Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Geert Wilders’ new film, “Fitna,” has been getting a lot of attention. A former Malaysian diplomat said the film, which is highly critical of Islam, would make the rioting and violence sparked by the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad look like a “picnic.”
The film was originally posted at LiveLeak today but was taken down after 3 million views and a lot of threats.
In place of the video Friday afternoon, a brief and poignant message appears on-screen: “Following threats to our staff of a very serious nature…. LiveLeak has been left with no choice but to remove Fitna from our servers.
“This is a sad day for freedom of speech on the net…. We would like to thank the thousands of people from all backgrounds and religions who gave us their support.”
GoogleVideo still has a 17-minute clip from “Fitna.” Many images are very, very disturbing—from the physical brutality of a beheading to the rhetorical venom of a 3-year-old girl who says Allah told her Jews are pigs and apes—and some resemble segments of “The Path to the Final Solution.” Fortunately, most Muslim Americans shy away from such extremist attitudes. Most.
(Hat tip: Bloggish)
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March 28, 2008 | 11:53 am
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
I mentioned the masterful pen of Ari Shavit earlier this week, and now I provide you further evidence of his incisive stroke. His victim, Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister with an approval rating lower than Isiah Thomas. From Ha’aretz, via the Bintel Blog:
Ehud Olmert has many good qualities. The prime minister is a good friend to his comrades, a devoted father to his children, and is loyal to his followers. He is not brilliant, but he is intelligent. He is not profound, but he is pragmatic. Energetic, diligent and levelheaded. Olmert has many of the traits required of a decision maker. He also has a virtuoso ability to create networks of power, reinforce them and activate them in times of need.
Olmert is a gifted and multifaceted politician. He knows how to be charming and how to be threatening, to play a man of the world but also to relate to ordinary people. It is doubtful if there is anyone in Israel with more connections. It is doubtful if there is anyone like him who knows how to woo the powerful and pal around with criminals.
And nevertheless, the prime minister has one shortcoming that overshadows all his good qualities: The man lacks substance. He has no worldview and no overall picture of reality. He has no ethical foundations and no structural principles. Olmert has no core. He has no Tablets of Stone. In the most profound sense, he does not know where he came from and where he is going. That is why today he can say the opposite of what he said yesterday, without batting an eyelash. Nor does he have any difficulty saying one thing and doing another. Since he is guided by litigation rather than the truth, the prime minister is capable of changing his skin and changing his policy like a chameleon. That is why he is a serial exploiter of opportunities and a brilliant survivor, but a hopeless shaper of reality.
As a captain without direction and without a compass, Olmert stretches his opportunism to the absurd and his pragmatism to the point of losing the way. He arouses passions and engages in sleight of hand and is occasionally hypnotic, but in his 40 years in politics he has not left any mark. Even in his two years as prime minister he has not done anything genuine.
March 28, 2008 | 11:48 am
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
There is an interesting dust-up in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, a more theologically conservative version of its mainline Protestant brethren. It deals with the abrupt and unexplained cancellation of the synod’s popular radio program, “Issues, Etc.” And I was notified of it by M.Z. Hemingway, who blogs for GetReligion and wrote this article for the Wall Street Journal.
Usually radio hosts have to offend sacred moral sensibilities to be thrown off the air. Opie and Anthony were fired after they encouraged a couple to have sex in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Don Imus lost his job after using racist and sexist epithets against the Rutgers University women’s basketball team.
But when the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod canceled its popular, nationally syndicated radio program “Issues, Etc.,” listeners were baffled. Billed as “talk radio for the thinking Christian,” the show was known for its lively discussions analyzing cultural influences on the American church. It seemed like precisely the thing that the Missouri Synod, a 2.4-million-member denomination whose system of belief is firmly grounded in Scripture and an intellectually rigorous theology, would enthusiastically support.
Broadcast from the nation’s oldest continuously run religious radio station, KFUO-AM in St. Louis, and syndicated throughout the country, “Issues, Etc.” had an even larger audience world-wide, thanks to its podcast’s devoted following. With 14 hours of fresh programming each week, the show was on the leading edge of what’s happening in culture, politics and broader church life. The Rev. Todd Wilken interviewed the brightest lights from across the theological spectrum on news of the day. Guests included Oxford University’s Dr. Alister McGrath, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Albert Mohler and more postmodern types, like Tony Jones, national coordinator for a church network called Emergent Village.
On its last show, on March 17, listeners learned about the life and faith of St. Patrick; scientific and philosophical arguments in defense of the human embryo; the excommunication of two Roman Catholic women who claimed ordination; and the controversy surrounding the sermons of Barack Obama’s pastor, Jeremiah Wright.
Despite the show’s popularity, low cost and loyal donor base, Mr. Wilken and Jeff Schwarz, the producer of “Issues, Etc.,” were dismissed without explanation on Tuesday of Holy Week. Within hours, the program’s Web site—which provided access to past episodes and issues of its magazine—had disappeared. Indeed, all evidence that the show ever existed was removed.
So what happened? Initially, the bureaucrats in St. Louis kept a strict silence, claiming that the show had been canceled for “business and programmatic” reasons. Yesterday the synod cited low local ratings in the St. Louis area and the low number of listeners to the live audio stream on the Web site. But the last time the synod tracked the size of the audience was three years ago, and it did not take into account the show’s syndicated or podcast following. The synod also claimed that the show lost $250,000 a year, an assertion that is at odds with those of others familiar with the operating budget of the station.
The Rev. Michael Kumm, who served on three management committees for the station, said that the explanation doesn’t add up. ” ‘Issues, Etc.’ is the most listened to, most popular and generates more income than any other program at the station and perhaps even the others combined. This decision is purely political,” he said.
He may well be right. The program was in all likelihood a pawn in a larger battle for the soul of the Missouri Synod. The church is divided between, on the one hand, traditional Lutherans known for their emphasis on sacraments, liturgical worship and the church’s historic confessions and, on the other, those who have embraced pop-culture Christianity and a market-driven approach to church growth. The divide is well known to all confessional Christian denominations struggling to retain their traditional identity.
The Rev. Gerald Kieschnick, the synod’s current president, has pushed church marketing over the Lutherans’ historic confession of faith by repeatedly telling the laity, “This is not your grandfather’s church.”
March 28, 2008 | 10:23 am
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Kurt Westergaard made a life-changing decision when he penned the cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad with a bomb in his turban. He’s been living on the run, hiding from those who have swore to his death. But he doesn’t regret it.
“I would do it the same way (again) because I think that this cartoon crisis in a way is a catalyst which is intensifying the adaptation of Islam,” he told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday, speaking in English.
“Without a cartoon that provoked the Muslims, it would have been something else; a novel a play, a movie, this situation would have occurred sooner or later anyway.”
He said: “We are discussing the two cultures, the two religions as never before and that is important.”
“I have no problems with Muslims. I made a cartoon which was aimed at the terrorists who use an interpretation of Islam as their spiritual dynamite,” he said.
March 27, 2008 | 3:16 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
A few weeks ago, I was driving down the 710 and talking with an old colleague about the person I was en route to interview. My subject was Josh Lowenthal, the self-styled black sheep of his Long Beach family.
See, Josh has done well: he attended Cornell, lived in Israel and started and sold a few telecom businesses. But he remains the only member of the Lowenthal tribe to not hold elected office. His father, Alan, is a state senator; mother, Bonnie, is a Long Beach Councilwoman, as is his sister-in-law, Suja. And her husband, Josh’s brother Dan, is a Superior Court Judge.
“What’s the angle?” my friend asked.
“Well,” I quipped, “I’m pitching the profile as a microcosm of Jewish world dominance.”
This of course was not my approach, though I’ve written a lot about Jewish power and political involvement (never as insightfully as J.J. Goldberg) and about that century-old canard of a Jewish plan to takeover the world. Instead here I focused on the reasons Josh has yet to follow in his family’s footsteps and why he eventually will.
Lowenthal, 38, grew up in a progressive Jewish family, the kind of home that sang Bob Dylan songs on Shabbat. His parents, now divorced, both taught psychology at Cal State Long Beach and were active in the community. On returning home in the afternoon from public school, he’d encounter community meetings in his living room, often organized by his mother to address homeless issues.
“There is a deeply felt sense of tikkun olam [heal the world] that is based in that family in ways that I wish all families would emulate,” said Assemblyman Mike Feuer, whose then-L.A. City Council staff Josh Lowenthal joined after returning from Israel in the mid-‘90s. “It may not be always exclusively stated, though it is evident in the way they live, but one mission in life is to reach out and help other people. It is more than a political imperative for that family. For the Lowenthals it is a moral imperative.”
The clearest example of this in Josh Lowenthal’s life can be found in a social service building with an industrial faÃ§ade in the Port of Long Beach. The Long Beach Multi-Service Center is provided by the city to 14 agencies, including Goodwill, the Long Beach Rescue Shelter and Children Today. Here the homeless come to shower, do their laundry, check their voicemail, meet with social workers or, particularly in the case of children, simply get off the street.
Last month, Children Today served 762 children. Six weeks to 6 years old, they met from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. with caregivers who help them cope with losses as seemingly trivial, though not insignificant, as their toys and as traumatic as a family member.
“It’s day care with a therapeutic component,” said Dora Jacildo, the charity’s executive director.
Children Today started in 1997, and Lowenthal joined the board four years later. It provided a channel for Lowenthal, who by the end of the dot-com boom was doing quite well, to give back to the people he thought needed the most help.
The toddlers parrot their teacher as he walks in and out of their classroom on a recent visit. Lowenthal wears a gray pinstripe suit and light-blue shirt, his beard trim and his prematurely gray hair gelled and spiked. He speaks as proudly of Children Today—the only homeless program accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children—as he does of the telecommunication companies he started or his nightclub, Sachi.
“For him, it’s a world of promise. And he looks for vehicles to bring that promise to fruition,” said his mother. “He experienced so much support as a youngster growing up in Long Beach, and I think he is trying his hardest to give back.”
And if Ellis isn’t recalled, this certainly won’t be the last time Josh Lowenthal is mentioned as a political candidate.
“I don’t have to be an elected official,” he hastened. “I really believe there are two types of elected officials: There are those who want to do something and those who want to be something. I really want to do something—and will, whether elected of not.”
(Image: The District Weekly)
March 27, 2008 | 2:44 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Purim is like the Jewish Mardi Gras, complete with altar-ego antics and binge drinking. My VideoJew colleague, Jay Firestone, who has proven quite the formidable Scrabulous opponent, brings you up to speed in this video on “The Purim Hangover.”
March 27, 2008 | 10:58 am
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Now I don’t believe science will prove God doesn’t exist, but the Higgs boson is a hypothetical particle that would help explain how massless elementary particles create matter. Dubbed the “God particle,” scientists have been clamoring to discover it for the past few years.
“The Higgs boson is interesting because it is the only reasonable explanation we have for the origin of mass,” says Dave Rainwater, a researcher at FermiLab. “Without the Higgs, all fundamental particles would be massless, and the universe would be very different. The weak nuclear forces wouldn’t be weak at all, for instance, so the elemental composition of the cosmos would be radically different, stars would shine differently, and we probably wouldn’t exist.”
The best experimental data on the Higgs boson so far comes from experiments done with the LEP collider at CERN, near Geneva, in 2000. Results indicated that the Higgs particle was too heavy to be detected by the collider and that it probably had a mass of 114 billion electron-volts (GeV). The Tevatron is expected to be able to spot the Higgs in a couple of years, if it is not heavier than 170 GeV to 180 GeV.
If all else fails, the Large Hadron Collider being built at CERN, scheduled to go online in 2007, is designed to guarantee discovery of the Higgs. With a 27-kilometer-circumference tunnel, the LHC will collide protons at seven times the energy levels of the Tevatron.
And the payoff for whoever discovers the Higgs boson? Nothing less than a Nobel Prize. “Its discovery would be one of the crowning achievements of modern science, and validate decades of intense research,” says John Conway, a professor at Rutgers University.
“We believe that the Higgs is the key to unlocking the mystery of the elementary particles: the quarks and the leptons. The standard model does not give us the answers to many questions: Why are there three ‘generations’ of matter particles? Why do they have the masses and electric charges that they do? The Higgs is believed to be related to the mechanism by which the matter particles get their mass, but there is no good theory yet as to why different particles have different masses.”
In other words, scientists believe the Higgs holds the key to our existence and the answer to God’s too. In anticipation of the Large Hadron Collider experiment, which did not occur last year but is planned for this summer, Newsweek spoke with theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg, who has a skeptical view of the need for religion but assures that the discovery of the Higgs will not bring an end to faith.
After this experiment, will we have a final theory of how the universe was created?
It is possible that this experiment will give theoretical physicists a brilliant new idea that will explain all the particles and all the forces that we know and bring everything together in a beautiful mathematically consistent theory. But it is very unlikely that a final theory will come just from this experiment. If had to bet, I would bet it won’t be that easy.
As we come closer to developing an ultimate theory of the universe, how will this impact religion?
As science explains more and more, there is less and less need for religious explanations. Originally, in the history of human beings, everything was mysterious. Fire, rain, birth, death, all seemed to require the action of some kind of divine being. As time has passed, we have explained more and more in a purely naturalistic way. This doesn’t contradict religion, but it does takes away one of the original motivations for religion.
You’ve said that Darwin’s theory of natural selection was the biggest step in this direction. What about the possible findings in particle physics?
I don’t think that discoveries in elementary particle physics in themselves are likely to have anything like the impact of Darwin’s theory. After all, I don’t know of any religious people who say that the breaking of the symmetry between the weak and the electromagnetic interactions requires divine intervention. Discovering the Higgs boson, confirming the theory of electroweak symmetry breaking, is not going to upset people’s religion.
March 26, 2008 | 7:06 am
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
We are now firmly into March Madness, with the Sweet Sixteen beginning tomorrow, and that means three things: decreased work productivity, a deep run by the Bruins and a lovable Jewish coach known best for his high-flying persona and his creamsicle-orange sports coat. I’m not a Tennessee fan, but I do like Bruce Pearl (pictured in less clothes than usual), even if he does have a penchant for hugging women my age. He received this favorable profile in The Washington Post:
He is the grandson of an Austrian Jew who came to America in the 1920s and lost scores of relatives in the Holocaust. He was reared conservatively by his parents, Barbara and Bernie Pearlmutter, a salesman who shortened the name to Pearl for convenience sake, in Boston in the racially charged 1970s. He learned to think hard about right and wrong on social issues such as forced busing, to appreciate the ethnic mix of Boston from Southie to the North End, and to defend his faith with his fists.
“I grew up watching kids swing at each other because their skin was a different color,” he says.
Pearl was a three-sport star at Sharon High who consciously set out to counter stereotypes. “And of course there was something stereotypically not tough about being Jewish,” he says. He resented it when the annual athletic banquets would begin with “In Christ’s name we pray.” It made him feel discounted, excluded. God was with him, too, he told himself. When his friends crossed themselves, he made the Star of David.
When he was a senior, he was playing first base one afternoon when a base runner called him a “Jew Boy.” Pearl tapped his glove, signaling the pitcher to throw to first. When the ball slapped into Pearl’s mitt, he whirled, smacked it into the runner’s face and started swinging. “I went to dukes,” he says. He was tossed from the game.
He had his choice of local colleges, but he specifically chose Boston College because it was the best sports school in town, and because he wanted to prove a Jewish student could make it at a Catholic university.
“I wanted kids to meet someone who was Jewish, and have them say, ‘Gosh, you don’t look Jewish, or act Jewish,’ ” he says. “I wanted to talk about religion, to have those discussions.”
When Pearl took his team on tour of Europe last summer, he scheduled a stop at the Terezin concentration camp. As they toured the site, he told his players, “They killed 6 million of us 50 years ago ‘cause of how we prayed.”
Shortly before the team reconvened on campus this fall, Pearl’s daughter Leah celebrated her bat mitzvah, and Pearl invited his players. He beams as he tells the story of how warm it made him feel to gaze through the crowd at the Heska Amuna synagogue and see his players towering over the heads of the guests, some of the Vols 6 feet 9 or taller.
“Here came these talk, dark, handsome men, all wearing yarmulkes,” Pearl says delightedly. Then he adds his favorite detail: how he heard some of the players greeting the other well-wishers.
“They were going, ‘Shalom, y’all.’ “
(Hat tip: GetReligion)