6. Followups

Sep-28-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: The followup to last week’s Rosh Hashanah sermon, is of course a Yom Kippur sermon, even more moving and universal. Following France’s lead, Russia bans Monsanto’s corn, and yet another study (the most comprehensive and supported I’ve seen) that Iran is NOT edging towards nuclear weapons.

* Why Be Jewish?: A Sermon for Yom Kippur 5773 Rabbi Brandt Shalom Rav

Let me leave you with this vision: the vision of a people who have over the centuries learned to build a nation without borders, a multi-ethnic nation suffused with the beauty of a myriad of cultures, a nation inspired by a religious tradition it constructs and reconstructs in every age and in every generation. At its heart, it a nation committed to the struggle for meaning in our lives and justice in our world. And in the end, a nation that has nothing to fear and every opportunity to gain from the remarkable changes underway in the 21st century.

 * Russia Bans Use and Import of Monsanto’s GMO Corn Following Study  NationofChange

Following the groundbreaking French study that graphically linked the lifetime consumption of Monsanto’s GMO corn in rats to massive tumours and direct organ failure, Russia’s premiere consumers rights organization has suspended both the importation and use of Monsanto’s GMO corn within the nation’s borders.

The move may soon be echoed by other nations, who may soon be urged by France to ban Monsanto’s GMOs due to serious health concerns. France, who also recently upheld a key ban on growing GMOs, has been instrumental in alerting the world to the dangers of GMOs and Monsanto’s overall corruption.

* The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Iran and the Bomb

Given how easily the American public and media were manipulated into believing that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, this moment should give us some pause. The disastrous effects of that $3 Trillion Dollar War are still being felt across the world. For those not interested in seeing a much-bloodier, costlier sequel, I offer this introductory course in intellectual self-defence. The only way to rebuff and dismantle propaganda is to be aware of the truth on which it claims to comment.

Lesson #1: Iran is not building nuclear weapons

National Intelligence Estimate: “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.” (2007 National Intelligence Estimate Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities; November 2007)

“Several senior Israeli officials who spoke in recent days to The Associated Press said Israel has come around to the U.S. view that no final decision to build a bomb has been made by Iran.” (Associated Press, “Israel shifts views on Iran”; March 18, 2012)

The 2011 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), a synthesized compilation of data evaluated by America’s 17 intelligence agencies, declared that there were no serious revisions to the controversial (for war hawks) 2007 NIE—which stated Iran stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003. While the 2011 estimate did include updated progress on Iran’s civilian nuclear program, such as an increased number of operative centrifuges, it still could not muster any evidence to indicate the program was being weaponized.

These findings echo reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has also concluded that Iran is not building nuclear weapons. The IAEA accounts are typically pored over for the slightest hint of ambiguity or malevolence, which are then promulgated as the most important takeaways in Western news summaries.



5. About “The Innocence of Muslims”

Sep-21-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: Who would have guessed that Neil Gaiman would have the lead story about the bigoted film? But he knew the actress who wrote to him, and he ran her letter, and so the story came out. Al Jazeera sums up the story, and Stephen Walt points out that just how much the extremists on one side depend on the extremists on the other.

* A Letter from a Scared Actress Neil Gaiman’s Journal

Something very bad happened. I desperately need everyone’s help right now.

I don’t know how to start writing this letter. It’s crazy, the world is.. life.. I’m so shattered right now, I don’t know.. I feel very dead inside. 

Last summer I auditioned for an indie low budget feature movie and I landed a supporting role. The movie was about a comet falling into a desert and ancient tribes fighting over it for they thought that the comet had some magical powers.

A year later, the movie was dubbed (without the actors’ permission), the lines were changed drastically and the movie was morphed into an Anti-Islam film. Even the names of the characters were changed. And the character I had scenes with GEORGE became MUHAMMAD. 

I really need your advice right now? How can I have my voice shown to the world so that I can tell them the real story.

* The Attacks In Libya And Beyond  Al Jazeera (Thanks Gabe!)

The lack of humanity has been evident clear across the world this week, from the con-man in California who produced a bigoted anti-Muslim film, to some crackpot, cracker of a preacher who promoted it, to a bunch of zealots in Libya who murdered innocents, people performing public service whose only crime was to be from the country from which the film hailed.

Then there was the American presidential candidate – Mitt Romney - who grinned like the Cheshire cat as he politicized the death of innocent Americans, including our ambassador to Libya. All of this occurred, mind you, within 24 hours of 9/11, when an act of unspeakable inhumanity led to mass death and suffering in the United States. Not a good few days for the human species, I’d venture to say.

What does this all tell us? Mostly, it reminds us of some sad realities with which we’re already all too acquainted. That while religion and ideology can lead to spirituality and righteous passion (think the civil rights movement), they can also lead to the suppression of women’s rights, the justification of economic subjugation, and when it comes right down to it, hatred for one’s fellow man (and woman) for no other reason than they are “different”.

* Lessons of Benghazi (and beyond)   Stephen M. Walt

Extremists on both sides are engaged in a dangerous duet: They depend on each other for sustenance and reinforcement. The extremist views and radical violence of groups like Al Qaeda create a mirror image here, in the form of paranoid Islamophobes, whose harsh rhetoric and support for endless war against the entire Muslim world in turn gives Islamic extremists potent arguments to use in their battle to win hearts and minds. Matt Duss has a great rundown on this whole problem here. My point is that if you want to make Islamic extremism stronger, you should write a check to your favourite Islamophobe. 



6. Happy New Year

Sep-21-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: Shana Tova! Two New Year’s treats: a powerful sermon from Rabbi Brant Rosen, and the video of a man wandering the streets of L.A. blowing his shofar. Shofar, so good.

* Judaism Without Tribalism: A Sermon for Rosh Hashanah 5773  Shalom Rav

I also wonder if Jewish tribalism is starting to come at a cost.  I especially wonder what it means for the Jewish community to be tribal in this day and age, when we are experiencing openness and freedom in historically unprecedented ways.  Given the global realities of our 21stcentury world, I wonder if there might be new models for Jewish identity – ones that value tribalism less than a deeper sense of engagement and kinship with the world outside….

I know personally how hard it is for many of us to challenge our tribal Jewish legacy.  But as for me, I believe to my very core that whether we like it or not, our collective future will depend upon building more bridges, and not more walls, between peoples and nations.  I believe the most effective way for us to survive – the only way we will bequeath our traditions to the next generation –  is to affirm a Judaism that finds sacred meaning in our connection to mol yoshvei revel – all who dwell on earth.

I also believe this because I know that while Judaism certainly contains tribal and parochial teachings, it also has also a strong tradition of religious humanism – mitzvoth that demand we love all our neighbours as ourselves.  After all, one of the first – and most powerful – teachings in the Torah is that human beings are created B’tzelem Elohim – in the image of God.  From the outset we learn that all human beings are equally worthy of respect, dignity and love – and, I would add, equally worthy of one anthers’ allegiance and loyalty.  Moreover, a key rabbinic concept, Kavod HaBriyot, demands that we ensure all people are treated with honour and dignity.  In a famous verse from Pirke Avot, Rabbi Ben Zoma teaches: “Who is honored?  The one who honours all human beings.”

All are created in God’s image.  Honor comes to the one who honours all people.  To my mind, these are the strands of Judaism we must seek out and and affirm in no uncertain terms.

* Street Shofar featuring IKAR’s Sexy Shofar Man  Boing Boing

IKAR is a progressive, egalitarian Jewish community, driven by a passionate belief in the relevance of the Jewish tradition and its power to infuse our lives with meaning and purpose. We believe that Jewish religious practice challenges us to wake up to our responsibilities as Jews and as human beings, and that the upcoming High Holy Days are nothing short of a call to transform our lives, our city and our world. So we sent our Sexy Shofar Man to hit the streets with his sweet shofar blowing to beckon the people of Los Angeles to wake up and think about what’s possible in 5773.



4. Among the Believers

Aug-31-2012 | Comments (2)

Bird’s Eye: “The imagination and the spiritual strength of Shakespeare’s evildoers stopped short at a dozen corpses. Because they had no ideology.” -Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago. A serious look by the Guardian at the rise of “homegrown terrorists”, a Toronto Star piece that triggered a violent personal attack of shadenfreude (joy at disasters hitting one’s enemies), and a fine piece from the Oatmeal about where the lines are beyond which religions shouldn’t go. Some bad language; but not religiously offensive (ymmv)

* Wade Michael Page And The Rise Of Violent Far-Right Extremism  The Guardian

In 2009, Daryl Johnson, an analyst at the Department for Homeland Security, authored a report that explicitly warned of the growing threat of far-right violence. Pointing to the economic downturn, the election of Barack Obama and evidence that some military veterans were struggling to re-integrate into civilian life, the report was one of the first to flag the growing importance of the extreme right – a movement that was routinely overlooked after 9/11. Few, however, took the warning seriously. Rather, Republicans and rightwing commentators openly criticised the report. Some saw it as an attempt to discredit the insurgent and right-wing Tea Party movement while many viewed it as an unfair attack on military veterans. Others said it focused unnecessarily on domestic rather than foreign manifestations of terrorism.

But Johnson (who was later shunted into a different department) was not wrong. Following Wisconsin, some analysts reminded commentators that the far right is responsible for as many – if not more – attacks on US soil than religious-based extremists, and now poses the most significant domestic security threat. Indeed, prior to 9/11 the most damaging act of terrorism within the US was the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma by militia sympathiser Timothy McVeigh, which resulted in 168 deaths and more than 800 injuries. Between 1990 and 2010 the far right committed 145 ideologically motivated homicide incidents in the US. Of these incidents, excluding the bombing in Oklahoma City, far-right extremists killed 180 people.

The data suggests that American far right groups have grown “explosively”, which is attributed to a potent combination of public anxieties over the financial crisis, the growth of conspiracy theories, the exploitation of fears over non-white immigration and the prospect of Obama securing a second term in office.

* Leader Of Anti-Semitic Party In Hungary Discovers He Is Jewish The Toronto Star

As a rising star in Hungary’s far-right Jobbik Party, Csanad Szegedi was notorious for his incendiary comments on Jews: He accused them of “buying up” the country, railed about the “Jewishness” of the political elite and claimed Jews were desecrating national symbols.

Then came a revelation that knocked him off his perch as ultra-nationalist standard-bearer: Szegedi himself is a Jew. Following weeks of Internet rumours, Szegedi acknowledged in June that his grandparents on his mother’s side were Jews — making him one too under Jewish law, even though he doesn’t practice the faith. His grandmother was an Auschwitz survivor and his grandfather a veteran of forced labour camps.

Since then, the 30-year-old has become a pariah in Jobbik and his political career is on the brink of collapse. He declined to be interviewed for this story.

* How To Suck At Your Religion – The Oatmeal

“Every time someone has homosexual intercourse, God punishes us by letting Nickelback release another album.”



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