Oh, sweet baby Jesus on a tricycle… The Pasty Little Putz has produced a towering piece of crap called “Tebow in Babylon.” He assures us that it’s the greatest sports story ever told, and it’s about to get even better. He actually begins his opus crappus thusly: “The Prophet Jonah was sent to Nineveh. St. Paul was sent to Athens, Macedonia, Rome. And now Tim Tebow has been sent to New York City. “ Cripes. In “How Oedipus Wrecks” MoDo has a question: Is this the trick: to do better than your father without humiliating him? The Moustache of Wisdom, in “A Festival of Lies,” explains why the United States needs to rethink its whole Middle East policy. Mr. Kristof addresses “The False Debate About Attacking Iran,” and says among credible experts, there is agreement that an Israeli military strike on Iran this year would be a catastrophically bad idea. In “Rethinking His Religion” Mr. Bruni says college had not only given a young man a glimpse of how large the world was but also shamed him about how little of it he knew. Here’s what may very well be the worst piece of crap The Putz has ever produced:
The Prophet Jonah was sent to Nineveh. St. Paul was sent to Athens, Macedonia, Rome. And now Tim Tebow has been sent to New York City.
There was a moment last week when it looked as if the trade shipping Tebow from the Denver Broncos to the New York Jets might somehow fall through — that Tebow might end up a Jacksonville Jaguar instead, with a guaranteed starting job, a heavily evangelical fan base, and none of the insanity involved in eclipsing Jeremy Lin as the most famous Christian athlete in Babylon-upon-the-Hudson.
O ye of little faith. Did you think that the Lord God of Hosts, having raised Tebow up as a Gideon of the gridiron, would pass up the opportunity to put his faithful servant to the test? Did you think that the angelic screenwriters responsible for scripting last year’s succession of Tebow-related improbabilities had nodded off after the Broncos were dispatched in the A.F.C. playoffs? Did you think that the archons and demiurges who preside over America’s culture war would be content to let Tebow fade into obscurity — some red-state-friendly endorsement deals, a few 6-10 finishes, and then early retirement and a lifetime of under-the-radar charity work?
Above all, did you think that Tebow himself, with his distinctive mix of missionary zeal and “give me the ball” confidence, would duck the Gotham opportunity? That he would pull a LeBron James and take his talents down to Florida instead?
No, this was where the Tebow story was always destined to end up. Denver was his Galilee; New York will be the Roman Colosseum. Or to be pop cultural rather than scriptural: Denver was District 12 in Suzanne Collins’s Panem, and the Meadowlands will be the Hunger Games arena.
New Yorkers are a sophisticated lot, and the Tebow hype will afford them plenty of opportunities for eye-rolling. The sophisticated football fan will tell you that Tebow is a bad-to-mediocre quarterback with a few unusual skills who rode a lucky streak to undeserved fame; the rest is just the standard media fantasy about “intangibles” and “grit” dressed up with spirituality.
The sophisticated atheist will inform you that in a vast and complicated cosmos, there will inevitably be temporary patterns that give the appearance of some divine design. But it would be even more ridiculous for a secular-minded football fan to root against Tebow than for a religious fan to root for him: in a godless, random universe, failure is no more metaphysically significant than success. (Or as Grantland’s Brian Phillips put it: “If you’re against Tebow, you can’t read too much into Tebow’s failures, or else Tebow has already won.”)
The sophisticated Christian, meanwhile, may be a little embarrassed by the whole Tebow business. A sophisticate’s God doesn’t care about trivia like who wins football games. A sophisticate’s theology doesn’t depend on what some musclehead does with the pigskin.
But let’s be unsophisticated for a moment. Why is Tim Tebow such a fascinating and polarizing figure? Not just because he claims to be religious; that claim is commonplace among football stars and ordinary Americans alike. Rather, it’s because his conduct — kind, charitable, chaste, guileless — seems to actually vindicate his claim to be in possession of a life-altering truth.
Nothing discredits religion quite like the gap that often yawns between what believers profess and how they live. With Tebow, that gap seems so narrow as to be invisible. (“There’s not an ounce of artifice or phoniness or Hollywood in this kid Tebow,” ESPN’s Rick Reilly wrote last year of the quarterback’s charitable works, “and I’ve looked everywhere for it.”) He fascinates, in part, because he behaves — at least in public, and at least for now — the way one would expect more Christians to behave if their faith were really true.
But the fascination doesn’t end there. Tebow’s religion doesn’t just promise a path to personal transformation. It claims that every human life is actually a story with an Author, and that a genuinely Christian life should make that divine Authorship manifest.
So in Tebow’s case, the link between faith and football can’t actually be broken. The more that his professional career seems like, well, a storybook — with exciting up and downs, new opportunities and unexpected twists — the more credible his faith in providence becomes.
Note that “a storybook” is not the same as “an inevitable success.” In Christian theology as in young-adult fiction, even the author’s most beloved characters can suffer pain, temptation, failure, exile. The lives of the saints often end in martyrdom. The gentle, brutalized Peeta Mellark is as much the hero of “The Hunger Games” as the indomitable Katniss Everdeen.
So even the most pious of Jets fans shouldn’t expect a Super Bowl title. But if their new quarterback’s story really has an Author, they’re in for a pretty interesting ride.
And this asshole actually gets paid to produce shit like this. Here’s MoDo:
When Mike Nichols had his dazzling comedy act with Elaine May, one of their sketches began with a Jewish mother calling her son and saying, “Hello, this is your mother, do you remember me?”
Over deviled eggs and beer at Bar Centrale in New York’s theater district, Nichols recalled that the routine was born when he was a young comic and his mother phoned him with that question. Still, he says, “the mother’s guilt production” is not the paramount force in families.
Nichols, who directed the agonizing wrestling match between Biff and Willy Loman in the hit revival of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” on Broadway, believes that the father-son wrassle is the central American relationship: “When the mother says, ‘I’m suffering because you don’t love me enough,’ that’s entirely different from the father saying, ‘This is what you’re going to do for a living? You’re not going to go into the family rug cleaning business that I’ve spent my life building?’ Or, ‘I’m going to have to spend the money I’ve saved up for you to learn how to be a writer or scenic designer or whatever the hell you want to do?’
“The following or not following in the footsteps of the father is a tricky and anxiety-producing discussion between fathers and sons.”
Presidential politics thrum with Oedipal loop-de-loops. Many candidates — J.F.K., Al Gore, Mitt Romney — seem to be running to fulfill their fathers’ dreams more than their own. Others, like W. and John McCain, are shadowboxing with fathers who cast a long shadow. Still others, like Jon Huntsman, are treated to a campaign by wealthy dads. Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich have lived in the shadow of their fathers’ absence.
“I know so many people — actors, directors, writers — who can’t get their father to even acknowledge their accomplishments,” Nichols said.
As Michael Gurian writes in “The Prince and the King,” “The father-son wound is not the only source of troubles in a man’s life, but it is one of the most profound.”
The hero’s journey to find his father shapes epics from Jesus to “The Odyssey” to “Star Wars” to the narrative of Barack Obama. “The finding of the father,” Joseph Campbell told Bill Moyers, “has to do with finding your own character and destiny.”
In the Oedipal myth, the son goes out into the world to prove himself, then returns to unknowingly kill the father and marry the mother.
“You know what the Freudians say, that the first enemy is the father, if you are a man,” Campbell said. “If you are a boy, every enemy is potentially psychologically associated with the father image.”
Nichols’s father, Pavel Nicholaievitch Peschkowsky, was a Russian Jew who trained to be a doctor in Berlin. He came to New York to escape the Nazis in 1938, and then also got his family out. They were able to leave because of the two-year-long Stalin-Hitler pact; unlike German Jews, Russian Jews were allowed to leave the country.
When his parents fought, young Mike felt he had to side with his father “because otherwise who would I identify with? My father was the guy whose essence was forming who I was.”
Nichols was only 11 when his father died. “Before he established his practice, he was a union doctor, and part of his job was X-raying union members,” he said. “They didn’t know about shielding X-ray machines. And he died of leukemia at 44.”
But the director has kept an open channel with his father: “I’ve had conversations with him about what I accomplished and what I didn’t. I’ve had to be him and me, him proud of me. He was proud once when I won a horse show in boarding school. And he was proud when I was brave when I broke my arm. And man, I’ve hauled those out innumerable times.”
A psychiatrist once told him, even after he was a success, that he was holding himself back because he was frightened that he would harm his father: “I was told that my problems were partly not wanting to symbolically kill my already dead father or to surpass him.”
Death does not end the jockeying. “When I became a comic, I used to see Sol Hurok, the impresario who had been my father’s patient, in the Russian Tea Room,” Nichols recalled. “He always said the same thing: ‘You’re very funny but your father was funnier.’ So it was announced to me that I had already lost the competition with my father.”
Willy weeps when he learns that Biff’s nerdy cousin, Bernard, has grown up to be a lawyer arguing a case before the Supreme Court, while his golden boy has become a loser because Willy raised him to believe it was O.K. to cheat a little and lie a little and fantasize a lot.
“Willy is weeping at the diminishment of Biff,” Nichols said. “And then Biff frees himself by telling his father the truth: ‘I’m nothing. You’re nothing.’ ”
And then the father dies, just like in the myth.
Next up is The Moustache of Wisdom:
The historian Victor Davis Hanson recently wrote a brutally clear-eyed piece in The National Review, looking back at America’s different approaches to Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, Egypt, Pakistan and Afghanistan and how, sadly, none of them could be said to have worked yet.
“Let us review the various American policy options for the Middle East over the last few decades,” Hanson wrote. “Military assistance or punitive intervention without follow-up mostly failed. The verdict on far more costly nation-building is still out. Trying to help popular insurgents topple unpopular dictators does not guarantee anything better. Propping up dictators with military aid is both odious and counterproductive. Keeping clear of maniacal regimes leads to either nuclear acquisition or genocide — or 16 acres of rubble in Manhattan. What have we learned? Tribalism, oil, and Islamic fundamentalism are a bad mix that leaves Americans sick and tired of the Middle East — both when they get in it and when they try to stay out of it.”
And that is why it’s time to rethink everything we’re doing out there. What the Middle East needs most from America today are modern schools and hard truths, and we haven’t found a way to offer either. Because Hanson is right: What ails the Middle East today truly is a toxic mix of tribalism, Shiite-Sunni sectarianism, fundamentalism and oil — oil that constantly tempts us to intervene or to prop up dictators.
This cocktail erodes all the requirements of a forward-looking society — which are institutions that deliver decent government, consensual politics that provide for rotations in power, women’s rights and an ethic of pluralism that protects minorities and allows for modern education. The United Nations Arab Human Development Report published in 2002 by some brave Arab social scientists also said something similar: What ails the Arab world is a deficit of freedom, a deficit of modern education and a deficit of women’s empowerment.
So helping to overcome those deficits should be what U.S. policy is about, yet we seem unable to sustain that. Look at Egypt: More than half of its women and a quarter of its men can’t read. The young Egyptians who drove the revolution are desperate for the educational tools and freedom to succeed in the modern world. Our response should have been to shift our aid money from military equipment to building science-and-technology high schools and community colleges across Egypt.
Yet, instead, a year later, we’re in the crazy situation of paying $5 million in bail to an Egyptian junta to get U.S. democracy workers out of jail there, while likely certifying that this junta is liberalizing and merits another $1.3 billion in arms aid. We’re going to give $1.3 billion more in guns to a country whose only predators are illiteracy and poverty.
In Afghanistan, I laugh out loud whenever I hear Obama administration officials explaining that we just need to train more Afghan soldiers to fight and then we can leave. Is there anything funnier? Afghan men need to be trained to fight? They defeated the British and the Soviets!
The problem is that we turned a blind eye as President Hamid Karzai stole the election and operated a corrupt regime. Then President Obama declared that our policy was to surge U.S. troops to clear out the Taliban so “good” Afghan government could come in and take our place. There is no such government. Our problem is not that Afghans don’t know the way to fight. It is that not enough have the will to fight for the government they have. How many would fight for Karzai if we didn’t pay them?
And so it goes. In Pakistan, we pay the Pakistani Army to be two-faced, otherwise it would be only one-faced and totally against us. In Bahrain, we looked the other way while ruling Sunni hard-liners crushed a Shiite-led movement for more power-sharing, and we silently watch our ally Israel build more settlements in the West Bank that we know are a disaster for its Jewish democracy.
But we don’t tell Pakistan the truth because it has nukes. We don’t tell the Saudis the truth because we’re addicted to their oil. We don’t tell Bahrain the truth because we need its naval base. We don’t tell Egypt the truth because we’re afraid it will walk from Camp David. We don’t tell Israel the truth because it has votes. And we don’t tell Karzai the truth because Obama is afraid John McCain will call him a wimp.
Sorry, but nothing good can be built on a soil so rich with lies on our side and so rich with sectarianism, tribalism and oil-fueled fundamentalism on their side. Don’t get me wrong. I believe change is possible and am ready to invest in it. But it has got to start with them wanting it. I’ll support anyone in that region who truly shares our values — and the agenda of the Arab Human Development Report — and is ready to fight for them. But I am fed up with supporting people just because they look less awful than the other guys and eventually turn out to be just as bad.
Where people don’t share our values, we should insulate ourselves by reducing our dependence on oil. But we must stop wanting good government more than they do, looking the other way at bad behavior, telling ourselves that next year will be different, sticking with a bad war for fear of being called wimps and selling more tanks to people who can’t read.
Here’s Mr. Kristof:
I wonder if we in the news media aren’t inadvertently leaving the impression that there is a genuine debate among experts about whether an Israeli military strike on Iran makes sense this year.
There really isn’t such a debate. Or rather, it’s the same kind of debate as the one about climate change — credible experts are overwhelmingly on one side.
Here’s what a few of them told me:
“I don’t know any security expert who is recommending a military strike on Iran at this point,” noted Anne-Marie Slaughter, a Princeton University professor who was a senior State Department official earlier in the Obama administration.
“Unless you’re so far over on the neocon side that you’re blind to geopolitical realities, there’s an overwhelming consensus that this is a bad idea,” said W. Patrick Lang, a former head of Middle East affairs for the Defense Intelligence Agency.
“Most security experts agree that it’s premature to go to a military option,” said Michèle Flournoy, who has just stepped down as the No. 3 official in the Defense Department. “We are in the middle of increasing sanctions on Iran. Iran is already under the most onerous sanctions it has ever experienced, and now we’re turning the screws further with sanctions that will touch their central bank, sanctions that will touch their oil products and so forth.
“So it has been bad for them and it’s about to get worse,” Flournoy added. “The overwhelming consensus is we should give some time to let that work.”
Granted, American officials are deeply alarmed about Iran’s nuclear program, although the fear is not so much that Iran would use nuclear weapons against Israel or anyone else. Iran apparently developed chemical weapons to respond to Iraq’s chemical attacks during the Iran-Iraq war, and it showed restraint with them. Rather, the biggest fear is that if Iran tests and deploys nuclear weapons, other countries will follow. These could include Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt, setting off another round of nuclear proliferation.
Officials and security experts make several broad points about why a military strike on Iran anytime soon would be an abominable idea.
First, it would set back Iran’s program by only one to three years — and then it presumably would go ahead more covertly and with more domestic support than ever.
Second, this wouldn’t be a single strike but would require sorties over many days to attack many locations. And the aim would be in part to kill the scientists running the program, so there would be civilian casualties. Day by day, anger in the Muslim world and around the world would grow at Israel — and at America. The coalition pressuring Iran through sanctions might well dissolve.
Third, a regional war in the Middle East could result, sucking in the United States. Iran could sponsor attacks on American targets around the world, and it could use proxies to escalate attacks on American troops in Afghanistan.
Fourth, oil supplies through the Persian Gulf could be interrupted, sending oil and gas prices soaring, and damaging the global economy.
Fifth, sanctions and covert methods like the Stuxnet computer worm have already slowed Iran’s progress, and tougher sanctions and covert sabotage will continue to delay the program in a low-risk way.
Granted, everything I say here may be wrong. Israel’s 1981 attack on the Osirak reactor in Iraq and its 2007 attack on a Syrian nuclear project both went smoothly, without retaliation. The attacks set back those countries’ nuclear programs much more than skeptics had expected.
Yet there’s good reason to think that Iran is different, partly because its program is so dispersed and protected. More broadly, war is inherently unpredictable, and Israel has often been horrendously shortsighted in its interventions. Its invasion of Lebanon in 1982 turned into a quagmire that helped lead to the emergence of Hezbollah, while its de facto support for Hamas in Gaza in its early days harmed everyone (except Iran).
Let’s also remember that as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bangs the drums of war, that may empower Iranian hawks. “The continual threat of a military strike is as likely to convince them to move ahead as to deter them,” Slaughter notes.
Whether Israel will attack Iranian nuclear sites is one of this year’s crucial questions, and people in the know seem to think the odds are about 50-50. We don’t know that the economy would be harmed or that a war would unfold, but anyone who is confident about what would happen is a fool.
So as we hear talk about military action against Iran, let’s be clear about one thing. Outside Netanyahu’s aides and a fringe of raptors, just about every expert thinks that a military strike at this time would be a catastrophically bad idea. That’s not a debate, but a consensus.
Last but not least here’s Mr. Bruni:
I moved into my freshman-year dorm at the University of North Carolina after many of the other men on the hall. One had already begun decorating. I spotted the poster above his desk right away. It showed a loaf of bread and a chalice of red wine, with these words: “Jesus invites you to a banquet in his honor.”
This man attended Catholic services every Sunday in a jacket and tie, feeling that church deserved such respect. I kept a certain distance from him. I’d arrived at college determined to be honest about my sexual orientation and steer clear of people who might make that uncomfortable or worse. I figured him for one of them.
About two years ago, out of nowhere, he found me. His life, he wanted me to know, had taken interesting turns. He’d gone into medicine, just as he’d always planned. He’d married and had kids. But he’d also strayed from his onetime script. As a doctor, he has spent a part of his time providing abortions.
For some readers his journey will be proof positive of Rick Santorum’s assertion last month that college is too often godless and corrupting. For others, it will be a resounding affirmation of education’s purpose.
I’m struck more than anything else by how much searching and asking and reflecting he’s done, this man I’d so quickly discounted, who pledged a fraternity when he was still on my radar and then, when he wasn’t, quit in protest over how it had blackballed a Korean pledge candidate and a gay one.
Because we never really talked after freshman year, I didn’t know that, nor did I know that after graduation he ventured to a desperately poor part of Africa to teach for a year. College, he recently told me, had not only given him a glimpse of how large the world was but also shamed him about how little of it he knew.
In his 30s he read all 11 volumes of “The Story of Civilization,” then tackled Erasmus, whose mention in those books intrigued him. When he told me this I was floored: I knew him freshman year as a gym rat more than a bookworm and extrapolated his personality and future from there.
During our recent correspondence, he said he was sorry for any impression he might have given me in college that he wasn’t open to the candid discussions we have now. I corrected him: I owed the apology — for misjudging him.
He grew up in the South, in a setting so homogenous and a family so untroubled that, he said, he had no cause to question his parents’ religious convictions, which became his. He said that college gave him cause, starting with me. Sometime during freshman year, he figured out that I was gay, and yet I didn’t conform to his prior belief that homosexuals were “deserving of pity for their mental illness.” I seemed to him sane and sound.
He said that we talked about this once — I only half recall it — and that the exchange was partly why he remembered me two decades later.
Questioning his church’s position on homosexuality made him question more. He read the Bible “front to back and took notes of everything I liked and didn’t like,” he said.
“There’s a lot of wisdom there,” he added, “but it’s a real mistake not to think about it critically.”
He also read books on church history and, he said, “was appalled at the behavior of the church while it presumed to teach all of us moral behavior.” How often had it pushed back at important science? Vilified important thinkers?
Even so, he added to his teaching duties in Africa a weekly, extracurricular Bible study for the schoolchildren. But the miseries he witnessed made him second-guess the point of that, partly because they made him second-guess any god who permitted them.
He saw cruelties born of the kind of bigotry that religion and false righteousness sometimes abet. A teenage girl he met was dying of sepsis from a female circumcision performed with a kitchen knife. He asked the male medical worker attending to her why such crude mutilation was condoned, and was told that women otherwise were overly sexual and “prone to prostitution.”
“Isn’t it just possible,” he pushed back, “that women are prone to poverty, and men are prone to prostitution?”
He has thought a lot about how customs, laws and religion do and don’t jibe with women’s actions and autonomy.
“In all centuries, through all history, women have ended pregnancies somehow,” he said. “They feel so strongly about this that they will attempt abortion even when it’s illegal, unsafe and often lethal.”
In decades past, many American women died from botched abortions. But with abortion’s legalization, “those deaths virtually vanished.”
“If doctors and nurses do not step up and provide these services or if so many obstacles and restrictions are put into place that women cannot access the services, then the stream of women seeking abortions tends to flow toward the illegal and dangerous methods,” he said.
He had researched and reflected on much of this by the time he graduated from medical school, and so he decided to devote a bit of each week to helping out in an abortion clinic. Over years to come, in various settings, he continued this work, often braving protesters, sometimes wearing a bulletproof vest.
He knew George Tiller, the Kansas abortion provider shot dead in 2009 by an abortion foe.
THAT happened in a church, he noted. He hasn’t belonged to one since college. “Religion too often demands belief in physical absurdities and anachronistic traditions despite all scientific evidence and moral progress,” he said.
And in too many religious people he sees inconsistencies. They speak of life’s preciousness when railing against abortion but fail to acknowledge how they let other values override that concern when they support war, the death penalty or governments that do nothing for people in perilous need.
He has not raised his young children in any church, or told them that God exists, because he no longer believes that. But he wants them to have the community-minded values and altruism that he indeed credits many religions with fostering. He wants them to be soulful, philosophical.
So he rounded up favorite quotations from Emerson, Thoreau, Confucius, Siddhartha, Gandhi, Marcus Aurelius, Martin Luther King and more. From the New Testament, too. He put each on a strip of paper, then filled a salad bowl with the strips. At dinner he asks his kids to fish one out so they can discuss it.
He takes his kids outside to gaze at stars, which speak to the wonder of creation and the humility he wants them to feel about their place in it.
He’s big on humility, asking, who are we to go to the barricades for human embryos and then treat animals and their habitats with such contempt? Or to make such unforgiving judgments about people who err, including women who get pregnant without meaning to, unequipped for the awesome responsibility of a child?
As a physician, he said, you’re privy to patients’ secrets — to their truths — and understand that few people live up to their own stated ideals. He has treated a philandering pastor, a drug-abusing financier. “I see life as it really is,” he told me, “not how we wish it were.”
He shared a story about one of the loudest abortion foes he ever encountered, a woman who stood year in and year out on a ladder, so that her head would be above other protesters’ as she shouted “murderer” at him and other doctors and “whore” at every woman who walked into the clinic.
One day she was missing. “I thought, ‘I hope she’s O.K.,’ ” he recalled. He walked into an examining room to find her there. She needed an abortion and had come to him because, she explained, he was a familiar face. After the procedure, she assured him she wasn’t like all those other women: loose, unprincipled.
She told him: “I don’t have the money for a baby right now. And my relationship isn’t where it should be.”
“Nothing like life,” he responded, “to teach you a little more.”
A week later, she was back on her ladder.