Thursday, December 20, 2007

Good to Know

DovBear pointed me over to this absurd comment thread. Apparently some pure Ortho-Jews aren't too keen on the ideas of kosher cheesburgers. DB focused his wrath on someone who complains "why do we have to copy the goyim on everything?", but my personal favorite was the one that said, "if it wasnt created kosher, leave it alone. You managed without it for the past 5,768 years."

First, I'm highly amused by the idea that recipes are apparently created ex nihilo (by God? Or maybe they're intelligently designed?) and are inherently either kosher or not. This despite the fact that there is no single ingredient in a cheeseburger that is inherently non-kosher. Funny.

Second, there's the entertaining suggestion that every authentic Jewish food and/or recipe has been with us for 5,768 years, in other words, per the Jewish view of creation, since the beginning of the universe. Yeah. Especially cholent and kugel, right?

Incidentally, I hope none of these kvetchers stops to think about how many Gentiles have worn shoes, beards, or hats, in however many years humans have been traipsing around. (What religion were the first Cro-Magnons? Are we sure fire is kosher?) To say nothing of eating or breathing. Hey now, we aren't supposed to mimic the Gentiles, guys! Shouldn't we be trying to elevate ourselves beyond our animal natures? Real Holy Jews TM would be spending their spare time learning how to grow gills, like the holiest of all God's creatures, the mighty fish.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Hugo Chavez gets Bitchslapped

Good. Up yours, Hugo. Seriously.

Of course, Hugo not being a very good loser, decided to play with some of his favorite whipping boys, Venezuela's tiny Jewish community. For the second time in three years.

Kudos, Hugo. How big of you.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Dennis Loves Talking to Himself

Talk about poisoning the well. In his latest column, Dennis Prager creates a series of strawmen as only he can, saying first that liberals believe "the world" hates America, then turning this argument on its head by saying that it's just liberals who do.

But it is not true that the world hates America. It is the world's left that hates America. However, because the left dominates the world's news media and because most people, understandably, believe what the news media report, many people, including Americans, believe that the world hates America.

That it is the left – and those influenced by the left-leaning news and entertainment media – that hates America can be easily shown.

Take Western Europe, which is widely regarded as holding America in contempt, but upon examination only validates our thesis. The French, for example, are regarded as particularly America-hating, but if this were so, how does one explain the election of Nicolas Sarkozy as president of France? Sarkozy loves America and was known to love America when he ran for president. Evidently, it is the left in France – a left that, like the left in America, dominates the media, arts, universities and unions – that hates the U.S., not the French.

Except that the past President wasn't a very big fan of the US, and he was elected twice (and, had the run-off not been between Chirac and Le Pen, who incidentally wasn't a big fan of the US, the French probably would have voted for Socialist Jospin- incidentally, check out Mark Steyn's thoughts on the French elections, particularly Sarkozy getting support from former Le Pen voters). Unless there was an ethnic cleansing or civil war I didn't hear about, we must assume that the French people's voting habits are more complicated than merely "how much does this candidate hate America?" If the only criteria you use to evaluate world opinion of America is by which government is in power, you're already severely limiting any degree of nuance that might exist. What about moderate leaders? Do they only "kind of" hate America? What about opposition groups that are banned from voting, or boycott the political process, like Hamas has done from time to time?

And, funny enough, Dennis, you seemed more than willing to paint all of France as pretty contemptible just a few short years ago.

Few of us expected anything from the French. From the Jacobins and the guillotine, to the Dreyfus trial, to the Vichy regime, to de Gaulle's withdrawal from anti-Communist NATO, France, with rare exceptions, has done little that is moral and nothing that is courageous. So the disdain that many Americans have long felt for France has merely been reinforced.

Then again, broad oversimplifications tend to be your bread and butter.

There is another obvious argument against the belief that the world hates America: Many millions of people would rather live in America than in any other country. How does the left explain this? Why would people want to come to a country they loathe? Why don't people want to live in Sweden or France as much as they wish to live in America? Those are rich and free countries, too.

The answer is that most people know there is no country in the world more accepting of strangers as is America. After three generations, people who have emigrated to Germany or France or Sweden do not feel – and are not regarded as – fully German, French or Swedish. Yet, anyone of any color from any country is regarded as American the moment he or she identifies as one. The country that the left routinely calls "xenophobic" and "racist" is in fact the least racist and xenophobic country in the world.

Dennis does love his absolutes. Of course, even though there might be problems of xenophobia in Germany (and there are), it's interesting that they also have pretty minimal citizenship requirements and very comprehensive social benefits. In a book about Jewish Diasporas I've been reading, there's a whole chapter on Jews in Germany- mainly Soviet emigres- and over and over, people say that the main reason they came was because of the benefits. Compare this to the US, where politicians regularly rail against giving any benefits or amenities to illegal aliens. There are plenty of reasons people come to America, and plenty of reasons they might want to come to America rather than another country. But saying it's because we're "the least racist" or "most accepting" is not only pretty difficult to demonstrate objectively (not that Dennis tries), but also seems somewhat ridiculous if you consider the fact that the ongoing culture war includes plenty of language that can periodically cross the xenophobia line. (Eh, Dennis?)

Dennis concludes with some commentary and an open question:

It makes perfect sense that the left around the world loathes America. The final question, then, is whether this loathing of America is characteristic of the American left as well. The answer is that the American left hates the America that believes in American exceptionalism, is prepared to use force to fight what it deems as dangerous evil, affirms the Judeo-Christian value system, believes in the death penalty, supports male-female marriage, rejects big government, wants lower taxes, prefers free market to governmental solutions, etc. The American left, like the rest of the world's left, loathes that America.

So what America does the American left love? That is for those on the left to answer. But given their beliefs that America was founded by racists and slaveholders, that it is an imperialist nation, that 35 million Americans go hungry, that it invades countries for corporate profits, and that it is largely racist and xenophobic, it is a fair question.

The answer, of course, is more complicated than Dennis would like to admit. As a liberal, I love American accomplishments and feel proud of American principles of dignity, liberty, equality, and justice, and therefore feel ashamed and disgusted when these principles are abused, ignored, or perverted to serve individual agendas.

I do not believe in most blanket principles, Dennis, though you seem content to imagine all liberals as simple minded atheist pacifists. I believe in complexities. As a Jew and an American, I believe in struggling with my beliefs, and the necessity of sometimes having to leave them unresolved. I am undecided on the death penalty, and I struggle on issues relating to abortion and war. I would be less troubled about American interventionism in the world if there didn't seem to be such a high correlation of us privileging real-politik over human rights, much less democracy. I don't object to the free market, but I do believe that regulation is necessary in order to keep businesses from hosing their consumers. Similarly, I believe that government has an obligation to help support and protect its weakest citizens. Not being a billionaire I can't speak with much authority, but if I was making an obscene amount of money every year, more than I could possibly spend, I don't think I would mind being taxed more on it.

As for the Judeo-Christian thing, my view is that social conservatives could benefit from speaking to the libertarians on this. Do what you please in the privacy of your home, keep from legislating other people's private lives. (For the moment, I remain undecided regarding things like "religion in the public square.") Whether they like it or not, gays are here, atheists are here, and they're going to have to deal with them.

I love America, Dennis, and I hate American selfishness. I hate American power when it is used to hurt rather than help, and I hate the American exceptionalism when it feeds unbridled inteventionism AND isolationism. We can no more declare ourselves the sole power of the world than we can remove ourselves from it. Both constitute moral as well as strategic failures. I am proud when America admits its mistakes, when it acknowledges that our past was not as rosy as we would like, and when it works towards correcting it in the future. I am ashamed when people such as yourself whitewash history.

My bottom line is that I love America because of its principles, and I am embarrassed when it fails to live up to them. Much as it may kill you, I'm sure plenty of liberals feel the same way. You may disagree with us on what those principles are or how they should be interpreted, but you can't poison the well by suggesting we hate everything America stands for. That simply isn't true.

I'm sorry we aren't as easy to rail against as the imaginary liberals in your head, Dennis. Better luck next time.

Teddy Beargate Resolution

The Teddy Bear teacher was pardoned and released early. Good news, of course. But then again, she was jailed for eight days before the government got off its duff.

Dr Khalid al-Mubarak, of the Sudanese embassy in London, said he hoped the affair would not damage relations between Sudan and the UK.

"I think this is the correct resolution - pardoned and released early," he told BBC News.

"The word pardoned also means that the original mistake has been - not forgotten - but behind us now."

Ibrahim Mogra from the Muslim Council of Britain told BBC News 24 that the whole saga had been very damaging for the image of the Muslim faith.

"Each time we have stories like these, that distort what Islam stands for or misrepresents what the compassion of Muslim law stands for, then we have repercussions and people begin to feel that Islam has no place in modern society...

"I have not come across one single Muslim in our country who has supported what has happened.''

President Omar al-Bashir had been under pressure from Sudanese hardliners to ensure Mrs Gibbons served her full sentence.

There had been a protest, and calls for a retrial and for the sentence to be increased.

BBC Islamic affairs analyst Roger Hardy said the row over Mrs Gibbons had strained relations between Britain and Sudan - and, beyond that, between the West and Islam.

And even if intervention by two prominent British Muslims had succeeded in limiting the damage, the fact remained that damage had been done, he added.

No shit it's been damaged. As if people really needed one more reason to dislike Sudan. Congrats, guys, you've gone from genocidal psychos to moronic boobs. Great improvement.

...thanks to the Gillian Gibbons saga, Sudan has managed to transform its public image from pariah state to something approaching a laughing stock.

The carefully stage-managed pardoning of Mrs Gibbons by Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir will have satisfied few within his divided government.

Moderates who want better relations with the West will want to know why Sudan's president did not intervene sooner.

Sudan's foreign ministry has been shown to be an open but ultimately powerless limb of the administration.

Sudanese officials reassured British diplomats that the case would be dismissed right up to the moment that Mrs Gibbons was sentenced to 15 days in detention.

That disconnect is an experience shared by UN officials who spent months negotiating with Sudanese diplomats the arrival of a new peacekeeping force for Darfur.

Those talks have since been shown to count for little. Security agencies have impounded equipment, denied permission for night flights and refused to grant land for military bases.

President al-Bashir is a military man, and Mrs Gibbons's detention has shown clearly once again that power rests firmly with security forces and the interior and defence ministries.

Check out this article in the Sudan Tribune for some eye-opening theories on why the government thought it could play both sides of the fence on this one. Money quote:

Ultimately, many in Sudan think that poor Ms Gibson has been used in a blackmailing strategy by the Sudanese authorities who in reality are not concerned about Prophet Mohammed or anything else except sustaining their power in Sudan and consolidating their earthly gains. Many think this whole affair is a ploy to arouse ordinary Muslim sentiment in Sudan and around the world so that the regime can find a breathing space from its domestic problems, specially the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

However, the whole affair seem to have backfired. The British Muslim Council called it “a disgraceful decision and defies common sense". The Federation of Muslim Organizations, Leicestershire (UK) in their statement says, “...[the] only thing we can do to prevent some Muslims making a complete mockery out of Islam is to disassociate ourselves from such acts done in the name of Islam”.

The very little support regionally or internationally that the Sudanese government received in this affair showed how isolated and despised they are – even by their own fellow Muslims. Most importantly, the majority of ordinary Sudanese Muslims (excluding the low-paid professional protesters who appeared on TV on Friday) seem to receive the teddy affair with the sheer contempt it deserves.

Also good for some good quotes from moderate Muslims.

Of course, some people are using this disgrace as an opportunity to label all Muslims as crazy psychotics.

The kernel of truth at the heart of Islam is there: If you are an "unbeliever," then anything of which Islam disproves is punishable by death. They decide.

We've heard it before, "convert or die." Or at the very least, do everything the way Islam demands – or die.

If we don't see it that way, then what do we to make of vicious, threatening mobs reacting to an innocuous and innocent action of a British teacher and her 7-year-old students?

If we're to walk the same paths we've been pushed into, particularly since the 9/11 attacks in the United States, we're to consider mobs as just a "small part" of Islam.

Just as we were told after cartoons in Danish newspapers last year sparked violence across several continents, causing damage, injuries and death – those mobs represent just a "small part" of Islam.

Just as when a speech of Pope Benedict was deliberately taken out of context to reflect on Islam, leading to violent demonstrations and mobs demanding his death – we're told to consider it just a "small part" of Islam.

Just as in the premeditated vicious street attack and killing of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh because Islamists didn't like the subject matter of his films – we're told to consider it just a "small part" of Islam.

Just as in the death threats issued against people because Islamists don't like what they say or think – consider author Salman Rushdie, journalist Oriana Fallaci and Dutch politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali. There are many others.

Considering the pattern, it's hard not to consider these threats and this violence just the normal, peaceful religion of Islam in action.

There's a similarity in all these events – and so many more it would take pages to list them –and that is when there is a perceived slight to Islam; the reaction is mob violence, destruction and murder – always justified by Islam, the religion of peace.

This despite the fact that British Muslims were protesting her arrest, and that two Muslim MPs went to Sudan to broker her release. Hmmm.

Another nutjob, perhaps anticipating that this saga of stupidity was about to end, leaped at the chance to get his two cents worth in:

An American evangelist has jumped into the fray over the fate of a British teacher facing calls for death over a teddy bear named "Muhammad."

Bill Keller, host of LivePrayer, has posted a video on YouTube featuring a pink, toy pig named Muhammad after the Muslim prophet.

The pig goes on to call Muhammed a child molester and murderer, and then talks about his conversion to Christianity, coincidentally, after going to Bill Keller's website. Wow, slamming Islam AND promoting your crappy devotionals? Simply brilliant, Bill. We haven't seen this kind of impressive melding of theology and marketing since Luther started handing out coupons for discount mochas along with his Treatises.

Of course, this is the kind of well-crafted wit we've come to expect from Bill Keller (how nuts do you have to be to make Bill O'Reilly seem reasonable?)

Saturday, December 01, 2007


Last surviving Bielski brother arrested for Grand Theft

Aron Bielski, now known as Aaron Bell, is currently facing charges of kidnapping, grand theft and exploitation of the elderly together with his wife Henryka, after a 93-year-old neighbor accused them of convincing her into signing over more than $250,000 worth of bank accounts.
According to investigators, the Bells gained power of attorney over Janina Zaniewska's bank accounts in December 2005, and then moved the money into their own accounts. The Bells also tricked Zaniewska into taking a trip in May, but instead of going to her native Poland to visit friends, the couple admitted Zaniewska into a nursing home in Warsaw.
...The charges carry a maximum of 90 years in prison.
The Bielski brothers are world-renowned for having saved at least 1,200 fellow Jews during the Holocaust. Their life hiding in a Belorussian forest has been documented in books and documentaries. A Hollywood movie about them starring Daniel Craig is due for release in 2008.

More here.

Police were contacted in August by a bank manager who wondered why the Bells were withdrawing Ms Zaniewska’s money.
Police eventually found her at the nursing home.
“Thank God you found me,” she told authorities, according to police.
She returned to Florida last month.
Prosecutors have charged the couple with scheming to defraud Zaniewska, exploitation of the elderly and theft.

This is very strange, and very sad.