What Happened Today: November 23, 2022
Russian oil will find a way; bombings in Jerusalem; Associated Press caught in the cross fire
The Big Story
Western nations are stuck between their continued reliance on Russian oil and the need to punish Moscow for its war against Ukraine—though not so harshly it jeopardizes their energy supply. Following months of generally feckless sanctions against Russia, the Group of Seven nations (G7) and the European Union are now trying to determine the maximum price at which Russian oil can be sold—a balancing act in which the price cap is meant to limit the revenue going into Russia yet keep enough profit flowing that Russia maintains its incentive to sell oil. The problem is that while Poland and the Baltics say the $65 target is too high, Greece and Malta don’t want to go below $70, and all nations have to reach a unanimous decision to move forward.
The disagreements reflect both the divergent strategic interests of various E.U. members and the inherent flaws in a campaign to punish Putin that has sidelined practical calculations for virtue signaling. According to multiple experts in the energy sector, a $65-$70 price cap wouldn’t do anything to weaken Moscow’s revenue, as its production costs are already well below that range. As well, the mechanisms of enforcement could easily be subverted by nations who choose not to participate in the cap. It also appears that grace periods and loopholes have already been written into the new proposal. While Russian exports of crude oil to the European Union and United States have shrunk since February, overall exports have increased, buoyed by big buyers in India and China.
German Chancellor Scholz told reporters on Wednesday, “We’re looking for ways how this can work and how one can find a common basis so that this can be implemented in an ideally pragmatic and efficient way while at the same time avoiding that this could lead to excessive disadvantages for the countries of the European Union.”
In The Back Pages: Giving Thanks in Synagogue
→ Two bombs were detonated early this morning in Jerusalem, killing one person and wounding 19 others. In what appears to be a coordinated attack with dark echoes of the early 2000s’ wave of terrorism in Israel, the bombs were planted near bus stops in two neighborhoods of Jerusalem and unleashed at rush hour for maximum impact. The bombs were loaded with nails and bolts to inflict as many casualties as possible, similar to many of the bombs used two decades ago during the Second Intifada. Avi Biton, whose son was injured in the attacks, told the press that his son saw a man taking photos of one of the bus stops shortly before the bombs detonated; he now has shrapnel in the brain that can’t be removed due to its proximity to a blood vessel. The bombings come after a year in which the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, claims to have prevented 330 significant terror plots, including 34 bombings and 2 suicide bombings. Today’s violence is especially notable as most of the recent attacks on Israeli civilians have occurred inside the West Bank, not in the major cities of the interior. A spokesperson for the Israeli police was quoted as saying that “this is an organized squad and not a spontaneous attack,” though no group has yet taken credit. While both the current prime minister, Yair Lapid, and the incoming prime minister, Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, condemned the attacks and promised to bring the killers to justice, a bus driver who was at the scene told Ynet that Israelis “are used to this already.”
→ Quote of the Day:
“Wild west …”
The droll comment on the origins of the deadly COVID-19 virus comes in a new bundle of unredacted emails between Dr. Anthony Fauci and his colleagues in the global virological community in the early days of 2020. In an incredible exchange on Feb. 4, 2020, Fauci, Jeremy Farrar, and NIH Director Francis Collins entertained the possibility–which they have since vehemently argued against–that SARS-CoV-2 came out of a laboratory. Based on a “very rough first draft” from colleagues at the University of Sydney who’d analyzed the virus’ genome, Fauci and Farrar got to wondering if perhaps the virus wasn’t engineered but “passaged” through mice–a form of gain-of-function research–which could have given it some of the strange features the Australian scientists had observed. Collins wrote back, incredulous, “Surely that wouldn’t be done in a BSL-2 lab?” referring to the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s insufficiently safe level of laboratory biosecurity. (BSL levels go from 1 to 4, with the deadliest pathogens usually being worked on in BSL-3 and above.) Farrar, leader of Britain’s research group Wellcome Trust, simply wrote back, referring to best practices in the world of Chinese virology, “Wild west …”
→ Graphic of the Day:
“Diversity, equity, and inclusion!” is the new Hippocratic oath in the halls of American medicine. A recent report from the Association of American Medical Colleges on DEI in the United States’ medical schools revealed some extraordinary numbers, including that 79% of schools require their hiring committees to either receive “unconscious bias” training or to include “equity advisors,” and that two-thirds of schools also require “departments/units to assemble a diverse pool of candidates for faculty positions.” Plus, 100% of schools surveyed said they use a “holistic review” process for admissions, which the AAMC defines on its website as “mission-aligned admissions or selection processes that take into consideration applicants’ experiences, attributes, and academic metrics as well as the value an applicant would contribute to learning, practice, and teaching,” and 85% of schools said they had used demographic data to “promote change within the institution.” On the front page of the AAMC’s website, two of the top three news stories involve race, and one involves the impact of climate change on health.
→ New York’s club-going Mayor Eric Adams is in hot water yet again for his nepotistic hiring practices. His pal Lisa White, a former NYPD dispatcher, Adams’ campaign spokesperson, and the mayor’s former landlady, is now deputy commissioner for employee relations, which comes complete with a $241,000 annual salary. White already collects $30,000 from the city in the form of a pension for her years of service to the NYPD and now can add the hefty salary for her work “leading the Department’s efforts to improve the health, well-being, and morale of all members of service.” Hizzoner Adams has promoted several close friends to high-paying roles in city government, including Phil Banks as his deputy mayor for public safety and Phil’s brother’s girlfriend, Sheena Wright, as his deputy mayor for “strategic initiatives.” In response to questions about the new appointment, Adams told the press, “We say you have gotta get the best people for the job, and we’ve done that.”
→ The never-ending torrent of gun violence continued Tuesday night in Chesapeake, Virginia, where a former Walmart employee killed six people, and himself, in the “deadliest store shooting since May,” according to NBC. So far no motive has been established in the shooting, but a “senior law enforcement official” told the network that the suspect was a disgruntled employee armed with a pistol. The FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are involved in the ongoing investigation.
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→ The suspect in Saturday’s massacre at a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs, Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, identified as nonbinary in court documents made public on Tuesday, with Aldrich’s public defenders adding “They use they/them pronouns” in a footnote on a preliminary motion. That’s an inconvenient development for NBC reporter Ben Collins, a leading figure on the “disinformation” beat that aims to turn journalists into rent-a-cops policing “dangerous” narratives. Collins was one of many members of the media who framed that attack in the context of right-wing anti-LGBT without waiting to see where the facts pointed. Aldrich’s motives have not yet been established, and this revelation of identity may or may not play a role, but what is clear is that the narrative peddled by disinformation experts is already falling apart.
→ The ongoing FTX/Sam Bankman-Fried saga really needs a facetious Ron Howard voice-over because things are reaching peak Arrested Development. According to James Bromley, a lawyer from Sullivan & Cromwell working on the bankruptcy case, Bankman-Fried ran FTX as his “personal fiefdom,” spending company money frivolously, including $300 million on Bahamas real estate for “senior executives.” In spite of the obvious, flagrant embezzlement that continues to come to light, SBF keeps flailing, issuing yet another apology to his employees on Tuesday. “I didn’t mean for any of this to happen, and I would give anything to be able to go back and do things over again. You were my family. I’ve lost that, and our old home is an empty warehouse of monitors. When I turn around, there’s no one left to talk to.” He goes on to say that he didn’t realize how overleveraged they were and that the specious financial moves he made were “generally” reinvested in the company and not used for “large amounts of personal consumption.” Personally, we at The Scroll wish that SBF was less of a no-taste schlub and had used the money to guzzle the world’s best wines. If SBF didn’t use his largesse to invest in Barolo before it goes full Burgundy, he missed a huge opportunity to make back some of his investors’ money. C’est la vie.
→ It’s not just Jonathan Greenblatt and the Anti-Defamation League who want Elon Musk to continue using Twitter to censor undesirable content; apparently, the new U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Volker Türk is right there with them. Earlier this month, Türk sent a letter to Musk registering his displeasure with Musk’s decision to get rid of Twitter’s human rights team (“not an encouraging start”) while emphasizing “free speech is not a free pass.” Criticizing vaccines should be off limits, as should “hate speech,” both of which can have literally deadly implications, says Türk. This approach shouldn’t surprise anyone, as the BBC convened a forum in 2020 to found the Trusted News Initiative, a collaboration between BBC, Reuters, The Washington Post, and many other major media outlets that committed to monitoring and combating “misinformation” about elections and vaccines.
→ While we at The Scroll agree that many of our major media outlets are incompetent, ideologically captured, and filled with spiteful, underpaid people whose subconscious seems fixated on sowing chaos in our republic, we never expected that a miscommunication inside the Associated Press might have gotten us all killed! Last week, after months and months of nuclear saber rattling on both sides of the Ukraine war, the AP posted an erroneous tweet: “Senior U.S. intelligence official says Russian missiles crossed into NATO member Poland, killing two people.” It later turned out that the missiles were Russian-made, fired by Ukraine against a Russian attack. What’s incredible is how the tweet got posted in the first place. Screenshots of a Slack conversation between staff at the AP show that there was some doubt over the veracity of the initial claims but Deputy News Editor Zeina Karam decided to publish anyway, on the reputation of a previously vetted “senior American intelligence official” who dropped the tip. But Zeina Karam isn’t the one who’s lost her job; that would be reporter James LaPorta, who initiated the conversation but also made clear that approving the headline was “above my pay grade.” AP spokesperson Lauren Easton said no discipline was expected for the editors involved.
→ Not much works these days in San Francisco, but last year its elections commission wrote to the mayor that the city “runs one of the best elections in the country.” Much of that success may be due to the 20-year career of San Francisco’s Elections Director John Arntz, who was unceremoniously voted out last Wednesday by the elections commission due to his race. Arntz is white, and according to some members of the elections committee, that is not the kind of election leadership San Francisco needs moving forward. Elections Commissioner Cynthia Dai told the Mission Local that Arntz wasn’t being fired based on performance but that the city couldn’t make progress on its racial equity goals without opening up more top positions. This view was echoed by the commission’s president, Chris Jerdonek, who told Arntz in an email that the decision wasn’t about his performance but to “take action on the city’s racial equity plan.”
→ Video of the Day:
→ Happy Thanksgiving to each and every one of you. Please enjoy a little Charlie Brown and some great turkey (and may we suggest latkes) tomorrow.
TODAY IN TABLET:
How Kanye West Became America’s Leading Antisemite by Hubert Adjeh-Kontoh
The answer has less to do with Hitler than with Hotepism and iPhones
Saudi Arabia feasts on the GOAT by Lee Smith
What this week’s stunning World Cup upset in Qatar tells us about the state of play in the Middle East
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Giving Thanks in Synagogue
In the late 19th century, when Thanksgiving was a new holiday, American Jews created religious services to mark the day. They didn’t last.
By Jenna Weissman Joselit
With all the hoopla that attends the annual celebration of Thanksgiving, you’d think the holiday had been around forever. American Jews of the late 19th century certainly thought so, or acted as if they did, publicly maintaining that a day dedicated to taking stock of and thanking the Almighty for one’s blessings was “no Yankee notion,” but an ancient Israelite one. “Like a good many things, [it] is derived from Hebrew laws,” claimed “Sopher,” a Jewish resident of the nation’s capital in 1886.
By insisting on Thanksgiving Day’s biblical antecedents, American Jews papered over its novelty as an artifact of the post-Civil War era, an exercise in national reconciliation. At the same time, they made a point of aligning Jewish history with American history, intimating that the two went together like turkey and cranberry sauce.
History wasn’t the only thing that endeared Thanksgiving to America’s Jews. Contemporary events had much to do with it, too. When comparing their blessed lot with that of their co-religionists in the Old World—“For freedom to worship Thy name; For manhood delivered from shame,” as a Thanksgiving hymn composed by poet S. Solis Cohen in the 1870s would have it—they had every reason to be grateful. “None ought to love this country more than Israelites,” the American Israelite declared a few years later.
Little wonder, then, that American Israelites embraced the November holiday, prompting the American Hebrew in an unusually lighthearted frame of mind to observe that the toothsome smells of a bird roasting in the oven was another one of those things that “tends to make us love our country for the excellent turkeys it produces on our tables.” Even those reared on duck or goose took to turkey and its trimmings with relish, making sure that the less privileged among them—the residents of old age homes and orphan asylums—might also enjoy a “grand dinner.”
No festivity, of course, was complete without a soupçon of grumbling. Some American Jews at the grassroots looked askance at their co-religionists’ fulsome reception of Thanksgiving. Labeling it an example of “chuckas hagoyim,” the emulation of gentile ways, they chalked up its popularity to assimilation, to the collective desire to fit in, and worried lest it betokened a withering away of Jewish identity. If only the holiday’s Jewish champions would fulfill their Jewish ritual obligations with as much enthusiasm, critics sniffed.
American Jews observed “national turkey day” in the same manner as their Christian neighbors, “picking the bone with as much gusto,” with one telling exception: Where the latter attended church services—making good on both the spirit and the letter of presidential proclamations that not only invoked the “enduring mercy of Almighty God,” but also recommended that Americans “withdraw themselves from secular cares and labors” by attending a religious service—latter-day Israelites sat it out and stayed put in the parlor. For most Christians of the late 19th century, related the New York Observer and Chronicle, the “home vies with the church in giving thanks,” or, as one of its church-going readers put it more colloquially, “First I pray, then I stuff.” Most Jews just “stuffed.”
American Jewry’s religious leaders were none too pleased with this state of affairs, which resulted in “beggarly” attendance at Thanksgiving Day synagogue services. They made known their disappointment publicly, wondering why they bothered to organize a one-hour gathering at either 11 a.m. or at 3 p.m.
Still, they kept at it. In an attempt to beef up the number of those in the pews, several synagogues joined forces, hoping that a “united service” would result in a respectable yield. In 1879, for instance, Philadelphia’s Mikveh Israel, Beth-El Emeth, and Beth Israel joined forces; a year later, a number of New York synagogues followed suit. But these “experiments” also fell short, drawing only 100 souls in a space capable of seating several times that number.
When pressed to account for their absence, some American Jews pointed to the well-documented fact that they were not known to attend synagogue services throughout the year. Why, then, would anyone expect them to make an exception for an improvised service on a chilly day in November? Others attributed their “meager” participation to the holiday’s “spread-eagle style of oratory,” which had worn thin.
Still other stay-at-home American Jews brought more principled objections to bear, worried lest the conflation of Thanksgiving with worship mar the equally hallowed separation of church and state. From their perspective, Thanksgiving was meant as a “purely American institution, not a sectarian one,” to be celebrated around a dining room table, not within the confines of the sanctuary.
“A piece of sentimentalism, very pretty in its own way,” Thanksgiving, the American Israelite cautioned in 1878, should not be deployed as a religious occasion lest people come away with the notion that America was a Christian nation. Far better to believe that the “good God would infinitely prefer to be served in other and more practical ways.”
At a time when growing numbers of Americans thought otherwise, filling the air with statements like those made by the Rev. P.S. Henson—a Baptist preacher who insisted that the United States was “a distinctly Christian nation, barricaded and buttressed by Christian principles”—holding a synagogue service on Thanksgiving soon became a communal priority, tantamount to a rebuttal. During the closing decades of the 19th century, the English-language Jewish press, for its part, made sure to highlight America’s religious diversity by tabulating the number of synagogues that offered a Thanksgiving Day service and, in what soon emerged as a ritual all its own, publishing either the entirety of or an extract from notable Thanksgiving Day sermons.
Synagogues from coast to coast, in turn, redoubled their efforts by inviting sympathetic local Christian “divines” to address their congregants on Thanksgiving Day, hoping their presence in the pulpit might demonstrate that Jews and Christians were “more alike than we are different.”
Well-intended demonstrations of brotherhood, these performances often backfired when an anxious Christian clergyman put a foot wrong (or in his mouth) by calling a Jewish house of worship a church or, worse still, by making much of Jesus having been a Jew. Spare us this “clap-trap,” counseled the American Hebrew in 1880, discounting its impact on the Jewish body politic. Such “gush,” echoed the paper’s Philadelphia correspondent who styled himself “Phil A. Delphus.”
Though in a minority, America’s Jews were not alone. They had company in the nation’s freethinkers and secularists who also objected to Thanksgiving’s “religious tinge.” An example of what we today might call religious nationalism, the holiday’s identification of good citizenship with divine intervention stuck in their craw. “We have no objection to pumpkin pie,” declared one of their number, an avowed atheist, “but protest against its being seasoned with theology.”
To which, over time, a growing chorus of Americans said, “Amen.” Little by little, the holiday’s association with religion grew fainter and fainter, its place taken by football games and festive parades.
Now that’s something to chew on when sitting down to this year’s holiday repast.
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