1/25/06

Science v. Interior Design?

Though Buddhism is not Fundamentalist Christianity and meditation is not creationism, there have been protests of the involvement of the Dalai Lama in the recent Neuroscience Conference. Those opposed to his speech claim their motive is that science must stay pure of religion. There is reason to believe that they have ulterior political motives driving them to try to suppress any public appearance by or gesture of respect to the Dalai Lama.

Apart from the controversy, the research on meditation and the brain appears quite interesting.

Wired 14.02 reports in "Buddha on the Brain":

The Dalai Lama is here to give a speech titled 'The Neuroscience of Meditation.' Over the past few years, he has supplied about a dozen Tibetan Buddhist monks to Richard Davidson, a prominent neuroscience professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Davidson's research created a stir among brain scientists when his results suggested that, in the course of meditating for tens of thousands of hours, the monks had actually altered the structure and function of their brains.

Society for Neuroscience News Releases: "DALAI LAMA URGES THAT ETHICS BE A GUIDE IN THE APPLICATION OF NEW SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE" Washington.

The Dalai Lama of Tibet today called for scientists to be guided by ethical principles in the use of new knowledge.

We must find a way of bringing fundamental humanitarian and ethical considerations to bear upon the direction of scientific development, especially in the life sciences...I am speaking of . . . the key ethical principles, such as compassion, tolerance, a sense of caring, consideration of others, and the responsible use of knowledge and power- principles that transcend the barriers between religious believers and non-believers, and followers of this religion or that religion.

1/24/06

Biblical Religion and Violence

A timely topic for a conference:
"Religion and Violence:
The Biblical Heritage" at Boston University.
FEBRUARY 19-20, 2006

One paper looks particularly interesting:
Ithamar Gruenwald, Tel Aviv University
Forms of Ritualizing Religious Violence: Past and Present

I look forward to reading Guenwald's paper. I myself do predict that one somewhat neglected area will get burgeoning attention in academic research in religious studies in the coming years. We will see scholars show more concern over the legitimacy of any suggestions of violence within prayer, because of the events of recent years and the role of religion in contemporary cultures of violence.

Burning of the Heretics (Auto-da-f�)

In this area we Jews, for instance, traditionally say the Birkat HaMinim (the blessing regarding the sectarians or heretics) in the Amidah and we ask G-d to destroy those who slander Jews and those who act as informers against Jews.

Surely, we do not advocate for direct violence in our prayers. We just ask God to perform it on our behalf. Still as more attention provokes theologians to turn their attention to this aspect of liturgy, we may see them seek after a morally superior position. As Beruryah the wife of Rabbi Meir instructed � perhaps they will suggest that we ought to pray not that God do violence on our behalf against our enemies, but that he cause the heretics to repent of their sins.

1/23/06

Abramoff and His Buddy George W in His Own Black Hat

We will soon be seeing the photos of George and Jack together. Meanwhile Tzvee.blog has the photo scoop. George W in a black hat.

From the WASHINGTONIAN: Capital Comment: "Sources say the photographs are being kept safe. Abramoff would tell prosecutors, if asked, that not only did he know the President, but the President knew the names of Abramoff's children and asked about them during their meetings. At one such photo session, Bush discussed the fact that both he and Abramoff were fathers of twins."

And from TIME.com: When George Met Jack -- Jan. 30, 2006 -- Page 1: "While TIME's source refused to provide the pictures for publication, they are likely to see the light of day eventually because celebrity tabloids are on the prowl for them. And that has been a fear of the Bush team's for the past several months: that a picture of the President with the admitted felon could become the iconic image of direct presidential involvement in a burgeoning corruption scandal like the shots of President Bill Clinton at White House coffees for campaign contributors in the mid-1990s."

1/22/06

FAQ: Your Three Wishes

The New Yorker: Shouts and Murmurs has a recent piece by David Owen that will make you laugh:

You have been granted three wishes�congratulations. If you wish wisely, your wishes may bring you great happiness. Before wishing, please take a moment to read the following frequently asked questions.


1. Do my wishes have an expiration date?

No. Your wishes are good until used. Once you have made a wish, however, you cannot revoke it, except by using another wish, should any remain....

>> more at The New Yorker: Shouts and Murmurs ...

1/19/06

American Civil Liberties Union Files Suit Against Bush Wiretaps

Quoting from their site:
On January 17, The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the National Security Agency, seeking an end to the secret program of illegal electronic surveillance authorized by President Bush.

Though the president claims he can authorize warrantless spying on Americans, his surveillance program is illegal. It violates the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution and exceeds the limits of executive authority.

This warrantless domestic surveillance must end and checks and balances must be restored.
Support the American Civil Liberties Union.

1/18/06

Dear Pat, Cut it Out. Yours truly, G-d

Dear Pat,

Just wanted to drop you a brief note to let you know my thinking on the matter of Ariel Sharon.

You were wrong, of course as you realized, about my motive for bringing upon him his recent stroke. It had nothing to do with the Gaza pull-out. I don't understand why you thought that it did. The timing was all wrong. If I had wanted to punish him for the evacuation, I would have done it sooner. In fact, if I was against the pull-out, I would have stopped Ariel before he went ahead with it.

No, I also did not punish Sharon for his more recent sin, splitting from Likud and starting his own party. It's not that I dislike Likud. They are a reasonable nationalistic political party. It is true that I like Labor a bit more because it stands more strongly for social justice and has more potential for bringing peace to the region.

It's also true that I was incensed over the complete lack of core commitment that Ariel was showing. He seems to stand for nothing. One minute he builds settlements. The next minute he evacuates them. One day he is the leader of Likud, the next day he abandons them.

It's also true that I expect my leaders to stand for something. It doesn't have to be a perfect ideology or philosophy or religion. I am flexible. Look at all the religions and political systems that I tolerate in the world. It's just my expectation that a leader be accountable to a core set of principles or beliefs.

But even though Sharon abandoned Likud, I did not punish him for that, although I admit that I may have thought for a second, if you can't be loyal to your own party, may your brain explode.

Pat, you and your friend Jerry Falwell and now the mayor of New Orleans (who said the floods were my way of punishing the USA for invading Iraq), you guys have no right to claim you speak for me.

I have no reason to go out on a limb and make any new explanations about catastrophes. The Holy Scriptures that you have in your canons seem to be working pretty well. I have billions of followers all over the world. Accordingly, I decided a while ago not to inspire any new prophets. I thought, why take a chance at this juncture at losing my multi-millenial-momentum?

Keep this above your desk, Pat. "Anyone who claims to speak for me is a false prophet."

And cut it out, okay?

Yours truly,

G-d

1/15/06

Black Hatter Jack is writing Torah commentary - Frank Rich in the New York Times

Frank Rich asks in today's NY Times, Is Abramoff the New Monica? - New York Times. He muses first with his characteristic smirk about the widespread political implications of the scandal, such as:
This much is certain: 1) The Abramoff scandal, so far anyway, boasts plenty of cigars but no sex. 2) It has almost everything else, including the "Miami Vice"-style rub-out of a Florida casino-cruise-ship mogul who'd had contentious business dealings with Mr. Abramoff. Not without reason is the White House on a frantic search-and-destroy mission to root out any potential embarrassments. Mr. Bush's expert stage managers are smart enough to know that this scandal may metastasize from a cancer on Congress to a cancer on the Republican Party in general and this presidency in particular.

More than a Minyan of Black Hats in Congress
Barry Blitt in today's NY Times

He concludes his column with the requisite references to the religious hypocrisy of this chapter of corruption. Here he includes the revelation that Black Hatter Jack is writing a Torah commentary:
As fate would have it, the court appearances of Mr. Lay, Mr. DeLay, Jeff Skilling, Mr. Safavian and Mr. Abramoff could all overlap on 24/7 cable in the months ahead. There will surely be much talk of God along the way. Mr. DeLay's pastor, Mr. Buckham, and Mr. Reed were not the only prayerful players in the Abramoff casino. So were the Rev. 'Lucky Louie' Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition and the right-wing Rabbi Daniel Lapin, whose Toward Tradition organization received a $25,000 check (in all innocence, we're told) from the Abramoff client eLottery. In 2002, the good rabbi welcomed the lobbyist onto the board of his American Alliance of Jews and Christians, along with Jerry Falwell and the man who loves Israel literally to death, Pat Robertson.

In between Mr. Abramoff's guilty pleas in Washington and Florida, he let it be known that he was busy writing Torah commentary. What is the inspiration for all this religiosity? Though raised by an unobservant family, Mr. Abramoff has said that he resolved to become an Orthodox Jew at the age of 12 after seeing 'Fiddler on the Roof.' Now that he's ratting on all his cronies to reduce his own sentence, they, too, will learn what it means to journey from the vainglorious fantasies of 'If I Were a Rich Man' to the hard time of 'Sunrise, Sunset.'
Have you no shame Mr. Abramoff? Have you no sense of decency?

Turning the page in the Times we come to Nicholar Kristoff writing about how one Woman in India had the guts to stand up to the gangsters who were terrorizing her village. In the essay, In India, One Woman's Stand Says 'Enough', Kristoff means for us to learn that one woman's education enabled her to know how to resist evil. Together with the other women in her town, she struck a fatal blow against the criminal element that had ruined their lives.

I see this brave incident as a parable of how we all need to band together to fight the evil in our midst.

1/12/06

Robertson Apologizes To Israel

CBS News reports that, "Pat Robertson Apologizes To Israel" [January 12, 2006]:

"'My concern for the future safety of your nation led me to make remarks which I can now view in retrospect as inappropriate and insensitive in light of a national grief experienced because of your father's illness,' the letter said.

'I ask your forgiveness and the forgiveness of the people of Israel,' Robertson wrote. "

Apology accepted.

1/9/06

Bringing faith into contempt

From The Boston Globe - Complete Jewish self-critical breast beating, but worth reproducing, because it is how I feel too.

Bringing faith into contempt

By Jeff Jacoby, Globe Columnist January 8, 2006

BY HIS own admission, Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff is a crook. But that isn't the worst that can be said about him.

He defrauded his clients of millions of dollars, bribed public officials, cheated on his tax returns, and deceived lenders to qualify for a loan. But that isn't the worst that can be said about him, either.

He made himself at home in and contributed to the swamp of corruption that fills Washington with its stench. His e-mails to cronies, with messages like ''Can you smell money?!?!?!" and ''I'd love us to get our mitts on that moolah!!" oozed greed and boorishness. Behind their backs, he crudely mocked those who hired him, calling them ''morons," ''monkeys," ''troglodytes," and ''the stupidest idiots in the land." He played fast and loose with what were supposed to be charitable funds. But not even that is the worst that can be said about him.

The worst is that Abramoff is a Jew. Not only a Jew, but an Orthodox Jew -- someone who claims to be committed to strictly observing Jewish law and faithfully adhering to the Torah's ethical standards. But instead of upholding those ethical standards Abramoff trampled on them, and a ''religious" Jew who behaves so corruptly disgraces not only himself but all religious Jews. He brings his faith into contempt. He is guilty of what Jewish tradition calls, with disgust, ''chillul ha-Shem" -- a desecration of God's name.

For me -- also an observant Jew -- that is the worst thing of all.

Honesty in financial dealings is not optional in Judaism; it is mandatory. The Talmud teaches that when a person is brought to judgment in the world-to-come, the first question the heavenly tribunal puts to him is: ''Did you conduct your business affairs in good faith?" A Jew who takes the values of his religion seriously must be scrupulous in his transactions with others. To be sure, even the saintliest people -- not to mention the rest of us -- sometimes fall short of the values they profess. But Abramoff's criminal deeds and sleazy manner are a lot worse than mere lapses in judgment. One who behaves so unethically and illegally drags more than his own reputation through the mud. He is an embarrassment to his religion and his community, and that comes close to being unforgivable.

Far from disguising his Orthodox Jewish identification, Abramoff paraded it publicly, as if that would cleanse his unkosher activities. He produced a violent, expletive-filled movie (1989's ''Red Scorpion"), then turned around and created the Committee for Traditional Jewish Values in Entertainment. He fired off gross and insulting e-mails, but fastidiously rendered ''God" as ''G-d." (''This is a Jewish tradition," he explained to a reporter for The New York Times, ''to not write out God's name in something that might be destroyed.") As the legal stormclouds gathered over his head, he cloaked himself in piety. His ''political activities, like everything in his life, were informed by his religious beliefs," his spokesman told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. ''While he did not always meet the standard of his faith, he certainly aspired to do so."

For his appearance in the US District Court in Washington last Tuesday, Abramoff made a point of wearing a black fedora -- an element of attire that is de rigeur for men in certain Orthodox Jewish circles. But his show of devoutness was lost on those who looked at that black hat, and the black trench coat he also wore, and saw something considerably more sinister.

''He looks like if he would open that raincoat, he's got half a dozen machine guns inside," Newsweek's Howard Fineman commented on MSNBC.

''He looks," replied Chris Matthews, ''like the guy in 'Godfather II' going after Hyman Roth."

Within the Jewish community whose values he so dishonored, there is little sympathy for Abramoff, who is likely to receive a prison sentence of 10 or 11 years. But Jewish tradition also teaches that it is never too late to repent, and that God's hand is always extended to the wrongdoer who is genuinely contrite.

''For all of my remaining days, I will feel tremendous sadness and regret for my conduct and for what I have done," Abramoff told US District Judge Ellen Huvelle last week. ''I only hope that I can merit forgiveness from the Almighty and from those I have wronged or caused to suffer."

By themselves, those words will not undo the damage Jack Abramoff has done. But they make a good start. Right now, that is the best that can be said about him.

1/8/06

Jack Abramoff's Black Hat

I attend an Orthodox shul, I know the meaning of this black hat* and I feel ashamed.


Rex Babin, The Sacramento Bee, 1/5/06

*For those who do not know, the black fedora in Orthodox Jewish circles is an ostentatious sign of more frumkeit, a higher level of piety. I see it as akin to wearing broad phylacteries on the street corner -- quintessentially hypocritical when the person showing such ostentatiousness is thoroughly corrupt -- and which the early Christian polemic in Matthew 23:5 hurls against the Pharisees, "For they make their phylacteries broad and enlarge their fringes."

1/5/06

Robertson: Sharon Stroke Due to God's Wrath

These fundamentalist guys are consistent. First God allowed 9/11 to punish the ACLU and gays. Then the cause of Katrina was traced to gambling and depravity. And now, how could they resist:

ABC News: Robertson Links Sharon Stroke, God's Wrath:

"NORFOLK, Va. Jan 5, 2006 -- Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson suggested Thursday that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's stroke was divine punishment for 'dividing God's land.'
'God considers this land to be his,' Robertson said on his TV program 'The 700 Club.' 'You read the Bible and he says `This is my land,' and for any prime minister of Israel who decides he is going to carve it up and give it away, God says, `No, this is mine.'' "
Oy vey.

1/4/06

George, Remember Jack? The Guy With the Black Hat and the Sack of Hanukkah Gelt?

So it is just a big game. Like dreidl. You spin. You win.

You cheat. You get caught. You give it back.

Bush Campaign to Give Away Abramoff Donations

WASHINGTON Jan 4, 2006 � President Bush's re-election campaign will give the American Heart Association thousands of dollars in campaign contributions connected to lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the White House said Wednesday, as the government pressed forward with a broad-ranging corruption investigation.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Wednesday that Abramoff, his wife and the tribal associates that he helped win influence on Capitol Hill donated thousands to the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign. Donations to charities has been the policy in similar situations in the past, McClellan said.

Abramoff raised at least $100,000 for President Bush's 2004 re-election effort, earning the honorary title "pioneer" from the campaign. It was unclear how much exactly the campaign would be giving to charity since McClellan referred questions about the matter to the Republican National Committee, which did not immediately return phone calls about it.

McClellan said Bush does not know Abramoff personally, although it's possible that the two met at holiday receptions. Abramoff attended three Hanukkah receptions at the White House, the spokesman said.

I'm starting a campaign right here to have the White House painted black.

And Jack, Jack, tell me it ain't so. But no, it's not bad enough that you did all those lousy things. You gotta daven in the court room too:

Mr Abramoff reached a plea bargain with federal prosecutors - and added his own courtroom repentance, in which he asked for "forgiveness and redemption from the Almighty".

1/3/06

Board Rescinds 'Intelligent Design' Policy

Attention Dover PA residents! Prepare for fire and brimstone. Evacuate your town now.... Board Rescinds 'Intelligent Design' Policy.

"Newly-elected members of the Dover (Pa.) Area School Board... voted unanimously in favor of rescinding the inclusion of 'intelligent design' from the biology curriculum of Dover High School, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2006,during a meeting in Dover, Pa."

See my previous posts on this topic, one and two.