Saturday, December 18, 2010

Since when is ignorance a Jewish value?

Since always, according to Tzvi Fishman. Apparently bored with making quasi-reasonable arguments promoting aliyah to Israel, Tzvi has decided to go back to his roots. His painful, aneurysm-inducing, roots.
 But the bottom line is that if you care about your children and want them to have a strong Jewish identity, and if you want your grandchildren to remain Jewish, and not some mixed-up, schizophrenic, half breeds, Israel is the one and only place where there’s a future for the Jews.
That's right, folks, Half-breeds. At best, Tzvi is comparing your kids to dogs. At worst, he's invoking some of the 20th century's least savory "thinkers," all in an attempt to goad you into heading for Hebron. This is like the time Levi Brackman wrote a column about how people that claim patrilineal descent is ok are letting Hitler define their Jewishness for them.

Tzvi's great test for determining Jewish identity? A random assortment of historical and pop cultural pictures, shown to some of his kids. His kids can't identify any of them. Not Lincoln's assassination, not Martin Luther King, not the Wright bros at Kitty Hawk, none. Granted, things like the Alamo or the Three Stooges are not necessarily the most relevant or significant thing a kid should know, but it takes some real chutzpah to pat yourself on the back that your kids don't know anything about another country's history.
Like I said, my kids didn't recognize any of the pictures. That shows that their heads aren’t polluted with a foreign gentile identity the way that Jewish kids in America think they’re half Jewish and half American, and that George Washington is their founding father and WDC their nation’s capital. My kids learn Jewish/Israel history in school and not American history, or Canadian history, or Australian history. They are truly Children of Israel, just like it says in the Torah.
Yes, go team Fishman.

Tzvi also has a counter-test he proposes administering to American Jewish kids of elementary age, to see if they can identify any of the famous Jewish scenes or leaders.
I’ll bet a bagel that none of them can identify more than 3 out of 10. Anyway you look at it, that’s a flunking grade. And I’m not talking about the vast majority of American kids from non-affiliated and assimilated families, who are stoned most of the day watching Internet porn, but even your typical Modern Orthodox, Monsey Satmarites, or Boro Park Hasidim – they’re just as Americanized as everyone else.
Of course, he's also cheating by blurring the line between Israeli culture/history, Jewish sages, and Zionist leaders. Sorry, Tzvi, there's no direct line connecting Herzl, Maimonides, and the Baba Sali. Also, funnily enough, I identified all of your pictures. Does this make me Jewishly "Smarter than a (Haredi) 5th grader?"

Tzvi followed this up a few days later with another quiz. I personally think it's less interesting and clever, but feel free to check it out if you've got too many brain cells and want to do some winter cleaning.

Oh, and speaking of winter, Tzvi's most recent post had a great line I just had to reproduce here:
Just so the jolly little elves and white-bearded Santas don’t fool you, it pays to recall the truth about Christianity... The “profane culture” [Rav Kook] writes about which has come to dominate Western civilization is the outgrowth of Christianity, whose doctrines of repression have now burst through Christianity’s outer guise of gentility and brotherhood in a monstrous storm of violence and hate.

That's right, anti-masturbation zealot Tzvi Fishman, owner and writer for Tzvi Fishman, "let's talk about the Secrets of the Brit" twelve more times Tzvi Fishman, is accusing Christianity of having "doctrines of repression!"

*Clap. Clap. Clap.*

Bra-va, sir.

Ending a Hiatus and a Stupid Look Back

Haven't blogged in a while; been busy wrapping up the school term. For my first ice-breaker, I'd like to congratulate Ohio's new governor, John Kasich. Kasich, of course, was a long-time Republican Congressman until 2001, when he decided he'd rather be President than Congressman. This, of course, did not happen, so Kasich went into the sweetest political exile possible for conservatives: becoming a Fox News blowhard. We here at the blog have been longtime, well, not quite fans, of Kasich, but at least admirers that he has enough self-control that he can say the things he does with a straight face.

In that spirit, here are two Kasich blasts from the past:

2006: I hate inconsistency! Only I'm allowed to do that!

2008:  The Heartland is Jewish. Also, I'm totally from the Heartland. Just check out the cool Main Street the Disneyland people built for us near the mega-mall.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

The Blame Game

A while ago, Rabbi Yehudah Mirsky wrote a very interesting article about Jewish denominations and the limits of their usefulness.
Pre-modern Jewry was organized in communal structures (kehillot). The dissolution of those structures, voluntary in some instances and forcible in others, was one of the defining features of Jewish modernization. The denominations we see today represent an effort to reconstitute some sort of collective identity and institutional heft under the changed circumstances of modernity. They also reflect, in both structure and name, a set of ideological struggles dating back 200 years.
... Recognizing the historical contingency and limits of the old denominational labels is the necessary first step toward thinking about them usefully. Today's American Jewish denominations are very much the products of their time and place and of the specific circumstances of American religious life as a whole, heavily shaped as that life has been by essentially Protestant nomenclature and modes of organization.
While pointing out that there are limitations in the Jewish community being so fragmented (or at least segmented) Mirsky argues that the reason we have seen no real merger between movements (most obviously Reform and Conservative) in America is that real differences continue to exist between them-- differences that outsiders looking in may not always fully consider or appreciate.
It would seem that, quite apart from the inherent difficulties of any institutional change, the movements' enduring and genuine differences—ideological, sociological, and cultural—remain compelling enough to make any large-scale transformation unthinkable: a situation that in turn encourages some to go on exploring the territory beyond or in between the margins.
I think this goes a long way towards explaining why the rank-and-file of the heterodox movements, whose observance and theology may not seem to be all that different, continue to either stick to their group, or decide they no longer care about it and progress beyond it into post-denominationalism. I think increased awareness of what each denomination is about (though perhaps sometimes idealized or intellectualized to its highest denominator) has given people the option of choosing a shul or movement that feels best for them. And, as Mirsky notes, those choices may not always be specifically ideological-- there may be strong cultural ties, too (what makes a not-particularly-observant Conservative family stay in their Conservative shul as opposed to going to a Reform one, for instance?)

Mirsky points out that even though some movements are diminishing in size, all still seem to be have a core philosophy that some people find engaging and meaningful. In a completely opposite perspective we have Forward columnist Jay Michaelson, who (unfairly and foolishly, IMO) singles out heterodox movements' commitment to egalitarianism as the reason their services are boring.
Obviously, there’s no inherent reason that gender-egalitarian and otherwise inclusive congregations can’t offer the same kind of spiritual zets, or punch, as Orthodox ones...
As you said, obviously. There's also no reason to blame boring prayer services on the fact that women aren't sitting in a balcony or behind a mechitza. The fact that non-Orthodox synagogues may both be boring AND egalitarian doesn't mean the two are causal. This isn't helped by the fact that Jay is addressing what is admittedly a subjective topic: "How bored do you get in shul?" isn't exactly something most people are likely to answer on a poll. This means he's just guessing. Basing an argument on a personal opinion substantiated by nothing but, "If I had to guess, I'd say I'm probably right," is always a bad sign.

Just as one counter-example: I happen to have attended nothing but non-Orthodox services in the decade-plus since I started sporadically going to shul, and while some certainly have been boring, others have been quite engaging. Furthermore, I never assumed that one place's style (or lack thereof) was a result of including women. Rather, it always seemed to be a combination of shul traditions, preference of the clergy, and other matters. Saying that people are bored in non-OJ shuls because of egalitarianism makes about as much sense as saying people are bored in non-OJ shuls because they don't pass out cotton candy.

Jay's column is particularly annoying because of the sleight of hand he employs, quickly shifting from talking about gender egalitarianism to, well... something else entirely.
Besides gender separation, another supposed inegalitarianism of Orthodox congregations is that if you’re not already familiar with the traditional liturgy, you’re likely to be lost. Conservative and Reform congregations announce page numbers. They sprinkle in English readings. And they tend to sing a lot slower. This, we are told, makes services more inclusive and accessible to everyone.
Or does it? Yes, they make what’s offered accessible. But often, what’s offered isn’t worth accessing in the first place.
Wow, no sweeping statements there! Also since when is accessibility the same thing as egalitarianism?
 I know that for many people, responsive readings are a pleasant way to think happy thoughts in the synagogue. Indeed, most rabbis I know (from all denominations) find that these readings suck the wind — the ruach — right out of the service. They kill momentum, and because they tend to be laden with theological talk that almost no one believes, they tend to alienate the less committed as much as include them.
Right, but A- not every place does this, and B- you're using one element of R/C prayer to argue that there's nothing of value in the enterprise as a whole. Responsive readings are an attempt to include the congregation. If they don't work, then they can be changed. You're acting as if responsive readings are a canonical element of worship for any denomination that isn't Orthodox. You're quibbling over style, not substance.  
Think about it — which is more inclusive: energetically singing words you don’t really understand, in an environment in which people are participating actively, or intoning deeply problematic theological statements in unison with a largely lethargic “audience”?
Why are you presenting these choices as binary? Lots of shuls I've been to now incorporate elements of both. And incidentally, you're conflating prayer style with egalitarianism. I'm really not convinced they're the same. The Evil Minion, for the record, has a very Orthodox, Carlebachian style of worship. But they're egalitarian. And they're following a national trend. This would seem to burst your theory that the only choices are egalitarian and comatose or Orthodox and alive.

Incidentally, another reason why non-Orthodox Jews aren't Orthodox isn't just an issue of style, it's also philosophy and theology. If you're on the fence about Jewish belief, you may actually appreciate having the opportunity to actually think over some of the concepts that stick in your craw, as opposed to singing (or droning, which also happens) the same stuff in a language you can't speak. Just saying.
Of the American denominations, it strikes me that only Jewish Renewal has managed to offer the spiritual experience of an Orthodox or Hasidic davening service without the prerequisite knowledge of Hebrew and liturgical forms. How? By preserving the energy of a Hasidic service while emptying it of linguistic content. Lots of yai-dai-dai, few actual words.
If you think Renewal is the only denomination that has managed to do this, all this means is that you aren't looking very hard.
In contrast, the Conservative and even the Reform siddurim maintain plenty of confusing Hebrew words, and take a long time to recite them. The reason for this is historical: Reform and Conservative grew out of German Reform Judaism, which aped German Protestantism and tried to offer an edifying, formal service of moral instruction and beautiful music. It’s true, that this formality still does work for some people today — and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that — but has there ever been a sociological study to quantify its appeal? I’ll wager that these antique, even archaic forms work only for those who know and feel comfortable with them. But isn’t that exactly the complaint lodged against traditional Orthodoxy — that it includes some, but not others?
If what we’re interested in is inclusiveness and egalitarianism, then we should try to offer a satisfying spiritual experience to as many people as possible.
Sound good, Jay. What's your proposal?
What that experience is, of course, may vary...But whatever the experience is, real egalitarianism, real inclusiveness, should include people in an experience that matters. Otherwise, we’re excluding everybody
Right, though of course, you're the one who's claiming that the experiences don't matter, not the congregation. And you're the one admitting that there's no data to support your assumptions. So you'll beat up on the synagogues for their bad taste choices but then admit that everything is a matter of taste. Wow, this is a waste of time.
Now, as a progressive American Jew I don’t think gender should determine who’s in and who’s out. But I do think that if everybody’s in, nobody’s in
Why? Why should Judaism seek to exclude Jews?
Let’s rethink what we mean by “egalitarianism.” What if it meant “open to all who bother to make the effort”? What if synagogues distributed fliers that said: “Welcome! We are very glad you are here. Our service is somewhat traditional, because that traditional form works for us. You may be a little lost at first. So we warmly invite you to join our weekly Siddur 101 class, where you can learn the ropes.” People who choose to accept the invitation obtain the rewards. Those who don’t, don’t. Not only would such an approach allow longtime participants to get more out of the prayer experience, but it would also suggest to newcomers that there’s something worth working toward.
Oh please. Jay, there are plenty of synagogues that already do this in some form or another. And I'm not saying that shul shouldn't be an investment of time and effort. But you're essentially arguing that the problem with non-Orthodox Judaism is that people aren't aggressively being dicks to newcomers. No matter how you slice it, that really doesn't make for a very convincing argument. In an era when many Jews can't read Hebrew and where unaffiliated Jews amount for a quarter of the American Jewish population, you'd have to be crazy to argue that what Judaism needs right now is to be less accessible to interested parties.

Here's the reality: Not everybody wants to be Orthodox. Not everybody wants to daven in an Orthodox style. Not everybody wants to pray in Hebrew, or at least exclusively in Hebrew. Apparently you really like davening in Hebrew. I also enjoy davening in Hebrew, though I need transliterations. (You know which transliteration I like? The one in the NEW REFORM SIDDUR.) The Conservative movement also has a transliterated siddur. They seem to already be trying to find a way to have more Hebrew and be inclusive. Forgive me for stereotyping, but I have a hard time imagining that I would be handed a transliterated anything upon entering an Ortho shul.

Your problem, Jay, is that you're operating entirely on the presumption that 6 million Jews all like to pray like you do. Big leap much?

If Jay's column was annoying, Rabbi Harry Maryles' interpretation of it was even worse. R. Harry, of course, is entitled to think being Orthodox is the greatest thing since sliced yarmulkes. But it's a little silly to use Jay's column-- which had next to nothing to do with egalitarianism-- as proof that egalitarianism is hurting heterodox movements.
I truly believe that the pursuit of egalitarianism in many cases sacrifices the essence of one’s religious experience for an ideal that is at best secondary to one’s spirituality -and at worst detrimental to it.
The goal of egalitarianism as most people know is to empower women by equalizing the religious experience with that of men...
If one wants true egalitarianism one must choose one of the non Orthodox movements. Even the most ardent Orthodox feminist has to concede that complete religious equality between the sexes is impossible in an Orthodox setting.
... It is no accident that the Conservative movement where these kinds of innovations are commonplace is rapidly shrinking. Attendance is down in so many of their synagogues that they are being forced to consolidate with each other. As time passes and there is even more attrition, those consolidated shuls will further consolidate. Let’s face it. Although this is not the only reason the Conservative movement is shrinking - the way some of these Shuls operate is so boring that it will put anyone to sleep. And that doesn’t help.

Perhaps, but the problem with boring shuls is that they're boring, it's not that they include women. Reform Judaism continues to grow, and it's just as egalitarian than Conservative and has made even more modifications to the text and prayer.
Michaelson suggests that instead of making so many changes in the traditional service, they should leave it alone. Educating members to learn how to participate in traditional services is a far better option. I would have to agree. The changes innovated by heterodoxy clearly are chasing people away.
And, as noted, this is the direction non-Orthodox movements are already headed. Note that the Mishkan T'fillah is now in its second printing.
Education is the answer. The above anecdote and shrinking numbers in Heterodox Synagogues is a clear indicator that dumbing down Davening is not the answer. Education is. The best form of that is Jewish education starting from day one in the home and continuing in religious elementary schools through high school… and beyond. Adult education is the answer for those who missed out.
Of course, when R. Harry says Jewish education, he really means an Orthodox education. Never mind that you don't need an Orthodox education to read Hebrew.
Those who have received this type of education will be far more involved and the kind of participatory experience that Orthodox Shuls provide.
No, they'll be able to participate in an Orthodox service if that's what they want, which, at the end of the day, is what this discussion is really about. With the shift towards more traditional prayer and transliterated prayerbooks, non-Orthodox synagogues are showing that you don't have to choose an Orthodox shul to Hebrew and traditional prayer. As the more old-fashioned rabbis and congregations gradually change or phase out, the places that are left and continue to do well will be the ones who attract and keep new and younger members. The Hebrew will be an equalizer, and then 21st century Jews will be able to choose their house of worship based less on style and more on other matters.
I know that there are people who will retort that their experience with new innovations has been a positive one. But I wonder how common that experience is. And I wonder if at least in some cases they aren’t deluding themselves because of their belief in the egalitarian ideal.
That's right, any non-Orthodox Jews who like non-Orthodox worship are deluding themselves because of their beliefs! Pot, meet kettle. I'm sure you'll get along fine.

R. Harry concludes by saying that in his opinion, this is a case of Yotza Scahro B’Hefseida,  where a loss becomes greater than the gain. To him, I'm sure that's how it appears. Egalitarianism has nothing to offer, and results in a watering down of the traditional service. But to most non-Orthodox Jews, egalitarianism is an important value; it establishes a baseline for respect among Jews and at this point, forgoing it would be anathema. The non-Orthodox embrace of egalitarianism coincides with their embrace of the 21st century. It exemplifies the kind of relevant and meaningful Judaism they wish to be involved in, and which is part of the reason so many of them would sooner become Buddhist than Orthodox.

At the end of the day, I have too many red lines to be comfortable as an Orthodox Jew, and I suspect it would take a very, very tolerant Orthodox community to be comfortable with me. But that's ok, since I don't want to be Orthodox. And, Michaelson's anectdote notwithstanding, there are many non-Orthodox Jews today who have not only consciously and deliberately chosen their denominations; they have just as consciously established-- if only on a basic level-- that Orthodoxy is probably not viable for them, be it over issues of style, theology, or lack of egalitarianism. Non-Orthodox movements are going to continue to find ways to engage with the tradition and make it connect with their lives. At t the end of the day this argument is over style, not philosophy. There is no reason you have to choose between Hebrew and egalitarianism, or a lively prayer service and egalitarianism. Bottom line: egalitarianism does not cause boredom, and egalitarianism is most likely not the reason some synagogues are declining. People will just have to look for another scapegoat.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Science vs Religion

Judge Snyder: As for science vs. religion, I'm issuing a restraining order. Religion must stay 500 yards from science at all times.
- The Simpsons
I'm a great believer that knowing more about how the world works can make it seem an even more magical and incredible place. And that science and religion don't have to be mutually exclusive. While learning about science has always made me feel in awe of how spectacular nature and the universe is and how minuscule humans are, I can also see how it could inform and strengthen one's faith, too.

That said, there is such a thing as stupid religion. And stupid religion, sorry to say, needs to stay the hell away from science.

First, Tzvi Fishman plugged his anti-sex website on his blog. As he put it, "Have a good time." Whatever you say, Tzvi.

Question: My wife is usually too tired to have marital relations at night. She prefers the morning, after sending the kids off to school, when she feels more refreshed and uninhibited. Is this OK?
Answer: A husband is permitted to engage in marital relations during the day if his wife shows her desire for it, or if he feels that he will otherwise think about other women and thus fall into sinful fantasies or actions. However, because it is generally forbidden to have marital relations by day, or in a lighted room, we will quote the laws as summarized by Rabbi Mordechai Eliahu, former Chief Rabbi of Israel, in his book, "Darkei Taharah," Chapter 22:
A person should not engage in marital relations where there is light because of modesty, whether it be daylight, moonlight, candlelight, or electricity, etc. Someone who has relations by candlelight may cause his offspring to be epileptic, even if the wife is already pregnant.
Oh sweet crap. So now light is considered as dangerous as lead poisoning? You do know that Song of Songs happens during the day, right?
...It is forbidden to have relations by candlelight, electric light, and the like, even if the light is darkened by a covering. If the candlelight is in another room which lights up the room where they are, a Torah scholar can cover themselves with a covering and engage in marital relations. If the candle or light are in the same room, he can set up a curtain (mechitzah) that divides the room into two, making it like two rooms, and thus a Torah scholar can cover themselves with a covering and conduct relations. The length of this room divider must be 192 centimeters with a height of at least 80 centimeters. It must be sturdy so that it will not sway if there is wind. On the Sabbath day, one should not set up a divider like this, unless there are special requirements that can be met.
So, if they do it with the lights on, the baby gets deformed, but this can be stopped by the magical powers of... a sheet? Wow, that's some sheet. 
There is another possibility if he cannot extinguish the light, and that is to cover it with a vessel or thick towel, or the like, even if a weak dim light remains, and this may even be done freely on the Sabbath and Festival Days, but on these days, he must be careful not to extinguish the light in so doing.
How about being careful not to cover a candle with a freaking towel
An alternative solution is that your wife take a nap in the afternoon or early evening, or in the morning after sending the kids off to school. That way, you could most properly conduct marital relations at the most propitious time, after midnight, when the kids are fast asleep and your wife is more refreshed because of her nap.
Wait, really? The proper time for sexual relations is after midnight? Do these folks not have jobs? (Oh, right...)
Not mind-numbingly painful enough? Oh good:
QuestionIf a man can control himself and not "spill seed" when engaging in different positions or when engaging in oral sex, why are they forbidden?
Answer: We have clarified in several places on this site (example 1example 2) the serious consequences of spilling seed (semen) in vain, be it through premature ejaculation, masturbation, or literally spilling from the woman's reproductive organ due to change in her position.
In answer to your question: Firstly, most men cannot control themselves during bouts of sexual gymnastics and very often semen is spilled. It is similar to a tightrope and high-wire act. While there may be a circus performer who can balance his way across the wire without falling, most people would plunge to their deaths.
Dramatic much?
Furthermore, in the heat of sexual passion, a thin clear fluid is often released from the male organ. According to the Kabbalah, this fluid originates in a very high spiritual sphere, and wasting it causes a blemish on the brain.
Ok, guys, really-- it's one thing to say that not spilling your seed helps you "spiritually," it's enough thing to claim that losing it causes brain damage. Two words: wet dreams.
Regarding abnormal positions, for instance if the wife is on top of the man, they cause a reversal of the spiritual order in G-d's blueprint for the world and bring about harsh judgments.
So, what, to God woman on top is like, the spiritual equivalent of Reform Judaism? Is it as bad as a BLT?
Regarding oral sex, remember that the reproductive organs are also the channel for urination and menstruation in women. In addition to the prohibition of looking at the sexual organs, oral sex transfers these impurities to the mouth, which is considered the "goblet of the King," associated with the sefirah [illumination] of "Malchut." After polluting your mouth in this fashion, your prayers will certainly not be found pleasing in the Heavenly Court above. 
Am I the only one thinking that calling the mouth "goblet of the king" sounds much dirtier than anything secular folks could come up with? Also, I like the fact that spiritual impurity in your mouth stops you from offering "pleasing" prayers to God. Does this apply to everything you put in there? What about alcohol? Pot? Pork?
According to Lazer's friend Moe, the answer is apparently yes. As part of a "coming to teshuvah" tale in which he describes slowly getting over his pot habit, he offers this insight:
non- Kosher food also puts a coating on the body, not allowing Divine Light to seep through
So, lobster is spiritual sun-block. God-kryptonite, if you will. Wow, you make this whole "taking religion seriously" thing really hard.
And speaking of Lazer, he has 5,000 new CDs for you to buy. He can help you get rich, lose weight, be a better spouse, parent, whatever. What's that? You don't care about stuff like that? All you care about is looking good? Fear not, Lazer's got you covered:
Natural & Spiritual Remedy for Acne
Oh just kill me now.

Lazer's tips include such obvious suggestions as adjusting diet and washing your damn face, as well as more creative ones like throwing away any medications, drinking lots of water, not gossiping, and of course, asking God to heal your skin (while also thanking him for giving you this character-building challenge. You know, the challenge you're totally trying to cop out of). Simple, no?
In related news: Cross-Currents made Dovbear similarly sad.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The Return of Abir

Funny, I thought I had finished with this silly issue a while ago. But intrepid Abir advocate Ehav Ever won't let it go. He's back, and he's got "proof." Proof of what, exactly? I'll let him tell it:
Looks like the Aluf Abir Yehoshua Sofer is Yemenite after all and there is a history for Abir.
Ehav provides a Youtube link showing Sofer interviewing an old man, Mori Awadh bin Sleiman. He repeatedly acknowledges that Sofer's patrilineal line was Yemenite, and affirms a family connection between them. It also has various clips of bearded Middle Eastern men (presumably Yemenite Jews) dancing. I guess this is supposed to prove Abir's authentic dance-house heritage.

Here's the big problem, Ehav. Since 2007 you've been particularly offended at my claim (based on my admittedly limited information) that Sofer was Ashkenazi, not Yemenite. (I freely admit that my skepticism about Sofer's heritage based on skin color was unfair and reflective of my lack of knowledge about the topic.) However I have nothing invested in disproving Sofer's Yemenite-ness. It doesn't matter whether he's the Chief Rabbi of Sa'aana or a descendant of Confucius. The central issue has always been whether Abir-- and all the associated mythology Sofer and his followers constructed and perpetuated about it-- was true. I'll stipulate that Sofer is Yemenite on his father's side. It still doesn't address the bigger questions.

Let's recap some of the sticking points:

- The ever-changing family ties. When I first heard about Abir back in 2006, what little online information was available was inconsistent and confusing.  Most notable was Sofer simultaneously pushing his grandfather's Yemenite roots and then talking about him serving in the Russian army while on a pilgrimage to Uman.and subsequently learning wrestling and jujitsu. Elsewhere he mentioned being descended from Nachman of Breslov's brother. When I questioned this, you said Sofer's grandmother was Ukrainian. So why was the Yemenite grandfather in Uman? Did he marry into a Breslov family and then become a Yemenite Breslover? I'm not saying this couldn't be true, I'm saying I'm very confused, and a big part of it is because Sofer has connected Abir so closely with his family history and then released that history in an extremely fragmentary way.

In other interviews, Sofer has claimed that his Yemenite ancestors' name was Sofer. He has identified his uncles as having the surname Sofer, and apparently his grandfather Brihim bin-Hassan also went by the name Nachman Sofer (which wasn't clarified until relatively recently, BTW. I was still thinking that Brihim and Nachman were two separate grandfathers). So here's a question: why was Sofer born Nigel Winston? I don't particularly care about the answer, and I doubt Sofer is outright lying about his last name. But it's another example of something fishy coming up. Here's another question: if he was trained and raised knowing his destiny was to bring Abir back to the yearning Jewish masses, why did he waste several years of his life trying to be a proto-Matisyahu ska rapper? Sofer is like Madonna; he has reinvented himself and retconned his and Abir's origin stories so many times it's impossible to keep it all straight.

- Dreaming too big, changing the stories, and not keeping them straight. Sofer has made the simultaneous claims that A- Abir is an ancient authentic Jewish practice going back to Biblical times; B- all Jews in antiquity knew and practiced Abir, and C-  while this knowledge was widely lost among most Jews in modern times (which is why no one had heard of it before 2001), the isolated and exotic Habbani managed to keep the secret alive through traditional dances. Frankly, there's so much on this ball of yarn it's hard to even unpack it, but the biggest problem is that his stories sound way too good to be true.

I can buy the Habbani being tough bastards. I can accept that they may have been good with their fists. Maybe they even had a martial art system. But it's pretty hard to believe that ten Habbani Jews killed 1,000 attackers bare-handed. I'm sorry, but that's a fairy tale. Same thing for Sofer's claim about how old Abir is. I can accept Abir being a Habbani tradition. Maybe it's even quite old. But to claim that King David knew Abir? To say that it's knowledge that's been passed down unbroken from Abraham is like having a restaurant and claiming your lentil stew was the exact recipe Jacob used to steal Esau's birthright. Also, Sofer now claims Abraham learned Abir from Terah! First of all, this seems to complicate the concept of it being a "Jewish martial art" as it would make it ripped off from the pagan Babylonians. It certainly doesn't seem like it would count as "Torah study," as Sofer has said. But wait, if Abir came from the Babylonians, how can it based on the ancient Hebrew alphabet? How can it have super-secret mystical Kabbalah connections?

All this stuff makes me think that Sofer is selling something, which, coincidentally, he is.

Now let's talk about your video: I notice that in the video Sofer seems to nudge the older gentleman pretty hard towards trying to confirm some of his Abir stories. Yet the farthest Mr. Bin Sleiman seems willing to go is to say that their clan could "fight without weapons" and that Sofer's ancestors were "very mighty" and that Arabs feared them. At one point he tells an anectdote about Sofer's grandfather putting sand in a bag and using it as a blackjack on people who tried to mess with him. That's cool and all, but it's not the same thing as saying that the Habbani were a bunch of Jewish ninjas. By my count, he only even said Abir twice-- once when referring to warriors in a story of Jewish conquest of Yemen, and once when talking about Sofer's grandfather who used it as part of his nickname.

It's odd that given his long association with the family, Bin Sleiman never actually says anything that confirms Sofer's wilder stories. The most Sofer gets out of him is that his family were tough guys that didn't take crap from gentiles. (BTW, I was very intrigued by Sofer's comment that his grandfather "was a bodyguard for Sultans and in Uman." A, I notice that Bin Sleiman says nothing to confirm this, and B, again, I'm confused why the Yemenite grandfather was in Uman.) Also, in Sofer's story his relatives have now gone from guarding a single king, Abdullah, to multiple Sultans. This increase in bodyguard work seems to correspond to the Wikipedia page, which now says that the Sofers guarded Lawrence of Arabia. Yes, all these things could be true (in which case someone should really write a book about this amazing, stupendous fantabulous family), but at a certain point, you begin testing the limits of believability and leading people to assume you're just making stuff up.

A similar thing happens in the next clip: the other old guy says that he remembers attending dances as a child and tells his friend that "these Abir techniques were in our dances." Sofer goes on to mime out the Abir moves. Bin Sleiman looks at him and smiles politely. No confirmation, no agreement.

Sorry Ehav, but this is hardly a smoking gun. One guy is convinced by Sofer's pitch. Good for him. The fact that Sofer's martial arts use similar moves to Yemenite dances does not prove that the dances were secret methods of communicating Abir moves. If anything, it shows that Sofer or his family may have borrowed some of their ideas from Yemenite dances.

Ehav, I understand my half-assed "expose" three years ago touched a raw nerve. And it's cute that you still care so much. But it's not about whether Sofer is Yemenite. It's about whether he's full of crap.

Monday, November 01, 2010

More Election Silliness

As if Dennis proclaiming that Tuesday's elections are going to be the cornerstone of the next civil war weren't enough, we have others out in the crazy-o-sphere with equally strident rhetoric. Here's a sample:

- Anti-Boxer Comments on WND columnist Patrice Lewis' personal blog:
Barbara Boxer makes my blood boil. We finally have a real chance of dumping her, so I hope a majority of the voters here in CA wise up and kick her out of her fatcatbird seat. She is not only a crook, she's a New York carpetbagger who represents a state she cares nothing for and knows little about.
Interesting; according to her website Boxer moved to California in 1965. Apparently 45 years still isn't long enough to be considered a Californian. By that logic, I suppose Whitman must be at least one-third as big a carpetbagger. I wonder if that means they're voting Brown for Governor.
Boxer even being close at this stage is a horrible wonder to me. Oh Califonia, how far down do you have to go to hit bottom? This is your time to shine. You can lead us as we try to dig out of this mess or you can go begging to the rest of America to bail you out.
Not quite sure how voting for a long-serving Congresswoman constitutes begging America to bail out California, but ok, sure.

- Then there's Prop 19, which would legalize marijuana in California (though not federally). Showing a rare ability to join forces in the face of anything too potentially positive, we have the combined evangelical bozos of the Christian Post and the Haredi wackos at Vos Iz Neias.

First up, the CP:
Legalized Marijuana 'Unnecessary,' Christians Say
Medical marijuana is “unnecessary” and legalizing it will worsen drug problems, lead to increased adolescent usage, and increase family problems, says Christian Medical Association CEO David Stevens and religious freedom legal defense group Pacific Justice Institute.
Wow, I like how it starts off fooling you that it's going to be talking about legalization and then it does a complete 180 and starts harping on something that's been standard case law for 10 years. Way to stay current!
Stevens says legalized marijuana will mean increased usage among adolescents. Adolescents using marijuana, he says, suffer a number of side effects such as decreased focus, isolation and even psychological dysfunction.
Right, which is the reason we outlaw all other substances teenagers can use to screw themselves up, like alcohol, prescription drugs and glue. Of course.

“We know adolescents who use marijuana regularly experience higher rates of depression,” noted Stevens. He also says marijuana is a “gateway” drug, meaning it may lead to use of other more potent drugs.
Riiight, except it's... not. I say this as someone who has smoked pot around seven times in as many years and not felt attracted towards any other drugs. And as someone with close family members who have been regular smokers for decades. They may have dabbled with other substances a little in the 80s, but these days their only drugs are pot and a beer or glass of wine once or twice a week. No crack, no heroin, no oxy. Try again.
Stevens stresses that “medical marijuana is useless” because there are several prescriptions, such as Marinol, that have similar chemical compounds and produce the same results.
Except, again, Stevens is wrong. Marinol does not work for many patients, such as cancer sufferers. Pot does. There are any number of reasons for this, not the least of which may have to do with the fact that inhalation gets THC to the bloodstream faster than ingestion, but the bottom line is that it doesn't work. (Add to that the fact that Marinol is not being created at a high enough rate to be a valid alternative.) Maybe if Stevens was an oncologist or a pharmacologist rather than just a GP who's spent most of his career as an administrator he would know these things, or at least be smart enough to ask about them before using his credentials as an excuse to spout off nonsense.

Is Vos Iz Neas any better? Of course not, you fool. (Though I did enjoy the typo in their URL.)
If you want to get high, get stoned, act like a tower of poverty and sin. Maybe you think thats your priviledge. I would certainly allow a cancer patient access to Marijuana, but to let the general population toke it up because they dont know how to read or socialize in general makes little sense.
Wait, people get high because they don't know how to read or socialize? What happened to the stereotype of rich, pampered college kids being major stoners? The only thing potheads do besides reading and socializing is listen to Phish and Marley. Well, and eat cookies.

Yes legalize mary jane and than next year legalize other types of drugs; Slowly but surely legalize all drugs. Get people drugged up so they don't know what is going on and than vote for the lefty. Legalizing Mary Jane will lead to more car accidents, and victims Even if it takes the drugs out of the trade how long do you think before they create some new drug which everybody needs to try. Soros made billions destroying others. He wants to destroy america by legalizing drugs. People seem to forget
mary jane stays in your system for days. Another thing we have outlaw smoking in most places since it is bad for your health and now you want to legalize marijuana which is worst for your lungs. CAN'T FIGURE THIS OUT; JUST DID PEOPLE DON'T THINK WHEN THE YETZOR HORA IS INVOLVE

What an argument. I'm just speechless. Also, did you notice this guy's spelling? I bet he smokes...

- In local issues, one of the people running for SF Board of Ed is a libertarian Erotic Service Provider named Starchild. Need I say more? I hope not, because I'm kind of speechless.

- Speaking of the Board of Ed, SF's Prop D lets any immigrant residents of the city, including illegal aliens, vote for the school board. Abbot Yid didn't care for it, but I think it's got the benefit of being consistent: if you're going to let illegals live in the city and not be prosecuted, and if you're going to let them send their kids to public school, I'm not quite sure why the straw that breaks the camel's back should be voting for the School Board.

Local crazyman Dr. Terrence Faulker, J.D., however, seriously objects:
What Prop D backers call "immigrant voting" does not mean just legal immigrants. Prop D also proposes that illegal aliens and even those in the process of being deported from the United States be allowed to vote for SF's Board of Education... It is an interesting question whether legal aliens might be allowed to vote for our boards of education on a national basis, but that should be regulated by future international treaties. Such future treaties, if approved by the President and a two-thirds vote of the US Senate, should also provide for similar voting rights for American citizens who are legal residents of foreign countries.
Ah yes, because if you're being deported, clearly the most pressing thing on your mind will be voting for Starchild and not say, getting a lawyer or figuring out what country your kids are going to finish third grade in.

- Dr. T chimed in elsewhere, too. Prop I would let us have elections on Saturday as well as Tuesday. You know, so people will actually come vote. Interestingly enough, it has a stipulation that it would only hold Saturday elections if it received enough donated money from individuals and organizations to fund it.

Yet Dr. T remains unimpressed. But, since he apparently didn't have time to write a coherent counter-argument, he decided to just toss out any ideas that popped into his head. Observe:
In the June 2010 Primary Election some 59% of SF voters cast absentee ballots.
Many elections in Oregon are now conducted by mail.
An extra day of precinct voting would be a big economic waste.
Holding elections on Saturday causes problems for a number of major religious minorities...
Really? A number of major religious minorities? Which ones would those be? I can think of Jews (Orthodox, specifically) and Seventh-Day Adventists. If there are any others, I'd love to hear about it. Incidentally, wouldn't those folks just stick to the regular Tuesday voting or use the absentee ballot we already have? I mean, if you're going to appeal to religious sensitivity, you might at least want to show you've actually done your homework and aren't just using any random excuse you can think of. It's just lazy.

- Last, of course, we have the always level-headed voice of reason, Chuck Norris:
"I think our country, if we don't wind up getting a conservative majority mainly in the House, I really perceive some disastrous things in the next two years in our country. We may not have an America in two years," he told Fox News in a recent interview.
Tell you what, Chuck, I'll be sure to send you an apology note the moment we turn into Mexi-Soviet-stan.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

You're doing it wrong!

WND's writers have a lot of opinions about a lot of things. This isn't surprising, given that they have over 40 op-ed folks syndicated through their site. They are, in effect, a clearinghouse of crazy.

But I have to admit this one did make me sit up and scratch my head.

Linda Harvey is a lady on a mission. She's mad that the American Psychological Association published a paper about how to deal with demon possession. Apparently if the patient is Native American, the author recommends having a "spirit depossession" in which the spirit is coaxed out of the body, rather than aggressively confronted a-la the Exorcist.

Now, there are a lot of reasons I can think someone would be miffed by this. Most obviously, there's the fact that demon possession is silly and shouldn't be getting anybody's research dollars, or written up in the APA journal. You could also point out that New-Agey crap is stupid and sometimes incredibly patronizing towards indigenous people.

Harvey, on the other hand, is pissed because psychiatry seems to be putting some (limited) stock in "spiritual" neo-paganism while still ignoring Christianity. For instance, that possession thing:
This can be resolved, she explains, by engaging in "spirit depossession." But far from the "forceful banishment" of an exorcism, here the spirit is safely conducted back to its place of origin, which for most of them has been discovered to be Washington, D.C. ( Just kidding – she did not say that.)
Anyway, this gentle exit is accomplished with "skill and compassion" (presumably lacking in Christian exorcisms) and with minimal trauma. Jesus could have learned a lot from the APA! No need to send demons into herds of pigs, none of that teeth-gnashing stuff. All very civilized, indeed.
Lady, really, it's ok. You're arguing over the best way to cure imaginary demons. It's just bullshit. It doesn't matter if you use a spirit guide or the healing power of Jesus. Calm down.

Harvey's other big issue is that New Age is taking over American psychiatry as a whole:
Now, to understand where Suzan McVicker is coming from, one must go to the source of her belief system, and it's this: We all have a "within direction" where "ancient knowing" can produce healing of body, spirit, mind and energy. Sounds very much like there's a little god in there, putting us right back at the original Edenic conflict. But McVicker calls it "sacred space" where we can heal ourselves, a big relief for those of us dreading cutbacks under Obamacare.
How does this occur? Trance states, "mindfulness" meditation and accessing the unconscious as in Jungian psychology are key techniques. Ms. McVicker and the pseudo-Christian emergent-network advocates of "contemplative" prayer share a lot in common. Neither fear much in the spirit world and believe it can be accessed quite comfortably, thank you. It's all about us and our hearts and minds and intentions. And, of course, it's skillfully orchestrated by the APA-trained counselor, with no heads spinning or green stuff allowed to be puked up anywhere.
I talked about this paper with my friend Dr. Peter Jones, president of TruthXChange and an international scholar tracking trends in the global neopagan revival. Dr. Jones said, "Carl Jung would be deliriously happy to see this turn of events, he who had his own spirit guide, Philemon. In view of his influence in the psychological world, this move is inevitable."
And Yosef Karo thought he had nightly visits from the spirit of the Mishnah. Some otherwise brilliant guys happen to be a little crazy. It happens.
The recognition of God as the ultimate authoritative Spirit would throw a real monkey-wrench in this self-absorbed dabbling, so apparently a Christian model of the "unseen world" is off the table, yet tribal and folk perceptions are valid and honored. Welcome to the American left, rediscovering ancient paganism and calling it marvelous progress.
Now, we shouldn't be too hard on Ms. McVicker, because she is just riding the wave of a trend. A blossoming specialty called "indigenous mental health" takes seriously the notion that animals and even plants are the ancestors of certain people groups. Some Hawaiians, for instance, maintain that the taro plant is an ancestor, and this leads to the claim that separation from certain land areas can result in an "alienation and unmooring of the self." Far from naming such ideas bizarre and primitive (or conveniently covetous), the culturally sensitive counselor may place this ideology as the cornerstone of mental health treatment and leave antiquated "Eurocentric" notions in the dustbin.
Hang on, so you're annoyed that psychiatrists are entertaining bizarre or primitive ideas like being descended from taro plants, but advocate supporting the notion of an "unseen" demonic world and Christian exorcisms instead? Finicky, aren't we?
The APA also takes seriously the notion that homosexuality and gender confusion among tribal groups is what is termed a "two-spirit" phenomenon... "First peoples" may also suffer from distrust of government (a remnant of "colonization"); historical trauma from genocide and oppression; and may cling stubbornly to tribal notions of wellness..."Rituals," cleansings and the typical practices of folk shamanism, even voodoo, are to be given serious consideration – animal skins, rattles and all.
One can only hope that soon, the APA announces the discovery of fire.
Absent is any consideration of one sizable, worldwide cultural and religious group: biblical Christians. How many believers have sat on cushy couches and suggested to counselors the involvement and presence of "unwanted spirits" and been patronizingly dismissed as Neanderthals?
Here's the big problem with Harvey's argument: she claims to be fighting against a double-standard, and indeed, she's correct that encouraging spiritually-oriented therapy for patients of one religion but not for another seems inconsistent at least (though I would suggest this may have less to do with the APA being explicitly pro-paganism and anti-Christianity and more to do with the fact that "biblical Christians" may be more suspicious of psychiatry as a science/industry and consequently do not seek out therapy in a large group. Compare this with, say, Jews).

However, her snide words about the "primitive" traditions of non-Abrahamic religions suggest that she is not particularly interested in having doctors use those religions as an entry-point into mental health. Rather, she's just pissy because Christianity isn't being validated the way she thinks it should be. So she's using the pretense of even-handedness in pursuit of her bias in the opposite direction. Classy.

News flash, Linda. You can't make fun of Hawaiians for thinking they're the great-grandkids of taro root or ridicule animal skins and then pout because people think that Christian demon possession is BS. Yes, the APA should be consistent-- but while we're at it, so should you. Being open to faith is good, but let's try to keep all superstitions out of science, shall we?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Fun Halloween Trivia

I always find such useful information from Tzvi's blog. For instance, one commenter, explaining how happy he is now that he's moved his family to Israel away from the terrible influences of American holidays (in Monsey, NY of all places), said the following:
While Monsey is a lovely community for those who are unable to come to Israel, one of the reasons we left was the opposite of Mr. Hacohen's claim. Perhaps he believes that a Jewish education includes trick or treating on Halloween like everyone else, even though it is a gentile holiday (All Saints Day) with very unJewish customs like soaping windows of those who don't give out candy and placing razor blades in apples.
Razor blades in apples? That's considered a "tradition" now? Funny, I thought that was a crime. I didn't realize Rockland county was such a rough neighborhood. I'd hate to see what they do for Arbor Day.


There's breaking news from the Christian Post. Apparently the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict has been solved.

Don't believe me? Check it out for yourself:

"Palestinians and Jews reconciling through Jesus Christ"

Really? Hmm, Jesus as the ultimate uniter (not a divider)? I wonder how the CP figures this could possibly work...

Oh, by fudging the facts.
Shadia Qubti, a Christian Palestinian Israeli from Nazareth, and Dan Sered, a Messianic Jew from Israel, discussed how believers are helping to reconcile the opposing people groups... Qubti works with Musalaha, an interdenominational initiative seeking to expand reconciliation between Christian Palestinians and Messianic Jews, while Sered directs Jews for Jesus in Israel.
Wow, I didn't realize that the biggest issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were between Palestinian Christians and Messianic Jews. Isn't that sort of like saying World War II was principally about Albania wanting to occupy New Zealand?

It's an interesting commentary that in the eyes of most Jews and Muslims, it seems "natural" that Christians (Messianic Jews included) would be naturally sympathetic to each other. However this article demonstrates that the respective national/ethnic identities seem to play much more of a prominent identity role for these groups.

I don't disagree that it's good to see people getting along, and I'd much rather see Palestinian Christians getting along with Israeli Messianics (or Israeli Christians, for that matter) than otherwise. However it's hard to take these folks seriously when they say things like this:

CP: Is it possible to have peace in the Middle East? How?
Qubti: I believe in grassroots movements starting with smaller groups that come from the people. I believe as followers of Christ we have a lot of work to do. If we can establish unity among us, between Israelis and Palestinian Christians first, I think that will have a domino effect within our countries and regions. But first we have to try to get along together as a smaller community, as a prototype that this works. Christ is able to do what the world is not able to do. I think peace is possible in the Middle East and we need to be very proactive.
Sered: I couldn’t agree more. I think peace is not only possible in the Middle East, [but] I also believe it is inevitable. When Jesus returns there will be peace in the Middle East and all over the world. Right now, immediately, it is also possible. One by one as Israeli Jews and Arab Palestinians come to faith we are going to see more and more reconciliation and more and more peace. It is only because of the reconciling power of the gospel that we see that, through proclaiming the gospel, through working more and more towards an understanding of reconciliation between men. But first and foremost we must seek reconciliation between men and God and that only comes through faith in Jesus.

Get gospel, get peace. Good to know. After all, it worked so well during the English Civil War.

Honestly, I wish these partners luck with their endeavors. But I hope the Christian Post recognizes how misleading it is to claim that the answer to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is believing in Jesus-- and imply that "the Jews" are already on board.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Hebrew Hullabaloo, part 2

This installment of my "Jews Behaving Badly" series takes us to Soviet Russia not long after the revolution. By the early twenties, the Soviet courts were already in full swing meting out party justice to the masses. Today's interesting historical footnote looks at one of these court judges, a 20-year-old Jewish girl named Anna Gluzman. Gluzman made headlines in 1923 for her "cold-blooded" sentencing of seven armed robbers to death in Moscow. (The eighth member of the gang was only 18, so he got off with ten years.)

Further research by journalists revealed that Gluzman was originally from Kishinev. She had quit school to work in her early teens but had studied law at the university in Odessa and had served two years as a local judge in Kharkov in the Ukraine. In April 1923, when she had her brief moment in the sun, she estimated she had sentenced 25 people to death in only a two-month period (A later article in July claimed 50). She had never witnessed an execution but claimed this was just because her schedule hadn't permitted it.

Funnily enough, most of the stories focused on her appearance, remarking on how unfeminine she was. One noted, "She was brown-eyed, plainly dressed, not pretty." Another said, "Slim and short, not at all pretty; her brown wavy hair is bobbed and parted on the side like a man's; her jaw is stern." Yet another wrote, "A pleasant smile saved her from positive ugliness, but there was no hint of feminine finery in her rough boots, black skirt, blue denim workman's blouse, buttoned high at the neck, and an old brown sweater." One paper, upon getting a snapshot, quipped, "Note the boyish features of this girl whose word has sent many to their deaths." Various reporters focused on her constant smoking, another androgynous marker. And people thought the media was rough on Hillary and Sarah Palin!

Perhaps the best line, though, belongs to the Kansas City Star:

For three months in 1923, Anna Gluzman was big news, a symbol of just how far the new Soviet state was turning over centuries old mores and customs. A young person, a woman, a Jew, in such a position of power, holding life and death in her hands... no wonder reporters were fascinated with Gluzman. As one paper put it, "Citizeness Anna Gluzman has probably no ancestors worth mentioning, but she has the power to inflict the death penalty upon those who come before her. Ten years ago the parents of Anna Gluzman were being driven from pillar to post by the minions of the Czar... but presiding in the district court of the ancient capital, she has more power than the whole caboodle of counts, princes and grand dukes in all of Muscovy."

Gluzman represented everything awe-inspiring-- and terrifying-- about the new Soviet society. How on the one hand it was willing to put real power in the hands of those who had for so long been powerless... and yet how it was also using this power to ruthlessly purge its undesirables. As Gluzman told reporters, "the question of individual lives could have no consideration when the welfare of the state and the public were involved." After interviewing her, one journalist compared the executions in the USSR to the French revolution, and remarked that "Citizeness Gluzman is a natural product of the madness, stress and storm that grip Russia now as they plagued France in Jacob's days." The Soviet drama showed America and the world all the possibilities that could come with a total social upheaval... for good and evil.

Sadly, I haven't been able to discover any information about Gluzman past 1923. Did she remain a judge? Was she part of the great Jewish purges of the 40s or 60s? Did she stay in the USSR through to the very end, or did she emigrate when she had the chance? Was she a loyal Bolshevik, or did she come to have doubts?

The writer in me worries that it's just too perfect, too pat, to have the young judge who handed down execution sentences wind up in front of a firing squad herself. But stranger things have happened...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The secret is to be shameless

Those of you who still bother to read the blog may wonder, just how do some of these evil geniuses manage to churn out such... impressive work, week after week, especially when so much of their material seems to be based on BS? Dennis provides the secret in this week's column.

Apparently, Dennis' secret is to just not give a crap. Certainly not about trifling things like truth or fairness. Nope, in Dennis-land it's all sensationalism, all the time. He's like if Frankenstein mated with William Randolph Hearst and then went around bragging about his Jew-dentials.

For example, on Dennis' planet, the upcoming midterm elections are not merely elections, they are a referendum on America. Oh yes, he knows that lazy hack media pundits say this about every election since the 1800s, but trust him on this, it's real this time. Showing his great grasp of history and perspective, Dennis provides us this quip:
this off-year election is not simply the most important of my lifetime. It is the most important since the Civil War.
See, now to me this just seems lazy. Dennis throws this random reference out there and then does nothing to explain it. Why not the Revolutionary War? Why not World War II or Vietnam? Was Reagan's election not a referendum? Dennis just wants to poke people for shock value and rehash the old trope that America is super duper divided. Stonewall Dennis rides again!

In the world according to Dennis, if the Democrats win the election, it means the American people want the following:
- A "fundamental transformation"...of America from a liberty-based state of limited government into an equality-based welfare state with an ever-expanding government.
- A change from a country that emphasizes producing wealth to a country that emphasizes redistribution of wealth.
Ah yes, the old theory that anyone who votes for a party supports that party's agenda taken to its most extreme position. By that logic, of course, a vote for the GOP is a vote to deport illegal immigrants back to their home countries in cattle cars and to appoint Sarah Palin the new Secretary of Education.

There's more? Oh goody.
-America will produce increasingly narcissistic citizens.
Here Dennis argues that welfare creates entitlement and narcissism. Never mind that you can be narcissistic without welfare. For instance, thinking that the rest of the world either doesn't matter or should be subservient to America's interests, or thinking that because Christians form a large percentage of the US population that therefore national and civic culture should be tailor-made to their personal beliefs and tastes. I think there's enough narcissism in politics and media to go around, personally.
-America will further reinforce the conviction that minorities are victims – who must be protected from their fellow Americans by the state.
You can keep beating this minority victimization drum if you want to, but no matter how you slice it, having an African-American nominee and President isn't encouraging victimhood, Dennis. Also, I know you really want that silly SIXHIRB acronym of yours to catch on, but I'm really not buying it.
-America will continue to undermine its unique ability to Americanize people of all ethnic, national, racial and religious backgrounds.
News flash, Dennis. Spending lots of time screaming about how people aren't American if they don't have the right papers, don't speak the right language, or pray to the wrong God does not encourage Americanization. It pisses people off and makes them uncomfortable. Slight difference. (Side note: what data are you using to categorize America as "unique" in its assimilation model? Surely there are other countries who have a pretty fluid identity process, too. What about Canada?)
Last and certainly worst (to Dennis),
-America will become increasingly secular.
Oh no, not the S-word! Dennis blames this on Leftism being a :jealous God," and blames the Left for "the Judeo-Christian roots of this country...ceasing to play the indispensable moral role they have played since before 1776." This, of course, is a strawman. Rather than recognize the varied and complex religious thoughts and identities of the Founders, and how these viewpoints informed their shaping of American government and policy when it came to things like civic religion, Dennis rewrites history to turn the generation of Washington into the Pilgrims. There is a difference between having a government and culture which is secular and one which is hostile to religion. One does not necessitate the latter.

Not only is Dennis' scare-mongering about the upcoming Stalinist state dishonest, he's also refusing to own up to his own biases. Instead of talking about how his personal preference is for religiosity over secularism, Dennis appeals to a nostalgic fiction about how the Founding Fathers were all super religious and how religiosity is the default. You see, he's neutral, America is religious. He makes crap up reports, you blindly accept his arguments.

In this version of history, not only are secular folks wrong about how the country and culture should run, they're also falling short of the Founders' noble example and ideal about what America was supposed to be. I guess this is supposed to operate as a kind of national version of Catholic guilty? Anyway, nice try, Dennis. That's certainly annoying, but it's not very convincing.

So after building up all the expectations for what this election means, Dennis finally does a favor and defines at least one of his terms:
And what would constitute a Democratic victory next Tuesday? Anything other than a Republican landslide. 
Hmm, a surprising feint toward even-handedness. Let's wait and watch what Dennis says after the election. Personally, I'm suspicious about what a "landslide" might be interpreted to mean if things wind up not going certain people's way.