Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
This one has been creating quite a furor while I was away this weekend. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad, the American antagonist and Holocaust denier, is scheduled to speak at Columbia University in New York today.
In defending the Ivy League university’s invitation, Dean John Coatsworth told Fox News that they’d invite Hitler if he were in town. Glad I live on the Left Coast. The dean’s message can be seen here and below:
The Manhattan campus has long been a destination for bright Jewish high school seniors, well before other Ivies dropped the Jew quotas. The New York Sun notes the irony of Jewish students learning of today’s globe-trotting guest after breaking fast and singing online after Yom Kippur ended Saturday.
Dean Coatsworth seems to be laboring under the illusion that had Columbia actually hosted Hitler in the late 1930s, World War II and the war against the Jews might have been prevented. The dean appears to be ignorant of history. The archives of the New York Times disclose that in December 1933, Columbia’s president, Nicholas Butler, extended an invitation to Hitler’s ambassador, Hans Luther. A protest was made by the Social Problems Club, which, according to the report in the Times, said: “Inviting the Nazi envoy to lecture on the foreign policy of his government and giving him an official reception means not only failing in our duty to oppose the Nazi onslaught on culture and in our duty to defend our German colleague but signifies, if not an open endorsement of the Nazi actions, at least placing their principles on the same level with other viewpoints.”
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September 22, 2007 | 9:05 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Note: This post was prompted by that story about Simi Valley billing a church for policing a protest against the congregation
When I interned at the Ventura County Star, I sat across from one Zeke Barlow. (Yes, in large part he can be blamed for what I have become.) Zeke wrote great stuff before I met him and has had even better since. But one of my favorite Zeke’s was “A Candidate for Governor With a Sense of Humor? Believe it.”
Unfortunately, the Star’s archives leave much to be desired, and I can’t even find a cache for this story online, so I’m going to paste the entire June 29, 2006, piece below. Happy weekend reading.
Elisha Shapiro is a candidate for governor you just can’t believe in. Why should you? He doesn’t. He doesn’t believe in anything. He’s a nihilist.
In a chaotic world, Shapiro thinks believing in anything - God, religion, Democrats, clubs, love, any notion of right or wrong - does more harm than good. So he’s not about to ask people to start believing in something, much less him.
But he thinks - not believes - that as the National Nihilist Party write-in candidate, he could make a better California governor than those other two guys.
“I’m not trying to make people better off, and I’m not trying to proselytize,” Shapiro said after a Tuesday campaign stop in Ventura. “I don’t think it’s going to make a bit of difference if people think like me or not.”
Shapiro, 52, just wants people to know there is another choice, that it’s OK to think differently, to not buy what the media are selling, and that everything in this world is always changing.
He also wants California to secede from the United States. No point in those folks in the middle of the country dictating what we here on the left coast need to do about abortion, gay marriage or how our taxes are spent, he said.
On Tuesday, when Shapiro handed out his campaign material to potential voters as he gnawed on a toothpick that poked out from two days of gray stubble, he offered his constituents a caveat: “It’s a little unusual.”
His platform includes, but is not limited to: legalized marijuana so as to provide the world a quality product; friendly relations with Cuba and Venezuela to ensure good cigars and quality vacation destinations; marriage for gays only and no public kissing between straight couples; and support for scientists who actually discover things.
But while his stance may seem unusual, Shapiro himself seems somewhat normal.
Growing up in Southern California, the man named after a Biblical character always felt a bit different from other children. He was the artsy kid who didn’t fit into school cliques, much less his parents’ Jewish temple.
“I always felt like an outsider,” he said. “I’m not much of a joiner.”
Every time he explored one group or theory, he found that where an ideal might be right in one situation, it would be wrong in another. The only absolute was change.
After attending an experimental college in Berkeley where he studied philosophy and political science, he had a eureka moment when he first heard of nihilism, which Webster’s dictionary defines as “the denial of the existence of any basis for knowledge or truth.”
And so a nihilist performing artist was born.
He started putting on obscure performances like the Nihilist Olympics in downtown Los Angeles, where anyone could compete in the U-turn driving competition. He snapped moody black-and-white photos of his favorite things: guns, genitals and TV. And he started his political life when he ran for president in 1988. He lost.
Actually, he wasn’t even officially a candidate because he didn’t jump through the hurdles of paperwork in all 50 states.
When he ran for Los Angeles County Sheriff in 1994, he registered as an official write-in candidate. He lost again. But he did receive 241 votes, which, he said, was more than any other write-in candidate.
He didn’t get involved in Gray Davis’ recall election because “it was a zoo.” Then, the nihilist would have had to compete with a porn star, an aging childhood actor and a Hollywood macho man. This time around, the political arena was wide open. So Shapiro, who teaches remedial writing at Santa Monica College when he’s not making a spectacle, jumped in with his latest performance-art piece.
“Behind all the humor is a serious message,” he said.
As much as anything, he’s running against what he sees as a growing push by the right wing to control everything. While he doesn’t believe in anything, he especially doesn’t believe in President Bush.
His campaign through the state is a modest one, and he wants to keep it that way.
His goal is to spend less than $1,000 because any more than that and he has to file all sorts of cumbersome paperwork. One thousand is also the number of votes he’s gunning for - just enough to justify his coffeehouse talks in San Diego, Sacramento and San Francisco.
And as much as he wants to get people to think a little, he wants them to laugh a lot. Nobody views his campaign as a bigger joke than the jokester himself.
His stumping in Ventura -which was really an opportunity for him and his live-in-girlfriend to browse Main Street’s thrift shops - took place in front of the offbeat punk store, Wild Planet, where bongs, Buddhas and bumper stickers adorned the front window.
“The people who frequent this place might have some sympathy to my solution,” said Shapiro.
Shapiro also ran into an old acquaintance who remembered him from junior high. Shapiro was a character then, and he hasn’t changed much, said Irv Hansen.
Shapiro continued, giving a piece of his mind to anyone who would take it.
“Have some literature,” he said. “I know it’s scary. You might like it.”
September 21, 2007 | 2:09 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
In the latest addition of UCLA Magazine, which went online today and should be in the mail for alumni, I have a cover story about the intersection of spirituality and scholarship.
I’ve written here that religion gets passing grades on college campuses, even secular ones like my alma mater. In this article, I focused on four students—a Christian, a Jew, a Hindu and a Muslim—and told their stories through the findings of the largest national study of college student spirituality.
My favorite vignette was that of Marco Gonzalez, a Mexico Jew who arrived at UCLA with little understanding of his heritage. That led him to the Chabad House (I guess all their outreach on campus does attract some students).
Brandon Kuiper arrived at UCLA with a strong Christian faith and an inquisitive scientific mind. He didn’t believe in evolution, but he was intent on studying neuroscience. Something was bound to give, but the biggest spiritual crisis in Kuiper’s 20 years came not from South Campus but from studying the philosophy of Voltaire and Hobbes and Kant and Freud.
“I was reading that stuff and I thought, âThis makes so much sense.’ I had to stop and evaluate why I am a Christian and what I believe,” he recalls. “I remember thinking, âWhat if I’ve been wrong all along?’ “ (skip) There’s certainly no shortage of seekers. A study by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) found that three-fourths of freshmen are “searching for meaning/purpose in life” and that half are either “seeking” or “doubting” their spiritual understanding of the world. Forty percent said it was very important they follow a set of religious teachings.
“It is the nature of the beast of people that age. It’s just part of being a college student,” says Alexander Astin, co-leader of the “Spirituality in Higher Education” study and an emeritus professor of higher education. “College students are on a developmental adventure.”
On a Wednesday night, Gonzalez enters the upstairs classroom at Chabad and pulls out his textbook, Jewish Essentials: A Spiritual Guide to Jewish Life & Living. “In the last couple of classes, we learned about the paramount importance of the Torah,” Rabbi Dovid Gurevich, the Chabad campus co-director, says. “The Torah was received at Mt. Sinai, and the next holiday we celebrate, Shavuot, reminds us of that. That is very nice, but we have to make it practical and real ... We have to learn ways to make it real in our daily lives.” Tonight Gonzalez and three other students learn about the mezuzah (a sacred parchment hung on door posts to make holy the room inside) and tefillin (the boxes containing passages of the Torah and the leather straps Orthodox Jews use for prayer). On college-ruled paper, Gonzalez takes detailed notes. “I want to be able to pass on these traditions to my children,” he says. “I want to know what I’m talking about, so that when they have questions I don’t have to say, âAsk a rabbi.’ “ Gonzalez departs about 9:30 and heads straight to Powell to finish studying for a midterm the next day on international relations of the Middle East. But he doesn’t mind staying up late and getting up early if it means not missing the time at Chabad. “I would rather go to Chabad and learn it and enjoy it there, and just put in some extra time into my classes,” Gonzalez says. “I’ve been taking the class at Chabad, and it’s almost like having another class for school. But it’s a more important subject. It is the subject of our lives.”The art for this story is amazing, and, to be honest, does a good job embarrassing my reporting. Let’s hope the Bruins football team doesn’t add insult tomorrow.
September 21, 2007 | 12:15 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
I heard on NPR this morning that God had filed a response in Nebraska court to that ridiculous lawsuit against Him for “widespread death, destruction and terrorization.”
“This one miraculously appeared on the counter. It just all of a sudden was here - poof!” said John Friend, clerk of the Douglas County District Court in Omaha.
Here’s the rest of the legal briefing from the Associated Press:
Signed by “God,” the response filed Wednesday argues the defendant is immune from some earthly laws and the court lacks jurisdiction over God.
Blaming the Almighty for human oppression and suffering misses an important point, it says.
“I created man and woman with free will and next to the promise of immortal life, free will is my greatest gift to you,” according to the response.
The Archangel Michael is listed as a witness. No, this blog, nor the AP, has not been hijacked by The Onion. Heaven help us.
September 21, 2007 | 9:08 am
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
People say the United Nations is a joke. But what a punchline:
Two weeks after Israel’s alleged bombing raid in Syria which some foreign reports said targeted North Korean nuclear material, the UN’s nuclear watchdog elected Syria as deputy chairman of its General Conference on Monday.
The 51st session of the General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) opened in Vienna on Monday and will run through Friday.
The Syrian news agency SANA proudly reported the election on Tuesday, adding that Syria was also successful in including “the Israeli nuclear arsenal as an item on the agenda of the conference.”
That’s right. The country that’s suspected of buying nuclear material from North Korea is now ostensibly policing non-proliferation. Yeah, right. Seraphic Secret likens the appointment to:
1. Putting a pedophile in charge of a kindergarten.
2. Appointing Goering to head up the Nuremberg Trials.
3. Having Lindsay Lohan as your drug counselor.
September 21, 2007 | 8:58 am
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
GetReligion has a good round-up of the story of John McCain telling a reporter that he’s not an Episcopalian but a Baptist. I know this sounds like a thrilling topic, but it touches on an important issue: The way we view Christians depends on what kind of Christian we assume they are.
AIKEN, S.C. (AP) â Republican presidential candidate John McCain said Monday that questions over whether he identifies himself as a Baptist or an Episcopalian are not as important as his overarching faith. âThe most important thing is that I am a Christian,â the Arizona senator told reporters following two campaign stops in this early voting state.
I donât care whether Republican presidential candidate John McCain is an Episcopalian or a Baptist.
But the implication in Mondayâs paper that heâd been caught at something â outed while trying to pass as an Episcopalian â hit a nerve.
Why do we diss Baptists?
Powellâs story is one of church social rankings, avoiding the term âBaptistâ and whether oneâs church parking lot is filled with âMercedes and BMWsâ or âFords and Chevys.â
September 20, 2007 | 3:29 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
I mentioned last week what Seymour Hersh told me about the academics behind “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.” Today, The Jewish Journal published my interview with the legendary muckraker. Here’s a sampling:
JJ: You’re not a fan of President George W. Bush. Do you look at things in terms of Jan. 20, 2009?
SH: Absolutely. Absolutely. No matter who will be there.
JJ: Do you have one of those countdown clocks on your desk?
SH: No. Somebody gave me one, but I thought it would be too cute. You know, he’s got power. He’s still president.
JJ: You mentioned that there are plenty of things you know that you can’t write about.
SH: The bottom line is nobody in this government talks to me. I’ve been around for 40 years—in Bush I, in the Reagan years, certainly in Democratic regimes, but even in Republican regimes where I am more of a pain—I’ve always had tremendous relationships with people. This is the first government in which in order to get my stories checked out to make sure I’m not going to kill some American, I have to go to peoples’ mailboxes at night, people I talk to and know, and put it in their mailbox before turning it into The New Yorker, to get them to read it and say, “Oh, Page 4, you better not say that, Hersh.”
I can’t do that with the government. I used to always go and sit down and talk with the heads of the CIA and heads of other agencies. These guys are just really quantitatively different. You are either with us or against us across the board. And this is why I count days.
JJ: New York magazine has a profile this week of Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report, and they call him “America’s Most Influential Journalist.” What have bloggers like Drudge done to journalism, and how do you think it compares to the muckrakers that you came of age with?
SH: There is an enormous change taking place in this country in journalism. And it is online. We are eventually—and I hate to tell this to The New York Times or the Washington Post—we are going to have online newspapers, and they are going to be spectacular. And they are really going to cut into daily journalism.
I’ve been working for The New Yorker recently since ‘93. In the beginning, not that long ago, when I had a big story you made a good effort to get the Associated Press and UPI and The New York Times to write little stories about what you are writing about. Couldn’t care less now. It doesn’t matter, because I’ll write a story, and The New Yorker will get hundreds of thousands, if not many more, of hits in the next day. Once it’s online, we just get flooded.
So, we have a vibrant, new way of communicating in America. We haven’t come to terms with it. I don’t think much of a lot of the stuff that is out there. But there are a lot of people doing very, very good stuff.
JJ: Bush recently compared Iraq to Vietnam in a positive way. What do you think he learned from the Vietnam War?
SH: He seems to have learned from lessons that were not very valid. Nobody wants to be a loser. Bush is going to disengage to some degree, and he’s going to claim the country is more stable. He’s just going to say whatever he wants, and he’s going to get away with it because who knows what is going on in Basra. Nobody I know in their right mind would go down there. You’d get whacked.
And the Democrats have fallen into the trap of saying, “We shouldn’t get out.” As far as I am concerned, there are only two issues: Option A is to get out by midnight tonight, and Option B is to get out by midnight tomorrow.
September 20, 2007 | 1:26 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
SIMI VALLEY - In an unusual twist on the national immigration debate, the city of Simi Valley sent a $40,000 bill Wednesday to a church harboring an undocumented immigrant after a protest there over the weekend prompted a police presence.
The United Church of Christ has played host for several months to a Ventura woman named Liliana, a Mexican citizen seeking sanctuary from immigration laws.
On Sunday, the anti-illegal immigration group Save Our State sent a contingent of 100 protesters to Royal Avenue outside UCC, hollering slogans into bullhorns, toting signs and waving American flags. The church’s advocates dispatched more than two dozen counter-protestors who chanted in opposition.
Four Simi Valley Police Department officers arrived to keep an eye on things, swelling to 15 cops as the crowd grew. Aside from a minor scuffle between two protestors, all sides agreed the standoff was peaceful and orderly. Police arrested no one.
But the city was unhappy with footing the bill for the overtime and associated costs and decided someone had to pay.
The church got left holding the check.
That’s from the LA Daily News. But one of my other former employers, the Ventura County Star, reported today that Simi Valley is fixing for a lawsuit because its action stifled the church’s right to protest immigration policies.
“Paying for the cost of a political demonstration like this is paying for protection of freedom of expression, which is the price of living in a democracy,” ACLU attorney Peter Bibring said Wednesday. “If people had to pay, no one would ever demonstrate.”
Blogger and UCLA legal scholar Eugene Volokh makes an appearance, saying that a) regardless of whether the UCC congregation was breaking immigration laws, the city’s action was out of line and b) that Simi politicians are sticking their nose where it doesn’t belong (in federal business).
“They are complaining about a violation that isn’t their law and they are talking about an expense that is an indirect consequence of their illegal conduct,” he said. “On balance, their argument is so very weak, they are likely to lose.”