“The math is the math” - Al Franken prevails in court on the road to the Senate

The battle of the frozen chosen is nearly over -- in a way that we really like. The death match between the two Jewish politicians on the prairie is nearly done. It feels like the Ne'elah service at the end of Yom Kippur, the Eighth Day of Hannukah and the singing of Chad Gadyah at the end of the Passover Seder all rolled into one long Megillah. We are ready, with the permission of the judge, to recite the blessing over the absentee ballots and to make the election outcome kosher. Those two Jewish candidates sure are stubborn, aren't they?
Franken Wins Ruling in Minnesota Senate Race

WASHINGTON — Al Franken, the comedian turned politician, won a potentially decisive court ruling on Tuesday in his bid to replace Norm Coleman, a Minnesota Republican trying to hold on to his Senate seat.

A three-judge panel ruled that only 400 absentee ballots — far fewer than Mr. Coleman had sought — should be examined for possible counting. If the ruling stands, it could be devastating for Mr. Coleman, who trailed his Democratic challenger by 225 votes out of some 2.9 million cast and had hoped that nearly 1,400 absentee ballots might be recounted.

Even if the results put Mr. Coleman further in the hole, as expected, he could fight on, before the Minnesota Supreme Court or perhaps in the federal courts. His lawyer said Mr. Coleman had not given up.

After seven weeks of deliberations, the court said it would decide which of the 400 ballots would be counted in open court by next Tuesday.

The panel said it based its decision on “a complete and thorough review of the 1,717 exhibits and transcripts of testimony.”

“To be clear, not every absentee ballot identified in this order will ultimately be opened and counted,” the panel wrote.

Nonetheless, the political terrain as well as the mathematics appeared to give Mr. Franken a big advantage, and the lawyers for both sides recognized that.

“We feel pretty good about where we stand,” Marc Elias, a lawyer for Mr. Franken, said in a conference call with reporters. “But we’re going to wait until Tuesday for these ballots to be opened and counted.”

But Mr. Elias observed that “the math is the math.” ...more...

The Phone Revolution Accelerates: Google brands its Voice service and Skype comes to the iPhone

Last week I logged in to my Grand Central voice account and converted it to Google Voice.

It's free, its slick, it's not yet open for subscribers who did not have a Grand Central account. But... you can ask for an invitation here.

Tonight my son called me on his iPhone using Skype.

It's a brave new voice world.

Video: Geithner Denies Krugmans Criticisms

"Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner responds to Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman's critique of President Obamas bank bailout with NBCs David Gregory on Meet the Press."


Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker on Syria and the US Middle East Policy Under Obama

Watch it Barack. Be careful who you trust in the Middle East. Seymour Hersh thinks aloud in New Yorker about Syria and the policy of the new administration. I wouldn't trust a single word of this article. Here is how it ends:
The White House has tough diplomatic choices to make in the next few months. Assad has told the Obama Administration that his nation can ease the American withdrawal in Iraq. Syria also can help the U.S. engage with Iran, and the Iranians, in turn, could become an ally in neighboring Afghanistan, as the Obama Administration struggles to deal with the Taliban threat and its deepening involvement in that country—and to maintain its long-standing commitment to the well-being of Israel. Each of these scenarios has potential downsides. Resolving all of them will be formidable, and will involve sophisticated and intelligent diplomacy—the kind of diplomacy that disappeared during the past eight years, and that the Obama team has to prove it possesses.


Maos Chitim: The Times Teaches Us About Feeding the Jewish Hungry

The Times (New York's #1 Jewish Newspaper) has two incredible articles to inspire us to give charity to our fellow Jews during this difficult season in this difficult year. The mitzvah is called maos chitim - simply money for food, especially for the Passover Seder. Please give generously.

Is this Criminal? $230,000 diverted to restore a defunct Eastern State Penitentiary synagogue

In our estimation the Times' story below reveals five criminal acts that have been committed in connection with the restoration of a defunct synagogue at the national landmark Eastern State Penitentiary. The acts are:
  1. Taxpayers and a host of private donors and funders are paying Sean Kelley to be the program manager for a defunct penitentiary and Sally Elk to be the executive director of that closed penitentiary.
  2. Philadelphia’s Jews diverted and donated $230,000 to restore the 31 by 17 foot defunct shul. List of donors.
  3. The person who "discovered" the synagogue, Laura Mass, received a graduate degree in 2004 from the University of Pennsylvania for her thesis on the synagogue room -- for analyzing its "artifacts" -- pages from a holiday song book and pieces of plaster.
  4. There will be more money diverted to create another "museum" to "tell the story of Jewish life at Eastern State, trace the progress of the renovation, and create a mitzvah corner marking the contributions of past and present volunteers who worked to sustain Jewish faith at the prison."
  5. The Times paid a reporter to write this up as a straight religious news feature and to locate and interview Rabbi Martin Rubenstein, who was the prison’s last Jewish chaplain when the prison closed in 1970. [The Prison's own online press release is in fact far more interesting than the Times' story. Ahem, Mr. Hurdle. That reporter forgot to include the tidbit that, "At its peak, the Jewish population within the prison was no more than 80 inmates." And he also neglected to mention the news that more money will be thrown away for the renovation and stabilization of the Penitentiary’s Catholic Chaplain’s Office, "...with its beautiful Catholic and prison-themed murals painted by a former inmate." Perhaps when the Times covers the next story on the prison it can look into some of the dubious Wikipedia claims such as, "...the holy bible was the only procession (!) that the inmates were given while incarcerated," and the assertion that the prison system itself was cruel and inhumane, "It was widely believed... to have caused significant mental illness among its prisoners due to its solitary confinement." ]
For those of you who see nothing at all wrong with this whole unsavory and bizarre picture, be sure to hop on the celebratory bandwagon and reserve your spaces in the inaugural tours of the restored prison shul, filling up quickly:
This online reservation system can be used to reserve tickets for The Restored Synagogue / Lost Chaplain's Office Weekend (April 4 & 5). Tours of the synagogue are ongoing from 10 am to 4:45 pm. Please select your tour time from the menu below.
It's our view that it is not just a bad choice -- it is criminal -- for the government to use taxpayer money and for a long list of philanthropists to divert much needed funds and donations to create a monument out of a defunct prison -- and for the those funders and donors outside and within the Jewish community to use charity funds to help restore it in any way, shape or form.
Times' Religion Journal
Synagogue Restored in Historic Philadelphia Prison

PHILADELPHIA — Jewish prisoners at Philadelphia’s notorious Eastern State Penitentiary in the mid-20th century had one gleam of light in their hard lives.

Within the prison walls stood a synagogue, a tiny room created from exercise yards by volunteers from Philadelphia’s Jewish community who believed that Jewish convicts should be able to practice their faith, regardless of their crimes.

The synagogue was built in 1924 and was used until the prison closed in 1970. It was then abandoned and suffered severe water damage that rotted the timbers of the ark and benches and destroyed plasterwork, including a large Star of David affixed to the ceiling.

Now the synagogue, the Alfred W. Fleisher Memorial Synagogue, has been restored as a vital part of the 142-year history of the prison, which is a National Historic Landmark and is open to the public.

The synagogue was named after its founder, a Jewish philanthropist who was president of the prison’s trustees in the 1920s. It is believed to have been the first synagogue in a United States prison, said Sean Kelley, program manager for the penitentiary.

After its yearlong renovation, the synagogue, measuring just 31 feet by 17 feet, has a mostly original ark, a reading table, and bench seats down the long sides of the room. A gold-trimmed Star of David is restored to its previous place in the middle of the nine-foot ceiling.

The work cost about $230,000, raised from private donations among Philadelphia’s Jews. The renovated synagogue will be consecrated Wednesday and will open to the public for the first time next Saturday. It will then become a part of the penitentiary’s public tours but will not be used for regular religious services.

On the left side of the room, a new bench back is hinged at the bottom, and can be lowered to reveal a bare masonry wall with three low doorways from which inmates — in the years before 1913 when all were in solitary confinement — would enter individual exercise yards for just one hour a day.

At the rear is a narrow kitchen where kosher foods prepared on the outside were brought in for the Jewish holidays. That space has not been restored so visitors can experience some of the conditions that preceded the renovation.

“We wanted to show what the place looked like when we found it,” said Sally Elk, executive director of the penitentiary.

The synagogue was rediscovered by Laura Mass, a University of Pennsylvania graduate student who wrote her thesis on it in 2004, and found artifacts amid the debris, including pages from a holiday song book and pieces of plaster that helped determine the decorative nature of the space.

Next door, another former exercise yard has been converted into a museum that will tell the story of Jewish life at Eastern State, trace the progress of the renovation, and create a mitzvah corner marking the contributions of past and present volunteers who worked to sustain Jewish faith at the prison.

Among the historic items in the museum will be the synagogue’s original front door on which the outlines of two Stars of David can be seen in the peeling paint. The old door will be set into a steel frame and left slightly ajar because a closed door did not seem very welcoming, Mr. Kelley said.

Conservators led by Andrew Fearon of Milner and Carr Conservation in Philadelphia have taken pains to restore the space to its original condition, even where the original materials were cheap and plain. The benches, for example, were first built with simple plywood, and so have been recreated with the same material.

Rabbi Martin Rubenstein, the prison’s last Jewish chaplain, said the synagogue helped inmates feel connected to their families and their Jewish traditions. When Israel fought the Six-Day War in 1967, some inmates offered to donate their prison wages to help the war effort, he said.

Because Jewish inmates — a small minority in the prison population — were always on their best behavior during services, the synagogue was the only faith group in the penitentiary where a guard was not present, Rabbi Rubenstein said. Any new prisoners who were tempted to breach that trust were given a “very direct lesson” from more experienced hands that transgressions were not permitted, he said.

“It was important for them to feel that the community was still there and that we were there to help them,” he said.


Video of Rabbi Moshe Tendler on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem Creates a Controversy

Curious that the rabbi has been visiting the holy site for years and nobody raised a ruckus but when a video of Rabbi Moshe Tendler on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem appeared on YouTube, that created a controversy. What do we learn from that? A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a video can earn you a thousand stones. Rabbi Tendler who is both a Talmud teacher and a biology professor at Yeshiva University, does make a few political remarks during his visit, making this more than an innocent spiritual pilgrimage. From Haaretz,
Clip of U.S. rabbi on Temple Mount reignites debate
By Raphael Ahren

A YouTube video released one week ago depicting a prominent American rabbi visiting the Temple Mount in Jerusalem has sparked a new round of controversy about whether it is permitted for Jews to enter Judaism's holiest site, which is believed to have been the location of the Holy Temple.

The film shows Rabbi Moshe Dovid Tendler, a senior figure at New York's Yeshiva University, leading a group of English speakers to the Temple Mount, explaining the religious and political context of his custom to visit the site every time he comes to Israel. Within a week of the video's appearance it has been watched more than 7,000 times, prompting both approving comments and harsh criticism.

The Temple Institute, which produced the 17-minute film, earlier this week disabled YouTube's comments section temporarily, deleting all previous comments, some of which sharply condemned Tendler. At the American-Haredi news Web site Voz Iz Neias, which reported the posting of the clip, more than 110 readers commented on the film - some calling Tendler a "complete heretic" who is liable, according to Halacha, to karet, or premature death.

Tendler, who is the son-in-law of the late Rabbi Moshe Feinstein - one of the most respected halachic authorities of the last century - has ascended the Temple Mount for years, in order to perform the commandment of "Mora Mikdash," showing reverence to God at the place of the Temple. ...more...


Podcast of Our Interview with Ryne Pearson, Writer of the Blockbuster Film Knowing

We interviewed Ryne Pearson, the writer of the blockbuster film, "Knowing" starring Nicolas Cage.

We asked him about the deterministic themes of the film, the propriety of promoting the disaster scenes after the 9/11 tragedy, and about the cosmic mythic conclusion of the movie. We also asked him to explain the symbolism of the mysterious little black rocks in the movie.

Ryne speaks eloquently on all the subjects and he praises director Alex Proyas' choices for the interpretation and augmentation of his story.

You can listen to our recorded podcast of the interview above or download it here or here.


NEJM: The Bris is Healthy -- Circumcision Prevents Diseases -- Nice to Know

We Jews circumcise our male children on the eighth day because we were commanded to do so as a religious sign of our covenant with God.

The fact that after all these years we discover that there are health benefits associated with male circumcision -- as the song in Fiddler on the Roof says, "It doesn't change a thing, but even so... it's nice to know."

The NEJM abstract is here. The WSJ story summarizes:
Circumcision Decreases Risk of Contracting STDs, Study Says

Circumcision significantly reduces the risk of contracting herpes and human papillomavirus, says a new study that adds to the growing scientific evidence that the procedure helps stem the spread of some sexually transmitted diseases.

Circumcised heterosexual men are 35% less likely to contract human papillomavirus (HPV) and 25% less likely to catch herpes than their uncircumcised counterparts, according to the study, published in this week's New England Journal of Medicine.

The study, led by scientists from Johns Hopkins University and Makerere University in Uganda, relied on data from the same randomized control trials in Africa that already showed that circumcision cuts in half the risk of contracting human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which can cause AIDS.

The researchers hope the latest findings on HPV and herpes will help turn circumcision into a more widespread medical procedure. "The scientific evidence for the public-health benefits of male circumcision is overwhelming now," says Aaron Tobian, a pathologist at the Johns Hopkins Hospital and one of the study's authors.

In the study, researchers randomly assigned 1,684 men in Africa to undergo circumcision and tracked their health against a control group of 1,709 uncircumcised men over the course of two years ending in 2007.

HPV and herpes are among the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the U.S., far more common than AIDS. HPV can cause genital warts and cervical cancer. There are no cures for herpes and HPV.

Just over half of male newborns in the U.S. get circumcised, according to research published earlier this year in the American Journal of Public Health. The percentage has declined over the past decade, in part because the American Academy of Pediatrics said in 1999 that the evidence is "not sufficient to recommend routine neonatal circumcision."

Opponents of circumcision say the procedure isn't medically essential and causes unnecessary distress to the baby. They add that proper hygiene and safe sex can prevent disease.

The academy's guidance, issued before the landmark African trials, remains in effect. Partly as a result, Medicaid plans in 16 states don't pay for circumcision, according to the American Journal of Public Health. Circumcision rates in states with Medicaid coverage for the procedure are nearly 70%, while in the states without such coverage just 31% of male newborns get circumcised, the Journal said. Medicaid is the state-federal insurance program for the needy.

Lack of Medicaid coverage for circumcision -- combined with data showing higher incidence of sexually transmitted diseases in uncircumcised men -- "may translate into future health disparities for children born to poor families," says the study in the American Journal of Public Health.

In light of the new data coming out of the African trials, the American Academy of Pediatrics says it is reviewing its circumcision guidelines, a process that should be finished by the end of the year. "There's no argument that the trials that have been done are really compelling," says Susan Blank, chairwoman of the academy's task force on neonatal circumcision. "That is just one piece in the discussion of circumcision." The academy's panel also includes experts on urinary-tract infections, ethics and health-care finance among others, she says.


A Talmudic Dispute Between two Rabbis of our Economy, Tim Geithner and Paul Krugman

The Talmudic blogger relishes a crisp, clear Talmudic debate between two leading authorities.

The ancient rabbis who disputed, for instance, the order of the rituals of the Sabbath meal, based their opinions on competing theories and expressed their preferences for practice in concrete prescriptions. Do things this way and not that way. Yet always, the rabbis engaged in clear disputes over processes with the same intention - to serve the best interests of the people of Israel.

So it would appear the rabbis of our nation's economic theory are engaged right now in an intense dispute over the order of the economy.

Rabbi Tim Geithner (no, he's not Jewish, see our post) representing a legitimate and learned stream of thinking, says do things according to the theory and prescriptions of a plan which he presented in its fine details here in a WSJ op-ed ("My Plan for Bad Bank Assets").

Rabbi Paul Krugman (yes he is Jewish, but that is beside the point here) representing an alternate sage and respected way of logic, says no, do not do things that way, because it is bad in theory and in action, a case he presented in its refutation here in a Times op-ed ("Financial Policy Despair").

Both masters, utterly critical and argumentative in their presentations, wish to serve the interests of the nation. Their wisdom deserves our study.

And ultimately, like the Talmud, our blog here just canonizes and analyzes them, but does not resolve the outcome of the disputes.


Is Nicolas Cage Jewish?

No, film star Nicolas Cage is not a Jew.

In a recent interview in the Daily News, the star of the new blockbuster movie Knowing (which we panned in our review) says the following about his religion and more,
"Knowing" has overt biblical overtones, especially at its climax. Religious yourself?
My father is baptized Catholic, as is my mother, but my spirituality is deeply personal to me, so I don't really discuss it.

The film also features staggeringly accurate predictions of the future: Do you believe in fortunetelling?
I have an open mind, and I believe that anything's possible. I have been told we only use 10% of our brains, so it's conceivable there have been people in the past or even now who can do these things.

Have you ever had your fortune told? I'll bet people offer predictions while you sign autographs.
That has come up, yeah. There have been people that have offered information I haven't really asked for.

You're clearly not averse to the esoteric, though you own "America's Most Haunted House," the Lalaurie House in New Orleans? Is that true?
It was indeed considered the "haunted mansion" in New Orleans. You know, other people have beachfront property; I have ghost front property - that's what I always say. I have not experienced anything, but I like a bit of mystery, and the house has such a mystery to it. Some of the stories about it are pretty horrific....more...

Bergen Record's Road Warrior John Cichowski Cites Tzvee's Lincoln Tunnel Advice

Our local newspaper the Bergen Record has a column called "Road Warrior" by John Cichowski. We like to call it the redeeming social value of an otherwise bereft publication.

Friday John cited Tzvee's Lincoln Tunnel advice in his column, "Road Warrior: Carrots, sticks can fix bus backups." This is down-to-earth journalism at its bedrock,
Ride a crowded, rush-hour bus into Manhattan, as I did a few times this week, and you begin wondering why anyone with active brain cells would opt for that other form of road commuting — the one with four wheels, a driver and three empty seats.

My buses were comfortable. Rides were smooth. The best feature of all, though, was the speed — a steady 50 mph all the way into the city.

That's probably 25 to 50 times faster than the thousands of cars crawling along Route 495 and inching down, down, down the helix until they compete like lab rats for three measly Lincoln Tunnel entrances.

My 60-passenger NJ Transit steed outran these creepers the way thoroughbreds outpace donkeys — all because of an incentive called the Exclusive Bus Lane or XBL.

Being penalized for driving a car can be a great incentive for taking the bus on the XBL. The concept is simple: XBL reverses one of the tunnel's three New Jersey-bound lanes from 6:15 to 10 a.m. weekdays from the New Jersey Turnpike to Route 495, which leads directly to a tunnel opening dedicated to buses.

At peak efficiency, this lane — the nation's busiest bus lane — speeds commuters to the city 15 to 20 minutes faster than those using the other in-bound lanes.

It's a no-brainer recipe: Efficiency plus incentive. But it's an old concoction. Peak efficiency doesn't occur as frequently as it did in 1971 when the Port Authority launched the XBL. Starting at 7:30 a.m. on a bad day, XBL backups can stretch to the turnpike tolls.

Short of poking a seventh costly tube through the tunnel, how can more commuters be squeezed through existing tubes?

So far, two $1.1 million studies have considered several options, two of which offer a balance of incentives and penalties.

Two XBLs: A second bus lane might double the speed of the current system, but it also might back up the remaining lanes to the Delaware Water Gap.

An XXBL: Usually called a Hot Lane, the second XBL could be Extra Exclusive – either for high-occupancy vehicles or for drivers of private and commercial vehicles who would be charged premium tolls as high as $30.

Choosing the correct balance is complicated and time-consuming. One three-year study was submitted to the Port Authority board in 2007 without a formal recommendation. The premium-pricing study won't be completed until later this year.

So far, nothing has been decided. One reason: The dynamic keeps changing. So do priorities. For example, once the proposed second Hudson River rail tunnel is completed, its mass transit advantages might dwarf any incentives for expanding bus service.

But all this strategic reform is in the distant future. Bus commuters would prefer some tactical help right now.

"We can put a man on the moon and spend a trillion dollars on bailing out banks," said reader Tzvee Zahavy. "Why not do something simple to make life more livable for everyone in the area?"...more...

Times' Jewish News: Nonagenerian Bat Mitzvahs, IDF Ethics Accusations, Obituary for Mystic Lionel Ziprin

Lionel Ziprin, Poet and Mystic of the Lower East Side, Dies at 84 ...Mr. Ziprin was a brilliant, baffling, beguiling voice of the Lower East Side and the East Village in all its phases By WILLIAM GRIMES - Arts


Catholic Critics: Pope Benedict XVI is a Train Wreck

We've been critical of this pope in the past from our point of view as a religious Jew -- last year because of his revival of antisemitic services for Good Friday and this year because of his rehabilitation of a Holocaust denier priest, Bishop Williamson.

Now it appears his own Catholic faithful have started to articulate that they are losing their confidence in his leadership.
Vatican insiders declare the Pope a 'disaster'
Pope Benedict's repeated gaffes and the Vatican's inability to manage his message in the internet era are threatening to undermine his papacy, Vatican insiders have said.
By Nick Squires in Rome

The Holy See is struggling to contain international anger over the Pope's claim on his first official visit to Africa that Aids "cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems".

The Pope's remarks about condoms, and a recent furore over his lifting of the 20-year excommunication of a British bishop who has questioned the Holocaust, has left him looking isolated and out of touch, prompting calls for a radical shake-up of the way the Holy See delivers its message.

The Pope is isolated and fails to adequately consult his advisers, said a Vatican source with 20 years' knowledge of the Holy See.

Another Vatican insider described Pope Benedict's four-year-old papacy as "a disaster", recalling the pontiff's previous inflammatory remarks on Islam and homosexuality.

"He's out of touch with the real world," the Italian insider said. "On the condom issue, for example, there are priests and bishops in Africa who accept that condoms are a key part of the fight against Aids, and yet the pope adheres to this very conservative line that they encourage promiscuity. The Vatican is far removed from the reality on the ground."

The Vatican's traditional culture of secrecy has made it ill-equipped to communicate its message in the internet age.

The Holy See claimed that the Pope had no idea that British bishop Richard Williamson had denied the extent of the Holocaust, but critics have pointed out that a simple Google search would have uncovered the maverick's anti-Semitic views.

"Until recently the Vatican was secretive and their way of controlling the message of the Church was to release information slowly and highly selectively through carefully worded documents," said Francis X Rocca, Vatican correspondent for Religion News Service.

"The problem now is that the internet and the blogosphere won't wait for the Vatican, so its message gets swamped."

The pope's spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, also wears two other hats – he is also the head of Vatican radio and of its television service. Observers question whether he can effectively handle such an onerous workload.

"He's got too many jobs. There's talk that he is going to go," said a third Vatican source. "You have people around the pope who seem to be out of their depth. There needs to be a major re-think of the operation, not the structure necessarily but the people."

The Vatican's press office works to a timetable from a gentler era, closing each day at 3pm, and familiarity with the internet appears barely to have penetrated the Vatican's cloistered confines.

The pontiff's message is further confused by disagreement within the ranks. Cardinals and archbishops within the Curia, the Holy See's administration, often appear to be at odds with each other, most recently over the excommunication in Brazil of doctors who performed an abortion on a nine-year-old girl who had fallen pregnant after being raped by her stepfather.

A senior Vatican figure, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, spoke out in favour of the Brazilian archbishop who announced the excommunication, only to be contradicted a few days later by Archbishop Rino Fisichella, who heads the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life.

"I think there's a good story to be told about this pope but it just doesn't get out because of the colossal ineptitude of the Vatican in terms of communications," said John Allen, a veteran Vatican analyst with National Catholic Reporter who is travelling with the pope in Africa.


Review: "Knowing" the Movie is a Train Wreck

I'll say thanks but no thanks next time to the Observer when they offer me preview tickets to a new movie. The people that newspaper hired to manage our admission to the Regal Theater on 42nd Street were rude and disorganized. That was a totally apt foreshadowing of the movie we were going to see: "Knowing" with Nicolas Cage.

I'm not a Cage hater, although some of my friends are. And the trailer for the film tantalizes with its disasters, numerology and warm fuzzy father-son scenes. The movie itself turned out to be rude and disorganized, a downer with a seriously flawed plot and a message of utter hopelessness for the human race. As the punchline goes, "Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was your night at the theater?"

Aptly, the highlight of the film for most people was the overwhelming NYC subway train crash disaster scene of mayhem and death. Some rated the Boston plane crash scene more gruesome and real. The gratuitous fiery forest fantasy scene of burning animals and the general end-of-the-earth destruction of New York City ranked high on the sadism rating charts. The bizarre Garden of Eden post script stood out as one of the most puzzling codas in artistic history. Cage's confused professor character won over no hearts in the theater - who wants to identify with a recently widowed misanthropic alcoholic academic?

There are plenty more reasons not to like this train wreck of a Hollywood feature film. No doubt, the box office for the disaster movie will be huge and come next year some special effects award nominations will be offered to it. I'm sorry I only have two thumbs to turn down on this one.


Times uses Kosher-Rabbi-Pork Analogy to explain Warren Buffet's Moodys Investment

With the recent meltdown of our financial system, people have started asking, where were the ratings agencies? And with that question we turn to the Times' story, "Warren Buffett Unusually Silent on Credit Rating Agencies" by DAVID SEGAL.
In his annual Berkshire Hathaway letter, Warren E. Buffett recently urged investors to pose tough questions at the shareholders meeting in May. Here is one on the mind of some Buffett watchers: When are you going to fix Moody’s?

Mr. Buffett, known as the Oracle of Omaha, owns a stake of roughly 20 percent in the Moody’s Corporation, parent of one of the three rating agencies that grade debt issued by corporations and banks looking to raise money. In recent months, Moody’s Investors Service and its rivals, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings, have been prominent in virtually every account of the What Went Wrong horror story that is the financial crisis...
Yes, there is more than just one story waiting to be told here. But if you want to understand investments, you need a lot of good analogies. Here is one, not so very penetrating attempt...
...Mr. Buffett also seems to have said nothing about a problem that some contend is just as serious and endemic: because ratings are required in so many transactions, the agencies’ inaccurate ratings have no effect on their own bottom lines. And a company that is paid regardless of its performance is a company that will eventually underperform, says Frank Partnoy, a professor of law at the University of San Diego.

“Imagine if you had a rabbi and said, ‘All the laws of kosher depend on whether this rabbi decides if food is kosher or not,’ ” says Mr. Partnoy, a former derivatives trader. “If the rules say ‘You have to use this rabbi,’ he could be totally wrong and it won’t affect the value of his franchise.”

The rating agencies have been mislabeling the goods for a long time. “A lot of investors have been eating pork recently,” Mr. Partnoy says, “and they’re not too happy about it.”...
Kosher, rabbis and pork - now I understand Warren Buffet's Moodys Investment and the entire financial crisis! (Not.)

WSJ: Is Islamist Creationist Adnan Oktar a "complete and utter ignoramus"?

Adnan Oktar, or Harun Yahya as he calls himself, went far out on a limb seeking review recently in the Western media. Most media types have university degrees and have a deep respect for the vetting process of the academic world.

We recently got an email invitation to interview this gentleman for our blog. Apparently the Wall Street Journal also got one and accepted. The story that resulted is not at all complimentary.

We don't know if Mr. Oktar-Yahya is a "complete and utter ignoramus" - Richard Dawkins' characterization cited in the story. We do know that he is not part of any academic or recognized theological discipline. That matters to us and to the world.

The grandstanding offer Oktar makes to debate Dawkins or other academics and his "contests" seeking proof of evolution - these are all transparent gimmicks to enable him to claim some value from contrived academic encounters.

Real peer review in an academic discipline may not be the perfect way to assure the value of a person's work, but it is the best way we have to filter out the slacker, poser or charlatan and to reward the merit of the real scientist or the thoughtful philosopher. Oktar obviously wants none of that process.

The first half of the WSJ article is informative in a negative way. In the rather dark conclusion of the WSJ profile there is mention of his book with "Judaism" in the title. I hereby invoke the ten-foot pole rule. So we won't be reading his books any time soon. And yes we do know enough to judge that is fair. Andrew Higgins in the WSJ concludes:
In 1986, Mr. Oktar published his first book, "Freemasonry and Judaism," a tirade against the perils of atheism. He then spent 10 months in a mental hospital. Mr. Oktar says he was never mentally ill but was institutionalized to stifle his views. Military doctors later declared him mentally sound, he says, but he complains that Turkish media "propagated the idea that I was a lunatic."

Mr. Oktar has had various brushes with the law, including a 1991 drug-possession case in which, he says, security agents planted cocaine in his food. He was acquitted. A glamorous model then accused him of blackmail. The case collapsed. Mr. Oktar is now fighting to reverse a conviction last year of himself and six others for forming an unnamed illegal organization that Mr. Oktar says does not exist.

"I have a great number of enemies," says Mr. Oktar, who blames his troubles on a "Darwinist dictatorship."

Unlike strict Christian creationists, who assert the world was created in six days around 10,000 years ago, Mr. Oktar allows for a far longer time period stretching back billions of years. But he agrees with those Christians who insist life didn't evolve, asserting that animals and plants now are exactly as they were at the dawn of time.

His "Atlas of Creation" produces thousands of pictures of fossils of birds, snakes and other creatures side by side with what he says are their identical modern kin. Prof. Dawkins derides the exercise as "total inanity" and says Mr. Oktar confuses snakes with eels and makes other elementary blunders.

One of the pictures in the first volume of Mr. Oktar's work features what is labeled as a caddis fly. It is in fact a man-made fishing fly with a metal hook clearly visible. Mr. Oktar says this is a "little detail" and believes that "just 10 pages of my book can defeat Dawkins."

He's offered a reward of 10 million Turkish lira (around $6 million) to anyone who can produce a fossil that proves evolution. He has also invited his Oxford foe to a debate.

Prof. Dawkins says he has no intention of accepting, as that would only "give legitimacy" to "this weird phenomenon." Mr. Oktar, he says, "doesn't know anything about zoology, doesn't know anything about biology. He knows nothing about what he is attempting to refute."


A Kabbalah Purim for Madonna and Jesus Child on the Upper West Side

Revelations from The Mirror last week to explain Queen Esther's costume:
Queen of pop Madonna looked like she had raided her teenage daughter's wardrobe while out at a fancy dress party last night.

The singer wore a dark wig, Converse baseball boots and fishnets for the bash to mark the Jewish celebration of Purim at the Kabbalah centre in New York.

The eighties-style outfit, finished off with stripey arm warmers and a smiley face signet ring, wasn't a million miles away from 13-year-old Lourdes’ signature look.

Toyboy Jesus Luz also joined in on the fun, arriving as The Joker, complete with green wig, pinstripe suit and full make-up.

The 22-year-old male model arrived at the party accompanying Jessica Seinfeld, wife of comedian Jerry, who was dressed as Cleopatra.
The further details of the deep theological and philosophical background from The Mirror:
Madonna's new boyfriend Jesus Luz has given up his life in Brazil to move in with the superstar singer in New York – just three months after they first met.

Jesus has ditched his modelling agency in Rio de Janeiro and signed with elite agency Ford Models in the Big Apple.

And he’s set up home with the star in her Upper West Side apartment.

His new millionaire surroundings are a far cry from his life in Rio just a few months ago, when Jesus was an unknown jobbing model earning about £160 a shoot.

Madonna, 50, and Jesus, 22, have settled into such domestic bliss that she’s even cooking meals for her young boyfriend most evenings.

They have been attending Kabbalah meetings together and he has grown close to her three children Lourdes, 12, Rocco, eight, and David, three.

A source close to the couple said: “Jesus has left his old life and his old friends behind. His whole world has turned on its head since he met Madonna."
But wait, stop the presses. We just had a comment on another post that claimed something remarkable: "Lindsay Lohan is a soon-to-be Jew, by the way." Details anyone?

Tzvee's Laws of Economics for a Monday Morning Quarterback

We don't have an economic theory. We do have these two apothegmatic laws. They are based on our observations of the pragmatic development of the State of Israel over the past 60 years and they go like this.
  1. Be a socialist when your society does not have large pools of excess capital.
  2. Be a capitalist when your society does have large pools of excess capital.
And if you are some kind of kooky philosopher and want to know which way is better, consider this wisdom that I first heard from Marshall, my old friend in Minnesota.
"Capitalism is the system wherein man exploits his fellow man.
"In socialism, it is the other way around."
And now that large pools of excess capital are drying up all around us, we expect to see more of socialism.

TMZ Video: Rabbi Jackie Mason Calls President Obama a Schvartza

Let's all give Rabbi Jackie a big hand (or at least one finger) for his latest escapade.

Betting Site: Yeshiva U Benefits from Obama Redistribution of Wins

Yikes. How dare they make my alma mater the butt of their humor! "Most inept" - indeed. And please, you really don't need to label it "satire" - unless most of your readership is in Minnesota.
(Satire) Obama Announces 2009 NCAA Tournament Stimulus Plan 

President Barack Obama has announced a stimulus plan for the 2009 NCAA Tournament. Under the proposal, the most successful teams will have wins removed from them and redistributed to the most inept squads.

At a rally to promote his plan, Obama told a citizen merely identified as “Joe the Face Painter” that the successful teams must “share the victories.”

The 2009 Big Dance brackets see Yeshiva College as the top seed in the Eastern Regional. The Reverend Jesse Jackson immediately demanded a boycott of all Yeshiva games noting that the school has no black rabbis on their staff....


Will the Religious Audiences Help the Success of the Neo-Biblical TV Series 'Kings'?

From the reviews there's doubt about the viability of the new TV series 'Kings' that starts Sunday 3/15. The series is based on the biblical narratives of the Israelite monarchy. Here's a representative review followed by a JTA story about the series.
TV Review: Ambitious ‘Kings’ With Ian McShane Unlike Anything Else on Network TV

CHICAGO – You won’t see many shows much more ambitious than NBC’s “Kings”. The multi-character drama borrows from the story of King David to create a tapestry piece about power, corruption, and war. It’s dense, layered, complex storytelling that you rarely see on network television. In other words, I don’t think it’s going to be on very long.

In the two-hour premiere of “Kings,” directed by “I Am Legend“‘s Francis Lawrence (as are all of the first four hours) and created by “Heroes”’ Michael Green, we meet the popular King of Gilboa, Silas Benjamin, played with driven perfection by the great Ian McShane. His people have recently emerged stronger from a horrible war and the King lives with his Queen Rose (Susanna Thompson of “Once and Again”), outspoken Daughter Michelle (Allison Miller), and son Jack (Sebastian Stan)...more...
Will the Christian press rally behind the series? JTA does its best to bring in Jewish viewers:
Yeshiva vet aims to make King David must see TV
By Tom Tugend

LOS ANGELES (JTA) -- Michael Green was walking down a street in Jerusalem in late 2006, when the concept of the new television series “Kings” came into focus.

“The idea had been roiling my brain for a while,” Green said, but now he sat down to write the pilot for “Kings,” while working as writer and co-executive producer for “Heroes.”

“Kings,” which will launch with special two-hour premiere on March 15, takes the biblical drama of young David, Goliath, King Saul and the prophet Samuel and transports it to a contemporary city that looks a lot like a gleaming New York after a thorough scrubbing.

Don’t look for a 21st century swords-and-sandals epic in the NBC series. The political intrigues and corporate power plays have a distinctly Washingtonian ring, and part of the fun is to look for parallels to the last year of President George W. Bush’s administration, the Cold War, Vietnam, Iraq, Middle East conflicts and even the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Green, who attended a yeshiva in New York and whose mother is Israeli, is a bit coy about drawing direct biblical-contemporary comparisons.

“It’s not for me to say what the parallels are,” he commented. “That’s up to each viewer.”

However, the Jewish or Christian viewer, who stayed awake in Sunday school, should have no trouble identifying the TV protagonists with their biblical counterparts.

We meet King Silas Benjamin (King Saul of the tribe of Benjamin, first king of Israel), David Shepherd (David, the shepherd), the king’s son Jack (Jonathan), the king's daughter Michelle (Michal), and the Rev. Ephraim Samuels (the Prophet Samuel).

Actors in the two key roles are Ian McShane (“Heroes”) as the king and Australian actor Chris Egan as David.

In the premiere episode, we find the king, in an expensive power suit, ruling over the prosperous Kingdom of Gilboa and ensconced with his queen in a mansion in the capital of Shiloh.

He is also at war with neighboring Gath and when his son is kidnapped during a military skirmish, it is David, a fellow soldier, who frees Jack and earns the gratitude of the king.

To free the hostage, David has to do battle with Goliath, who appears in a rather unexpected form. At home, David becomes an instant media favorite.

Peace is made but soon broken, followed by new negotiations with prickly Gath officers, who look suspiciously like Russian generals, with square faces and jackets-full of medals. On a softer touch, David and Michelle (the beautiful Allison Miller) begin to fall in love.

Green, as creator and executive producer of “Kings,” makes it even tougher to define the precise genre of the series by introducing touches of sci-fi and fantasy. For instance, the emblem of Gilboa is the orange monarch butterfly, and when a successor to the king is anointed, a swarm of butterflies form a crown around the chosen one’s head.

“King’s” crew has shot a season’s worth of 14 episodes -- the premiere contains two -- in and around New York, studios in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint, and in a Nassau County mansion.

With a large cast, opulent palace scenes and shooting in New York, this is an expensive production.

Green begged off giving an exact budget figure, but he put the cost of an average prime time TV episode as between $2 million and $4.5 million, with “Kings” definitely on the high end.

Green, 36, is a native New Yorker, with close ties to Israel. His mother, born in Tel Aviv, came to the United States after finishing her army service, met Green’s father, and “has visited ever since,” Green said, adding, “Most of my extended family lives in Israel.

He is optimistic that “Kings” will eventually be seen on Israeli and British television, which usually happens after a new series’ second or third season in the United States.

Green reinforced his boyhood yeshiva studies with a more academic perspective when he took a double major in human biology and religious studies at Stanford University.

After college, his interest turned to story writing, rather than religion or biology.

“I once created the character of a doctor in one of my shows," he said, "but never became one myself -- to the disappointment of my parents.”

Video: A Serious Jon Stewart Lectures CNBC Straw Man Jim Cramer

The one person both Cramer and Stewart excluded from their criticism and agreed to praise by name was my friend and master documentary maker for CNBC, David Faber.

Now to the main event. The media world agrees 100% that Stewart bested Cramer and that it was not a funny 12 minutes. Jon Stewart has a stinging serious side that underlies the essence of his comedy. In fact, calling what Steward does four nights a week comedy is misleading. It is usually biting satire with a purpose and often hysterical in its presentation.

Just a footnote to the whole CNBC debate. True, in the financial firms that I am familiar with, overhead monitors broadcast CNBC to the firm throughout the day. But note well, the volume is muted. The main purpose CNBC serves in this context is to provide stock ticker information. In this model, the conversation among the correspondents is background chatter of little consequence.

Following this line of reasoning, it well may be that Jon Stewart has used CNBC and Kramer as straw men. And the real culprits lie elsewhere unscathed by this latest skirmish over financial wrongdoings.


Pope Benedict's Excuse For Bishop Williamson Blunder, "My Internet Service Was Down"

Is this a sign of the times or what? The dog ate my homework, I had a flat tire, and now, your email went into my spam folder, and finally, my Internet service was down.

The Pope said his error in the Williamson affair was the following,
“I have been told that consulting the information available on the Internet would have made it possible to perceive the problem early on,” Benedict, 81, said in a letter addressed to Catholic bishops worldwide and distributed by the Vatican today in Rome. “I have learned the lesson that in the future in the Holy See we will have to pay greater attention to that source of news.”
We understand the Pope to be saying exactly this: I did not see the interview on YouTube where Bishop Williamson denied the Holocaust. I'm sorry. Next time I will be more careful to check YouTube before reinstating someone in the church. My Internet service was not working...

What is wrong with this? It is a transparently fake apology.

A real apology with sincerity and policy implications by Pope Benedict would say exactly this:
I am sorry for not properly vetting Bishop Williamson before reinstating him. There were many sources that I missed including the tainted reputation that the man has among his peers, church records, printed news reports, and other sources such as the TV interview that was available widely on YouTube. I now have reviewed Williamson's record more thoroughly and in particular I have watched the TV interview on YouTube. I find detestable all of the statements that Williamson has made denying the Holocaust.

Because I clearly made such an egregious error, I am taking steps to reform my vetting and advisory processes within the Vatican so that an episode like it does not recur in the future. I have demoted/dismissed/disciplined the advisers who failed to properly inform me on this matter.

The Vatican takes seriously the gravity of Holocaust denial and other forms of antisemitism which it rejects and detests. Accordingly I am instituting a zero tolerance policy for it within all of the offices and branches of our church worldwide.
It took me five minutes to think about and write that statement. It is succinct, honest, real and professional. My estimation is that it will take that church another 500 years to write an equivalent one.

And just one more thing. In the citation above, the pope calls Williamson's Holocaust denial, "the problem." Let's say to the Holy Father that anything that remotely echoes, "the Jewish problem" just does not sit well with us.

The Pope's lengthy letter (here)  does not use the words "Holocaust" or "denial". It's mostly concerned with internal church matters. In short, it not the "final solution" to the church's antisemitism problems.

StarTribune: Is Minnesota a recruiting ground for Somali terrorist suicide bombers?

There are some serious and shocking questions about whether Minnesota is a recruiting ground for Somali terrorist suicide bombers.
Minneapolis mosque leader denies link to Somali terror recruitment
A leader of a Minneapolis mosque today criticized testimony at a U.S. Senate hearing that indirectly linked it to a terrorist group's recruitment of young Somali men from the city.

Farhan Hurre, director of the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center in south Minneapolis rebuffed what he called "finger-pointing and false allegations" at the hearing held Wednesday by the Senate's homeland security committee.

Mosque leaders have repeatedly pushed back against rumors and news reports that have drawn a connection between it and the disappearance of as many as 20 Somali-Americans from the Twin Cities.

During the hearing, a representative of the local Somali community said his nephew, one of the young men who disappeared, appears to have made contact with a "minority group" at the mosque that exposed his nephew to extremist ideologies.

Osman Ahmed, president of the Riverside Plaza Tenants Association, did not directly blame the mosque, but added, "These kids have no perception of Somalia except the one that was formed in their minds by their teachers at the Abubakar Center."

In an email sent early today, Hurre replied: "We were hoping, as all the Somali community in Minnesota, that this hearing would give some answers to the tragic issue of the Somali missing men. We were disappointed with some of the testimonies presented in the hearing in which some finger-pointing and false allegations were reiterated."

Federal counter-terrorism officials at Wednesday's hearing did not specifically mention the mosque, but said Minneapolis has become the focus of an FBI probe into the recruitment of young Somali men by Al-Shabab, an Al-Qaida offshoot.

The investigation was initially prompted by the case of Shirwa Ahmed, a 27-year-old college student from Minneapolis who blew himself up in Somalia in October, just days before Hassan's disappearance. Shirwa Ahmed is believed to be the first U.S. citizen to become a suicide bomber.

"We were hoping, as all the Somali community in Minnesota, that this hearing would give some answers to the tragic issue of the Somali missing men," Hurre wrote.

He noted that mosque officials weren't asked by the Senate committee members to testify Wednesday, adding, "if it were about Abubakar Center, the committee would have called us to Washington to testify."


Evolence - Made from Pig Tendons, Better than Botox, Invented in Israel and Rabbinically Approved?

Here's a story with a 'wrinkle' or two. Now, we don't travel in the 'circles' that know about these things. But the Observer writer seems to cover all the angles.
Trayf Chic! Pig-Derived ‘Evolence’ Freshens City Faces
By Meredith Bryan

Over the past few years, age-conscious Manhattanites have filled their faces with all kinds of crazy stuff, from Botox to hyaluronic acids to fat from their own saddlebags. But recently, Jennifer, a slender 50-year-old who works on Wall Street, decided to plump up her cheeks with a new collagen called Evolence, made from pig tendons, that she had seen advertised on television...

“A lot of people would rather have a natural substance derived from a pig than a substance made in some laboratory,” Dr. Goldberg said (H.A.s are cross-linked by chemicals; the creation of Evolence entails a patented technology involving sugar, sort of like a closely guarded barbecue-rub recipe).

Perhaps Evolence’s most surprising characteristic, however, is that it is made in … Israel, by a company called ColBar Life Sciences, which was purchased by Johnson & Johnson, the squeaky-clean American company widely associated with plump baby faces, in 2006.

“We think we have a game-changer on our hands,” declared Monica Neufang, a Johnson & Johnson spokeswoman for Evolence, just after returning from the annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology in San Francisco, which she called the new brand’s “coming out.” (They had wooed dermatologists with live demonstrations and dinners).

Ms. Neufang said that the product had been approved by at least one rabbinical council but that religious patients should consult their rabbis for guidance “We do not have rabbis on staff,” she said. But: “By the time you purify the product, the collagen that results is virtually identical to human collagen.”...more...

Two Jews in a Death Match - Jon Stewart v. Jim Cramer

Biased! We are biased. We think Jim Cramer is a screaming moron whose broadcasts of faux expertise have ruined people's lives. We think Jon Stewart is a comedy deity.

Now they are squaring off for a face-to-face cable TV death match (Th., 3/12/09) which is guaranteed to be hilarious.

And yes both Jim Cramer and Jon Stewart are Jewish.

Reuter's Blog - Pope Benedict on the Bishop Williamson Affair, "I Screwed Up"

When a Pope (who we thought was infallible) admits that he screwed up, that is news.

We no doubt will have reservations about how far the Pope goes in his admission of non-perfection. That's just quibbling, which we will get to tomorrow when the official text of Benedict's mea culpa is out there for us to parse.
Pope to bishops: check your mail

pope-pic-1Those of us who thought the pope had said the final word on the Williamson saga will have to think again. It seems to be never-ending.

On Thursday the Vatican officially releases a letter to the world’s bishops in which the pope essentially acknowledges that the Vatican handled the lifting of the excommunications of four ultra-traditionalist bishops very badly and that it hurt him personally that things went awry.

The story started leaking out on Tuesday night in the blog of Andrea Tornielli of Il Giornale and a story with partial excerpts was published in the Italian newspaper Il Foglio on Wednesday. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung printed what it said was the full text in German of the pope’s letter....

Times: Spring Break? Women Pack Purim College Party Bus and Rabbis flash their megillahs

We are just wondering where you can order the DVD of this spring break party bus? And... Is that a megillah in your pocket or are you just happy to see those girls?
A Celebration on Wheels in Observance of Purim

SOUTH HADLEY, Mass. — “Are you ready to get on the Purim party bus?” Rabbi Saadya Notik screamed Tuesday to a group of women, many in costume, standing on a sidewalk at Mount Holyoke College.

The women rushed to the charter bus, a virtual nightclub on wheels, where neon lights pulsed, smoke billowed from underneath the seats and music blared.

“Party people, can I get some noise?” Rabbi Notik, 25, shouted as the women whooped and threw their hands in the air. “This party’s got wheels.”

Welcome aboard the Purim party bus, a mobile festival conceived by rabbis of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement as a way for students at the Five Colleges — Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, Smith and the University of Massachusetts in Amherst — to celebrate Purim. It is a holiday observed with fanciful costumes, plenty of food and copious drink (although the party bus served only iced tea and water, because many students are under 21).

Purim celebrates a story in the biblical Book of Esther, also known as the Megillah, in which Queen Esther saves the Jewish people from a plot to destroy them hatched by Haman, an adviser to the king...

The bus spent about an hour at each of the five colleges, with about 10 minutes dedicated to the reading of the Book of Esther in Hebrew. Many students were happy they could hear the reading without having to venture off campus or miss class.

“It’s wonderful that Purim is coming to us,” said Sarah Shapiro, 20, a Mount Holyoke student...


Haman, Hitler and the Nazi Priest Giulio Tam

Maybe David Bowie can talk some sense into these creatures...
Ground control to Father Tam. Ground control to Father Tam.
Take your protein pills and put your helmet on
Ground control to Father Tam: Commencing countdown engine's on
Check ignition and may God's love be with you...
The Austrian Times -
Williamson priest's Hitler salute was a blessing

A right wing Italian priest who is a member of Richard Williamson's Pius fraternity caught giving the Hitler salute at a neo-fascist rally claimed he was just trying to bless his flock.

Catholic priest Giulio Tam, well known for his extremist right views, raised his right arm when speaking at a rally of the neo-fascist Forza Nuova party in Bergamo, northern Italy.

The ultra-conservative Pius fraternity hit the headlines recently as British Catholic bishop and Holocaust denier Richard Williamson is a member.

After a picture revealed Tam raised his right hand, he argued: "The young people of the Forza Nuova wanted me to bless them. I'll always be on their side."

Tam regards Italian dictator Benito Mussolini as a martyr and calls for blessing the fascist leader. In the past, Tam held masses at Mussolini's grave.

Welcome to our Purim Guest Bloggers Henry, Yochanan III and Mimi

We get letters with blogworthy and insightful suggestions so here are the best guest submissions received yesterday... in honor of the holiday...a real megillah.

Henry sends this from the Atlantic which he notes is an insightful analysis--we agree...

How the Crash Will Reshape America - The Atlantic (March 2009)... an essay on "the evolution of the global economy in recent years" and what it means for the future.

Yochanan Hashlishi sends us from Iowa an an alarming survey article from USA Today, "Most religious groups in USA have lost ground, survey finds," by Cathy Lynn Grossman, "When it comes to religion, the USA is now land of the freelancers...."

And Mimi from Teaneck recommends as blogworthy the speech by Rupert Murdoch to the AJC because Murdoch makes it clear that he is not a Jew, "Over the years, some of my wildest critics seem to have assumed I am Jewish. At the same time, some of my closest friends wish I were..."\

Guest bloggers are welcomed... send your suggestions to us anytime.


CNN Video: Maryville First Baptist Church Pastor Fred Winters Shot Through His Bible and Killed in Church

Horrible story.
  • Pastor at Maryville, Illinois, church shot to death in front of parishioners, police say
  • Police: Attacker, two worshippers who tried to subdue him suffered knife wounds
  • People were "on their knees ... screaming and praying," witness says

Purim Shpiel Party in NYC '09 with [Wyatt Cenac and] John Oliver

Purim Party '09 with [Wyatt Cenac and] John Oliver
Featuring The Shushan Channel Battlestar Megilactica. Frost/Haman. Hebrew School Musical. [John Oliver in person was a riot. Wyatt Cenac showed up... on a projected video clip...]
"Join The Shushan Channel for its seventh hit year. Featuring all-new pop-culture Purim takes by writers from The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, The Simpsons, Frasier and more, this year’s extravaganza will be headlined by The Daily Show's Wyatt Cenac, John Oliver and New York's most-Purimtastic comic talent. Warm up for the show by entering our costume contest and you could win free tickets to 92YTribeca events. Get your grogger on and stuff yourself with Chef Russell's gourmet hamantaschen. This is one party you won't want to miss.

"Actors Daniella Rabbani and David Ingber provide a fresh take on the story of Purim during a hilarious, interactive Megillah reading narrated by 92YTribeca Rabbinic Intern Hayley Siegel and 92YTribeca program coordinator Maya Wainhaus."
10:30pm: Purim Spiel with the Shushan Channel. Price includes 1 free beer or glass of wine.

Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem Unite to Oppose "A streetcar none desire"

Great pun, "A streetcar none desire" in the WSJ article, though we cannot vouch that WSJ invented it.

And the story is simple. They are building a light rail in Jerusalem and a lot of Jews and Arabs agree and oppose the change. Man bites dog. It is news. See an article, a map showing how the tram line under construction crosses Jerusalem and a slideshow...
In Jerusalem, Arabs and Jews Finally Agree ...
On One Thing, at Least: People in Both Camps Say the City's Tram Is a Dumb Idea

JERUSALEM -- It took perhaps nearly a millennium, but Arabs and Jews who each claim this sacred city as their own have found a cause that unites them: hostility to a streetcar none desire.

At a time when conflict over Gaza is pouring yet more poison into the gulf separating Israelis from Palestinians, a repeatedly stalled and still unfinished Jerusalem tram project is galvanizing the city's feuding camps against a common foe.

The whole project, says Mayor Nir Barkat, voicing a view widely shared across religious and ethnic lines, has been "a very negative experience." The elected mayor, who took office late last year, proposes converting more than four miles of track already laid into a bus lane.

But that would create another headache: what to do with the 42 tram cars -- each one costing more than $3 million and fitted with special glass to resist stones and firebombs -- already delivered to Jerusalem from France?...more

Update. Lior Shlein's Israeli TV comedy skit: Jesus was too fat to have walked on water

The video was removed from YouTube with profuse apologies from the TV authority and much soul searching in Israel (see e.g., "Pen Ultimate / Willing suspension of belief," By Michael Handelzalts in Haaretz.)

Original post:
Israeli comedian Lior Shlein has raised a ruckus with some truly tasteless humor. We watched the Hebrew skit on a google video clip and to us, it was not funny. Here is the YouTube video:

If there was one at all -- Shlein's point to Christians was -- listen to this skit of "Christianity Denial" and try to understand how it sounds to us Jews when you degrade and deny the Holocaust.

This wasn't a very good comedic effort.
Vatican irked by `blasphemous' Israel TV show

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican said Friday it has formally complained to the Israeli government about a private Israeli TV show that ridiculed and blasphemed Jesus and Mary.

In the program, the host farcically denied Christian traditions — that Mary was a virgin and that Jesus walked on water — saying he would do so as a "lesson" to Christians who deny the Holocaust.

It was a reference to the Vatican's recent lifting of the excommunication of a bishop who denied 6 million Jews were killed during World War II. The rehabilitation sparked outrage among Jews....

The Vatican said that in the clip, Mary and Joseph were "ridiculed with blasphemous words and images" that amounted to a "vulgar and offensive act of intolerance toward the religious sentiments of the believers in Christ."

In the show, hosted by well-known Israeli comedian Lior Shlein, Mary is said to have become pregnant at 15, thanks to a schoolmate. It said Jesus could never have walked on water because "he was so fat he was ashamed to leave the house, let alone go to the Sea of Galilee with a bathing suit."

The clip was a sarcastic response to the Vatican's rehabilitation of Bishop Richard Williamson, who said in an interview broadcast on Swedish state TV that no Jews were gassed during the Holocaust and that only 200,000 or 300,000 Jews were killed.

The Vatican's rehabilitation of Williamson sparked outrage that only abated after Pope Benedict XVI met with Jewish leaders at the Vatican last week. During his audience, the German-born pope issued a strong denunciation of anti-Semitism and said it was unacceptable for anyone — particularly a clergyman — to deny or minimize the Holocaust.

The Vatican has demanded that Williamson, a member of the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X, recant before he can be admitted as a bishop in the Roman Catholic Church. On Thursday, the government of Argentina, where Williamson had been living, ordered him expelled within 10 days. It cited an immigration problem but also said his comments about the Holocaust had profoundly insulted Argentina, Jews and all of humanity.

The British-born Williamson had already been removed as director of the society's La Reja seminary. He has apologized for causing distress to the pope but has not recanted. He has said he would only correct himself if he is satisfied after a review of the evidence, but has said that would take time.

Time: Why is Avrum Burg Tired of the Holocaust?

Time.com covers Avrum Burg, author of, The Holocaust Is Over: We Must Rise from Its Ashes. [Purchase from Amazon at Tzvee's Talmudic Bookstore.]

Burg's, "Father was the deputy speaker of the first Knesset, and Burg himself later became speaker of the legislature, and a member of Israel's cabinet."

The interview with TIME.com's Tony Karon touches on his, "Critique of the Jewish State, which he claims has lost its sense of moral purpose. In his new, he argues that an obsession with an exaggerated sense of threats to Jewish survival cultivated by Israel and its most fervent backers actually impedes the realization of Judaism's higher goals."

I hope the book is better than the interview. It's hard to discern that Burg has a single substantial coherent idea, from the discussion that is online.

The book appears to be one long op-ed in which Burg says he does not like it when some Israelis place an emphasis on the Holocaust and Jewish survival. He says there is more to Jewish identity than just the Holocaust.

We say, Uh huh! We hope, but don't expect, that he has something substantial to say in the book beyond the few generalities he spews in the interview.

Talmudic analysis...

First, it's really nasty to grow tired of the Holocaust. Whether Burg likes it or not, the Shoah is a dramatic epoch of Jewish history whose lasting impact has religious and political significance for all Jews and Israelis. Second, there is much more out there for a serious student of Judaism to read and study than a long op-ed by a windy politician. [repost]


Charlotte NC 2006: Dead Sea Squirrels Exhibit Closes

Charlotte Observer 05/27/2006 - Last day for Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit: [repost]
The best-attended exhibit in the 25-year history of Discovery Place ends its 102-day run on Monday -- and still some folks haven't quite gotten the name right.

So many people called for information on the Dead Sea Squirrels exhibit that the uptown Charlotte museum made a squirrel the official mascot of the Dead Sea Scrolls.


Hilarious Video: Jon Stewart takes down business news network CNBC

If you watch CNBC, you must watch how Jon Stewart takes the network down in this clip. It is hilarious.

US News Ranks Yeshiva U 9th Most Popular

With all the bad new lately for my alma mater Yeshiva University, it was nice to see the positive news that the school is ranked by US News the 9th most popular in the nation, ahead of (other) highly esteemed institutions like Brown and Columbia. The bigger story in this list is that the Mormon school BYU is ranked #2.
Most Popular Colleges: National Universities

So which colleges do students really want to go to? One way to find out is to look at a school’s yield, the percentage of applicants accepted by a university who end up enrolling at that institution in the fall. The figures in this table are from the fall 2007 entering class and show the admit yield and overall acceptance rate. If a school has a high yield (a large proportion of those admitted enroll), it means that the school is most likely very popular with a top reputation and that the students are highly motivated to go there. A very low yield means that the school could be a “safety” or second choice for many of those who apply. Colleges use yield as a key factor in determining how many students they need to admit each year.

Harvard University (MA) 1 9% 79%
Brigham Young University--Provo (UT) 113 74% 77%
University of Nebraska--Lincoln 89 62% 71%
Stanford University (CA) 4 10% 70%
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 4 12% 69%
Yale University (CT) 3 10% 69%
Princeton University (NJ) 2 10% 68%
University of Pennsylvania 6 16% 66%
Yeshiva University (NY) 50 69% 65%
University of Florida 49 42% 63%
Columbia University (NY) 8 11% 59%
Brown University (RI) 16 14% 56%