Jim Davis

Washington Post runs Spock-tacular story on Leonard Nimoy

Washington Post runs Spock-tacular story on Leonard Nimoy

Whenever Trekkies flash Spock's Vulcan "Live Long and Prosper" sign, they're actually borrowing from Judaism, Leonard Nimoy often said. That fact came to the fore in numerous retrospects after Nimoy's death Feb. 27.

"People don’t realize they're blessing each other with this!" he says in one of the better stories, based on a recorded interview reported by the Post.

Nimoy became a photographer, a director, a narrator, even a singer over his career. But his best-known role was, of course, Spock, the logic-minded alien in three TV seasons and eight films based on the original Star Trek. The religious/spiritual gesture? Abby Ohlheiser of the Washington Post nails it in the first two paragraphs:

Leonard Nimoy first saw what became the famous Vulcan salute, “live long and prosper,” as a child, long before “Star Trek” even existed. The placement of the hands comes from a childhood memory, of an Orthodox Jewish synagogue service in Boston.
The man who would play Spock saw the gesture as part of a blessing, and it never left him. “Something really got hold of me,” Nimoy said in a 2013 interview with the National Yiddish Book Center.

The story is absorbing both on a personal and religious level. Ohlheiser, with contributions by ace religion writer Michelle Boorstein, fills in Nimoy's Ukrainian background and upbringing in Boston. His acquaintance with Yiddish led him to helping support the book center.

In a little disclosure, Ohlheiser says she worked at the book center as a college student. Her experience led her to ask about anything that Nimoy had done there, leading to the gold mine of the recorded interview.

Religiously, the story is, as Spock might say, fascinating:

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Brooklyn terrorism arrests: Suspects talk like jihadis, but New York Times doesn't notice

Brooklyn terrorism arrests: Suspects talk like jihadis, but New York Times doesn't notice

"When to act? When to watch? When does someone seemingly radicalized become an imminent danger?"

Pithy questions for law enforcement and anti-terrorism agents, and for news media -- especially when three young men in Brooklyn are picked up on charges of supporting the Islamic State, even though they weren’t prominent in any terror plots. But just as the authorities don’t always track all the clues, neither do some newspapers like the New York Times.

The Times looks carefully at the case against Akhror Saidakhmetov and Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev, who are accused of trying to join the Islamic State in Syria. The third, Abror Habibov, is accused of helping raise funds for them to do so.

The newspaper examines their jobs and interests; it scrutinizes their e-mails and relationships; it asks agents how they investigate. What it doesn't do is focus on the mutant form of Islam into which the youths were apparently being sucked.

One Times article looks at dilemmas for law enforcement:

The decision to arrest the men highlights the evolving challenges confronting law enforcement as officials calculate whether and when to intervene in instances of what some have begun calling “known wolves.”
There are “lone wolves and known wolves,” said a law enforcement official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the continuing investigation. “A lone wolf is someone who comes out of the woodwork; a known wolf is on your radar.”

The other article profiles the young suspects, including their lifestyles and relationships. It also tells of Saidakhmetov's interest in online IS videos:

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Death row women find God; ABC News promptly loses him

Death row women find God; ABC News promptly loses him

Whoosh!

What was that?

Oh, just a flock of faith words sailing over the heads of ABC News.

ABC maven Diane Sawyer interviewed two female death row inmates for a special (scheduled for 10 Eastern Time tonight, Feb. 27). According to the online text and preview video, she looks at their life under threat of death. She gets them talking about their youthfulness (they're two of the youngest women on death row). And the story decries the unfairness of sentencing practices.  

What doesn't the report get to? As a GR reader, you must have surely guessed: the many religious and spiritual references in their quotes.

Part of Sawyer's "Hidden America" series, the show visits Tiffany Cole and Emilia Carr at a prison in Ocala, Fla., where they await execution for separate murders. The 1,200-word article says much about their cases and lets them say their boyfriends really did the murders.

The women admit making bad life choices but say they’ve changed. Carr says she suffered extreme stress before she "came to know God."  And Cole says: “I am not the same person anymore. I have peace, I have joy. I have a sound mind.”

Cole's quote has at least two Bible references. Romans 14:17 says the kingdom of God is a matter of "righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost."  And II Timothy 1:17 says that God imparts a spirit of "power, and of love, and of a sound mind."

Didn't Sawyer or any of her expert assistants recognize the verses? Or were they just uninterested? Hate to say it, but I'd guess the latter. Because ABC says Carr and Cole read about Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. And the two say "religion" has helped them cope behind bars.

Which religion? Well, let's hear some more clues:

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Faith amid suffering: Milwaukee paper shows how community faces illness

Faith amid suffering: Milwaukee paper shows how community faces illness

"To live at all is miracle enough," in the words of poet Mervyn Peake. And sometimes, as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says, the miracle is in how someone can endure suffering -- and her friends endure with her.

The sensitive feature story tells of the crisis in Rhonda Hill's life as the devout laywoman develops a brain hemorrhage. The 1,000-word article speaks of miracles, but it's more about suffering and trust.

Hill, a Lutheran official in the Milwaukee area, is the type of woman who would spend 14 weeks studying a single Bible book, Acts, with other women. She and her friends are the type to quote scripture and sing hymns all the time.

And they see God's benevolent hand, no matter what. Even at the start, when Hill started vomiting and collapsing into a chair at work.

Her friends take her to the emergency room; then the story takes a startling turn:

It was the first of many miracles, Hill, her friends and her family say. They see the hand of God — alongside those of her physicians — in every positive development, every piece of good news. Had they taken her home, as Hill had insisted, she could have lapsed into a coma, doctors told her. She could have had a stroke, or bled to death.
"One of the doctors came in here and told her she had a miracle," said Shirley Stewart, Hill's 73-year-old grandmother, who had been holding vigil in her room around the clock for days.

While the doctors test and treat, Hill's friends -- and her grandmother, a Pentecostal pastor -- hold a round of prayers, hymns and Bible readings at the hospital. And as the Journal Sentinel reports, Hill's support circle spans denominations, with bishops and pastors joining laity in the vigil:

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Fired fire chief fires back at Atlanta: Washington Post produces fine indepth piece

Fired fire chief fires back at Atlanta: Washington Post produces fine indepth piece

In a time when mainstream media are constantly telling us which opinions matter, it's refreshing to read the Washington Post's detailed, lucid piece on the firing of Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran.

In writing up Cochran's lawsuit against the city, alleging that his firing was over his religious beliefs, the Post has an indepth report worthy of the name. The story cites the allegation that Cochran was canned over his published views on homosexuality. It also cites a city investigation and a source for the mayor, saying he was actually fired for misjudgment and mismanagement.

The article is well researched, with six quoted sources and links to 13 articles and other documents. It also has a couple of stumbles and doesn't clear up all questions. But more on that later.

Here's a decent summary high in the story:

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said in January that Cochran’s firing was over his “judgment and management skills,” and that “Cochran’s personal religious beliefs are not the issue.” The city had suspended Cochran in November, after questioning whether the book’s passages on homosexuality violated the city’s non-discrimination policy.
But that is not at all how Cochran and his growing number of supporters see things.
“To actually lose my childhood-dream-come-true profession – where all of my expectations have been greatly exceeded – because of my faith is staggering,” Cochran said in a statement released with news of the lawsuit. “The very faith that led me to pursue my career has been used to take it from me.”

There's a fair amount of rhetoric like that, and the Post makes Cochran sound like an actual human rather than a talking head. The story offers some history, including a recent letter from six members of Congress on Cochran's behalf. It spends two paragraphs on whether Cochran got permission from the city's Board of Ethics to publish the book. And it shows how the case has become a cause celebre for both sides.

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Fox station interviews liberal 'Roman' Catholic, except he's not

Fox station interviews liberal 'Roman' Catholic, except he's not

Want some refreshment?  Here, have a nice, juicy Florida orange.

What? The crate says "California Oranges"? Well, what do they know?

That's often the attitude when secular media touch on -- more like skip along the surface of -- religious divisions. Case in point: a report from Fox 5 TV in San Diego on Wednesday about a new parish for people "from all walks of life, including divorcees, remarried people, the LGBTQ community and female ordained priests."

The story quotes Bishop Dermot Rodgers mouthing a grab bag of liberal bromides like "Judge none, love all" -- in the story and accompanying video. Four times, including the headline, the story identifies him as Roman Catholic, even saying he lives by Pope Francis' philosophy:

"One of the earliest statements the Holy Father made about equality and about gays and lesbians in the world is, ‘Who am I to judge?’” Rodgers said. “And a whole theology is being formed from that very statement, so not only to affect the LGBTQ community, but also divorced and remarried people and other people who feel excluded from the traditional Catholic Church."

Fox muddles on in the story, saying the Vatican gave VIP seating this week to a group called "American Gay and Lesbian Catholics" at the pope's weekly general audience. I'm guessing they mean New Ways Ministry, which serves gay Roman Catholics.

The TV station did ask the Diocese of San Diego about Rodgers, and that's where this report headed south. Rodrigo Valdivia, the chancellor, tells Fox that the bishop and his followers are not affiliated with the diocese. Even for someone with little experience in religion reporting, that should have set off a number of other questions.

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New York Times alertly reports the war against ISIS' cyber-jihadis

New York Times alertly reports the war against ISIS' cyber-jihadis

ISIS terrorists are outgunning us -- even in the cyberspace we created, spreading its hate with up to 90,000 online messages daily. The Obama administration's newest effort to fight this bombardment is the focus of an alert New York Times report:

At the heart of the plan is expanding a tiny State Department agency, the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, to harness all the existing attempts at countermessaging by much larger federal departments, including the Pentagon, Homeland Security and intelligence agencies.
The center would also coordinate and amplify similar messaging by foreign allies and nongovernment agencies, as well as by prominent Muslim academics, community leaders and religious scholars who oppose the Islamic State, also called ISIS or ISIL, and who may have more credibility with ISIS’ target audience of young men and women than the American government.

The Times is apparently way out ahead on this story. My searches here and here indicate that only a handful of other news agencies have even noticed, and most of those trailed the Times by six hours or more.

The Times notes the formidable potential of mustering "more than 350 State Department Twitter accounts, combining embassies, consulates, media hubs, bureaus and individuals, as well as similar accounts operated by the Pentagon, the Homeland Security Department and foreign allies." The newspaper also highlights difficulties in coordinating so many competing agencies, each claiming its own turf.

Make sure to click the accompanying video. I know, some videos we post here on GR are just surface treatments that last under two minutes. This one is different; it's an absorbing, five-minute report on the birth and growth of ISIS.

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Shots fired, Jews targeted, religious slogans shouted, and journalists scratch their heads

Shots fired, Jews targeted, religious slogans shouted, and journalists scratch their heads

Is politics more believable than religion as a motive for shooting up a café and a synagogue?

I wouldn't pretend to read minds at the New York Times and the Washington Post. But it looked like some quick tap-dancing when the newspapers reported the weekend shootings in the capital of Denmark.

First up is the Post's report:

COPENHAGEN — The targets were eerily familiar: a cartoonist, police officers and Jews.
The manhunt, too, had echoes: a European capital on virtual lockdown as police searched block by block, with helicopters sweeping the skies.
And after the suspect had been shot to death on a Copenhagen street, the profile that emerged was remarkably similar: a habitual criminal who, after serving time in prison, emerged as an ideologically motivated killer.

It's familiar, all right. The weekend targets were a synagogue during a bat mitzvah and a café hosting a forum on free speech and Islam. A clear echo of two attacks in Paris just a month ago, at a kosher market and the satirical Charlie Hebdo magazine. Hebdo has often run cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, an act that many Muslims consider blasphemous.

Similarly, the Sunday forum in Copenhagen was organized by Lars Vilks, whose cartoons of Muhammad brought death threats in 2007 and who was in the café during the shooting. The event was even timed for the anniversary of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, author of the book The Satanic Verses.

Beyond a vague reference to "extremism," though, the Post finds it hard to pinpoint the motives of Omar Abdel Hamid el-Hussein, as Danish media identified him. Why?

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Interfaith leaders drone about airstrikes, and media let them

Interfaith leaders drone about airstrikes, and media let them

Military drones got bombarded by a squadron of religious leaders, and the controversy got dutiful coverage.  But it's only a controversy, you know, if people disagree.

On that count, I give a B+ to coverage of the recent Interfaith Conference on Drone Warfare at Princeton University. The media quote the conferees but acknowledge that not everyone sides with them. Who and why, though, isn't always spelled out.

A gold star to the Religion News Service for crisp, wire-style reporting, packing facts and balance in less than 500 words. Here are the first two paragraphs:

For the Obama administration and the Bush administration before it, drone strikes kill terrorists before terrorists can kill innocents, and the strikes keep American soldiers out of harm’s way.
But for a group of faith leaders, drones are a crude tool of death that make killing as easy as shooting a video game villain, and they put innocents in harm’s way.

The story has a wealth of details, including the "150 ministers, priests, imams, rabbis and other faith leaders" at the conference. It notes that many of them also met at Princeton in 2006 to denounce American torture against suspects. And it has some stark quotes like one from the Rev. Richard Killmer, project director: "Drones have become a weapon of first resort and not last resort. It has made it a lot easier to go to war."

RNS also uses the time-honored method of bulleted paragraphs to highlight what the conferees want:

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