January 20, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 9:26 AM


The Cleric Behind 'Les Mis' : Author Victor Hugo was anticlerical, yet his tale's hero is set on course by a Catholic bishop. (DORIS DONNELLY, 1/03/13, WSJ)

As Hugo worked on the novel, his son Charles, then in his 20s, objected to the reverential treatment of the bishop. He argued to his father that the portrayal gave undeserved respect to a corrupt clergy, bestowing credibility on a Roman Catholic Church opposed to the democratic ideals that he and his father held. Charles instead proposed that the catalyst for Jean Valjean's transformation be a lawyer or doctor or anyone else from a secular profession.

The pushback didn't work. Not only did Hugo hold his ground, but he amplified the importance of Charles-François Bienvenue Myriel, affectionately known in the novel as Monseigneur Bienvenue (Bishop Welcome). The book's first hundred pages or so are a detailed chronicle of Myriel's exemplary life, showing that his intervention on behalf of Jean Valjean was part of a long track record and not a singular aberration. Apparently Hugo recognized no contradiction between his anticlericalism and the possibility--or certainty--that grace could be mediated by a just priest who was transparent to the divine and never betrayed the human.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 9:20 AM


The untried colors of Bennett : Had the campaign lasted any longer, there's no telling how much more support Netanyahu would have lost (DAVID HOROVITZ, January 20, 2013,  Times of Israel)

The Likud held a not terribly impressive 27 seats in the outgoing Knesset. Avigdor Liberman's Yisrael Beytenu held 15. But far from raising their joint total beyond 42 in these elections, the polls show the two parties, running together as Likud-Beytenu, can expect no more than 34-38 seats. The Netanyahu-Liberman alliance seems to have alienated many of the Likud's traditional and Orthodox voters, who are switching in droves to Naftali Bennett's Jewish Home party. And pro-settlement voters are switching to Bennett too, concerned that Netanyahu is not reliably committed to expanding settlements -- which is somewhat ironic, given President Barack Obama's reported assessment that Netanyahu's insistent settlement-building plans will come to spell an existential threat to Israel.

In these final weeks of the campaign, while Netanyahu limps toward the finish line, the momentum is emphatically with Jewish Home -- boosted, not harmed, by Bennett's assessment that an IDF order to dismantle settlements is fundamentally illegal; and undeterred by US-born Jewish Home prospective MK Jeremy Gimpel's documented relish for the theoretical prospect of a new Jewish temple replacing a "blown up" Dome of the Rock atop the Temple Mount.

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM


Eyes Wide Shut : a review of Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief By Lawrence Wright (MICHAEL KINSLEY, 1/20/13, NY Times Book Review)

[W]right's book, "Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief," makes clear that Scientology is like no church on Earth (or, in all probability, Venus or Mars either). The closest institutional parallel would be the Communist Party in its heyday: the ruthless struggles for power, the show trials and forced confessions (often false); the paranoia (often justified); the determination to control its members' lives completely (the key difference, you will recall, between authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, according to the onetime American ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick); the maintenance of something close to prison camps where dissenters, would-be defectors and power-struggle rivals were incarcerated in deplorable conditions for years and punished if they tried to escape; what the book describes as mysterious deaths and disappearances; and so on. Except that while the American Communist Party, including a few naïve Hollywood types, merely turned a blind eye to events happening in faraway Russia, Scientology -- if Wright is to be believed, and I think he is -- ran, and maybe still runs, a shadow totalitarian empire here in the United States, financed in part by huge contributions by Tom Cruise and others of the Hollywood aristocracy. ­"Naïve" doesn't begin to describe the credulousness and sense of entitlement that has allowed actors, writers and directors to think they were helping themselves and the world by hanging around the Scientologists' "Celebrity Centre," taking "upper level" courses and gossiping about who was about to be labeled a "Suppressive Person" (bad guy).

Wright's last book, "The Looming Tower," a history of Al Qaeda, won the Pulitzer Prize. He is also the author of, among other books, a charmingly presumptuous premature autobiography, "In the New World," published in 1987. He belongs to a small cult of his own -- an Austin-centered group of writers dedicated to preserving long-form narrative journalism. With this book, he's certainly paid his dues for a few years.

Wright is well advised to be calm and seem neutral in his presentation of the Scientology story, since the group has been known to make life miserable for its critics, its favorite weapon being the lawsuit, often brought in order to bury the defendant in legal costs and hassles. The purpose of a lawsuit is "to harass and discourage rather than to win," Hubbard said. Perhaps, though, this knowledge that any mistake will be abnormally costly does lend added credibility to Wright's vast research and reporting.

Among the horrors Wright either uncovers or borrows (with credit) from previous Scientology exposés in Time magazine and The St. Petersburg (now Tampa Bay) Times is "the Hole," a hellish double-wide trailer parked at a California resort owned by the church. Forty or 50 people were housed there with no furniture or beds, eating leftovers, enduring cold-hose group showers. There are stories of people being beaten; and lots of stories of forced divorces, mandatory "disconnections" -- orders not to talk with a spouse or friend who has offended in some way. But only once in 430 pages filled with lurid anecdotes did my skeptical antennas start to twitch. Wright asserts that someone was punished by being "made to run around a pole in the desert for 12 hours a day, until his teeth fell out." Really? That's the first thing that happens when you run in circles in the desert all day? I need to know more. How many days are we talking about? Did they let him floss?

But I shouldn't jest. Wright's favorite Scientologist, at least in this life, is the television and film writer Paul Haggis. (He wrote and directed "Crash," which won the Academy Award for best picture in 2006.) Haggis talked at length with Wright and therefore gets off way too easily in the retelling. I was about to write that Haggis is no fool, but let me amend that: he is no fool in the particular matter of cooperating with the author of a book about events you were involved in. In Washington it's called the Bob Woodward rule -- always talk, or you'll regret it.

Haggis is quoted advising Tom Cruise to have a sense of humor about himself, "something that is often lacking in Scientology," Wright says dryly, in one of the few passages where he shows his cards. That is certainly true, and possibly a problem, but if so it is among the least of them. When people are running something akin to a private gulag across the United States and, to a lesser extent, the entire world, who cares whether they get the joke? And what is the joke, exactly?

That they think they're entitled to be treated like a religion.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


The Making Of A Coach (DAVID HALBERSTAM, 10/17/05, Sports Illustrated)

BILL BELICHICK was born in Nashville in 1952, when Steve, already considered an exceptional coach--tough and smart, original and demanding, way ahead of the curve in the drills he devised and, in addition to everything else, a brilliant scout--was in the process of being fired as an assistant coach at Vanderbilt, even though the team he was part of had done reasonably well.

Thus Bill Belichick entered a world rather typical for the son of a lifer. By the time he was a toddler, his parents had already given up the lease on their house and put their furniture in storage, and his father was waiting for word on a next job. The head coach they had followed to Vanderbilt, an immensely popular man named Bill Edwards ( William Stephen Belichick was named both for Bill Edwards and for his father), was well connected in the world of coaching, liked by almost everyone, but it was late in the year, and there were not a lot of openings.

It was a difficult moment. On Steve's tiny salary the Belichicks had not been able to save any money. The phone, which was supposed to be ringing with job offers, did not ring. There was talk that Bill Edwards might be offered an assistant's job at North Carolina and that if he were, Steve Belichick might become a part of his team, but it was still just talk. Time was running out. Finally, with Jeannette Belichick's help, a game plan was formulated: They would pile everything they had into the car and drive east. Somewhere along the way they would stop and call the Carolina people. If the job was there, they would continue on to Chapel Hill; if there was no word, they would leave the uncertain world of college coaching, and Steve would try to find a job in Florida coaching high school football.

In Knoxville, not quite halfway to Chapel Hill, the Belichicks pulled up alongside a restaurant, and Steve got out and called from a pay phone. The Carolina job was his. So they went to Chapel Hill, and the idea of coaching high school football was put aside, at least for the moment. The Belichick family loved Chapel Hill, and the job there lasted three years, 1953 to '55, before they were all once again fired.

From there Steve Belichick managed to get a job as an assistant coach at Navy. Bill was three years old when they went to Annapolis, Md. Steve loved it there, loved coaching the Midshipmen, and decided he would stay there permanently if he could. He did not long to be a head coach--he had seen how quickly they came and went, even when they were talented, like his friend Bill Edwards. He did not need the title or the power. He decided everything he needed was right there: a solid program (Navy still had nationally ranked teams in those days), great young men, an attractive community, wonderful colleagues.

Steve Belichick was one of those rare Americans who, though ambitious and exceptionally hardworking, knew when he had a deal that suited him, and he had no urge for greener pastures, which in his shrewd estimate might in fact not be greener. Over the years he turned down countless job offers from other colleges and from the pros. And he did another shrewd thing: At Chapel Hill he had become close to the Carolina basketball coach, the legendary Frank McGuire, who had taken a special liking to the Belichick family and especially to its three-year-old son. Basketball practice always stopped when Steve and Bill showed up, and someone was ordered to find a ball, always brand new, to roll out to Bill. When McGuire heard that the Belichicks were going to Navy, he told Steve to do what his friend Ben Carnevale, the basketball coach there, had done, which was to try and move up on a tenure track as a physical education instructor in addition to coaching. This would protect him from the volatility and uncertainty of the coach's life. Steve took the advice and became an assistant professor and then a tenured associate professor. That gave him something rare in the world of coaching, job security, and he ended up staying at Navy for 33 years, under eight head coaches. Coaching at Annapolis, he said, "was like dying and going to heaven."

Steve Belichick was an original teacher, and he had a rare skill in preparing players for a game, because he had no equal as a scout. "The best scout I've ever seen--the amount of detail and knowledge was unmatched," said Mac Robinson, who had played for him at Vanderbilt. "If Steve said something was going to happen in a game, then it was going to happen in a game." Other players agreed. "Best scout in the precomputer age that football ever had," said Don Gleisner, who played defensive back at Vanderbilt. "Nothing was left to chance." Steve did not prepare with broad generalities but with minutiae, detail after detail. Each player, he felt, should go into a game feeling he had a distinct advantage over the player he was matched up against.

Years later Bill Belichick would understand what made his father such a good scout: the absolute dedication to his craft, the belief that it was important, and the fact that so many people--the people who paid his salary, his colleagues and the young men who played for him--were depending on him. "What I learned," Steve's son would say years later, "was that it was not just a game, it was a job."

STEVE BELICHICK also passed on to his son--a far more privileged young man operating in an infinitely more affluent America--a relentless work ethic, one that had been part of his own boyhood as the son of Croatian immigrants who had settled in Youngstown, Ohio, and had survived the Depression. The lessons of that difficult childhood and young manhood were never forgotten. If you were new in the country and your name was Belichick (or Bilicic, as it had been until it was changed by a first-grade teacher in Monessen, Pa., who had trouble spelling it), you were likely to get the worst jobs available. But you always worked hard. You always did your best. You did not complain. You wasted nothing. You had to be careful in good times because bad times would surely follow. Nothing was to be bought on credit. As a high school fullback Steve had earned a scholarship at Western Reserve, but just to remind himself how lucky he was, he had taken a job in the mills during the months after graduation, turning coal into coke for 49 cents an hour, unbearably hot, unpleasant and dangerous work. Nothing else in his life would ever seem hard again.

Steve's son would eventually have two childhoods: a normal American childhood and then a football childhood. As a boy he spoke two languages: English and coach-speak, football version. (At 13, he would talk to his coach about whether his team should use a wide-tackle-six defense--that is, a six-man balanced front, with two linebackers--or, against teams that had a better passing attack, the Oklahoma, a five-man front with two linebackers and four defensive backs arrayed like an umbrella.) Other kids had their hobbies: Some collected postage stamps, and others had baseball cards. Bill studied football film. It seemed natural to him, and he had a great aptitude for it--plus, it allowed him to spend a good deal of time with his father. He was about five when he saw his first game, and when he was taken at that age to what he was told was the William and Mary game, he wondered aloud if William would beat Mary.

He started hanging out with Steve at Navy practices when he was six or seven, and by the time he was nine he would make a scouting trip with Steve once a year--compensation for the fact that his father was away so much on weekends scouting. Bill loved making that annual trip; his father seemed so important a figure in a world that the boy admired and was gradually coming to understand. On Monday nights, after his father had scouted an opponent, Bill was allowed to go with him (if his homework was finished) to do the breakdown of the upcoming opponent for the whole Navy team. He would sit there, transfixed by the serious way these wonderful athletes listened to his father and the respect they showed him.

In a way it was as if Bill were part of a larger family. When Ernie Jorge, the Navy line coach, did the final game plan on Friday night, he always made an extra copy and put it in an envelope with Bill Belichick's name on it. "He'd get the report and go up to his room and study the plays," Steve Belichick said years later. "I think he was nine at the time, but he knew 28 was a sweep, 26 was off tackle. He knew all the pass plays, the banana and the down-and-out." What Bill remembered best about his father in those years, perhaps the most important thing of all, was that he seemed to come home from work happy each night and always seemed eager to go to work, and that the men he worked with obviously respected him greatly.

Very early on, Bill Belichick, not surprisingly, started seeing the game through the eyes of a coach. Studying the game and scouting off film is exhausting, repetitive work that can quickly turn into drudgery, as there is no shortcut: You have to run the film forward, run it back, run it forward again and run it back again two or three more times. To most people, a quick view of what another team did was enough. But for Steve Belichick and soon enough for his son, that quick view was a ticket into a secret world, in which you could find so much more than what was on the surface: the way players lined up for different plays, the difference in cadences for running and passing plays--all the things that might give you an edge.

Football was always on young Bill's mind. When he was in class--and he generally got good grades--he was thinking football and drawing up plays. Some 35 years after he left Annapolis High, Jeannette Belichick found some of her son's old notebooks, including one from French class. She opened it to find not very much in the way of French verbs, but a lot of football plays that had been diagrammed, his secret world of X's and O's.

Steve Belichick taught thousands of players and younger coaches, many of whom went on to prominent jobs, but in the end his greatest pupil was his son. He taught him many things, including how to scout and to study film and what position to play--center--because the boy was smart and strong for his size but was not going to be very big, not on a football-player scale, and because, even more important, he was not going to be particularly fast. Steve knew that early on because Bill had heavy ankles. That was the first thing he looked for when he was recruiting, the ankles, because they were a tip-off on speed. Center was the right position for Bill because he would know the game, and a smart center who knew how to read a defense was always valuable. So, as a result, a particular repetitive sound, a kind of thud, filled the Belichick house in Bill's teenage years: the sound of him centering the ball against a mat hanging on a wall in the basement. If anyone had helped create the extraordinary coach who stood there, soaked in Gatorade, that evening of his third Super Bowl win, it was Steve Belichick. At that moment his son stood at the pinnacle of his profession.

WHAT FOOTBALL men--coaches and players alike--admire about Bill Belichick more than anything else is his ability to create a team in an age when the outside forces working against it seem more powerful every year and often the more talented a player is, the more he needs to display his ego, to celebrate his own deeds rather than team deeds. A fan can now watch truly bizarre scenes on Sunday: a player, his team down by four touchdowns, making a good catch and dancing as if he'd just won a championship. Belichick, as much as anyone in football, tries to limit that and to make New England win and behave at all times like a team.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


Zionism's New Boss : Under rookie politician Naftali Bennett, religious Zionism is finally becoming Israel's political mainstream (Liel Leibovitz, January 14, 2013, Tablet)

Naftali Bennett's press conference late last month was to the Israeli election cycle what a high-speed car chase is to a middling Hollywood action movie. With the chronicle of Bibi Netanyahu's re-election more or less foretold, Israelis were vying for a shot of adrenaline that would rescue what had otherwise become a bloodless procedural, and Bennett was on hand to deliver.

The chase began on Thursday night, Dec. 20, when Bennett, the young and charismatic head of Habayit Hayehudi--literally, the Jewish Home--a right-of-center religious party soaring in the polls, was interviewed by Nissim Mishal, one of Israel's most revered television journalists. The veteran reporter wasted no time. He grilled Bennett, Netanyahu's one-time chief of staff, about his allegedly strained relationship with his former boss. He called Bennett delusional for believing that it was possible for Israel to continue to object to the establishment of a Palestinian state in the face of mounting international pressure. For the first 15 minutes, they maintained a tense conversation, but nothing out of the ordinary for Israeli TV, where interviews are a contact sport and civility a sign of weakness. But Mishal had an ace up his sleeve.

At some point, his tone grew noticeably quieter. "You're a major in reserve, right?" he asked Bennett, a former officer in one of the army's elite units. Bennett confirmed that this was true. "If," Mishal continued, "you were given an order to evacuate a [Jewish] outpost or settlement, what would you do?"

For a few seconds, the studio was silent. The question, Mishal knew, placed Bennett in a lose-lose scenario: As the former head of the settlers' council, Bennett would be expected to declare that he would never agree to dismantle settlements, but as an ascendant political superstar whose surprising popularity was based on his image as a laid-back moderate, he was obliged to reassure his voters of his fealty to the rule of law.

"If I," Bennett began his reply, but Mishal, impatient, interrupted. Waving his hand, the journalist bellowed: "Don't beat around the bush! No speeches! What would you do?"

Bennett hunched his shoulders, looking at Mishal the way a boxer eyes his opponent just before the first punch is thrown. "Listen," he said, "listen. If I get an order to evacuate a Jew from his home, to expel him, me, personally, my conscience would not let me do it. I'll ask my commander to excuse me, but I won't publicly call on others to refuse an order. I personally can't ..." [...]

His money bought him the freedom to dabble in politics, first as Netanyahu's aide and then as the leader of the settler movement. But politics were a much wider, and much muddier, field than the self-contained environments to which Bennett was accustomed, and his style, in the early days in the public arena, could often be brusque.In September 2010, for example, Bennett, then the head of the Yesha Council, the settlers' umbrella organization, agreed to a televised debate with Ahmed Tibi, the most prominent Israeli-Arab member of Knesset. Tibi is chubby, bespectacled, and quick witted, and he wasted little time calling Bennett and his fellow settlers "colonialists" and "usurpers." "Ahmed Tibi," Bennett said in response, "I'll say it loud and clear: This land was ours long before Islam was even created." He made a few statements along these lines, and then, just to make sure his point was clear, he thundered: "I'll say it again. This land is ours. The land of Israel belongs to the Jews, long before you discovered the holy Quran. So, do me a favor: It's ours." The last word, in Bennett's diction, seemed to have 16 syllables. Tibi, livid, tried to say something, and Bennett interrupted. Tibi urged Bennett to shut up; then, in the heat of discussion, he told Bennett that he considered him, a settler, to be like "a tumor that had to be removed." Bennett fired back quickly. "When you were still climbing trees," he said, "we had here a Jewish state."

The incident generated little attention. The following morning, Walla, a prominent Israeli news site, ran a small article titled "Does the Yesha Council believe that Arabs climb on trees?" It was a dog-bites-man story: Here was Bennett, another hotheaded settler, another zealot, speaking bombastically. To the extent that the press reported on Bennett before the spring of 2012, most stories about him read like this. Some noted that he had served as Netanyahu's chief of staff. Others, that he was the son of Jim and Myrna, Americans who had left San Francisco in 1967 and settled in Haifa. But these were tidbits; the main story was that Bennett, despite all the trimmings, was still a settler ideologue, and most of his public appearances, like the shouting match with Tibi, seemed to confirm that characterization.
Enhanced by Zemanta