Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Jewish Fact Check #11: Bill Kristol and Obama's Israel Policy

I was at my sister's this past weekend for Passover and hadn't spent much time on the Internet, until I turned on her computer Monday night and came across this headline at "Right blasts Obama with charges of Anti-Semitism." I thought, "Wow, what have I missed?" Actually, nothing--except another unfortunate instance of a writer misconstruing legitimate criticism of someone's views/policy on Israel (in this case, the president's) with anti-Semitism.

After a brief introduction noting the chilly meetings last week between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Atlantic writer Alex Eichler provides three examples of alleged anti-Semitism from the right under the subheadline "Obama Hates Jews." One is a link to a blog post by Pamela Geller which does call Obama an anti-Semite, compares American Jews of the 2000s to European Jews in the 1930s and argues that another Holocaust is on its way. Geller has every right to make this argument, but it's one that is on the fringe -- I think it's fair to say that opinion isn't widely shared either in the Jewish community or, to the best of my knowledge, on the political right wing.

Eichler also notes Instapundit Glenn Reynolds' blog post, in which he first speculates that it is "plausible" that Obama treated Netanyahu rudely because he "hates Israel and hates Jews." Actually, that's not particularly plausible. There's no evidence that Obama "hates" Jews or Israel, although I think reasonable people can disagree on how friendly Obama is or wants to be with Israel -- or, perhaps more accurately, how warm his feelings are toward the current government in the Jewish state. Reynolds, though, does go on to say, though, that he actually doesn't think that's the explanation and that he finds another idea more plausible -- that this is all about Iran, and that Obama is either trying to put distance between the U.S. and Israel because Israel is going to strike Iran -- or that this is all a big distraction so that no one will realize that the U.S. is really helping Israel strike Iran.

Eichler does correctly report this (although others like Glenn Greenwald seem to have obsessed over the hates Jews stuff and totally ignored the following sentence), but perhaps in his eagerness to get the all-important third example for his piece that would demonstrate a trend, he also throws the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol into the mix. And that's where he goes wrong.

Eichler's piece states that Kristol is arguing Obama is perhaps pretending to hate Jews:

At The Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol argues that Obama "aspires to be a leader of humanity, not merely a president of a single country. And there’s no better way to be a leader of humanity than to show disapproval of the Jewish state." Whatever his real feelings toward Jews may be, Kristol holds that Obama must find it expedient to show "anger at the stiff-necked Jewish state. It puts him in sync with the rest of the world.

Having skimmed through the Kristol piece a few days before I saw the Atlantic piece, I was surprised. Did Kristol actually debate what Obama's "real feelings toward Jews may be"? I didn't recall that. And indeed, Kristol didn't. Here's what he wrote:

Why the exploitation of a minor disagreement with the Israeli government to justify a turn against Israel? President Obama cares about being popular—in America, certainly, but in the world as well. And not just because popularity in the world can help the United States achieve its foreign policy aims. But because, as James Ceaser argued in these pages in January, Obama aspires to be a leader of humanity, not merely a president of a single country.

And there’s no better way to be a leader of humanity than to show disapproval of the Jewish state. Sure, Obama’s turn against Israel will make it less likely that Palestinians will negotiate seriously with her. Sure, it will embolden radical Arabs and Muslims against those who would like their nations to take a different, more responsible, course. Sure, it’s a distraction from the real challenge of Iran. But the turn against Israel is ultimately a key part of what Obamaism is all about. That’s why there’s been so little attempt by the administration to reassure friends of Israel that Obama has been acting more in sorrow than in anger. Obama’s proud of his anger at the stiff-necked Jewish state. It puts him in sync with the rest of the world.

As you can see, Kristol doesn't talk about Obama's feelings towards Jews at all, just about his policy toward the Jewish state. He's arguing that Obama is treating Israel badly because much of the rest of the world treats Israel badly -- and the president wants to ingratiate himself with the rest of the world in order to be a "leader of humanity." It's certainly a debatable assertion, but there's no accusation of anti-Semitism or "Obama hates the Jews" in that theory. In fact, Kristol's argument is really just a more negatively-spun version of something Obama has said himself -- that Obama believes there needs to be some "daylight" between the U.S. and Israel in order to make progress in the peace process.

(And for those who want to make an issue of Kristol's use of the term "Jewish state," please don't. Many writers and journalists, including me earlier in this post, use the term "Jewish state" interchangeably with Israel as sort of a synonym in order to vary the language in an article about Israel.)

A lot of people seem to not like Bill Kristol because they don't like his opinions or don't think he's a good columnist. That's fine. Personally, I find his affection for Sarah Palin puzzling, but the few times I've spoken to Kristol after Jewish community events at which he's spoken, he's been nothing but kind and generous with his time. But whatever one's feelings about Kristol, he should be quoted correctly. And he was making a critique of the president's Israel policy, not speculating about whether someone is an anti-Semite. As I've written about before, I wish people would stop confusing the two. There's a big difference.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

It's like we're back on Season 1 Idol

Remember season 1 of American Idol, when you got really excited waiting for Kelly Clarkson to perform, and you also liked Tamyra Gray and thought Justin Guarini was okay--and pretty much everbody else kind of sucked? Or season two, when you looked forward to Ruben and Clay, and to a lesser extent Kimberly, and everyone else was doing karaoke? Well, after a number of seasons of American Idol that may not have had anyone as popular as Kelly but did often have a number of entertaining singers and performers, we've now regressed to those early days of Idol--where most of the top 12 can't sing and the only reason to watch the show is to wait around for Crystal Bowersox to take the stage -- and to a lesser extent Sioban Magnus (Tamyra?). If you want to say Mike Lynche is the Justin, fine, but that's it. Otherwise, this is a depressing batch of Idol contenders.

Some of that is America's fault--I guarantee whatever Katelyn and Lilly would have sang would have been better than much of the group last night. Some of that is what the judges gave us to start with. But it really is remarkable, that after the metamorphosis of this show from a straight singing competition in its early years to one that also focused on musicianship and what you could do to reinvent well-known songs (starting with Daughtry and Blake Lewis and culminating in David Cook and Kris Allen winning), we're really, other than mostly Crystal Bowersox, back to those early Idol days of just singing, and often badly. As much as I often got annoyed at how too many contestants tried to fit every theme into their own little niche, this year is really a step backward for the show. At least in year one and two, I was stil fascinatd with the whole format of the show, we were still getting to know the judges, etc. Now, the next 10 weeks are just going to be a slog until we hopefully crown Crystal the winner.

Anyway, a few thoughts on last night:

No one has ever done a good job on "Against All Odds" on this show, so why would Paige Miles think she could? I have no idea. That was terrible.

Miley Cyrus as a mentor is kind of strange, but you can't tell me that "Party in the USA" isn't a great pop song.

The fact that Tim Urban is on this show is a joke. And Miley, no one told him he was boring. They told him he couldn't sing. And they were right. He sang a song with about three notes in it and still wasn't that good.

Katie Stevens should be renamed Pitchy Stevens.

Gotta love Kara saying they've talked to much about Andrew Garcia's version of "Straight Up." You think? But it's becoming more and more evident he just can't sing that well.

Aaron Kelly seems like a nice kid, and has an OK voice, but could he be more middle of the road with his song choices? "Don't Want to Miss a Thing"? A song by Lonestar a couple weeks ago?

Only on this season's Idol is the boring competence of Casey James (on key singing, occasional good playing of the guitar) deemed album-worthy by Kara. Kara (who actually isn't bothering me as much this year), were you listening or just, um, looking? First of all, Casey James seems to swallow the last word of every line in the song. Second, he sounded just like Huey Lewis last night--he didn't change the song at all. In fact, if I close my eyes, I would have thought that was Huey Lewis. Which is fine for karaoke, but not for Idol.

Crystal was great. But I have no idea why Kara and Ellen want her to "go crazy." I thought you're supposed to know who you are, etc. And she does.

Didi wasn't perfect. But she sure didn't seem as bad as the judges seemed to think--and she's hot and Jewish, so I liked her.

I don't like when singers on Idol scream in the middle of a song. But the first time Siobhan did it, it was a really good scream. And the second time, it fit really well in the song. But now, it's getting repetitive and boring. It's like waiting around for the twist ending in a M. Night Shyamalan movie. Didn't fit in her fairly unexciting performance of "Superstition." She's the only thing that may be saving us from a one-person race, but she's going to have to diversify if she wants to do that.

Bottom three: It's always better to be sort of bad than really bad, since people then feel sorry for you. But there were so many bad singers, I can't believe they'll all survive. Bottom three will be Paige, Katie and Andrew and I think Andrew is going home--but if it is Paige, Katie, Tim, or Aaron, it won't matter.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Stones and Idol--not a good combo

So unless I get some loud, emotional outcry from my readers, I've decided to stop regularly blogging American Idol. When I started doing Idol, the Internet was still growing and there wasn't that much Idol commentary out there. Now, there are about 8,000 people blogging Idol and I'm not sure I'm offering anything that unique. But I did have a couple thoughts about last night's show.

First of all, while the show wasn't terrible last night, it was mostly mediocre. Part of the reason is that many of the singers this year aren't very good. But the other reason, I think, is that while it sounds really cool to have the Rolling Stones as a theme, it's not really a good selection. Why? Because Mick Jagger has such a unique style as a singer and performer, anyone who tries to duplicate it is going to fail. In addition, many of the Stones songs, vocally, work because of how Mick sells them. In this group, the only singers that had enough talent to really be up to singing and selling a Stones song were Siobhan and Crystal.

Most troubing part of the night was, of course, seeing that many of the people who advanced last week over better singers didn't do much to show that their advancement was well deserved. Lacey Brown? Really, she's Idol season 1 or 2 talent with that thin voice and general boringness to her performance (Is boringness a word?) Katie Wheeler has been done wrong by the judges, and wasn't awful, but off key early in the song and just kind of meh. To her credit, Paige at least did show some vocal talent tonight--more than she has shown for the three previous weeks--but it was hardly something anyone is downloading to their IPod today. And Tim Urban? I reacted with the same confusion that the judges did (and Simon was pretty much correct on just about everybody last night, although Kara had a point on Gimme Shelter.) How do you sing a song about having a woman under your thumb in a breezy, what-me-worry reggae-type arrangement. It really was strange--and didn't show that Tim could sing since he sung-spoke most of the song.

Finally, I hope those of you who would be interested in this saw that in one of the family photos Didi showed there was a lit menorah in the background.

Who's going home? Bottom three will hopefully be Lacey, Tim and Katie and I think Lacey will go. But after last week, who knows?


Thursday, March 11, 2010

The worst top 12 ever!

Wow, what a travesty. It's unbelievable that they could come up with such a poor top 24 to begin with, and then tonight get rid of four of the better singers in that top 24 before we even got to the final 12. I know some will accuse me of exaggeration, but I really do think tonight was the worst American Idol elimination show ever. And now we undoubtedly have one of the worst top 12's ever.

Here's why. The most notorious, unfortunate eliminations in Idol history were still only one person wrongly getting eliminated. And in most cases, they had already been on the show for a long time and were going a week or two early. Sure, Tamyra shouldn't have been eliminated that first year in the final four, but she still might have lost out to Justin Guarini the next week before we got to the finals (not saying that was right, but it wouldn't have shocked anyone.) A lot of people think Chris Daughtry went home too early, but let's be honest--some people had started to tire of his similar-sounding performances every week, and lots of people like Taylor Hicks and Elliot Yamin.

But tonight we had FOUR people all getting eliminated before they even got to show their stuff in the final 12--and all of them were clearly better than other people who made the final 12. Let's start with the women, because that was the most upsetting. We lost Lilly Scott, who while I did remark the other day might have been a little bit of a one-trick pony. But even if I'm right, it's a really good trick. She's got a cool-sounding voice, and she sings in tune and picks interesting songs--three more things she's got going for her than half of the top 12. She clearly earned a spot in the top 12--she didn't even have a bad performance in the semifinals.

Then we have Katelyn Epperly. Not only was she very cute, but she could sing. Her first two performances were quite good--even if Simon didn't like the first one--and she showed versatility, doing a Beatles sort-of-rocker and then a slow Coldplay song at the piano. Sure, her Carole King tune wasn't that great, but it's not like it was out of key--even though the judges savaged her for no apparent reason. It was competently but unexcitingly performed, which is more than you could say for many of the other women. Unfortunately, if she had just stood without a keyboard and belted it out like she did tonight, she might have survived.

And who do we have making it in ahead of them? Take your pick. There's Katie Wheeler, who actually has a nice voice but was way out of tune this week on "Breakaway" and isn't particularly original--although I'm willing to give her a break because the judges have so messed with her head she has no idea what's going on and people felt sorry for her. Then we have Lacey Brown, who was terrible for two weeks, had a decent performance this week and still has no chance of winning the competition because her thin voice may be pleasant but is nothing special. And then there's Paige Miles, who Simon, even tonight, was talking about her potential but has done absolutely nothing to make us see any of that potential. She's had three mediocre to bad performances in a row. How does someone make the top 12 on American Idol not giving one good performance? She did nothing to earn a spot at all. I'm speechless.

As for the guys, Todrick Hall has his problems, but at least he was interesting. Alex Lambert was kind of uncomfortable to watch because of his stage fright, but he had a really good voice. In a stronger year, I could understand either of them not making the finals. But look who made it in front of them. Tim Urban--who gave one of the worst semifinals performances in recent memory in week one, barely improved in week two and then gave a decent but way overpraised performance last night? You're going to regret that hug, Ellen, when we're still listening to Tim Urban churn out crappy performances in April. Aaron Kelly? Really? After all the talk of artistry, the judges overpraise some teenager who just sings pop country songs, and not even that well, and he somehow gets through to the top 12? Wow.

So we're left with a lackluster top 12 that starts with five singers that are already cannon fodder--unless, of course, we get more wacky voting results. I have no idea what America is thinking, and whether the completely wacky judges remarks have anything to do with it, but I'm not excited to slog through the next 11 weeks of this. A quick theory, though: Could this be some kind of reaction to the increasing emphasis by Idol on singers using instruments and rearranging songs? Everyone eliminated tonight either played their own instrument at some point during the competition or, like Todrick, totally revamped songs. Meanwhile, Aaron, Tim, Paige, Katie and Lacey didn't play instruments and sang their songs straight, no rearrangements. Hmmm? Anyone else have thoughts on this?


Suffering through one last night of the guys

I wasn't looking forward to hearing this lackluster crop of guys tonight, but I have to say with some of the dead weight cleared out already, it wasn't as bad as I feared. Still, it does seem like the judges are grading the guys on a curve--as long as you can sing in tune, they don't seem to generally care if you're making the song your own or showing any originality. At least Simon did at one point acknowledge that the judges are confusing the singers as much as helping them. But, of course, the highlight tonight is seeing Kara cry. That made my night--although, let's face it, it still wasn't as funny as watching Paula cry. Oh, Kara, you can never live up to the mark Paula left...

Lee Dewyze ("Fireflies") -- I don't particularly care for this song and find it annoying, which means I actually like Lee's version better than the original because he gave it a little more of a rock feel and sang it with his typical raspiness. I enjoyed it, and hope he makes it to the top 12.

Alex Lambert ("Trouble")-- It's good to see Alex looking more comfortable, and he does have a really nice sounding voice and sounded very good tonight. But still, isn't he just singing, granted in tune, the song and not showing "what kind of artist he's going to be" or "showing artistry"? And yet Kara is talking about how he could win the whole thing? Really? What am I missing? Hey, I don't have a huge problem with someone who comes out and just sings very well--although I appreciate and enjoy it more when someone is putting their own spin on it--but if the judges are going to obsess over it for some people, why does it not go for others?

Tim Urban ("Hallelujah") -- That was mostly in tune, and certainly the best Tim has sung this season. But sit down Ellen. It wasn't that good. The idea that, according to Kara, he's now a contender, is ridiculous. He hasn't really done anything to earn his way into the final 12 except not suck three weeks in a row. Such low standards.

Andrew Garcia ("Genie in a Bottle")-- So the judges kept whining that everything Andrew did wasn't as good as his "Straight Up" in the Hollywood round--so he looked for a dance pop song from a female artist and chose Christina Aguilera and "Genie in a Bottle." (Ironically, it was also the first hit single for both women.) Was it the right choice to sing and rejigger into an acoustic version? Probably not. "Genie in a Bottle" has a more complicated melody and lyrically it doesn't work ("Straight up now tell me are you going to love me forever" is a lot more effective in a stripped down, acoustic version than "I'm a genie in a bottle, rub me the right way" which just sounds silly.) Having said that, it was still kind of interesting and the singing wasn't bad, even if it didn't quite work. As for Ryan's question about whether he regrets performing "Straight Up" in Hollywood, it actually isn't a bad question--since the judges have made it an albatross around his neck.

Casey James ("You'll Think of Me") -- This was OK, and I can barely remember it an hour after watching it. Casey is looking like a one trick pony--it's not a bad trick, but how long can it seem fresh, considering there's nothing particularly unique or special about him excecpt that he turns on Kara.

Aaron Kelly ("I'm Already There") -- Now we have Aaron, who does seem to know what kind of artist he is (pop country crooner), but doesn't do anything special or show any artistry and still generally gets praised. I didn't think the vocal was that good (flat in parts), and I was just kind of bored. As for Simon slapping down Kara about her complaint that he didn't have kids and therefore couldn't sing the song--thank you, Simon.

Todrick Hall ("Somebody to Love")-- Now that was really good--he took a great song, made it his own by giving it an R&B/gospel spin but didn't render it unrecognizable, and sang it well. Not sure what Simon's problem was--he said it was too Broadway, but at least it was more entertaining that most of the men have been all season. I hope he stays, just so we can see what he can do.

Mike Lynche ("This Woman's Work")--I said last week that Mike appeared to be better than the Michael Sarver/Matt Rogers hole I had put him in, and he proved that even more tonight. Really good performance. And it made Kara cry, for some reason. Get a hold of yourself, Kara. You're on national television, you're married but blatantly hitting on Simon every night and you're tearing up after songs. At least it's entertaining.

So who goes home? I hope it's Tim Urban and Aaron Kelly. And you know what? I think it will be those two as well, although I wouldn't be shocked if it was anyone other than Big Mike.


Tuesday, March 09, 2010

It's not about "who you are as an artist," it's about singing well

Tonight's American Idol left us with a pretty clear division between the five singers that should no question be part of the final 12, and the three singers who will, hopefully, be the ones fighting it out for that sixth spot. Tonight's show also was a demonstration of how the producers have apparently gotten their act together enough to fit eight songs into one hour--a pleasant change from last year's messes. Let's get to the rundown:

Katie Stevens ("Break Away")--Oh, Katie, if you've been watching this show since you were 8 years old, you should know that it's never a good idea to sing another Idol winner's song on the show. You can never measure up. And Katie didn't--wasn't even close. Then again, after that fiasco last week, when Randy told her to sing a song by someone under 20, and then Kara told her to sing a song about being confused, who can blame her for actually being confused. She's going backward each time, partially thanks to the craziness at the judges' table. As for her not knowing who she is as an artist--maybe she doesn't. But you know what, Kara and Ellen? That's wasn't the reason she wasn't good tonight. Nor was it that she didn't "connect" with the song. Whatever happened to the truth, that Katie wasn't good tonight simply because she didn't sing the song well?

Siobhan Magnus ("House of the Rising Sun")-- I thought this was quite good--some notes occasionally were off, but it was generally well sung and sort of original with the a capella part at the beginning. Was a good point that Kara brought up, though? Why aren't they giving Siobhan a hard time for doing different stuff each week and not knowing what "kind of artist" she is? Actually, I can answer that. She's pretty good, so it really doesn't matter--because people enjoy her performances. As I said, "not knowing who you are as an artist" has somehow become a synonym for "you didn't sing well." And it's annoying me.

Lacey Brown ("The Story")--That's certainly the best Lacey has been, but it's not like she's that good or has any kind of chance of winning the competition--so I have a hard time caring.

Katelyn Epperly ("I Feel the Earth Move")--Katelyn has become one of my favorites over the first couple weeks, so I kind of agreed with Simon on her performance tonight. It was well sung and performed, and yet it wasn't particularly special and thus I was kind of disappointed. But it should be enough to advance--she was certainly better than a number of others tonight.

Didi Benami ("Rhiannon") -- Finally, my other favorite Didi picks up her guitar and does a really good performance--it sounded good, she put her own slight new spin on the song and it should be enough to get her into the finals.

Paige Miles ("Smile") -- We keep hearing about how great Paige's voice is, and yet after three weeks we've seen no indication from her singing that her voice is in any way special. That leads me to believe either she doesn't have that great a voice or she's the worst picker of songs in American Idol history. Probably a combination of both. She's done absolutely nothing to deserve a spot in the final 12.

Crystal Bowersox ("Give Me One Reason") -- Not a big fan of this Tracy Chapman song, but Crystal did enough to change it up and give it a little more bluesy tone that I liked the song and really liked her performance. She's gotta be the favorite as we enter the finals.

Lilly Scott ("I Fall to Pieces") -- This was good and I like Lilly's voice, but I agree with Simon that it didn't have a "wow factor." And I kind of think that might be Lilly's probablem a few weeks from now--she kind of does the same thing every week and could get sort of monotonous. But we'll see.

So I'll predict that Paige is definitely going home and that Lacey will also go home, although it could be Katie and it wouldn't matter. If it is anyone other than those three, I will be very disappointed. Fingerhut out.


Thursday, March 04, 2010

Some Idol thoughts

I was busy last night and this morning doing a freelance assignment and watching the Duke-Maryland game, so I didn't have time to do a full-blown Idol wrapup, but here are a few observations on last night before tonight's eliminations.

Crystal Bowersox was terrific, and right now looks like the frontrunner -- of an admittedly very weak field. Was amused that Simon used the term "misunderestimated." Just another of George W. Bush's legacies to America.

The judges, specifically Randy and Ellen, said Haeley Vaughn didn't "connect" with the song. I'm not sure what this means and wonder why they can't actually say what her problem was: "Haeley, you sung mostly off-key and out-of-tune." It's harsher, but it's the truth. But she dresses cool and makes those things for her hair and smiles a lot, so she'll probably get the teen girl vote and make it through.

Lacey Brown wasn't as terrible as last week, but she's just no good. Oh, and Ellen, you keep referring to how you're glad the singers are following the "notes" they get. Ellen, they're not getting notes. That's a TV term. They're getting critiques, or advice, from the judges. Although I hope the Idol producers are giving you notes telling you not to use the term "notes" anymore.

Katie Stevens is cute and has a powerful voice, but isn't particularly original. A few years ago, that would have made her a judges' favorite, but now it earns their scorn. So after singing an older song like "Feeling Good" last week, she picked what she thought was a younger song this week in "Put the Records On." Now, that song is sung by a younger singer, and it's newer, but it is sort of an older-sounding song. But why exactly does Katie have to sing a younger song anyway? Just because she's young, she has to sing a younger song? (Idol trivia: Ayla Brown, new Mass. Senator Scott Brown's daughter, was told the same thing, picked a Natasha Bedingfield song that didn't really showcase her voice and got voted out on the last night of the seminfinals a few years back.)

First Randy says, who do you like that's under 20? Really, Randy? She's got to sing a song performed by a teenager? She can't do a song by someone of drinking age because that would be too old? Then Kara chimes in with, "You should do a song about something you're feeling--like you're confused, so sing a song about that." What? This is seconds after Kara got done telling Katie that the song she picked this week didn't allow her enough space to "do your thing" as far as putting a new spin on it--which is probably correct and what she should actually be looking at, how the song sounds with her voice, not what it is about. Contradictory advice within less than a minute--Kara, you've set a record?

Didi Benami was very disappointing. She needs her guitar and someone advising her on what to sing. I'm worried about her making it to next week. She wasn't as bad as the judges said, but her problem is she's got a really good but kind of quirky voice, and yet, as Randy said, she the past two weeks has picked songs that emphasize the quirkiness in her voice at the expense of other, more appealing aspects. If you listen to her sing "Terrified," for instance, the voice sounds much better, but last night, there was an oddness to the voice that wasn't always appealing. As for her confusion about Simon saying she was self-indulgent, here's the deal. Simon was probably being a little unfair, but he's using it in the sense that you're picking a song or doing a performance that seems more designed to please you than to please the audience. The best example of this is when Chris Daughtry picked some really obscure, not very good Queen song on Queen night instead of a better, more well-known song simply because it was in the style of all the other songs he'd sung up to that point on the show.

Michelle Delamor is pretty and has a nice voice--she reminds me of a more talented Syesha Mercado. She'll probably stick around for a while but probably isn't really a contender for the title. Thought her spin on a Creed song was weird--not bad at all, just strange.

Lilly Scott sang a great Sam Cooke song and sang it well, but the way the judges reacted you would have thought Sam Cooke had come back to life. Best of the night by far? Really, Ellen? Bowersox left your memory that quickly?

Katelyn Epperly, who I thought didn't even belong in the top 24 two weeks ago, is quickly becoming one of my favorites. She's cute, she seems to have a fun personality judging from the taped packages and has a nice voice. I wasn't head over heels over her performance last night--I agreed it was a little too slow--but I liked the piano and the singing was pretty good. Having said that, Simon--it wasn't a million times better than last week because she was quite good last week.

Paige Miles allegedly has the best voice of the women, but we haven't seen any evidence of that. And, Paige, if you're going to sing a song by a former Idol on the show, you have to make it really good--and that just wasn't.

Siobhan Magnus was good, but not great--there was a lot of focus on that one note, which was good, but who really cares? You got to hit all the notes. I still liked her, though, and she does have a lot of talent, even if she seems drunk most of the time.

I think Paige will go home and hopefully we'll say goodbye to Lacey Brown.


Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Jewish Fact Check #10: Democratic support for Israel isn't down, GOP support is up

Something akin to the game of telphone seems to happen too much these days, especially in the Jewish community. Some sort of fact comes out, and then as it gets repeated, others, intentionally or sometimes unintentionally, distort it until the alleged fact that everyone is familiar with isn't the actual fact at all. (One example is the poll that found 6 percent of Israelis thought Obama is "pro-Israel," which incorrectly evolved into 6 percent approval for Obama among Israelis.) And it seems to be happening with this recent Gallup poll on support for Israel broken down by political party.

Earlier this week, both Shmuel Rosner in the Jerusalem Post and Jim Besser in The Jewish Week both correctly noted the growing partisan gap between Democrats and Republicans on support for Israel and speculated on the implications of that fact (a fascinating issue, but one I'm not concerned with in this post.) But then Marc Tracy in Tablet, in providing his own analysis of the findings, referred to "the Democratic turn from Israel," followed by the Republican Jewish Coalition's Noah Silverman writing that the poll showed Democratic support for Israel "eroded" and that there is a "shrinking proportion of Democrats who say they support Israel."

Problem is, while the poll does show that the partisan gap between Democrats and Republicans is widening, this is not due to any significant change over the last decade in Democratic support for the Jewish state. It's almost entirely due to a striking increase in Republican backing for Israel.

Yes, Democratic backing for Israel went from 54 percent in 2009 to 48 percent in 2010 -- hardly an enormous jump in a poll with a plus or minus four percent margin of error. But if one looks at the long-term trend, here is the Democratic number on this question from 2001-2009: 51, 48, 48, 46, 41, 50, 51, 48, 54, 48. So actually, the Democratic support for Israel is actually down three points from 2001, even with 2002 and 2003 and even with 2008 too. In fact, four of the ten years polled had 48 percent support for Israel among Democrats, one had 46 and two others had 50 and 51, with a couple outliers either way. In other words, as Gallup says in its report: "Support for Israel among Democrats has been relatively flat."

Contrast that to the Republican numbers, which increased remarkably from 60 to 85 percent from 2001 to 2010. The numbers took a big jump from 2001 to 2002, from 60 to 67 percent, and then another 10 percent jump the folllowing year before basically leveling off there. From 2006 to 2009, GOP backing for Israel (the actual question is where does one's "sympathies" lie, with Israel or the Palestinians) was 77, 76, 77 and 77 before jumping to 85 percent this year (It's not clear why, but it appears like a possible explanation for the big jump after four years of stability would be a reaction to Republican feelings of Obama's policies in the region.)

Anyway, that's remarkable -- this poll shows support for Israel among Republicans went from a significant majority to almost unanimous in ten years. Support among independents also has skyrocketed, from 42 percent to 60 in the decade. That's the story -- how did Israel become so popular among Republicans and why? Is it all because of 9/11 and the war on terror? Something else?

Democratic support for Israel certainly isn't increasing. But it's not decreasing, either. While there is no doubt that there are elements on the left that aren't sympathetic to Israel, and they do seem to be more vocal and noticeable than they may have been a few years ago, this poll shows that this segment of the left, or Democratic Party, doesn't appear to be growing. So when we discuss this poll, we can discuss why it is exactly that GOP sympathies for Israel are so sky high. We can discuss why Democratic support for Israel isn't rising in the same way. But don't say that Democratic support for Israel is eroding or slipping -- because that's not what the numbers say.

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It's going to be a long, painful season of Idol

First, a couple words on last week's eliminations. Yes, Janell and Ashley are very attractive women, but I can't really take much issue with either their eliminations or either of the guys who went--none of them sang particularly well last week. Still puzzled why Janell said afterwards that she planned to bring her guitar and sing next week--why not go with your strength the first week? As for Tyler Grady criticizing the judges, I actually sympathize with him. We saw them tell him, "Oh, Tyler, we love your 70s Jim Morrison vibe, keep doing that" and then he did that and they complain that he needs to break out of that box. Still, he wasn't that good.

Anyway, my quick reaction from tonight was that I was disappointed we didn't get to see the girls--since they're better--and while the guys were better tonight, it's still going to be a long year.

Michael Lynche ("This Is A Man's World") -- Wow, didn't see that coming. When he said he was doing James Brown, I thought, "Oh, this isn't going to end up well" but I was wrong. I mistakenly compared this guy to Michael Sarver and Matt Rogers last week, as the big, friendly guy who was a decent singer and everyone liked but had no chance of winning. Not saying Michael is necessarily a contender yet, but he showed much more soul -- and much more in the way of vocal chops -- than i think most of the viewers suspected he had. Oh, and Ellen, you may have liked his song choice last week, but no one else did.

John Park ("Gravity")-- Well, the vocals were better than last week, but I began to doze off about 25 seconds in. Just didn't do much for me. And Ellen with her "I think you have it in you" crap--she's now Paula but without a music background. Not a good combination. I didn't like Kara's joining the panel last year, but at least she had something to say with her "artistry" stuff. It was annoying and often off-base or unfair, but at least it was something. All Ellen is giving us is dumb platitudes when she feels bad for the singers.

Casey James ("I Don't Want to Be") -- No TV since he was seven years old! I don't even want to imagine that... (I'm reminded of course of the Simpson episode in which Homer punishes Bart by not allowing him to go to the Itchy and Scratchy movie but says, "You can watch TV." Bart responds, "TV sucks" and Homer, upset, says, "I know you're upset, so I'm going to pretend you didn't say that." Anyway, a lot of people may have done this song on Idol, but I don't remember any of them being particularly memorable (I remember Elliot was OK, but he had much better performances.) And Casey, I thought, was fine, but also unmemorable. I like the fact, though, that Casey has a somewhat limited voice, but seems to pick songs that fit that voice pretty well (I'm not as concerned about the "grit" as Kara and Simon). He's looking pretty good for the final 12.

Alex Lambert ("Everybody Knows")-- Love the sound/tone of his voice, and he looked more comfortable than last week with the guitar (although still not particularly confident). Not sure it deserved the cartwheels it got from the judges--there was nothing particularly unique about it, was there? I thought that was the key this year. Or was that only last week with the girls?

Todrick Hall ("What's Love Got to Do With It?") -- A great song, but Todrick didn't sing it great. It wasn't terrible, but I do agree with Randy, that Todrick changes everything too much--but it's understandable why he's confused, because Randy and Kara are constantly saying how important it is to show artistry and interpret a song or whatever. So don't worry, Todrick, if you're around next week, you'll come out, sing a song straight and they'll complain that you didn't change it up at all.

Jermaine Sellers ("What's Going On?") -- Also a great song, and I was thinking "the kind of performance you'd see in a hotel lounge" before Simon threw out the "cabaret performance" line we haven't heard in a while (and personally, I've missed it--although I think I like "performance I'd heard on a cruise ship" better.) I thought he did OK in the chorus, but otherwise was just too much for me. As for Jemaine's remarks at the end, was he saying that he's a God-fearing person and therefore he thinks God will get him through to the next round, or that he fears God more than Simon, or what? Anyone who could explain would be much appreciated.

Andrew Garcia (A James Morrison song I don't remember the name of) -- Wasn't anything to remember, but didn't think it was the disaster that the judges did. Last week, they told him he shouldn't have taken the song he did and reworked it, so this week he chose to not rework a song and sing it straight and got knocked for it. Oh, well. And, really, it's not totally fair for them to judge every performance with the "Straight Up" performance as the baseline that he has to equal or else he's failed. But I have a feeling that's what we're going to be seeing for a while.

Ryan Kelly ("My Girl") -- Did Ellen call the song "My Girl" forgettable? Whatever. Why is she on this show again? Anyway, this guy's got a good voice, but I'm not sure I need a country-tinged version of "My Girl." Most interesting thing: Simon telling him he needs to show the kind of artist he's going to be, and Kara disagreeing, even though she said that about three different women last week. Actually, I think he did show what kind of artist he's going to be: An lite-country artist. Not really my thing, but it's something.

Tim Urban ("I Can Take You Higher" or something like that) -- Tim was much better than last week. I still don't think it's good enough to warrant a place in the final 12, but this was OK, not an embarassment like last week. Actually, most of these guys don't deserve a place in the final 12, but I suppose six will get one.

Lee Dewyze ("Lips of an Anglel")-- This was fine vocally, but I wasn't impressed with the song choice--boring and lacking in a strong melody. He seems like a poor man's Chris Daughtry--nothing wrong with that, but if he's really far and away the best of the guys as Simon says, it's going to be a long season.

I'm going to say Jermaine Sellers and John Park are going home, but if it was Todrick or Tim Urban or a couple other guys, it wouldn't really matter.