November 27, 2022

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 PM


Netanyahu puts extremist homophobic politician in charge of Israel's Jewish identity (CARRIE KELLER-LYNN, 11/27/22, Times of Israel)

One of the Knesset's most far-right politicians, who holds non-pluralist Jewish views and anti-LGBT, sexist, and anti-Arab positions, will be the next government's head of "Jewish identity," following an agreement signed Sunday with presumed prime minister-to-be Benjamin Netanyahu. [...]

Among Maoz's radical positions, he has said that he wants to constrain eligibility for Jewish immigration to Israel by removing the ability for grandchildren of Jews who are not Jews themselves to qualify under Israel's Law of Return. Many immigrants to Israel from the former Soviet Union obtain their citizenship under the so-called grandfather clause, and transferring the office that handles their applications to Maoz's purview may affect their processing. [...]

In addition to circumscribing the grandfather clause, Maoz and religious political allies are pushing to carve out non-Orthodox conversion to Judaism from acceptable proofs of Jewishness for immigration.

Maoz has also said that he wants to increase Jewish education in Israeli public schools and wants to scrap unspecified "progressive study programs," including undefined "gender studies."

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 PM


Manchin's side deal on brink as GOP seeks his 2024 ouster (ALEXANDER BOLTON - 11/27/22, The Hill)

Ford O'Connell, a Republican strategist, said getting the Mountain Valley Pipeline authorized, a key piece of Manchin's permitting reform bill, would be a big win in West Virginia, where fossil fuel is the "life's blood" of the state economy. 

Manchin is already under attack from likely Republican challengers for voting for the Inflation Reduction Act. Getting permitting reform passed as a reward for that tough vote would give him political cover. 

"This is an opportunity to actually win his seat in 2024," O'Connell said, adding that "it would be political malpractice" to give Manchin a victory on permitting reform.  

The motives are obviously dubious, but killing permitting would be the best thing the GOP has done for the environment in at least a decade.

Posted by orrinj at 2:57 PM


To those Jews who still support him (Jeffrey Salkin, 11/27/22, RNS)

It should have been enough when his name first came into the public eye, in the early 1970s, when his family's realty company was sued for discriminating against Blacks.

When he mocked the reporter with disabilities, any self-respecting Jew -- or anyone who claims to believe in God -- should have quit him, right then and there. Finis.

When he boasted that he could grab women by their private parts, you should have shaken your head in disgust. "This is not what my faith says about how we speak of and to women," you should have said.

When he urged violence against reporters, you should have said something. "This is not what my faith says about how we behave in the world."

When he characterized Mexicans as rapists, drug dealers and animals, you should have raised your hand. "Excuse me, but you do know that once you start insulting one group of people, there is no end to it."

When he called for a ban on Muslims entering this country, you should have closed your checkbook. "If my grandparents could not have gotten into this country in the 1930s -- and many could not, because of these kinds of policies -- I would not be here."

But, no.

When he commented on the neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville, chanting "The Jews will not replace us," and he said that there were "very good people" on both sides: Did you stand up? Where was your Jewish pride?

When he said that he only wanted Jews and not Black people to count his money, why didn't you say: "Wait one minute..."

When he retweeted an image of a Jewish star superimposed over a pile of cash, why didn't you say: "That's my symbol! What are you saying?"

If, back in 2019, you were present at the Israeli-American Council Summit at the Diplomat in Hollywood, Florida, and you heard him say about Jews: "A lot of you are in the real estate business because I know you very well. You're brutal killers, not nice people at all. But you have to vote for me, you have no choice," why didn't you rip off your napkin, and stand up, right then and there?

If you were paying attention when he said: "You're not gonna support me because I don't want your money. You want to control your politicians, that's fine," why didn't you reach for your valet parking claim check?

When he addressed an audience of American Jews and referred to Israel as "your country," why didn't you say, "Yes, we love Israel, but we are citizens of the United States of America..."?

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


On the Fall of Fated Men: a review of The Anglo-Saxons. A History of the Beginnings of England: 400-1066 by Marc Morris (Timothy D. Lush, Nov 27, 2022, University Bookman)

A miasmic progressivism choked the life out of academia long ago. Scholars, the great Anglo-Saxonist J.R.R. Tolkien might have observed, are passing into shadow. Rambaran-Olm and Wade have plenty of company. The ponderously named International Society for the Study of Early Medieval England--formerly known as the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists--changed its name in 2019 due to "problematic connotations that are widely associated with the terms 'Anglo-Saxon' and 'Anglo-Saxonist' in public discourse."

As with all organizational statements of this sort, it offers no substance or clarity. If people really were standing around talking about the Anglo-Saxons and connoting problematic things all over the place, well, then, perhaps Rambaran-Olm might have a point. But then I might also be encouraged by the fact that people were talking about something other than Chris Rock getting slapped at the Academy Awards.

Narrative historians are smirking at all this because it will translate into better sales for popular history. Who wants to read a book by the intellectually pompous trying to prove ideological purity? We want good stories told well. Marc Morris's latest book is just that. Ranging over six centuries of invasion, immigration, and royal intrigue, Morris recounts the fascinating tale of that elusive bunch known, quite rightly, as the Anglo-Saxons.

For his part, he will have none of the progressive renaming project. Morris concedes that the Germanic peoples who inhabited Britain from roughly the 5th century onward did not think of themselves as Anglo-Saxons. Rather, they thought of themselves as Angles or Saxons or Jutes.

We Jutes (Judds) are down with that. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


A rising star in the Biden administration faces a $100 billion test (Ana Swanson, 11/26/22, New York Times)

Raimondo, 51, has emerged as one of Biden's most trusted Cabinet officials. Company executives describe her as a skillful and charismatic politician who is both engaged and accessible in an administration often known for its skepticism of big business.

Raimondo's work has earned her praise from Republicans and Democrats, along with labor unions and corporations. Her supporters say she could ascend to another Cabinet position, run for the Senate or perhaps mount a presidential bid.

But she is under close watch by Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and some other left-wing Democrats, who have criticized her as being too solicitous of corporate interests. Some progressive groups have accused Raimondo of being under the influence of big tech firms and not thoroughly disclosing those ties.

"Secretary Raimondo's job is to help grow an economy that works for everyone, not to be the chief lobbyist for the Chamber of Commerce," Warren said in a statement to The New York Times. "I have real concerns about the department's approach, whether it's approving assault weapon sales, negotiating trade deals or supporting big tech companies."

Those criticisms have been fanned by rumors in recent months that the White House is considering Raimondo to serve as the next Treasury secretary if Janet Yellen, the current occupant of that post, eventually steps down. Joe could resign in her favor.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


House Republicans don't really have a plan to lower inflation, but economists say that could be a good thing (Jim Puzzanghera, November 26, 2022, Boston Globe)

[I]t's the Republicans who made reducing inflation the centerpiece of their midterm campaign, and in the short term, they might have a greater chance of making the economy worse instead of better.

The only political leverage for House Republicans comes on must-pass bills to fund the government and raise the national debt limit for borrowing money to help pay for federal spending. Stalemates on that legislation could trigger a government shutdown or default on federal debt that would roil financial markets and damage an economy that already is expected to be teetering on the edge of recession next year.

But if those impasses can be avoided, the broader stalemate caused by divided government in Washington should help the inflation fight, economists said. It would keep politicians out of the battle, leaving the task to Federal Reserve officials who have the best tool -- interest rate hikes -- to bring down prices in the short term.

"I think realistically there's going to be very little that the next Congress can do on the inflation front, or the administration," said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the conservative-leaning American Action Forum think tank and a former director of the Congressional Budget Office. "They would all be well-advised not to make it worse ... and don't try to fix it because they really don't have the tools for doing that."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Society: A Community of Souls (Frank Filocomo, 11/27/22, University Bookman)

We are now living in an America plagued by a libertarian ethos; this is the downward slope in Putnam's U-curve. Total libertarianism, which sees the individual as the only important variable, is a fundamentally un-American idea. Russell Kirk, in his prescient essay, Libertarians: the Chirping Sectaries, rightly posits that fusing conservatism and libertarianism is akin to "advocating a union of ice and fire."  

The question remains: Why do conservatives today continue to conflate these two clearly contradictory ideologies? Furthermore, why aren't conservatives actively advocating for a return of American community? Though these are difficult questions to answer succinctly, I propose that the lines have been blurred due to a shift in understanding the role of the conservative. The Edmund Burke Foundation's National Conservatism Project, for example, in trying to correct neoconservative tendencies toward internationalism, has itself drifted from conservatism's communitarian moorings by elevating the nation state--as opposed to local associations and state governments--as the guarantor and goal of conservatism. National goals, of course, will always remain essential to the American people. But a disproportionate "nation first" emphasis entices conservatives to look beyond the particular communities they inhabit toward a universal idea to which it is much more difficult to contribute.

An individual who defines conservatism as nothing more than freedom from a totalist state mistakes the forest for the trees. While opposition to totalism is certainly important, it is a consequence, not the essence, of what it means to be a conservative. Many today who fancy themselves as conservatives are lacking in the fundamental works of literature, history, philosophy, and theology that both shape and reflect Western civilization. In his 1958 Modern Age essay entitled "Cultural Debris," Kirk advocates for a return to classical literature that, for centuries, has acted as the bedrock of Western civilization. Kirk argues that the undoing of a cohesive Western community is due to our indifference toward tradition:

Whether our civilization really retains coherence sufficient for restoration to be possible may be made clear to all thinking men within a few years. If the fabric of our ancient society has declined to the condition of a mere scattering of debris, all the tailors in the world cannot put it aright--nor all the beachcombers live by raking the sand for its vestiges. The totalists say that the old order is a corpse, and that man and society must be fashioned afresh, upon a grim plan. Yet there survive among us some people of intellectual power who hold that the wardrobe of our moral imagination is not yet altogether depleted.

Through the gloomy horizon Kirk points us to a shining light. Conservatives who love and revere Burkean traditionalism can save the day. The problem, though, is that many conservatives remain ideologically confused.

Often, those who deem themselves conservatives will echo certain familiar buzzwords: civil liberty, individualism, constitutional rights, freedom of speech. While there is nothing wrong with these terms per se, there is an essential piece of the pie missing here: community. The doctrine of rugged individualism, it seems to me, is incompatible with community. The Gadsden flag, which reads "Don't tread on me," is erroneously called a conservative symbol; rather it is an exclusively libertarian one. Kirk emphasized that conservatives and libertarians can both agree that bureaucratic overreach forces a straightjacket over individuals and municipalities. But where is the sense of community in "Don't tread on me?" Libertarianism, at least in its most fundamentalist form, is a rebuke of community. 

The Right is the Left.
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Avoid People Who Have No Hobbies (Ixtu Díaz, November 27, 2022, European Conservative)

Of all the moral epidemics of our time, perhaps the most pernicious is the silent plague afflicting people who have no hobbies. They are people who live to work. Nothing else. Every single moment of their lives is pure obligation, pure transcendence; even if they have managed to find a certain pleasure in fulfilling their routine duties--perhaps in a slightly less unpleasant job than usual, or a new client, or tearing pages out of a calendar--this twinge of satisfaction can scarcely be called 'happiness.' The man with hobbies often fails to understand just how incredibly rich his life is in comparison with the fabulously anodyne existence of those who consider all forms of leisure a waste of time.

G. K. Chesterton, a king among those who find deep enjoyment in the smaller things of life, had no doubts: "Lying in bed would be an altogether perfect and supreme experience if only one had a colored pencil long enough to draw on the ceiling." He was perpetually searching for fun with the childlike gaze he always wore, and he was grateful for the small pleasures he found. "You say grace before meals," he wrote. "All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink."

What we call hobbies are not a thing of our time, but of all times. When researchers found, deep in the tomb of the pharaoh Reny-Seneb, a board game (Hounds and Jackals), carved in ebony and dating from about 1800 BC., what bothered them most was not that their discovery was a vulgar pastime, but that they did not know the rules. On the island of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, archeologists uncovered several Scandinavian chess pieces from the 12th century, intricately made of walrus' and whale's teeth. In the Middle Ages--so dark and dull according to contemporary commentators--people had a great time playing dice, chess, and backgammon. 

Besides criticizing our neighbors, the world's oldest known pastime involved 49 tokens, found at the Bronze Age burial site of Basur Höyük near the Turkish city of Siirt. Made of stone, these tokens are of different colors: some are spheres, some are pyramids, others evoke dogs and wild boars. The same site also gave us rudimentary dice, and if archeologists had looked more closely, they probably would have found bottles of whiskey, a wad of banknotes, and a few half-smoked cigars.

We can be certain that since prehistoric times, mankind has played games, found hobbies and pastimes, and has reasonably balanced work--hunting mammoths and cleaning the cave--with leisure--going out for a drink or a game with friends. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Laughing at libertarians as crypto burns (Michael Warren Davis, 11/26/22, Spectator)

Our laissez-faire friends were the first crypto enthusiasts. The US dollar, they say, is a "fiat currency." Since we dropped the gold standard, it is no longer based on real wealth -- unlike Bitcoin, which is generated in huge warehouses full of computers known as blockchain mines (you can't make this stuff up).

Libertarians also like crypto because it's not issued by the government. Crypto-based transactions are harder to trace and tax. Naturally, this also makes it harder for the government to protect consumers if (say) a crypto exchange chief decides to take their money and flee to the Bahamas.

Now, for the principled libertarian, that's all fine. He takes a Darwinian view of economics. Anyone stupid enough to fall for a Ponzi scheme deserves to lose their money. But the FTX scandal has shown that crypto itself is a Ponzi scheme. And libertarians fell for it -- hook, line, and sinker.

This is hilarious, because the movement's whole brand is based on the idea of the libertarians as shrugging Atlases. They're on the cutting edge of finance and technology. They could take over the world! But the state holds them back. It kills their creativity with red tape and forces them to support lesser men through heavy taxation.

In reality, libertarians are selfish and dumb. I'd hazard to guess that they're dumb because they're selfish.

From Krugerrands to Randcoin...

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


November 26, 2022 (Heather Cox Richardson, 11/26/22, Letters from an American)

Fuentes has openly admired Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and authoritarian Russian president Vladimir Putin, who is currently making war on Russia's neighbor Ukraine. A Holocaust denier, Fuentes is associated with America's neo-Nazis.

In February 2020, Fuentes launched the America First Political Action Conference to compete from the right with the Conservative Political Action Conference. In May 2021, on a livestream, Fuentes said: "My to keep pushing things further. We, because nobody else will, have to push the envelope. And we're gonna get called names. We're gonna get called racist, sexist, antisemitic, bigoted, whatever.... When the party is where we are two years later, we're not gonna get the credit for the ideas that become popular. But that's okay. That's our job. We are the right-wing flank of the Republican Party. And if we didn't exist, the Republican Party would be falling backwards all the time."

Fuentes and his "America First" followers, called "Groypers" after a cartoon amphibian (I'm not kidding), backed Trump's lies that he had actually won the 2020 election. At a rally shortly after the election, Fuentes told his followers to "storm every state capitol until Jan. 20, 2021, until President Trump is inaugurated for four more years." Fuentes and Groypers were at the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol, and at least seven of them have been charged with federal crimes for their association with that attack. The House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol subpoenaed Fuentes himself.

Accounts of the dinner suggest that Trump and Fuentes hit it off, with Trump allegedly saying, "I like this guy, he gets me," after Fuentes urged Trump to speak freely off the cuff rather than reading teleprompters and trying to appear presidential as his handlers advise.

But Trump announced his candidacy for president in 2024 just days ago, and being seen publicly with far-right white supremacist Fuentes--in addition to Ye--indicates his embrace of the far right. 

MAGA always tell you who they are--just listen.

November 26, 2022

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM


Far-right extremist Ben-Gvir to be Israel's national security minister (AP, 11/26/22)'

The awarding of the sensitive role to Ben-Gvir raises concerns of a further escalation in Israel's occupation and control over Palestinians in the country. Ben-Gvir and his allies hope to grant immunity to Israeli soldiers who shoot at Palestinians, deport rival lawmakers and impose the death penalty on Palestinians convicted of attacks on Jews.

Ben-Gvir is the disciple of a racist rabbi, Meir Kahane, who was banned from Parliament and whose Kach party was branded a terrorist group by the United States before he was assassinated in New York in 1990.

Ahead of Israel's November 1 election, Ben-Gvir grabbed headlines for his anti-Palestinian speeches and stunts, including encouraging police to open fire on Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem, who were throwing stones during a confrontation with Israeli settlers and police, as well as pulling a pistol on the residents of the neighbourhood.

Look who gets to wield the sjambok...

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 AM


November 25, 2022

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Easing supply chain disruptions drag down shipping rates (Dirk Kaufmann, 11/25/22, Deutsche-Welle)

Martin Kröger, chief executive of the German Shipowners' Association (VDR), says the situation has eased "almost back to normal."

"The backlogs of ships along European coasts have been overcome," he told DW, adding that shipping capacity wasn't so tight anymore as at the end of last year. Another piece of good news, he said, was that ocean freight rates are falling significantly. "Shipping conditions are similar to what they were before the pandemic."

German business daily Handelsblatt has published data showing that shipping rates have come down to pre-pandemic levels, with a 20-foot container from China to Northern Europe, for example, now costing $1,479 (€1,420) on average, compared with around $8,000 at the beginning of 2022. Shipping a container from Shanghai to the US West Coast "is even cheaper than in 2019," the newspaper reported.

Meaning it is once again cheaper to put all your stuff in a shipping container and leave it at sea than to rent a storage unit locally.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Mercantilist Follies, Then and Now : Discredited mercantilist notions shape many of our present economic debates. (Samuel Gregg, 9/22/22, Law & Liberty)

At the 2022 American Economic Forum organized by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, I had occasion to listen to an after-dinner speech about trade--more precisely, an economic nationalist view of trade--by former US Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer. Chatting afterwards with students attending the Forum, one of them asked me what I thought of Ambassador Lighthizer's remarks. My response was: "It was mercantilism, updated for the twenty-first century." "What's mercantilism?" she inquired.

What indeed is mercantilism? It's not a word used commonly today, but mercantilism is shorthand for a set of economic, political, and legal ideas and practices that dominated the European world between 1500 and 1800. "The Mercantile System," as Adam Smith called it, was also the target of Book IV of his Wealth of Nations. It was, as Smith himself later wrote to a Danish correspondent, "a very violent attack . . . upon the whole commercial system of Great Britain." Smith's broadside, however, drew back the curtain to show what mercantilism really entailed. The picture that emerged was not a pretty one, but it illustrates why free trade abroad and free markets at home are far preferable to the neo-mercantilist alternatives on offer today.

Yeah, but trade with foreigners gives you cooties...

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Many religious 'Nones' believe in God or a higher power, study finds (Chris Ward,  25 November 2022, Christianity Today)

A new report by Theos finds a broad mix of spiritual beliefs even among those who claim not to have any faith - commonly known as religious 'Nones'. 

Theos' latest report, The Nones: who are they and what do they believe?, found that only 51% of Nones agreed with the statement, "I don't believe in God," and 42% believe in some form of the supernatural.

Fourteen per cent said they believe in a higher power and 9% "believe in God more or less firmly", but only one in 10 (11%) believe in Heaven. 

Over a quarter (27%) agreed with the statement: "I don't know whether there is a God, and I don't believe there is any way to find out."

The report found that many religious Nones have New Age beliefs. While nearly two in five (17%) believe in the power of prayer, 16% were found to believe in reincarnation, 14% in the healing power of crystals, and 14% in the supernatural power of ancestors.

A fifth said that they they definitely or probably believe in life after death and over a quarter (27%) believe in ghosts. 

November 24, 2022

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


God and Mr. Lincoln (Joseph Bottum, 11/21/18, American Mind)

And what was Lincoln's theological imagination? In the Second Inaugural, he expresses a profound thought about how providence could have allowed slavery to come into existence and then initiate its abolition. The Civil War's slaughter was punishment for both sides for their part in that story.

What Lincoln saw was the humility necessary to live in a world with God. The war proved not a triumphant march to glorious and bloodless victory but proof that Americans were that most theologically-fraught of beings: an almost-chosen people. God's power belongs solely to God, and we must be tentative and aware of our own sins, even while pressing determinedly toward victory. Only thus can Lincoln ask from us his great peroration: malice toward none, charity toward all.

Lincoln chose his words carefully and theologically. In First Corinthians 5:8, Paul speaks of the "leaven of malice," and "leaven" here is a perfect word for what malice does, in Lincoln's sense of the word: it inflates disagreement and bloats every judgment. For this Thanksgiving, like the one in 1863, there remains the deep meaning worth remembering when we contemplate our political opponents: not malice, but charity.

Posted by orrinj at 3:26 PM


Religious groups with immigrant members grew fastest over past decade (Yonat Shimron, 11/11/22, (RNS)

The study finds that the Catholic Church in the U.S. is the largest religious body, with 61 million adherents in more than 19,000 churches, comprising close to 19% of the U.S. population. That's a modest growth of 2 million adherents from 2010, when the church had nearly 59 million adherents. 

Sociologist who worked on the census said growth is almost entirely made up of Hispanic immigrants.

"If you took away the Hispanic population in the Catholic Church, it would look as bad as mainline denominations," said Scott Thumma, director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, who counted independent churches for the census. (Mainline denominations, such as Episcopalian, Lutheran and Presbyterian, have been declining for more than 50 years.)

Perhaps the most striking growth was among Muslims. The number of Muslims who participate in mosque prayer increased from 2.6 million in 2010 to 4.5 million in 2020, a 75% increase. (Pew Research estimates there were 3.85 million Muslims in the U.S. in 2020, but those numbers do not include children.)

That growth is due mainly to immigration, said Ihsan Bagby, associate professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Kentucky, who collected the data for Muslims. Higher birth rates may be a secondary reason.

Bagby estimated the number of U.S. mosques at 2,771, a jump of 871 mosques in just a decade.

He suggested Muslims may be in a kind of golden age in the U.S. They are younger than the American population overall, and the Boomers among them are financially well off and able to contribute to the construction of new mosques. (First-generation mosques were often in retrofitted churches or warehouses.)

Mosques, Bagby said, "have mellowed and matured and become more moderate in their understanding of Islam and that has also been an attraction," he said. "Many Muslims who had kept away feel more comfortable coming."

Posted by orrinj at 3:23 PM


Watching 'Casablanca' on its 80th anniversary, we remain in awe of its simplicity - and profound depth (Ben McCann, Nov 24, 2022, MercatorNet)

Casablanca's clearest theme is that neutrality - whether in war or in love - is difficult to maintain.

At the outset, Rick is staunchly apolitical: he is jaded, unmoved by the refugee crisis unfolding around him.

But we also learn Rick has been involved in political causes, supporting losing sides against the Fascists in Spain and Ethiopia. The film traces that ambivalence through Bogart's masterful performance. His cynicism gradually softens once Ilsa turns up, and his animosity to the Nazi chief Strasser grows.

This political about-face comes to a head in one of the greatest scenes in Hollywood cinema: the singing of La Marseillaise at Rick's Café in full defiance of the Nazi officers belting out a German anthem.

It is a deeply patriotic and uplifting scene, and reminds us of cinema's power to engage us, move us and make us cheer.

It also turns the night-club into a microcosm for the war, with it multinational clientele and the competing strands of partisanship, neutrality, aggression and political commitment.

For an America wary of entering the European theatre, scenes like this reminded audiences of the need to fight injustice, intolerance and belligerence.

...detail the brotherhood between two men.

Posted by orrinj at 3:21 PM


The American Spirit of Gratitude (MIKE COTÉ, NOVEMBER 24, 2022, Ordinary Times)

Thanksgiving is perhaps the quintessential American holiday; we have feasting, we have football, we have family and friends, and we have gratitude. The last line item on that list may seem odd to associate with 'Americanness' as much as the others, but it fits in just fine. In fact, it is deeply embedded in American history, dating back to the colonial era, before the founding of the United States. The strong focus on thankfulness - to the point of dedicating a whole holiday to it - is peculiarly American, but can feel at odds with the classic stereotype of Americans as self-absorbed and entitled. In this case, the stereotype is dead wrong; gratitude is an American tradition that dovetails perfectly with our historic national culture of self-reliance, risk-seeking, and innovation.

The American ethos of thankfulness is just as rooted in our history as is the pioneering spirit and willingness to accept risks in search of a better life. The very first European settlers in what became the United States came here with nothing but what they could carry with them across the stormy Atlantic towards - what was, for them - the great unknown. These colonists - whether they were French fur traders, Dutch merchant-adventurers, Spanish Jesuits, or the English Puritans we associate with Thanksgiving - all took unbelievable risks in leaving their whole world behind to journey into a land as full of promise as it was danger. They wagered their lives on the seaworthiness of their ships, the skill of their crews, and their luck with the weather. They gambled it all on where to land their vessels and disembark, where to set up initial settlements, how to gather crucial resources necessary to sustain life, and how they dealt with the Native inhabitants with whom they interacted. These choices and chances determined whether their settlement would survive, thrive, or fail before the first winter was out.

Posted by orrinj at 3:17 PM


Italy's Government Is Stuffed With the Far Right (Ben Munster, NOVEMBER 24, 2022, Foreign Policy)

Just before Halloween, around 3,000 young Italians gathered in an abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of the northern city of Modena. For two days straight, they partied hard, blasting heavy techno deep into the morning--until locals tipped off the authorities. As dawn broke on the third day, a battalion of black-uniformed riot police swept in. The officers took names, rifled through cars and backpacks for drugs, and impounded a 150,000 euro ($155,000) sound system.

That same weekend, not far from Modena, another group assembled for a very different kind of celebration. Dressed in black and holding aloft a tricolor Italian flag, 2,000 travelers marched through the small town of Predappio, in the Emilia-Romagna region, to commemorate the centenary of the March on Rome by Benito Mussolini. Predappio was the birthplace of the dictator and has long been a pilgrimage site for his followers--even though fascist demonstrations are theoretically illegal in Italy. But unlike at the rave, the officers present just stood there, observing.

The weekend triggered a forceful response from Italy's interior minister, Matteo Piantedosi, recently appointed by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who ascended to power in September at the head of a far-right coalition with links to Mussolini-era fascism. In a series of speeches and comments to the press, Piantedosi took a hard line against certain gatherings involving 50 people or more, describing them as "invasions" led by meddling "foreigners." He debuted a tough new bill, pledging to punish organizers and promoters with up to 10,000 euros ($10,400) in damages and six years in prison.

The penalty would apply, of course, solely to the illegal raves. The illegal fascist march that occurred simultaneously was a "farce," Piantedosi said--but it "wasn't comparable."

The new law was seen by the opposition as grossly disproportionate, evidence of a pernicious double standard. But it was also a reflection of the difficult balance that the Meloni government has had to strike in its attempts to mediate between two conflicting goals. On the one hand, it must play to its base by pursuing culture war propaganda victories--targeting migrants and young partygoers, for instance.

On the other hand, it must keep international opinion onside. Meloni's initial solution has been to stow her more overtly hard-line allies at the margins of government while stocking key ministries with supposedly moderate officials who will stick to the establishment line on fiscal policy and Ukraine. But this is an illusion: Almost all hail from the far right.

Why did you think MAGA love her?

Posted by orrinj at 1:07 PM


Concerns for India's religious minorities after Supreme Court calls for action against Hindu conversion (Christianity Today, 24 November 2022)

Human rights and religious liberty campaigners are sounding the alarm after India's Supreme Court called on the government to act against supposed "fraudulent religious conversion".

India's highest court in the land said last week that forced conversions were "a danger to national security".

Responding to the court order, the Coalition for Minority Rights in India said in a submission to the UN that changing religion is neither "dangerous" nor "fraudulent".

It warned that India's religious minorities are "...on the edge of a precipice as their rights and freedoms have eroded in the face of a growing violent majoritarian ideology". 

"We deplore last week's ruling," a spokesperson for the coalition said.

"It decries 'fraudulent religious conversion' as a 'nationwide problem' with no facts or data to support such allegations.

"We are worried that in the light of this, the government of India will undermine religious freedom even further."

Met one Nationalism you've met them all.

Posted by orrinj at 1:04 PM


The Science of Giving Thanks to God: A growing body of research backs the benefits of divine gratefulness, in good times and bad. (PETER C. HILL AND ROBERT A. EMMONS, NOVEMBER 21, 2022, Christianity Today)

 New projects funded by the John Templeton Foundation have theologians, philosophers, and psychologists like us exploring gratitude to our supreme benefactor.

Already, these researchers have discovered that believers who experience and express gratitude to God report feeling more hope, higher satisfaction, more optimism, fewer depression episodes, and greater stress recovery. Their studies suggest that gratitude to God magnifies and amplifies the effects of gratitude toward other people.

Grateful believers aren't just happier because they're better off, either. We see people experiencing gratitude to God in the midst of adversity.

Jason McMartin, a theologian at Biola University, in a paper not yet published, contends that suffering intensifies our encounters with God, reframing the experience of gratitude by expanding our vision of what we can be grateful for, including painful experiences as gifts themselves. Pain is real, but God's grace abounds. Gratitude to God is our response to our suffering meeting God's sovereignty.

Research ratifies this. A study by Joshua Wilt and Julie Exline at Case Western Reserve University found that among theistic believers, gratitude to God for negative events functioned similarly to gratitude for positive events in that both drew one closer to God.

Such findings suggest that when facing difficult life situations, the practice of gratitude to God can be cultivated to counter the natural tendency of prioritizing bad over good. This reframing is not merely a veneer of positive thinking but rather a deep and abiding sense that goodness dwells under the rancor and heartache of daily life.

Social psychologist David Myers has long observed, based on scientific research, that just as we can think ourselves into a way of acting, we can act ourselves into a way of thinking. If we deliberately practice gratitude, our thoughts and feelings often come around.

One idea is keeping a journal listing the blessings that we receive from God along with the lessons learned from our challenges. During times of adversity, we can ask ourselves, How is God present in this challenge? How is this challenge a reflection of God's will for my life? How do I experience God uniquely through this challenge? How does this challenge make me closer to God?

Another practice is to intentionally engage in worship. Of course, this includes weekly corporate worship but may also involve a few moments of private worship throughout the week where gratitude is openly expressed. For example, it is hard to not be grateful, even in the worst of times, when singing hymns such as "How Great Thou Art":

And when I think that God, His Son not sparing,
Sent him to die, I scarce can take it in--
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin!

Openly expressing such sentiments is yet another way of acting ourselves into being thankful.

Posted by orrinj at 12:59 PM


This Thanksgiving, give thanks for refugees (Darcy Hirsh, 11/23/22, RNS)

In his 1789 Thanksgiving Day proclamation, George Washington wrote of America's "great and various favors" -- economic opportunity, religious freedom and the dignity of equality under the law -- that made this country a place where generations of those same hardscrabble people could overcome obstacles and achieve untold success. He spoke of the importance of giving back, of uniting "to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually." 

This Thanksgiving, that message holds special weight. Since last year, more than 250,000 newcomers have come to the United States and are observing the holiday for the first time.

They are Afghans who escaped the brutality of the Taliban regime and Ukrainians who fled the onslaught of the Russian invasion. They are people from all over the world who, due to religious and political persecution, were forced to flee their homes searching for the same "great and various favors" as my great-grandparents.

And now, they are our neighbors. 

This year, I've seen firsthand not only how communities are stepping up to help newcomers, but how refugees are enriching communities. Working with local Jewish community organizations and partners, my organization, Jewish Federations of North America, in partnership with the Shapiro Foundation, has helped resettle over 2,000 Afghans and Ukrainians through volunteer circles, groups of community members who have come together to divide the responsibilities of resettling a newcomer. 

Since this initiative began, these volunteer circles have helped displaced Afghans and Ukrainians integrate into communities, find housing, start new jobs, enroll their kids in schools and begin the pathway to self-sufficiency in pursuit of the American Dream.

Our hospitality will make our country and our communities stronger.

These displaced individuals are translators, engineers, teachers and caregivers. They are motivated, they are hard workers, they are people who have proven their willingness to face great danger to better their families and overcome immense obstacles. 

That's how refugees have historically molded America into a strong, diverse nation that is a global leader in technology, business, medicine and so much more. They have strengthened the fabric of our communities and helped reinvigorate cities across the country, making contributions through culture, community or the economy.

Many of the great leaders in business, medicine, entertainment, technology, politics and other professions can trace their roots to the refugee story. Former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Henry Kissinger were refugees, as well as Albert Einstein, Salvador Dali, Freddy Mercury and Google co-founder Sergey Brin. 

In 2015 alone, more than 181,000 American entrepreneurs who arrived in this country as refugees generated $4.6 billion in business income. In medicine, international medical graduates -- those who earned their medical licenses and degrees abroad, but who came to the United States to practice -- make up 25% of all U.S. doctors.

This Thanksgiving, we should be grateful not only for what our country has done for refugees, but also for what refugees have done for America. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:53 PM


Stumping for secularism, Lapid says incoming coalition creating a 'halachic state' (CARRIE KELLER-LYNN, 21 November 2022,Times of Israel)

Addressing policies pushed by the religious parties expected to be part of the Likud-headed coalition, Lapid says that in the forming government "yeshiva students will receive more money than IDF soldiers. [Religious Zionism head] Smotrich wants to close soccer matches on Shabbat. A law will be passed to separate men and women in the public sphere."

Speaking at his Yesh Atid party's Monday faction meeting, Lapid turns to right-wing Likud's more than a million voters and asks, "Is this what you wanted? That's why you voted for Likud?"

"You are going to be a minority in this government. A minority of those serving in the army, a minority of the middle class, a minority of those who believe in a moderate Jewish tradition that welcomes every person," he adds.

Lapid has said that he will sit in the opposition rather than again join hands with Netanyahu, and his party denied reports last week that it was quietly negotiating to form a unity government with Likud to boot out extremist Religious Zionism, Otzma Yehudit, and Noam.

"If someone asks where we will be - we will be here in the Knesset day and night, we will be in the streets, we will be in the town squares, we will be on the bridges. We will not be silent, we will not disappear, we will not give up, we are fighting for the future of our children," he adds.

What part of Political Zionism does he not get?

Posted by orrinj at 12:45 PM


'Gold Hydrogen' Is an Untapped Resource in Depleted Oil Wells (CHRIS BARANIUK, NOV 24, 2022, Wired)

THERE WAS NO prospect of getting any more oil out of the old well. It was just a depleted cavern hiding beneath the sun-baked Texas soil. But then some folks came along and squirted a special liquid into it. They went away for five days, and when they came back it was no longer an oil well. It had transformed into a hydrogen source.

Cemvita Factory, a biotech firm in Texas, had spritzed a carefully selected combination of bacteria and nutrients down the bore hole. Once inside the well, the microbes began breaking down the residual oil hydrocarbons in there--dregs that would be unprofitable to extract--to generate hydrogen and CO2. This field test in July, though small in scale, was a "huge success," says chief business officer Charles Nelson.

Nelson would not comment on what bacteria and nutrients the company is using, but he says his firm aims to produce hydrogen for $1 per kilogram, which would be competitive against other methods of obtaining the fuel. He estimates there are more than 1,000 depleted oil wells dotted around the United States that are suitable for the same kind of microbial treatment: "A lot of these reservoirs are abandoned, they're in the custody of the state, they're orphaned and waiting to be cleaned up." 

Posted by orrinj at 12:43 PM


What are the Jewish roots of Thanksgiving?: For the leader of the Pilgrims, verses from the Hebrew Bible, cited in accordance with the practice of Jewish law - constitutes the original Thanksgiving (STUART HALPERN, NOVEMBER 7, 2022, Jerusalem Post)

As Nick Bunker notes in his Making Haste from Babylon, the Pilgrims carried to our shores a rather surprising companion - Maimonides. Or rather, his compendium of the Jewish law, the Mishneh Torah. Those Pilgrims were led by William Bradford, who would serve as governor of Plymouth Colony. Bradford, historical records show, carried with him an edition of the Bible published in 1618 that contained the annotations of a Puritan scholar named Henry Ainsworth. After their safe passage, Bradford led his fellow new arrivals in thanking God for their survival over the course of the journey by reciting verses from Psalm 107. The Bible he used to do so contained the following note, courtesy of Ainsworth:

"And from this Psalme, and this verse of it, the Hebrues have this Canon; Foure must confess (unto God) The sick, when he is healed; the prisoner when he is released out of bonds; they that goe down to sea, when they are come up (to land); and wayfaring men, when they are come to the inhabited land. And they must make confession before ten men, and two of them wise men, Psal. 107. 32. And the manner of confessing and blessing is thus; He standeth among them and blesseth the Lord, the King eternal, that bounteously rewardeth good things unto sinners, etc. Maimony in Misn. Treat. Of Blessings, chap. 10, sect. 8."

Based on this summary of Maimonides' legal articulation of birkat hagomel, the blessing recited by Jews to this day after they are saved from danger, Bradford saw his compatriots' arrival in America as mirroring the Israelites' journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land - one of the four conditions requiring "confession and blessing." To Bunker, this prayer - verses from the Hebrew Bible, cited in accordance with the practice of Jewish law - constitutes the original Thanksgiving.

There were no Jews on the Mayflower, and only around 2,000 in the colonies during the American Revolution. But even in George Washington's day, the Jewish story informed America's articulation of its gratitude to God. In October 1781 (the day being marked in November was not formally instituted until President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed its celebration in 1863), British Gen. Charles Cornwallis surrendered to Gen. Washington. Addressing the battle-weary but victorious troops in Yorktown, Virginia, Rev. Israel Evans, one of Washington's favorite military chaplains, delivered a Thanksgiving sermon in which he, too, saw the safety and success of the nascent nation through an Israelite lens. The poem he recited as part of his sermon read:

To him who led in ancient days

The Hebrew tribes, your anthems raise;

The God who spoke from Sinai's hill

Protects his chosen people still.

WHILE THE vast majority of American Jews have celebrated Thanksgiving as part of American civil religion over the subsequent two-and-a-half centuries, some rabbinic scholars hesitated to offer a full-throated embrace of the tradition. After all, while the United States proved to be a promised land for millions, the real Jewish national homeland lay to the east.

Thus the renowned rabbinic scholar Rabbi Moshe Feinstein offered no less than four responsa analyzing the permissibility of Jews observing Thanksgiving, eventually concluding it is a simhat reshut, an optional, albeit nonobligatory, festive celebration. Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner took a more prohibitive stance, forbidding marking a holiday based on the Christian calendar. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, on the other hand, is reported to have had a habit of beginning his regular weekly Talmud lecture early in order to travel to his sister's in time for Thanksgiving dinner.

Talmudic debates aside, gratitude is, of course, inherent to the very essence of Judaism itself. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:39 PM


The Extremely American History of Pecan Pie (ROSSI ANASTOPOULO, NOV 24, 2022, Slate)

Unlike apples (and apple pie), which we so often describe as American, pecans are native to the North American continent, predating the country we call the United States by millennia. They were an important food source for many Indigenous people thousands of years ago. In fact, the nut's name most likely comes from the Algonquin word "paccan," which refers to a nut that needs to be cracked by stone. Like so much else related to Indigenous food origins and their links to what Americans eat today, that history's been pretty much erased.

Pecans were cultivated by white people once they settled on the continent, and there are accounts of Thomas Jefferson growing them at Monticello. He even recommended them to his pal George Washington, who installed them amongst the crops of Mount Vernon. But commercial pecan production would not have taken off without Black ingenuity and innovation. In 1847, an enslaved man known only as Antoine invented a way to graft pecan trees, melding the scion of one pecan tree to the rootstock of another for easy propagation. Introduced on the Oak Alley plantation in Vachery, Louisiana, Antoine's game-changing invention quickly spread across the South, launching lucrative pecan cultivation in states like Georgia and Texas, which would eventually become hot spots for the nut.

Once the commercial pecan market that Antoine made possible sprang up, the nut started to become available everywhere--by 1867 you could find pecans sold in New York markets through the winter and spring. Beyond city markets, pecans were also exhibited at fairs and festivals all over, including the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.

As the nut grew more popular, people started to use it more and more in their kitchens. But there are very few accounts of people baking them into pie until the end of the century. In 1886, Harper's Bazaar declared: "Pecan pie is not only delicious, but is capable of being made 'a real state pie,' as an enthusiastic admirer said." Another early recipe, featuring a meringue, was published in 1897 as Texas Pecan Pie in Ladies' Home Journal.

But pecan pie really exploded in the early 1900s. What remained a mostly regionalized dish at the turn of the century, was, by the 1940s, everywhere, with recipes in beloved cookbooks like Joy of Cooking. How?

We owe it all to Karo Corn Syrup.

Posted by orrinj at 9:05 AM


The Pilgrims' rabbi (Jeff Jacoby, November 22, 2022, Arguable)

As for the idea that Thanksgiving is exclusively a Christian tradition, the Pilgrims themselves would have been the first to deny it.

Among the passengers who sailed to America aboard the Mayflower and founded Plymouth in 1620, none would prove as influential as William Bradford, who was elected governor of the colony in 1621 and would serve in that position for close to 30 years.

Like many of his fellow Puritan Christians, Bradford had an absorbing interest in the Hebrew Bible and Jewish religious custom. He perceived a deep affinity between the wanderings of the Pilgrims -- who had fled England to escape religious persecution -- and the ancient Israelites' journey to the Promised Land. Bradford was a disciple of the Puritan scholar Henry Ainsworth, and brought with him on the Mayflower Ainsworth's most important work, "Annotations on the Five Books of Moses," along with his commentary on the Book of Psalms.

As Nick Bunker explains in "Making Haste from Babylon," his acclaimed 2010 history of the Mayflower Pilgrims, Puritans like Ainsworth had a passion "to absorb the wisdom of the Bible from as close to the source as possible." That inspired them to "read with sympathy the rabbis of the Roman Empire, Egypt, and medieval Spain, authors whose books were preserved by the Jews of Germany or Venice." Ainsworth drew on the works of many rabbinic scholars, but he revered above all the towering 12th-century Sephardic Jewish philosopher, Moses Maimonides, whom he dubbed "the wisest of the Hebrew Rabbins."

It was in reading Ainsworth's commentary on the 107th Psalm -- the opening words of which are "Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good" -- that Bradford encountered the Jewish teaching that would became the basis of the Pilgrims' Thanksgiving.

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 AM


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