Protocols A group of Jews endeavors towards total domination of the blogosphere.
Saturday, April 17, 2004
So Jeff Sharlet of The Revealer and I were discussing things at BloggerCon today (to which I was granted admission), and the most immediate assignment we could think of in terms of reporting for J-blogs is to get write-ups of rabbis' sermons across the J-blogosphere every week. It's a great starting point for compare, contrast and overview of what's going on in the J-comm in the broadest sense we're capable of. So, get to it, guys & gals: blog your rabbi on Saturday night.
My apologies to you, the readers, for not having kept up the blog as well as I should have over the past few days and weeks. Thanks for the e-mails and IMs inquiring as to the status of myself and the blog. I wish I had a clear answer for how both are doing, but that's simply not the case at the moment.
As you all know, I've been J-blogging here for a while, this blog has been noticed by those who practice J-journalism, etc. Something that I haven't shared, and that has affected my work, particularly of late, is how different publications have approached me about potentially working for them. With one in particular, I've had a lot of in-depth discussions, and received preliminary offers, with the main snag being the blogging issue. To give a quick rundown, the potential offers presented ranged from being a staff writer with a blog on the pub's site and the permission to continue Protocols, to staff writer with a blog on the pub's site and no permission to continue Protocols, to staff writer with no permission to blog at all.
For some, indeed most, journalists, the question of blogging isn't really an issue. For someone of my age and perspective, though, it's a rather big issue, perhaps in some ways the issue. Anyway, I'm now blogging from the Fung Wah bus on my way to Harvard where I hope to get in to at least some sessions of the sold-out BloggerCon. I'd posted before about how it sucks that it's on Shabbos, and indeed it does, but I figure it's worth the trip (and the measly $20 round-trip Fung Wah fare) even to just shmooze with some of the bigger names there, and perhaps to just listen at a session or two.
Given the confluence of both of these happenings, this seems an opportune time to discuss just what J-blogging is, what it means, and what it can and should be doing. Fortunately, in leading the discussion about religion at BloggerCon, Jeff Sharlet of The Revealer has been wondering much the same thing about religion blogging generally, and has produced some solid posts with comments about the issue; the roundup post is here. Again, it would've been nice to blog about this at the time, et cetera and so forth, but I'm here now. I realized yesterday that I shouldn't be holding back on blogging in preparation of getting a new gig; rather, I should be stepping it up. "Dance with the one what brung ya," they say, and indeed, blogging has brought me both to my place in J-journalism and to Fung Wah.
Here are my responses to the questions compiled in Sharlet's latest post:
1. What is a God blog? Is God blogging a religious practice? If so, does it displace other practices? Is it a meditation? Prayer? While I object to the use of the term "God blogging" to refer to religion blogging, I do think that religion blogging is a religious practice. I also think that religion journalism, and to some degree, journalism generally is part of religious practice -- or, at least, it can be. Acticely engaging in dialogue about religious issues is a major part of religion, or at least it is for Judaism.
A less-likely-to-be-universally-accepted idea of mine is that the search for truth in religion is a religious endeavor, as well. Opening up previously-unknown facts so that the religious community can make proper decisions, or simply be more fully informed, is something that contributes to the religious practices of the audience and must, therefore, have a religious element. Sweeping isn't necessarily a religious activity, but sweeping the floor in a synagogue to facilitate the religious practice of others becomes a religious activity; in this angle, your local journalist (and with blogs you really can have a local journalist) is like your local shamas.
So, blogging is religious for its discursive aspect and for its truth-seeking aspect.
I don't think there's room within a Jewish context to consider it meditation or prayer, and don't consider myself expert enough in other religions to make those kinds of distinctions.
2. What about nonbelievers, secularists, and regular journalists who blog about religion? If God blogging is a form of spiritual practice -- and many God bloggers insist that it is -- what's the significance of a nonbeliever performing what might be considered a spiritual ritual? What about a secularist who gives charity? It's still tzedakah, right? The significance of secularists observing and commenting on religion is that religion has a secular interest. We don't think much about non-believers picking up a Bible and studying it, so it stands to reason that we shouldn't have all that much to say about a secularist blogging about religion, either. The only worry would be that of the secularist being too ignorant to engage the topic wholly, and thus be respectful in discussing the issues; thing is, most religious people are exceedingly ignorant about religion, too.
We had a discussion here on Protocols following my article on Marc Shapiro's book about Maimonides' Thirteen Principles of Faith, and one commenter sought to point out that other commenters had been leaving notes on Shabbos. At the time, I didn't think that one could draw out from the non-practicers' comments that they were any more or less believers than the observant commenters; they stuck to the rules of the debate.
Attending the Maimonides conference a bit later, it was interesting to see how when debates broke out, the scholars in yarmulkes didn't predictably uphold more traditionalist perspectives than those without. Indeed, at times it seemed that the more traditional-in-practice scholars could be said to maintain a consensus on a non-traditionalist view of Maimonides, with the reverse view maintained by the not-traditional-in-practice scholars.
Practice or belief is not a reliable indicator of an individual's contribution to the religious discussion.
3. Some prominent bloggers argue that blogging isn't journalism. Bloggers, they say, comment rather than report. But aren't religion bloggers reporting on matters of faith? Isn't a deeper understanding of faith as it's lived what's missing from most mainstream religion reportage? Simple answer: those bloggers are wrong. Further, even though he's wrong, there's a difference between Glenn Reynolds protesting that Instapundit is "not a news source," and an individual claiming that their writing about events and contributing facts to the discussion isn't journalism. Sometimes it isn't good journalism, and sometimes it's journalism of a specific category, but it is journalism in its basic sense. People sometimes seem to forget that the root of "journalism" is "journal," which is to say, a written recording. Even assuming we should be using a term like "Higher journalism" to describe what, say, some of the larger daily newspapers or better magazines do, they all rely on the statements of individuals about given events. With blogs, you go straight to the source; it's journalism without the middle-man.
As to Sharlet's second question, which is basically, "Aren't religion blogs beating the tail off of mainstream mediums in covering religion?" my answer is, obviously, yes.
4. Do blogs restore pre-modern theological thinking, in the sense of encouraging worldly, mundane responses? Is that kind of theology specifically Christian (as opposed to Jewish & Muslim, in which theology often resides with authority figures who can take their time responding)? Or does it favor, culturally speaking, Jews and Catholics, who are more accustomed to the idea that religious questions can be answered communally? Or does it favor the individualism of Protestantism? My first answer is a big fat "Huh?" He seems to be mixing up different ideas here of answering quickly being necessarily tied to not having a thorough religious deliberation, and then at the end tack on the question of religious authority.
As to the first, in all religions there are at least some questions that can be answered quickly, and some that take significant deliberation. Sure, blogging encourages lots of quick answers, but it also encourages taking the time, at times, to develop larger themes.
As to the question of religious authority, well, blogs in general have an issue with that. Blogs generally bring authority away from regular journalists, and religion blogs generally will locate authority among the bloggers (who may or may not be religious leaders, so it's a bit different). For Judaism, I often say that religion blogging is about challenging the authority to make and interpret text on two levels: it challenges the journalists and it challenges the Jewish scholars.
Jeff Jarvis always says that blogs are about influencers influencing influencers. Well, religion blogging is about influential religionists influencing influential religionists.
I can't speak as much to those religions where authority is more centralized. I recently cited Paul Boutin's quotation, "I really think that if Jesus were around today, he would have a blog." This seems correct. I don't think that this jibes so easily with some of the more centralized Christian sects; or, at least, it jibes in a different way. For instance, just because Jesus would blog doesn't mean the apostles would be allowed to blog, too.
I think Mel Gibson and the Opus Dei movement would probably love to see Catholics blogging. Perhaps mainstream Catholics would as well. I had a very long discussion about blogging with the next Cardinal of Paris during the WJC tour that I covered for the Forward; I was very surprised to see him keep piping up with questions as I explained how religious audiences could interact. It seems religious authorities sometimes will be surprising in their openness to the medium.
5. Do religion blogs actually make mainstream religion coverage worse, by favoring and amplifying the kind of simplistic stories that can easily be summed up in a few sentences or two? No, because we summarize those stories in a sentence or two, and if the journalist is paying attention to the relevant religion blogs, the journalist will realize how much the work they just produced just isn't catching fire with the intended audience.
6. The Pew study reveals that those who use the internet for religious purposes tend to be devout. And a stroll through any of the religious blogospheres will further suggest that religion bloggers tend to be traditional. And yet they're engaged in a practice that inherently challenges established hierarchies. Or are they? Does blogging give everyone the potential power of the pulpit, just as it does of the press? Does that potential change the way faith and community are experienced even for those who don't blog (but could)? For Judaism, it changes the character of the debate somewhat, but the basic idea that religious authority is decentralized and that adherents matter in decision-making is still in play. Again, this may be different for other religions.
7. Last, definitely not least: What makes a good religion blog? What is the craft of religion blogging? Are there certain elements common to religion blogs across faiths? What do journalists have to learn from religion bloggers? What do other bloggers -- particularly those concerned with culture and politics -- have to learn from religion blogs? Bloggercon is about advancing the art and science of blogging, generally. How can religion blogs contribute to that mission? Good religion blogging is everything from reading a woman discuss her struggles with faith and science in the effort to conceive a child, to solid, straightforward reporting of a religious event. The only global standard for good blogging is that someone try to figure out what they're doing with a post, and then to do it well, while keeping in mind how the blog feels generally.
The common elements to religion blogs across faiths are religion and blogging, which carry all the attendant realities of those memberships. For instance, most religious communities have a lot of crappy weekly religious media publications to choose from, and are dissatisfied. All religious bloggers at least are welcome to the Internet and to modern technology generally -- this discludes entire sects, except in rare cases where they do so anonymously.
The only lessons that other blogs can take from religion blogs are the aspects that are relevant to them. Just as someone who doesn't care much for the law will rarely stop by law blogs, someone who doesn't care much for religion will rarely stop by a religion blog. Nevertheless, the pairs do cross at times.
As to that last question, well, I think there's a lot answering it in the responses to the other questions. Either way, it's huge and I'm running low on laptop battery life.
When Billy Joel met descendants of the man who pushed his Jewish grandfather out of business in Nazi Germany, he took pains to remember that the sins of the father were not the sins of the children.
"I only expected understanding on their part that something very bad happened because of their grandfather," Joel said yesterday, recalling the frosty Vienna meeting that is the basis for "The Joel Files," a 2001 documentary having its American TV premiere at 10 o'clock tonight on WNET/13.
A leading aide to President Vladimir Putin yesterday likened the Kyoto Protocol on climate change to Auschwitz, in a move that is likely to enrage Jewish groups.
Isn't it incredible that Jewish groups have become so predictable that the media feel confident in predicting the Jgroup reaction before there even is any.
Andrei Illarionov, an economic adviser to the president, made the comparison during a visit to St Petersburg. He has recommended that Russia should not sign the protocol.
He said: "The Kyoto Protocol is a death pact, however strange it may sound, because its main aim is to strangle economic growth and economic activity in countries that accept the protocol's requirements.
"At first, we wanted to call this agreement a kind of international Gosplan [the commission which ran the Soviet economy].
"Then we realised Gosplan was much more humane and we ought to call the Kyoto Protocol an international gulag. In the Gulag, though, you got the same ration daily and it didn't get smaller day by day. In the end, we had to call the Kyoto Protocol an international Auschwitz."
As of this moment, at least in most people's efforts a Google search for "Jew" returns the WikiPedia entry for "Jew". Indeed, on my search it's the first two results (or first 1.5 results, or what have you).
This makes for a great practical comparison between the efforts of Mobius at JewSchool and Weinstock at RemoveJewWatch. One has worked, while one has not -- and, indeed, the latter won't.
I've commented on the relative validity of each pursuit before, and while success is not a reliable indicator of the legitimacy of a given pursuit, it's always nice when the more legitimate effort wins out, as here.
So, wackiest coincidence of Passover: My sister and I head to Miami Beach for the last days of Passover, with one of her friends and that friend's husband. He asks me what I do, I tell him I'm a journalist, and he goes, "Oh, there've been a lot of stories about me lately." His name's Steven Weinstock and, indeed, he's the jackass behind RemoveJewWatch, the inane effort to get Google to tamper with its algorithm and and censor an anti-Semitic site (where does he think we are, Germany?).
Anyway, readers will be proud to know that I did the polite thing and held my tongue, saying not a word about what he kept referring to as "my petition." Of course, he's a nice guy, etc., but it goes pretty much without saying that he failed to impress me with his intellectual prowess.
There's more to be said about just how stupid, how wrongheaded and how countereffective this effort was. In the meantime, check out what the NYT had to say.
Turning on the TV, knowing what we do about the Bush administration's attention to detail regarding PR moments, I'm wondering what the chances are that there's a reason this conference is taking place precisely as observant Jews are turning on their sets after the holiday's conclusion.
OF COURSE: Even absent the idea of that planning, certainly the reality would have an impact on the J-comm. One wonders what impact that'd be.
So did any readers attend the April 8th Ringling Bros. ultra-Orthodox performance in Madison Square Garden? Someone mentioned to me that they heard the tight-rope walker fell, but I don't think that's reliable; it's interesting that the story was circulating, though.
The NYT splashed it on its front page.
Well, that's over. Here's hoping all was Koshizzle fo'Pizzle by you. Much posting to come, following a dangerous amount of pizza consumption. Along that line, it's worth noting the hilarious reality that in a religion of serious eating, Passover still stands out as a festivale gastronomique of gargantuan proportions, yet following the holiday, we chow down just like it had been a fast day. Swallow that.
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