Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!

I haven’t felt like writing lately. So, I’ll just say that I wish everyone a Happy New Year. And I hope that I’ll feel like writing more in ’08.

Have a good one, everybody.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Michael Medved’s Persecution Complex

Here’s something else that I posted on LiberalsOnly.com. It involves the conservative media critic Michael Medved:


I don’t usually read USA Today, but a copy happened to be available for me to peruse yesterday. One of the articles in the issue was conservative media critic Michael Medved’s panning of the cable-TV special The Lost Tomb of Jesus. Now, I haven’t seen the special (I don’t have cable TV), and I don’t fault Medved for the particulars of his criticism of the show’s content: he makes good points about the special’s allegedly shoddy use of archeology and history. However, sprinkled into his review are allusions to this tiresome victim mentality that some religious believers adhere to.

The first is that the “entertainment industry” as a whole is hostile towards religion.


“The entertainment industry in particular has developed a curious strategy of attempting to connect with America’s massive, ardent Christian audience with pulpy projects that openly undercut key tenets of Christianity.” —Medved


This is a gross overstatement. American entertainment media have never stopped making projects that are religiously themed. True, they haven’t been quite as high-profile as they use to be when the country was more religiously homogeneous, but from Jesus of Nazareth (1977) on through other Bible-based TV mini-series, Hollywood has never lost sight of the religious audience.

If religious themes largely faded from the movie screens in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s, it was because the film industry was too busy courting a youth market, and religious topics weren’t particularly high up on that questioning demographic’s tastes. Now that Mel Gibson has proven the economic viability of religious stories on the big screen, the major studios have rushed to create their own “faith-based” specialty divisions.

However, the most dismaying aspect of Medved’s writing is his insinuation that religious believers deserve the same consideration as racial minorities, effectively equating criticism of religious tenets with racial discrimination.


“...Some offended Christian callers to my radio show expressed the conviction that this project represented one more component in the aggressive secularist counterattack on traditional religious beliefs, along with best-selling books such as The God Delusion and Letter to a Christian Nation, and tireless efforts to remove crosses and Ten Commandments monuments from public places.” —Medved


I have a difficult time seeing how religious believers being “offended” by criticism of religion can be a cause for alarm. Questioning religious beliefs should be a good thing. To the secularist, questioning religion can be a refreshing reminder that free speech exists in this country. To the believer, the questioning ought to provoke thought and, in doing so, affirm one’s beliefs.

Should we be respectful of people’s religious beliefs? Of course, to an extent. However, when those same people use their religious beliefs in an irreligious way — for example, in order to deny gay people equal protection under the law — then their religion stops being merely a respectable conviction and starts being something worthy of criticism. But in cases like these, it is not religion per se that is being criticized, but the idea that religious belief should trump the Constitution.

Also, Medved falls back on a very disingenuous argument: religious beliefs, however unreasonable, should be catered to because religious believers make up a majority of this country.


“According to a Newsweek poll for its ‘From Jesus to Christ’ issue of March 2005 ... 78% of Americans say they believe ‘Jesus rose from the dead.’ The Lost Tomb of Jesus largely ignores this prevailing faith....” —Medved


There is something to be said for a majority opinion (for example, Gore winning the popular vote in the 2000 presidential election), but majorities aren’t the whole story. Democracies are also about protecting minority rights. And just because a majority of people believe something, especially something unprovable, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the belief is a good one to have.

Finally, Medved says that popular media are quick to challenge religious beliefs but slow to acknowledge historical findings that support the Bible:


“Dore Gold’s excellent new book, The Fight for Jerusalem: Radical Islam, the West, and the Future of the Holy City, is also full of dramatic proof that blows away prevailing scholarly skepticism about the historicity of King David's reign. But these richly documented discoveries never received the intensive coverage offered to feebly supported speculations that ‘disprove’ the Bible.

“Another fascinating book, The Exodus Case: New Discoveries Confirm the Historical Exodus by Swedish scientist Lennart Moller, provides gripping evidence about deliverance from Egypt and the real location of Mount Sinai. It also has inspired an ambitious feature film now in production. Considering general media instincts to slam rather than support biblical narratives, it will probably struggle to impact pop culture.” —Medved



Medved discusses these titles (among others), titles that support such plausible happenings as the reign of King David and the exodus of the Jews from Egypt, in an article whose over-arching criticism is of the proposed debunking of Jesus’ resurrection, something less plausible. To coin a phrase, this is comparing apples to oranges. I guarantee you that if a peer-reviewed book came out called Historical and Scientific Proof of Christ’s Resurrection, the media would be all over it in an instant.

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By the way, when I described the Exodus as “plausible,” I was referring to the plausibility of a massive amount of people going from one place to another. I wasn’t defending the plausibility of the exact narrative of the Exodus in the Bible, such as the Red Sea parting or Moses’ people wandering in the desert for 40 years.

Friday, December 14, 2007

President Gore Impeached over 9/11

Here is something else that I posted on LiberalsOnly.com. It’s the only fiction that I’ve written in quite some time:



April 6, 2002

PRESIDENT GORE REMOVED FROM OFFICE

9/11 Cited as Chief Cause



WASHINGTON — Yesterday, Al Gore became the first U.S. president to be removed from the White House via impeachment. By a vote of 67-33, a two-thirds majority of senators in the Republican-led chamber agreed to force the 43rd president from office. The devastating terrorist attacks of last September 11, and the Gore administration’s inability to prevent them, was cited as the main reason.

Speaking at a joint press conference following the momentous vote, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) argued for the correctness of the vote’s outcome. “The American people deserve a president who doesn’t let terrorist attacks take place on American soil,” Sen. Lott said. “The vote was a victory for the American people.”

Last month, the House of Representatives pushed for articles of impeachment against President Gore after a bipartisan committee headed by former vice president Dan Quayle, a Republican, and former Georgia governor Zell Miller, a Democrat, concluded that Mr. Gore “demonstrated gross negligence and egregious incompetence for allowing these monstrous attacks to happen.”

Last week, a contingent of House Republicans presented its arguments for impeachment on the Senate floor under the watchful eye of U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist. Led by Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.), the Republican contingent made impassioned arguments in favor of Mr. Gore’s ouster against a backdrop of photographs of 9/11 victims and the smoldering World Trade Center.

The recent tide of public opinion against Mr. Gore is in marked contrast to the mood of the country immediately after the attacks. In those tense days, the President made several televised speeches about the need for the country to “be brave” and bring al-Qaeda, the Afghanistan-based terrorist organization responsible for hatching the attacks, to justice. Poll after poll of U.S. citizens showed public approval of Mr. Gore’s handling of events in near-astronomical territory.

However, a growing chorus of critical voices — including such high-profile figures as Rush Limbaugh, The Wall Street Journal, and various personalities from Fox News — began to blame Gore for the attacks. “If you want a good reason why Al Gore has no business being president,” Mr. Limbaugh famously said last year on his nationally syndicated radio show, “I can give you 3,000 of them who died on 9/11.”

“Gore won the election in 2000 with barely 51 percent of the vote,” Mr. Limbaugh continued. “There’s no way you could call that a mandate.” Mr. Limbaugh echoed popular conservative sentiment that Mr. Gore’s narrow victory in the 2000 presidential election was undeserved.

These mounting critical voices influenced Congress to initiate the Quayle-Miller committee, which led to the impeachment.

While the President and his closest advisors have remained mum about the impeachment in recent days, several White House aides were stunned over the results of the lopsided vote.

“There’s absolutely no reason for the vote to have turned out this way,” said a low-ranking aide who spoke on condition of anonymity. “The President did everything he could to prevent any terrorist attacks. He formed that task force on terrorism immediately after getting that intelligence memo titled ‘Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the U.S.’ No one could have foreseen al-Qaeda using airplanes as missiles; that was totally outside the box.”

On the floor of the Senate last week, Rep. Barr argued that Mr. Gore should have anticipated such a plot.

The White House aide went on to list the Gore administration’s accomplishments since September 11, including its military invasion of Afghanistan shortly afterwards. “What about the President’s sky-high standing after the attacks? He put a human face on America’s suffering and on our determination to get the people who did this. He successfully ousted the Taliban from the government in Afghanistan in October and captured Osama bin Laden a month after that. Doesn’t that count for anything?”

Current Vice President Joseph I. Lieberman is set to take the oath of office at noon tomorrow. In the name of “national unity,” some Republican lawmakers are asking Mr. Lieberman to name a GOP vice president once in office. Mr. Lieberman has remained non-committal on the issue.

At his press conference, Sen. Lott added his voice for the country to move on. “If America learned anything from 9/11, it’s that you can’t be too lax on national security. Here’s one thing you can take to the bank: If there had been a Republican in the White House on 9/11,” Sen. Lott continued, “those attacks never would have happened.”

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Sushi Dan

Originally written December 13, 2003:


Last night, I walked over to my local Hungarian restaurant for dinner. And, of course, they closed early that night and sent me packing. So, instead, I moseyed on over to Sushi Dan, which claims to be “rockin’ sushi,” in a mini-mall near the corner of Ventura and Vineland in Studio City.

Sushi Dan inhabits the suite that used to house Sushi on Tap, which had to have been one of the strangest restaurants I’d ever set foot inside. At Sushi on Tap, while you were eating your raw fish and noodles, the waiters and the sushi chefs would leap out onto the restaurant floor and go into some song-and-dance numbers. The now-defunct L.A. New Times rated Sushi on Tap “Best Sushi Restaurant with a Wacky Floor Show.” And so it was. However, the difficulty of making the sushi came to preoccupy the chefs’ time, and the floor show soon degenerated into a few local hoofers doing some unshowy improvised moves. Next thing I knew, Sushi on Tap had danced away.

Today, Sushi Dan is after a younger, hipper crowd. Rock music is always blaring from the sound system, and the ├╝ber-moody lighting looks like it’s designed by Helen Keller. Settling into my table, it was hard to keep my mind on the subject of food because the restaurant boasted two exceptionally attractive waitresses. One looked lovely in a stately statuesque way with fine chiseled features; the other had a very appealing elfen air about her. Entranced by these two dazzling beauties at the same time, I could easily understand why some societies condoned polygamy, and it was all I could do to keep my stolen glances at them as furtive as possible.

Another amusing occurrance was that everyone whom the waitresses seated at the small table next to mine kept asking to move. First, a couple on a date sat there for a few minutes, then asked to be moved to the sushi bar. Next, a couple of guys were seated there, and it wasn't long before they asked to be moved, too. Then, two women were seated there, and the next thing I knew... Well, you get the idea. I didn't see why sitting next to me was so objectionable. Maybe I need to shower more often.

Anyway, one of the specials that night was a lobster Langoustine in dynamite sauce over California roll. It was relatively expensive but too intriguing to pass up. The taste was pleasant enough, but I don’t think that it really succeeded as a sushi dish.

Sushi Dan is becoming known for their loud flavors, marked by their specializing in oil-rich tempura rolls with a splattering of sweet sauce. The result is usually a heavy taste that goes against the more subtle flavors that are sushi’s best-loved trait.

The lobster and dynamite sauce had a tongue-pleasing tang, but I don't think that they went especially well with the California roll, whose flavors were smothered by the heaviness of the lobster. Also, it was all I could do to keep the generously sized cuts of sushi and lobster in my barely closed mouth, so the logistics of chewing my food distracted me from fully enjoying the flavor of my meal. And I kept thinking that their lobster Langoustine would probably taste — and be eaten — better between two slices of bread as a lobster roll.

Since the price of the roll didn’t leave me completely destitute yet, I also ordered another Sushi Dan special: a blue crab handroll. Again, the taste was agreeable, but the flavor of the crab was so heavy that there wasn’t much room for the rice and nori to work as complements. Sushi Nozawa also serves a crab-salad handroll, but its flavor is much lighter, so the finely balanced combination of crab, rice, and seaweed works well together as a whole dish. But that’s another restaurant.

And Sushi Dan capped off my dining experience by forgetting to charge me for my glass of wine. You just can't beat free food.

While they might not serve the best sushi I've ever eaten, Sushi Dan does provide some intriguingly off-beat offerings and uncommon flavors. Head chef Danny Kim is a stand-up guy, and his wife Michelle makes a charming hostess. Not being a sushi perfectionist, I’ll probably go back again soon to sample some more of the dishes and to soak up the atmosphere. Oh, yes, and to scope out the waitresses.