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Idol Chatter

NYC Transit Strike Highlights the Kindness of Strangers

posted by donna freitas

If you live outside the NYC metro area, it’s possible you don’t know there is a major transit strike happening in Gotham, the first in 25 years, and it’s bringing the city to it’s knees–or rather, to its feet, rollerblades, bicycles, scooters, skateboards, and, of course, cars.

When I heard about the impending transit strike, I worried about big things like the rights of the workers, the people who hold by-the-hour jobs who might miss paychecks because they can’t get to their jobs, and whether family would be able to make it in and out of the city for the holidays. But on a smaller scale, I felt a twinge of dismay about the simple absence of a subway ride in my day.

Though some people hate riding the subway, I love it. It’s fast. Efficient. I can get anywhere in Brooklyn or Manhattan in under 30 minutes. I have favorite lines like the Q that will get me express to SOHO and the Union Square Farmer’s Market on Saturdays, and the A train that takes me all the way up to Harlem in just seven stops. And the subway is one of my favorite places to people watch. Everyone takes the subway, even Mayor Bloomberg. On any given train you can find a microcosm of the city’s diversity–ethnic, economic, and otherwise. The fashionable and the functionally attired, parents with children, the old and the young all mingle together like nowhere else in the city. Late one night I even caught a Broadway cast on their way home from Times Square, and was treated to an impromptu show for five stops.

But in the last two days, as I and the rest of the city have made our way whichever way we can, I’ve seen a lot of anger: angry drivers that can’t cross a bridge because they don’t fulfill the four-person-per-car restrictions or are stuck in gridlock, people overtired from long treks on foot lasting, sometimes, upwards of five hours. But more than anything else, I’ve seen and heard about kindness. Cabbies are offering free morning rides so they can make it across police lines with the right number of passengers, drivers are offering total strangers rides across the bridges and living to tell the tale, walkers are handing each other bottles of water just to be nice, and people crowding the bridges are talking and telling stories just to pass the time. In “Thrown Together in a Crisis, Strangers Share Cars and Life Stories,” New York Times reporter Alan Feuer asks one driver, owner of a fancy BMW, why she didn’t fear inviting strangers into her car, and she gives a Karma/Golden Rule-inspired response: “I didn’t even worry when I stopped to give these people a ride… I really believe that when you’re nice to people they’re going to be nice to you back.”

It’s rare that people talk to each other on a regular, subway-riding day. And I am looking forward to shorter walks and faster commutes. But for now I’m enjoying watching the Good Samaritans everywhere I turn.

Jesus Takes Manhattan

posted by donna freitas

As a lifelong Red Sox fan, (though I now proudly call Yankee territory my home), I am stunned and saddened to report that the Red Sox traded Johnny Damon (JOHNNY DAMON!), a.k.a. Baseball’s Jesus, to the New York Yankees in a $52 million dollar deal. The hugely popular Damon earned his nickname–and the immortal WWJDD? T-shirts–because of his shoulder-length hair and beard as well as his role in bringing a World Series championship to Boston after an 86-year drought.

Boston’s Savior has left the building.

Heaven Is My Diet

posted by burb

Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, told Barbara Walters on her “Heaven” show that in heaven we’ll be able to eat every kind of food in any quantity without getting fat. Was this a plug for his new book? “The Jerusalem Diet,” a regimen for losing weight that has to do with fat-eating days and fruit-and-nut days, is something of a departure for Haggard, whose previous writings are in the vein of “Simple Prayers for a Powerful Life,” and “The Life Giving Church.” The Random House web page for the book, however, describes Haggard as “a busy pastor who loves food and admits to a lack of self-control when it comes to eating.” This raises the sickly question of whether Haggard’s preaching on heaven was colored by his own food issues, but first, Rev. Ted, will heaven stock that peanut-encrusted toffee that’s been popping up around my office this Christmas season? Cuz if it doesn’t I’m not sure I want to go…

Enough with the 72 Virgins!

posted by dilshad d. ali

Barbara Walters really covered her ground in last night’s ABC special, “Heaven: Where is it? How Do We Get There?” She, in trademark Barbara fashion, grilled priests, imams, rabbis, Hollywood movie stars, the Dalai Lama, and regular folk who claimed to have had near-death experiences and saw heaven. I was eager to catch this remarkable special, and more specifically to see what my brothers in Islam had to say about heaven. I was especially interested in what Barbara would ask of the failed “Muslim” suicide bomber jailed in an Israeli prison.

Sadly, it was all about those darn 72 virgins.

A little background, if there’s even a remote chance you don’t know of this already: Ever since 9/11, when “Islamic” terrorists gained worldwide notoriety, all we hear about is this notion that suicide terrorists are pursuing some warped version of martyrdom for the promise of 72 virgins in paradise. (By the way–72 virgins? Not stated in the Qu’ran)

It seems–judging from Barbara’s line of questioning–that the promise of 72 virgins is the reason why suicide bombers and terrorists do what they do. But to me, it seems rather far-fetched that this, and not years of radical teachings coupled with a life devoid of a viable future, is what fuels so-called “Muslim” suicide terrorists. Multiple articles written about suicide bombers elicit the same type of information: That many misguided youth who become suicide bombers are indoctrinated by years of radical teachings coupled with a life of chaos, poverty, hate, and constant warfare such that the thought of achieving paradise for being a “martyr” is reason enough strap on the bombs. Are male youth promised 72 virgins? Probably. But is this the promise that gets them to choose a violent death? I doubt it.

I’m not surprised Barbara zeroed in on this tantalizing line of questioning when she sat down with the failed suicide bomber. For all I know she asked a lot of other thoughtful and provocative questions regarding his reasons for doing what he did and what he believes heaven will be like. But journalistic television specials such as this one aim at exploring topics that interest the public in a stimulating, interesting way. People want to know about those darn 72 virgins. And so that’s the part of the interview that made it on the air.

I am so thankful that Barbara turned to Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf of New York City for the counterpoint to this issue of the 72 virgins. He pointed out that 72 is the Arabic equivalent for a nonspecific number, like saying “hundreds and hundreds.” More importantly, he steered the discussion away from those virgins to the important topic of how these bombers who try to be martyrs are not doing what the Qu’ran says of martyrs.

I especially applaud the Imam’s gentle withdrawal from answering the question of whether the suicide bombers will go to heaven. How can I say who goes and who doesn’t? he asked. It’s a mixed up world where “one man’s terrorists is another man’s hero.” Why don’t we try to figure that one out instead of wasting any more time on 72 virgins.

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