3/31/07

NY Times Screwed Up Book Review by Jew

What is wrong with this book review? Well in the letters to the book review there is a discussion of whether Tony Judt should or should not have reviewed a book by a writer who reviewed his book in an obscure journal. The Times checked with Tony to make sure he had no conflict of interest because that is their policy.

To the Editor:

Tony Judt’s bitter criticism of Michael Burleigh’s “Sacred Causes” (March 11) needs to be questioned. Could the reviewer of this “depressing and unpleasant book” have had in mind Burleigh’s respectful but less-than-exuberant review of Judt’s own work, “Postwar,” in The Tablet of London (Jan.7, 2006)? “In an avowedly ‘opinionated’ book, perhaps the only thing missing is the author’s capacity to examine his own assumptions and prejudices. These are evident whenever Judt discusses the Catholic Church, Christian Democracy or any form of conservatism.”

Is there not a conflict of interest here? Surely, it is unusual for an author who has been severely criticized by a reviewer to then turn around and even more severely attack the reviewer’s own book. What ever happened to the principle of “full disclosure”?

William Doino
Weston, Conn.

Tony Judt replies:

William Doino should not be so quick to jump to conclusions. I don’t read The Tablet — I was unaware of its existence — and I didn’t know that Burleigh had reviewed my book there. My only conflict of interest when reviewing “Sacred Causes” arose from Burleigh’s obsession with “the visceral anti-Catholicism of many Jews and among the secular left intelligentsia” (e.g., me) and my inability to take seriously a historian who describes Jürgen Habermas as “a sinisterly silly guru of revolution.” But I could not have known of Burleigh’s prejudices until I read his book.

The editor replies:

The Book Review’s policy is to ask prospective reviewers if they are aware of any possible or theoretical conflicts that might prejudice their reviews of a particular book, as the editor did in the case of Tony Judt’s assignment. Judt satisfied the Book Review that there was no conflict, and we are confident that he was unaware of Burleigh’s review of “Postwar,” which was in fact largely positive.

I am so impressed with all the professional concern the editors show to avoid even a smattering of suspicion that there is no agenda motivating the assessment of a book...

Then I turn the page and see a Jew, LEON WIESELTIER, reviewing a book by a Palestinian, SARI NUSSEIBEH.

What? Are you nuts? There is no way that this is cricket.
'Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life'

In a political memoir, a Palestinian scholar criticizes, but does not hate, Israel.

And anyhow there are some other interesting reviews in the mixed up insert to the newspaper of record....
'Crazy '08'

Twenty-five cents would get you into a ballpark where whiskey, waffles and pigs’ knuckles were served. Has baseball ever been better than it was in 1908?

'The Cheater's Guide to Baseball'

If you ever wanted to throw a spitball or cork a bat, Derek Zumsteg can tell you how.

'Radicals for Capitalism'

A history of libertarianism from the Austrians to Ayn Rand and beyond.

'In the Footsteps of the Prophet'

An interpretive biography of Muhammad sheds light on the political philosophy of its controversial author.

France Uncovered
'Why the French Don’t Like Headscarves'

The culture and politics of the French ban on Muslim head scarves in schools.

'Stacked: A 32DDD Reports From the Front'

The book is a celebration, neither prudish nor depraved, of “female orbs” in all their hypnotic glory.

Professor Fish the Am Haaretz

Well... Stanley. This fella thinks religious discourse is as follows: "My God is the real God." "No My God is the real God."

I mean what in the world are you thinking? There is knowledge and learning and cultural awareness and myth and literature and history and geography and lots more to learn about the religions of the world!

This is a new low point for the NEW YORK TIMES.

In 1992, at a conference of Republican governors, Kirk Fordice of Mississippi referred to America as a “Christian nation.” One of his colleagues rose to say that what Governor Fordice no doubt meant is that America is a Judeo-Christian nation. If I meant that, Fordice replied, I would have said it.

I thought of Fordice when I was reading Time magazine’s April 2 cover story, “The Case for Teaching the Bible,” by David Van Biema, which also rehearses the case for not teaching the Bible. The arguments are predictable.

On the one side, knowledge of the Bible “is essential to being a full-fledged, well-rounded citizen”; also, if you get into a debate with a creationist, it would be good if you knew what you’re talking about.

On the other side: bring the Bible into the schools and you are half a step away from proselytizing; and besides, courses in the Bible typically play down the book’s horrific parts (dashing children against stones and the like), and say little about the killings done in its name.

As the Time article reports, the usual response to those who fear that allowing the camel’s nose under the tent will sooner or later turn the tent into a revival meeting is to promise that the Bible will be taught as a secular text. Students will become familiar with the Bible’s stories and learn how to spot references to them in works of literature stretching from Dante to Toni Morrison.

There may be a bit of instruction in doctrine here and there, but only as much as is necessary to understand an allusion, and never to a degree that would make anyone in the class uncomfortable.

Stephen Prothero of Boston University, who is cited several times by Van Biema, describes the project and the claim attached to it succinctly: “The academic study of religion provides a kind of middle space. ... It takes the biblical truth claims seriously and yet brackets them for purposes of classroom discussion.” But that’s like studying the justice system and bracketing the question of justice. (How do you take something seriously by putting it on the shelf?)

The truth claims of a religion — at least of religions like Christianity, Judaism and Islam — are not incidental to its identity; they are its identity.

The metaphor that theologians use to make the point is the shell and the kernel: ceremonies, parables, traditions, holidays, pilgrimages — these are merely the outward signs of something that is believed to be informing them and giving them significance. That something is the religion’s truth claims. Take them away and all you have is an empty shell, an ancient video game starring a robed superhero who parts the waters of the Red Sea, followed by another who brings people back from the dead. I can see the promo now: more exciting than “Pirates of the Caribbean” or “The Matrix.” That will teach, but you won’t be teaching religion.

The difference between the truth claims of religion and the truth claims of other academic topics lies in the penalty for getting it wrong. A student or a teacher who comes up with the wrong answer to a crucial question in sociology or chemistry might get a bad grade or, at the worst, fail to be promoted. Those are real risks, but they are nothing to the risk of being mistaken about the identity of the one true God and the appropriate ways to worship him (or her). Get that wrong, and you don’t lose your grade or your job, you lose your salvation and get condemned to an eternity in hell.

Of course, the “one true God” stuff is what the secular project runs away from, or “brackets.” It counsels respect for all religions and calls upon us to celebrate their diversity. But religion’s truth claims don’t want your respect. They want your belief and, finally, your soul. They are jealous claims. Thou shalt have no other God before me.

This is what Fordice meant. He understood that if he prefaced Christian with “Judeo,” he would be blunting the force of the belief he adhered to and joining the ranks of the multiculturalist appreciators of everything. Once it’s Judeo-Christian, it will soon be Judeo-Islamic-Christian, then Judeo-Islamic-Native American-Christian and then. ... Teaching the Bible in that spirit may succeed in avoiding the dangers of proselytizing and indoctrination. But if you’re going to cut the heart out of something, why teach it at all?

Stanley Fish, the Davidson-Kahn professor of law at Florida International University, is a guest columnist this month.

NY Times: $100 Million to Jews - in Berlin Reparations

Germany’s largest retailer will pay the heirs of a department store once owned by a Jewish family more than $100 million for the confiscation of what is now prime real estate in Berlin.

NY Times: Howard Stern wants to ruin American Idol

This is where Howard Stern goes way too far over the line - even for him.
Howard Stern Tries to Kill ‘American Idol’ With Kindness for a Weak Link

LOS ANGELES, March 30 — For the last few years, three-quarters of the network television executives in Hollywood have tried to figure out how to derail “American Idol,” the Fox juggernaut that dominates the prime-time ratings.

Now Howard Stern, of all people, says he has found the way.

For the last two weeks, Mr. Stern has been promoting a Web site created by a 24-year-old “American Idol” fan that encourages people to support the worst performer on the popular talent show. Their candidate has been Sanjaya Malakar, the off-key, lyric-fumbling, elaborately coiffed teenager who is perhaps the most talked-about “Idol” contestant ever.

“We’re corrupting the entire thing,” Mr. Stern said on his Sirius Satellite Radio show Thursday, the day after Mr. Malakar secured a place in the top nine finalists. “All of us are routing ‘American Idol.’ It’s so great. The No. 1 show in television and it’s getting ruined.”

By promoting Mr. Malakar, Mr. Stern says, he hopes to turn the talent competition into a farce and destroy its popularity.

NY Times: Chinese Want to be Kosher - 'Trust, schmust!'

The Chinese understand that Kosher means more customers. Beyond that they do not have a clue. Hence the company that want their chairs to be certified Kosher.

China's plants clamor to go kosher

The People's Republic is home to only 3,000 Jews, but businesses there covet a certification that allows them to tap a $150 billion global market

By Evan Osnos
Tribune foreign correspondent
Published April 1, 2007

BEIJING -- Rabbi Shimon Freundlich picked up the phone in Beijing, and a Chinese factory boss launched his pitch. He wanted to join the growing ranks of Chinese exporters who have earned a kosher seal of approval.

He promised to follow the rules and to welcome surprise inspections. So, the rabbi asked, what's the product?

"Tables and chairs," came the reply.

A bit more enthusiastic than knowledgeable, China's factory owners are clamoring to go kosher. In an odd-couple embrace that only global commerce could produce, more than 2,000 Chinese plants have been certified in the past decade under Jewish dietary laws in hopes of tapping a world trade estimated at $150 billion a year.

Among them, up to 50 factories also have been certified to the stricter standard reserved for Passover, rabbis say. So when Jews worldwide sit down Monday for a Passover Seder, something made in China might well be on the table.

China is churning out a growing list of kosher products, from canned vegetables to candy to unpronounceable enzymes. The New York-based Orthodox Union, which administers the world's largest kosher trademark, is on pace to double in one year the 300 plants it has certified in China.

"Every two weeks we get applications from 15 or 20 new plants," said the Union's Rabbi Mordechai Grunberg, who oversees factories across China.

Until recently, China's underdeveloped infrastructure made it nearly impossible for rabbis to crisscross the People's Republic inspecting factories to ensure, for example, that there is no pork or shellfish anywhere near a production line.

Grunberg learned that lesson in 1981, when he visited Shanghai to inspect a citric-acid plant.

"I got to the hotel and I had no telephone, nobody spoke English, there was no contact to meet me and there were rats," he said. "I went right back to the airport and just waited for the flight back to New York."

He did not set foot in China again for 21 years.

Today, Grunberg can journey to the Tibetan plateau to watch nomadic dairy producers and ensure that no milk is added from non-kosher animals. The next week he can be in China's frigid north, checking for insects in a garlic storehouse.

Hub of global supply chain

The sudden demand for certification underscores China's unique role in global supply chains. Shipments of frozen fish from Alaska and Greenland come all the way to China for processing and kosher inspection, only to be reshipped to the U.S. for sale.

In one case, Freundlich found himself at the crossroads of centuries-old tradition and 21st Century shipping: He faced thousands of pounds of Alaskan fish but had no way to know that each fish met the kosher standard of having fins and scales.

"I checked 37,000 fish, scraping each one with my fingernail, over three days," said Freundlich, who moved to Beijing six years ago to found the Chabad Lubavitch of Beijing, an Orthodox synagogue and education center.

China is discovering that going kosher poses some particular challenges. There are only seven inspectors, or mashgiach, living full-time in China to perform meticulous factory visits, so backup rabbis have to fly in from New York, Tel Aviv and elsewhere.

And there is a steep learning curve for a nation less familiar with matzo balls than with sweet-and-sour prawns and savory pork. Though China had ancient communities of Jews and sheltered as many as 30,000 Jewish refugees during World War II, there are only roughly 3,000 Jews living in China today, rabbis say.

Regardless, factory owners say a growing share of U.S. importers demand a kosher seal, which only a mashgiachcan provide.

Even as the U.S. Jewish population declines through intermarriage and aging, a 2005 survey by market researcher Mintel International Group found that 15 percent of U.S. shoppers buy kosher food all the time, and an additional 58 percent occasionally do so. Most are not Jews but tell pollsters that they consider most kosher food to be healthy and safer.

That is enough to convince Hu Yalong.

"The Chinese people don't know much about Jewish culture, but it doesn't affect the fact that we still want to do business," said Hu, general manager of Anhui Great Nation Essential Oils Co., which earned a kosher certificate last year for its peppermint-oil additives.

Some cultural and language confusion is inevitable. When Avrom Pollak, the rabbi who heads Baltimore-based trademark Star-K, made his first trip to China more than 15 years ago, he visited some caffeine-factory officials who had a tenuous grip on the details of Judaism.

"As I was getting ready to leave, all the employees are standing around, and I could see they were expecting something," the rabbi said. "Finally they said they were waiting for 'the rabbit.' They had been told 'a rabbit would be coming from the U.S.' to see if they were kosher."

Even today, some factories are puzzled that no matter what they do, they can't seem to be eligible.

"I have to tell them, 'There's no way to make a pork dim sum kosher," said Rabbi Amos Benjamin, a Shanghai-based Star-K inspector.

Benjamin has become accustomed to the Chinese business ritual of a long, lavish banquet, even though he usually can't eat anything on the table because it wasn't been prepared in a kosher kitchen.

"They tend to go on for two or three hours, but I'm trying to make one apple last," he said.

'Trust, schmust!'

Likewise, Chinese suppliers often bridle at the notion that even after years of successful inspections, a rabbi will persist in making annual verification visits.

"They say, 'I'm a nice guy and you can trust us.' But we have to say, 'Trust, schmust!'" Benjamin said.

One recent morning, 27-year-old Menachem Piekarski stepped off the plane in the southern city of Hangzhou, his yarmulke and reddish-blond beard setting him apart. He scanned the crowd in the reception area and saw a handwritten English sign: "Mr. Rabbi."

Two young representatives from an organic tea factory were there to greet him. No sooner were they in the car than Piekarski began an endless series of polite but firm questions: Where does the tea come from? Do the machines produce anything but tea?

Piekarski and his hosts roamed through the factory. He examined every machine and every storeroom. He sniffed the tea and scrutinized the boiler.

"How long can you keep tea?" he said of a dust-covered mound of leaves. "It looks like you have tea from the six days of creation."

He peered into storehouses and asked more questions. He scribbled temperatures and tonnages. With only one ingredient, it was a simple visit. Within a couple of hours, he was done. But first, assistant general manager Xie Kangfeng said he was eager to get a seal of approval for all of the company's factories scattered across China.

"Can we do that today?" Xie asked Piekarski through an interpreter.

The factory was still figuring out how this works.

"We can't certify a factory without visiting," Piekarski said. "Not a chance in the world."

3/30/07

What's wrong with a milk chocolate Jesus?

It's okay to make a granite Jesus, a painted Jesus, a wooden Jesus, a silver or gold Jesus.

What's the fuss here?

Catholic group: Chocolate Christ no Easter treat

By LARRY McSHANE
Associated Press Writer

March 29, 2007, 5:00 PM EDT

NEW YORK -- The Easter season unveiling of a milk chocolate sculpture of Jesus Christ, dubbed "My Sweet Lord" by its creator, left a sour taste Thursday in the mouths of a Catholic group infuriated by the anatomically correct confection.

"This is one of the worst assaults on Christian sensibilities ever," said Bill Donohue, head of the watchdog Catholic League. "It's not just the ugliness of the portrayal, but the timing - to choose Holy Week is astounding."

The 6-foot sculpture by artist Cosimo Cavallaro was to debut Monday evening, the day after Palm Sunday and just four days before Roman Catholics mark the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on Good Friday. The final day of the exhibit at the Lab Gallery inside midtown Manhattan's Roger Smith Hotel was planned for Easter Sunday.

3/29/07

Et Tu Saudis? US Arab Allies Turn

How do you know that you have lost all hope in the war in Iraq?

When your Sunni Arab friends turn against you - as the International Herald Tribune reports:
The little Saudi surprise: So it stings. Live with it

WASHINGTON: American officials said Thursday that they were caught off guard by remarks by the Saudi king condemning the American intervention in Iraq as "an illegal foreign occupation" and were seeking clarification. But they sought to tamp down tensions over the comments.

US News Ranks Yeshiva U Law School #52

They will need some good lawyers ... Here are some of the local leaked rankings:

4. NYU
5. Columbia
25. Fordham
52. Yeshiva University (Cardozo) (NY)
60. Brooklyn Law School (NY)
70. Seton Hall University (NJ)
70. St. John's University (NY)
77. Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey–Newark

Yeshiva U sued for $100,000,000 in anti-gay discrimination suit

It's a darn good thing that YU has a lawyer for a president.

Precedent Setting Discrimination Lawsuit Seeks to Protect Gay Student Victim Against Civil Rights Violations

Download this press release as an Adobe PDF document.

A $100,000,000 lawsuit recently filed against Yeshiva University, alleges anti-gay discrimination at the highest echelons of America's educational system. The case Padiyar v. Yeshiva, was filed in the Supreme Court of the State of New York.

New York, NY (PRWEB) March 29, 2007 - A $100,000,000 lawsuit recently filed against Yeshiva University and its internationally-noted medical school, the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, alleges anti-gay discrimination at the highest echelons of America's educational system. The case Padiyar v. Yeshiva, was filed in the Supreme Court of the State of New York.

Jeevan Padiyar, a published scholar with several academic honors, filed the suit against Yeshiva University for allegedly discriminating against him solely on the basis of his sexual orientation...

3/28/07

Mishna on Topless Online Schoolgirls

Yes the expert's name is Mishna. I know nothing more about her...
Schoolgirls bullied into stripping online

By Natalie Armstrong Wed Mar 28, 2:21 PM ET

TORONTO (Reuters) - Bullies are no longer content to taunt their victims in the playground but are turning to cyberspace, according to Canadian researchers.

They are using e-mail, text messaging and social networking sites in new forms of victimization.

Cyber bullies are even forcing their girlfriends to undress in front of webcams and then sharing the images with others online.

"They're pressuring each other. This is particularly (true) for girls to send pictures of themselves with their tops off," said Professor Faye Mishna, of the University of Toronto, who has been researching the cyber abuse of children.

"Girls might send it to their boyfriend and she is pressured to do it thinking he's just going to see it. So she gives in and the next thing you know it's all over (the place)."

The images are even more likely to be passed on if the couple breaks up, said Mishna who headed a research team that held focus groups with 47 students in grades 5-12.

Preliminary results from the research show so-called computer geeks are becoming the new schoolyard bullies. Final results of the study, which will be completed in June, are expected to be published in the autumn.

"Traditional bullying is a power differential," Mishna said in an interview....more.

Jamison Foser in the Huffington Post: No, you are the Nazi

It's growing awfully tiresome to read some of these blogs. Not an idea in sight. Not a thought to be found. Just yelling and pointing. That is how low American political discourse has sunk.
Ann Coulter, Steve Young, Nazis and Media Matters... A Response

On Tuesday, I sent an email to supporters of Media Matters for America, in which I asked people whose local newspapers carry Ann Coulter's column to contact those papers and ask them to either drop her column or explain why they chose to continue distributing her vile hate speech.

In response, Huffington Post blogger Steve Young compared my email to Joseph Goebbels' work in Nazi Germany, and accused Media Matters of attempting to deny Coulter her first amendment right to free speech.

Young isn't the first person to compare Media Matters to the Nazis; doing so is one of Bill O'Reilly's favorite tactics. Like O'Reilly, Young is badly mistaken.

Media Matters does not contest, nor do we seek to eliminate, Ann Coulter's right to write and say what she believes. Nor do we contest or seek to eliminate the rights of news organizations to promote her views by running her columns or hosting her on television. We simply urge them to reconsider whether their decision to do so serves their readers and viewers.

That's what Steve Young wants us to stop doing - he wants us to stop expressing our views about what news organizations should do.

Telling people to keep quiet about their belief that newspapers should not carry Coulter's hateful, irrational, and misinformation-laden writings is very nearly the opposite of defending free speech.

Just look at Young's headline: "Media Matters Needs to Lay Off Ann Coulter." Young compares Media Matters to Nazis for urging newspapers to exercise their freedom of the press in a way that we think is responsible. Yet Young feels no problem telling us how we should exercise our freedom of speech.

We, as private citizens - not agents of the government - are simply expressing our opinion about how news organizations should use their freedoms. Just as Young, as a private citizen, is expressing his opinion about how we should use freedoms.

In other words, if my email reminded Young of Joseph Goebbels, what must he think of his own response? [there is more but who can put up with this idiotic rhetoric?]

Time Magazine for Idiot Americans

Mother Jones lays it on thick - but they are right as usual.

TIME Doesn't Want to Bore You With Real News

 time_cover_1.jpg  time_cover_2.jpg  time_cover_3.jpg  time_cover_4.jpg

This never gets old. When America's venerable newsweeklies don't think Americans can handle the truth -- see Newsweek's work on global warming and losing Afghanistan -- they put real reporting on their international covers and soft-peddle the U.S. with all sorts of nonsense.

And if you're going with nonsense, why not the nonsense that Americans love most -- pop theology. According to Folio magazine, a cover featuring Jesus or the Bible can raise single-issue sales by roughly 50%, and as a result TIME and Newsweek frequently try to out-Christian one another on consecutive weeks. (See "Jesus, What a Cover!" from the Dec/Jan 2006 issue of Mother Jones.)

So, yeah. This week it's TIME serving up "The Case for Teaching the Bible" to Americans, and "Talibanistan" to its international audience. As Wonkette puts it, "Americans get the special-ed stories." I don't know if I should be disgusted with and embarrassed by the magazine editors who made this decision, or the magazine readers whose tastes they are clearly pandering to.

Oh, and check out Rose's thoughts on Mother Jones' Arts and Culture blog, The Riff.

Google Search for Passover

Bangitout.com cleverly proclaims...

Pesach 2.0 is here.

Here are 2 guys auctioning off their chometz crumbs on eBay! Israeli & Australian

If you didn't fill in your shul chometz sale sheet, and are embaressed to call your shul, sell it online at chabad's site, whichh always rocks http://www.chabad.org/holidays/passover/sell_chometz.asp

(Check the idea I had for google. if google invests in this, I want royalties)

NY Times Praises HEEB Mag Ad Model

The Uber-cool Heeb magazine was praised lavishly in the business section of the Times today. The article provides generous background and history of the venture for those who do not know Heeb.
...Heeb has served as what Mr. Neuman called a “quasi ad agency.” The staff conceives and executes ads that don’t appear in other publications for several of the magazine’s advertisers, including LoHo Realty and Gold Pure Food Products. Although advertisers usually pay agencies to design ads, Mr. Neuman waives that fee, but requires that such advertisers buy full-page ads and sign multiple-issue contracts. (A full-page ad costs $3,500, and it is about twice that for Page 2 or either side of the back cover.)

Four pages of ads in the current issue were Heeb’s handiwork, and the previous issue was a “milestone,” Mr. Neuman said: For the first time, ad revenue — more than half from Heeb-conceived ads — paid the issue’s print bill. “There’s no way we’re in business without functioning as a quasi ad agency,” Mr. Neuman said. “No way. Maybe we’d be in business as a Web site, but there’s no way we’d be printing a magazine without it...”

WHO endorses circumcision

From the BBC...

WHO agrees [with] HIV circumcision plan
Infected cell
Foreskin cells are thought to be more vulnerable to HIV infection

International experts have backed the use of male circumcision in the prevention of HIV.

The World Health Organization and UNAIDS said circumcision should be added to current interventions to reduce the spread of HIV.

Three African trials have shown that circumcision halved the rate of HIV infection in heterosexual men.

The recommendations largely apply to countries where rates of heterosexual transmission is high.

Modelling studies have shown that if male circumcision was more widely available, millions of lives, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa would be saved.

WHO and UNAIDS said access to the procedure should be urgently scaled up in areas with high rates of heterosexual infection and low rates of male circumcision...[more ]

Hyundai to sell new Oyveh all purpose vehicle

Hyundai announced plans to sell their new Oyveh all purpose vehicle.

Based on the frame of a school bus it will include - of course - a matzo oven in the rear of the vehicle. In front of the oven the Oyveh will have an electronic sukkah roof that rolls out kosher schach. The luxury model's seats flip back to reveal an in-vehicle-mikva. The sound system has kol-isha filtering and a dedicated JM-AM satellite receiver. The 3 button T-T-S ram's horn can be used on Rosh Hashanah and year-round. The Oyveh comes with six installed child seats. The BoroPark Edition comes with red velvet sofa-seats and chandelier lighting.

You'll be proud to park a white and red two-tone or a bright yellow Oyveh on your lawn in Monsey or Spring Valley. Hurry in to your dealer now.

Gordis-ism is not Zionism

D. Gordis opines in a recent "dispatch" - that has been misused by an anti-Zionist Agudanik:
A century ago, the early Zionist ideologues promised the Jews that if a Jewish state were created, there would finally be one place on earth where Jews could be safe. It might not be big, it might not be beautiful, but it would be safe. Here, it was said, Jews would be able to defend themselves. Here, it was said, they would be spared the capriciousness of the world.
Let's be clear. "Zionism is safism" was not a big theme of the classical Zionists. They never said that's what Zionism will do.

And let's be clearer. If Gordis is attempting to argue that Zionism has failed at this goal that he describes (that was never the oversimplified goal of Zionism to begin with) then Gordis is wrong by virtue of the facts.

One statistic - the number of Jews killed by acts of antiSemitism including wars and terrorist attacks. From 1900-1948 over 6 million were killed. From 1948 to the present about 20,000 were killed. Anyone who says that Jews are less safe throughout the world since the establishment of the Zionist state is creating alarmist rhetoric to serve his own agenda. Zionism hasn't failed. Jews are safer than ever before and more proud than ever before because of the Zionist State of Israel. Those are facts based on hard numbers and on the preponderance of evidence in the media of the world.

And one more fact. The State of Israel is beautiful.

3/26/07

Newsweek names top 50 American rabbis

Here are the top ten. The list is sure to stir up some discussion. Newsweek thinks this is a "fun" idea:

"
The top spot goes to Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. But No. 4 is Yehuda Berg, spiritual adviser at the Kabbalah Centre in Los Angeles, an outfit whose authentic Jewishness many Jews dispute. At least two lesbian rabbis made the list, as did the CEO of the Lubavitch Chabad movement. Lynton's own congregational rabbi made the list; Ginsberg's and Sanderson's did not. "I assume I'm going to get into trouble," says Sanderson, who did most of the research himself. "It's our point of view," adds Lynton, 'You're going to have some people who didn't make the list who should have, but that's part of the fun.'"
1. Marvin Hier (Orthodox)
Hier is one phone call away from almost every world leader, journalist and Hollywood studio head. He is the dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Museum of Tolerance and Moriah Films.
2. Yehuda Krinsky (Lubavitch)
Krinsky has truly built a shul on every corner and brought the Chabad movement mainstream prominence. He is the leader of Chabad and its CEO.
3. Uri D. Herscher (Reform)
Herscher has built arguably America’s most culturally relevant Jewish institution and his passion has already touched hundreds of thousands of Jews and non-Jews of all ages. He is the founding president and CEO of the Skirball Cultural Center.
4. Yehuda Berg (Orthodox)
Berg has made wearing the red string a popular phenomena in America and around the world and turned on everyone from Madonna to club-hopping young Jews to the power of the Kabbalah. He is an author and spiritual adviser at the Kabbalah Centre.
5. Harold Kushner (Conservative)
Kushner has written nine inspirational books including the international best seller that helped millions grapple with "When Bad Things Happen to Good People." He is one of America’s truly gifted speakers and teachers.
6. David Ellenson (Reform)
Ellenson is a trailblazer committed to bringing this generation’s Reform Jewish rabbis and teachers closer to traditional Judaism. He is the president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.
7. Robert Wexler (Conservative)
Wexler has re-envisioned Jewish education and created the largest Jewish continuing-education program in America while building a premier rabbinical school and liberal arts college. He is the president of the University of Judaism.
8. Irwin Kula (Conservative)
Kula is committed to “taking Jewish public” and reshaping America’s spiritual landscape. He is the copresident of CLAL, a public television host and the author of "Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life."
9. Shmuley Boteach (Orthodox)
Boteach has been called “the most famous rabbi in America” and his 17 books, TLC television series and celebrity friends help make that case. His book "Kosher Sex " introduced this Hasidic rabbi as a cultural phenomena.
10. M. Bruce Lustig (Reform)
Each year on Yom Kippur, Lustig has an audience that even the president of the United States would envy. He is the rabbi of Washington Hebrew Congregation, the largest congregation in Washington, D.C.

THE JOURNAL NEWS: Haredi trash baking matza on a bus

Haredi trash baking matza on a bus outside his home.
Spring Valley matzoh-maker agrees to stop baking on bus
By STEVE LIEBERMAN
THE JOURNAL NEWS

SPRING VALLEY -A matzoh-making business agreed to stop baking out of a converted school bus this morning after twice being told to shut down, officials said.

Deputy building inspector Manual Carmona told Rabbi Aaron Winternitz that before he could resume baking he needed to move the bus at least 10 feet from the house at 16 Wilsher Ave.

The rabbi also must disconnect the gas lines into the makeshift bakery.

Carmona said the rabbi also must provide him with documents from an engineer on the oven's safety...
Update: The NY Times checks in with its cutesy headline and story on the same matter.
From Rabbi, the Eclectic Shul Aid Matzo Test
By ANAHAD O’CONNOR

SPRING VALLEY, N.Y., March 26 — Call it a bus mitzvah. Or maybe “bus matzo.”

Behind Aaron Winternitz’s home in this heavily Hasidic town about an hour’s drive north of Manhattan sits a white school bus with a metal smokestack. Inside the gutted bus, Rabbi Winternitz pedals a stationary-bike contraption that he outfitted to grind wheat.

At peak operation, Rabbi Winternitz and up to 20 helpers can churn out more than a dozen pieces of matzo in five minutes. In this week before Passover, they will make 100 pounds a day over three days.

“Think about it: they’re built very strong, and they’re made to be fireproof,” Rabbi Winternitz, a schoolteacher, rabbi and amateur inventor, said in explaining how he always thought an empty school bus would be great for matzo-making. “To me, it makes a perfect oven.”

Rabbi Winternitz has been making matzo in his backyard for the past three years, not just for himself but also for many members of Congregation Mivtzar Hatorah. But last week a neighbor called the police complaining of heavy smoke emanating from Rabbi Winternitz’s backyard.

Sgt. Lou Scorziello of the Spring Valley police said officers who visited the bus on Friday were concerned that it could be a fire hazard and that it seemed to be fueled by gas lines illegally extending from the two-story home. The police issued no citations, but referred the matter to the local fire and building departments...

Eisen decides to admit gays to JTS rabbinical school

It's clear to me from the JTA report that this was the brave decision of Arnie Eisen. His letter confirms that he is the moving force for this change.

Now the big unknown is how tough Eisen is. He will be attacked from the left and the right. Will he be able to stand his ground? Time will tell.

His letter of defense cites the sources and principles of Conservative Judaism to bolster the decision. But he faces real questions. Leviticus is not ambiguous on this matter. And the Orthodox at Agudah are always happy to have a slow soft pitch lobbed their way so that they can smack it out of the park.

Whatever the outcome, this is a historic shift. Make note of the date so you can tell your grandchildren you remember when...
JTS to admit gay rabbinical students

The Jewish Theological Seminary announced Monday that it would change admission policies to accept openly gay students at its rabbinical school.

Arnold Eisen, chancellor-elect of the Conservative movement's flagship institution, made the decision after consulting with the seminary community and conducting a movement-wide survey, both of which found strong support for the change.

In December, the movement's legal authority, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, endorsed three opinions on the question of homosexuality. Two upheld the movement's traditional stance barring gay clergy and commitment ceremonies, while a third opened the door to gay rabbis and commitment ceremonies while upholding the biblical prohibition on male intercourse.

The conflicting opinions enabled individual Conservative institutions to make their own policy decisions. In Los Angeles, the University of Judaism's rabbinical school has already admitted two openly gay students for the fall term. The movement's other seminaries – in Jerusalem, Budapest and Buenos Aires – are not expected to follow suit.

Yeshiva U: More bricks and mortar - less Talmud study

Two stories from the student newspaper at YU indicate that real estate is increasing while student study of the Talmud is decreasing.

Night Seder Declining, Officials React
YU The Commentator (subscription) - New York,NY,USA
While most granted that it is an issue that requires addressing by university officials, as there is minimal nightly Yeshiva staff presence at the primary ...

Two New Buildings Added in Real-Estate Buy Up
YU The Commentator (subscription) - New York,NY,USA
Culminating after years of negotiations, Yeshiva has purchased the Empire State Parking Garage and 2498 Amsterdam Ave., a four-story apartment building and ...

Artist Fay Grajower: Clockwork Biblical

Classmate Fay Grajower had the exhibition of her works reviewed.
Turning Back The Biblical Clock

Fay Grajower’s “reset the clock” is a mixed media collage with ink on layered paper, with an accompanying poem. The palette is mostly yellow, purple and black, with some blue, white and red. Floral patterning occupies two of the paper’s corners, and with the exception of a watch face in the lower right corner, the work evokes a cubist still life. The poem is worth quoting in full, because it is almost a painting itself:

reset the clock
there is no chronology
to the
Torah
yet traditionally
we learn
sequentially
relate stories
in some order
a beginning and an end
seder – order
time
flies right by
when did something happen?
time – order
if we could only
reset the clock

In an interview, Grajower, who calls herself “an artist who is female and Jewish” but chooses not to “market” or label herself specifically, explained that her inspiration for the piece derives from the “Talmudic idiomatic expression, ayn mukdam u’m’uchar ba’Torah [there is no earlier or later in the Torah].” The commentator Rashi invokes this phrase, in part, to explain the question: which came first, the Golden Calf or the revelation at Sinai.

Grajower says the piece also is influenced by her “upbringing, learning and life style,” though she is careful to speak about her own work and not Jewish art in general. “Just as my artwork is influenced by my heritage, so is my participation in the Jewish community at large influenced by my perceptions as an artist and my involvement in the greater world community influenced by my being Jewish and an artist.”

3/25/07

It's the real hametz stupid!

We need to be reminded and to remind ourselves what the taboos of Pesach are.

The Torah forbids Leaven - Hametz - not grains!

How corn and peanuts got on the list of forbidden foods is a long story. It is certainly a late rabbinic invention. Someone who eats corn on Pesach would never ever be violating any Scriptural prohibition.

We were surprised and pleased to read this year of an Ashkenazi rabbi in Israel who believes and proclaims that the prohibition against eating legumes on Pesach is misguided.

A few years back, I recall coming home from the supermarket on Palmach Street in Jerusalem on Pesach eve with a whole bunch of yummy candies that were certified kosher for Pesach. My wife immediately examined them and declared that I was remiss. Yes they were KP but only for Sephardim who eat legumes on Pesach. I was crushed.

There are debates and discussions. But let's try to make life this Pesach more pleasant, okay?

One of my deepest secrets: Ben's Bargains

I have been a fan of Ben and his bargains for years. Shh. Don't tell anyone. It is a secret between you and me, okay?

Latest Deals...

Jonathan Rosenbaum: Zion Denier

I bristle every time I read the palpably anti-Zionist screeds of one Jonathan Rosenbaum who writes for a pathetic hate-filled publication called "Cross-Currents".

Week after week, he and his compatriots negate the realities of our world. They write as if the powerful and beautiful State of Israel does not exist.

This is utterly idiotic.

I'm labeling Mr. Rosenbaum a Zion-Denier. He is worse than a Holocaust Denier. He denies the reality of the modern State of Israel. He writes as if it does not exist. He is worse than any Arab propagandist. He is a Jew who hates himself and his people.

Here is his latest crap.

It is time to embrace our abnormal existence.

The enduring, irrational, and protean nature of the hatred directed at us in all generations and all places is the greatest proof of that we have been singled out for a unique mission. The “miracle” of anti-Semitism is something that even non-religious Jews can grasp.

Rather than depressing us, we should view the rapid metamorphosis of anti-Zionism into the same old Jew-hatred as one of the clearest proofs of our chosenness, and, incidentally, of the world’s unconscious recognition of that fact. Not by accident does the UN Human Rights Commission occupy itself with no subject other than Israel, or every European paper seemingly devote two or three articles to Israel every day.

In any event, Israelis have no choice but to embrace their predicament. Alain Finkelkraut, speaking in Jerusalem Sunday night both as a Jew and as a defender of French civilization, dismissed as futile efforts to improve Israeli propaganda, for such efforts fail to comprehend the nature of the hatred.

The idee fixe of our age, according to Finkelkraut, is one that De Tocqueville associated with early American democracy: le passion de semblance, the quest for sameness. Europe’s vaunted cosmopolitanism is nothing more than an assertion of its own nullity, the denial of all differences between cultures and civilizations.

That is why European intellectuals reject the possibility of a clash of civilizations and cannot bring themselves to view Islamists as the enemy. The oft-made statement that the new Europe was born in Auschwitz is a profoundly dangerous one, Finkelkraut asserted, for it denies all history, all culture.

Against this homogenizing trend and post-national Europe, stands Israel and its claim to be both a democratic and Jewish national state. That claim enrages the Europeans in a way that Islamic theocracies and dictatorships do not. Just one more chapter in the Jew’s age-old assertion of his difference.

Contrary to the cosmopolitan quest for a world without borders, the Torah describes a world in which God created 70 different nations and assigned each its own place. And of those seventy nations, one was chosen and assigned the task of spreading the knowledge of Him.

It is that choice we will celebrate next week at the Seder. Now more than ever must we do so.

This man is both anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic. He has no shame. He denies the absolute power and achievement of the State of Israel and writes as if it was null and void.

Our existence as a Jewish people is both normalized and sanctified by the State of Israel. You choose to deny that. For shame.

I am compelled to stand and scream at him. At your Seder you will deny the reality and achievements of the State of Israel and all that it does to protect and to elevate the Jewish people among the nations of the world. May the Lord save us from you.

NY Times likes it: Columbia Professor's Epic on the Gilgamish Epic

Assyrian mythology is nonsense. But the history of nonsense makes an interesting book.

Lost and Found
By JONATHAN ROSEN
THE BURIED BOOK The Loss and Rediscovery of the Great Epic of Gilgamesh. By David Damrosch. Illustrated. 315 pp. Henry Holt & Company. $26.

The stylized images of ancient Assyrian kings, with their braided beards and Art Deco muscles, riding out in chariots to hunt lions or men, are now familiar, but until the 19th century nothing was known of them. All evidence had been buried for more than two millenniums under the soil of what is today Iraq. How we came to uncover that world, and how that world reached out toward our own, is part of the story David Damrosch tells in “The Buried Book: The Loss and Rediscovery of the Great Epic of Gilgamesh.”

But the kingdom of ancient Assyria held other secrets, even older, and Damrosch is telling that story too. One of the last Assyrian kings, Ashurbanipal, had the literary skills and interests of a scribe. To warfare and lion hunting he added reading, building a great library in his capital city of Nineveh and filling it with thousands of inscribed clay tablets, including several copies of “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” a story already ancient in Ashurbanipal’s time. When Nineveh fell in 612 B.C., the library, loaded with the cultural heritage of ancient Mesopotamia, fell too, its contents lost until the middle of the 19th century, when British archaeologists dug up its remains and British scholars cracked the cuneiform code of the tablets. “Gilgamesh,” the oldest work of great literature we have, sprang back to life, surrounded by the shards of a prebiblical culture that challenged assumptions about the primacy of biblical authority, a concept already crumbling fast in Victorian England.

Damrosch, a professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia, crams more than 4,000 years of history into his narrative without making it feel crammed at all. He accomplishes this in part by telling his story backward, beginning with the 19th century and ending up somewhere around 2700 B.C., when the real Gilgamesh might actually have walked the earth. This is a highly effective strategy, giving the whole book a narrative urgency and a simultaneous sense of archaeological unfolding. Along the way, Damrosch creates vivid portraits of archaeologists, Assyriologists and ancient kings, lending his history an almost novelistic sense of character.

First we meet George Smith, a 19th-century scholar of humble origins who started out as an engraver of bank notes. Fascinated by biblical history, he was drawn to the vast collection of clay tablets in the British Museum, where he proved himself adept at assembling the fragments into a semi-coherent whole, earning himself a spot as assistant curator of the collection. Scholars were only just figuring out how to read cuneiform, the wedge-shaped symbols impressed into clay that look as if tiny birds had wandered over a patch of wet cement. Smith was soon reading it better than anyone else, and in 1872, in a now famous moment of scholarly discovery, he decoded the story of a flood very much like the biblical account of Noah and became so excited he began undressing.

The tablet Smith had translated formed a piece of the “Gilgamesh” narrative, the story of a great king who, after the death of his beloved friend Enkidu, goes searching for immortality. Gilgamesh consults a distant relative, a man who not only survived the terrible flood but was rewarded with eternal life. This relative gives Gilgamesh the bad news: he must die like everyone else.

Damrosch, an eloquent champion of world literature, makes a persuasive case for “Gilgamesh” as a unifying story that knits East and West together. The dramatic narrative of the book’s fortunes accomplishes the same thing: Gilgamesh is a once and future king who fell asleep in ancient Mesopotamia and woke up in the British Museum.

For this reason, the most captivating 19th-century figure in Damrosch’s narrative is Hormuzd Rassam, who seems to embody in his very person the confluence of East and West that fascinates Damrosch.

Rassam, who assisted Austen Henry Layard in his discovery of Ashurbanipal’s library and eventually became a great archaeologist in his own right, was born in Mosul to an old Chaldean Christian family. He converted to the Anglican Church at age 14, was educated at Oxford and, promoted by Layard, became adept at uncovering the buried history of his homeland. His fluency in Arabic and his familiarity with the world of his birth helped him excavate a staggering number of artifacts, which were dutifully sent to the British Museum. Despite experiencing British discrimination, he settled in England. Though Damrosch calls him “both a loyal son of Mosul and a proud participant in the British imperial enterprise,” it is not entirely clear by whose definition he remained “a loyal son of Mosul.”

Damrosch’s eagerness for universal themes leads him to stumble awkwardly in his coda, where he compares Saddam Hussein’s first novel, which draws loose inspiration from “Gilgamesh,” to Philip Roth’s “Great American Novel,” which features a baseball player named Gil Gamesh. Damrosch writes that Hussein and Roth are “both children of Abraham, and both heirs of their common literary father, the globe-trotting Papa Hemingway.” Keen to make this point about “disparate” but “interconnected” authors, he ignores the import of his own chilling disclosure that Hussein most likely murdered the Iraqi writer he forced to work on the book; the notion of Hussein as “author” is a fiction that suits Damrosch’s larger purpose — which, however laudable in its longing for universality, elides differences that matter very much.

Having made his Hemingway-Hussein-Roth union, Damrosch writes that “ ‘The Epic of Gilgamesh’ powerfully illustrates the underlying unity of the extended family that the historian Richard Bulliet calls ‘Islamo-Christian civilization.’ ” The term comes from Bulliet’s book “The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization,” published in 2004. In that book, Bulliet explains that he has lopped off “Judeo” in his coinage because it evokes only a shared ancient scriptural heritage — not, presumably, a modern political one. Beyond the oddness of enlisting Philip Roth in “Islamo-Christian civilization” is the larger oddness of invoking a book with a polemically exclusionary title. However recently coined and inaccurate the term “Judeo-Christian” may be, replacing it with “Islamo-Christian” — and employing that coinage when arguing for the universal nature of a Middle Eastern epic — is, to say the least, problematic.

Unlike “Gilgamesh,” the Hebrew Bible is at once a part of world literature and the expression of a people still alive in the world, with a modern Middle Eastern present as well as an ancient Mesopotamian past. But ancient Mesopotamian culture has, since its 19th-century discovery, stirred contemporary passions. Damrosch mentions the 19th-century Assyriologist Friedrich Delitzsch only in passing, but his story is instructive. Delitzsch, who became quite famous, came to feel that since “Gilgamesh,” and indeed all of Babylonian culture, were older than the Hebrew Bible — and superior to it — there was no need for the Hebrew Bible at all. An anti-Semite and a German nationalist, he proposed replacing the Old Testament with German folklore.

Though it is easy to dismiss the entirely discredited Delitzsch, the old battles for supremacy and supersession are felt today in subtler, secularized form. Damrosch, who could not be farther from Delitzsch in spirit or intent, blunders into another reductive master narrative. He has done a superb job bringing what was buried to life. Surely it is possible to do this without buying into a narrative that buries that which still lives.

Jonathan Rosen is the editorial director of Nextbook. His most recent novel is “Joy Comes in the Morning.”

Filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl - Hitler propagandist - slammed in the NY Times Book Review

She was pretty and talented and made good films. But she worked for Hitler and the nazis and glorified their vision.

This NY Times review
of two books about Leni slams her appropriately in the most PC way imaginable.

Kol hakavod to the reviewer Clive James for a job well done.
Reich Star
By CLIVE JAMES
LENI The Life and Work of Leni Riefenstahl. By Steven Bach. Illustrated. 386 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $30. -- LENI RIEFENSTAHL A Life. By Jürgen Trimborn. Translated by Edna McCown. Illustrated. 351 pp. Faber & Faber. $30.

A BRAZEN shout from long trumpets held high at the angle of a Hitler salute. Cut to medium close-up of young Aryan faces with puffed cheeks. Dolly back as two new biographies of Leni Riefenstahl appear virtually at once. Jürgen Trimborn’s book, well translated from the German by Edna McCown, has the better pictures. Steven Bach’s book, backed up by his deep personal experience as a high-echelon film executive handling dingbat directors, has the better text. Though neither book is precisely adulatory, put them together and they add up to an awful lot of attention. She might be dead, but she won’t lie down.

The same was true for much of the time she was still alive. Born in 1902, she lived for more than a hundred years. In less than half that time, she acquired a brilliant reputation. But she had to spend the rest of her life mounting a posthumous defense of it.

Already nationally famous in the pre-Nazi period as an actress and director, in the Nazi period she grew world famous by giving the new, globally ambitious political movement a screen image of overwhelming authority, glamorous even to those who sensed its evil.

Some spectators thought even at the time that her cinematic gift had served to legitimize a murderous ideology, but almost nobody belittled her artistic talent. She was thus able, when the Nazis lost, to invoke the principle that art trumps politics. Photographed too often with her raised hand pointed in Hitler’s direction, quoted too often on the subject of his transformative vision, she was unable to deny that she had held her mentor in high regard, but she never stopped denying until her long-postponed last gasp that she had ever known much about what the Nazis were really up to. She had been too busy being a great artist.

To make this line stick, she had the help of her two big movies from the 1930s, “Triumph of the Will” and “Olympia.” Though the first now stands revealed

as a gruesomely choreographed hymn to naked power and the second spends too much of its time weighing sport down with a neoclassic gravitas that feels like being hit over the head with the Parthenon, there were, even after the end of the Thousand Year Reich’s 12-year run, plenty of knowledgeable critics in the victorious democracies who called her portentous epics masterpieces. For her cinéaste admirers, the aesthetics left the ethics nowhere. It seemed a fair guess that anyone so wrapped up in creating an imaginary world would be bound to miss the odd detail about what was going on in the real one. The Holocaust? Forget about it.

To assist in the forgetting, Leni also had the help of her histrionic abilities, which might never have been subtle but were always in a good state of training, because there had rarely been a moment of her conscious life when she had not shown her emotions as the only way of having them. (In her early phase as a film star, she hammed it up even in the stills.) She would act indignant when she was asked an awkward question. If you asked it again, she would storm out, fall down, shriek, weep.

Above all, however, she had the help of time. After the trap-door stopped rattling and banging at Nuremberg, it got harder and harder to find a Nazi with a famous name. The ones in Argentina had unlisted telephone numbers. But Leni Riefenstahl’s new shyness was all a pose. She had a way of hiding only where she could be found, and she never ceased to assure the world that although she and Hitler had spent a lot of time talking in private, she never knew anything about what was happening to the Jews.

More than half a century went by and she was still there, popping up at film festivals to keep her cinematic legend in trim, conspicuously disappearing into Africa to build a new career as a photographer, steadily acquiring the validation that comes automatically with endurance. “What am I guilty of?” The martyred look that went with that refrain made it seem as if the suffering had all happened to her. (The dogged Trimborn, a professor at the University of Cologne, is especially good at tracking her through a final phase that lasted longer than the Pleistocene.) She showed no remorse, saying that she had no reason to. Those who were all too well aware that she did have reason to died off faster than she did, so finally there were whole new generations to take her genius for granted.

We might as well do the same, because over the question of her talent it isn’t worth fighting a battle. Among the people who run the movie business anywhere in the world, women are a minority even today, and still under pressure to exercise feminine wiles. When the lowly born Leni was starting out, the minority, even in go-ahead Weimar Germany, was the merest handful. Luckily for her, she had feminine wiles to burn: until she was old and gray, she met few men who didn’t fall for her on the spot. It could be said that she had looks and energy but no real brain. The evidence was overwhelming that she didn’t need one.

As a young actress, she was so beautiful that other women could find nothing bad to say about her except that her eyes were too close together. But her acting on screen was strictly frown, laugh, bubble and jump. She made it as a star because she was good at climbing rocks. There was a whole genre of German movies about clambering around daringly at high altitude. In a string of mountain pictures including “The White Hell of Pitz Palu,” Leni proved that she could do that stuff without a double. There was no peak, however vertiginous, that she could not sprint to the top of wearing very few clothes. On the other hand, there was no director, however illustrious, whom she could not hurl herself beneath wearing no clothes at all. Or at least she gave him the illusion that she might: a power of suggestion that we can usefully regard as her most persuasive thespian gift.

FIXED on becoming a director herself, she applied the same gift when bending producers and studio bigwigs to her triumphant will. Her real originality was in setting her sights high, up there where the men were making the decisions. All the right potentates duly succumbed to her allure. “I must meet that man” was an exhortation often on her lips. Before the Nazis came to power, some of the men she felt compelled to meet were Jews. Afterward, none of them were. It could be said that she never came out as an anti-Semite, but it could also be said that there is a green cheese moon.

Made on the eve of the Weimar Republic’s final agony, her film “The Blue Light” — she was producer, director, writer, editor and star — drew less than universal acclaim. She blamed the Jewish critics. After the Nazis came to power, her co-writer and co-director on the movie, Bela Balazs, was too insistent about getting paid. Balazs was a Jew. She had his name removed from the credits to render the film judenfrei, and eventually found a sure-fire way to keep him out of the picture permanently. She turned his name over to Julius

Streicher. To defuse the significance of an act like that, it wouldn’t be enough to call her ignorant. You would have to call her an idiot. Everybody knew what Streicher stood for. Gauleiter of Franconia, editor of the lethally scurrilous Nazi weekly Der Stürmer, he was the most famous Jew-baiter in Germany.

But she had a bigger buddy than Streicher. Hitler had liked “The Blue Light,” so when she once again said “I must meet that man” her wish was easily answered. Coy for the rest of her endless life on the subject of whether she threw him one, she always wanted it to be thought that only his total dedication to the cause held him back. Given her track record with men, the mere fact that she spent time alone with him was enough to confer on her all the power of the Führer’s public darling. (Hardly anybody knew about Eva Braun. Everybody knew about Leni.) She was given full access to film the 1934 party rally at Nuremberg. After six months of editing — possessing almost no sense of story, she invariably had to dig her movies out of a mountain of footage — the finished product appeared in 1935 as “Triumph of the Will.”

Hitler loved the movie. Critics who still feel the same way are apt to underrate the part played by Albert Speer, who came up with the lighting and décor all on his own. The camera had to look up at Hitler because Speer put him there. But Leni undoubtedly did a thorough job of making what was already frighteningly impressive look more frighteningly impressive still. If 10,000 men marching in lock-step turn you on, Leni could make them look like 20,000.

The top Nazis were delighted. They included Joseph Goebbels, whom Leni, after the war, found it expedient to characterize as a dangerous enemy jealous of his bailiwick as the supreme studio executive nominally in charge of Nazi movies. In fact Goebbels, generously overlooking her rejection of his advances — and for the idea that he ever made a pounce, we have only her notoriously unreliable word — thought highly of her artistic prowess, blowing his top only when she showed signs, in his view, of spending the Reich’s money as if it were her own. (Bach, who wrote “Final Cut,” the best-ever book about a film director — Michael Cimino of “Heaven’s Gate” — on the rampage, is especially good on the subject of how Leni treated a budget as the merest letter of intent.)

After “Triumph of the Will,” the road was open for Leni to do what she wanted. What she wanted was to turn the 1936 Berlin Olympics into a celluloid masterpiece. By far her most palatable cinematic achievement, “Olympia” was, and remains, crucial to her later reputation. Even more crucial is that the film is not notably a Nazi one. Hitler the arch-nationalist didn’t enjoy being stuck with staging an international event, but while he was at it he had enough sense to go light on the ideology. Few restrictions were placed on what Leni could film. Not many Jewish athletes were there to be filmed anyway, but there were black athletes present, and one of them was Jesse Owens, whom Leni didn’t hesitate to caress with her lenses as if he were a godlike figure.

SHE wasn’t having a thing with Owens. She was having that with another American, the decathlete Glenn Morris, whom she obliged to add an 11th discipline to his event. But she filmed Owens with loving appreciation. It’s a shameful consideration that no Hollywood director would have been encouraged to do the same, at the time. Owens in repose looked lovely anyway, and on the move he was poetic, but it took a fine eye and a lot of knowledge to get the poetry on film, and Leni knew how to do that with him and with many another athlete. It was only logical for the camera to climb the tower with the diver, for example, but she figured out how to do it.

Susan Sontag later made a serious mistake in arguing that “Olympia” was entirely steeped in fascist worship of the beautiful body. But it’s nature that worships the beautiful body. Fascism is natural. That’s what’s wrong with it: it’s nothing else. Despite the too often prevailing calisthenic mass maneuvers, as if Busby Berkeley had met Praxiteles, much of the reputation “Olympia” has for beauty can thus safely be endorsed, but always with the proviso that a lot of the athletic events were beautiful anyway, and that her technical inventions for capturing them would eventually suffer the fate of all technical inventions and be superseded: everything she did in Berlin in 1936 was topped by what Kon Ichikawa did in Tokyo in 1964. Nevertheless, Leni, with her raw material handed to her on a plate, and unhampered by those requirements of invented narrative that she could never manage, had made quite a movie for its time.

IN November 1938, Leni, who had probably always had one eye on Hollywood, flew the Nazi flag to America. She had every reason to expect that she was heading for a big welcome, and she initially had the beginnings of one, but five days after her ship docked in New York, Kristallnacht happened in Germany. If ever there was a time to play the artist, that was it. But she blew the scene with what she said. She said that nothing had happened, and that to suggest such a thing was a slander.

Walt Disney gave her a tour of his studios, but the rest of Hollywood gave her the freeze. Almost nobody else in America except Henry Ford even invited her for drinks. Back in Germany, she reported to Goebbels, who was suitably indignant on behalf of his thwarted artist. “The Jews,” he wrote in his diary, “rule by terror and bribery.” When the Nazi counterterror against the Jews went rolling into the East, Leni, in sole command of her own film unit, was along for the ride, but she saw something in Poland that stopped her in her tracks, even if it didn’t stop the Nazis. She was accidentally present at a mass shooting in the town square of Konskie. According to her later testimony — or rather, according to the lack of it — she was the only eyewitness to the occasion who managed not to notice that all the victims were Jews. Nevertheless, she was photographed looking distraught.

As a general rule, any expression on Leni’s face when a camera was pointing in her direction was adopted at her own command, but in this case it might have been possible that her distress was genuine. Whatever the truth of this permanently controversial moment, however, it seems probable that Leni, when she next saw Hitler, asked permission to be excused from the war. She didn’t opt out of the Nazi Party’s inexorable conquest of the world — she was there to film Hitler’s victory parade in Warsaw, the only time he lent his presence to such an event — but she never again went near a battle. Instead, she resumed filming “Tiefland,” the dramatic blockbuster that she had abandoned after the Nazis came to power. Here was the chance for her to prove, to the full satisfaction of her postwar admirers, that she was indeed an artist who had no knowledge of what the Nazis were really doing.

Once again she blew it. Financed on a no-budget basis at Hitler’s personal orders, “Tiefland” had unlimited resources, including an infinitely flexible schedule. Bach, no doubt still haunted by memories of Michael Cimino’s plausible extravagance, is well set to evoke the consequences, one of which wasn’t funny at all. Her pet project needed some Spanish-looking extras, so Leni shipped in some Gypsies from a holding camp where they were waiting for a train to Auschwitz. In 1982, long after the war, the tirelessly litigious Leni sued a documentary maker who suggested that she had known about Auschwitz. She probably didn’t know. But she certainly did know that she was employing forced labor; and her claim that she met almost all of the extras after the war was a flat lie.

She lied about everything. She just went on lying until people got tired, or old, or died. One of her most telling lies was the one she told about Streicher. She said that she had loathed him. But there is preserved correspondence to prove that she invited his company and treated him as a close friend until quite late in the war. The idea that Streicher would never mention to her what was happening to the Jews is preposterous. He was proud of it, and was eventually hanged for it.

Leni, although she never managed regret, had enough sense to feign ignorance. But one of her closer questioners got the admission out of her that really mattered. He was Budd Schulberg. His famous days as a screenwriter were still ahead of him, but he would never dream up a neater scene than the one he played out with Leni when he interviewed her in 1945, shortly after her arrest by American soldiers. After unrolling her usual impatient rigmarole about having known nothing about any Nazi atrocities, Leni made the mistake of saying that she sometimes, against her will, had to do what Goebbels wanted, because she was afraid of being sent to a concentration camp. Schulberg asked why she should have been afraid of that, if she didn’t know that concentration camps existed.

So there was the whole story. For anyone with a memory for recent events, the question of Leni’s moral status was settled. What came next, stretching on to the end of the millennium and now beyond, was the question of her artistic stature, supposedly a different thing. She built another career photographing tribesmen in Africa, and then another one, filming life below the waves in yet another new role as the oldest diver in the world. And as the people with a memory for the real world grew fewer, those who knew about nothing except the movies gradually redefined the issue.

At the end of the first “Star Wars” movie, George Lucas copied the ambience of “Triumph of the Will” with no apparent sense of how he was really proving that the cause in which Luke Skywalker and his friends had just triumphed could not have been worth fighting for. Lucas wasn’t alone: Trimborn does a useful job of rounding up the unusual suspects. Mick Jagger, Andy Warhol and Madonna all enrolled themselves on the growing list of Leni’s fans. So did Siegfried and Roy. Francis Ford Coppola said he admired her. Steven Spielberg said he wanted to meet her. If he had made “Schindler’s List” 10 times, he could not have undone the portent of such a wish, because he was really saying that there can be art without a human framework, and that a movie can be made out of nothing but impressive images. Some of Leni’s images were indeed impressive. But the question is never about whether or not you are impressed. The question is about whether you can keep your head when you are. Leni Riefenstahl was impressed by the Nazis, and look what happened.

Clive James’s latest book, “Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories From History and the Arts,” has just been published.

Rabbis: Do you know who the heck is Steven Furtick?

Blogger: Apple Cult Becoming a Religion

The Times in What’s Online gets a bit carried away. Or maybe not.
Apple Cult Becoming a Religion
By DAN MITCHELL

APPLE will not release the iPhone until June, but Leander Kahney, the writer of “The Cult of Mac” blog, posited this week on Wired News that the new phone is already partly responsible for a major change in how the company is perceived (www.wired.com). After nearly three decades, Apple is finally being taken seriously not just by the true believers, but by just about everybody.

According to Mr. Kahney, this shift has taken place in the last few weeks, as both the iPhone and, more recently, Apple TV, have quickly become “must have” products. “A lot of people thought Apple got lucky with the iPod,” Mr. Kahney wrote. “It was a one-hit wonder, a fluke not likely to be repeated.” But the iPhone is already thought of as an “industry-changing smash hit,” and Apple TV, which at first drew shrugs, now may even eclipse the iPhone, according to the predictions of some (though by no means many) people (ipodnn.com).

Apple TV, which began shipping this week, stores up to 50 hours of video, which can be wirelessly beamed from a computer to a television set. Like several other competing products from the likes of Sony, Microsoft and TiVo, it aims to capitalize on the increasing availability of downloadable movies and TV shows.

Apple’s decision to move to Intel processors is another big reason for what Mr. Kahney says is “a cultural shift that’s changing the way people think about the company.” The Mac’s ability to run both Apple’s operating system and Microsoft’s Windows (by using BootCamp software, which is still in beta), means some organizations are able to save money by using more-expensive Macs. Wilkes University in Pennsylvania, for example, recently dumped all its Windows-only machines in favor of Macs because the university now can do just as much with fewer computers (computerworld.com).

The “dual boot” functionality also means that it is far easier to find needed software. “The old argument against Macs is moot,” Mr. Kahney writes. “New Intel Macs can run Windows software as well as any PC.” And technology managers like the Mac’s relative protection against computer viruses and security breaches.

Perhaps most intriguingly, Mr. Kahney points to Apple’s steadfastness in keeping its products proprietary as a main reason for its success. Apple for decades has weathered criticism that the reason it was marginalized by the likes of Microsoft was its refusal to allow third parties to develop related products. But “Apple’s traditional closed system,” Mr. Kahney writes, “is now a selling point.”

The popularity of the iPod and iTunes, he writes, shows that consumers seem to prefer buying “products and services from one company that are guaranteed to work well together.”

3/23/07

Sad: the passing of Cathy Seipp

It is mournful when the good and talented die young. Blogger Luke Ford writes about the sad passing of Cathy Seipp.

Cathy Seipp Part Two Hall Of Fame For Female Journos Cathy Seipp Roast

Surrounded by family and friends, Cathy Seipp died of lung cancer at Ceders-Sinai 2 p.m. Wednesday, March 21, 2007.

She was 49.

Seipp wrote the weekly "Cathy's World" column for UPI. She was a columnist for Pages, the books magazine, and has also written for Mediaweek, American Journalism Review, Penthouse, Forbes, the Weekly Standard, TV Guide and Reason.

Shortly after this picture was taken at The Standard in downtown Los Angeles on Oct. 8, 2002, I asked Cathy if she had changed her hair style.

"It's a wig," she said.

"Why?"

"I'll tell you in a minute," she said. "After the pictures."

(Luke with Amy Alkon)

I leaned back into the trampoline while Cathy sat up straight and told me she had lung cancer. That she'd had surgery but the cancer was too far gone and they'd just stitched her back together and prescribed chemotherapy, which caused all her hair to fall out.

"Don't blog this," she instructed. And I didn't....

Cathy wrote "the weekly 'From the Left Coast' column for National Review Online, a monthly column for Independent Women's Forum and freelances other places, such as the Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal op-ed pages. She previously wrote columns for: Buzz, Mediaweek, UPI, New York Press and Salon. Her work has also appeared in Reason, Penthouse, TV Guide, the National Post and Forbes."

Sad indeed.