Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Mel Gibson's Kill Jesus, Part I. Actually, that seems to be the bloody tone of The Passion of the Christ, even though critical opinion is very divided, to say the least. Most upscale publications -- and even a conservative tabloid, such as The New York Daily News -- are slamming it while Roger Ebert and others are praising it. The Rotten Tomatoes site provides a useful round-up. Whether the film is anti-Semitic isn't a settled issue, but it seems to be no more anti-Semitic than the gospels themselves. Unfortunately, that means that there are some anti-Jewish elements in the film, because the source material -- the New Testament -- doesn't exactly portray the braying Jewish mob and scheming high priests in a very flattering way. After all, the gospels were written in the early decades of the Christian church by writers eager to make the case for their new religion against the old one, Judaism, all under the domineering presence of the Roman Empire. So naturally, Pilate is portrayed as an indecisive moderate swayed by the angry Jewish mob. That's what the gospels say (e.g., Matthew 27), take it or leave it. Beliefnet summarizes what scenes in the film come from the gospels, and where Gibson's fictionalized or used other sources. Still, all the nattering criticism from religious scholars about the historical distortions of the film or the gospels won't deter true believers. Fortunately for gore lovers, there's enough graphic violence to satisfy fans of slasher movies and Tarantino as well.

Update: Why are Jews so sensitive about the Gibson film? Maybe it's because of the traditional -- but not in the modern era -- legacy of anti-Semitism in Christianity, as aptly summarized in the Encylopedia Britannica:

Historians agree that the break between Judaism and Christianity followed the Roman destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in the year 70 CE. In the aftermath of this devastating defeat, which was interpreted by Jew and Christian alike as a sign of divine punishment, the Gospels diminished Roman responsibility and expressed Jewish culpability in the death of Jesus both explicitly (Matthew 27:25) and implicitly. Jews were depicted as killers of the Son of God.

Christianity was intent on replacing Judaism by making its particular message universal. The New Testament was seen as fulfilling the “Old” Testament (the Hebrew Bible); Christians were the new Israel, both in flesh and in spirit. The God of justice had been replaced by the God of love. Thus some early Church Fathers taught that God had finished with the Jews, whose only purpose in history was to prepare for the arrival of his son. According to this view, the Jews should have left the scene. Their continued survival seemed to be an act of stubborn defiance. Exile was taken as a sign of divine disfavour incurred by the Jews' denial that Jesus was the Messiah and by their role in his crucifixion.

Enmity toward the Jews was expressed most acutely in the church's teaching of contempt. From St. Augustine in the 4th century to Martin Luther in the 16th, some of the most eloquent and persuasive Christian theologians excoriated the Jews as rebels against God and murderers of the Lord. They were described as companions of the devil and a race of vipers. Church liturgy, particularly the scriptural readings for the Good Friday commemoration of the Crucifixion, contributed to this enmity.

Such views were finally renounced by the Roman Catholic church decades after the Holocaust, with the Vatican II declaration of Nostra aetate (Latin: “In Our Era”) in 1965, which revamped Roman Catholic teaching regarding Jews and Judaism. The Vatican accepted the legitimacy of Judaism as a continuing religion and exonerated Jews for the murder of Jesus by universalizing responsibility for his crucifixion. As a result, the Good Friday liturgy was changed to make it less inflammatory with regard to Jews. A centerpiece of the papacy of Pope John Paul II, who witnessed the Holocaust directly as a young man in Poland, was the fight against anti-Semitism and his embrace of Jews. The Pope paid a historic visit to a synagogue in Rome in 1986 and officially recognized the State of Israel in 1993 shortly after the conclusion of the Oslo peace agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. In March 2000 the pontiff visited Israel. At Yad Vashem, Israel's memorial to the Holocaust, he described anti-Semitism as anti-Christian in nature and apologized for instances of anti-Semitism by Christians. At the Western Wall, Judaism's most sacred site, he inserted a note of apology for past Christian misdeeds into the stones—an act of repentance seen throughout the world.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Bush takes a cue from the Dems' in-house critics and attacks Kerry for flip-flopping. Unfortunately, Kerry's response to the attacks are so nuanced they may be hard to sell to the public:

"The other party's nomination battle is still playing out. The candidates are an interesting group with diverse opinions," Bush said. "They're for tax cuts and against them. They're for NAFTA and against NAFTA. They're for the Patriot Act and against the Patriot Act. They're in favor of liberating Iraq, and opposed to it. And that's just one senator from Massachusetts." His supportive audience erupted in laughter and applause.

"Kerry spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter disputed Bush's list of purported flip-flops. Kerry opposed Bush's tax cuts for the richest Americans and stands by that; voted for NAFTA and stands by it; voted for the Patriot Act, but believes the Justice Department is using it to trample civil liberties; and stands by his vote to authorize force for Iraq, but believes Bush's prosecution of the war `created a breeding ground for terror' and alienated allies, Cutter said."

I'm not sure these maneuverings will work. The underlying principle governing Kerry's decisions, as Mickey Kaus and others have noted, is: what's the most politically expedient move for Kerry at the time? Even the liberal Washington Post notes how Kerry is giving stump speeches denouncing Bush's policies on Iraq, civil liberties and "No Child Left Behind," even though he voted for the laws that put those policies in place. Doesn't it seem as if his current stances are borrowing a page from then-Governor George Romney's reversal on the Vietnam War, who claimed that he was "brainwashed" by LBJ into supporting it? But despite such criticism, unless John Edwards pulls a miracle upset in Ohio, Georgia and New York on Super Tuesday, we should get used to Kerry as the Democratic nominee. There isn't enough time left for "buyer's remorse."

Yahoo! News - Bush Accuses Kerry of Waffling on Issues

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Here's an effective multi-media case against Nader running. It includes an e-mail link to Nader's own home page so you can beg him not to ruin the country for another four years by letting Bush win.ralphdontrun.net

Friday, February 20, 2004

Cheer up, liberals: Bush's job approval and personal favorability ratings are dropping sharply. The most common word used to describe him by his critics: "liar." The New Republic Online: Campaign Journal

Thursday, February 19, 2004

The Church tries to stop Jews from getting killed over Gibson film. Or at least cool down the passions likely to be inflamed by The Passion of the Christ. It's the least it can do, given the Church's historic legacy of anti-Semitism, as outlined in James Carroll's Constatine's Sword and other works. The most complete and balanced look at the theological controversies surrounding the film are at Beliefnet.com. But the troubling elements of the film are easily matched by the Holocaust-denying statements of Gibson's father, a leader in the same reactionary Catholic sect that Gibson belongs to. My bet: there will be violence aimed at Jews when this film is aired in European and Eastern European countries with deep legacies of anti-Semitism, such as France and Russia. The European Union is worried enough about the renewal of anti-Semitism to launch a new initiative targeting it. The Gibson film doesn't help.Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | Church tries to cool row over Mel Gibson's film about Christ

Nobody really likes Kerry, even among his own supporters. As John Ellis quotes one voter:
"I'm a Wisconsin voter and agree with your Wisconsin reader's assessment. I observed the same lack of enthusiasm for Kerry among Kerry voters. Those I talked to last night seemed to be motivated by a need to follow the pack and unite behind an electable candidate. Edwards voters, in contrast, seemed to me to be much better informed and voted for Edwards because they like him, agree with him and think he can beat Bush. They struck me as leaders of opinion, not followers. Thus, if follower-type voters in other states get the sense that Edwards now has the momentum, Kerry could be in real trouble." Here's a series of provocative postings:

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Common-sense, brief overview of the Bush AWOL saga: In Haze of Guard Records, a Bit of Clarity

Monday, February 16, 2004

Nader's b-a-a-a-c-k! First there's rumor-mongering against Kerry, and now the Democratics have to face the specter of Nader running again. All the Democrats have going for them are an unnecessary war and a chaotic Iraq, a jobless recovery and huge deficits. It might not be enough. Worse, Nader will surely provide a home for the most hard-core of the young Internet-crazed Deaniacs, assuming they haven't learned anything from the previous presidential election that cost Gore his victory. Thanks, Ralph, for the Bush presidency.Political Wire: Nader Expected To Run

Saturday, February 14, 2004

For political junkies: The Columbia Journalism Review's Campaign Desk blog offers a concise mix of news summaries and press analysis. It's not nearly as boring and sanctimonious as the old CJR magazine used to be, fortunately.
CJR Campaign Desk

The Kerry mystery woman's parents call Kerry a "sleazeball." The Brits have all the details so far -- but include his denials as well. Stateside, the sprightly Wonkette Wasington gossip site reports that the woman says there's no truth to the affair allegation, and will be returning to the country soon, perhaps to clear things up. For now, gossip junkies can gnaw on the tidbits from the British tabs:

JOHN Kerry spoke out last night to deny sensational claims that he had an affair with a journalist aged 27.

But the Democrat's terse rebuttal did little to quash speculation over a scandal that threatens to derail his race for the White House.

Mr Kerry, 60, whose wife is the wealthy heiress Theresa Heinz Kerry, said: 'There is nothing to report, nothing to talk about. There is no story.'

The woman allegedly at the heart of the matter was named as Alex Polier, a reporter with the Associated Press in New York.

She is said to have fled on holiday to Africa after being contacted by U.S. journalists investigating claims that she and Mr Kerry had a two-year affair beginning in spring 2001.

Her parents, Terry and Donna Polier, of Malvern, Pennsylvania, have claimed Mr Kerry, a father- of-two, invited their daughter to join his Senate re-election team.

They suggested the presidential hopeful was 'after' their daughter and Mr Polier called him 'a sleazeball'.

Miss Polier graduated last May with a masters' degree in journalism. She was not available for comment.

Mr Kerry made his brief denial on a radio programme yesterday morning.

The rumours first emerged on Thursday in The Drudge Report, the Right-wing news site which first broke the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

The setback came just as the Massachusetts senator looked certain to win the Democratic nomination for November's general election.

Mr Kerry insisted he was prepared for a 'dirty tricks' drive by the Republican Party and was ready to fight back.

'We've seen evidence. We know exactly where these guys are gonna go, and I'm ready for it,' he said.

General Wesley Clark, a former rival for the Democratic nomination yesterday threw his support behind Mr Kerry. The Drudge Report claimed he told reporters: 'Kerry will implode over an intern issue.'

Mr Kerry has won 12 of the 14 state primaries and caucuses held so far. His closest rival is Howard Dean.

He is married to Theresa Heinz Kerry, heiress to the GBP 350million food empire. She has three children and he has two from his first marriage.

* A majority of Americans believe President Bush lied or deliberately exaggerated evidence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction in the runup to war, a poll has found.

The Washington Post/ABC News poll showed declining support for the war.

And just half of those questioned thought the President was 'trustworthy'.

Friday, February 13, 2004

Does Kerry have a glass jaw? Drudge's new intern rumor-mongering involves him. He turned out to be right about Monica. Will his new very vague disclosure force the mainstream media to give the story more traction? Here's betting it will, although it has little in the way of sources or specifics. But the story's been floating around for quite a while, pushed by the nefarious former Kerry and Clark aide Chris Lehane, as noted in the Wonkette blog and elswhere:

FROM CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY'S CRAIG CRAWFORD: "Drudge item on Kerry intern issue is something Chris Lehane (Clark press secy) has shopped around for a long time -- it was one reason the Gore vetters in 2000 shied away from Kerry as a running mate choice -- their conclusion that it wasn't bad enough to disqualify him, except for the fact that they couldn't risk it as they were trying so hard to distance themselves from Clinton's personal failings (note: Lehane worked for Gore at the time -- and briefly advised Kerry during this campaign). The Kerry camp has long expected to deal with this, and have assured party leaders they can handle it."
This has a ring of truth, and not just the Lehane part. Of course Kerry's people think they can handle this. Whether they actually can. . . ?

The Kerry news is breaking fast and has already moved on Thursday afternoon on the obscure Press Association wire -- but still hasn't been picked up by agenda-setting major national news outlets as of Friday night. On Friday morning, Andrew Sullivan asked: "Maybe this will be the first time that a true firewall is established between the web, the Brits and the rest of the media. Maybe I'm wrong and this won't break out as a major story. That in itself would be a media milestone. (On the other hand, Drudge got 15 million hits in the past 24 hours - twice his normal traffic.) Can we all pretend we didn't hear this and carry on as normal?"

The basic outlines of the story were outlined in this wire story:


BYLINE: Mark Sage, PA News, in New York

"Allegations against Vietnam war hero John Kerry today threatened his runaway presidential campaign.

Right-wing news web site The Drudge Report - which broke the Monica Lewinsky scandal - claimed a woman close to Senator Kerry recently left America at his behest.

It also reported that his former rival for the Democratic nomination, General Wesley Clark, told reporters in an off-the-record conversation last week: "Kerry will implode over an intern issue."

Internet columnist Matt Drudge said three reporters could confirm the comments by former Nato Supreme Allied Commander Clark, who quit the race for the party's nomination yesterday amid poor results.

He also claimed that Time magazine, ABC News, Washington Post and Associated Press - where the woman in question was said to have once worked - had been investigating her relationship with Kerry for several days.

Decorated Vietnam veteran Kerry is married to Theresa Heinz Kerry, the wealthy heiress to the food empire.

Drudge claimed a close friend of the mystery woman approached a reporter late last year claiming "fantastic stories".

He also suggested that behind-the-scenes panic in the Kerry camp was prompting former campaign front-runner, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, to increase his attacks on Kerry in the last few days.

Drudge said that explained why Dean decided to reverse his decision to drop out of the race if he failed to win the Wisconsin primary on February 17.

Senator Kerry, from Massachusetts, is currently the runaway favourite to win the Democratic ticket to run against President George Bush in November.

He has won 12 of the 14 state primaries and caucuses held so far.

Kerry was born on December 11, 1943 in Denver, Colorado. He has two children from his first marriage, and three step-children with his current wife.

A Kerry campaign spokesman had no immediate comment in response to the claims."

For John Edwards, especially, all this scandal-mongering is very good news indeed. The Drudge story will be on the cable chat shows tonight, and doubtless in some national mainstream news organizations by tomorrow.

So the political chattering classes will finally be able to discover: Can Kerry take a punch?

Friday Update: On Friday morning, the Don Imus show on MSNBC and syndicated radio read the Drudge item -- and Kerry came on later to deny the story. The Columbia Journalism Review's Campaign Desk press critique blog offers a round-up of which blogs are flogging the Kerry story and which are ignoring it. Most, like Art Levine Confidential, are using some variation of the "Will this story hit the mainstream?" angle, or piously noting how fast gossip spreads during the age of the Internet. Of couse, in updating the tried-and-true formula that allows the respectable press to promote tawdry gossip -- "Has the press gone too far?"-- the blogs and media commentators are speading the unsubstantiated Drudge report, while seeming to hold themselves above it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Clark's demise: bad advice or a first-timer's mistakes? When he bungled his answers on Meet the Press (e.g., failing to disavow Michael Moore's deserter charge), Clark's many gaffes seemed to be just as much a product of bad staff prepping as they were his own inexperience. Oh well. He looked good on paper.
CNN.com - Why didn't Clark click? - Feb. 11, 2004

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Democrats take heart: even Bush's supporters felt he gave a weak performance. "He's stammering and unsteady...I thought it was a pretty dismal performance...The tongue-tied blather was coming thick and fast," the folks at National Review Online worry. Calpundit gives the excerpts and links. Bush's answer on WMD sounded like a nervous kid trying to explain to the principal how he screwed up. Calpundit: NRO on Bush.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

Look for the anti-Kerry forces to somehow use these screaming headlines from the Enquirer: "John Kerry's Secret Life Exposed: Affairs With Stars, Drug Abuse, Plastic Surgery." But the lurid story isn't so lurid after all: he dated movie stars such as Morgan Fairchild when he was single, he admits he smoked pot and an unnamed "political insider who has followed Kerry's career for years" (i.e, anybody willing to take a check from the Enquirer) claims Kerry had plastic surgery to remove an inch from his chin. Surprisingly, no mention of Botox.

But as Hotline noted: "Inside Track" reports, Kerry's "secret life" is "splashed on the cover of this week's National Enquirer." But while details "are a big yawn for longtime Kerry watchers, the rest of the country may find it rather entertaining!" The "Special
Enquirer Investigation" starts "with an old galpal's claim that "Kerry "is so vain, he 'always wanted to make love where he could see himself in the mirror.'" The investigation "also reveals that he's an admitted pot smoker who had an eye for Hollywood honeys, namely Morgan Fairchild, Michelle Phillips and Catherine
Oxenberg." There's Dana Delaney too, "whose hot date with Kerry
included a screening of his 'war films.' And lest we forget the 22-year-old blonde who was spotted around midnight 'dropping off her resume' at Kerry's Louisburg Square home while wife Teresa Heinz was in Nantucket." A "bored, but bemused Kerry watcher": "After Bill Clinton, this doesn't seem very shocking, does it?"
(Fee/Raposa, Boston Herald, 2/5).

The grab-bag of warmed-over dirt doesn't compare to Clinton's affairs, but expect it to work its way into the mainstream media through blogs, late-night comedians and sanctimonious discussions by mainstream columnists about "How far should the media go in reporting a candidate's personal life?" That was the "angle" that originally got Clinton's pre-Monica affairs on to the front pages and TV discussion shows, including Nightline. Or the media mavens might adopt a cynical, so-what? approach and still pass along the so-called dirt to a broader public, as, for instance, "Art Levine Confidential" and the Boston Herald are doing. Have we no shame? I guess not.

In the meantime, those worried about Kerry's electability and questionable ties to special interests can check out this "Anybody But Kerry" blog and, of course, Mickey Kaus's commentary, links and round-up of anti-Kerry stories.

Dean's true believers are clinging to the deck chairs as the ship goes under. Ryan Lizza tells the sad tale:
The New Republic Online: Howard's End

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Do Dean's supporters need to be de-programmed? With Moonie-like fervor, they are continuing their fight for their sacred leader and their noble cause. But already some are becoming disenchanted, like former cult members finally coming to their senses. Others seem determined to drink the electoral Kool-Aid of the faltering Dean campaign. If this keeps up, the rest of the Democratic party may need to call in the likes of Rick Ross, expert cult watcher. In the meantime, the Dean acolytes will be making their last stand in Wisconsin -- as if even a win there will somehow spark a turnaround that will carry him to victory.

They might as well wait for the Hale-Bopp comet -- which so inspired the "Heaven's Gate" cult -- to come and take them away to triumph at the convention.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Maybe there weren't enough pick-up truck drivers with Confederate flags. Dean fell to as low as 4% in Oklahoma and 5% in South Carolina. Now he's banking on strong showings in such liberal states as Michigan, then hoping to win the upcoming primary in Wisconsin, with its legacy of progressivism and anti-war protest. But in a long essay, Clay Shirky, a thoughtful, disenchanted Deaniac, explores how the insular approach and self-delusion of Dean's supporters contributed to his demise. If Dean doesn't win a state very soon, even the most hard-core Deaniac might have to go back to their computers and admit that it's hopeless. As MSNBC's analyst noted:

"Dean, too, has high hopes for Wisconsin as the state in which can arrest his slide.

"He is now zero-for-nine in primary and caucus contests and his candidacy stands on very slippery ground.

"He will meet Thursday in Michigan with the heads of the two big labor unions who endorsed him in November, the Service Employees and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Whether and how to continue his candidacy is bound to be the pressing issue for Dean and his allies in the wake of his poor showing Tuesday.

"Dean has crafted a short-term strategy that counts on good showings in Washington state and Michigan this Saturday and in Maine's Sunday caucuses, setting the stage for a victory in Wisconsin.

"But the question is for how long will Dean's donors be willing to suspend their disbelief in the face of repeated rebuffs by the voters."

Here's a rundown of state results:CNN.com 2004 Primaries

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Bush's intelligence panel sleight-of-hand: The President neatly avoided a political bullet over the WMD failure by picking a panel that allows him to get re-elected. It won't look in-depth at White House and Pentagon pressure on the CIA and how Cheney's and Rumsfeld's teams distorted intelligence. Now the new panel's scope is so broad -- Iran and Korea included -- and so deliberate, that there won't be any results before the November election. Karl Rove must be pleased. Yahoo! News - Bush to Form Intelligence Probe Panel
Update: Joshua Marshall confirms my earlier comments about Bush's panel by noting: "Anything the White House did with those CIA analyses, any fisticuffs between the Veep's office and the CIA, anything stovepiped through Doug Feith's operation at the Pentagon, anything that made its way from Chalabi's mumbo-jumbocrats to the the president's speechwriters -- that's all beyond their brief."

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