Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Oliver Stone,Jews and Numbers Games

Oliver Stone, who has made his name with films about Vietnam, Wall Street and the John Kennedy assassination,as well as a long list of other acclaimed and noted films. In The Sunday Times of London, Stone achieved notoriety with some comments about Jews and Israel. Comparing Jewish and Russian casualty figures, Stone notedHitler did far more damage to the Russians than the Jewish people, 25 or 30 (million),”

What is Oliver Stone's explanation for what he feels is a disproportionate focus on Jewish suffering? The Atlantic relates Stone's spin on Jewish influence as follows.

“The Jewish domination of the media,” he says. “There’s a major lobby in the United States. They are hard workers. They stay on top of every comment, the most powerful lobby in Washington. Israel has f-cked up United States foreign policy for years.”

Oliver Stone boils it all down to numbers. On the one side is 6 million Jews. On the other is 25 million Russians. Confined to Stone's frame of reference, it all sounds so unfair. What Stone left out of the picture is the fact that most Russian deaths were combat casualties and collateral war damage, along with some atrocities. The 6 million Jews killed were civilian men,women and children who were slated for extermination. A Russian citizen under Soviet rule stood an 11% chance of being killed during World War Two. If you throw in injuries, starvation and atrocities, the grimness of the Russian picture is hard for us to imagine.

Despite the grim reality of life in the USSR during World War Two, there were Jews who risked their lives to trade the near 100% certainty for Jews of death under Nazi rule for life under Soviet rule.The Germans wanted to subjugate Russia. By contrast, they wanted to wipe out Jews. Fully 1/3 of all Jews alive in 1939 were murdered by the Nazis in 1945. How one chooses to emphasise the death of the 6 million in general European history is a matter of for discussion. But the Final Solution is an integral part of Jewish history.

Concerning the "Jewish domination of the media" it is worth noting that America is a nation of immigrants. Some ethnic groups established a strong presence in America through immigration. Irish Americans, Greek Americans and Armenian Americans have a strong presence in America. Each group advocates for the nation to which they feel an ancestral connection. In America, it is easier to find advocacy for Greece, Ireland and Armenia than it is to find the Turkish or British point of view. Croatia had an advantage during the war in Yugoslavia of having a strong Croatian immigrant presence in America. In addition to industrial and business interests, immigrants are a major factor in the alignment of America's national sympathies.

Oliver Stone tried to make a point by throwing around statistics without shedding any light on the context of those statistics. Stone rightly points out that Hitler, Stalin and Mao should be viewed in context. Despite this, Stone takes facts and statistics out of context and turns their presentation into a propaganda statement. Rather than being a documentary film maker, Stone was for the duration of his Times of London interview more a propagandist than a historian.

Whatever Oliver Stone has said to apologise for his remarks, he has already shown that his political perceptions impart a certain blindness to his view of history. This is a temptation common to many people. The difference with Oliver Stone is that he is not only reading history but presenting it as well. Crunching numbers and interpreting what one sees is an integral part of writing and presenting history. Hopefully. Oliver Stone will be mindful of this as he presents history to move goers. Like any good history teacher, Oliver Stone urges us to consider history in "context". I hope he listens to himself. Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Concerning Modesty Zealots In Crown Heights

On COL Live, a Crown Heights web site, a guest columnist wrote a column about young men who go on the streets and yell at women who are not dressed modestly. Many people have noticed that hemlines are creeping upward all too frequently. More skin is uncovered among people who are orthodox Jews not only in Crown Heights but elsewhere as well. There is much to be said for having a code of modest attire. Modest attire can be a tool to elevate social and intimate relationships. What we do and wear does affect the community. The attitude in Crown Heights and in other orthodox communities differs in this regard from the societal mainstream.

Despite this, there is a way to approach someone who is not dressed properly in the streets of our community. There are rules that should be followed. Here are a few.

1) If you are angry, or you don't like the person you are criticising, it is better to say nothing. Shaming someone in public is a far greater sin than an errant hemline.

2) Men should speak to men and women to women about modesty, if they are in the proper frame of mind to do so.

3) Even if you are able to project concern for the person you are speaking to, be sensitive to their frame of mind. This could be a visitor, who might actually be increasing their observance of Judaism. They might be hurt and offended by a lack of recognition that they are increasing their observance. Also, there are people who were born to religious families that need understanding and encouragement. Don't save all of your sweet words for outsiders. People in Crown Heights need encouragement as well.

4) Some people are crazy about fashion. Other people couldn't care less about it. There are people who are very fond of nice clothes who are 100% religious and have integrated their fashion sense with their religious values. A guy who is crazy about baseball can speak to a baseball fan who wants to go watch the World Series on Yom Kippur. Someone who hates baseball would have a much harder time relating to a person who wants to be at the stadium on the night of Kol Nidre.

5) There are immodestly attired people who do wonderful things in life. They might be very giving of their time. They might learn well and give it over well. Modesty might be the one issue they struggle with. Be honest with yourself. What issue do you struggle with? Look at the people whose attire disturbs you and try to identify the mitzvah or mitzvos that they excel at. Show your appreciation of those areas in which they excel. I know of a person who did not dress like a religious Jew. Because this person mingled at the edge of society, she was able to help someone who had overdosed on drugs. I envy the portion she has in the world to come. You never know when you are walking past greatness.

6) Care about other things besides modesty. If someone is despondent about their job or their family life, how do you think it looks if you only want to lecture them about cutting their beard or lengthening their hemline? Look at the whole picture. If you care about what is important to someone else, maybe they will listen to your concerns as well.

7) Be a friend. You stand a much better chance of influencing a person if they feel that you care. Friends are a far greater influence than strangers. For years, various people lectured me about minyan attendance. One person got me to Sunday minyan on the strength of a personal friendship and a listening ear. That leaves 5 other weekdays for me to join a minyan. What can I tell you? I'm a work in progress.

8) Don't sink into gossip. If someone is telling a story about someone who is "off the derech", it should pain them to speak of such a thing. When I hear a tone of gloating and relishing every detail of a "losing religion" story, I tell people like that to buy a television. Because if you are not involved in helping people, it is better to watch a soap opera than to turn the pain of a neighbour into a custom made soap opera.

9) Physical, psychological or sexual abuse might have pushed a person who dresses improperly towards their way of dress. There used to be a TV show back in the 60's. At the beginning of every show they would say, "There are 8 million stories in the naked city. Here is one of them." Give people the benefit of the doubt. They might be experiencing trials in life.

10) Be glad that people who dress inappropriately feel connected enough to Judaism to remain in an orthodox neighborhood. There are plenty of places they could go where no one would notice them at all.

From what I read on COL Live, it seems that one guy is going around screaming at immodestly dressed women. Fortunately, we have not become a community of such people. Although the screamer may be an unbalanced individual, but sometimes such people are tuned in to an imbalance in the society around them. We need to care about the entire individual and not only what is most visible. We need to appreciate the goodness in each other that might not be readily visible. The guy who screams at women who aren't dressed right is not the heavenly guardian he thinks he is. But he is a warning to the rest of us not to lash out in anger and hatred.

The laws of modesty should be viewed as an extension of Ahavas Yisrael, of love for a fellow Jew and of respect for other people in general. It should be taught this way and appreciated this way. Because words spoken from the heart enter the heart. And modesty doesn't just apply to clothing. It applies to material wealth and to Torah learning and observance. You can show off an awesome physique, a bank account or Torah learning. these are forms of immodesty as well

One day I was at the news stand. Some guy tells me, "Why are you wasting time with Jewish newspapers?" Learn Gemara! His words were glib words, spoken to someone who struggles with his learning. I was irritated and insulted. I assure you he did not move me to open a Gemara. Modesty applies to a lot more than clothing. If we look at ourselves honestly, we are all struggling with it.

When we went out of Egypt, we were given the task of taming the land. The Hebrew name for Egypt, "Mitzrayim" is equated to "metzarim", which translates as "limitations". In truth, we are all struggling with our limitations. Some of our struggles are more visible than others. We are all in this together. And let us not forget that. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, July 23, 2010

Tea Party or Not Tea Party ?

In the aftermath of the Shirley Sherrod scandal, one would hope that "gotcha" journalism" will be a casualty. The Andrew Breitbart excerpt did not just present Sherrod in a bad light, it misrepresented her message entirely.

Similarly, the Tea Party has been wrongly represented as racist by many mainstream news outlets. Out of tens of thousands of Tea Party demonstrators, the racist fringe is portrayed as representing the mainstream. The overwhelming majority of Tea Party proponents abhor racism, distancing themselves and their movement from it.

The Democratic Party almost has a plantation mentality towards African Americans. "We gave you the vote, and enfranchised you. Now you must support the forces of "progress". The same mentality is applied to women. Clarence Thomas and Margaret Thatcher are respectively an African American and a woman who achieved high office. Unfortunately, they are not counted as victories for gender and racial equality.

There are some very important issues that are seized upon by the Tea Party movement supporters. Some of the issues are as follows.

1)Secure Borders. Defending our borders is a matter of national security.Terrorists as well as poor job seekers are attracted to porous borders. Additionally, unrestricted immigration floods the labour pool. Labour is a commodity like any other.

When there is a glut of any commodity, it depresses the price. Our essential character as a nation comes from immigration. Immigration is a gift that should be bestowed in an orderly manner by the government on behalf of the people of the United States.

Although there are numerous exceptions, Republicans who want immigration amnesty like the cheap labour. Democrats see the possibility of registering new Democratic voters.

2) Constitutional interpretation. We have a constitution that has gradually and painstakingly evolved to create statutory gender and racial equality. Some people are impatient for results in their struggle to create the ideal society. Legislating from the bench and ignoring the intent of the founding fathers is a slippery slope. A bad legal decision can come back to haunt the nation later. There is a bitter struggle for the direction of the nation in the nomination process for the Supreme Court. The right to bear arms is being interpreted out of existence by proponents of gun control. What other constitutional rights will be eviscerated through sophistry if we allow this to happen.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg wants to consider foreign judicial precedents in deciding American constitutional law. Did American citizens vote on these laws that Ginsburg wants to consider in rendering legal decisions? Is this upholding our constitution?

3) Fiscal prudence. Any sensible person can figure out that printing money to cover debts will debase our currency. The best way to facilitate a financial recovery is by creating a climate in which recovery can occur. Back in 2008, the government could have declared a tax moratorium on investing in troubled industries. The government could have encouraged and facilitated private investment. Instead they created hundreds of billions of dollars of debt.

4) Minimal government. There is a place for government intervention. But it can have awful and unforeseen consequences. Rent control in New York City resulted in buildings being abandoned and gutted by owners who could not earn a any money from the buildings under restrictions on rent increases. The availability of food stamps is noted not only by needy families but by employers who view it as a payroll subsidy.

5) Educational choice. How fair is it to collect tax dollars for government schools and to dispense none of that money to private schools? Secular schools make moral value judgments as surely as do religious schools. America did not always ban tax dollars going to religious schools. This dubious legal doctrine came about as a result of the Blaine Amendment, which was an expression of nativist, anti Catholic bigotry. There are plenty of working class and minority families who want to send their children to private schools and face what is in effect a regressive tax on their religious freedom.

A focus on economic, social and cultural issues in American political discourse would probably result in a political alliance across racial lines. This would shake the Democratic Party, the Republican Party and an intellectual elite that fancies itself to be the arbiter of what is good for the unlettered masses. The Tea Party is a movement that holds both political parties to task. If it achieves any kind of victory, it will need critics to keep it on track. For the time being, they are outsiders who are offering penetrating social criticism. That's good enough for me. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Renewing Ties With Rantrave

A few months ago, I decided to take a vacation from Rantrave.com It revolved around articles directed at Jews urging conversion to Christianity. I stopped publishing on Rantrave.com simply to avoid being drawn into religious debates that I am not qualified to conduct. Additionally, I feel that in a secular venue, my role as a writer is to find common denominators with Jews and non-Jews to build a better society. Building a society in which there is no bigotry, in which workers and business owners are partners rather than adversaries and in which differences are resolved is something that resonates across a broad base.

On Indyposted.com, the focus is on current news. It is not an opinion site, although a small dose of opinion is tolerated along with the facts. I like to write about new news, old news and ancient history, along with whatever other obscure topics may engage my interest. Rantrave is a good forum for such a range of topics. I feel far too confined when I restrict my focus to current news. Posting on both Rantrave and indyposted.com is the best of both worlds.

Audience visualisation is an important creative exercise for me. Mainstream news readers, general readers and Jewish readers are 3 different audiences I respect and want to reach. I look forward to posting on Rantrave.com again. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, July 19, 2010

Freedom of Religion and Freedom From Religion

Today in Indyposted, I covered a man named Edward Kagin, who is a leader of the American Atheists. His latest claim to fame is his performance of "debaptisms" in which he symbolically dries the waters of baptism with a blow drier. Some things he said about Christianity were pretty offensive to believers of that faith. I am sure that he had choice words about Judaism as well. Kagin has a sense of humour, and a personality that is a lot more easy going than that of Madalyn Murray the famous atheist of the 60's. Both Kagin and Murray raised sons who became born again Christians. To Kagin's credit, he maintains contact with his son, despite their religious differences.

On Shabbos, I was reading the commentary on Devarim, and it mentioned an early Christian named Arius, whose difference with Christianity was that he believed in the oneness of G-d and not in the trinity. I checked out Arius on line. His writings had been destroyed. His followers were either forcibly converted or killed. Although there are those who espouse the beliefs of Arius, there is in community of believers in his philosophy that traces its ancestry back to his original followers.

Both Christianity and Islam settled their early disagreements through bloody warfare. In France, the Huguenots were almost wiped out by the Catholic Church. In Italy, the Waldensians endured similar persecution. The Muslim fundamentalists of today give us an idea of what Christian religious intolerance was in Europe in the Middle Ages and even in the 19th century.

We take western freedom of religion for granted. Believers and skeptics can debate, harangue and insult each other. But violence is off limits. Not only is violence off limits, it is also a confession of theological bankruptcy.

What would the world be like if religions became dominant not through physical conquest but through debate? In modern society, we have the opportunity to see what sort of faith will evolve from spirited debate rather than persecution and conquest.

America is a nation of searchers. People have come here for religious freedom. They have even started a few religions as well. With all of our religious, political and ethnic diversity, it is amazing how well we get along.

In Jewish belief, G-d hides Himself enough that we have free choice. It does not trouble me that there are so many different strains of religious faith. Rwanda, Cambodia, Auschwitz and the Congo trouble me far more than religious differences. A day will come when people will be incapable of genocide and cruelty. Such a day will come when people are transformed to a higher level of awareness. But the suffering that has preceded this messianic era in the future troubles me terribly. I simply have no answer other than to shudder at what people become who fear no final judgment.

The following words were found scrawled in a place where Jews were hiding in Cologne,Gemany.

I believe in the sun
even when it isn’t shining.
I believe in love
even when I am alone.
I believe in God
even when he is silent.

The only answer that makes any sense to me is that the world is an extension of what we have become. When people murder each other in the name of faith and politics it is usually because they are worshipping a god created in their own image.

We are fortunate to live in a country where people can offend and be offended without shooting each other. I hope we stay that way. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, July 12, 2010

Endangered Languages And life's Mysteries

Sometimes it is the mysteries in life that make you feel connected. Knowing that my family was expelled from Spain and settled lin Germany, I find myself wondering who I might be related to in the Spanish speaking world. Were there cousins who stayed back in Spain? Did some relatives go to the Americas?

Another branch of the family came from Istria. Croatian replaced Romance languages that were once spoken in Istria and Dalmatia. Did my family once speak Istro Romanian? Was Croatian recently adopted in the last 200 years by my family? Who knows? I find myself reading and rereading a New York Times article on a project to save endangered languages. There is actually an Endangered Languages Alliance, started by a professor Daniel Kaufman.

There are some interesting players in the struggle for survival of the world's languages. Some missionary groups, motivated by a desire to spread their religion, train themselves in numerous obscure languages and attempt to translate their scriptures into those languages.

The Soviets wanted to spread their vision as well, and boasted of lending alphabets to languages in the former USSR that had none. They gave a simplified Cyrillic alphabet to Mongolian that is being retained in the post communist era along with the classic Mongolian alphabet.

Rashi is studied not only by Jews who learn his Torah commentary but by linguists who are interested in the old French words that he used in his commentaries. Yiddish has similar value in the study of the development of the German language.

My all time hero in the preservation of a language is Sequoya, a member of the Cherokee nation. Despite having no formal education, he designed an 85 letter phonetic alphabet for the Cherokee language, bringing it to a new stage in its development. Such an undertaking is usually attempted by university graduates, but Sequoya did a magnificent job.

Once a language is written, it can be resurrected even if its last speaker passes away. And sometimes, a language is not as dead as had been thought. From the Romance languages of the Dalmatian coast to Coptic, sometimes there are pleasant surprises for those who mourn the death of a language. It's a pleasant thought that the human race has treasures and mysteries that still survive.

Sphere: Related Content

Friday, July 9, 2010

No Mosque At Ground Zero: What Is So Hard To Understand?

Ground Zero is a sacred national site. Whether it has been so consecrated by any community board or legislature, it is the burial place of close to 3000 people. It should not be dominated by the house of worship of any faith. It is incredible audacity for any faith community to dominate the site of the 9/11 attacks. There should be no need to explain that to Muslims, who have been free to build houses of worship and propagate their faith in every other part of this city.

Every other faith group should be petitioning to build houses of worship on Ground Zero. There are hundreds of Christian denominations along with Hindus, Buddhists and Mormons. The same logic that Andrew Cuomo uses to defend the Muslim's right to build a mosque at the site of the World Trade Center bombing should apply to everyone else. Maybe when there are 800 religious denominations clamoring to build at Ground Zero, common sense will take hold and a non denominational common space will be created.

Muslims have more freedom to practice Islam in New York City than they do in their home countries. Shiites suffer discrimination in Saudi Arabia. There was a mosque bombing in Lahore that killed about a hundred people . Later there was an attack on a Sufi shrine that killed at least 35 people. In America, we differ bloodlessly about our respective theologies.

Any place of prayer at Ground Zero should be strictly non denominational. Andrew Cuomo or anyone else who is advocating the construction of a mosque at a national sacred site does not deserve the votes of New Yorkers. If Cuomo wants to preach to us about religious freedom, let him do so as a private citizen. Ground Zero is a sacred site belonging to the American people of whatever faith they may profess. No one faith should predominate. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Coronation of Elena Kagan

Elena Kagan is a woman who banned ROTC from campus when she ran Harvard Law School and discontinued the teaching of the constitution as mandatory preparation for being a Harvard trained lawyer. I will concede the point that she is experienced. She did argue cases before the Supreme Court. She did get a law degree herself.

I don't blame her for trying to get on the Supreme Court. Why not try? It's a lifetime job with lots of prestige. You get long vacations if you get accepted. It's a nice gig.

What I do resent is the Senators who are supposedly questioning her throwing her softball questions, practically pleading with her to tell sweet lies that are good for putting a troubled conscience to sleep.

When the Democrats had a chance to question a Republican nominee, they grilled him. So thorough were the Democrats in doing so that they turned "Bork" into a verb Encarta defines "bork" as follows.

"block Senate confirmation of judicial candidate: to deny Senate confirmation of a nominee, especially for a U.S. Supreme Court or federal judgeship, by use of sustained public disparagement ( slang ) [Late 20th century. After Judge Robert H. Bork, whose confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987 was blocked in this way]

There is always the weary sense of certainty that Supreme Court nominees will be rubber stamped by the Senate, unless they are nominated by Republicans.

It can be argued that the Supreme Court is more influential than the Congress or the President. They can strike down laws passed by the legislative and executive branches of government. They can sit for decades with no possibility of electoral recall.

A position that is seldom defended is that the intent of the founding fathers should be paramount in deciding constitutional law. A second question is whether decisions rendered in foregn courts should influence American law. Elena Kagan is on record as praising Aharon Barak, an Israeli Supreme Court judge who is notorious for legislating and social engineering from the bench. On that ground alone she should be disqualified.

It is a pity that we think so little of our constitution that we are willing to let blatantly unqualified politically motivated appointments to the Supreme Court pass with little challenge. Barring a miracle of political courage, it looks like the Senate will inflict Elena Kagan on the American people for the duration of her natural life. What a pity. What a disgrace. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, July 5, 2010

Note To Readers on 24 Tammuz 5770, July 5, 2010

When I started writing on magdeburgerjoe.com as well as this site, it was with reckless indifference to what gets lots of hits. As I have started to write on other sites, I have gotten wider exposure and some money. Unfortunately, it comes with a price. In looking at what sells, I have neglected my own priorities. There are various pressures to produce what sells and even to tread softly in matters of personal opinion. Whether I am writing in a liberal or a conservative forum, some things just don't fit. Perhaps this is the way of capitalism. I am accustomed to bartering my freedom in the work place. Writing is a new area. Self censorship has crept up on me. It has deadened me spiritually and to a certain extent blinded me.

I need to remedy this situation and have decided on the following. I have set a quota of 3 articles a day. Henceforth, the first article every day will be posted to my own personal sites, Magdeburgerjoe.com or Rudistettner.com. There are very few readers here. It may always be that way. But these two sites will be my domain of free speech, of reckless indifference to ratings and refusal to remain within camps of political, religious and social opinion. Writing for others often means suppressing parts of my world view to fit in and get ahead. In the past weeks of writing very little on my sites, I have come to realise how important they are to my integrity and growth.

My sites and the opinions expressed in them are not for sale. The unspoken pull of the market and less subtle influences do not hold any sway here.


Here is where I play music that is NOT top 40. Movies that were a hit 40 years ago, East German rock music, that's my beat. Here is Yerushalayim Shel Zahav, performed by the Moscow Male Jewish A Capella Choir.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wAR2uOOW7eM Sphere: Related Content