Italy and raised in Kansas City, Missouri. Cromer studied textile surface design at Philadelphia College of the Arts and printmaking at New York’s Pratt Institute before receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Bezalel Art Institute in Jerusalem and a Masters of Arts in Education from Boston College. Her work has been exhibited widely throughout Israel, Europe and North America including U.S. galleries and museums in Atlanta, Boston, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Phoenix, and Washington, D.C. Cromer had solo exhibitions at Yale University (New Haven, CT) in 2002 and 2004. Currently based in Jerusalem, she teaches art at a Judaica textile workshop at Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan.
The rest of my pictures of the fabric wall hangings are here.
Go visit the museum - you'll be happy you did.

Awful Story: Delhi boy eaten by herd of pigs

Delhi boy eaten by herd of pigs

A three-year-old boy has been eaten alive by a neighbour's herd of pigs on the outskirts of the Indian capital, Delhi, police say.

The boy, Ajay, strayed from the family home as his parents and other family members were having lunch.

When his mother went to look for him, she found the pigs chewing something and spotted bits of her son's clothing.

She threw stones at the animals but they turned on her. Her screams alerted neighbours who came to her rescue.

'Playing'

Relatives in the village of Samaipur Badli in north-west Delhi told police the boy had been carrying bread, which might have led the animals to attack him.

A senior police official, Manish Aggarwal, said a local man who owned the pigs had been detained for causing death due to negligence.

"Three children were playing outside their house when the incident took place," Mr Aggarwal told the BBC.

"The victim, Ajay, strayed from the area but his parents or relatives were not there to save him since they were having lunch inside their house."
This is a graphically awful tragedy.

During my trip to India I was struck by the how pigs roam free on the streets -- eating the garbage. It's one of those gross aspects of the landscape that hits you when you tour the cities and villages.

The only postscript that I have is -- are the parents not at all negligent in this incident? In the US I am sure that the authorities would be looking at that angle.

11/28/06

NY Times: Bris Milah Prevents Disease

Religions do not need science to prove their value. But, it never hurts to have a little external validation now and then.

Vital Signs
Outcomes: Circumcision May Reduce Risk of S.T.D.’s
By NICHOLAS BAKALAR

Men who are circumcised may have a significantly reduced risk of acquiring a sexually transmitted disease compared with those who are not, a New Zealand study has found.

Researchers followed a group of 510 boys born in 1977, giving them frequent periodic medical examinations until they were 25. Thirty percent of them had been circumcised by age 15. A little less than 3 percent reported a medically diagnosed sexually transmitted disease at age 21, and an additional 6.6 percent reported one at 25.

After statistically adjusting for family education, socioeconomic status, number of partners and self-reported unprotected sex, researchers concluded that the odds of acquiring a subsequent S.T.D. were 3.19 times higher for men who were uncircumcised. The study was published this month in Pediatrics.

David M. Fergusson, the lead author of the study and a professor of medical psychology at Christchurch School of Medicine, warned that the results were not conclusive. “We are cautious about the findings,” he said. “They depend on self-reports, and not all studies agree with ours. But our results definitely suggest that circumcision may reduce rates of S.T.D.’s. We think we’re correct, but it’s best not to be dogmatic about it.”

Dr. Fergusson declined to offer advice to parents. “Decisions to circumcise children should not be made on the basis of one study,” he said. “They should be based on all the evidence. There is certainly evidence of benefit, but the complicated decision parents face is weighing the benefits against the risks of a surgical procedure. Even if we assumed all the evidence favored circumcision, most children wouldn’t benefit from it. We estimate that you would have to circumcise 20 boys to prevent one case of sexually transmitted disease.”

11/27/06

Government to Muslims: Australia - Love it or Leave it!

G'day mate - unless you are Muslim.

One of the top Australian government ministers has spoken harshly about some of the Muslims in his country. His basic message is, "Australia - Love it or Leave it!"

I'm not a big supporter of right wing rhetoric. But clearly the government there has decided to step it up. This unfriendly move that will no doubt discourage some Muslims from moving to Australia and encourage some who are there to leave.
Top Aus minister slams Muslims
26/02/2006 13:06 - (SA)

Sydney - Australia's prime minister-in-waiting, Treasurer Peter Costello, on Sunday dismissed complaints of discrimination by Muslim citizens and renewed an attack on "un-Australian" attitudes.

Costello, Prime Minister John Howard's anointed successor, last week called for Muslim extremists to be stripped of their citizenship and denounced multiculturalism as "mushy and misguided".

Responding to outrage from Muslim leaders who said it was the latest in a stream of unfair criticism from a conservative government, Costello Sunday expressed surprise that anyone would find his comments controversial.

"Is it provocative to say that citizens should be loyal to Australia, that they should abide by the rule of law, that they should respect the rights and liberties of others?" Costello asked on ABC television.

"Is that now provocative in Australia? Gee, things have got pretty bad if that's provocative."

Costello had demanded that new citizens accept Australian laws rather than attempt to live by alternative codes such as sharia (Islamic) law, saying it was a sign of respect in the same way that taking off one's shoes before entering a mosque showed deference towards Islam.

He took the point further on Sunday, saying he would start by enforcing compliance with the pledge of allegiance taken by new citizens in Australia.

"The first thing that I want to do is I want to make it entirely clear to those taking out Australian citizenship that when we ask them to take a pledge, we mean it," he said.

"I want to say this pledge is a big flashing warning sign that Australia expects people to subscribe to and to live by.

"And if you can't live by that pledge and you are a citizen of another country, then you're not eligible for Australian citizenship."

Prominent figures in the Muslim community, which numbers about 300 000 or 1.5% of Australia's 20 million population, said after the initial attack they could not understand why they were being targeted.

Muslim leaders said their community was being further isolated by a string of criticism from government members, including Howard.

In remarks published last week ahead of his 10th anniversary in power, the prime minister criticised a minority of Muslims who "rave on about jihad" and hold extreme views "utterly antagonistic" to Australian values.

Islamic Council of Victoria representative Waleed Aly said he believed there was a deliberate government attempt to scapegoat Muslims.

"It seems quite clearly calculated at marginalising a part of mainstream Australia that's been part of mainstream Australia for 50 years, but suddenly it's some sort of hideous problem," he said.

11/25/06

Teaneck Rabbi: YU = Torah + Idolatry

At the main shul of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun this morning the sermon was delivered by Rabbi Aaron Feigenbaum, Assistant to the Rabbi, ordained at Yeshiva University.

Towards the beginning of his talk he told this joke.

You know that the midrash says that when Rebecca was pregnant with Jacob and Esau she would feel a baby kick in her womb when she passed by a Torah study hall.
Then she would feel a baby kick in her womb when she passed by a place of idolatry.
She went to pray to G-d for an explanation and asked, "What is going on here? Am I going to have a Yeshiva University baby?"
Nobody laughed at the joke.

11/23/06

A cantor at the opera

Yitzchak Meir Helfgot is not the first cantor to perform at the Metropolitan Opera House — the opera singers Richard Tucker and Jan Peerce, who were also cantors, got there first. But the internationally renowned Helfgot will be the first to perform cantorial music at the Met, the grandest stage for grand opera in the United States...
Read...

11/21/06

NY Times: Militant Scientists Plot To Wipe Out Religion



Maybe the pivotal moment came when Steven Weinberg, a Nobel laureate in physics, warned that “the world needs to wake up from its long nightmare of religious belief,” or when a Nobelist in chemistry, Sir Harold Kroto, called for the John Templeton Foundation to give its next $1.5 million prize for “progress in spiritual discoveries” to an atheist — Richard Dawkins, the Oxford evolutionary biologist whose book “The God Delusion” is a national best-seller.

Or perhaps the turning point occurred at a more solemn moment, when Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City and an adviser to the Bush administration on space exploration, hushed the audience with heartbreaking photographs of newborns misshapen by birth defects — testimony, he suggested, that blind nature, not an intelligent overseer, is in control.

Somewhere along the way, a forum this month at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif., which might have been one more polite dialogue between science and religion, began to resemble the founding convention for a political party built on a single plank: in a world dangerously charged with ideology, science needs to take on an evangelical role, vying with religion as teller of the greatest story ever told.

Carolyn Porco, a senior research scientist at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo., called, half in jest, for the establishment of an alternative church, with Dr. Tyson, whose powerful celebration of scientific discovery had the force and cadence of a good sermon, as its first minister.

She was not entirely kidding. “We should let the success of the religious formula guide us,” Dr. Porco said. “Let’s teach our children from a very young age about the story of the universe and its incredible richness and beauty. It is already so much more glorious and awesome — and even comforting — than anything offered by any scripture or God concept I know.”


More...

OK to Nuke Iran?

Seymour Hersh usually says something in his New Yorker articles. But in his latest he takes 6000 words to ask questions which he does not answer and to repeat obvious facts.

The question is spelled out in the subtitle of the article whose title is "THE NEXT ACT" and whose subtitle is "Is a damaged Administration less likely to attack Iran, or more?" Hersh just doesn't answer.

Then he tells us obvious things about the situation in the region, things that everyone knows:

A nuclear-armed Iran would not only threaten Israel. It could trigger a strategic-arms race throughout the Middle East, as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt—all led by Sunni governments—would be compelled to take steps to defend themselves. The Bush Administration, if it does take military action against Iran, would have support from Democrats as well as Republicans. Senators Hillary Clinton, of New York, and Evan Bayh, of Indiana, who are potential Democratic Presidential candidates, have warned that Iran cannot be permitted to build a bomb and that—as Clinton said earlier this year—“we cannot take any option off the table.” Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, has also endorsed this view. Last May, Olmert was given a rousing reception when he addressed a joint session of Congress and declared, “A nuclear Iran means a terrorist state could achieve the primary mission for which terrorists live and die—the mass destruction of innocent human life. This challenge, which I believe is the test of our time, is one the West cannot afford to fail.”

Despite such rhetoric, Leslie Gelb, a former State Department official who is a president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, said he believes that, “when push comes to shove, the Israelis will have a hard time selling the idea that an Iranian nuclear capability is imminent. The military and the State Department will be flat against a preëmptive bombing campaign.” Gelb said he hoped that Gates’s appointment would add weight to America’s most pressing issue—“to get some level of Iranian restraint inside Iraq. In the next year or two, we’re much more likely to be negotiating with Iran than bombing it.”
All in all it's a wordy disappointing article that neither causes me any alarm nor makes me more secure about the threats from those meshuggenas in Iran.

Six Imams Thrown Off Plane

With the election of Keith Ellison as the first Muslim US Congressman, Minneapolis has become a hub of Islamic activity. Six Imams were planning to return home from an Imam conference there, when they were ejected from their flight before takeoff.

They don't understand why. Three of them just wanted to pray -- on the plane.

Muslims -- in an intense fit of mock innocence -- just don't understand why they make people on planes nervous.

Anyone care to explain it to them?

The story from the Star Tribune:

Muslim group protests treatment of scholars on plane

Six Muslim imams were removed from a US Airways flight at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Monday and questioned by police for several hours before being released, a leader of the group said.
Steve Karnowski, Associated Press

The Council on American-Islamic Relations called Tuesday for an investigation into the behavior of airline staff and airport security in the removal of six Muslim scholars from a US Airways flight a day earlier.

A passenger raised concerns about the imams — three of whom said their normal evening prayers in the airport terminal before boarding the Phoenix-bound plane, according to one — through a note passed to a flight attendant, according to Andrea Rader, a spokeswoman for US Airways.

"We are concerned that crew members, passengers and security personnel may have succumbed to fear and prejudice based on stereotyping of Muslims and Islam," Nihad Awad, the council's executive director, said in a news release.

The six were returning from a conference in Minneapolis of the North American Imams Federation, said Omar Shahin of Phoenix, president of the group.

"They took us off the plane, humiliated us in a very disrespectful way," Shahin said after the incident.

Shahin said Tuesday that three members of the group prayed in the terminal before the six boarded the plane. They entered individually, except for one member who is blind and needed to be guided, Shahin said. Once on the plane, the six did not sit together, he said.

"We did nothing" on the plane, Shahin said.

The six were among passengers who boarded Flight 300, bound for Phoenix, around 6:30 p.m. Monday, airport spokesman Pat Hogan said.

Police were called after the captain and airport security workers asked the men to leave the plane and the men refused, Rader said.

Shahin said no one asked the six to leave, but when police arrived, the group complied. ...

11/20/06

The most disgusting obscenity on the Internet

I just came across the most disgusting obscenity on the Internet -- an article about the salaries of university presidents. It seems that these heads of non-profit organizations are acting as if they were deserving of salaries equal to their counterparts at for-profit corporations. There is no justification for this whatsoever. The demoralizing effect is profound when teachers and students discover that the president of their university is ripping them off. No wonder tuition is so high. The NY Times reports:

Pay Packages for Presidents Rise at Public Colleges
By JONATHAN D. GLATER

Presidents of some of the nation’s biggest public universities are closing the salary gap with their rivals at private institutions, with the number of top executives earning more than $500,000 nearly doubling, according to an annual survey of compensation by The Chronicle of Higher Education. The survey also found that seven presidents of private colleges, universities and medical schools currently receive more than $1 million in compensation.
See the rest of the obscenity...

You Cannot Sue Borat - the Release Form

Having seen the film, and given the box office receipts, I conclude that just about every unsuspecting person caught in the film will probably try to sue for defamation and other injuries.

Will they succeed? No, definitely not. I am not a lawyer, but it would appear to me that the release form that they signed is quite strong and the producers have no incentive to settle with any litigant.

The lesson learned here is - if you don't want your family to see you making a fool of yourself, don't get drunk and have yourself filmed.

Here is the Borat release form that has been floating around the Internet:

STANDARD CONSENT AGREEMENT

This is an agreement between One America Production, Inc. (the “Producer”) and the Undersigned (the “Participant”). In exchange for the Producer’s obligation to pay a participation fee in the amount of $____ (receipt of which is acknowledged by the Participant) and the opportunity for the Participant to appear in a motion picture, the Participant agrees as follows:

1. The Participant agrees to be filmed and audio taped by the Producer for a documentary-style film (the “Film”). It is understood that the Producer hopes to reach a young adult audience by using entertaining content and footage.

2. The Participant agrees that any rights that the Participant may have in the Film or the Participant’s contribution to the Film are hereby assigned to the Producer, and that the Producer shall be exclusively entitled to use, or to assign or license to others the right to use, the Film and any recorded material that includes the Participant without restriction in the media throughout the universe in perpituity and without liability to the Participant, and the Participant hereby grants any consents required for those purposes. The Participant also agrees to allow the Producer, and any of its assignees or licenses to use the Participant’s contribution, photograph, film footage, and biographical material to connection not only with the Film, but also in any advertising, marketing or publicity for the Film and in connection with any ancillary products associated with the Film.

3. The Participant understands that the Producer and its assignees or licenses are relying upon this consent agreement in spending time, money and effort on the Film and the Participant’s participation in it, and that the consent agreement, for this and other reasons, shall be irrevocable.

4. The Participant specifically, but without limitation, waives, and agrees not to bring at any time in the future, any claims against the Producer, or against any of its assignees or licenses or anyone associated with the Film, that include assertions of (a) infringement of rights of publicity or misappropriation (such as any allegedly improper or unauthorized use of the Participant’s name or likeness or image), (b) damages caused by “acts of God” (such as, but not limited to, injuries from natural disasters), (c) damages caused by acts of terrorism or war, (d) intrusion (such as any allegedly offensive behavior or questioning or any invasion of privacy), (e) false light (such as any allegedly false or misleading portrayal of the Participant) (f) infliction of emotional distress (whether allegedly intentional or negligent), (g) trespass (in property or person), (h) breach of any alleged contract (whether the alleged contract is verbal or in writing) (i) allegedly deceptive business or trades practices, (j) copyright or trademark infringement, (k) defamation (such as any allegedly false or misleading statements made on the Film), (l) violations of Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act (such as allegedly false or misleading statements or suggestions about the Participant in relation to the Film or the Film in relation to the Participant), (m) prima facie (such as alleged intentional harm to the Participant), (n) fraud (such as any alleged deception or surprise about the Film or the consent agreement), (o) breach of alleged moral rights, or (p) tortuous or wrongful interference with any contracts or business of the Participant.

5. This is the entire agreement between the Participant and the Producer or anyone else in relation to the Film, and the Participant acknowledges that in entering into it, the Participant is not relying upon any promises or statements made by anyone about the nature of the Film or the identity of any other Participants or persons involved in the Film.

6. Although the Participant agrees not to bring any claim in connection with the Film or the production, if any claim nevertheless is made, the Participant agrees that any such claim must be brought before, and adjudicated by, only a competent court located in the State of New York and County of New York under the laws of the State of New York.

11/19/06

Borat Speaks Hebrew

Saw this hilarious and unique film Sat. night at the sold-out Kips Bay theater in NYC. Funny film. It is pure reductio ad insultum cultural commentary.

I must say that Cohen speaks a fairly good Hebrew. His part of the "khazak" dialogue was almost always in a good Israeli Hebrew -- something that 99% of the viewers would never know. Yet another level of cultural critique.

Kuo Confused: Fasting Means Giving up Food - not Politics

Former Bush appointee David Kuo says Christians should forego politics for a while - a period of fasting. Why? Because Bush has lied to the Christians and made them look like fools.

David, you are confused. Fasting is a religious act wherein one gives up the life supporting sustenance of FOOD in order to atone for sins or to purify one's soul.

Abstaining from involvement in right-wing conservative politics has nothing to do with "fasting". You seem to be trying to make it seem like your decision to resign from the White House has some religious significance. Well, it does not. You had a job. Now you do not. It has nothing at all to do with the religious ritual of giving up FOOD for a period of purification.

Your confusion is profound. Political jobs are not religious jobs. Politicians are essentially immoral and never tell the truth. Religious leaders are supposed to be truthful and moral exemplars.

How could you not see the difference? Quitting or being fired from a political job at the White House is not a religious event. Your distortion of both religion and politics does no good for anyone. And your misuse of fasting for a metaphor to explain your job change does no good for anyone.

Here is the conclusion of what David Kuo said on the Times Op-Ed page last week:

Beliefnet.com’s post-election online survey of more than 2,000 people revealed that nearly 40 percent of evangelicals support the idea of a two-year Christian “fast” from intense political activism. Instead of directing their energies toward campaigns, evangelicals would spend their time helping the poor.

Why might such an idea get traction among evangelicals? For practical reasons as well as spiritual ones. Evangelicals are beginning to see the effect of their political involvement on those with whom they hope to share Jesus’ eternal message: non-evangelicals. Tellingly, Beliefnet’s poll showed that nearly 60 percent of non-evangelicals have a more negative view of Jesus because of Christian political involvement; almost 40 percent believe that George W. Bush’s faith has had a negative impact on his presidency.

There is also the matter of the record, which I saw being shaped during my time in the White House. Conservative Christians (like me) were promised that having an evangelical like Mr. Bush in office was a dream come true. Well, it wasn’t. Not by a long shot. The administration accomplished little that evangelicals really cared about.

Nowhere was this clearer than on the issue of abortion. Despite strong Republican majorities, and his own pro-life stands, Mr. Bush settled for the largely symbolic partial-birth abortion restriction rather than pursuing more substantial change. Then there were the forgotten commitments to give faith-based charities the resources they needed to care for the poor. Evangelicals are not likely to fall for such promises in the future.

Don’t expect conservative Christians in politics to start to disappear, of course. There are those who find the moral force of issues like abortion and gay marriage equal to that of the abolition of slavery — worth pursuing no matter what the risks of politics are for the soul. But the advocates working these special interests may, I think, be far fewer in coming years than in years past. Gay marriage was a less mobilizing force in 2006 than it was in 2004. In Arizona the ballot measure to outlaw it was defeated. The South Dakota abortion ban failed.

We will have to wait until 2008 to see just how deep this evangelical spiritual re-examination goes, and how seductive politics will continue to be to committed Christians. Meanwhile, evangelicals aren’t flocking to the Democratic Party. If anything, they are becoming more truly conservative in their recognition of the negative spiritual consequences of political obsession and of the limitations of government power.

C. S. Lewis once warned that any Christian who uses his faith as a means to a political end would corrupt both his faith and the faith writ large. A lot of Christians are reading C. S. Lewis these days.

When a Rabbi's Logic Kills People

Yes it is possible for a rabbi to draw what he thinks is a logical conclusion and thereby cause the death of an individual. Howso? If the rabbi concludes that a brain death is not death and thereby prohibits the donation of organs -- and a patient in need is denied said organs and dies -- then that rabbi has caused the death of a person.

The Times reports on just such a scenario in its report on a conference at Albert Einstein Medical College of Yeshiva University, "A Medical Dimension to a Religious Debate."

Rabbi Flaum argued that the criteria [of death] be the shutdown of the heart and lungs, citing Jewish religious commentators. Rabbi Flaum is a member of the medical ethics commission of the Rabbinical Council of America, an organization of mostly Orthodox rabbis.

After his talk, Rabbi Flaum said he supported organ donation in principle but wanted the “when, why and where” of donation to be specific.

“If life persists in the rest of the body,” he said, “therefore some part of the soul remains.”

For Ted Lawson, 63, of the Upper East Side, the rabbis’ debate was far from Talmudic.

A Presbyterian and a former investment banker, Mr. Lawson was dying of heart disease last year when he received the heart of a 55-year-old woman who had died of a gunshot wound.

“I am a heart recipient,” Mr. Lawson said, “and if the donors of the heart had stuck to cardiac death, I wouldn’t have a heart. I don’t agree with the rabbi’s stand, otherwise I’d be dead.”

11/17/06

Israel: Flying Mini Robots Will Stop Terrorists

Even if this story is only 10% true, it would be a big advance in the war on terrorism. It surely is a more important application for nanotechnology than some of the other projects - such as self correcting golf balls.

Israel developing anti-militant "bionic hornet"

Israel is using nanotechnology to try to create a robot no bigger than a hornet that would be able to chase, photograph and kill its targets, an Israeli newspaper reported on Friday.

The flying robot, nicknamed the "bionic hornet," would be able to navigate its way down narrow alleyways to target otherwise unreachable enemies such as rocket launchers, the daily Yedioth Ahronoth said.

It is one of several weapons being developed by scientists to combat militants, it said. Others include super gloves that would give the user the strength of a "bionic man" and miniature sensors to detect suicide bombers.

The research integrates nanotechnology into Israel's security department and will find creative solutions to problems the army has been unable to address, Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres told Yedioth Ahronoth.

"The war in Lebanon proved that we need smaller weaponry. It's illogical to send a plane worth $100 million against a suicidal terrorist. So we are building futuristic weapons," Peres said.

The 34-day war in Lebanon ended with a U.N.-brokered ceasefire in mid-August. The war killed more than 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 157 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

Prototypes for the new weapons are expected within three years, he said.

11/16/06

Kosher Pizza War in Teaneck

Josh Lipowsky reports on a nasty situation in Teaneck restaurant life.

After 28 years in the food-service industry, Dassy Hen closed the doors of her remaining Teaneck restaurant, Plaza Pizza, last week.

The former owner of Jerusalem Pizza on Cedar Lane, which shut its doors a few years ago, said an increase in rent from the new landlord had forced her to close the business. The building at 1431 Queen Anne Road that housed Plaza is managed by 1431 Corp., which came under new ownership recently. One of the new controlling partners is Yossi Niazoff, owner of Sammy’s Bagels and Sammy’s Deli on the same block.
More in the Jewish Standard.

Foxman Slams Jimmy Carter as "Truly Shocking"

Foxman's review in this week's Jewish Standard:

One should never judge a book by its cover, but in the case of former President Jimmy Carter’s latest work, "Palestine Peace Not Apartheid," we should make an exception. All one really needs to know about this biased account is found in the title.

It is truly shocking — at a time of Islamic extremism running rampant, of suicide bombs polluting cities in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, of Iran’s publicly stating its desire to wipe Israel off the map and building nuclear weapons to achieve that end, of the missile and rocket attacks by Hezbollah and Hamas on Israel — that Jimmy Carter can to a large degree only see Israel as the party responsible for conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

In some ways, Carter’s book reminds me of the outlandish paper on "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy" by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, though he doesn’t go to their extremes. Like them, his examination of almost every issue concerning the conflict results in blaming Israel for most or all of what has gone wrong. More...

The Jewish Adoption Option

The Jewish Standard writes this week about adoption - another way to build Jewish families.

Ignoramus Alert: Here is your Bible teacher

And now a vague teacher who is proud of his ignorance will help you study. What more can I say?

Too idle to read the Bible? It's in a blog
By Sara Ledwith

If pious Muslims follow the Koran, might Christians and Jews benefit from a closer read of their scriptures too? Can Biblical verses help make them better people, better parents, or even get along better with their in-laws?

People interested by such questions who haven't got much beyond the Adam and Eve story can join a man reading the Bible at http://www.slate.com, an online daily magazine.

In "Blogging the Bible," a vaguely religious man plods gamely through scripture, asking down-to-earth or occasionally irreverent questions, and getting thousands of emails in response.

"Any parent knows you have to follow through on your threats, or your children will take advantage of you," notes its author David Plotz, as he wonders why God let Adam and Eve off despite warning that "as soon as you eat of (the fruit of the tree of knowledge), you shall die."

"You can call this 'original sin', but maybe it's just lax parenting."

Plotz is Jewish, and calls himself a lax but well-educated ignoramus. And he finds so much sex, rape, incest, murder and gore in the 'Good Book' that parts of it remind him of 'Desperate Housewives' or 'The Godfather'.

He came up with the project on a rare visit to the synagogue, when he picked up the Torah during a tedious ceremony and chanced upon a rape scene.

"I want to find out what happens when an ignorant person actually reads the book on which his religion is based," he writes. "I think I'm in the same position as many other lazy but faithful people (Christians, Jews, Moslems, Hindus)."

In a life filled with debate about radical faith - from terrifying attacks to controversy about religious apparel - the idea of returning to texts like the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament is gaining ground.

But Plotz, who uses a conservative Jewish translation of the Torah and the King James's Bible as his texts, says his project has no political purpose.

Some parts of the text are heavy-going, but the Washington-based writer said the enthusiasm of readers - many of them Christians - has kept him at it and he now plans to publish the project as a book.

"This chapter makes the Jerry Springer Show look like Winnie the Pooh," writes Plotz of Genesis, Chapter 19. "The Sodom business is worse than I ever imagined."

Since starting the project in August, Plotz has received about 7,000 emails and read about half of them, he told Reuters.

A few come from atheists or radicals who are outraged by the venture, but he has not received the "battering" he feared.

"So many (people writing in) feel that their religion has been captured by the pastors, the priests their access to the teaching has been cut off," he said by telephone. "I think we've been done a disservice by organized religion in some ways - they've narrowed the field of what we read and talk about."

11/14/06

The Mystery of the Dead Sea Toilets

Archaeologists and biblical scholars have finally completely run out of ideas.

The Science Times reports that two men have examined some soil and found evidence that near the site of Qumran there was a latrine and from that they extrapolated proof that the monastic celibate Essenes must have lived there.

This means we are at the end of the line in Dead Sea scholarship. The final words have been written. Beyond this point no scholar will need to tread.

The article:
Latrines of the Essenes?
By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD

Archaeologists, it seems, will dig anything, even latrines. Sometimes this uncovers the stuff of scholarly evidence.

Over a hill, a discreet distance from and out of sight of the ruins of Qumran, near the Dead Sea, a broad patch of soil appeared to be discolored. Two archaeological sleuths had reasons to suspect this may have been Qumran’s toilet. Soil samples yielded the desiccated eggs of human intestinal parasites.

The researchers say this could well be evidence supporting the controversial view that Qumran was occupied by an ascetic Jewish sect, the Essenes, and that they probably wrote the Dead Sea scrolls and hid them in nearby caves. The discovery of the scrolls, beginning in 1947, was a sensation, with the promise of yielding insights into Judaism and early Christianity.

The new findings were announced yesterday by Dr. James D. Tabor, a biblical historian at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and Joe E. Zias, a paleopathologist in Israel. In an interview, Dr. Tabor said the link between the latrine and the Essenes was intriguing, but not firm. Not enough organic material has been recovered for scientific dating tests. Qumran has been in ruins since A.D. 70.

Two of the scrolls refer to a requirement that latrines be “northwest of the city” and “not visible from the city.” The Qumran latrine, some 1,000 yards away, seemed to comply.

Dr. Tabor conceded that it was possible, as recently proposed, that the site was a pottery factory but said it would have been run by a strict religious Jewish community.

“All I am saying,” he concluded, “is that researchers should look at everything and try to come up with the best answer as to who lived at Qumran in the time of the Dead Sea Scrolls.” In his view, that would be the Essenes.

NY Times: We have no clue why Christians are Zionists

The Times started a series of articles on the Christian Zionists. We covered this for the Jewish Standard several months ago -- in a review of David Brog's book and two accompanying interviews -- and so far we did a lot better job of analyzing the phenomenon. We tried to explain the theology and religious motives of these folks.

So far the Times does not give a clue. It's quite a mixed up article, jumping around from Hagee to Dobson to Eckstein and not really telling us much at all. In short, they have no idea why Christians are Zionists. Here is the start of the disappointing article:

For Evangelicals, Supporting Israel Is ‘God’s Foreign Policy’
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK

WASHINGTON, Nov. 13 — As Israeli bombs fell on Lebanon for a second week last July, the Rev. John Hagee of San Antonio arrived in Washington with 3,500 evangelicals for the first annual conference of his newly founded organization, Christians United For Israel.

At a dinner addressed by the Israeli ambassador, a handful of Republican senators and the chairman of the Republican Party, Mr. Hagee read greetings from President Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel and dispatched the crowd with a message for their representatives in Congress. Tell them “to let Israel do their job” of destroying the Lebanese militia, Hezbollah, Mr. Hagee said.

He called the conflict “a battle between good and evil” and said support for Israel was “God’s foreign policy.”

The next day he took the same message to the White House.

11/13/06

Good Morning Elton John: "Religion promotes the hatred and spite against gays."

Looks like our friend has just awoken sober and looked out the window. Welcome to the real world Mr. John.

Monday, November 13, 2006

LONDON (AP) - Organized religion fuels anti-gay discrimination and other forms of bias, pop star Elton John said.

"I think religion has always tried to turn hatred toward gay people," John said in the Observer newspaper's Music Monthly Magazine in an interview published Saturday. "Religion promotes the hatred and spite against gays."

"But there are so many people I know who are gay and love their religion," said the singer, who exchanged vows in December in a civil union ceremony with Canada's David Furnish. "From my point of view, I would ban religion completely. Organized religion doesn't seem to work. It turns people into really hateful lemmings, and it's not really compassionate."

John also criticized religious leaders for failing to do anything about conflicts around the world.

"Why aren't they having a conclave? Why aren't they coming together?"

John said those in his own field have been similarly lax.

"It's like the peace movement in the '60s. Musicians got through to people by getting out there and doing peace concerts, but we don't seem to do them any more," he said. "If John Lennon were alive today, he'd be leading it with a vengeance."

Miracle Video: Walking on "Water"

Not really walking on water, but close, and funny. From Barcelona, Spain



They filled a pool with a mix of cornstarch and water made on a concrete mixer truck. It becomes a non-newtonian fluid. When stress is applied to the liquid it exhibits properties of a solid.

NJ College Rutgers ranked #7 in the nation -- the Messiah is coming.

Moshiach -- the messiah -- must be coming. Rutgers is ranked nationally in the top 10. How did this happen?

Rutgers is eighth in the coaches' poll and seventh in the Harris poll...

Unbeaten Rutgers handed Louisville its first loss of the season on Thursday, 28-25. The win boosted the Scarlet Knights to No. 7, their first appearance in the top 10.

"Anytime you do something for the first time in history, it is significant," Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said Sunday. "In-season rankings are more for the fans than they are for us."

11/10/06

Jewish Standard: Agunot Outraged

The Jewish Standard carries Jacob Berkman's JTA story:

NEW YORK – Jewish women’s rights leaders are reeling after Israel’s Sephardi chief Rabbi canceled a conference of prominent rabbis that was to deal with the issue of women whose husbands refuse to give them divorce papers.

An agunah, literally a "chained" woman, is one whose husband refuses to give her a get, a document she needs under Jewish religious law for a divorce to be final. If she does not obtain a get but later remarries, any subsequent children she has are mamzers — or bastards. This label carries a harsh stigma in religious circles and limits whom the children can marry under Jewish law.

11/9/06

World's Dullest Men's Web Site: www.dullmen.com

Thanks to Reuters Life we now have bookmarked the world's dullest web site www.dullmen.com. The site itself has a dull grey look to it and it makes no effort towards interesting layout. Most of all, the content is dull. Exclamation points are bleeped out by the editors. Subpages are black on white background, with plain type faces.

This site is hilarious and sad for me at the same time. I realize that I engage in so many boring men's activities and that I actually have visited the Tax Museum in Jerusalem, a certified dull men's tourist destination: "Visiting museums is a favorite dull men's activity, and the site contains references to a plethora of resources, from safety razors through aprons to water hydrants, via a comb museum in China and Jerusalem's Tax Museum (it has a Hebrew Web site). 'One of the museum's purposes was to be a place to learn about the routine work of the tax department. Wow ... it doesn't get much better than that,' enthuses the site."

November is a dull time of year and I'm actually satisfied to be doing dull routine things right now. Hmm. Here is more.

As the story tells us, "LONDON, Nov 9 (Reuters Life) - Looking for safe excitement? November is fig month at the Dull Men's Club, a place in cyberspace for men who feel "born to be mild" and enjoy watching grass grow and photographing garden sheds.

"Figs are good for you. High fiber and high nutritional value ... fat-free, sodium-free, cholesterol-free ... not to mention the great taste. And they are portable," enthuses the Dull Men's Club Web site (http://www.dullmen.com) just above its choice of "Anorak of the Month."

While the rest of the Web teems with hazards -- Trojans, viruses, bots, phishers, spyware and other people - this monochrome haven boasts "no violence or scary scenes" and does its best to exclude exclamation marks.

Instead, an analysis of baggage carousels at 376 airports globally discovers that 44.8 percent rotate counterclockwise, 29 percent clockwise. The site also reveals the reason for that orientation.

"Many people - corporate executives and celebrities I've heard about - enjoy doing the dull things," the site's author Lee Carlson, also known as Grover Click, told Reuters.

Synagogues fall behind in shnorring technology? Tell me it ain't so!

The Bergen Record reports that churches have devised a way to get members to sign up for weekly charges to their credit cards. That helps them when there is a snow day and people can't show up and put actual money in the plate.

What about shuls? Why not get in on this? The auto-debiting pushke could be yet another device for incessant institutional fundraising.

Here is part of the story, "Churches try out an electronic alternative to the collection plate":

Three years ago, a snowstorm blanketed Upper Saddle River from Saturday evening through Sunday. The Church of the Presentation paid to have its parking lot plowed and its walkways shoveled, but attendance at Mass that Sunday was light.

As a result, the weekly collection netted about $4,000 instead of the usual $20,000. The next weekend things were back to normal, including the collection. But the $16,000 deficit was never recouped.

Soon afterward, the church became the first in the Archdiocese of Newark to offer a new donation option: the electronic ParishPay. Those who sign up decide how much they wish to give each week for a year, and that amount is automatically charged to their credit card. The church pays the Chicago-based service $1 plus 1 percent of each monthly donation.

"Initially, people used to show their gratitude [to the church] with crops or livestock, then with checks, and electronic pay seemed to be the next logical step," said the Rev. Larry Evans, who learned of ParishPay during a trip to Chicago and persuaded Presentation to give it a try.

Although just 250 members -- or about 10 percent of active parishioners -- use ParishPay to date, the church has deemed the experiment a success.

"It costs us $15 per [collection] envelope, and that's money down the drain," said Evans, who's now looking to introduce ParishPay at his new church in Jersey City. "So even at 1 to 2 percent we're still saving money off sending envelopes."

Even better, most participants increased their giving. ParishPay and its ChurchGiving subsidiary, which serve 2,200 churches of nine different denominations, report that donations go up an average of 128 percent when done automatically.

"In today's society, people are away from their home church more than they were 30 or 40 years ago," said ParishPay president Tim Dockery, formerly director of development for the Archdiocese of Chicago. "Many don't think to make up or plan for the gifts they would have given to their church that week."
...

There is a Baha'i temple on the roster, but no synagogues, Dockery explained, because Jewish houses of worship don't make weekly or monthly collections. They normally fund overhead expenses through an annual appeal and/or membership dues at the High Holidays.

"The Pope and the Witch": Catholic Bashing Play at Gopher Theater

We believe in free speech. But we also believe in respect for religions. People tend to think that the Twin Cities is made up mainly of scandinavian Protestants. But that is not the case. I believe the Catholic population is about 50%.

So why does a school go out of its way to insult half the people in the neighborhood? And especially today when insulting Islam via cartoons has led to violence and death?

And why allow state funds to underwrite this production?

I am in favor of free speech but I am not in favor of dumb politics and inflammatory actions. The committee that approved this play ought to be disciplined and the director who suggested it ought to be dismissed.

Here is the Star and Tribune story:

The University of Minnesota said Friday that the academic and artistic value of the satirical play "The Pope and the Witch," to be staged in March, is stronger than Catholic claims that it's blasphemous.

Italian Nobel Prize winner Dario Fo's 1989 work, one of several productions in the Department of Theatre Arts this school year, features a paranoid, drug-addled pope, a witch in nun's habit and a chaotic comedy of errors.

Archbishop Harry Flynn of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis met last week with university President Robert Bruininks to voice concerns about the play, said university spokesman Daniel Wolter.

Their talk was "a cordial meeting with a cordial outcome," said archdiocese spokesman Dennis McGrath, who said news and blog accounts have exaggerated the controversy.

"The Pope and the Witch" has a long history of sparking protests. The New York-based Catholic League, whose president, Bill Donohue, calls the play "pure hate speech," has criticized its appearance at theaters that receive public money from the National Endowment for the Arts. Demonstrations have been held at several colleges where the play has been staged.

Colleen Perfect of St. Paul, a representative of Catholic Parents Online, said the group shares Flynn's distress over the play.

"Tolerating this type of hate is giving license to defamation," she said via e-mail. "One can only imagine what kind of upheaval would take place on campus if the U staged a play smearing Mohammed."

Wolter said the university will hold several forums next year that will offer opportunities for debate about the play.

"It's not our role to be a rigid censor; it is also not our intent to offend folks," he said. "But academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas are the hallmarks of higher education."

Director Robert Rosen said he picked the play, which was approved by a department committee, because it's "very topical, addressing issues we see in the newspaper every day -- birth control, abortion, drugs, religion and politics."Part of my job as an artist is to bring the contemporary world to the stage," he said. "A lot of people upset about this play call Fo a Communist, but in reality he managed to anger both the Communist Party and the Italian right wing."

Rosen said the play is not an attack on the Catholic faith but rather "a portrayal of the Vatican's power structure and its ability to make policy that has a worldwide effect."I welcome discussion and debate," he said. "One of the roles of theater is to put things out there for people to think and talk about."

11/8/06

YouTube: ClipBandits Killing the Music Video

While you were busy reading blogs and voting and doing other mundane things, a bunch of musicians were inventing a new genre of music - ClipBandits.

They don't even know each other - but they are a hit group. Go figure.


And Oh yes, Faith Hill acts like a bad sport at a music award show. Who is Faith Hill?

New TAU President was Columbia U Dean

The BWOG reports Dean Zvi Galil of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Columbia University has decided to leave "the best job in the world" and accept the position as President of Tel-Aviv University.

Explaining this decision, Zvi wrote to his community:

This is my 25th year at Columbia. I started as a young CS faculty member in 1982, then served as department chair, and, as of 1995, Dean of SEAS—the best job in the world. At the end of this academic year, I will step down to serve as the President of Tel-Aviv University in Israel.

My years at Columbia have been the best. I am grateful to Columbia for giving me the opportunity to work in one of the world's premier research universities, and to learn how the American system of higher education (the finest in the world) works. I have loved my work here; it has been the best job in the world. I have enjoyed working with our great faculty, terrific students, excellent staff and loyal alumni and parents. Many of them have become close friends. We have made tremendous progress in recent years and we have great momentum.

So why do I leave?

Tel-Aviv University is more than my Alma Mater. My late father was one of its six founders, I earned my BS and MS degrees there, and met my wife there. I served on its faculty full-time for six years and jointly with Columbia until I became dean. In recent years, the University has suffered several setbacks, including a difficult financial situation, a reduction in faculty, and a crisis in morale. I was asked to take on the presidency to help realize its full potential—being the premier university in Israel and in the top tier of universities worldwide.
Good luck Zvi!

NY Times: Kiddush can make you sick

The Times reports November 7, 2006 some bad news in its science section.

Certain cheap red wines are more likely to give you a headache or a hangover. We Jews have been known to use the cheapest red wine for Kiddush, the blessing and drinking of wine before meals on Sabbaths and Holidays.

That's because in past times the only kosher wines were often the syrupy Malaga or Concord varieties from Kedem or Manischewitz. The good news is that in recent years, Jewish kosher wine consumption has gone upscale. Keep this in mind next time you replenish your wine cellar. Spending more on a good quality wine from a good vintage year -- well that could make you healthier.

The story:

Really? The Claim: Some Types of Alcohol Cause Worse Hangovers Than Others
By ANAHAD O’CONNOR

THE FACTS Too much alcohol of any kind can cause sickness and regret the morning after. But it’s often said that some kinds of drinks are worse than others.

Experts say that the type of alcohol you drink does make a difference, but for various reasons. Among the most important is the amount of congeners (pronounced CON-juh-nurz) — complex organic molecules, like methanol — in a particular drink. Impurities in poorly refined spirits like cheap vodka can also play a role, but congeners, which are common in darker liquors, seem to have the greatest effect.

According to one report in The British Medical Journal, which looked at the effects of different types of alcohol, the drink that produced the most hangover symptoms was brandy, followed by red wine, rum, whiskey, white wine, gin and vodka. Another study showed that bourbon was twice as likely to cause sickness as the same amount of vodka.

There is also wide variation within certain categories, like wine. Wines that come from countries where a small change in climate can greatly affect their quality, some experts say, can contain significantly more hangover-inducing compounds in a bad season. Inexpensive red wines, in particular, have a reputation for causing sickness. But that may be because some people suffer from a syndrome called red wine headache, whose cause is unknown. What scientists do know is that the wines that cause it vary from person to person, and across brands, grapes and price.

THE BOTTOM LINE Certain types of alcohol can make a hangover worse.

"Jew" Defeated for Senate? George Allen -- aka Macacawitz -- Behind Webb in Virginia

We ordinarily consider the loss of a senate seat by a Jew a setback. I'm not sure how to score this one.

"Jew" George Allen aka Macacawitz lags at this time behind Jim Webb in the Virginia senate vote. Chances are good that the state will certify the election on the 11/27 for Webb and that Allen will demand a recount.

The ambivalence for the Jewish community in this case stems from Allen, who was raised Christian, admitting to his Jewish roots during the race after it was revealed by others.

PS: It's a good bet that several Jewish lawyers will be involved in the post certification appeals processes.

Black Muslim beats Orthodox Jew in Minnesota Race

Alan Fine who often attended the Orthodox shul in St. Louis Park, MN, lost his congressional race to the black, muslim candidate Keith Ellison. Fine, a bright and presentable candidate, messed up numerous opportunities to make inroads in this political race. Ellison was linked to black radical Farrakhan but nevertheless, got the endorsement of the local newspaper, the American Jewish World. It was easy sailing from that point into a major landslide for Ellison. The St. Paul Pioneer Press reports:
Keith Ellison was a minor figure as a two-term state representative from Minneapolis. Now, across the nation and the world, he might become Minnesota's best-known voice.

The 43-year-old fiery stump speaker, an easy winner Tuesday in the 5th Congressional District, becomes Minnesota's first black congressman and America's first Muslim on Capitol Hill. As a result, he dons the mantle of ambassador to the world's second largest religion.

With 91 percent of the vote counted, the Democratic candidate and champion of liberal issues garnered 56 percent of the vote. Republican Alan Fine and Independence Party candidate Tammy Lee were tied at 21 percent, and seat-of-the-pants campaigner Jay Pond, a Green Party candidate who rode his bicycle to campaign stops, was polling 2 percent.

11/7/06

Google: No secret $500 mil YouTube fund

We are obliged to call this to your attention even tho we do not believe that it is true.

Google CEO denies rumor of YouTube legal reserve By Eric Auchard

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Google Inc. Chief Executive Eric Schmidt on Tuesday denied a widely circulated rumor that his company had set aside $500 million to settle copyright claims by media companies as part of its deal to acquire video-sharing site YouTube Inc.

Speaking to more than 500 Internet industry insiders at the annual Web 2.0 Summit, Schmidt said an anonymous blog post asserting YouTube has reserved $500 million for legal claims, out of the $1.65 billion takeover price, was "not true."

No Rev. Hagee, Non-Jews are "going straight to hell with a non-stop ticket"

About the time I recently reviewed David Brog's book about Christian Zionists, Mr. Brog went to work for Rev. Hagee. Now the media is abuzz because of something Hagee preached last Sunday. It's not that he said certain things about non-Christians. It's that the Texas Governor was in the Church and when asked later he would not disavow anything the Rev. said. (See the story from UPI below.)

So now I've emailed David and asked him about the quote, "going straight to hell with a non-stop ticket"? David replied to me that Hagee has been mistreated. He was talking in church to his followers and reminding them about a belief that is at the bedrock of the church, that they must find Jesus or find hell.

I'm still bothered by this bedrock teaching.

What troubles me is the "non-stop ticket" part of the statement. I'm confused about how we non-Christians get our tickets to hell. Xpedia.com? And how does Hagee know that the trips will be "non-stop"? Maybe we get to stop in purgatory or at least in limbo. Perhaps Chubby Checker is there in limbo singing his hit song, "Jack be limbo, Jack be quick. Jack go unda limbo stick." I like that song.

But I guess I'll have to go non-stop to hell then because Hagee says it is so.

I liked Hagee. He raises money for Israel and supports Zionism. He also provides Internet services that protect you from porn, http://www.jhmonline.com/, John Hagee Online. He seems to be an all around okay guy.

Why then this dumb remark that we Jews are, "going straight to hell with a non-stop ticket"?
Texas governor's religious remarks slammed
Nov. 6, 2006 at 11:29AM

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has drawn criticism from rival candidates for saying he agrees non-Christians are condemned to spend eternity in hell.

Perry was among some 60 mostly Republican candidates for Tuesday's midterm election attending a Sunday service at San Antonio's Cornerstone Church, where pastor John Hagee said in his sermon non-Christians were "going straight to hell with a non-stop ticket," The Dallas Morning News reported.

Afterward, Perry told reporters there was nothing in the sermon he could disagree with, prompting quick condemnations from opponents.

"He doesn't think very differently from the Taliban, does he?" said independent candidate Kinky Friedman. "Being obsessed with who's going to heaven and who's going to hell is kind of a pathetic waste of time."

Democrat Chris Bell said a state leader should have been more cautious in his remarks.

"God is the only one who can make the decision as to who gets into the kingdom of heaven," Bell said.

11/6/06

Left Behind: The Apocalypse as video game!

Release: Tomorrow 11/7
Name: LEFT BEHIND: Eternal Forces
Description: Wage a war of apocalyptic proportions in LEFT BEHIND Eternal Forces - a real-time strategy game based upon the best-selling LEFT BEHIND book series created by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. Join the ultimate fight of Good against Evil, commanding Tribulation Forces or the Global Community Peacekeepers, and uncover the truth about the worldwide disappearances!
Faithfulness to the books: Not as bloody and too nice to the infidels.
Features:
· Lead the Tribulation Force from the book series , including Rayford, Chloe, Buck and Bruce against Nicolae Carpathia – the AntiChrist.
· Conduct physical & spiritual warfare : using the power of prayer to strengthen your troops in combat and wield modern military weaponry throughout the game world.
· Recover ancient scriptures and witness spectacular Angelic and Demonic activity as a direct consequence of your choices.
· Command your forces through intense battles across a breathtaking, authentic depiction of New York City.
· Control more than 30 units types - from Prayer Warrior and Hellraiser to Spies, Special Forces and Battle Tanks!
· Enjoy a robust single player experience across dozens of New York City maps in Story Mode – fighting in China Town , SoHo , Uptown and more!
· Play multiplayer games as Tribulation Force or the AntiChrist's Global Community Peacekeepers with up to eight players via LAN or over the internet!


From the Review in Wired:
So the great surprise of Left Behind: Eternal Forces is that it actually kind of rocks. It's a classic real-time strategy game: Starting with a single "recruiter," your job is to proselytize followers, level them up into an army of soldiers, medics and "spirit warriors," then bring a hard rain down on the forces of the Antichrist. This all takes place in a sprawling version of Manhattan that is rendered with breathtaking accuracy -- down to the precise location of Duane Reade drugstores -- and superb camera work. Actual battles offer nail-biting action, forcing you to make split-second decisions as helicopters swarm through the air.

But what's particularly intriguing is how the developers incorporated prayer as a central game mechanic. Each of your team members has a "spirit" ranking. If you let them get too fatigued or hurt, their spirit drops into "neutral" territory and you lose them. You can sway enemies to your side by unleashing your "spirit warriors" or Christian-rock singers, whose joyful noises raise the spirit of anyone near them. (You can even convert evil forces if you're persuasive enough. Of course, the Antichrist has his own evil heavy-metal musicians who work precisely the opposite effect.) And if your forces accidentally kill neutral innocents, their spirit drops further: The act of murder actually has a moral dimension in this game.
The reviewer notes that the game does not get as gruesome as the books it is based upon. In particular, no unpleasant things happen to "Jews who refuse to convert" and their tongues are not "dissolved in screaming agony by a fired-eyed Jesus":

Indeed, I kept wondering when the game was going to throw it down and truly embrace the apocalyptic Christian vision. This story line isn't merely of armageddon, but Armageddon. Thus, the last Left Behind book -- Glorious Appearing -- concludes with the ultimate triumph of Jesus in a phantasmagorically gruesome holocaust. As predicted in Revelation, the savior returns to Earth, chides Satan for defiling the planet (and for inventing Darwinism), then proceeds to slaughter all unbelievers, dissolving their tongues and bursting their bodies like overstuffed sausages. As millions die in transports of agony, the ground becomes a swamp of blood and mud, and some extremely unpleasant things happen to the Jews who refuse to convert. As for the born-again? They stand around watching and cheering.

Critics and moderate Christians were, as you'd expect, totally appalled when that book came out. But what's truly fascinating is that, at least as far as I played the Left Behind game, nothing remotely this ghastly takes place. Indeed, it's quite sanitized: Those killed in battle fall to the ground without gore, and eventually fade away.

Why not go the extra mile? We've got all these cutting-edge computer graphics -- couldn't they easily render this bloodbath? Sure, but as the Left Behind game designers explained to me, they were worried about offending their audience by having too much gore.

Which is the ultimate, and gorgeous, irony of this game. Left Behind fans are apparently more worried about simulated violence in video games than about believing an actual prophecy of the future -- endorsed by their spiritual leaders -- in which their friendly Jewish, Islamic and atheist neighbors have their tongues dissolved in screaming agony by a fire-eyed Jesus.

11/5/06

Let's compare how fundamentalist Jews and Goyim will protect us from the Internet

Fundamentalist Christian Internet filtering services promise to protect their users and to block web sites that contain such bad things like:

Pornography, Recreational nudity, Sexually explicit language, Criminal activity, Hate speech, Drug promotion, Illegal weapons construction/modification/sales, and Crime instructions.

The Fundamentalist Jewish Agudath Israel organization next week at their convention will discuss what to do for protection from the bad things on the Internet like the following:

"Internet 'blogs' where misguided individuals feel free to spread every bit of rechilus (gossip) and loshon hora (slander) about rabbonim and roshei yeshiva (rabbinic leaders), all with the intended effect of undermining any semblance of Torah authority in our community. It is most appropriate for an organization like Agudath Israel, whose very essence was built on the recognition of the authority of Torah leaders, to address this issue head on, and formulate concrete plans to reinvigorate public awareness of this essential element of the Torah way of life."

I for one am so glad these rabbis are acting to protect ... themselves ... from dangerous bloggers.

11/4/06

Bizarre Video: Rev. Haggard (now disgraced) confronts Richard Dawkins (atheist) at his church

On the one hand, I have taught religion for over 30 years. Each year the subject seems to get more bizarre.

On the other hand, after Shabbetai Zvi converted to Islam, his followers created a theology to explain and defend his actions.

So, I'm wondering if the Rev. Haggard's followers, now that he has been forced to admit to scandalous behavior, will start talking about how he was just doing research or that perhaps he was engaged in some mystical religious activities. Now that is not beyond the realm of possibility, given the lessons of the history of religions.

Here is the video clip of Haggard v. Dawkins.

Video: The greatest pop song of all time?

The Byrds on Ed Sullivan, 1965, singing Turn! Turn! Turn!.

11/3/06

Schneier Sponsors a Dialogue of the Deaf

Walter Ruby wrote a first-rate story for today's Jewish week about an attempt at interfaith dialogue.

A rare dialogue between a rabbi and an imam at a New York Orthodox synagogue turned from love fest to misunderstanding last Saturday, demonstrating some of the hurdles to progress that such dialogues face. In soaring rhetoric, host Rabbi Marc Schneier of the New York Synagogue and Imam Omar Abu Namous of the Islamic Cultural Center urged that Jews and Muslims should put aside conflicts and reach out to each other. But after Rabbi Schneier and moderator Joel Cohen pressed him on why more Muslims don’t speak out against Islamic extremism, Abu Namous, leader of New York’s largest mosque, unleashed a barrage of criticisms against Israel, at one point even questioning its legitimacy. The event rapidly deteriorated into a dialogue of the deaf. More...

11/2/06

Cuban: Google Set Aside $500 Million to Settle YouTube Lawsuits

Everyone knows that Google bought YouTube for $1.65 Billion.

Everyone knows that Mark Cuban thought buying YouTube was crazy because of all the copyright infringement lawsuits they were facing.

Cuban has been known to follow up on deals, even those he just comments on. So he has posted a long item outlining how Google and YouTube plan to settle all the potential suits and the twist is they also plan to inhibit their competitors at the same time. Allegedly, the media companies will accept a settlement from YouTube in the form of equity so they don't have to share it with the talent and they will sue YouTube's competitors, which probably will wipe them out.

Good deal eh?

You don't make billions being nice guys.

Epitaph for Clifford Geertz: He helped define religion and culture


Yesterday's Times carried the obituary for Clifford Geertz, noted cultural anthropologist. Among other things, the Times notes that Geertz helped interpret Islamic culture,

Because of political turmoil in Indonesia, Mr. Geertz later turned his attention to Morocco, where he began doing fieldwork in the ancient village of Sefrou in 1963, returning five more times over the course of his career.

Profoundly influenced by his fieldwork there, he honed his comparative and historical approach in “Islam Observed” (1968), which the anthropologist Edmund Leach praised as “a highly insightful comparison between Islam as interpreted by Indonesians and Islam interpreted by Moroccans.”
For years I have used his definition of religion as a starting point for many of my classes. In his article, Religion as a Cultural System, Geertz writes in part:

Without further ado, then, a religion is:

(1) a system of symbols which acts to (2) establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by (3) formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and (4) clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that (5) the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.
Yes, we do know that many others have come along to critique this formulation. Nonetheless my students and I find it a convenient way to agree on a common point of discourse. Students in our universities come from many shades of religious upbringing, most with only a vague and passing knowledge that their own religion comes out of a cultural system. So by stipulating to the truth of Geertz's definition, we agree to go forward and discuss such things as comparative religions and more recently the cultures of violence that mix together religion and terror.

Geertz was a colorful scholar of the postwar generation. Fortunately he wrote some autobiographical musings which you can read part of online here. I will let him speak a bit and then say nothing else.

It was, in any case, with such an accumulation of proleptic worries and semi-notions that I departed, after less than a year of preparation, and most of that linguistic, to Java in 1952, to locate and describe, perhaps even to go so far as to explain, something called "religion" in a remote and rural subdistrict five hundred miles south-southeast of Jakarta. Again, I have retailed elsewhere the practical difficulties involved in this, which were enormous (I damn near died, for one thing), but largely overcome. The important point, so far as the development of my take on things is concerned, is that field research, far from sorting things out, scrambled them further. What in a Harvard classroom had been a methodological dilemma, a conundrum to puzzle over, was, in a bend-in-the-road Javanese town, trembling in the midst of convulsive change, an immediate predicament, a world to engage. Perplexing as it was, "Life Among the Javans" was rather more than a riddle, and it took rather more than categories and definitions, and rather more also than classroom cleverness and a way with words, to find one's way around in it.

11/1/06

Godless: Tall, Blond and Utterly Obnoxious

I just finished listening to eleven CD's of Ann Coulter's book, Godless: The Church of Liberalism. I heard the last disc this morning in the car while sitting in the worst traffic of the season on the HRD and the FDR trying to get down to East 59th street in the city.

After reading so much about the book after its release on 6/6/06 I just forgot about it. I'm not a fan of conservative screeds and that is how the book was presented by both its supporters and detractors. We finally got around to taking the book on CD out of the Teaneck library and started listening last week.

This has been a painful experience. It's not just that Coulter is wrong about plain facts or that she has plagiarized. She is against so many things it is hard to keep track. And they are not just little things like family planning. No she is against science and education too.

What bothered me the most was the absolute tone of sarcasm that pervades her writing. I'm certain that the commercial success of models of writing like this book -- a number one bestseller on the "non-fiction" bestseller list -- have a profoundly negative influence on civil discourse in our society. I worry about the toxic effect of this kind of writing on young people, especially those conservative bloggers who might want to emulate the Coulter formula.

The inane thesis that Coulter advances is that "Liberalism" is a religion, that public schools are its churches, that evolutionary biologists are its priests and so on and so on. She demonstrates in her choppy, non-sequiteur prose clearly that she understands nothing about religion, education, science and the like.

Critics have already taken the book apart and demolished it to smithereens (summary). Happily I can report no recollection of any significant passages related to Jews or Judaism from this awful treatise. So this book is very bad for everyone, not just for Jews.