January 31, 2006

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Win valuable prizes

The Orthodox Union’s National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY) is offering a FREE iPOD to all teenagers who register by March 1 to attend NCSY’s upcoming summer programs.

(Reb Yudel)

Thoughts on Alito's confirmation

Digby: The glass is half full:

So we only got 25 Senators to vote for a filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee who, if defeated, would be replaced by someone just as bad by a president in the pocket of his radical right wing. Well.

Do you know how many votes the Republicans managed to get when uber wingnut Antonin Scalia was confirmed? 98. And Democrats had a majority. We didn't have to even think about a filibuster. We couldn't defeat Clarence Thomas and we had a majority, a huge push from women's groups and a very dramatic set of hearings that went into the wee hours of the morning. It is very, very tough to do.

I didn't expect it to get more than 25 votes and I'm frankly stunned that we did as well as we did. Indeed, something very interesting happened that I haven't seen in more than a decade.

When it became clear that the vote was going against the filibuster, Diane Feinstein, a puddle of lukewarm water if there ever was one, decided to backtrack and play to the base instead of the right wing. That's new folks. Given an opportunity to make an easy vote, until now she and others like her (who are legion) would always default to the right to prove their "centrist" bonafides. That's the DLC model. When you have a free vote always use it to show that you aren't liberal. That's why she was against it originally --- a reflexive nod to being "reasonable."

Obama had to choke out his support for a filibuster, but he did it. A calculation was made that he needed to play to the base instead of the punditocrisy who believe that being "bold" is voting with the Republicans. Don't underestimate how much pressure there is to do that, especially for a guy like Obama who is running for King of the Purple. The whole presidential club, including Biden joined the chorus.
Nancy Goldstein, however, says this:

For five years now it's been "Please baby, baby, baby, please! I'm
sorry I was a no-show last time, but hey, that was because I was
working overtime to save up to do something extra special for next
time, which is the really big event - right, baby?"

Last April, when the Democrats backed away from filibustering
extremist appeals court nominees, it was, "Don't you fret, baby. We're
not going to go to the mat over small fry like Owen, Pryor, and Brown
because we're saving the filibuster for the big one - you know, the Supreme Court, baby."
Months later, Democrats folded rather than fight John Roberts,
the young-ish yes man with a penchant for executive privilege and a
wife who used to head an anti-choice organization. After all, they
said, they needed to save their energy, and the filibuster, for the next Supreme Court nominee, who would undoubtedly be worse.

Well, baby, the moment of truth has arrived. It's Alito-time, and the
lyin'-ass boyfriends are backpedaling again. Why aren't they going to
raise a ruckus this time? Aw, baby... the filibuster is just so darned
hard to use with only 45 senators! And what's the point of trying to do anything until we've recaptured the Senate or the White House?

Who's right? Personally, all I know is that Rav Kook would look at an empty glass and see its potential to overlow with Divine light....

January 30, 2006

(Reb Yudel)

Bush to Iran: Maybe we can lay off the Jews, and hate gays instead?

In a vote Monday, the United States supported Iran's recommendation to deny consultative status at the United Nations' Economic and Social Council to the Danish National Association for Gays and Lesbians and the International Lesbian and Gay Association, based in Belgium. -- NYTimes

January 29, 2006

(Reb Yudel)

Sorry about the pop charts, folks

Due to a technical error (e.g. I messed up), I accidentally posted the latest posting from Radio Hazak on this site not once, but twice.

If you do want to see the recent Israeli pop charts, as well as some record reviews, click on over to Radio Hazak, the original Israeli music site on the Internet.

(Reb Yudel)

The Forward, providing a platform for totalitarians since 2006

Some of us had thought that the Forward, which under Seth Lipsky had championed Iraqi freedom fighter / Iranian secret agent Ahmed Chalabi, was going to return to its true pro-democracy roots under J.J.Goldberg's direction.

Some of us were wrong, since the Forward this week is running a disengenuous column by John Yoo, author of the various "the President is the Law" rulings by which George W. Bush has justified illegal surveillance and torture, to speak only of the crimes that have come out.

One wonders: Was the Forward paid for the piece, like so many media outlets who run Republican Party propaganda? Or were they threatened with being declared enemy combatants if they didn't devote a page to Yoo's tripe?

And tripe it is, if you forget, for a second, that Yoo's views are the operative law of the land. Tripe, and disengenuous.

To start with, note that Yoo is playing the classic Republican Party game of changing the subject. At a time when Yoo's ruling in support of an imperial presidency is being trotted out to justify Bush's spying in direct contradiction to Congressional statute, Yoo talks about declaration of war.

Yo, editor: You couldn't get Yoo to write on today's issue?

So Yoo begins thusly:

As commander in chief and chief executive, the president has the constitutional authority and the responsibility to protect the nation from foreign attack.
And here is his disenguous notion of checks and balances:
If Congress wants to prevent military adventurism, it can simply do nothing — presidents can wage no war without the troops and weapons funded by Congress.
Really, Mr. Yoo? Really, Mr. Bush? And really, Mr. Goldberg?

Because what is to stop the president from signing a piece of paper declaring an opposition congressman an "enemy combatant" for refusing to fund the war?

January 28, 2006

(Reb Yudel)

Just for the record....

Sure, it's an old argument. Sure, I'm the only one still in the game a decade later. But in the argument between New Desk and yLink -- the two 1996-era web technologies we fought about back at the Jewish Communications Network -- Anil Dash chimes in on my side, pointing to a terrific article by Tony Byrne entitled Is There a Gremlin in Your Website?, which explains in depth the benefits of publishing static web pages.

Thanks, Tony. And thaks, Anil, for helping make Movable Type a far more robust product than yLink ever was.

January 26, 2006

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

No talks with Hamas -- unless...

Interesting statement from Orthodox Union president Stephen Savitsky and executive vice president Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb on the Hamas victory:

UNION OF ORTHODOX JEWISH CONGREGATIONS STATES “GRAVE CONCERN” OVER HAMAS’ VICTORY IN PALESTINIAN ELECTIONS; URGES ALL GOVERNMENTS TO REFUSE MEETINGS WITH HAMAS UNLESS IT DEMONSTRATES CONCRETE REFORM OF VIOLENT GOALS

We, along with all people of good will, are gravely concerned over the election victory by Hamas in yesterday’s elections...

We call upon the international community to be mindful of the “Quartet’s” statement on December 28, 2005, that “those who want to be part of the political process should not engage in armed group or militia activities, for there is a fundamental contradiction between such activities and the building of a democratic state. In this regard, the Quartet calls on all participants to renounce violence, recognize Israel's right to exist, and disarm.” We applaud President George Bush for his leadership and commitment to ensuring a strong and secure Israel. In remarks directed toward Hamas yesterday, the President stated: “not until you renounce your desire to destroy Israel will we deal with you.”

Now is a time of testing for the civilized democracies of our world to remain firm in the face of terrorists and rogue regimes and insist that they not only speak appropriately but act appropriately if they wish to be welcomed into the community of nations.”

Interesting that OU suggests Hamas could be legitimized, a la Sinn Fein, if it meets certain conditions. Contrast with Daniel Pipes, who wrote that "It was a mistake to permit Hamas to compete in elections. Like al-Qaeda, Hamas should be destroyed, not legitimated, much less courted."
Could be signs of an interesting split emerging among hardliners.

UPDATE: More organizational reacts. ADL hints that the world should be willing to deal with Hamas should it cease to be an "armed terrorist group", but isn't holding its breath:

History has shown time and again that extremist groups come to power by promising a better life for the people, but once governing, implement their extremist policies. As long as Hamas remains an armed terrorist group it cannot be a partner for peace or accepted as a legitimate government by the international community of nations.

Jewish Council on Public Affairs offers the legitimization option a little more explicitly:

The international community resolutely should refuse to deal with Hamas or a Hamas-led government, unless and until the organization formally and verifiably renounces the use of terror and rejects its charter calling for Israel's destruction.

American Jewish Congress, however, offers no version of the "if they change, we can talk to them" rhetoric:

There are some who retain the illusion that, now that Hamas is part of the political process, it will moderate and support peace with Israel – much in the same way that Fatah, the dominant party in the PLO, did so. Those who hold to this vain hope misread history and ignore the differences between the PLO and Hamas. First of all, in the end, Fatah and the PLO never fully supported peace.

SECOND UPDATE: ZOA clocks in, and not surprisingly, offers no conditions under which the U.S. or the world should deal with Hamas. It praises President Bush for his statement that "he would not deal with the radical Hamas/Islamist party regardless of how many seats it won in yesterday’s Palestinian parliamentary elections," but, unlike the OU, leaves out the part where Bush tells Hamas "not until you renounce your desire to destroy Israel will we deal with you.”

The ZOA now calls on President Bush to heed the recent letter from a majority of Congress not to negotiate with Hamas. The ZOA also urges President Bush to end all aid to the new Hamas/PA regime. Recent ZOA polls have shown that by a margin of 61% to 28%, Americans want no negotiations with Hamas members, and over 80% want all aid to the Palestinian Authority stopped. It would be unconscionable that funds now go to the PA when it is in the hands of an unequivocally terrorist movement. As part of the US war on radical Islamic terror, the US must fight this Hamas regime, not legitimize or strengthen it.”

VERY LATEST UPDATE: AIPAC weighs in, with clear conditions for Hamas:

"The United States must not recognize Hamas as a legitimate party in the democratic process until it agrees to renounce and end violence, dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, recognize Israel's right to exist, and agree to conduct direct negotiations with Israel."


January 25, 2006

(Reb Yudel)

Bush's Biblical Values (c.f. Midrash on the Tower of Babel)

What was so bad about the trying to build a tower to heaven? Jewish tradition explains that the building project valued bricks above human life. If a brick were to fall off the tower, there would be hell to pay; but no-one mourned when a worker was killed.

Courtesy of AmericaBlog, here's a disheartening sign of how the worst sort of Biblical values rule the courts of Bush's America:

No Prison Time for Soldier Held in Iraqi's Death

FORT CARSON, Colo., Jan. 23 (AP) - A military jury ordered a reprimand but no jail time Monday for an Army interrogator convicted of negligent homicide in the death of an Iraqi general who died after he stuffed him headfirst into a sleeping bag and sat on his chest.
War Protester Sentenced to 6 Months for Damaging Upstate Recruiting Station
Expressing doubt that incarceration would make the defendant reform or repent, a federal judge nevertheless sentenced an antiwar campaigner on Monday to serve six months in prison for his role in damaging a military recruiting center during a protest in 2003.

"You have obvious contempt for the laws of the U.S., and it bothers me," the judge, Thomas McAvoy of United States District Court, told the protester, Daniel J. Burns.

(Reb Yudel)

Speaking of the "liberal" media

Media Matters tells me how little I missed by not reading today's NYTimes op-ed page:

The January 25 edition of The New York Times featured an op-ed by John R. Lott Jr., a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute who has a long record of dishonesty and misinformation in his scholarly works. The New York Times allowed Lott to trumpet his "new" study -- completed December 2004 -- and to allege "liberal bias" in the American Bar Association's ratings for federal district and circuit court nominees.
As it happens, the latest piece of my post-Times media plan showed up in the mailbox: The first issue of my new Scientific American subscription. None of the sort of shallow confusion between science and faith which characterizes the Times, and would have set Rav Kook's teeth on edge. And excellent graphics, particularly on such trick subjects as RNA actions.

(Reb Yudel)

A letter I just sent to Yori Yanover

Yori,

I know I told you earlier today to try out the Quickbooks demos, with an eye towards buying the one which worked best for you.

If you haven't yet made a purchase, I would advise you to reconsider.

Quicken (Intuit) is an advertisers on CNN's Hardball. And Hardball, as you
can see here (http://openlettertochrismatthews.blogspot.com/) is a "news"
show that thinks that comparing Democrats to bin Laden is acceptable
"journalistic" behavior.

Since you're not one of the 36% of Americans who approve of the Bush regime,
you might want to reconsider buying a product whose owners actively
support the media spin that keep him propped up.

I know that Microsoft has started  putting out small business software; let me
know if you want me to research it for you.

All the best,

Larry

January 24, 2006

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Holocaust Museum Watch Watch

What's missing from the New York Sun's coverage of "Holocaust Museum Watch," Avi Weiss' latest attempt to discredit another Jewish institution? As Jim Besser describes in his dispatch this week, it is the peculiar irony that Weiss would want the U.S. Holocaust Museum to become MORE involved in Mideast politics:

A group affiliated with AMCHA: The Coalition for Jewish Concerns, the group created by activist Rabbi Avi Weiss, is demanding that the Museum attack anti-Semitism in the Arab and Islamic world and change its exhibits to document Arab support for the Nazis during World War ll.

It was Weiss who insisted that the Museum should have no current
political role when, in 1998, the State Department tried to get
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat invited to tour its Permanent Exhibition.

But maybe the Sun has lost its ear for irony. You don't want to refer to a three-person outfit like Holocaust Museum Watch as "a national organization," especially when Weiss protege and HMW spokesman Shmuel Herzfeld calls his shul the National Synagogue.


(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Larry King's advice to James Frey

This is from the transcript of Larry King's interview with disgraced memoirist James Frey. The genius part is when King says, "I'm not suggesting...":

FREY: I don't think -- I think you could probably find people who would dispute every memoir that was ever published. And a lot of them have been disputed. When Jerzy Kosinski's "Painted Bird" came out and became a big success several years afterwards, people said, "You know what? Jerzy Kosinski never went through the Holocaust." It's happened with a number of recent memoirs. It tends to happen with a lot of the more high-profile memoirs.

KING: And Jerzy killed himself. I'm not suggesting -- Mondovi, Wisconsin, hello.

(Reb Yudel)

How Are We Doin'?

John Robb asks:

Given that the US effort in the Middle East is an attempt to make the
world safe for American markets (and particularly the oil market), the
price of oil may be the best indication of whether we are succeeding or
failing. Based on this market metric, how do you think we are doing??

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

LimmudNY wrap-up

LimmudNY was a weird combination of Elderhostel and Phish concert.

I cover the highlights, including the following:

At a panel on the future of Conservative Judaism, Rabbi Gordon Tucker of Temple Israel Center in White Plains, N.Y. — who is on everyone’s short list to be the next chancellor of the movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary — said it is “inevitable” that the seminary will ordain gay rabbis. Tucker’s remarks acknowledged that the subject is not only one of justice for gays but an issue that will force a historic definition of the Conservative approach to Halacha, or rabbinic law. If the panelists agreed on anything, it was that the movement has done a poor job in providing “theological clarity” and explaining how Conservative rabbis can sanction change within an approach to Halacha that “takes into account all the developing narrative and ethos of a tradition.”

Tucker also dropped another bombshell: The Conservative push for day school education at the expense of synagogue supplementary schools was a “massive rhetorical failure” that destroyed the religious school field for “decades to come.”

January 23, 2006

(Reb Yudel)

San Francisco rabbis analyze Conservative movement

Marc Klein hosts a roundtable at the publication formerly known as the Northern California Jewish Bulletin. The result is an intelligent discussion. Some excerpts::

Gordon Freeman: The national institutions that are supposed to be serving the movement have for a long time been weak and getting weaker. They have no understanding of what goes on in the synagogues. When I went to seminary, I went to the “Harvard/Cambridge/Oxford” of Jewish learning, which is not true anymore.

Stuart Kelman: I think we are branded with a name that is horrible and needs to be changed. Wolpe said we should rename the movement Covenantal Judaism. Other people think we should call ourselves Masorti [the name used in Israel]. I’m sure there are other kinds of names.

Gordon Freeman: If I had to state the major values of the movement, they would be community building and community sustaining.

Daniel Pressman: We have been communal to a fault. We have contributed leaders to everything in American Jewish life. Our wealthy people have given to their communities and not to the movement.

One of the secrets of Reform: They have a cadre of big donors to give to the movement. We really haven’t done that.

One of my favorite cartoons is a picture of Moses on Sinai, he’s holding the tablets looking up and he says, “But what about funding?”

What a refreshing change from the Wertheimer-Schorsch blather we hear so much hear on the East Coast.

January 22, 2006

(Reb Yudel)

Rav Kook on blogging

It is surely our duty at the present time to write about the God of Israel in books, pamphets, essays, imaginative tracts, poems, commentaries, and homilies, in all the forms of literary expression tht can communicate our thought to the public. And it is for us to state our beliefs and opinions in comprehensible terms, for ourselves and for the generations to come. Eder Hayakar, pp. 13-15; Essential Writings of Abraham Isaac Kook, p.48
Incidentally, it's still not too late to register for a chance at a free copy of the book. See the Ben Yehuda Press web site for details.

January 18, 2006

(Reb Yudel)

Rav Kook on post-denominationalism

It is for us to decide that a hidden force directing our steps toward the good exists in each camp, and in every person, especially among all to whom the general worth of the Jewish people and its hopes are precious in any measure.

Let us be known by the general name of the people of Israel, not by the name of a party or a camp

Let us know that in each camp there is much to be mended, and much light and good that one can receive from the other.

Maamore Ha-Rayah, pp. 76-77; The Essential Writings of Abraham Isaac Kook, pp.38-39

January 15, 2006

(Reb Yudel)

Davening with Reb Zalman

Velveteen Rabbi reports on a recent Aleph semicha ceremony. Here's Reb Zalman recapturing ancient davening tradition:


First we prayed mincha, the short afternoon prayer service. Reb Zalman was the prayer-leader, draped in his beautiful rainbow tallit, and he did something wonderful with the amidah: we chanted the first three blessings together in Hebrew, and then for each of the latter blessings he spoke extemporaneously on the blessing's theme. We sang the final blessing for peace to the familiar tune of "Dona Nobis Pacem," in Hebrew, Arabic, Latin, and English.

(Reb Yudel)

Liar, liar, Supreme Court seat on fire?

Attytood: He can't handle the truth: The real story of Sam Alito, ROTC, and Concerned Alumni of Princeton

The Samuel Alito confirmation hearings droned on, but there was one moment this morning that really stopped us in our tracks. His bizarre explanation for the reason why he joined the ultra-conservative, anti-affiirmative action concerned Alumni of Princeton around the time he graduated from the Ivy League school in 1972 carried the overpowering whiff of baloney the second we heard it.

We won't accuse the Supreme Court wannabe of lying, because we can't know what is in Sam Alito's brain, or his heart. But his explanation -- that he was motivated by his anger over student protests against the ROTC, where he was an officer -- simply does not jibe with either the facts or the accounts of his Princeton contemporaries.

(Reb Yudel)

Wolcott Jabs a JIB nominee

James Wolcott talks about the Noxious Fumes from the "War Bloggers":

The warbloggers profess to be outraged, sickened, and appalled by Mideast violence yet increasingly are giving vent to their own violent fantasies directed at domestic foes, whom they consider traitors, appeasers, etc.

They fantasize about their least favorite bloggers being beheaded, or hanging liberal traitors from lamp posts should there be another terrorist attack. Sites like Little Green Footballs, Atlas Shrugs, and their ilk have a lynch-mob mentality that has gotten uglier as the situation in Iraq has worsened.

They blame Cindy Sheehan (recently voted "Idiotarian of the Year" at LGF), Michael Moore, and liberal Democrats for how badly the war has gone because they don't have the courage and honesty to blame the real architects of failure: Rumsfeld, who went to war with too few troops to carry out an occupation; Wolfowitz and the rest of the neocon brain trust, who assured Americans that the invasion would be greeted with flowers and candy, and the war would pay for itself through oil revenues; the U.S. military, which didn't anticipate a strong insurgency and arrogantly ran roughshod over the Iraqi people early in the occupation, enflaming the insurgency even more; and Bush himself, who in a moment of almost sociopathic hubris, taunted the insurgency with the three words that should be chiseled in disgrace on the wall of his future presidential library: "Bring 'em on."

January 13, 2006

(Reb Yudel)

Sam Alito, David Brooks

Steve Gilliard takes on David Brooks' take on Alito:

Nice try Dave, but the reason the Dems lost people like the Alitos is that they gained people like my family.

My father registered as a Republican in 1955, while in the Marines. Why? Because he had grown up in South Carolina and black people didn't vote Democratic there, or vote, actually.

When people like the Alito's fled the city, it was for two reasons, the GI Bill allowing home ownership and the fact they hated living near blacks. Levittown, Bill O'Reilly's home town was restricted, meaning NO niggers allowed. Long Island STILL suffers from residential segrggation today, with blacks corralled in a few towns.

The fact was that the Alitos of the world didn't want to live anywhere near blacks and didn't want to give them shit, much less give up their jobs to them. They didn't like living next to them in Newark, and they didn't want them around, period.

The thing about Sam Alito was that he was in the first generation of Italians to not bear the complete stigma of ethnicity. When Mario Cuomo left law school in the late 1950's, the only way an Italian got a good white collar job was by changing his name and pretending to be a WASP.

The idea that Alito had no racial biases is a joke. On a personal level, he probably gets along with people, but when dealing with groups, he has an animus towards minorities which is seen through his decisions. To pretend that these people reacted to liberalism is a delusional lie. They reacted to race, pure and simple.


Steve's family may have made the northern Republican party, but my great-uncle, Herman Heyman, midwifed the southern Republican party.... and seems to have directly inspired Alito's quest for the Supremes.

Don't get me wrong: Uncle Herman would not be proud of any of this. I suspect that he would strongly urge the Democrats to fillibuster the fibbing bastard.

January 11, 2006

(Reb Yudel)

Deadline for free copy of Rav Kook's "Essential Writings" approaches

Ben Yehuda Press will soon be offering a free copy of "The Essential Writings of Abraham Isaac Kook" to a lucky member of its mailing list. For your chance to win, enter your email address in the yellow box on the upper left of this page, or visit the Ben Yehuda Press web site.

Long out of print, "The Essential Writings" has been hailed for its "judicious selection of texts" and "the quality of the translation." The Ben Yehuda Press edition adds an index, making this anthology  not only "essential" but also useful.

Even if you aren't the lucky winner of a free copy, you will still get a chance for a pre-publication discount... and the opportunity to win other free books from Ben Yehuda Press.

Don't worry: Ben Yehuda Press doesn't share its email list with anyone.

January 9, 2006

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

About those crazy kids...


My response to this article in the NY Jewish Week, which alleged a "backlash" against the Jewish hipster thing -- although it was more like a handful of negative comments from a few people who can be counted on to throw cold water on such things. I write that:

In truth, the backlash against the scene is not nearly as strong as the Jewish Week suggested it is, nor have the 20-something Jews managed to transform Jewish culture in the ways they keep predicting.

And I suggest that:

Those veteran Jewish leaders, meanwhile, need to let go of their obsession with “authenticity” and “depth” if they expect to tap Jewish energies beyond an observant elite. Steve Bayme, American Jewish Committee’s director of Contemporary Jewish Life, was characteristically critical of the hipsters in the Jewish Week article. “Being Jewish isn’t whatever it is that Jews happen to be doing,” he said. “It’s speaking a language that has some degree of connectedness to Jewish people and Jewish values.… Pop culture is no substitute for serious Jewish learning.”

Except, of course, when it is. The problem here is one of analogy. If you compare everything in Jewish life to a Platonic (or is it Mishnaic?) ideal of Torah, prayer, and acts of loving-kindness, no wonder a lot of new projects are going to come up short. Those attracted to the hipsters aren’t looking for a synagogue, at least not yet. They are drawn to pop culture, exactly the way most Jews in my parents’ generation were more likely to read Leon Uris’ Exodus than the Book of Exodus. Was “serious Jewish learning” ever a majority Jewish choice?

Fully assimilated young Jews, who grew up outside of the social ghettoes that encircled their parents, are trying to recreate the ethnicity that came easily to those earlier generations. We can scoff at a Jewish life built around Manischewitz, mezuza necklaces, Allan Sherman records, and Woody Allen films, but these pop artifacts were and are daily, living reminders of what kept Jews Jewish.

Hipster Judaism will come of age when those initially attracted to Judaism’s pop surface find themselves with a desire to look beneath it. And I’m guessing many of these same folks now on the entrepreneurial margins will be leading — and reinvigorating — “mainstream” Jewish organizations when they do.

January 6, 2006

(Reb Yudel)

92nd St. Y does Dylan.... for $320!

I appreciate the 92nd St. Y blog for the plug for my "excellent and ridiculously comprehensive Bob Dylan: Tangled Up in Jews" site, but what I really want to know is how I can turn my Dylanology into a $320 10-session course on Bob Dylan, His “Children” and a New American Song.

What I'm actually looking forward to at the Y, though, is its upcoming Evening of Sacred Chant during which Rabbi Shefa Gold will explore the seven shirim shel yom  -- the psalm for each day of the week. Disclaimer: Ben Yehuda Press is the publisher of Rabbi Gold's forthcoming Torah Journeys.

January 5, 2006

(Reb Yudel)

A father mourns his son. What was the glorious cause?


A Life, Wasted
I am outraged at what I see as the cause of his death.

For nearly three years, the Bush administration has pursued a policy that makes our troops sitting ducks. While Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that our policy is to "clear, hold and build" Iraqi towns, there aren't enough troops to do that.

In our last conversation, Augie complained that the cost in lives to clear insurgents was "less and less worth it," because Marines have to keep coming back to clear the same places. Marine commanders in the field say the same thing. Without sufficient troops, they can't hold the towns. Augie was killed on his fifth mission to clear Haditha.

At Augie's grave, the lieutenant colonel knelt in front of my wife and, with tears in his eyes, handed her the folded flag. He said the only thing he could say openly: "Your son was a true American hero." Perhaps. But I felt no glory, no honor.

Doing your duty when you don't know whether you will see the end of the day is certainly heroic.

But even more, being a hero comes from respecting your parents and all others, from helping your neighbors and strangers, from loving your spouse, your children, your neighbors and your enemies, from honesty and integrity, from knowing when to fight and when to walk away, and from understanding and respecting the differences among the people of the world.

Two painful questions remain for all of us.

Are the lives of Americans being killed in Iraq wasted? Are they dying in vain?

President Bush says those who criticize staying the course are not honoring the dead.

That is twisted logic: honor the fallen by killing another 2,000 troops in a broken policy?
(Reb Yudel)

Freedom on the Run!

Radley Balko summarizes the year from a libertarian perspective. The following aren't even the lowlights:

—Family values conservatives will vehemently object to a vaccine for a common, potentially lethal sexually transmitted disease out of fears that with the threat of a fatal disease out of the way, people who get vaccinated might be tempted to have more sex.

—In their never-ending quest to niggle in every last facet of our lives, lawmakers will begin to monitor online dating services, insisting that government has an obligation to protect people from "heartache."

(Reb Yudel)

CNN: Would Big Brother Lie to You?

I really try not to blog continually about the credulity of the Republican media. There are other sites that do that on a regular basis. But here's how CNN reports on a claim that one of its reporters was targetted by the illegal Bush wiretaps (as summarized by AmericaBlog):

Well, John, I'm told considerable manhours today went into making sure the answer to CNN would be accurate. A senior US intelligence official tells use that our colleague Christiane Amanpour has never been targetted by the National Security Agency, and nor has any other CNN journalist. Now, the NSA as you know is the eavesdropping intelligence agency, the US government's big ear, and from time to time, the official says, wiretaps overseas or other intercepts turn out to include Americans, or what they call 'US persons', which includes people who works for US companies, it does so inadvertently. But if the NSA finds it has tape and transcript of such a person, by law, it is required to be immediately erased, deleted, gotten rid of. US intelligence officials rarely comment on who they may or may not have collected information about, but because of all the web blogosphere attention this was getting today, this senior official was willing to look into it for us, and to be quite clear in his denial -- frankly, I get the impression the NSA is as puzzled by Andrea Mitchell's question, and NBC's decision to put it out on the web, as we were.
To which AmericaBlog wisely responds:
By law? You mean the same anti-wiretapping law that George Bush just broke and just told us he doesn't have to abide by because we're at war and he's commander in chief? Come on guys, I can't believe no one at CNN cracked a smile when they heard this. And please don't present this as definitive proof without noting the fact that the administration says it can break the law and many think they have broken it already. Not to mention, this totally contradicts what the president told us about taping conversations of 500+ American who have supposedly spoken with Al Qaeda affiliates - he's already admitted that Americans can be taped.

So you mean if Christiane spoke to a source who was an Al Qaeda affiliate the administration would NOT tape the call and if they did accidentally, they'd delete it? Give me a break. And in any case, Bush already admitted to tapping Americans so this defense is already moot. Unfortunately, CNN didn't mention that fact either.

And finally, while I'm glad CNN dug into this, asking a "senior intelligence official" to look into this - then having him get back to you and say "nope, nothing there, we didn't break the law" isn't really very conclusive evidence, don't you think? Did you expect him to get back to you and say "yes, we are tapping journalists?"

Then again, whose to blame CNN? Under the Bush "I-can-do-whatever-the-fuck-they-I-want-if-I-call-it-war" Doctrine, nothing stops him from hiring G.Gordon Liddy to blow up reporters he doesn't like. If I was a CNN produce on the White House radar -- rather than an irrelevant blogger -- you can bet I'd be an ass-licking toady too. When the boss plays by Putin rules, the media knows enough to play the Pravda game.
(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

"You don't say," part 3

"You don't say" analysis of the week, from Ha'aretz.com:

Analysis: Poor health succeeded in stopping Sharon

Plus, any bets on how long it takes for the usual Jewish suspects to say the stroke was a divine punishment?

January 4, 2006

(Reb Yudel)

Boston crab-eaters flout Biblical morality!t

A lot of people don't expect much morality from those who don't take the Bible seriously, so perhaps it's not surprising that a group which isn't ashamed to indulge in pork and crab ends up bearing false witness against their neighbors. Still, even if one has the lowest expectations of evangelical Christians and their convenient desire for the government to allow what the Bible forbids when they like it (e.g. eating treif) and to ban what the Bible forbids when they share its taste (e.g. rubbing genitals with another man), the following anecdote from The American Prospect takes their goyishe chutzpah to new depths: TAPPED: January 2006 Archives
DIRTY TRICKS. I’m a one-stop shopping kind of guy, which is how I found myself in a Boston-area Target one Saturday afternoon last September. Upon exiting the store I was greeted by a pleasant-seeming woman with a petition table. Would I be interested, she asked me, in signing a petition to permit grocery stores to start stocking beer and wine?

Being a one-stop shopping kind of guy, I thought it was a good idea. It would simplify my provision runs. Massachusetts is still very puritanical in many ways, and several “Blue Laws” regarding the sale of alcohol, enacted in the 1600’s, are still on the books. It was only within the last few years that liquor stores were even permitted to be open on Sundays, and then only with restrictions.

So I signed the petition, once on the petition itself, and once on what I was told was a “backup copy.”

Imagine my dismay to discover, more recently, that I have become a victim of a far-reaching political fraud. That “backup copy” I signed was in fact Amendment Petition 05-02. This petition calls for a strict definition of legal marriage as between a man and a woman, and makes no provisions for same-sex civil unions – in essence, banning same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, reversing the progress made on this front over the last two years. Imagine my dismay. And outrage.

All I wanted was a way to simplify my beer runs.

Agencies such as MassEquality (who happen to be next-door neighbors of the Prospect’s Boston office) and the controversial KnowThyNeighbor.org have been conscientious about tracking down people who may have signed this petition under false pretenses. It was through MassEquality that I discovered I was listed as a petition signer. It’s a comfort – albeit a cold one – to know that I’m not alone. This petition drive has netted over 100,000 signatures, and who knows how many were collected under fraudulent circumstances. At least one, that’s for sure, and where there’s one there’s sure to be others: People like me, lured by the promise of convenient one-stop shopping, then duped into becoming pawns in a very disturbing game.

The Attorney General’s Office of Massachusetts could not be reached for comment, but the petition – with its record-breaking number of signatures – has been approved and will be a ballot question in the 2008 elections. And I think I’ll be shopping at Walgreen’s from now on.

--Tim O’Brien

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Tendler: "Our stupidity"

News from the Sixth Miami International Conference on Torah and Science, which ran from Dec. 13 to 15 and was hosted by Florida International University's religious studies department, the Shul of Bal Harbour, and B'Or Ha'Torah journal of science:

On a recent Tuesday evening, Moshe Tendler, an influential Orthodox rabbi and Yeshiva University biology professor, ambled onto the stage at Kovens Conference Center in North Miami. A stately figure with a wispy white beard and heavy glasses, he surveyed the 300-strong crowd of scientists and intellectuals -- most clad in yarmulkes and dark suits with tallith tassels dangling about their waists -- and urged them to spread the word that Darwin was wrong. "It is our task to inform the world [about intelligent design]," he implored. "Or the child growing up will grow up with unintelligent design Unintelligent design is our ignorance, our stupidity."

"Intelligent design luminary" William Dembski was among the event's featured speakers:

Much of Dembski's talk concentrated on the evidence of design in nature. He offered the classic example of the tiny flagella that bacteria use to propel themselves through their environment. "They can spin at 100,000 rpm," Dembski marveled. "And then in a quarter-turn, they're spinning the other direction. Imagine if a blender could do that Is it such a stretch to think a real engineer was involved?"

An Israeli visitor was not impressed:

"Our speaker has fuzzied the main issue," complained Nathan Aviezar, who teaches physics at Bar Ilan University in Israel. "The whole enterprise of science is to explain life without invoking supernatural explanations. Intelligent design is not science, it's religion, and it shouldn't be taught in science class."

But a yeshiva student has a devastating response:

What do the students think? Many of those who heard Dembski speak said they would like to study his ideas in class. "His words make sense," commented Annale Fleisher, a 17-year-old senior at Miami Beach's Hebrew Academy. "Saying life comes from evolution is like saying a library was made by someone spilling a bottle of ink."


January 3, 2006

(Reb Yudel)

Thirty Abulafian minutes on NPR, courtesy of Jon Kalish

NPR : A Grandson's Quest to Preserve His Jewish Heritage
Back in the 1950s, Harry Smith, the renowned ethnomusicologist, spent two years recording the songs and stories of Nuftali Zvi Margolies Abulafia, a prominent Jewish orthodox rabbi who lived on New York's Lower East Side.

Abulafia was a living repository of sacred Jewish music dating back centuries. After hearing the rabbi, Smith set up a studio in his synagogue and recorded him, capturing Jewish cantorial prayers as well as songs, folk music and Abulafia's retelling of Yiddish stories.

Smith never published the recordings. Before Abulafia died, the rabbi asked his grandson, Lionel Ziprin, to make sure the recordings were someday shared with the world.

For half a century, they languished in a variety of storage facilities around New York City. Now Ziprin is 81 years old and in poor health. But he has taken up a mission to fulfill his grandfather's dying wish and release a collection of Abulafia's recordings before they're lost forever.

January 1, 2006

(Reb Yudel)

These Times Demand the Times... Stonewall?

Behind the Eavesdropping Story, a Loud Silence - New York Times
THE New York Times's explanation of its decision to report, after what it said was a one-year delay, that the National Security Agency is eavesdropping domestically without court-approved warrants was woefully inadequate. And I have had unusual difficulty getting a better explanation for readers, despite the paper's repeated pledges of greater transparency.

For the first time since I became public editor, the executive editor and the publisher have declined to respond to my requests for information about news-related decision-making. My queries concerned the timing of the exclusive Dec. 16 article about President Bush's secret decision in the months after 9/11 to authorize the warrantless eavesdropping on Americans in the United States.

I e-mailed a list of 28 questions to Bill Keller, the executive editor, on Dec. 19, three days after the article appeared. He promptly declined to respond to them. I then sent the same questions to Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher, who also declined to respond. They held out no hope for a fuller explanation in the future.

Did the paper hold the story to protect sources? To protect the Bush Administration? Because it would have deep-sixed it forever except one of the reporters was writing a book? Because Bush, as Commander in Chief, claims the unilateral right to send death squads after newspaper publishers as long as the war on poverty drugs crime terror continues?

The Times ain't talking. And I'm not willing to give creationists the benefit of the doubt.