Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Everyone is familiar with an insurance company refusing to pay a claim. But what do you do when your post-Rapture pet insurance falls through?
There was a story going around last year about Bart Centre’s Eternal Earth-Bound Pets rescue. In a story that was just too easy for many media outlets to re-report, Centre claimed to have made at least $35,000 by taking on about 260 clients. After, the Mayan apocalypse was approaching, and that was if we survived beyond Harold Camping’s predicted end of the world.
No word on After the Rapture Pet Care’s BBB rating. But it turns out that Centre’s Eternal Earth-Bound Pets was nothing but a fabrication. A big hoax that fooled a lot of reputable media outlets (see, for example, here and here and here and here).
Religion News Service has the story:
Bart Centre, who lives in New Hampshire, came clean after the state Insurance Department delivered a subpoena because he appeared to be engaged in “unauthorized business of insurance” through his Eternal Earth-Bound Pets business.
“Eternal Earth-Bound Pets employs no paid rescuers,” Bart Centre wrote in a blog post on March 16. “It has no clients. It has never issued a service certificate. It has accepted no service contract applications nor received any payments—not a single dollar—in the almost three years of its existence.”
Centre’s business was reported widely by Religion News Service, NPR, The Washington Post, The Associated Press, CBS News, the BBC, Bloomberg Businessweek, The Huffington Post and other media outlets in the past year.
I can’t believe anyone was surprised that Centre’s business was not real. The truly shocking thing is that no one really did the diligence to smoke out this phony in the first place. How, without actually talking with a single client, did NPR originally report this “story”?
Right now Eternal Earth-Bound Pets has contracts with 259 clients — that means roughly $35,000 in contracts — and is set to rescue dogs, cats, a cockatoo and even a horse in Montana in the event of the Rapture.
Centre assures potential clients that his staff will still be on Earth after doomsday by testing employees to confirm that they are Atheists. How does he do that? Well, he just asks them to commit blasphemy.
“They are all very willing to do that. And that confirms that even in the absurdly remote chance that we are wrong and the believers are right, our rescuers are going nowhere.”
It seems like someone cut a few corners on this story. Even worse is how this story was re-reported by numerous media outlets without anyone raising the authenticity question. How was it that no one had their BS radar working well enough to detect this hoax?
(Hat tip: Sarah Pulliam Bailey)
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March 21, 2012 | 10:10 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Well, I was wrong. I don’t mind admitting when I am, but I don’t particularly like feeling this bad about it.
Like many, I didn’t believe that Invisible Children co-founder Jason Russell was just suffering from “exhaustion, dehydration and malnutrition” last week when he was hospitalized after some really bizarre behavior in Pacific Beach. Moreover, I was surprised to see Invisible Children and many of my friends, several of whom have worked for Invisible Children or are close with the early staff, stand by Russell. In a different context, I thought, this guy would be looking for a new job.
But then news came out today that Russell had suffered from a “reactive psychosis”—and acute reaction to all the sleep he had lost and stress he had endured after “KONY 2012” went viral and every cable news and network morning show wanted him on air. This gibes with what Ford Vox wrote at The Atlantic over the weekend. Vox, a brain injury physician and journalist, wrote:
Based on my read of the reporting out Friday and after viewing TMZ’s video—and this is only one brain injury physician’s reading—it is highly unlikely that Jason Russell’s behaviors in the streets of San Diego on Thursday March 15th were intentional. It is much more likely that he was experiencing a psychotic episode—a manic state—an event as recognizable to some clinicians as a heart attack. There are many possible endogenous or exogenous causes for such behaviors beyond a “purely” mental illness such as Bipolar Disorder (antibodies to certain regions of the brain, for example, or LSD), and these will have to be ruled out by Russell’s doctors. Depending on his medical and psychological history and any other symptoms he may be exhibiting, numerous lab tests and studies could be necessary to determine his diagnosis and treatment.
Now Russell’s family has said the same. The AP reports:
Russell’s family said that the filmmaker’s behavior was not due to drugs or alcohol. He was given a preliminary diagnosis of brief reactive psychosis, in which a person displays sudden psychotic behavior.
“Doctors say this is a common experience given the great mental, emotional and physical shock his body has gone through in these last two weeks. Even for us, it’s hard to understand the sudden transition from relative anonymity to worldwide attention — both raves and ridicules, in a matter of days,” Danica Russell said in a statement.
Researchers don’t know how many people suffer from the condition, mainly because symptoms are fleeting, but those with personality disorders are at greater risk for having an episode. Brief reactive psychosis is triggered by trauma or major stress such as an accident or death of a loved one. Other stressors can include sleep deprivation or dehydration.
I mention this now because Russell’s sickness, for which he will spend several weeks in the hospital, raises very interesting questions about how organizations should respond to leaders who appear troubled.
The world saw Russell as nuts. In what has been a sadly polarized treatment of the Invisible Children cause, many seemed to cheerlead Russell’s personal and very public breakdown. And Twitter ran wild with wholly offensive mockeries of Russell and the cause that Invisible Children has been fighting for. Inside the walls, though, I saw friends and longtime supporters of Invisible Children standing by Russell and simply asking people to pray for him and for the future of Invisible Children and its efforts in Africa.
I was somewhere between. I had the sense that news reports had a lot of gaps and were overplaying the sensational allegations. (For example, Slate originally ran the headline “KONY 2012 Filmmaker Arrested for Public Masturbation”—which they later corrected because Russell wasn’t arrested; the masturbation detail, which never seemed believable, has disappeared from more recent news stories, and I suspect that it’s because it didn’t happen.
I had my own theories, and they revolved around too much alcohol interacting with too little sleep and hydration, and maybe a weak stomach.
All the while I wondered how so many could stand by Russell even if his behavior had hurt the organization they support. Vox’s article was the first to make me think about an alternative understanding of the situation.
I strongly suspect that the supportive reaction to Russell had something to do with the religious perspective shared by many Invisible Children supporters. As I’ve mentioned before, Invisible Children comes from a very Christian place. They’ve gone out of their way to not be perceived as a Christian ministry, but the people involved, and particularly the leadership, are largely from an evangelical Christian background. And I wonder how much that affected the reaction to Russell’s hospitalization.
Maybe it isn’t something limited to Invisible Children’s Christian roots—maybe it’s the religious roots and the culture of compassion that run through the group. Maybe the same would be seen at any number of non-sectarian nonprofits trying to heal the world from a religious place.
I certainly can’t imagine the same reaction if Russell’s employer was a school board or notable local business. Or a celebrity? No way. But, in hindsight, it seems like the loving reaction, the supportive, embrace, was the correct one.
I’m hopeful for Russell’s speedy and complete recovery—and interested to see how he uses his very public breakdown, on the heels of the biggest week since organization had seen, to tell a different story and maybe address another cause.
March 21, 2012 | 12:08 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Moshe Zigelman, the Spinka rabbi sentenced to 24 months in 2009 for his role in a tax fraud, has been ordered back to the clink. This time it’s for contempt of court: Zigelman has refused to testify against fellow Jews before a grand jury further investigating the tax fraud scheme.
The Los Angeles Times reports:
Citing an ancient Jewish principle, Zigelman refused to testify, telling a federal judge forcefully during a contempt hearing through a Yiddish interpreter: “Because the transgression of mesira is so dire, my mind won’t change until I die.”
In December, in an order that was sealed because grand jury matters are confidential, U.S. District Court Judge Margaret M. Morrow held the rabbi in civil contempt.
Zigelman’s attorneys, who have maintained that no amount of earthly sanctions will compel the rabbi to change his steadfast beliefs and that his 1st Amendment right to religious freedom was being violated, appealed unsuccessfully to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Now, not all Jews—not even all Orthodox Jews—agree that Jews should not testify against other Jews. As JTA explained:
The concept of mesira, which literally means “delivery,” dates back to periods when governments often were hostile to Jews and delivering a Jew to the authorities could lead to an injustice and even death.
The rules of mesira still carry force within the Orthodox world, owing both to the inviolability of the concept’s Talmudic origins and the insular nature of many Orthodox communities. But they are also the subject of debate over whether the prohibition applies in a modern democracy that prides itself on due process and civil rights.
“The question of the parameters of the prohibition of mesira remains a dispute about how to apply it in a just democracy,” said Rabbi Michael Broyde, a law professor at Emory University.
That legally does not work against Zigelman. As long as his belief is sincere, the courts are prohibited constitutionally from evaluating whether Zigelman’s view is universally shared, in the majority or an anomaly; the courts cannot inspect the religious teachings of a denomination or try to determine the “correct” interpretation of denominational doctrine. (This is what made Mansour v. Islamic Education Center, in which the judge said he would apply “Islamic ecclesiastical law,” so unusual.)
However, what does hurt Zigelman is that the duty to testify is a religion-neutral law of general applicability. That’s how the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the denial of unemployment benefits to an individual fired for violating a state law prohibiting use of peyote in Employment Division v. Smith. And it’s why Craig X. Rubin and Lafley couldn’t get a religious-use exemptions from cannabis prohibitions. Background on both of those cases here and Temple 420 here and here.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act grants religious folks broader rights than the First Amendment, and requires that any substantial government burden pass strict scrutiny—meaning that the law is the least restrictive means of achieving a compelling government interest. That’s a fairly moving target, but the state’s police power interests are certainly high when the functioning of the legal system is at play. And it is difficult to imagine a less restrictive means to get needed testimony. Right now, only clergyman are presumed to be exempted from testifying when the information sought is from confidential communications, which to me seems similar to attorney-client privilege.
In discussing Zigelman’s predicament, my First Amendment professor Eugene Volokh notes that there is a little bit of case law:
Some Jews and at least one Mormon have argued that they are religiously obligated not to testify against their family members. One district court has held in favor of such a religious exemption claim, but two circuit courts have rejected them. Compare In re The Grand Jury Empaneling of the Special Grand Jury (3d Cir. 1999) (holding that the Free Exercise Clause didn’t allow a religiously motivated refusal to testify against a family member, at least in this case), and In re Doe (10th Cir. 1988) (same), with In re Greenberg, 11 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. 579 (D. Conn. 1982) (holding the opposite), and In re The Grand Jury Empaneling (McKee, J., dissenting) (same). Cf. Grossberg’s Parents Ask to Keep Talks Confidential, Newark Star-Ledger, Nov. 26, 1997, at 43 (“The parents of Amy Grossberg, the college student accused of killing her newborn in Delaware … argued in court papers that talks with their daughter should be kept secret and that it is a violation of their right to the free exercise of religion [for prosecutors] to force them to divulge information. Rabbi Joel Roth, a legal expert at the Jewish Theological Seminary [UPDATE: a prominent Conservative, not Orthodox, institution] in New York City, confirmed yesterday he wrote an affidavit for the Grossbergs, stating that ‘under Jewish law, a mother and/or a father are not allowed to give testimony against their child in any legal proceeding.’”).
That isn’t particularly favorable for Zigelman, in particular because those parties claimed narrower exemptions from the duty to testify—and two of them still lost, including both that were at the appellate level. Professor Volokh thinks that courts would find Zigelman’s broader claim “even less palatable.”
March 20, 2012 | 6:47 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Like Frank Bruni last month, Maureen Dowd spills New York Times news ink talking about how Mitt Romney can’t shake the feeling that he is a bottled up, out of touch presidential candidate, and in large part because he won’t talk about his Mormon faith, which is so central to his life.
But unlike Bruni, Dowd seems to poo-poo Mormon beliefs and devotes much of her op-ed to Mormon proxy baptisms, which are an easy, but unrepresentative, target.
As for why Romney won’t talk about his faith, it’s for the reasons we know to be true: too many of Romney’s would-be voters, conservative-leaning Christians, think that the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints is a cult. (Supporters of some of the other GOP candidates have said as much.) Even though the president of Fuller Theological Seminary has said that evangelicals can and should feel comfortable voting for a Mormon, that’s just not likely to happen—yet.
So Dowd writes:
Mitt works overtime pretending he’s a Nascar, cheesy-grits guy and masking his pride in his bank account and faith.
When he talked about his beliefs in his last presidential run, it sometimes provoked confusion, like this explanation to an Iowa radio host about the second coming of Christ: that Jesus would first appear in Jerusalem and then, “over the thousand years that follow, the millennium, he will reign from two places, the law will come from Missouri, and the other will be from Jerusalem.”
Just as Romney did not step up immediately after Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke “a slut,” he has yet to step up as the cases have mounted of Jews posthumously and coercively baptized by Mormons, including hundreds of thousands of Holocaust victims; the parents of the death camp survivor and Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal; and Daniel Pearl, the Jewish Wall Street Journal reporter murdered by Al Qaeda in Pakistan. (His widow, Mariane, told CNN she was “shocked.”)
I’m not sure why Romney should “step up” to discuss the proxy baptisms. He’s running for president of the United States, not of the LDS. Did we used to ask our Episcopalian U.S. presidents to defend the Archbishop of Canterbury or JFK to opine on the pope?
March 20, 2012 | 3:56 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Two years ago, Peter Beinart wrote a piece for the New York Review of Books that had the American Jewish community talking. It was titled “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment”—the heart of which was this: “For several decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism’s door, and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead.” Response to it was quite varied (see here and here and here).
That might not be so with Beinart’s latest NYT op-ed calling on Jews to boycott West Bank settlements for the sake of Israel. Rob Eshman, the publisher and editor-in-chief of The Jewish Journal, had this assessment of reactions: “Congrats Peter Beinart for unifying the Left and Right—against your dumb idea”. That’s no small feat.
Rob identifies five reasons why a boycott would backfire on its goal of bringing a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Here are numbers four and five:
4. Boycotts reek of stinky history.
Many commentators have raised this point. Even Beinart acknowledged it. Boycotts have long been used as a weapon against Jewish communities. To employ them in the context of Jew versus Jew in some way legitimizes the behavior of those who used them against us all throughout time.
5. Focusing the debate on the boycott wastes better opportunities for progress.
An incendiary op-ed in The New York Times will draw attention and help sell books. Mazel tov. But if your goal is to nudge a century-long dispute toward a peaceful resolution, there are many more thoughtful immediate steps that the American Jewish community can support.
One of them comes from Ami Ayalon, the former head of Shin Bet and former member of Knesset. His initiative, the Blue White Future, is focused on creating an orderly and peaceful re-absorption of settlers into Israel. Ayalon, whom, I met with in LA two months ago, is a tough former Navy commando who travels into the West Bank to meet with settlers and explain why their cooperation with a future settlement is key to the security of the state. If you want to do something good for Israel, at least like Ayalon’s group on Facebook.
Moreover, as Ziad Asali writes, there are numerous steps you can encourage the Americans and Israelis to take to lessen friction and increase the chances of a settlement. None of these involve pitting Jew against Jew. Click here to read them.
So that’s it. If you want to help bring peace to the Middle East, follow the advice of Israelis and Palestinians like Ayalon and Asali.
Or, help Peter Beinart sell books.
Read the rest here.
March 20, 2012 | 12:24 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
The attack at a French Jewish school yesterday that left four dead has shaken France’s Jewish community. There are still many unknowns from yesterday’s attack. But the murders have been linked to two earlier shootings of French paratroopers and details have emerged that the gunman had a camera rolling as he gunned down a teacher and three students outside the Jewish school in Toulouse.
The victims are going to be buried in Israel. Meanwhile, again evoking the horror of the North Valley JCC shootings in the San Fernando Valley, French Jews are trying to reconstruct their shattered sense of safety.
On Monday night, thousands of Jews and non-Jews, including politicians, gathered in Paris for a silent demonstration organized by the French Union of Jewish Students. One banner among the many French flags held aloft by the marchers read, “In France, Blacks, Jews and Arabs are killed.”
“It could have been anyone’s child,” said Jacques Benichou, the executive director of the Fonds Social Juif Unifié, the main French Jewish welfare organization, in a phone interview as he was boarding a plane for Paris Monday night after spending a large part of the day with Jewish leaders in Toulouse. “Even if the killer was targeting other minorities, there’s no escaping that he targeted Jewish children as well. We all feel deeply sad and very alarmed.”
Nicole Yardeni, one of the leaders of the Toulouse area branch of the CRIF, France’s main Jewish umbrella organization, said she was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support after the shooting.
“What I’m focusing on is how we feel about the outpouring of support from our neighbors, the country and beyond the country that came so quickly,” she said Tuesday. “Even the Jewish community of Istanbul has called us. And not just Jews; many people all over the world have reached out. It has been such a great help. We never expected such an outpouring of support.”
Yardeni’s son attended Ozar Hatorah a few years ago and she, like many in the 20,000- to 30,000-strong Jewish community in Toulouse, knew parents and teachers at the school.
She said the Paris-born rabbi killed in the attack, Jonathan Sandler, 30, was an enormously well-liked teacher who had just begun work at the school in July. Not everyone knew that he was an alumnus of Ozar Hatorah and, after 10 years of study and training in Israel, had decided to return.
“He wanted to give back to this school who had given him so much,” Yardeni said.
Tragic and heartbreaking doesn’t convey it.
March 19, 2012 | 9:56 am
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Tragic new from France this morning that evokes images of the North Valley JCC shooting in 1999. JTA reports that three students and a teacher were shot dead outside a Jewish school in Toulouse, France:
A man riding a motorbike reportedly opened fire Monday morning outside the Ozar Hatorah School, where students were waiting to enter the building at the start of the school day. The shooter then entered the building and continued shooting at students and teachers before fleeing on his motorbike.
Several students also were injured inside the building, according to reports. The dead are reported to be a teacher and his two sons, as well as the daughter of the school’s principal.
“Whoever did this is looking to target the Jewish community at its weakest point, its youth, in the hopes of spreading fear throughout the community,” said Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, in a statement. “They will not succeed. The Jews of Europe in general and the Jews of France in particular have a long history of standing firm against hatred and violence, and I know as a community French Jewry will send a message of strength and resilience in the face of those who wish to terrorize them.
“This is a brazen assault on France and French society, and another telling reminder of the dangers that exist for Jewish communities in today’s world,” said David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, in a statement. “We count on French authorities to pursue the investigation vigorously, arrest whoever is involved, and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law, as well as review security at Jewish institutions. We have confidence they will.”
March 17, 2012 | 6:51 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Pope Shenouda III, head of the Coptic Christian Church, has died. He was 88.
For more than 40 years, Shenouda worked to keep the peace between Egypt’s Muslim and Christian communities—no small task. But he also opposed Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel and was accused by Anwar Sadat of ratcheting up religions tensions.
Reuters reports on his life and death:
On most occasions, the Egyptian church under the leadership of Shenouda refrained from making any public criticism of the Egyptian authorities even when his its followers protested, complaining of discrimination and lax security around churches.
Shenouda and the Coptic church endorsed ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak when he ran for his fifth term in 2005, reflecting the views of many Copts, who saw Mubarak as a bulwark against Islamists such as the powerful Muslim Brotherhood.
Shenouda’s detractors sometimes accused him of authoritarian tendencies. In the mid-1990s, he faced a backlash within his own church over allegations he was marginalizing or ex-communicating priests who did not agree with his policies.
His decision to reject Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel and to speak out against a small Islamist insurgency in the 1970s that targeted some Christians temporarily saw him lose his freedom.
Read the rest here.
President Obama issued a statement. It’s after the jump: