Monday, December 22, 2008

Betrayed by Madoff, Yeshiva U. Adds a Lesson

I've started to think about planning my courses for next semester. One of them is an introductory course on Judaism, and I usually include a segment on Jewish ethics. Perhaps this time we should discuss business ethics according to Jewish teachings. Tomorrow's New York Times has an interesting article on the soul-searching going on at Yeshiva University in the wake of the Madoff scandal - Betrayed by Madoff, Yeshiva U. Adds a Lesson.

In Rabbi Benjamin Blech’s philosophy of Jewish law course, students pondered whether Jewish values had been distorted to reward material success.“This overrides everything else,” said Rabbi Blech, who has taught at Yeshiva for 42 years. “It is an opportunity to convey to students that ritual alone is not the sole determinant of our Judaism, that it must be combined with humanity, with ethical behavior, with proper values, and most important of all, with regard to our relationship with other human beings.”....

Rabbi Blech... said he, too, worried that community expectations had steered students away from public-service professions like teaching and toward more lucrative jobs.“In elevating to a level of demiworship people with big bucks, we have been destroying the values of our future generation,” he said. “We need a total rethinking of who the heroes are, who the role models are, who we should be honoring.”....

Rabbi Blech, for his part, turned to the Ten Commandments, noting that some focus on a person’s relationship with God, others on relationships with fellow human beings. He said that “both tablets are equally important.”

“Just because you eat kosher and observe the Sabbath does not make you good,” he explained. “If you cheat and steal, you cannot claim you are a good Jew.”

Links to articles on impact of Madoff on Jewish community

Minneapolis - Jewish groups reeling over Madoff scheme.

JTA article on Picower foundation and the groups it gave money to. This was a very large foundation - half a billion dollars in assets. In 2007 they gave about $2.5 million to Jewish groups.

Washington, D.C. - Local toll runs high in Madoff collapse.

Palm Beach, Florida, charities damaged by Madoff.

Baltimore - Jewish charities not struck by Madoff collapse.

Article on Boston and the views of Boston Jewish community leaders, in the Boston Globe.

And .... if you're curious to read an anti-Semitic article on Madoff, take a look at James Petras's article in Dissident Voice. His article is cloaked in a lot of Marxist and anti-Israel rhetoric, but is anti-Semitic nonetheless. (To get more of a flavor of his rhetoric, see his article, "Barack Obama: 'America's First Jewish President'"; see also this ADL article that includes a discussion of him). Dissident Voice, by the way, is the journal that has published Daniel McGowan's defense of Ernst Zundel, the convicted Neo-Nazi now sitting in a German jail for Holocaust denial. Update: McGowan has now written his own anti-Semitic take on Madoff for Dissident Voice: The Madoff Victims: Schadenfreude, not Anti-Semitism.

Why Hanukkah Still Matters

Edgar Bronfman has a nice column in the Washington Post on Hanukkah and the meanings it has (and can have) for American Jews -Why Hanukkah Still Matters.

He writes:
But the success and confidence of "assimilated" American Jews is also what makes them capable of creating a new kind of Judaism, one that may grow and thrive with freedom. The interest is there, among both in-married and intermarried families, but the knowledge is lacking. Jewish education must replace the fight against anti-Semitism as the focus of Jewish communal life. American Jews have the opportunity to create a Jewish practice that is based not in fear but in hope. And hope, after all, is the theme that runs so powerfully through both the Maccabees' story of triumph against all odds and the rabbis' story of the lasting power of a single flame.

The first step toward carrying on Judaism is to begin learning. American Jews should not let Christmas define Hanukkah--they should define it for themselves, based on knowledge of its multi-layered texts and traditions. I am convinced that Judaism still has much to offer to the world, with its spirit of questioning, its focus on living ethically, its communal ethos. And there may be a message for the world in the Hanukkah story. If the Maccabees had not been victorious, would monotheism have survived? Would Christianity or Islam ever have come into being? Perhaps the Hanukkah story should be cause for celebration outside the Jewish community as well as within.

It's an interesting question - if the Maccabees had not succeeded, would Judaism have survived as a separate religion? Would Christianity or Islam ever have come into being? I sometimes think about historical nexus points, where a single event would have led to a significant change in the future. (For a much more obscure example - what if King Sennacherib had succeeded in his siege of Jerusalem in 701 B.C.E.? It's possible that the kingdom of Judah would have been dissolved into the Assyrian empire, as the northern kingdom of Israel had been - in which case there would have been no Bible and no Judaism either).

Khaye, the Daughter of Yiftach

I'm in the midst of grading final exams for my Hebrew Scriptures course, and one of the questions that I set the students was an analysis of the story of Yiftach and his daughter, one of the most troubling stories in the Bible, in Judges 11. Yiftach makes a vow to sacrifice the first thing that comes out of his house if he is victorious in his battle against the Ammonites. He is victorious, and when he comes home, his daughter, who is his only child, runs out dancing with timbrels to greet him. It is she whom he must sacrifice. He does not retract his vow, and the implication at the end of the story is that he sacrificed her, after she spent two months in the hills mourning her virginity with her friends.

There is no moral condemnation of Yiftach in the story, as there is also no moral condemnation of Abraham in Genesis 22 when he prepares to sacrifice his son Isaac. In both cases, God has commanded or permitted the sacrifice of the child. The difference, of course, is that Yiftach actually goes through with it.

The story depicts the daughter of Yiftach as acquiescing in her father's vow. She says, "You have opened your mouth to YHWH - do to me according to what came out of your mouth, since YHWH has wreaked vengeance on your enemies, on the Ammonites." Since God has fulfilled his side of the vow - it was he who brought the Ammonites defeat at the hands of Yiftach - then Yiftach has to fulfill his side of the vow, and bring the sacrifice.

Would she really have acquiesced so calmly? (She is calm - her father is upset, panicked). My students, in their essays, explain her agreement with her father as submission to his will as the patriarch of the family who is due his daughter's obedience. I resist this interpretation - frankly, it seems tragic and sad that a young woman could agree to her own destruction.

So I have written a poem to express my own feelings about this story.

An Only Daughter

“To God Himself she is an only daughter”
an only daughter – bas-yekhide
who sits at God’s right hand,

his sister Khaye, green eyes and black braids*

Who else is an only daughter?
“She was his only daughter; aside from her he had neither son nor daughter”

And what did he say about her?
“Whatever comes, indeed comes, out of the doors of my house to greet me when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon will be for YHWH and I will raise it up as something raised-up.”

But it was not peace, it was war
He did not return in peace from the sons of Ammon,
He returned in war –
“He struck them from Aroer up to Minnit, twenty cities, as far as Avel-Keramim, a very great blow, and the sons of Ammon were subdued before the sons of Israel.”
I didn’t hear the old man’s words when he made his vow
He was in the Fortress of Gilead
but our house was in the Land of Good.
I don’t know why he went back there – his brothers used to call him
the Son of the Whore, the Son of the Other Woman
What did he owe them?
But when they called, he came
He still wanted them to give him his true inheritance
So he agreed to that strange scheme
To fight the sons of Ammon
And get what in return?
To be a judge – “his hand against every man, and every man’s hand against him”
What did he say when he saw it was his daughter, his only daughter?
“I opened my mouth to YHWH, and I cannot go back”
His name is Opener and indeed he opened the way but could not return on it
She was his troubler who brought him low
I danced out of the house with the drums in my hand
when I heard that Abba was returning
at last, from all the wars
Maybe this time he would stay in the Good Land
He was wearing his armor, with his sword on his hip
He looked at me,
suddenly, his eyes opened wide and he said,
“Alas, my daughter! I opened my mouth to YHWH, and I cannot go back.”
Go back from what? I opened my mouth to ask Abba,
and then I saw the sword in his hand
His eyes weren’t looking at me anymore
But at the tip of that sword
I look back on that scene from a great distance now
It’s almost as if I’m an observer now – the old weary grizzled man, the young girl with the drum in her hand, the men behind him unloading the donkeys
As he spoke, he slid his hand onto the hilt of his sword and pulled it out of the scabbard
then he was standing holding it almost at her throat

I don’t know how I was able to say it, I don’t remember how I was so calm
“Let this thing be done for me; let me alone two months and I will go and descend upon the hills, and I will weep for my virginity, I and my friends.”
He looked at the sword in his hand
The men behind him froze, the ropes in their hands falling to the ground
He looked down again at me
I was such a little gir
The sword fell, its tip digging into the ground
Sudden movement –
the men behind him took the load off the donkeys
Opener/Yiftach left the sword in the dust
He walked through the doors of his house
And I?
I went into the hills
I descended into the hills
And I never came back.
Sometimes it is possible to change the ending of the story

But the other girl? That one,
O, she returned to her father’s house, and
he did to her as he had vowed

“My sister Khaye with her eyes of green
A German burned her in Treblinka.”

And the four days of mourning of the daughters of Israel?
the tenth of Tevet, the twenty-seventh of Nissan, the seventeenth of Tammuz, and the ninth of Av

Note: Khaye is a reference to a poem by Binem Heller, "My Sister Khaye," which was written in memory of his sister who died at Treblinka. It was set to music by Chava Alberstein for her recording "The Well," which she did with the Klezmatics.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Foundation That Relied on Madoff Fund Closes

Another foundation is being forced to close its doors due to Madoff's Ponzi scheme - The Picower Foundation. It lost approximately $1 billion. One Jewish group that it gave money to is the Jewish Outreach Institute.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Jewish organizations that lost money with Madoff

Update: For another list, see article in the Forward. The list below has been updated from the Forward article.

The The New York Times has a list of Bernard Madoff's clients who have lost truly stunning amounts of money. They include some iconic Jewish organizations. Information below is from the NYT article and several others (see this Forward article). It is a truly grim story of betrayal of personal and institutional trust. There is a particularly horrifying detail from a story in the New York Jewish Week -
One private investor here said he was still in disbelief that all of his money was gone after he had entrusted it to a man who “over the years was a pillar of the community.”
“The whole story is so bizarre that it surpasses understanding,” he said. “I have known him for 20 years. Our relationship was close enough that when he was raising money for a cause because a family member was ill, I made a contribution and he hugged and kissed me. Knowing that relationship, it is impossible he could do this to me and all the other organizations and people he did it to. ... How a human being could turn that way on fellow human beings and charities and organizations that he respected and admired, I can’t fathom.”
In an article from the Forward, a statement on the impact on the Jewish community:
Mark Rosenblum, director of the Jewish Studies Center at Queens College said: “This is a much more Draconian hit on American Jewish philanthropy than the generalized credit crunch has been. This one man has demonstrated a capacity to radically impact American Jewish philanthropy and, even more important, elements of American civil society.”
Here's the list:

American Friends of Yad Sarah $1.5 million
American Jewish Congress (more than 2/3 of its endowment was invested with Madoff - he was treasurer of the board)
American Technion Society - $72 million
L. Bravmann Foundation $5 million
Chais Family Foundation (had assets of $178 million in May 2007)
Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun $3.5 million
Eisenberg Family Foundation $5.1 million (in 2006, donated $950,000 to Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey)
Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity $15.2 million
Forward Foundation $355,000
Hadassah $90 million (this is truly awful!)
Hillel Foundation $20,000 (thank God it's not more!)
Jewish Federation of Greater Washington $10 million
Jewish Foundation of Greater Los Angeles $6.4 million
Los Angeles Jewish Community Foundation $18 million
Jewish Community Centers Association of North America $7 million
Jewish Funds for Justice $3.9 million
Charles and Mary Kaplan Foundation (Rockville, MD) $29.2 million
U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg's foundation - $12.8 million
Julian J. Levitt Foundation $6 million
Madoff Family Foundation $19.1 million
Maimonides School $5 million.
North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System $5.7 million
Ramaz School $6 million
Robert I. Lappin Charitable Foundation $7 million
SAR Academy $1.2 million
Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family Foundation $145 million (has given money to Brandeis)
Technion-Israel Institute of Technology $6 million
Yeshiva University $100 to $125 million (Madoff also served as the board treasurer)
Mortimer Zuckerman Trust $30 million

Total known thus far: approximately $814 million

Other Jewish groups mentioned in articles that are tied to Madoff which may have lost money -

Kav Lachayim (received money from Madoff Family Foundation)
Lower East Side Tenement Museum
Gurwin Jewish Geriatric Center
Wunderkinder Foundation (Steven Spielberg) - has funded the Chabad charity Children of Chernobyl (in 2006, 70% of its dividend income and interest was handled by Madoff)
Lautenberg Foundation has given to the United Jewish Appeal of MetroWest ($352,000 in 2006)
American Committee for Weitzmann Institute (Chais Foundation donated money $1.4 million to them)
Hillel: Foundation for Jewish Campus Life (received $300,000 from Chais)
American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (money received from Chais)
The Shapiro Family Foundation has given to Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston, Jewish Home for the Aged in Palm Beach, and the Anti-Defamation League
Fifth Avenue Synagogue
State of Israel Bonds

An interesting article from Business Week on the Madoff scandal.

This is, of course, only a small part of the $50 billion that is reported to be lost in the Ponzi scheme, including billions of dollars invested by banks, hedge funds, and rich individuals.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Miniature Home

When I was a girl, I had a dollhouse full of tiny furniture that I had bought at the local five and dime, Erwin's. My mother built it for me. The dollhouse itself has long since disappeared, but I kept the furniture in a box, and when I moved to my current house, I set up the furniture as tiny rooms along a shelf. I love miniature things.



Living Room

Dining Room



Saturday, December 13, 2008

Sukkah in the snow and cardinal on the sukkah

My blog format has been changed today because I learned how to add a photo to the header. I took this one today - it shows my backyard in snow, complete with my sukkah, which I've left up, having given up on putting it and taking it down again after Sukkot. I like the look of the sukkah in the snow.

The photo below was taken this summer, showing our local cardinal perched on one of the sukkah's beams.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Bill Ayers in his own words

For those who can stand it, read Bill Ayers' apologia today in the New York Times.

For cogent analyses, see David Adler and Hilzoy.

Friday, November 28, 2008

More on the Mumbai attacks

An article in the New York Times outlines how the Mumbai attackers seem to have proceeded. One "black inflatable lifeboat" landed on the Fisherman's Colony fishing pier with ten men on it plus their supplies. This location is only three blocks from Nariman House, where the Chabad House was located. They joined other attackers - including some who had arrived in Mumbai days before. There were other boats that landed as well - up to four others. Up to 40 terrorists were involved in the attacks, and not all of them may be dead or captured.

The first location hit was the train station - Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. They went then to the Leopold Cafe, the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels, and Nariman House. Nariman House was not the first target.

Indian officials are now specifically linking "elements in Pakistan" to the attacks. American intelligence officials point to Lashkar-e-Taiba, "which has long been involved in the conflict with India" over Kashmir.

(From CNN - the Indian prime minister "indicated that the gunmen came from" Karachi, Pakistan).

The leader of an Indian commando unit said, that the attackers were “very, very familiar with the layout of the hotel.” The terrorists "who appeared to be under 30 years old, were 'determined' and 'remorseless.'" Two of them may have had British passports.

Another rabbi at the Nariman House was found dead - Rabbi Leibish Teitelbaum, who was a mashgiach in Mumbai.

Al Qaeda behind Mumbai attacks?

Post begun Wednesday, November 26 (read down for updates): I spent the day pleasantly, hanging out with my family and getting ready for Thanksgiving tomorrow. My father and I went over to Newton to buy the kosher Thanksgiving turkey (yum!). I plucked the remaining feathers tonight (kosher birds for some reason always have a few remaining feathers that have to be removed). I read most of a book that I bought at the SBL a couple of days ago - Amy-Jill Levine's A Misunderstood Jew, which is very interesting and well-written.

And then - at least a hundred people killed in terrorist attacks in Mumbai/Bombay today. One of the bloggers at TNR points out how these attacks were different from earlier ones in the city. They were aimed not at Hindus (which we would expect if this were part of ongoing Muslim-Hindu violence), but at foreigners - Americans, Britons, and Israelis (the Chabad House in Mumbai was attacked and some people were killed there - the local Chabad rabbi and his family have disappeared - this is at a place called Nariman House).

He speculates about the culprit in Bombay:

But these Bombay attacks are different. The targets are not obviously Hindu at all--they are the main tourist locations in the city, and they were after Americans, British and Israelis. They went after a building called Nariman House, where several Israeli and Jewish families live. It was international, not domestic considerations which seems to be have been driving them. Also they seem very well-resourced. Apparently they came into the city on boats, used hand grenades and automatic weapons. It suggest some sort of Al Qaeda connection.

The New York Times has very good coverage - one of their blogs has been updating all day. They pointed to an interesting phenomenon - how much the attacks are being reported by new social media such as Wikipedia (which has a page up on the attacks) and by Twitter - Mumbai.

Update: I'm watching CNN-IBN right now via the CNN site. They're live-streaming the CNN India affiliate. This technology continues to astonish me. The terrorists have not yet all been captured or killed. There is an ongoing hostage situation at the Nariman House, with a number of people being held hostage there. At another hotel (Oberoi), there are still terrorists holding hostages, and government forces are now attacking them. There are also terrorists holed up in the Taj Hotel, which is on fire. There was another hostage situation at Cama Hospital. Some high anti-terrorist officials have been killed (one of the attacks was on a police station).

Now, a live interview with L. H. Advani (leader of the parliamentary opposition in India). First he spoke in English, now in Hindi I would guess. Advani said that this terrorist attack must have been planned for months.

Now reporting - terrorists came into Mumbai by boat, hijacked police vans.

Update: CNN-IBN is reporting that three people have managed to escape from Nariman House, two Israelis (mother and child), one Indian. Two or three of the floors of the house are rented by Israelis, others rented by Indians.

Another update (November 28): Nariman House has been stormed and there has been fighting there for over 12 hours. 5 bodies were found, and Haaretz has identified two of them as belonging to Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivkia. "The couple ran the Chabad's local headquarters, which was one of 10 sites attacked. The Holtzberg's toddler son, Moshe, was smuggled out of the center by an employee, and is now with his grandparents. Representatives from the Israeli embassy and ZAKA rescue service personnel began the process of identifying the victims of the terrorist attack on the Chabad center in Mumbai."

(By the way, the Wall Street Journal for today has some very interesting articles on the businesses likely to be affected by the attacks - the articles really detail well for the uninformed, like myself, how much Mumbai is an international commercial center).

I've been reading a number of websites discussing who might have launched these attacks - the group that claimed responsibility for these attacks, calling itself "Deccan Mujahadeen," a group called the Indian Mujahadeen, who have claimed responsibility for earlier terrorist attacks this year in India; a couple of Pakistan based terrorist groups that were organized about twenty years ago to fight against the Indian presence in Kashmir (Laskhar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammed) - or a combination of the above. Most of the sites I've read argue that Deccan Mujahadeen is just a name, not an actual group.

But if the terrorists are just an Indian group, or a mixed group of Pakistani/Indian terrorists, organized with local aims (to destabilize the Indian government; to disrupt peace talks between India and Pakistan; to highlight the complaints of Indian Muslims), then why aim at foreigners? Previous attacks have targeted Indians. It's the international connection that makes me think of Al Qaeda involvement. The attack on the Jewish center especially makes me think of Al Qaeda. As someone commented on Harry's Place - if the goal was to strike at Israel or Israelis, then the Israeli consulate would have been a target, or an El Al office. But instead a specific Jewish center was chosen.

I think that people have largely forgotten that after the 9/11/01 attacks, there were a number of Al Qaeda attacks directly targeting Jews in various countries. The one I specifically remember is an attack on the synagogue on the island of Djerba, Tunisia, which actually killed a large group of visiting tourists. Another occurred on November 15, 2003, in Istanbul - attacking two synagogues, Bet Israel and Neve Shalom.

But another question is - why the Chabad center in particular? There are Jews living in Mumbai, both Baghdadis and Bene Israel. Their synagogues were not attacked.

Chabad is an international organization, with its headquarters in Brooklyn. It's much better known than the Bene Israel or Baghdadi Jewish communities. I suspect that it was chosen, instead of those two Indian Jewish groups, because it was so well known and has an international presence. Attacking Chabad could be seen as an attack on Jews everywhere. This would be another reason to suspect Al Qaeda involvement.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Who could be behind the Mumbai attacks and why?

An interesting Reuters article on who could be behind the Mumbai attacks and why?. One interesting point made in the article:

The Mumbai attacks appear to have been carefully coordinated, well-planned and involved a large number of attackers. A high level of sophistication has also been a hallmark of previous attacks by the Indian Mujahideen.

The Mumbai attacks also focused clearly on tourist targets, including two luxury hotels and a famous cafe....

The tactics -- a military-style assault on soft targets, singling out foreigners, and taking hostages -- are rare and do not fit the usual methods of militant attacks on civilian areas.

However, similar attacks have been carried out before, notably the May 2004 attacks in the eastern Saudi city of Khobar. Gunmen attacked two oil industry installations and a foreign workers' housing complex in the city, taking more than 50 hostages and killing 22 of them. The attackers asked hostages whether they were Christian or Muslim before deciding whom to kill.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Obama daughters to attend Sidwell Friends school

The Obamas have chosen the school that their daughters will attend in Washington - Sidwell Friends School. I usually wouldn't pay attention to what school the President's children go to, but this interested me because my mother attended Sidwell Friends high school when she was growing up in Washington, D.C., in the late 1940s.

The school was not integrated until 1956 (the year in which I was born), according to a February 16, 1956 New York Times article, which highlights the fact that the children of Senator James O. Eastland, Democrat of Mississippi, who was virulently opposed to integration of the schools, attended Sidwell Friends. This means that the school my mother went to was all-white. I do recall her saying that the children of foreign dignitaries went there, but it seems unlikely that any of them would have been non-white.

It's pretty remarkable that a school that was part of the white, segregated power elite of Washington will now educate the daughters of the first African-American president. My grandparents were part of that segregated elite - my grandfather, Richard Wilson, was the Washington bureau chief of the Des Moines Register and Tribune for many years, wrote a column for the Washington Star, was president of the National Press Club in 1940, and was active in the Gridiron Club. The deed to the house they bought in Bethesda, MD in 1948 contained a restricted covenant that forbade them to resell the house to Jews or blacks. (Incidentally, the Supreme Court in 1948 ruled that such restricted covenants were unconstitutional). (At the time the National Press Club was also restricted to white male journalists; in 1955 it was opened to black male journalists, and in 1970 to women).

When I was growing up and we used to visit my grandparents in Washington, I always felt a sense of discomfort walking around D.C. I knew that the city was segregated, that blacks were the majority of the population, but that white people held the power there. It felt like a colonized city (of course, that's not the terminology I thought of at the time). When I've visited more recently I've felt much more comfortable, although of course there are still great disparities of wealth and poverty in the city, often along racial lines. We also used to visit them at the house they owned in the West Virginia mountains (which was called "Ball Alley"), about 75 miles from D.C.

I loved my grandparents and I loved visiting them, especially at Ball Alley - but increasingly through the 1960s and 1970s I heard them making racist remarks about black people. (Although my recollection is that my grandfather was also involved in hiring the first black columnist for the Star - Carl Rowan, who had written for the Minneapolis Tribune, which was part of the same newspaper chain). I remember that they were very frightened by the riots in Washington in 1968 after the assassination of Martin Luther King, which probably was a factor in their increasing antipathy to blacks. I recollect my grandmother talking about the riots and telling us how close my grandfather was to the violence.

This is a photograph of nine presidents of the National Press Club, taken in 1971. My grandfather is the second from the right (the tallest man - he was 6' 3").

I wonder what my grandparents would think now if they knew that the children of an African-American president of the United States were going to the school their daughters had gone to in a segregated Washington, D.C.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Racist Reactions to Obama's Election

Unfortunately, this is not a "post-racial" country: a roundup of articles on racist reactions to Obama's election:

Election spurs hundreds of race threats, crimes [dead link]

Anti-Obama racial incidents reported in several cities [dead link]

Opinion: Racist Incidents Follow Obama Victory
Of the greatest fears many Blacks feared after the euphoria faded, was that there would be some racist backlash against Obama. Not surprising after seeing footage of the hate mobs attracted to McCain-Palin rallies. The fringe elements of those Republican crowds were drilled into believing that Barack Obama was a terrorist, communist, Muslim sleeper and traitor. The campaign was heavy with racial undertones, from Rush Limbaugh’s racist rants about Colin Powell's endorsement, to Sarah Palin turning a blind eye to someone yelling the N-word at a rally. After the Obama victory, there remained a potential that some would continue their anger toward the President-elect and his supporters. And sure enough, since election night a few racists and violent extremists have been lashing out.

There have been a string of disturbing firebombings, assaults, and incidents of vandalism directed at African-Americans. A Black church in Springfield, Massachusetts was burned down on election night. Police have downplayed whether it was related to racism or Obama’s triumph, though there are indicationsit was. If this was indeed a hate crime in liberal Massachusetts, it serves as a painful reminder to some of the destruction and terrorism that greeted the civil rights movement, particularly the bombing that killed four little girls in a church in Alabama.

Another incident involved a Black family near Pittsburgh, who had their car torched right outside their home while watching Obama deliver his victory speech on TV. Before the arsonists burned the car, they tossed the family’s Obama/Biden yard sign through one of their windows and spray painted “Obama” across the trunk. The blaze almost set the family’s house on fire, and left them fearful for their safety in a home where four generations of the Black Pennsylvania family has lived. This was clearly an act of terrorism. Instead of a burning cross on the family’s lawn reminiscent of a bygone era, there was a burning car, symbolizing the torching of our new African-American president. A Car bombings is something you expect to occur in Iraq, Afghanistan or Israel, not America.

There was election night incident in Staten Island, New York where an 17 year-old Muslim, African-American male immigrant, was beaten with baseball bats by a group of White men who repeatedly yelled, “Obama.” This hearkens back to memories of Yusef Hawkins who was chased and beaten by an angry mob in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn during the summer of 1989, resulting in his death.

At North Carolina State University in Raleigh, four students admitted spray painting an entire campus walkway with racist and violent threats including “Shoot Obama” and “Kill that nigger.” In Austin, Texas, Buck Burnette, a reserve center for the University of Texas football team, wrote on his Facebook page, “All the hunters gather up, we have a Nigger in the White House.” Burnette offered an apology not for what he posted, but for posting it on a public forum, and was kicked off the team.

All enlightened citizens must condemn any post-election outbursts of hatred or intimidation. While the symbol of Barack Obama’s presidency is a great thing for the nation, it may trigger the remains of the lunatic racist fringe to resume their old tactics of bombings and assassinations. Already the FBI and ATF have broken up two plots to kill Obama, each originating with radical white supremacist groups.
Chronicle of Racist Incidents and Threats Against Obama
Since election day, the number of threats against the president-elect, and racial or violent incidents directed at his supporters, have soared. The Secret Service is concerned, calling it the highest number of threats against a President-elect in memory, but the national media until this weekend have largely ignored the disturbing pattern.
A couple of examples:
* In a Maine convenience store, an Associated Press reporter saw a sign inviting customers to join a betting pool on when Obama might fall victim to an assassin. The sign solicited $1 entries into "The Osama Obama Shotgun Pool," saying the money would go to the person picking the date closest to when Obama was attacked. "Let's hope we have a winner."

* In Idaho, the Secret Service is investigating a "public hanging" sign erected by a man upset with the election outcome, the Bonner County Daily Bee reported Thursday. A handmade sign posted on a tree reads "FREE PUBLIC HANGING" written in large letters beneath a noose fashioned from nylon rope. The most prominent name on the sign is "OBAMA," according to the Bee. "That's a political statement. They can call it whatever they want, a threat or whatever," the creator of the sign, Ken Germana, told the Bee.
Hate Graffiti Targets Obama Backers in Torrance.
Vandals over the weekend attacked homes in south Torrance that displayed support for President-elect Obama, spray-painting cars, walls, trees and campaign signs with swastikas and racial slurs. One Hollywood Riviera resident awakened to find a large Nazi symbol on a tree, the N-word across her garage door and the phrase "Go back to Africa" scrawled across a front wall. "They had painted a big swastika on my car and spray-painted out my bumper sticker," she said Monday. "It was pretty shocking. Immediately my heart began racing." Torrance police Sgt. Bernard Anderson said officers took four vandalism reports Sunday morning. The Daily Breeze located a fifth home that was hit. One couple who live near Calle Mayor found the words "Hitler" and "Nazi" painted in black on their Volkswagen.
Gang angry at Barack Obama win beat me, says Staten Island teen.
A black Muslim teenager said he was beaten on Election Night by four white men furious that Barack Obama was elected the nation's next President. Ali Kamara, 17, was walking home when four white men leaped from a gold car and started kicking him and smashing him with a baseball bat at about 10 p.m. near his Staten Island home. "I see the car coming. They looked at me and said, 'Obama!' They were not happy. They had hoodies on. They started hitting me with bats and my body started vibrating," said the Curtis High School, S.I., student.
Obama Victory spawns racist, derogatory remarks - from "The Appalachian," student newspaper of Appalachian State University. "At least one t-shirt has been seen around Appalachian’s campus with the phrase, 'Obama ’08, Biden ’09' displayed on it."

Racist Graffiti at Colgate University. Catch the photos of the graffiti - one reads "They were born to be slaves and serve white people."

Church parishioner claims pastor humiliated her over Obama signs [dead link].

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Ithaca College Celebrates

The students in my classes this morning told me that there was a huge, spontaneous party last night after it was announced that Barack Obama had won the presidency - and I just found a couple of videos on line showing the scene, from the CNN iReport website.

Ithaca College Celebrates -

Ithaca College Celebrates 2

Yes We Can!

I stood last night at Castaways (a local bar in Ithaca) with my friends and we watched Barack Obama win this historical election. Amazing! Watching the students from Spelman College and the people at Ebenezer Baptist Church - this has been a long time coming!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Obama's grandmother dies

Obama's grandmother died very eary this morning. Joe Klein of Time Magazine has a moving obituary about her - To The Mountaintop.

Rabbi Moshe Cotel

In today's New York Times, there is a moving obituary of Rabbi Moshe Cotel, whom I met when I belonged to the West Side Minyan (an independent minyan that is part of congregation Ansche Chesed on the Upper West Side of Manhattan) in the late 1990s. I never got to know him very well, but his fierce dedication to Judaism was apparent when he led services or gave a d'var Torah.

He was a well-known composer who taught at the Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University for many years. Many of his compositions were on Jewish themes - and I would love to find them and listen to them now. Those listed in the obituary include "Deronda," an opera based on George Eliot's novel Daniel Deronda, "The Fire and the Mountains," which commemorates the Holocaust, and "Night of the Murdered Poets," about poets and intellectuals murdered by Stalin in 1952. He also wrote an opera on the Dreyfus Affair, which apparently led to his return to Judaism.

There is one cute story involving a cat in the obituary. In 1996, while he was playing the "Well-Tempered Clavier," his cat, Ketzel, pounced on the keyboard, and he "grabbed a pencil and inscribed a descending paw pattern from treble to bass." This work he named "Piece for Piano - Four Paws," and he later wrote a longer composition based on the original piece, which was only one-minute long. This longer composition was named "Mews' Muse."

Another account of his life appears at his website - Bio.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Jews and "warning signs"

The Forward has provided the full text of the e-mail that the Pennsylvania Republican State Committee sent to 75,000 Jewish voters in the state. It emphasizes the attacks and smears that have spread about Obama which would most raise Jewish voters fears:
Dear Fellow Jewish Voter: In the 5,769 years of our people, there has never been a more important time for us to take pro-active measures in order to stop a second Holocaust. Israel faces immeasurable threats from its neighbors, most especially Iran. The global community and the United Nations are strongly influenced by many Muslim nations and have therefore turned their backs to Israel and the Jewish community. We did not write this letter to scare you, but rather, to help you make an informed decision on Tuesday, November 4th, 2008. When voters elect a new President in less about two weeks, it is imperative that the Jewish community elects the one man who understands the challenges facing Israel and the Jewish people—John McCain. John McCain has always been a friend to Israel and the Jewish people and as leaders of the community throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, we want to remind you of the importance of your vote to the future of our Jewish homeland. John McCain has never wavered on the need to keep Jerusalem the capital of a Jewish Israel. He has even vowed to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

More importantly, John McCain understands that radical members of the Islamic faith from Hamas, Hezbollah, Muslim Brotherhood and other extremist groups seek to do us harm no matter how we try to appease them. He will not cave into the pressures to divide OUR homeland as a result of threats from people whose agenda is deleterious to the fate our people. John McCain is an American hero who has selflessly served the United States since he was 18 years old. America and Israel need John McCain as President of the United States NOW MORE THAN EVER. What do we really know about Barack Obama?

He has served in the Illinois legislature before joining the U.S. Senate in 2006 having sponsored no meaningful legislation in either body.

· Prior to beginning his legislative career, he served as a corporate lawyer and community activist.
· During his days of community activism, he taught members of ACORN to commit voter registration fraud.
· He associated with a known terrorist, William Ayers, who thought the terrorists didn’t do enough on 9/11. Later, Obama used Ayers’ home to launch his Senate campaign, but referred to Ayers as “just a guy in the neighborhood”. If a known terrorist lived in your neighborhood, would he just be a “guy in your neighborhood” or would you be calling the FBI to have him removed?
This is a ridiculous charge. Ayers did not say that the terrorists didn't do enough on 9/11. In the interview with him published in the September 11, 2001 edition of the New York Times, he was referring to what he and his comrades in the Weathermen had done while they were planting bombs to protest the Vietnam War. And the meeting in Ayers' house did not "launch" his Senate campaign - it was one of several local meetings held with people in Hyde Park when Obama was running for the Illinois legislature in 1995.
For 20 years, Obama and his wife attended the church of Rev. Jeremiah Wright who called Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan “one of the greatest minds of the 20th Century.” (National Press Club Speech, 4/28/08)
· Farrakhan said Obama is the “hope of the entire world that America will change and be made better.” (Associated Press, 2/25/08)
Obama, as we know, has severed his relations with Wright and has publicly denounced anti-semitism - see the speech he made on Martin Luther King Day this year.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says: Israel is “a stinking corpse” and should be “wiped off the face of the earth.” (The Jerusalem Post, 5/8/08)

Ahmadinejad says: “The real Holocaust is what is happening in Palestine where the Zionists avail themselves of the fairy tale of Holocaust as blackmail and justification for killing children and women.” (The Jerusalem Post, 5/22/06)

Obama says: HAMAS and Hezbollah have “legitimate claims.” (David Brooks, Op-Ed, “Obama Admires Bush,” The New York Times, 5/16/08)

Obama says: “I would” when asked if he would be willing to meet separately, without precondition, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea. (CNN/YouTube Democrat Presidential Candidate Debate, Charleston, SC, 7/23/07) The World on Obama

The Wall Street Journal said Barack Obama’s foreign policy “could strengthen Mr. Ahmadinejad.” (Jay Solomon, “Obama’s Foreign-Policy Pledge Sparks Criticism from Rivals,” Wall Street Journal, 3/26/08)

“We don’t mind - actually we like Mr. Obama. We hope he will (win) the election…” HAMAS Political Advisor Ahmed Yousef (Mosheh Oinounou, “A Hamas Problem For Obama?” Fox News’ “Cameron’s Corner," 4/16/08)
Of course, Obama did not solicit this endorsement! If we're going to bring up this pseudo-endorsement, how about the statement made on an Islamist website that Al Qaeda wants McCain elected? Does that mean that McCain supports Al Qaeda? Of course not!
“The four years ahead are far too critical for global security to place the presidency of the United States in the hands of a leader whose campaign is leaving us with more questions than answers.” (Former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Danny Ayalon, Op-Ed, “Who Are You, Barack Obama?” The Jerusalem Post, 1/23/08)

Jesse Jackson said of Barack Obama’s foreign policy, “Jackson believes that, although ‘Zionists who have controlled American policy for decades’ remain strong, they’ll lose a great deal of their clout when Barack Obama enters the White House.” (Amir Taheri, Op-Ed, “The O Jesse Knows,” New York Post, 10/14/08)
This is an article from the same man - Amir Taheri - who brought us the false charge that the Iranian regime was planning to force Jews to wear a yellow badge to identify them. Anything he says should be read with the greatest skepticism.
Do you really think that the Jewish community’s interests could be in line with that of William Ayers, Rev. Jeremiah Wright or Louis Farrakhan? Do you really think that Barack Obama has shown proper judgment by associating with such individuals? Can America, Israel and the Jewish Community really rely on someone as dangerously inexperienced as Barack Obama? NO! Jewish Americans cannot afford to make the wrong decision on Tuesday, November 4th, 2008. Many of our ancestors ignored the warning signs in the 1930s and 1940s and made a tragic mistake. Let’s not make a similar one this year! As leaders of Pennsylvania’s Jewish Community, we strongly URGE you to VOTE for John McCain for President of the United States—a true friend of Israel and the Jewish Community. Thank you.

Sincerely yours, I. Michael Coslov Mitchell Morgan The Honorable Sandra Schultz Newman
Paid for by Republican Federal Committee of PA - Victory 2008
Of course, the most offensive line is saved for the last - that if we vote for Barack Obama, it's the same as our ancestors who made a "tragic mistake" in the 30s and 40s by ignoring the "warning signs." Not only is this an outrageous smear on Obama, it is offensively blaming Jews who died in the Holocaust for their own deaths, because they ignored the "warning signs." Unfortunately, many of those Jews who did see the warning signs were not able to leave Europe and gain refuge in the United States and other countries because we closed our borders to more than a trickle of Jewish refugees.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Academics support Bill Ayers

There are plenty of issues currently more important than whether Barack Obama was close to Bill Ayers - for example, the current meltdown of our economic system - but this minor issue has come to the fore due to the vile efforts instigated by Sarah Palin and John McCain to tar Obama with the terrorist brush..

Obama knew Ayers and worked with him in Chicago on educational issues. But he was not a close friend of his, and he's already denounced Ayers' terrorist past.

Now, some academics, with the perfect instinct for doing the wrong thing at the wrong time, have set up a web site to defend Ayers - Suppport4 Bill Ayers - gathering signatures on a petition to support him for all the work he's done in the past twenty years in education. I could understand why colleagues and those who have used his research might want to support him, except for the fact that the petition engages in egregious whitewashing of Ayers' record during his Weathermen days.
The current characterizations of Professor Ayers - “unrepentant terrorist,” “lunatic leftist” - are unrecognizable to those who know or work with him. It’s true that Professor Ayers participated passionately in the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s, as did hundreds of thousands of Americans. His participation in political activity 40 years ago is history; what is most relevant now is his continued engagement in progressive causes, and his exemplary contribution - including publishing 16 books - to the field of education. The current attacks appear as part of a pattern of “exposés” and assaults designed to intimidate free thinking and stifle critical dialogue. Like crusades against high school and elementary teachers, and faculty at UCLA, Columbia, DePaul, and the University of Colorado, the attacks on and the character assassination of Ayers threaten the university as a space of open inquiry and debate, and threaten schools as places of compassion, imagination, curiosity, and free thought. They serve as warnings that anyone who voices perspectives and advances questions that challenge orthodoxy and political power may become a target, and this, then, casts a chill over free speech and inquiry and the spirit of democracy.
Italics mine. Ayers did not just "participate passionately" in the civil rights and antiwar movements - he joined the lunatic fringe of the antiwar left, the Weathermen, which committed terrorist acts which could very well have killed innocent people. They did manage to accidentally kill three of their own members in the Greenwich Village townhouse where they were making bombs.

And Bill Ayers never repented of his actions, and in fact has said in his own memoir of those days (Fugitive Days) that ''Everything was absolutely ideal on the day I bombed the Pentagon.''

I don't know if he is a "lunatic leftist," but he certainly never repented of, never renounced, never criticized his own violent actions or the violent actions of his fellow Weathermen. Academics and intellectuals who sign this petition in his defense gloss over his original actions, and his self-justifications and obfuscations. They are guilty of intellectual dishonesty by ignoring the blatant evasion of the truth in this petition. People whom I respect have signed this petition - and I simply don't understand how they could lend their names to this dubious and dishonest project.

I am not sure, but I would wager that the reference to "crusade" at the University of Colorado points to another dubious case that some on the left have taken up - the defense of Ward Churchill. Ward Churchill lost his job for plagiarism - which was finally proven - not for his offensive political opinions.

The attacks of Sarah Palin and John McCain against Barack Obama are vile - but they are not correctly refuted by calling for support of a man who, in truth, never repented of his earlier terrorist actions.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Tikkun magazine publishes vicious anti-semite Israel Shamir

The Engage website has just reported that Tikkun magazine published an article this summer by Israel Shamir, the notorious anti-semite (article on Searchlight), on the the first bulldozer attack this summer in Israel, in which a Palestinian attacker killed three people.

With this paragraph, Michael Lerner justified his publication of a vicious anti-semite:
[Editor's note: Like most of what Israel Shamir writes about Israel, this article reflects a perspective that has far too little sympathy for the fate of those killed and wounded when the Palestinian named Hosam charged his huge tractor into a bus in the center of Jerusalem. We publish it here nevertheless because of our commitment to provide our readers with perspectives that they are unlikely to hear in the mainstream media and which present ideas with which we must grapple. In this case, the attempt to humanize the Palestinian is part of our discourse--a Tikkun commitment to see the spirit of God in every human being, even those who do hurtful or muderous acts. We only wish Shamir could do the same thing for Israelis as he does so well here for Palestinians. And his hatred of Judaism itself might have been grounds to simply dismiss the article, except that it represents a growing sentiment among many Israeli secularists.]
Hatred of Judaism? How about hatred of Jews? How about rank anti-semitism? Read the Searchlight article I link to learn who Israel Shamir is and what he has done.

This is also a terrible libel of secular Jewish Israelis - who like other Israelis, saw the attack in July as a terrorist attack aimed at innocent civilians, both Jewish and Arab. If secular Israelis have arguments with religious Israeli Jews (and they do) it does not lead them to the vicious Jew hatred of an Israel Shamir.

Another thing - Shamir quotes another vicious anti-semite, Gilad Atzmon, to support his case. Read about Atzmon in Harry's Place - Legacy of Atzmon.

Is this who Tikkun wants to be associating with now? Is this what they've fallen to?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Remembering September 11, 2001

This photograph is from today's New York Times, in an Dress Rehearsal in Light article about the Tribute in Light, which has been projected every year since 2001 - beams of light in the place that the World Trade Center towers used to stand.

To see 360" panoramas of previous years Tribute in Light, go to this page. There are some amazing images of the lights rising in the sky and meeting far above.

Monday, September 08, 2008

"The fish stinks from the head" revisited

I wrote about this proverb once before, but I just found an interesting reference to it in an article by David M. Bunish, "Judeo-Spanish Culture in Medieval and Modern Times," p. 65 of Zion Zohar, Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewry. In the section of the article dealing with spoken genres of Sephardic culture in the eastern Mediterranean, he writes that "Today Westerners tend to shy away from the use of proverbs (riflanes) and sayings (dichas), seeing them as being trite or passe. Judezmo speakers, on the other hand, used them generously in both speech and writing. Just as 'a picture is worth a thousand words,' a proverb was felt to express succinctly what might otherwise require whole paragraphs of ordinary prose." Judezmo was the spoken language of Sephardim (the word means "Jewish"), while Ladino was the literary language.

About "the fish stinks from the head," he writes, "Other Judezmo proverbs corresponded to sayings used in other cultures of the region, e.g., De la kavesa fyede el pishkado "The fish stinks from the head" (i.e., where there is corruption, it inevitably starts at the top), variants of which are used among the Turks, Arabs, and other Mediterranean peoples."

I would guess that the expression entered Hebrew via Judezmo, or perhaps Arabic, and it has become a very handy saying in denouncing political corruption in Israel.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Jews for Jesus speech at Palin's church

Steven Waldman at Beliefnet has posted the complete text of David Brickner's speech at Palin's church. (Brickner is the executive director of Jews for Jesus).

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Photos of Western Wall

And now, down from the Temple Mount, a couple of photos of the Western Wall - first the women's side (which you'll notice is much smaller than the men's) and then the men's side.

From Old City of Jerusalem

From Old City of Jerusalem

Another Temple Mount Image

From Temple Mount Summer 2007

I thought it might be nice to show another image of the Temple Mount. This is a view of the Dome of the Rock from the bottom of the steps that lead up to it.

Searches - Ayers, Cats, Temple Mount

It's always interesting to see how people get to this blog. One of the most consistent searches that ends up here is for Bernardine Dohrn and/or Bill Ayers. Another perennial favorite is my post on cats in the Bible. Another one is my photos of the Temple Mount.

So, for those interested in Bill Ayers - here are all the posts: Bill Ayers.

For those interested in Bernardine Dohrn - Bernardine Dohrn.

Cats in the Bible - Cats & Bible.

Or, on the other hand, just cats: Cats. Although you will find a truly random selection of posts in which the word appears, not only those centered on cats. Also photos of my cat, Zachary.

As for the Temple Mount - click here and you'll find all of my posts that mention it, including some photographs. If you'd like to see all my photos of the Temple Mount that are online, go to Picasa - Temple Mount Summer 2007. I didn't manage to visit the Temple Mount this summer, however.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Palin's church and Jews for Jesus

Ben Smith of Politico reports on the many reasons that Jewish voters may be wary of Palin. The reason that repels me the most is that her church recently hosted one of the leaders of Jews for Jesus, who gave a sermon that expressed classic Christian, anti-Judaic, supersessionist theology.

An illustration of that gap came just two weeks ago, when Palin’s church, the Wasilla Bible Church, gave its pulpit over to a figure viewed with deep hostility by many Jewish organizations: David Brickner, the founder of Jews for Jesus.

Palin’s pastor, Larry Kroon, introduced Brickner on Aug. 17, according to a transcript of the sermon on the church’s website.

“He’s a leader of Jews for Jesus, a ministry that is out on the leading edge in a pressing, demanding area of witnessing and evangelism,” Kroon said.

Brickner then explained that Jesus and his disciples were themselves Jewish.

“The Jewish community, in particular, has a difficult time understanding this reality,” he said.

Brickner’s mission has drawn wide criticism from the organized Jewish community, and the Anti-Defamation League accused them in a report of “targeting Jews for conversion with subterfuge and deception.”

Brickner also described terrorist attacks on Israelis as God's "judgment of unbelief" of Jews who haven't embraced Christianity.

"Judgment is very real and we see it played out on the pages of the newspapers and on the television. It's very real. When [Brickner's son] was in Jerusalem he was there to witness some of that judgment, some of that conflict, when a Palestinian from East Jerusalem took a bulldozer and went plowing through a score of cars, killing numbers of people. Judgment — you can't miss it."

Palin was in church that day, Kroon said, though he cautioned against attributing Brickner’s views to her.

Ugh - it was God's judgment on Jews for not believing in Jesus that led to the deaths of people this summer from Palestinian terrorist attacks?

If Obama endured months of attacks for his membership in his church in Chicago and had to publicly dissociate himself from it, I think that Palin should also be asked what her views are on theology like this, and whether this theology has affected her thinking on Jews and Israel.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Teaching in difficult times

I'm sitting here listening to CNN's coverage of Gustav, and also reading a website from UC Berkeley about how to improve one's teaching. They have a useful page on Teaching in Difficult Times, which was originally developed for teachers thinking about what to do after the 9/11 attacks.

From the same website is another interesting page on sensitive topics in the classroom.

Are Jews a People?

An interesting discussion by Flesh is Grass, sparked by the boycott Israel campaign in Britain. She points to a lecture by Michael Walzer on this topic: Michael Walzer. (Clicking on this brings you directly to the audio file).

Sunday, August 31, 2008

More on Gustav

My friend Ben Greenberg has an excellent post at Hungry Blues on approaching Gustav and the threat not only to Louisiana and New Orleans but also to the whole Mississippi coast, which was utterly devastated by Katrina.

Getting Real About Palin

More on Sarah Palin's pressuring the Alaska Public Safety Commissioner to fire her brother-in-law. Josh Marshall writes:

The Palin family had a feud with Wooten prior to her becoming governor. They put together a list of 14 accusations which they took to the state police to investigate -- a list that ranged from the quite serious to the truly absurd. The state police did an investigation, decided that 5 of the charges had some merit and suspended Wooten for ten days -- a suspension later reduced to five days. The Palin's weren't satisfied but there wasn't much they could do.

When Palin became governor they went for another bite at the apple. Palin, her husband and several members of her staff began pressuring Public Safety Commissioner, Walt Monegan -- a respected former Chief of the Anchorage police department -- to can Wooten. Monegan resisted, arguing that the official process regarding Wooten was closed. And there was nothing more that could be done. In fact, during one of the conversations in which Palin's husband Todd was putting on the squeeze, Monegan told Todd Palin, "You can't head hunt like this. What you need to do is back off, because if the trooper does make a mistake, and it is a terminable offense, it can look like political interference."

Eventually, Palin got fed up and fired Monegan from his job. (Palin claims, not credibly, that she fired Monegan over general differences in law enforcement priorities.) This is an important point. Wooten never got fired. To the best of my knowledge, he's is still on the job. The central bad act was firing the state's top police official because he refused to bend to political pressure from the governor and her family to fire a public employee against whom the governor was pursuing a vendetta -- whether the vendetta was justified or not.

Even if Wooten (the brother-in-law) did everything that Palin's family accuses him of, her actions - pressuring the Public Safety Commissioner to fire her brother-in-law, then firing him because he wasn't willing to fire the man - are an abuse of power. Is this someone we want, as they say, "a heartbeat away from the presidency"? And secondly, what is wrong with McCain and his campaign operation that they didn't take account of this story when she was being considered as a candidate?

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The mother of all storms

So now Mayor Ray Nagin has ordered an evacuation of New Orleans New Orleans, saying "I must tell you, this is the mother of all storms."

I think about this phrase, "the mother of all ___" every now and then, because my memory is that Saddam Hussein introduced this phrase into English before the Gulf War in 1991 when he threatened that if the U.S. coalition attacked Iraq, it would be the "mother of all wars." It's interesting that the phrase has been so naturalized into English that it can be used for anything really big. I wonder how many people who use the phrase remember its origin.

So how long will Sarah Palin be McCain's running mate?

I think the thing that most surprises me about McCain's choice for V.P. is not her inexperience, or the transparent ploy of picking a woman on the presumption that other women only vote on the basis of who has ovaries, or her very right-wing politics (that's not surprising at all, that's his attempt to get the right-wing evangelical voters on his side) - but the fact that there is a scandal brewing about her in Alaska. I was under the impression that the campaigns did their best to carefully vet V.P. candidates so that they don't have any surprises about the person before Election Day. Anyone remember Thomas Eagleton? At least no one knew about his problems before he was nominated. Palin's ethics problems are being covered by TPM Muckraker in this very interesting story:

The scandal began on July 11, when Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan was removed from his post with little explanation, a move whose abruptness quickly raised questions in Alaska. A few days later, Monegan decided to blow the whistle, and came forward to tell local media that he had been dismissed because he refused to fire trooper Mike Wooten, the ex-husband of Palin's sister, after having been pressured to do so by aides to Palin. (Monegan's replacement, former Kenai Chief of Police Chuck Kopp was only lasted two weeks on the job once past complaints of sexual harassment from 2005 were publicized.)

Critics pointed out that the effort to fire the trooper might have been directly related to the fact that Palin's family had a longstanding grievances with Wooten. In an internal state police investigation in 2005, Palin herself had accused Wooten of threatening to harm her father during the breakup of her sister's marriage. (The Palins claimed, among other things, that Wooten had used a taser on his 10-year-old stepson, and shot a moose without a permit.)

Since Monegan made his allegations, Palin has denied that she personally had a role in the effort to fire Wooten. On July 28, the state legislative council, a bipartisan panel of senators and representatives, appointed a special commission to probe the matter.

Her backtrack on her office's role was prompted by the preliminary findings of a separate ongoing investigation into the matter by the state Attorney General, launched on August 4, that she herself put into motion. At a press conference at which Palin revealed some of that investigation's finding, she acknowledged that in February, state troopers had taped a phone call from Frank Bailey, Palin's director of boards and commissions, whom she appointed in August 2007, in which Bailey appeared to push for the firing of Wooten on Palin's behalf.

In the call, Bailey appeared to say that Palin and her husband were frustrated that Wooten still had his job. "The Palins can't figure out why nothing's going on," Bailey said in the recorded phone call. "Todd and Sarah are scratching their heads ... 'Why is this guy representing the department, he's a horrible recruiting tool.' You know? So from their perspective everybody's protecting him."

The investigation could be particularly poorly timed for the GOP. Steve Branchflower, a former state prosecutor who is conducting the investigation, has a three-month contract for his work, which started August 1, and will end October 31, according to Alaska State Senate Judiciary Committee chair, Hollis French (D), who is overseeing the probe. French told TPMmuckraker that he expects Branchflower to release his report in the days before the November 4th presidential election.

A spokeswoman for Palin told TPMmuckraker that the governor's office would be fully cooperating with Branchflower.

Palin won the governor's office in 2006 as a squeaky clean reformer. "She portrayed herself as an open-government, ethical person," Rep. Mike Doogan, a Democratic state lawmaker, told TPMmuckraker. "You can see the obvious problem." He added: "These things don't help her [politically]."

And they may not help John McCain either.

(ed.note: The original version of this post incorrectly stated that the state legislature was in Democratic hands and ordered the probe of Monegan's firing. In fact, the senate is under the control of a coalition of Democratic and dissident Republican lawmakers and the House of Republicans. The state legislative council, which ordered the probe, is a bipartisan panel made up of members of both bodies.)

And this woman might be next in line to the presidency?!

Gustav in Cuba

And this is what Gustav just did to Cuba:

Gustav slammed into Cuba's tobacco-growing western tip as a monstrous Category 4 hurricane Saturday while both Cubans and Americans scrambled to flee the storm as it roared toward the oil-rich Gulf of Mexico and New Orleans.

Forecasters said Gustav was just short of becoming a top-scale Category 5 hurricane as it hit Cuba's mainland after passing over its Isla de la Juventud province, where shrieking 150 mph (240 kph) winds toppled telephone poles, mango and almond trees and peeled back the tin roofs of homes.

It's happening again in New Orleans

Many in New Orleans Flee as Storm Grows

Hurricane Gustav grew significantly in intensity as it approached the Louisiana coast on Saturday, and officials issued increasingly urgent pleas for everyone to leave New Orleans....

City officials said if the threat worsened, as anticipated, they would to issue a mandatory evacuation order beginning Sunday morning, the first since Hurricane Katrina flooded the city three years ago.

Scary - they want everyone to leave. I hope it all works out better than it did three years ago, when anyone who watched CNN had a better idea of what was going on than President Bush.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Presidents' letter against UCU boycott call?

I've been following the recent discussions on Harry's Place and Engage about the arguments on the UCU activists' list with interest. And I've started to wonder what response there was to the UCU's renewed boycott call. Was there another call by U.S. university and college presidents to denounce the UCU motion? I don't remember that there was. (This is relevant to something I'm working on now). If any of my (not so numerous) readers know the answer to this, please let me know.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Am I liberal or a conservative?

Kevin Drum of Washington Monthly provides this summary of the Russia-Georgia war:

CHEAT SHEET....Since the Russo-Georgian war is complicated, I thought everyone might appreciate a quick primer:

* Shorter liberal view: "This isn't to condone Russia's conduct, but...."

* Shorter conservative view: "Yes, Saakashvili acted recklessly by sending in troops first, but...."

See? It's easier than you thought! You may now return to your regularly scheduled Olympics watching.

As far as I have been able to determine from reading *some* New York Times articles this week, I agree more with position B than with position A. So am I a conservative? I thought I was a liberal - after all, I'm enthusiastically for Obama....

So much for the helpfulness of political categories.

Terrorist Violence and Mental Illness

Dave Neiwert on Orcinus has an interesting post on right-wing violence and mental illness that I think can be extended to other forms of terrorism. His post is about the murder of the Arkansas Democratic Party chairman last week. He argues that despite the apparent mental illness of the perpetrator, political motivation also drove him to kill this man in particular. He writes:

Part of the problem is that we actually have seen this happen time after time after time: A mentally unstable person is inspired by hateful right-wing rhetoric to act out violently -- and yet because of that mental state, the matter is dismissed as idiosyncratic, just another "isolated incident." And over the months and years, these "isolated incidents" mount one after another.

But simply ascribing these acts to mental illness is a cop-out. It fails to account for the gross irresponsibility of the people who employed the rhetoric that inspired the violent action in the first place, and their resulting moral culpability.

I commented on his post -

Thank you Dave, for pointing out how mentally unstable people can be vulnerable to this kind of hate-mongering - either through the media or through recruitment by a violent group. Recently, while I was visiting Israel, there were two terrorist attacks in Jerusalem. The first one, which occurred in early July, involved a Palestinian man taking a large bulldozer and rampaging along one of the main streets in central Jerusalem. Three people were killed and many injured. In Israel, this attack was taken by the police, the media, and by ordinary people to be a terrorist attack motivated by hostility towards Jews/Israelis - given the context of Israeli-Palestinian hostility and the history of Palestinian terrorism against Israelis. This was despite the fact that the man was a drug addict and had spent some time in jail for violence against a former Jewish girlfriend (whose child he fathered).

When I returned to the U.S. and was discussing this case with a friend, she referred to it not as a terrorist attack but as the attack of a mentally ill person - a conclusion which the American media had apparently made about this attack. I was very surprised to hear her say this (she is herself Jewish and pro-Israel so it wasn't motivated by her political beliefs).

And there was another attack of the same type the day I left the country, July 22 - another man used a mechanical digger to attack people on another main street. In this case he did not kill anyone, but injured about 20 people, including one man who lost his leg in the attack. This man lived in a Palestinian village that was known as supportive of Hamas, and his uncle was in an Israeli prison because he was a Hamas elected official from the West Bank. The assumption in Israel was also that his attack was politically motivated. Neither of these men was a member of any group (like Hamas itself, for example), and they had not been sent by any group.

For this latter reason, it seemed that some media outlets in the U.S. were unwilling to say that even the second attack was a terrorist attack. It seems to me that this involves a fundamental mistake - not all terrorism is committed by people involved in organized groups. Some terrorist attacks occur because of a mixture of personal motivation or instability and political inspiration - propaganda by the right wing in this country, or by Hamas in Palestine. Saying that someone with mental instability only acted because of that illness ignores the political context of the act.

Monday, July 28, 2008

And now for some home-grown terrorism

Yesterday morning, Jim Adkisson shot and killed two people in the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church.

According to an AP story today, the police are reporting that Man shot churchgoers over liberal views.

Chief Sterling Owen IV said Monday that police found a letter in Jim D. Adkisson's car. Owen said Adkisson was apparently frustrated over being out of work and had a "stated hatred of the liberal movement."

Sara Robinson of Orcinus just wrote a very moving post on the events at the church, including describing how one church member, Greg McKendry, protected others from the gunman's shotgun blasts (and was killed) and how the gunman was tackled by church members. She describes the history of Unitarianism in the U.S. and how tough the members of the church have had to be to stand up for their convictions.

Some updates: David Neiwert reports on some of the items found at the gunman's home:

Police found right-wing political books, brass knuckles, empty shotgun shell boxes and a handgun in the Powell home of a man who said he attacked a church in order to kill liberals "who are ruining the country," court records show...

Adkisson targeted the church... "because of its liberal teachings and his belief that all liberals should be killed because they were ruining the country, and that he felt that the Democrats had tied his country's hands in the war on terror and they had ruined every institution in America with the aid of media outlets."

Adkisson told Still that "he could not get to the leaders of the liberal movement that he would then target those that had voted them in to office."

Adkisson told officers he left the house unlocked for them because "he expected to be killed during the assault."

Inside the house, officers found "Liberalism is a Mental Health Disorder" by radio talk show host Michael Savage, "Let Freedom Ring" by talk show host Sean Hannity, and "The O'Reilly Factor," by television talk show host Bill O'Reilly.

Neiwert also commented on Orcinus - In Tennessee, eliminationism is no longer 'just a joke'.

Another blogger comments that the church had put up signs welcoming gays and lesbians to the community.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Other terrorism....

I suppose one might consider this a rather morbid preoccupation of mine, but these two headlines caught my attention this evening:

Istanbul Bombings Kill 15 Evening Strollers.

Two bombs exploded within minutes of each other late Sunday in a crowded pedestrian area of Istanbul, killing at least 15 people and wounding more than 100 in what the city’s governor called a terrorist attack.

The double bombing appeared to be the worst incident of terrorist violence in Turkey in nearly five years and seemed to take the Turkish authorities completely by surprise. There were no immediate claims of responsibility, although Kurdish separatist militants were initially suspected. The Istanbul neighborhood that was targeted, which is almost completely residential, had no obvious reason to be the object of a terrorism plot....

The double-bombing appeared to be the most serious terrorism attack here since twin truck bombings at two Istanbul synagogues killed 23 people and wounded more than 300 on Nov. 15, 2003. An obscure group linked to Al Qaeda took responsibility for the synagogue blasts, which were the worst in a series of explosions blamed on Islamic extremist groups that year that killed more than 60 people.

At least 45 killed in explosions in India.

For the second time in two days, small explosions rocked an Indian city, this time in Ahmedabad on Saturday evening, killing at least 45 people. The Indian government said cities across the country had been put on alert for similar attacks....

On Friday, a series of similar low-intensity blasts went off in the southern technology hub of Bangalore, killing one woman.

In this case also the government does not know who set the bombs.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Shuki Kramer - injured in terror attack

The man who lost his leg in the terrorist attack on Tuesday afternoon describes what happened to him.

Shuki Kramer says he "remembers everything." The attorney who was seriously wounded and lost his leg in the latest bulldozer attack in Jerusalem told Ynet the memory of the attack "lives on inside him" but vowed not to let the injury stop him from enjoying life.

"It was a regular work day," Kramer says. "I was supposed to meet an old colleague so I rushed for the meeting. I made a mistake by deciding to take my Mercedes instead of the motorcycle I usually ride."

At first, Kramer says, he failed to realize he was in the midst of a terror attack.

"I was talking on the phone, and suddenly I felt someone hitting me from behind ... I came out of the car, and saw a bulldozer charging in my direction," the attorney said. "At that point I immediately realized this was a terror attack. I was completely focused and aware . . . I told myself: 'Shuki, you'll come out of it.' I tried to run to the sidewalk. He drove wildly towards me; I could feel terror getting closer."

Kramer says he also clearly recalls the moment he was hurt.

"I got away, but I felt that my left leg was hurt . . . I saw the Mercedes upturned next to me, and my leg was in the other direction, barely connected to me," he says, but notes that he was treated within a matter of seconds.

"A young guy showed up, he had curly hair and a beard. He was about to go on a trip so he had a first-aid kit. A short time later, a paramedic arrived from the King David Hotel," Kramer says. "At that point, I made my first phone call. When I'm in distress I always call my wife, Tammy....later my wife told me that I yelled on the phone: 'They killed me.'"

As a result of the injury, the doctors had to amputate Kramer's leg, yet he is optimistic despite the injury: "I'm surrounded by family and friends and I'll do everything possible, times a hundred, time a million, to go back to a normal routine. I won't give up anything in my life, not even sports."

Kramer says he is only angry at authorities for allowing the bulldozer driver who had a criminal record to drive such heavy machine.

"How do they give a guy with a criminal record and convictions such lethal weapon?" he says. "This is something that can be fixed immediately. This isn't for my sake, but for the next 'Shuki Kramer,' so at least other people will get to keep their legs."

Thursday, July 24, 2008

At home with the family

I'm currently sitting in my family's vacation home in Westport, Mass., and my niece is trying to persuade my father ("Grandpa") and my brother (her father) to get them help her pay for a new MacBook. There are three of us sitting here and working on our laptops - and Eve (my stepmother) just took a photo of all of us working on our computers (although to tell the truth I think that only my brother is actually working). It's rather amusing here.

Outside, it's cool and rather humid - quite a change from hot and dry Jerusalem.

My niece is trying her best persuasive arguments but hasn't quite made the sale yet.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Another terrorist attack in Jerusalem

This afternoon there was another terrorist attack in Jerusalem, also committed by a driver who took his tractor and attacked a bus, cars, and pedestrians on King David St., close to the intersection with Keren ha-Yesod St. A friend of mine works in an office right there and heard (and saw) what happened. No one was killed by the terrorist, although quite a few were injured, one very seriously (leg severed). The terrorist himself was killed by a Border Policeman.

I happened to be near Jaffa Gate at the time - I had just come to the end of Mamilla St. closest to Jaffa Gate (after strolling down there - my intention was to go into the Old City and buy some photographs of old Jerusalem as gifts), and when I walked up the steps to the plaza before Jaffa Gate I heard a lot of police and ambulance sirens. With a lot of other people, I looked over the bridge towards the King David Hotel and wondered what was going on. Lots of police cars went under the bridge and up the road to where they could turn onto Hebron Rd. It didn't seem so good.

I started asking people what was going on and it turned out that there had been another tractor attack, this time on King David St. I called my friend and she told me what she had seen. I was rather shaken up and wondered what I should be doing. I walked inside the Jaffa Gate and stood around. The usual men trying to get one to buy from their shops came up to me, and I asked them if they had heard anything about what was happening - which they hadn't. I then saw more police and soldiers rushing out of the gate - two policemen on horses and a number of soldiers on foot. I went out a few minutes after they had gone and talked to a haredi guy I had previously spoken to - he said that they had headed for the Sultan's Pool area and further on below Yemin Moshe. They told people to get away. (I read on the news just now that apparently the police were chasing two men they thought were accomplices of the terrorist).

My friend on King David St. told me that there were shots then - this is when they shot at the driver and killed him. I went back inside the Jaffa Gate and went into a shop at the beginning of David St. - a watchseller where there was a television on showing the Israeli news. The shopkeeper and I watched the news for a while and then I went out again.

After I had calmed down a bit, I went into the Old City and found the photo shop that I had been looking for - Elia's Photos on 14 Hanka Rd., in the Christian Quarter. The man who owns the shop is Armenian, and the photos he sells were taken by his father, a refugee from the Armenian genocide, who came to Jerusalem in 1924. I bought a few for gifts and then decided it was time to go.

I went back to the Jaffa Gate and tried to figure out what to do. It seemed unlikely that a cab would be able to get me back to my apartment on Shimon St., because the police had closed off King David St. I started to walk, going back on Mamilla St. to King David and then walking down towards Gan ha-Pa'amon. At Mapu St. the road was blocked by police tape, so I turned onto Mapu St. and passed the bus that had been damaged by the tractor - the windows had been knocked out.

I then turned on Keren Ha-Yesod heading towards Baka and came to the intersection with King David, where there were still many police and soldiers, as well as the international press. People were standing around and looking - including me - and I could see a damaged car and the tractor itself. It wasn't as big as the one that wreaked havoc on Jaffa Rd. three weeks ago, but sufficiently big to overturn a car and run into others. It's really a miracle that no one was killed.

The Lubavitchers had set up a big banner right in the intersection - something about how the Rebbe thinks the government should be overturned. (Of course, the rebbe is dead, something these particular Lubavitchers don't acknowledge, since they think he's the Messiah and still alive - shades of Christianity). I thought it was pretty disgraceful that they had decide to come here to this place to shove their political opinions in our faces, and I told them so. I then continued down Keren ha-Yesod to where Emek Refaim and Bethelehem Rd. meet, and there my friend picked me up in a (thankfully) air-conditioned cab. And so I came home and took a shower.

Not what I wanted to experience on my last day in Jerusalem.

Oh, and by the way, this was actually a terrorist attack - the previous attack was considered by the BBC (but not by any Israelis) to be the attack of a disturbed man. The perpetrator of this assault is related to a Hamas official who is currently in an Israeli prison.