Signs and Wonders: More on the Scouts, Islam and Europe, Super Bowl ads, and Chris Whittle

Newsworthy | Warren Cole Smith

Signs and Wonders: More on the Scouts, Islam and Europe, Super Bowl ads, and Chris Whittle

French President Francois Hollande, left, shakes hands with Dalil Boubakeur, head of France's Muslim Council
Associated Press/Photo by Jacques Brinon Pool

The Muslim Future of Europe. According to this weekend’s New York Times, France now has about six million Muslims out of a total population of 65 million. The overwhelming majority of them are immigrants, or the children of immigrants, but about 100,000 French Muslims are converts. Muslim organizations put the number as high as 200,000. In France (as here in the United States) the country’s prison system has become fertile ground for Muslims. The Times article estimates about a third of France’s prison population is made up of practicing Muslims. Though many of the converts are former Roman Catholics, they say they are not reacting to Catholicism or Christianity so much as to secularism. Hassen Chalghoumi, an imam in a Paris suburb, said, France’s official secularism “breeds spiritual emptiness.” He added, “Secularism has become antireligious. Therefore, it has created an opposite phenomenon. It has allowed people to discover Islam.”

The Scoutmaster. It seems as if everyone has an opinion about whether the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) should admit openly homosexual men into its leadership ranks. President Barack Obama weighed in over the weekend to say they should. Millions of Americans believe otherwise, and the Boy Scouts have heard from many of them. The American Family Association and the Family Research Council (FRC) both sent emails to hundreds of thousands of their supporters with instructions to contact the Scouts. The FRC even sent a list of names and phone numbers of Boy Scout board members. The national board of the BSA began its three-day meeting today. It likely will vote on the policy on Wednesday.

Ad Bowl. Last night was the annual debut of some of the country’s best advertisements. The ads aired, I’m told, in conjunction with some football game. Whatever. Critics and others immediately jumped online to declare the best and worst. Two lists I thought captured the evening pretty well came from Paste Magazine and from Lori Rackl of the Chicago Sun-Times.  They both gave high marks to Paul Harvey’s Ram Truck ad, “The Ode to Farmers.” What I found interesting is that the voice over was a real speech Paul Harvey gave to the Future Farmers of America in 1978. When he gave that speech, I wonder if he thought to himself, “You know, someday this speech will be heard by 110-million people at the same time.” I doubt that, but from the way he delivered it, you’d never know. 

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Whittle Redux. Chris Whittle is not a household name, but if you have paid attention to journalism or education during the past 20 years, you know who he is. He made a fortune before the age of 30 with his 13-30 Corporation, which produced publications targeted at the 13- to 30-year-old age group. He and his partner Philip Moffett used some of that fortune to buy the then dying Esquire Magazine. They turned around that magazine and made another fortune when they sold it. Whittle then turned his attention to education, founding the for-profit Edison Project to provide a private school alternative to the public school system. Whittle, famous for his bow ties and flowing hair, has started a new school in New York’s Chelsea district, adjacent to the city’s new Highline, a “park in the sky,” built on an abandoned elevated train track. Whittle raised $75 million for the new school, and tuition is $40,000 per year. For an elite private school education in Manhattan, that’s not out of line (believe it or not).  Whittle hopes to build similar schools in major cities around the world.

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