Oh, ye of little faith

Religion and politics are two topics my Boston Irish clan was forbidden from discussing at the Sunday dinner table. Which would have made for some very quiet dinners had we actually observed the edict.

Faith and religion are emotional subjects and when either or both encroach on otherwise unrelated matters, there is sure to be a fire lit. The debate is usually framed as freedom of religion but perhaps the argument is better defined as freedom from religion. Or, more accurately, freedom from your religion.

Kayak.com, the Concord-based travel Web site, is pulling its advertising from a controversial new show – or rather not renewing when the show returns in January — on the TLC network called All-American Muslim.

Robert Birge, chief marketing director for Kayak, says the producers of the show, which focuses on eight Muslim families in Dearborn, Michigan, “went out of their way to pick a fight on this, and they didn’t let us know their intentions.” But he insists pressure from religious conservatives did not sway the company’s decision. “Mostly, I just thought the show sucked,” Birge wrote on the company’s blog. That said, we would expect Kayak commercials to never appear on any television show again. But we doubt that will happen.

Kayak’s decision follows on the heels of home improvement giant Lowe’s, which pulled its commercials from ther show after a flood of backlash from conservative groups which accused TLC of touting “a hidden Islamist agenda.” That decision was followed by an announcement by a network of Arab-American nonprofits saying they would no longer accept donations from Lowe’s and a Facebook petition protesting Lowe’s decision. Meanwhile, the company’s own Facebook page was swamped with thousands of angry responses.

But it’s not just Muslims that trigger impassioned reactions. The Patriots are slated to take on the Denver Broncos and their newest phenom, Tim Tebow, on Sunday. While some of the debate is centered around whether or not Tebow’s unorthodox quarterback style is suited for the NFL game, much more attention is aimed at his wearing his evangelical faith on his sleeves and telling everyone about it.

Listen to sports talk radio or read the comments sections of sports pages and the argument isn’t whether or not he can throw the ball in the ocean from the shore – you could make money betting he can’t – but rather whether people are criticizing him for his religious beliefs. Many supporters think his vilification is anti-Christian, while critics say he’s using his position to proselytize. And some wonder if he was a Muslim, would he be as popular?

He starts every interview by thanking “my Lord and savior, Jesus Christ,” and after he scores a touchdown, gets on one knee and bows his head in prayerful contemplation, an act labeled “Tebowing” by both its proponents and critics. It’s now a part of the English language, according to the Global Language Monitor Web site, which says its quick acceptance “has seldom been equaled.”

There is no escaping religion no matter the subject. Mitt Romney? Do we really want a Mormon in the White House? Newt Gingrich? Is his conversion to Catholicism genuine? Is President Obama’s attendance at church last Sunday a cynical campaign ploy or an effort to reclaim his faith?

And this being the Christmas season, there are a plethora of stories about officials putting up decorations on what they declare to be “holiday trees,” which has the Christian faction up in arms. Never mind that the idea of a decorated tree at this time of year stems from a pagan ritual.  

Happy Holidays to all.
                                                                                                                                                    –JACK SULLIVAN

BEACON HILL

The State Police resist a Boston Herald request for black box data from Lt. Gov. Tim Murray’s wrecked Crown Vic.

The Berkshire Eagle says that gaming commission chairman Stephen Crosby will have to beware of “cronyism, patronage and backroom deals,” that plagued the Pennsylvania casino site selection process.

A representative of Robert Kraft says a casino on land the Patriots owner wants to lease next to Gillette Stadium “has the potential to generate a minimum of $10 million annually in direct tax revenue for Foxborough.”

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Brockton city councilors in a 6-5 vote approved raising the residential property tax bill by an average of $150 while lowering the average commercial bill by $172 in an effort to give local businesses some relief.

Holyoke mayor-elect Alex Morse meets President Obama and invites him to visit the city.

Ayer and Boston-based developer Trinity Financial battle over the financial impacts of an apartment development at Devens.

OCCUPY

The Phoenix contemplates the future of Occupy Boston, post-Dewey Square.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

The Iraq War ends.

Homelessness nationwide declines slightly, even in tough economic times, Governing reports.

Government shutdown, Round Three.

ELECTION 2012

The editors at the National Review say Newt Gingrich’s character flaws would kill any chance the Republicans have of taking the White House if he is the nominee. In fact, they also see Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul as being mere distractions to the eventual nominee from among the remaining three. Mitt Romney slashes and burns Gingrich as only Mitt Romney can: He calls Newt “zany.”  Hill Republicans voice their fears about a Newt planet. But don’t worry: Rick Perry is trying to make a comeback.

The Globe’s Michael Levenson writes that new rules put in place by the Republican National Committee all but guarantee a drawn-out race for the GOP presidential nomination.

Bristol Sheriff Thomas Hodgson has opted against a run for Congress, making an announcement in a letter to various media outlets.

Keller@Large votes for Donald Trump to go away. Karl Rove takes on the Donald, in an epic match-up of gentlemen not lacking in self esteem.

FISHING

Sen. John Kerry has asked federal regulators to do an immediate reassessment of cod stocks after the 2010 assessment reported a dramatic drop in the count, estimating the species has been so over fished, even a complete shutdown would not enable a recovery by the 2014 target date.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Unemployment continues to drop in Massachusetts, with November’s rate of 7 percent the lowest in three years.

EDUCATION

The University of Massachusetts Amherst starts a pilot program aimed at giving students an alternative to the high the cost of textbooks. Meanwhile, system officials requested a 20 percent budget increase after criticism that former university president Jack Wilson is continuing to collect a salary.

Boston School Superintendent Carol Johnson asks for parent input in the overhaul of the school assignment process. Meanwhile, Johnson gets “schooled” by four senior African-American community leaders on the challenges facing the system.

Arlington looks at what to do about dirty dancing at high school dances.

The Cape Cod Times calls for educating parents about the need for vaccinations.

HEALTH CARE

Steward Health Care System was given the go-ahead by state regulators to market a plan in partnership with Tufts Health Plan that would be 15 to 30 percent cheaper because most treatment would be limited to Steward doctors and hospitals.

US Rep. Paul Ryan pitches his latest Medicare overhaul in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

TRANSPORTATION

Charles Chieppo, writing in Governing, says a proposed bullet train in California is losing support as costs and delays rise.

The MetroWest Daily News says a total ban on talking and texting while driving would be hard to enforce. The National Transportation Safety Board has recommended that states move to ban all portable electronic devices while driving.

An MBTA conductor who helped uncover a multimillion dollar scheme involving bogus T passes is honored.

Barnstable Airport officials worry about a terrorist attack.

PHILANTHROPY

The Boston Foundation is acquiring the Philanthropic Initiative, a Boston-based nonprofit consulting firm that advises companies and large donors on charitable giving.  

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

John Magee Jr. and his wife Geraldine, both in their late 60s, were found shot to death in their Andover mansion by their daughter, who was dropping off her children. The couple’s Lexus SUV was found torched in Boston’s North End, the Eagle-Tribune reports. Police say the incident appears to be isolated, NECN reports.

One in five women say they have been sexually assaulted, the New York Times reports.

An Orthodox rabbi who was expected to plead guilty yesterday to sexual abuse charges dating back to the mid-1970s when he taught at a Brookline religious school backed out of the agreement at the last minute and will now go to trial.

MEDIA

Time’s Person of the Year is “The Protester.”

NPR experiments with StateImpact, a project designed to boost coverage of regional topics through data-driven journalism, the Nieman Journalism Lab reports.