5/31/08

Barack Excommunicates His Former Church

Religious leaders are in retreat after messing up big time in the current run up to the election this coming November. One could say, as I have, that the candidates are excommunicating their church leaders from the political process and ultimately from any little political power or influence which they might have had.
Obama quits Chicago church after long controversy

ABARDEEN, S.D. - Barack Obama is resigning a 20 year membership in the Trinity United Church of Christ in the aftermath of inflammatory remarks by former pastor the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Obama campaign communications director Robert Gibbs said Obama had submitted a letter of resignation to the church and would discuss his decision in a session with reporters later Saturday.

Comments by Wright have posed an unwanted problem for Obama, front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination.

5/30/08

JTA: Rabbi Riskin Suddenly Wakes Up and Decides to Interpret Judaism for Goyim

I wish I knew what this was all about.

Just what we do not, do not, do not need is another Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation. Riskin is a brilliant man who needs to interpret Judaism for Jews, not for Goyim.

Rabbi Soloveitchik, Riskin's mentor, forbade this kind of initiative, probably to stop brilliant rabbis from expending their energies on interpreting Judaism for Goyim.
Riskin to launch interfaith center

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is launching an Orthodox center for dialogue with Christians.

Organizers of the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation say it is the first Orthodox Jewish institution of its kind dedicated to theological dialogue with Christians.

The center, which is slated to open in June in Efrat, Israel, will host seminars for Jewish and Christian scholars and promote research aimed at making religion an instrument of peace in the world.

"A sea change has occurred since the Shoah,” Riskin, the chief rabbi of Efrat, told the Christian Post. “Most churches now teach that God remains faithful to His covenant with the Jewish people, and that the biblical promise is continually being reaffirmed by the Jewish return to its homeland in Zion."

The Jewish Channel available on Channel 291 in Teaneck on Cablevision’s iO Digital Cable.

The Jewish Channel is available in Teaneck on Channel 291 on Cablevision’s iO Digital Cable.

Looks like a great lineup of on demand movies and videos - with a single subscription charge of $4.95 for each month. [thanks for the correction anon] Wow that is a good deal.

Now if we can get Israeli TV on Cablevision’s iO Digital Cable, we are all set.

AmericaBlog: Politicians Declare War on the Clergy

The attack from the right on this funny liberal clergy guy raises the stakes to the next level.

Are you comfortable with open season on the clergy?

I am. The "religious" right will lose a whole lot more than the "godless" left!

Do Catholics really want a Clinton deciding what their priests can say from the pulpit?

John Aravosis (DC)

The house guest who overstayed her welcome is at it again. This time Hillary isn't attacking some fringe pastor, she's bashing Father Michael Pflegler, a well-known Catholic priest who is, according to Joe Sudbay (who knows him personally), "an amazing activist for social justice." (Check out Fr. Pflegler's resume, it's rather incredible.)

Hillary is again upset with Obama that a man of the cloth said something Hillary didn't like. And, as usual, her attack-dog campaign manager, Howard Wolfson, is telling priests how to run their churches. That's bad enough, but this time, Hillary may have pushed her luck too far. Put aside for a moment the fact that the race is over, and in 5 days Hillary will have to concede - so she really should stop with the destructive attacks against our party's nominee. No, the bigger problem for Hillary is that this time she is demonizing for political gain a well-known and beloved progressive activist who has done a heck of a lot of good in his life - and to boot, he's a prominent Catholic priest in Chicago, well-loved in his community.

Call me crazy, but I'm going to bet most Catholics don't want Hillary Clinton deciding what their priests can and can't say from the pulpit. (Not to mention, whether it's Monica's love-life or Bobby Kennedy's assassination, I'm not sure any Clinton has the right to pull the moral high ground on anyone, let alone a priest.)

I'm not even going to reprint the details of this story, because why help Hillary in her campaign to get John McCain elected (though for you progressive women out there, you ought to be scared to death about what Hillary and her friends at EMILY's List are doing to our chances to keep Roe v. Wade the law of the land in the next administration). This time Hillary is bashing the Catholic Church, and unlike some of the more progressive Christian religions, the Catholics don't take lightly to holier-than-thou government officials telling them how to run their faith.

5/29/08

Fox: Cocaine Jesus Doll Nabbed in Texas

For the high holidays? An icon of the high church? Enough jokes.
Feds Seize Cocaine Jesus Statue on Texas Border

Federal agents have arrested a man on charges of drug trafficking after finding a statue of Jesus made of cocaine at a Texas border crossing.

Bernardino Garcia-Cordova, 61, was arraigned Tuesday on charges of cocaine importation, possession with intent to distribute cocaine and conspiracy after an investigation by Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

According to the criminal report filed by U.S. officials Tuesday, Garcia-Cordova offered a woman $80 to transport two religious statues across the border and deliver them to him at a bus station in Laredo, Texas.

A drug-sniffing dog alerted Border Patrol agents of the presence of drugs in a box that contained two religious figurines. One of those statues, a Jesus figure weighing 3 kilograms, was found to be made of cocaine.

"This seizure goes to show what extreme measures people will go through to smuggle drugs," said Janice Ayala, deputy special agent-in-charge of ICE's investigations office.

The Houston Chronicle reports that the statue was likely to have been broken apart in water, sifted through a strainer and dried before being bagged and sold. It had a street value of $30,000, the paper said.

Garcia-Cordova, a Mexican national, reportedly told officials the Jesus figure was destined for a Dallas drug dealer named "La Araña" or The Spider, according to the Chronicle.

If convicted, Garcia-Cordova faces between five and 40 years in jail on each charge, as well as a $2 million fine.

Exponent: Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks Not Interpreting Judaism

To the Chief Rabbi. You are not doing your job.

If as you say, antisemitism does not define us as Jews, why are you going around talking about it?

Rabbi Takes the World's Temp, Describes Illness

Michelle Mostovy-Eisenberg, Staff Writer

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
Sir Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of England, told a local audience last week that, over the course of the past 2,000 years, there have been four major mutations in the virus known as anti-Semitism...


"Anti-Semitism is serious," and it does happen, attested the rabbi. "But it does not define us as Jews."

Theodicy Meme

This is a response to a meme on theodicy. I was invited by Iyov who was tagged by David Ker, and in turn tagged Suzanne, John, Duane, Nathan, Chuck, Rachel, Simon, and me. And I tag Gil, Mississippi Fred, Reb Yudel, Town Crier and Paleojudaica.
1. if the nature of god is omnipotent, benevolent, and anthropomorphic (that god is a person, who sees suffering as wrong, and can change all of it), why does god not act to relieve all suffering, or at least the greatest amount of suffering for the greatest amount of people the greatest amount of time?
2. if you were god, and you were omnipotent and benevolent, how would you respond to suffering?
3. if this is not the nature of god, what is the nature of god, that allows suffering in the world?
4. if these are the wrong questions to ask, what are the right ones?
First to (4) the standard professor's line is that there are no wrong questions. But of course there are and the determinant is where you ask them. Inside of a faith community these are wrong questions. Theodicy is the invisible elephant in the room. Inside a skeptical community these are boilerplate questions with which to repel believers. Theodicy is the nuclear option.

(3) The term "allows" is a nice apologetic, suggesting that God is a passive agent. No true believer can tolerate this. God must be the purveyor of suffering. If this fact does reveal God's nature then I ask what is the nature of a father who "allows" his sons to suffer?

(2) If I were God I would be omnipotent by consensus, but who says benevolent? If I accepted the Tanakh's theology, I'd be busy punishing sinners and on occasion making a bet with Satan.

(1) If God is all those things, I'd challenge him to a fist fight because of what he did to my mom. She suffered in the ICU for six months before she passed away in 2000. Then I'd fight him 6 million more times.

Where does this "benevolent" God theology come from? Not any religion that I know of.

JTA: Hebrew Charter School Coming to Brooklyn

Starting a charter school is a lot of work and can become a political hot potato. I worked as a consultant on the very beginnings of the cyber academy in the Minneapolis system way back in 1996.

True, Minnesota was the birthplace of charter schools. Still, I'm surprised it has taken so long to get to this point in NYC where we are about to be considering a Hebrew charter school.

Ben Harris collates the news of a proposal for a new Hebrew charter school in Brooklyn NY.

It makes no sense that the discussion start out with entangling this proposal with others. Regardless of the politics involved, this school should stand or fail on the merits of its own making. From JTA:

Both the Forward and the Jewish Week have stories about the new school, backed my mega-philanthropist Michael Steinhardt and pushed by his daughter, Sara Berman, who is submitting an application for the school next week.

If adopted, it would become the second Hebrew-language charter school in the country. Ben Gamla in Hollywood, Fla. was the first, opening its doors this past fall. Like the Brooklyn Arabic school, and another Arabic school in Minnesota, Ben Gamla has had its troubles. Critics — including some Jews — have charged that it’s little more than a front for religious instruction and blurs the line between church and state.

But at least one commentator thinks the new school is protected under the Constitution. Check out Thomas Carroll’s take in today’s New York Post.

5/28/08

Bill Gates Waxes Nostalgic for Windows 95 and Confesses His Love for SharePoint

I recall Bill Gates coming out on stage at the NYC launch event for Windows XP. I was sitting in the first row and was just shocked to see Bill (bechvodo uveatzmo). He said nothing about XP and spoke on and on about SharePoint. So I took the trial disk back to SunGard Trading Systems and installed it on a server and made it the basis for the company intranet. And I still believe that SharePoint is a great group ware platform. But most companies can't handle the truth of group ware.

And I remember with equally warm nostalgia sitting on the floor all night struggling to install and configure Windows 95, looking all over for drivers and on and on.

So here is what's on Slashdot, Bill Gates: Windows 95 Was 'A High Point' -
Bob Jacobsen writes "CBSnews.com has an article about Bill Gates and Steve Balmer answering questions at the "All Things Digital" conference. When asked about "high points" in his time at Microsoft, Gates replied "Windows 95 was a nice milestone". The article continues "He also spoke highly of Microsoft SharePoint Server software, but didn't mention Vista." Was there really nothing else that Gates considered a high point?"

Haaretz: Jimmy Carter Confirms that Israel is a Major Nuclear Power

Thank you Jimmy Carter. You have gone where no diplomat has ever gone. He has confirmed that Israel is one of the world's leading nuclear powers.
Nuclear exposure on the River Wye
By Reuven Pedatzur

Of all the places in the world, Jimmy Carter chose a book fair on the banks of the River Wye in Wales as the spot from which to put an official end to Israel's nuclear ambiguity. One cannot exaggerate the importance of the former American president's statement that Israel has 150 nuclear bombs. More than all the estimates and leaks about the Israeli nuclear program over the past five decades, Carter's comments on Sunday give official cachet to Israel's status as a nuclear power.

This time the speaker is not another scientist basing his assessments on calculations of the output from the Dimona reactor, or a news report with an unclear source. Israel's nuclear weapons arsenal is being revealed by a former American president, someone who, upon entering the White House, adopted the policy of covert American nuclear cooperation with Israel, which was formulated four decades ago.

The principles of the nuclear understandings between Israel and the United States were agreed upon in 1969, when prime minister Golda Meir met with U.S. president Richard Nixon in Washington. That was the first time the United States officially accepted Israel's status as a nuclear power, while agreeing not to publicly reveal details about its weapons. Israel committed not to carry out nuclear testing or declare that it has nuclear weapons. For their part, the Americans promised not to pressure Israel to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Every American president since, and every senior administration official who knew the details of the Israeli nuclear program, kept silent and effectively adopted Israel's official policy: that it would not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East. Now Carter comes along and changes the rules of the game. After all, he doesn't need to rely on foreign sources or unproven conjecture. When he served as president, he knew exactly what Israel had in its storehouses. Jimmy Carter is not guessing or estimating. He knows.

In his speech at the Wales book fair, Carter did not make it clear whether he was citing the number of bombs Israel had when he left the White House in January 1981, or describing the current size of Israel's nuclear arsenal. This doesn't much affect the core of the matter - Israel's exposure as a nuclear power. When it comes to strategic considerations by Israel and its opponents, it doesn't matter whether there are 150, 200 or 300 bombs.

If Carter was referring to the size of Israel's nuclear arsenal when he left the White House, it is possible to figure out its current size from the information he provided. To do so one needs to use foreign sources, which state that Israel produces enough plutonium to build approximately five nuclear bombs per year. If that's the case, then Israel has built an estimated 150 more bombs since 1981, putting the size of Israel's nuclear arsenal at some 300 bombs. But this is merely an intellectual exercise. What is truly important is the fact that a former American president has exposed Israel as a nuclear power.

One can assume that Iran will now be able to make use of Carter's comments in order to point to the double standard of the Western world, which is prepared to accept a nuclear Israel but makes a great effort to prevent Iran from going nuclear.

However, the more important ramification of Carter's statement is the reinforcement of Israel's deterrent image. In the future, if Iran does acquire nuclear weapons, this image will be of critical importance in the process of developing mutual deterrence.

The Street: Amazon Still Keeping Kindle Sales Numbers Secret

Why won't Bezos reveal sales figures? It makes no sense. We don't expect him immediately to replace real books with Kindle downloads. So why not tell us how the transition is going?
Amazon CEO Touts Kindle Prospects
Pia Sarkar

SAN FRANCISCO -- Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos doesn't expect the company's portable wireless reading device to replace physical books, but he allowed for the possibility of the Kindle to one day become a significant part of the online retailer's business.

Speaking at the annual D6 conference in Carlsbad, Calif., hosted by The Wall Street Journal, Bezos declined to specify how many Kindles have been sold by Amazon since their release last fall, but noted that unit sales account for more than 6% of total book sales for the 125,000 titles available on the device.

On Tuesday, Amazon lowered the price of the Kindle to $359 from $399. On Wednesday, Bezos said the move didn't signify that the company would come out with an upgrade anytime soon, according to the All Things Digital Web site.

The speed by which analog books are converted into digital text will largely depend on how quickly the publishing industry can make the transition, Bezos said. The goal of Kindle, he added, is to allow users to seamlessly download books onto the device in 60 seconds or less...

Teaneck Election: Vote for Shoshana Halstuch for Democratic Committeewoman

Update: She Won!

Dear friends,

Please go to the polls at Whittier school on June 3rd and vote for my daughter, Shoshana Halstuch. She is running for Democratic Committeewoman 10th District on Tuesday.

If you reside in the tenth election district (south of West Englewood Avenue) and are either a registered Democrat or an independent (you can switch back after the election, if you wish) you may vote for her. In other words, anyone who is not registered Republican may vote in the Democratic primary June 3rd.

The polls will be open from 6 A.M. till 8 P.M.

Thanks,

Henry Frisch
Milford Terrace

5/27/08

AP: Rabbi Talansky Testifies that he Gave Israeli PM Olmert Piles of Cash

Morris Talansky, a U.S. businessman, entering the witness box in Jerusalem on Tuesday. Talansky testified that he handed cash-filled envelopes to Ehud Olmert when he was a minister and Jerusalem mayor. (Pool photo by Uriel Sinai)

Questions abound. Why cash? Why no records? Why would Talansky, an Orthodox rabbi, do this?
Main witness describes handing cash to Olmert

JERUSALEM: The main witness in a corruption inquiry that threatens to topple Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made a dramatic courtroom appearance Tuesday, telling prosecutors that he had handed cash-stuffed envelopes to Olmert and an aide and saying that some of the money had gone to fund Olmert's fondness for fine hotels, first-class flights and luxury goods.

In sometimes emotional testimony, the witness, Morris Talansky, an American businessman, told the court that he had turned over about $150,000 to Olmert, directly and through political aides, at meetings in New York and Jerusalem over a 15-year period.

He said he believed that most of the money was for political campaigns, but that Olmert had also sought money for vacations and unidentified personal expenses.

Talansky, 75, said there were no records of how the money had been spent.

"I only know that he loved expensive cigars. I know he loved pens, watches. I found it strange," he said.

In one case, he said, he walked to a bank to withdraw thousands of dollars in cash as Olmert waited in a luxury hotel.

The police suspect that Olmert illicitly took as much as $500,000 from Talansky in illegal campaign contributions or bribes before becoming prime minister. Olmert has said the funds were legal campaign contributions and he has promised to step down if indicted. Talansky said in court that he had never received anything in return for the money.

The revelations Tuesday were likely to further hurt the already unpopular Olmert, who is trying to rally public support for peace efforts with the Palestinians and Syria. The investigation is the fifth that the police have opened into Olmert's affairs since he took office in 2006, and there is widespread speculation that he might not weather the latest charges.

Moshe Negbi, a legal affairs analyst, said that, according to Talansky's testimony, Olmert could face charges of bribery and breach of trust. He suggested that Olmert could be forced to resign by the attorney general even before any indictment.

"I don't think that there were ever such grave suspicions against a prime minister in Israel," Negbi said.

Olmert's downfall could dash U.S.-backed efforts by Israel and the Palestinians to work out a final peace agreement by the end of the year.

Talansky, who is not a suspect in the case, appeared nervous and stressed, breaking into tears twice in the packed courtroom. He took off his jacket and tie and drummed his fingers on a table.

Questioned in English, Talansky repeatedly voiced admiration for Olmert, and said he was drawn to the articulate, English-speaking politician when he was running for mayor of Jerusalem in the early 1990s. But he also expressed regret for some of their dealings - particularly the cash transactions.

Olmert had the "ability to reach out to the American people, the largest and richest community of Jews in the world," Talansky, who is Jewish, said. "That's why I supported the man. That's why I overlooked, frankly and honestly, a lot of things. I overlooked them. Maybe I shouldn't have."

During the questioning, Talansky said that much of the money had been raised in New York "parlor meetings," where Olmert would address American donors who would then leave contributions on their chairs. Some of the payments were meant to be loans, but not all were repaid, Talansky said.

In at least one case, Talansky said, he used his personal credit card to pay a $4,700 hotel bill for a three-day stay at the Ritz Carlton in Washington in 2004.

Olmert called him to say his own credit card was "maxed out," Talansky testified. "He asked if he could borrow my card, and he said it was part of a loan."

The donations took place before and during Olmert's 10-year tenure as Jerusalem mayor, which ended in 2003, and his subsequent term as trade minister. Olmert became prime minister in early 2006.

Throughout the period in question, Olmert was a leading politician in the hard-line Likud party. Among the donations was $30,000 for Olmert's failed 2002 campaign for Likud chairman. He said the money had been delivered in four checks in the names of Talansky, his wife, son and brother to skirt limits on contributions.

"I recall him telling me, you could only give him a maximum amount per person," Talansky said.

In late 2005, Olmert left Likud to help form the centrist Kadima Party, which he now leads.

Talansky described Olmert as a politician with magnetic appeal who greeted him with a big hug each time they met in Jerusalem.

"I had a very close relationship with him, but I wish to add at this time that the relationship of 15 years was purely of admiration," he added.

Talansky said Olmert had volunteered to contact three billionaires, including the owner of the Plaza Hotel in New York, Yitzhak Tshuva, and the Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, to try to drum up business for a hotel minibar venture run by Talansky. He said the offer did not help.

Adelson, the third-wealthiest American, according to Forbes magazine, was questioned in the case earlier this month during a visit to Jerusalem.

Talansky said Olmert's preference for cash raised his suspicions.

"Cash disturbed me. I couldn't understand it and I accepted the answer simply because I saw something bigger, hopefully, out there," he said, referring to what he believed was Olmert's potential.

Olmert also received several loans, including one of $25,000 to $30,000 for a trip to Italy and another for $15,000. Olmert asked for the second loan during a stay at the Regency Hotel in New York, insisting on cash, Talansky said.

Talansky said he had walked to a bank four blocks away and withdrawn the money. Olmert never paid him back, he said.

The last payment he made to "political Israel," he said, was about $72,500 for Olmert's Likud primary campaign in 2003. He said he had seen Olmert only once at a social function since Olmert became prime minister.

Because Olmert has not been indicted, the testimony Tuesday was not part of a formal court proceeding against him. Instead, the court was taking Talansky's testimony because he lives in the United States and the authorities are concerned that he might not return to Israel to testify in the future.

Olmert's lawyers tried to delay Talansky's testimony. But the American businessman, an ordained rabbi who has spent his career as a fund-raiser for Jewish causes, wanted to testify so he could return home to Long Island, New York. Talansky broke into tears, saying he missed his wife, when prosecutors told him he might have to remain in the country.

His lawyer, Jacques Chen, said Talansky would leave for the United States on Wednesday, after Olmert's defense team asked to put off the cross-examination so they could better prepare. Talansky promised in court to return.

Eli Zohar, a lawyer for Olmert, labeled Talansky's testimony "twisted" and said the truth would be revealed in the cross-examination, set for July 17.

"In general we're saying that we're not talking about criminal activity whatsoever," Zohar said.

After the hearing, State Attorney Moshe Lador said it was too early to make decisions.

The police have said the suspicions span a 12-year period when Olmert was mayor of Jerusalem and minister of industry and trade. Detectives have raided Jerusalem City Hall and the Trade Ministry and have questioned Olmert twice.

Olmert's longtime assistant, Shula Zaken, and a former law partner, Uri Messer, have also been questioned.

The investigation is expected to take months.

LA Times Blog: Barack Confuses Concentration Camps

So what? Barack confused the names of concentration camps.

The point that Obama was making was that returning vets (like his great-uncle) do not get the support they need after suffering trauma in wartime.

That's not a gaffe. That's a commendable policy statement, with a minor confusion.

We are all so tired of the smart mouthed nitwit nit pickers.

And yes, the consensus of the public at large is that Hillary's invocation of the RFK assassination stands on its own as a disgusting remark - and has nothing to do with any other gaffe by any other candidate at any other time.
The Nazi death camp that Barack Obama's great-uncle actually helped liberate

Barack Obama, at a Memorial Day event in Las Cruces, N.M., credited his great-uncle, Charlie Payne, as being among the U.S. troops who liberated the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz.

The trouble with that bit of history is -- as the Republican National Committee pointed out today -- is that the Soviet Red Army was the military force that liberated the World War II death camp.

The RNC seized the opportunity to fire off a news release, saying that “unless his uncle was serving in the Red Army, there’s no way Obama’s statement yesterday can be true. Obama’s frequent exaggerations and outright distortions raise questions about his judgment and his readiness to lead as commander in chief.”

The Obama campaign soon acknowledged that the Democratic candidate made a mistake. It explained that Obama’s great-uncle was in the 89th Infantry Division that helped liberate another notorious death camp, Buchenwald. Obama, the campaign said, “is proud of the service of his grandfather and uncles in World War II -- especially the fact that his great-uncle was part of liberating of one of the concentration camps at Buchenwald.”

All of which raises the question: What's worse, Obama's apparent gaffe or the RNC pouncing on a Holocaust-related historical mistake for political advantage?

-- Stuart Silverstein
The Times blog further clarifies the facts, "The correct story is that Mr. Obama’s great uncle, Charlie Payne – his grandmother’s brother – actually helped liberate Ohrdruf, a sub-camp of Buchenwald. Mr. Payne was a member of the 89th Infantry Division."

5/26/08

Times: How to Get to Nirvana? Go to Your Brain and Turn Right

More reductionism (we like it don't get us wrong) from the Times.
A Superhighway to Bliss
By LESLIE KAUFMAN

JILL BOLTE TAYLOR was a neuroscientist working at Harvard’s brain research center when she experienced nirvana.

But she did it by having a stroke.

On Dec. 10, 1996, Dr. Taylor, then 37, woke up in her apartment near Boston with a piercing pain behind her eye. A blood vessel in her brain had popped. Within minutes, her left lobe — the source of ego, analysis, judgment and context — began to fail her. Oddly, it felt great.

The incessant chatter that normally filled her mind disappeared. Her everyday worries — about a brother with schizophrenia and her high-powered job — untethered themselves from her and slid away.

Her perceptions changed, too. She could see that the atoms and molecules making up her body blended with the space around her; the whole world and the creatures in it were all part of the same magnificent field of shimmering energy.

“My perception of physical boundaries was no longer limited to where my skin met air,” she has written in her memoir, “My Stroke of Insight,” which was just published by Viking.

After experiencing intense pain, she said, her body disconnected from her mind. “I felt like a genie liberated from its bottle,” she wrote in her book. “The energy of my spirit seemed to flow like a great whale gliding through a sea of silent euphoria.”

While her spirit soared, her body struggled to live. She had a clot the size of a golf ball in her head, and without the use of her left hemisphere she lost basic analytical functions like her ability to speak, to understand numbers or letters, and even, at first, to recognize her mother. A friend took her to the hospital. Surgery and eight years of recovery followed.

Her desire to teach others about nirvana, Dr. Taylor said, strongly motivated her to squeeze her spirit back into her body and to get well....

How to Properly Celebrate Jerusalem Day!

I received a spam from a vendor in Israel with the following pitch:

This coming Monday, June 2, Israel celebrates her 41st annual Jerusalem Day! After 19 years of division, our holy Capital was finally reunited in the summer of 1967. To help you celebrate with us, we have discounted a great selection of Jerusalem-related products: books, DVD's, t-shirts, caps, souvenirs, and much, much more. Enjoy!
Of course. Buy a Jerusalem related DVD... at a discount on sale. That is how to celebrate properly the reuniting of "our holy Capital"!

It appears that Israel has indeed become America's 51st state.

Times: Stanley Fish Opposes Conservative Studies

What could a chair in conservative studies teach? How to not think? Greed is good? War profiteering 101? Gas, Oil and Petroleum for Fun and Profit? The Utopian Age of the '50s? Great Speeches of George W. Bush?
More Colorado Follies

I’ve just returned from New Zealand and find that in my absence the University of Colorado – the same one that earlier this year appointed as its president a Republican fund-raiser with a B.A. in mining and no academic experience – has gifted me again, this time with the announcement of plans to raise money for a Chair in Conservative Thought and Policy.

Why? The answer is apparently given in the first sentence of a story that appeared in the May 13th edition of the Rocky Mountain News: “The University of Colorado is considering a $9 million program to bring high-profile conservatives to teach on the left-leaning Boulder campus.”

Embedded in this sentence is the following chain of reasoning: The University of Colorado, Boulder, is left-leaning and therefore it is appropriate to spend university funds (technically state funds) in an effort to redress a political imbalance.

Wrong on all counts. First, what does “left-leaning” mean? Does the university issue policy statements on controversial matters? Does its administration come out for gay marriage or for gun control or for reproductive rights? Does the university endorse liberal candidates, or criticize Supreme Court decisions, or contribute to Move On.org? If the answer to any of these questions were “yes,” “left-leaning” would be an accurate designation. It would also be a reason to deny the university its tax exempt status and demand that it register as a lobbyist. But of course the university does none of these things. How then does it lean left?

The answer appears a little further down in the story when it is reported that emeritus professor Ed Rozek surveyed the Boulder faculty and found that out of 825, only 23 were registered Republicans.

So what? Why should that be more significant than finding that only 23 faculty members were left-handed or had red hair or were born in Colorado or rooted for the Yankees? Such statistics would also be evidence of an imbalance, but no one would think to spend $9 million to redress it. But it could be said that I was missing the point. While there is no correlation between being left-handed or having red hair or rooting for the Yankees and classroom performance, surely there is a correlation between political affiliation and classroom performance.

Actually, no, there isn’t. Even in courses where the materials are politically and ideologically charged, the questions that arise are academic, not political. A classroom discussion of Herbert Marcuse and Leo Strauss, for example, does not (or at least should not) have the goal of determining whether the socialist or the conservative philosopher is right about how the body politic should be organized. Rather, the (academic) goal would be to describe the positions of the two theorists, compare them, note their place in the history of political thought, trace the influences that produced them and chart their own influence on subsequent thinkers in the tradition. And a discussion of this kind could be led and guided by an instructor of any political persuasion whatsoever, and it would make no difference given that the point of the exercise was not to decide a political question but to analyze it.

The university’s spokesman, Bronson Hilliard, has said that “a good campus is always trying to find ways to add diversity of thought and scholarship.” But even if “diversity of thought” were an academic priority (and in my opinion it is not), it would have nothing to do with political diversity. The fact that you are a Democrat or a Republican or Libertarian or a Socialist or someone with no interest in politics (there are many such people) is not a predictor either of what you will teach or of how you will teach it.

If the reason for funding a chair in conservative thought and policy is to correct a political imbalance, it is not a reason any university should take seriously until there is more than anecdotal evidence that ballot-box performance tracks classroom performance. And even if it were to turn out that ballot-box performance did in fact track classroom performance, the proper remedy would be not to even out the partisan numbers, but to remind faculty members of whatever political stripe of the distinction (on which the whole rationale for higher educations rests) between political questions and academic questions.

This does not mean, however, that there is no academic case to be made for courses in conservative thought, for conservative thought, like any other form of thought, is a perfectly appropriate candidate for academic interrogation. One of the important stories of the last 45 years has been the rise and triumph of conservatism, which seemed dead in the water when Barry Goldwater was trounced by Lyndon Johnson in 1964, but had grown in strength by 1968 and became the very center of American political life with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.

How did that happen? Who were the principal players? What conditions were in place that allowed them to succeed? Is conservatism now on the wane? These and other questions could be explored at length in a perfectly respectable college course, and again, the political affiliation of the instructor would be irrelevant.

G.P. Peterson, the chancellor of the Boulder campus, who has been prattling on about “intellectual diversity” (always and only a stalking horse for political diversity), did have a moment when he seemed to be an academic administrator rather than a political operative. He acknowledged that the professor of conservative thought didn’t have to be an actual conservative, and pointed out that many teachers of French “aren’t necessarily French.” (Of course the analogy doesn’t work: you don’t get to choose your country of origin; you do get to choose your political beliefs.)

Taking him at his word, I hereby apply for the job. If what is wanted is someone to teach conservative political thought starting with Plato and Aristotle and hitting the highlights including Hooker, Hobbes, Adam Smith, Burke, Schmitt, Wyndham Lewis, Oakeshott, Strauss, Kirk, Bork et al , I can do that. And if the job is to teach the tradition of conservative aesthetic thought, again beginning with Plato and Aristotle and including Dante, Puttenham, Swift, Pope, Bergson, Matthew Arnold, Irving Babbitt, Eliot, Pound and Allan Bloom, I can do that, too. The only sticking point might be the salary. The suggested figure, which is supposed to include money for an assistant, is $200,000. That, I’m afraid, is pretty low-end. But then again, Boulder is a nice place.

5/25/08

Times: Minnesota Court Ruling Unleashes a Crisis for "Charities"

The Times does more than report the news. It collates events into trends and reports on cultural shifts - like this one.

When University presidents and administrators pocket gigantic salaries and live off of expense accounts, are they employees of non-profits? Non-profits with $billions in the bank? Non-profits that give no charity? Non-profits that plan to charge ridiculous amounts for football tickets?

Something is seriously wrong in this regard with the new Rutgers football ticket plan:
The bill will run more than $3,000 for one of 852 club seats, and more than $17,000 for one of 28 four-seat loge boxes. The seat itself is only $650 for the seven home games, but the big bucks go toward the annual, partially tax-deductible gift.
Big bucks! Tax deductible - so that more of the same can be built, bought and paid for? It's not just me saying that something is wrong - something stinks in the state of non-profits. It's now a whole lot of officials charged with regulating the public good who are blowing their loud whistles:

RED WING, Minn. — Authorities from the local tax assessor to members of Congress are increasingly challenging the tax-exempt status of nonprofit institutions — ranging from small group homes to wealthy universities — questioning whether they deserve special treatment.

One issue is the growing confusion over what constitutes a charity at a time when nonprofit groups look more like businesses, charging fees and selling products and services to raise money, and state and local governments are under financial pressure because of lower tax revenues.

And there are others: Does a nonprofit hospital give enough charity care to earn a tax exemption? Is a wealthy university providing enough financial aid?

In a ruling last December that sent tremors through the not-for-profit world, the Minnesota Supreme Court said a small nonprofit day care agency here had to pay property taxes because, in essence, it gave nothing away.

The agency, the Under the Rainbow Child Care Center, charges the same price per child regardless of whether their parents are able to pay the full amount themselves or they receive government support to cover the cost.

“We were shocked,” said Michelle Finholdt, who founded the center in 1994 and scraped together the money to buy a building in 2002. “There are a lot of other organizations in our area that we’re similar to, and they are exempt from property taxes.”

The tax-exempt status of charities costs local governments $8 billion to $13 billion annually, according to various rough estimates.

And local assessors are not the only government officials scratching their heads over which groups deserve privileged tax status. Congress has threatened to impose a requirement that wealthy universities make minimum payouts from their endowments and raised questions about whether nonprofit hospitals are really all that different from their for-profit — and tax-paying — competitors.

And, concerned about the way some churches are spending money, the Senate Finance Committee has asked for detailed financial information from six evangelical ministries asking them to justify their tax exemptions.

Others are questioning whether some tax-exempt nonprofits, primarily universities and hospitals, have accumulated so much wealth that they should no longer be considered charities. In Massachusetts, where Harvard’s endowment has reached $35 billion in assets, legislators are weighing whether to impose a 2.5 percent annual assessment on universities with endowments of more than $1 billion. more...

Haaretz Sorts Out Pastor Hagee and John McCain and the Holocaust

Shmuel Rosner Chief U.S. Correspondent: 5 questions about Pastor Hagee and the Holocaust

David Brog (short bio here) is Executive Director of Christians United for Israel, the organization founded by Pastor John Hagee (A dialogue I had with Brog two years ago is here).

Last week, Hagee was involved in a controversy - not for the first time - that resulted in a decision by presidential candidate John McCain to publicly reject Hagee's endorsement. McCain did this after is was revealed that Hagee "once described Adolf Hitler as a divine agent sent to force the Jews back to Israel" (more about this story here). In a written interview, Brog tries to explain Hagee's remarks.

All Hail Shigeru Miyamoto - Greatest Inventor of Our Generation

We have the Wii - and now Wii Fit - and it is brilliant~~~~!
Times: Resistance Is Futile
Resistance Is Futile
Michael Nagle for The New York Times
Shigeru Miyamoto illustrates the Wii Fit system, a new interactive physical fitness device from Nintendo.

First came Mario. Now there’s the Wii. Thanks to Nintendo’s mastermind, you may never leave your living room again.

Times: Adam Sandler Dissolves Arab-Israeli Conflict into a Comedy?

I'm neutral, leaning away from liking Adam Sandler. After reading this article, I'm more skeptical.

Israelis and Arabs Walk Into a Film...
By DAVE ITZKOFF
Israelis and Arabs Walk Into a Film...
Tracy Bennett/Columbia Pictures
Adam Sandler is a former Israeli assassin with a new calling in “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan,” written by Mr. Sandler, Robert Smigel and Judd Apatow.

“You Don’t Mess With the Zohan” attempts to satirize the continuing tensions between Israel and its Arab neighbors, one of the least funny topics of modern times.

5/23/08

Kabbalah and Talmud in the Sistine Chapel?

Reserving my judgment until I read this myself.
LA TIMES BOOK REVIEW
'The Sistine Secrets: Michelangelo's Forbidden Messages in the Heart of the Vatican' by Benjamin Blech and Roy Doliner

The inclusion of unorthodox symbolism in Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling

MICHELANGELO studied the Kabbalah and Talmud? It's all right there, above our heads, as Benjamin Blech and Roy Doliner demonstrate in their fascinating study of the Sistine Chapel, "The Sistine Secrets" (HarperOne: 336 pp., $26.95). I understand the desire to reach Dan Brown's audience with the book's provocative subtitle -- "Michelangelo's Forbidden Messages in the Heart of the Vatican" -- but this book is hardly a "Da Vinci Code" knockoff. The authors, both experts on Judaica, scoured Michelangelo's work and found many oddities, raising such questions as: Why does the serpent in Eden have arms? Why, in that scene, is the Tree of Knowledge a fig tree instead of an apple tree? And, hey, why does the shape of "The Last Judgment" resemble the tablets of the Ten Commandments?

The Florence of the Medicis, the authors explain, was a community receptive to the Jews in a time of tumult and intolerance elsewhere. Jewish philosophy and thought filtered down to the young artist through master tutors, such as Pico della Mirandola. It was the search for an all-embracing religious philosophy, the authors suggest, that led Michelangelo to draw on alternative sources for his biblical subjects and to "brilliantly hide inside these works antipapal messages more in keeping with his true universalistic feelings." Like the best art historians, the authors give us a fresh context for the times, never hesitating to make contemporary parallels: The Medicis, for instance, gave to Florence "the feeling of a new golden age, comparable in many ways to the popular spirit . . . when the Kennedy family brought the feeling of 'Camelot' to Washington." This is a stimulating exploration that makes familiar masterpieces seem strange and new.

-- Nick Owchar

5/22/08

StarTribune: Coens Choose Twin Cities for Jewish Family Movie

Coen brothers will shoot next movie in Minnesota

After flirting with Milwaukee, Joel and Ethan Coen will begin shooting their next film in the Twin Cities this fall. "A Serious Man," concerning a Jewish family living in St. Louis Park, has held open casting calls for local talent and scouted locations in and around the area...

Inspired by Barack: Buy a Car, Cling to a Free Handgun

I cannot fathom the logic of this explanation. Dealer offers free hand gun to car buyers. Dealer invokes Barack as the inspiration for the promotion. Sales soar!
Buy a car, get a free gun at Missouri car dealer
By Carey Gillam

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - A Missouri car dealer said on Thursday sales have soared at his auto and truck business since launching a promotion this week that promises buyers a free handgun or a $250 gas card with every purchase.

Max Motors, a small Butler, Missouri dealership that has as its logo a grimacing cowboy wielding a pistol, has sold more than 30 cars and trucks in the last three days, far more than its normal volume. And owner Mark Muller credits his decision to start offering buyers their choice of a $250 gas card or a $250 credit at a gun shop.

"This thing has taken off. Sales have quadrupled," said Muller. The store sells both used and new vehicles including General Motors and Ford products.

Every buyer so far "except one guy from Canada and one old guy" has elected to take the gun, Muller said. Muller recommends his customers select a Kel-Tec .380 pistol.

"It's a nice little handgun that fits in your pocket," he said.

Muller said the promotion was inspired by Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, who is vying with Hillary Clinton to be the Democratic nominee for the presidential election in November.

"We did it because of Barack Obama. He said all those people in the Midwest, you've got to have compassion for them because they're clinging to their guns and their Bibles. I found that quite offensive."

"We all go to church on Sunday and we all carry guns," said Muller. "I've got a gun in my pocket right now. I have a rifle in my truck. We've got to shoot the coyotes out here, they're attacking our cows, our chickens. We're not clinging to nothing. We're just damn glad to live in a free country where you can have a gun if you want. This is the way it ought to be."

Politico.com: Trenchant Analysis of Anti-Obama Republican Smear-mail

A worthy essay on the subject of the anti-Obama Republican smear-mail at Politico.com:
An unprecedented, subterranean e-mail campaign seeks to portray Obama as un-American, claiming that he is dangerous to mainstream America...

5/21/08

Times: Virginia Commonwealth University Sold Out its Ethics to Lethal Cigarette Companies

This article is about as damning as any I have ever read about the breach of ethics at a public university.

This university must be censured by all people with a scintilla of morality.

I will quote only the last paragraph, summing up what VCU has done:
“It’s counter to the entire purpose and rationale of a university,” said David Rosner, a professor of public health and history at Columbia University. “It’s not a consulting company; it’s not just another commercial firm.”
Go to the Times please to read the entire report by ALAN FINDER, "At One University, Tobacco Money Is a Secret."

jpost: Barack Obama the Zionist

Here's a refreshing opinion and a dramatic observation: Obama embraces the Zionist idea.

Obama the Zionist

With Barack Obama close to clinching the Democratic nomination, Republicans have stepped up their efforts to woo Jewish voters who have doubts about the senator's support for Israel and his overall Middle East policy. Using fear tactics, groups like the Republican Jewish Coalition have played the "Israel card" to tip the balance come November. Four years ago, I would have been persuaded. Not this time.

Yes, back then the fear tactics worked, and they made me prefer President Bush over Senator Kerry. I was a college pro-Israel activist - needless to say in a very difficult time for Israel advocacy - and I needed some moral comfort, some moral clarity. While I recognized that Kerry was a smart guy, and I did like him overall, Bush's black and white clarity was more comforting. I was convinced that such beliefs were essential for a post-9/11 world and an unrelenting war against terror. Since Jewish voters whose main concern was Israel were telling me they supported Bush, I decided to join the club.

That was a huge mistake, but an eye-opening experience about campaigns and fear tactics. Today, neoconservatives are trying to do the same, but this time I am supporting whoever gets the Democratic nomination. I already know that Senator Clinton is a staunch supporter of Israel, and I have become convinced that Senator Obama would be as well. This time, using the "Israel card" will not work for the Republicans in attracting the Jewish vote.

SENATOR OBAMA's interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic represents some of the most reassuring words I have heard from the Democratic front-runner regarding his Middle East policy, and especially his support for Israel. Rather than only seeing Israel as a "strategic ally" or as the "only democracy in the Middle East" - the standard clichés of support - Senator Obama identifies with the "Zionist idea" and believes that a secure Jewish state is "fundamentally just."

Now, that is refreshing. When was the last time we had heard the word "Zionist" being used in a positive way and described as "fundamentally just" by a non-Jew? Senator Obama evoked the Zionist idea because he does not think of Israel only as a geopolitical ally, and does not base his support on a cost-benefit analysis of the "special relationship." Rather, his support for Israel is anchored in a true understanding of the need for the Jewish people to have a homeland where Jews "can take care of themselves no matter what happens," where we can feel rooted, where our culture can be preserved, and where the Jewish values of social justice can flourish. He especially identified with Zionism's quest "to start over and to repair the breaches of the past."

Obama's connection to Israel is much more personal and, therefore, much stronger, genuine and uncompromising than your traditional candidates. It is not a support based on interests, politics, or a quid pro quo with the Jewish state. It is a support based on identity, on a genuine understanding of the needs of a people to have self-determination, and a conviction that regardless of day-to-day policies, the idea of a Jewish state is fundamentally just.

This is much more reassuring than a candidate that repeats the traditional catch phrases of "strategic ally" and "only democracy in the Middle East." These phrases always make me feel like I constantly have to "make the case" for Israel because, if I cannot prove Israel's "worthiness" to the US, then support will diminish. On the other hand, Obama's rationale for supporting Israel is much simpler. He respects, understands and identifies with the desire of the Jewish people to be a fulfilled and independent nation in their own homeland. In his eyes, Israel and the Zionist idea are important and fundamentally just in their own right.

Therefore, come November, I am confident that both Clinton and Obama represent hope and change for the future, and I am certain they both possess the knowledge and skills to grasp the complex issues much better than the Republican nominee. I had initial concerns about Obama, but I have come to realize that my doubts were just another product of the traditional "fear tactics" employed by neoconservatives. I have learned my lesson over the past four years and will not make the same mistake again. This time I support either Democratic nominee, and I am more convinced than ever. Undecided no more - if nominated, Obama is right for the job, right for Israel.

The writer is a long-time pro-Israel activist and a former Legacy Heritage Fellow.

Times: Science Concludes You and All of Your Friends Should Stop Smoking

It's so important to stop the massacre of 400,000 Americans each years that is caused by the cigarette corporations.

Now the Times says that quitting in clusters, social groups, is the most effective way.

So get together with two friends and quit today!
For Smokers, Quitting Is Tied to Social Circles
By GINA KOLATA

For years, smokers have been exhorted to take the initiative and quit: use a nicotine patch, chew nicotine gum, take a prescription medication that can help, call a help line, just say no. But a new study finds that stopping is seldom an individual decision.

Smokers tend to quit in groups, the study finds, which means smoking cessation programs should work best if they focus on groups rather than individuals. It also means that people may help many more than just themselves by quitting — quitting can have a ripple effect prompting an entire social network to break the habit.

The study, by Dr. Nicholas Christakis of Harvard Medical School and James Fowler of the University of California, San Diego, followed thousands of smokers and nonsmokers for 32 years, from 1971 until 2003, studying them as part of a large network of relatives, co-workers, neighbors, friends and friends of friends.

It was a time when the percentage of adult smokers in the United States fell to 21 percent from 45 percent. As the investigators watched the smokers and their social networks, they saw what they said was a striking effect — smokers had formed little social clusters and, as the years went by, entire clusters of smokers were stopping en masse. So were clusters of clusters that were only loosely connected.

Dr. Christakis described watching the vanishing clusters as like lying on your back in a field, looking up at stars that were burning out. “It’s not like one little star turning off at a time,” he said. “Whole constellations are blinking off at once.”

As cluster after cluster of smokers disappeared, those that remained were pushed to the margins of society, isolated, with fewer friends, fewer social connections. “Smokers used to be the center of the party,” Dr. Fowler said, “but now they’ve become wallflowers.”

“We’ve known smoking was bad for your physical health,” he said. “But this shows it also is bad for your social health.”

Smokers, he said, “are likely to drive friends away.” more>>>>

Times: Unwarranted Outrage in Minnesota

Imagine if every school child's prank in NYC evoked the kind of horror and front page outrage that we saw when a couple of kids drew mustaches or little marks on some portraits in Minnesota.

There would be no room in the NY newspapers for any other news.

The "despicable" little ink marks did not go through the varnish and they wiped off easily. And you did not know this at first because...?
National Briefing | Midwest
Minnesota: Students Vandalize Portraits at Capitol
By CHRISTINA CAPECCHI

In flesh and blood, former Gov. Jesse Ventura is stubborn and unvarnished. In oil paint, it is a different story, which is good news for the two high school freshmen who are believed to have made marks on his portrait when their United States government class toured the Capitol in St. Paul. “It turns out the ink wasn’t very stubborn and the paintings had enough varnish to keep the ink from seeping below the surface,” Brian Szott, curator of art at the Minnesota Historical Society, said of the vandalism the students are believed to have inflicted on three portraits of governors. Marks were also drawn across the mouths of Elmer L. Andersen and Harold LeVander. Initial estimates suggested the vandalism would require restoration, costing several thousand dollars. In fact, the repairs cost $175. It took an hour and a mild solvent to remove the ink from the paintings. An investigation is focusing on students from Eastview High School in Apple Valley. Mr. Ventura, a former professional wrestler, called the act “despicable.” A fine and community service are the likely penalties for a misdemeanor of this type, said James Backstrom, the county attorney for Dakota County.

Ballmer from Israel Denies Yahoo Purchase Plans

Ballmer Says Microsoft “Not Bidding To Buy Yahoo”
Posted by Eric Savitz

“We’re not bidding to buy Yahoo,” Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said today, according to Reuters.

Ballmer apparently made the remark in Herzilya, Israel, where he was launching a new Microsoft (MSFT) research and development center.

Instead, Ballmer said, the company is “trying to have discussions about deals with Yahoo (YHOO) that might create value, but not a whole acquisition of the company.” Microsoft is believed to have made an offer to buy Yahoo’s search business.

5/20/08

Video + AP: Hungarian student hurls eggs at Microsoft CEO Ballmer


Hungarian student hurls eggs at Microsoft CEO Ballmer

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer dodges eggs during speech to Hungarian students

SEATTLE (AP) -- Microsoft Corp. Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer scrambled for cover from an egg-hurling protester during a talk at a Hungarian university Monday.

Unlike his boss, Chairman Bill Gates, who was hit in the face with a cream pie a decade ago, Ballmer managed to dodge the eggs.

Ballmer was delivering a speech entitled "You can change the world" to a group of business and technology students at Budapest's Corvinus University when the incident occurred, according to Microsoft spokesman Lou Gellos.

A young man in glasses stood up, pointed at Ballmer and loudly demanded that Microsoft return money it had stolen from the Hungarian people. Then he calmly threw three eggs at Ballmer.

A video of the outburst in a large classroom was widely distributed over the Internet Tuesday. In the footage, Ballmer crouched on the floor behind a large podium as the third egg smashed against the white board behind him.

The man, wearing a white shirt that read "Microsoft corruption," was escorted out of the room at the behest of the dean of the university.

Gellos said Microsoft does not know who the heckler was. The video shows him leaving peacefully; the crowd even laughs at one point.

Ballmer, who initially looked shaken, appeared to recover quickly. He smiled, shrugged and drew laughter from the audience with a quip: "It was a friendly disruption."

Gellos declined to comment on what, if any, security measures were in place that day.

Ballmer was in Budapest to announce Microsoft's leading role and investment a technology skills training program in Hungary, in partnership with the government and other companies. Later in the day, he also accepted an honorary fellowship from the university, according to Gellos.

Haaretz (AP): Jews Burn New Testaments

Not a nice thing to do.
Orthodox Jewish youths burn New Testaments in Or Yehuda
By The Associated Press

Orthodox Jews set fire to hundreds of copies of the New Testament in the latest act of violence against Christian missionaries in the Holy Land.

Or Yehuda Deputy Mayor Uzi Aharon said missionaries recently entered a
neighborhood in the predominantly religious town of 34,000 in central Israel, distributing hundreds of New Testaments and missionary material.

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

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

The newspaper Maariv reported Tuesday that hundreds of yeshiva students took part in the book-burning. But Aharon told The Associated Press that only a few students were present, and that he was not there when the books were torched.

"Not all of the New Testaments that were collected were burned, but hundreds were," he said.

He said he regretted the burning of the books, but called it a commandment to burn materials that urge Jews to convert.

"I certainly don't denounce the burning of the booklets, he said. I denounce those who distributed the booklets."

Jews worship from the Old Testament, including the Five Books of Moses and the writings of the ancient prophets. Christians revere the Old Testament as well as the New Testament, which contains the ministry of Jesus.

Calev Myers, an attorney who represents Messianic Jews, or Jews who accept Jesus as their savior, demanded in an interview with Army Radio that all those involved be put on trial. He estimated there were 10,000 Messianic Jews, who are also known as Jews for Jesus, in Israel.

Police had no immediate comment.

Israeli authorities and Orthodox Jews frown on missionary activity aimed at Jews, though in most cases it is not illegal. Still, the concept of a Jew burning books is abhorrent to many in Israel because of the association with Nazis torching piles of Jewish books during the Holocaust of World War II.

Earlier this year, the teenage son of a prominent Christian missionary was seriously wounded when a package bomb delivered to the family's West Bank home went off in his hands.

Last year, arsonists burst into a Jerusalem church used by Messianic Jews and set the building on fire, raising suspicions that Jewish extremists were behind the attack. No one claimed responsibility, but the same church was burned down 25 years ago by ultra-Orthodox Jewish extremists.

Haaretz: Talansky to Testify and Olmert to be Questioned Again in Scandal

Police to question Olmert in Talansky bribe case Friday
By Jonathan Lis, Tomer Zarchin and Ofra Edelman

Police will question Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at 10 A.M. Friday in his residence in Jerusalem in connection with their investigation into suspicions that he took bribes during his tenure as Jerusalem mayor and minister of industry and trade.

Today, Olmert and his former bureau chief, Shula Zaken, will ask the Jerusalem District Court to delay its planned deposition of American fundraiser Morris (Moshe) Talansky, in order to give the defense attorneys time to go through the investigative material. Yesterday, the High Court of Justice rejected their petition against the deposition, ruling that the district court's decision to hear prior testimony from Talansky was sound.

Friday's planned interrogation was scheduled yesterday, following talks between Olmert's attorneys and detectives from the Fraud Squad. ...

Scientists Searching for the Mechanisms of Wisdom


Just what is wisdom? An absolutely provocative inquiry in the Times Science Section.
Older Brain Really May Be a Wiser Brain
By SARA REISTAD-LONG

When older people can no longer remember names at a cocktail party, they tend to think that their brainpower is declining. But a growing number of studies suggest that this assumption is often wrong.

Instead, the research finds, the aging brain is simply taking in more data and trying to sift through a clutter of information, often to its long-term benefit.

The studies are analyzed in a new edition of a neurology book, “Progress in Brain Research.”

Some brains do deteriorate with age. Alzheimer’s disease, for example, strikes 13 percent of Americans 65 and older. But for most aging adults, the authors say, much of what occurs is a gradually widening focus of attention that makes it more difficult to latch onto just one fact, like a name or a telephone number. Although that can be frustrating, it is often useful.

“It may be that distractibility is not, in fact, a bad thing,” said Shelley H. Carson, a psychology researcher at Harvard whose work was cited in the book. “It may increase the amount of information available to the conscious mind.”

For example, in studies where subjects are asked to read passages that are interrupted with unexpected words or phrases, adults 60 and older work much more slowly than college students. Although the students plow through the texts at a consistent speed regardless of what the out-of-place words mean, older people slow down even more when the words are related to the topic at hand. That indicates that they are not just stumbling over the extra information, but are taking it in and processing it.

When both groups were later asked questions for which the out-of-place words might be answers, the older adults responded much better than the students.

“For the young people, it’s as if the distraction never happened,” said an author of the review, Lynn Hasher, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto and a senior scientist at the Rotman Research Institute. “But for older adults, because they’ve retained all this extra data, they’re now suddenly the better problem solvers. They can transfer the information they’ve soaked up from one situation to another.”

Such tendencies can yield big advantages in the real world, where it is not always clear what information is important, or will become important. A seemingly irrelevant point or suggestion in a memo can take on new meaning if the original plan changes. Or extra details that stole your attention, like others’ yawning and fidgeting, may help you assess the speaker’s real impact.

“A broad attention span may enable older adults to ultimately know more about a situation and the indirect message of what’s going on than their younger peers,” Dr. Hasher said. “We believe that this characteristic may play a significant role in why we think of older people as wiser.”

In a 2003 study at Harvard, Dr. Carson and other researchers tested students’ ability to tune out irrelevant information when exposed to a barrage of stimuli. The more creative the students were thought to be, determined by a questionnaire on past achievements, the more trouble they had ignoring the unwanted data. A reduced ability to filter and set priorities, the scientists concluded, could contribute to original thinking.

This phenomenon, Dr. Carson said, is often linked to a decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex. Studies have found that people who suffered an injury or disease that lowered activity in that region became more interested in creative pursuits.

Jacqui Smith, a professor of psychology and research professor at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, who was not involved in the current research, said there was a word for what results when the mind is able to assimilate data and put it in its proper place — wisdom.

“These findings are all very consistent with the context we’re building for what wisdom is,” she said. “If older people are taking in more information from a situation, and they’re then able to combine it with their comparatively greater store of general knowledge, they’re going to have a nice advantage.

What's Hitler Got to Do With It?

Anne Applebaum opines in Slate, "Leave Hitler Out of It: The craze for injecting the Nazis into political debate must end."

Really? Sometimes you need a nazi analogy and sometimes you don't.

Wise people know the difference.

Wow, Edging Towards an Endorsement, Jewish Press Admits Barack, "is not some ogre with a hidden anti-Semitic agenda"

Looks to me like the right wing Jewish Press is edging closer to endorsing Obama.

Go ahead laugh. We'll see it happen sooner than you think.
...Sen. Obama is very forthcoming about his commitment to the survival of Israel. This is not some ogre with a hidden anti-Semitic agenda...
And back in the real world, in a Salon article, cleverly or ironically titled, "Are the Jews good for Barack Obama?" Mike Madden argues, "With Jewish voters critical in such swing states as Nevada and Pennsylvania, Republicans hope to exploit a supposed softness in Obama's support for Israel. So far, it's not working."

Sinister, Fascist, Nazi-like Anti-Obama Video Attacks

A Jewish blogger sent me a link to this video. It is not the worst attack on Obama.

Just note the snide, sinister, Nazi-like, propagandistic slurring of the character of the target and the tacky, creepy background music. Just substitute the image of a European Jew and consider, "Jews are all talk, no walk..." and so on.

This kind of politics is not acceptable in a civilized democracy.

The blogger who sent it to me put "lol" as the subject of his email. I'd expect a good citizen of our society to put "wtf" in the subject line.

5/19/08

Video: Barack's Speech at the 60th Anniversary of Israeli Independence.

There is no doubt that Barack Obama is strong on Israel and good for the Jews.
Barack's Speech at the 60th Anniversary of Israeli Independence in Washington, D.C. on 5/8/08.

$404,000 for One Einstein Letter About Religion

The Times implies that this shows us that the culture wars are raging.

The article concludes:

Einstein consistently characterized the idea of a personal God who answers prayers as naive, and life after death as wishful thinking. But his continual references to God — as a metaphor for physical law; in his famous rebuke to quantum mechanics, “God doesn’t play dice”; and in lines like the endlessly repeated, “ Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind” — has led some wishful thinkers to try to put him in the camp of some kind of believer or even, not long ago, to paint him as an advocate of intelligent design.

Trying to distinguish between a personal God and a more cosmic force, Einstein described himself as an “agnostic” and “not an atheist,” which he associated with the same intolerance as religious fanatics. “They are creatures who — in their grudge against the traditional ‘opium for the people’ — cannot bear the music of the spheres.”

The problem of God, he said, “is too vast for our limited minds.”

Einstein’s latest words offer scant comfort to the traditionally faithful.

In the letter, according to the A.P. account, he wrote that “the word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish.”

As for his fellow Jews, he said that Judaism, like all other religions, was “an incarnation of the most childish superstitions.”

He claimed a deep affinity with the Jewish people, he said, but “as far as my experience goes they are also no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything ‘chosen’ about them.”

Funny Stuff from the Friar's Club and the New York Times

From the Friar's Club web site:

A guy is sitting in the bar in departures at a busy airport. A beautiful woman walks in and sits down at the table next to him.

He decides because she's that pretty, she's probably an off-duty flight attendant.

So he decides to have a go at impressing her by identifying the airline she flies for.

He leans across to her and says the Delta Airlines motto "We love to fly and it shows".

The woman looks at him blankly. He sits back and thinks up another line. He leans forward again and delivers the Air France motto "Winning the hearts of the world".

Again she just stares at him with a slightly puzzled look on her face.

Undeterred, he tries again, this time saying the Malaysian Airlines motto "Going beyond expectations".

The woman looks at him and says "What the f*ck do you want?"

"Ah!" he says, sitting back with a smile on his face. "EL AL".

And in the New York Times, a funny article about my son's neighborhood (thanks Barak): "First Person. Park Slope: Where Is the Love?" By LYNN HARRIS. Caption from the article: "...Other neighborhoods have strollers, food co-ops and brownstones. So why is sneering at Park Slope an urban blood sport?"

5/18/08

We've Got Wii and We Love Wii


The revolution has begun. Nintendo Wii is a breakthrough device, a paradigm shifting technology, and a heck of a lot of fun.

We opened and hooked up our Wii last night and by 1 AM we were sweating after a round of boxing and a big bunch of home runs.

I'm not a kid and yet I love Wii... because machines like Wii come along once every 30 years.

On Wednesday I am buying Wii Fit and starting on a next generation technology physical fitness program.

Now if only I could figure out how to make a minyan using my Wii Mii avatars....

Worst Editorial of the Week: Bergen Record Chastises Teaneck Politicos

"Behave children," say the editors of the Bergen Record to the local politicians of Teaneck, NJ.

Huh? The election is over. Two out of three Team Teaneck candidates, sponsored by the Orthodox, lost. Ironically, the reactionary religious right wingers of West Englewood managed to get a Muslim elected to the council, and to save face they greeted him at a Men's club kiddush in shul this past shabbos.

That irony and indeed the whole dynamic of which group has won and lost power in the town is of no interest to the Record. The editors also don't care about the policy ramifications of the election for taxes and schools in the municipality.

They just focus in on some stupid remarks made during the campaign.

It is over. The rhetorical transgressor won. The victims of the gaffes lost. The reason the winners won and the losers lost was not because of the dumb comments.

It was simple. The winners were better politicians. They had better messages and organizations. They had more friends and cronies. They got more votes.

Let's get past the sideshows of name calling and gaffes and back to issues-politics.

And when we do, liberals and progressives win all the time. That's because they have policies and politics that benefit more people, that appeal to more citizens, that attract more votes.

That's what the good people of our town, our state and our nations are thirsting for.

So here is the dumbest editorial of the week, which says none of the above.
Editorial: Glad overheated campaign season is over

HOW IS a municipal election in northern New Jersey related to execution and genocide?

If your answer was anything other than “It’s not,” you probably just finished running for the Teaneck Township Council.

Teaneck’s campaign season ended with Tuesday’s municipal election, but not before its racially charged recriminations overreached to encompass national and world events.

The week before the election, Councilwoman Monica Honis (since reelected) marked the race’s low point. She told residents — apparently without any intentional irony — that reelecting her but not her running mates would be tantamount to sending her “to the gas chamber.”

Honis’ opponent, Councilman Elnatan Rudolph, eagerly laid into her. Rudolph (since deposed) called the analogy “deplorable” given the association between lethal gas and Nazi death camps, especially “in the same week as Holocaust Remembrance Day.” (Rudolph is Jewish; Honis is black.)

Although Holocaust Remembrance Day was the week before, gratuitous references to the Holocaust can safely be deemed offensive any week of the year. Despite the potential for political motives in Rudolph’s strenuous objections, a cross section of local Jewish politicians (including one of Honis’ running mates) agreed that the words were at best poorly chosen, though probably by accident.

The irrepressible Honis disagreed. To the contrary, she said, her words were chosen “very carefully” — to refer to a tragedy of her own people. “I was referring to the death penalty,” she told The Record’s Joseph Ax. “The death penalty disproportionately affects minorities. I’m making a statement on how it feels to be sitting up here with the people I sit with.”

Another council candidate, Howard Rose, helpfully suggested that to eliminate confusion as to which difficult subject she was raising, Honis might have said, “I’d rather be in an electric chair.”

Rose’s conciliatory approach was most welcome in this environment, but it yielded an absurd result. The real problem here, of course, is not the method of execution. It’s that execution entered into the Teaneck Council contest at all.

No Teaneck election result or local government experience invites comparison with any number of people being deprived of their lives. Nor should any historic atrocity or national controversy be reduced to a tiny cudgel to be used in the township’s petty political struggles.

Some of Teaneck’s politicians seem determined to have a contest as to which is more aggrieved individually or as a group. But the town’s diverse population and its elections should not be treated as opportunities to take conspicuous umbrage. At this campaign, Teaneck’s voters have a right to be offended.

Bad Idea: Target Practice on the Koran

That's not good. No no. Not good. The Times reports:
U.S. General Apologizes for Desecration of Koran
By ANDREW E. KRAMER

BAGHDAD — A day after the American military confirmed a soldier had used a Koran for target practice at a shooting range, the commander of United States troops in Baghdad apologized to local leaders and tribal sheiks, saying he was asking for their forgiveness.

Responding quickly to an incident ripe with the potential to stoke unrest, Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond also read a letter of apology from the soldier, who was not identified.

“I come before you here seeking your forgiveness,” General Hammond said at the meeting, in remarks carried by CNN. “In the most humble manner, I look in your eyes today and I say please forgive me and my soldiers.”

General Hammond quoted a letter from the soldier, saying, “I sincerely hope that my actions have not diminished the partnership that our two nations have developed together.” Another American . officer kissed a Koran and gave it to the tribal leaders, according to news agency reports.

An American military statement called the desecration of a Koran in Radhwaniya, south of the Baghdad airport, “serious and deeply troubling” and said the soldier had been disciplined and sent out of Iraq. Iraqi police found the Koran perforated with bullet holes after American forces withdrew from the area.