Monday, May 31, 2010

Always check political status and whether one pays one’s taxes before killing him/her


Jewish date:  18 Siwan 5770 (Parashath Shelaḥ).

Today’s holidays:  Visitation (Roman Catholicism), Desecration Day (Church of the SubGenius), Feast Day of Alphonse Louis Constant (Thelema), Syaday (Discordianism).

The logo of the Jewish AgencyImage of the logo of the organization I met with a representative of via Wikipedia
Topic 1:  Something that does not in and of itself entail religious fallacies or misinformation but will affect what religious fallacies and misinformation I am exposed to:  I am very seriously considering making ‘aliyyah (immigration to Israel).  Having been unsuccessful finding work in the United States, I have come to the conclusion that I need to try something different, and looking in another country is a sensible tactic.  If I am going to go to the trouble of moving to another country, that country might as well be Israel, to which, as a Jew, I not only have an historic connection, but which Judaism demands that I must eventually move there anyway.  (Not to mention that since I am Jewish, I can claim Israeli citizenship without having to go through the torturous waiting period that countries usually put immigrants through.)  I have been actively exploring option of ‘aliyyah since January, and am making real progress towards this goal.  This includes networking with people in Israel and finding (thank YHWH) that there is some hope that I can get employed there.  Much of the gap in posting last week is due to me visiting a representative of the Jewish Agency for Israel in Miami.  I have further plans for attending an “‘Aliyyah Absorption Expo” soon, making a pilot trip to Israel in July or August, and (if all goes well, YHWH willing) making ‘aliyyah a few months after that.  Much of what I am doing now is essentially homework, working out the details of what I plan to do.  (The idea of reducing paperwork to a bare minimum apparently has not caught on yet.)

How will me making ‘aliyyah this affect this blog?  To answer this question, we need to take a step back and look at our present historical context.  The formation of the State of Israel, as the Jewish state, in 1948 was unprecedented yet of such obvious relevance to all the major Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) that it could not be ignored, especially since the Muslim states have failed miserably in their repeated efforts to wipe Israel off the map.  The result has been twofold among the Abrahamic religions:  an increase in religious feeling and attempts to deal with the fact of the State of Israel in some manner, any manner.  The attempts have ranged from looking upon the State of Israel as an abomination to be destroyed to embracing the State as a miracle and part of the Messianic process.  Even 62 years after the initial shock, the Abrahamic religions are still trying to make sense of the State of Israel, and I strongly doubt that they will figure it out anytime during my natural lifetime.  The United States, while unquestionably feeling its fair share of effects from the founding of the State of Israel, is still on the periphery of this event.  When I move to Israel, on the other hand, I am going to be living in Ground Zero, where people do not merely try to figure out how to deal with the event, but are rather part of it.  So you can expect me to eventually report firsthand on all manner of religious phenomena mentioned in the news and perhaps ones that otherwise escape notice.  Though I plan to avoid coming into direct contact with anyone physically dangerous, I do expect to come into contact with secularists, Religious Zionists, Ḥaredhim, Ḥasidhim, Qabbalists, outright heretics, ’Ashkenazim, Sefardhim, members of ‘Edhuth hamMizraḥTemanim, Falashim, Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Syrian Christians, Coptic Christians, Ethiopian Christians, Sunni Muslims, Shi‘ite Muslims, Sufi Muslims, Druze, Bahá’ís, Neopagans, Samaritans, and quite likely a number of people of other groups.  And I will never be far from somewhere something historical happened to the Jewish people.  (As someone once said on a podcast, “I’m living in the Bible.”)  So expect a shift in the content and perspective of my Israel reporting.

Topic 2:  Current Israel reporting:  “Special Alert: Flotilla Battle Unleashes Anti-Israel Wave”.  “Peace activists” try to get into Gaza and attack the Israeli navy.  Apparently the meaning of “peace” has eluded them.  Similarly bad logic is reported in “Yemeni cleric calls for killing US civilians”, which claims that Muslim cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki rationalizes killing US civilians thusly:
American civilians are to blame, he said, because "the American people, in general, are taking part in this and they elected this administration and they are financing the war."
So… what if they voted Republican?   No, wait a minute, neither Obama nor McCain planned to simply yank all American troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq.  And those who vote neither Republican nor Democrat are likely to not get their voices heard in American government.  (The two-party system sucks.)  And the only way not to finance the wars is to not pay taxes, which is a non-option for anyone with a job (such as a US soldier), at least if one wants to avoid the wrath of the IRS.  So… would Al-Awlaki be opposed to killing a political independent who refuses to pay his taxes?  Does he advocate checking before killing people?  If he does not, there is something very unfair going on here.

Topic 3:  For today’s religious humor: “PANDORA’S BOX”:
funny pictures of cats with captions


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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Do deities take attendance?


Jewish date:  12 Siwan 5770 (Parashath BeHa‘alothekha).

Today’s holidays:  Feast Days of Venerable Bede, Gregory VII and Mary Magdalene de Pazzi (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Stalin (Church of the SubGenius—and I have no idea what they are thinking), Head of the Forerunner (Greek Orthodox Christianity), Integrity Day (Scientology—and I am aware of the irony).

Today’s topic:  Last night’s episode of The Big Bang Theory, “The Lunar Excitation”.  This clip deals a bit with theology:

Dr. Sheldon Cooper has an agreement with his mother, a serious (probably evangelical and definitely creationist) Christian, to attend church once a year.  His blind date, Amy Farrah Fowler, while having no problem with the notion of a god, objects to the notion of a deity “who takes attendance”.  And Amy has a point.  Your humble blogger is not aware of any religion in which the only thing which matters is showing up for services.  Religions typically expect their members to do specific things, both in terms of morality and ritual, outside of houses of worship.  If you think going to services once or twice a year is all you need to keep your god happy with you, please check with an appropriate clergy-person and verify this is actually so.

Also notable about this episode:  Our culture normally assumes that romantic love and sexual intercourse go hand-in-hand, to the extent that the first may be used to justify the second.  (I am not making up that last clause.  I have heard people justify homosexual behavior on the basis of love.  This is really the wrong way to do it, given that any prohibited relationship, including incest and bestiality, could be rationalized if the participants are romantically attracted.)  However, some people (asexuals) feel romantic love without any desire to engage in sexual intercourse.  Sheldon and Amy both appear asexual, but are quickly attracted to each other.  If this relationship lasts, this may be the first asexual romance in the history of television.


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Monday, May 24, 2010

No, studying science will not turn you into an atheist

Crater from the 1962 "Sedan" nuclear...Image suggested by Zemata and used due to lack of a better idea of what picture to use for this post via Wikipedia

Jewish date:  11 Siwan 5770 (Parashath BeHa‘alothekha).

Today’s holidays:  Monday of the Eighth Week of Ordinary Time (Roman Catholicism), Victory over the U.S. Day (Can.) (Church of the Subgenius), Saints Cyril and Methodius Day (Christianity), Feast of Hermes (Thelema).

Topic 1:  Today’s anti-Semitism update:  “"Jew Producer" Silenced: Comedy Central Update”.  “No Nukes?” is a cogent argument why Israel should not give up its nuclear weapons.

On the theme of religious intolerance one may also add “Muhammad cartoonist in hiding after arson attack”, “Endless violence against Christian women of Kandhamal”, “Vietnam police charge six villagers over Catholic funeral”, “Beijing warns US over Falun Gong”, “Protestant clergyman arrested in Guangzhou”, “UZBEKISTAN: Large raid and almost immediate trial starts against registered church”, and “Lao Christians Expelled from Village Suffer Critical Illnesses”.  Yes, it is an ugly, intolerant world out there where some people think they can suppress other people’s beliefs out of existence, as if the existence of only one set of beliefs made them true.

Topic 2:  “From Point of Inquiry: Does Studying Science Cause Atheism, or Vice-Versa?”.  The results of someone actually studying the question, rather than just pulling an answer out of thin air, violate common expectations:  people’s basic religious beliefs, whether accepting a religion or atheism, are normally not affected by science education.  Keep in mind that science is only well-suited for dealing with what can be observed.  As such, making good scientific arguments about lies beyond our universe (such as gods) is fraught with serious problems.

Topic 3:  For today’s religious humor (courtesy of Jason):  Sh'koyach - The New Age Jewish Comic Strip!  And no, this is not a LOLcat image, for a change.  It is a comic strip about a shrimp who moves in with an Orthodox Jew in order to avoid being eaten.


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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The theology of Equal Rites (Discworld Series, book 3)


Jewish date:  5 Siwan 5770 (Parashath Naso’).

Today’s holidays:  Day 49 of the ‘Omer/‘Erev Shavu‘oth (Judaism), Feast Day of John I (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Leonary Nimoy (Church of the SubGenius), Feast Day of Elias Ashmole (Thelema).

Note:  There will be no blogging by me for the next two days due to the Jewish holiday of Shavu‘oth.

Worthy cause of the day:  “Friends of the Earth U.S.:  Say 'No!' to Offsets, 'Yes!' to Real Climate Solutions”, “Repower America | Tell Your Senators: Time to act!”, “An inconvenient truth about the climate bill”, and “Help Wild Tigers Survive - The Petition Site”.

Cover of "Equal Rites"Cover of Equal Rites
Topic 1:  Equal Rites (Discworld Series, book 3) by Terry Pratchett.


This is not a theological story.  It is not even a non-theological story with major theological elements.  The central theme of this story is magic performed by men versus magic performed by women as they are treated in fantasy:  the male magic of wizardry is considered good, while the female magic of wizardry is considered bad.  This is definitely not the first book to attack this cliché, i.e., the Oz books of L. Frank Baum featured good witches and bad wizards alongside bad witches and good wizards.  Pratchett has different method of handling this problem:  a dying wizard bequeaths his “wizardness” to a newborn baby girl, Eskarina “Esk” Smith, not knowing she is a girl.  This one act forces Esk and many of the other characters to try to find some way of dealing with the anomaly of a female wizard, whether to try to turn her into a witch or to accept her as a wizard.  In the process the worlds of witches and wizards collide, and your humble author decides to not spoil you on how things turn out in the end, as the state of sexual politics at the end of the story is not a theological issue.  (OK, I know:  there is a sexual political aspect of religion, especially these days when sexual equality or lack thereof is a real issue.  But the wizards-versus-witches issue is given as much theological depth here as the matter of feminism is given theological depth in The Marvelous Land of Oz.  Perhaps in another book...)

There are, nevertheless, a few theological elements in Equal Rites.  Pratchett does mention the cliché of witches worshiping a mother goddess and dancing naked in the woods—and he immediately dismisses it as a common delusion (at least so far as the Discworld is concerned).  Also noted in passing is the notion that religion makes people act unnaturally, leading them to visit witches to help them deal with the consequences.  There is real truth in this.  Much natural behavior (murder, rape, violence, infidelity, domination, promiscuity, etc.) is forbidden or strictly controlled by religion.  Pratchett give this a bit of a negative spin, but even adamantly anti-religious secularists normally advocate some degree control of such natural behaviors, if only for utilitarian reasons.  If some unnatural behavior is necessary for a more pleasant and safer society, so be it.

Also present is the notion that thought creates reality, which the wizard prodigy (and proto-love interest of Esk) Simon lectures on at Unseen University.  In our reality this is, of course, wrong.  Unfortunately, some people implicitly treat it as true by means of the fallacy of wishful thinking, and there are even a few works (The Secret, What the Bleep Do We Know?) which argue (badly) for the explicit version.  The counterfactual belief in thought creating reality shows up as a plot element in the form of the Things which dwell in the Dungeon Dimensions.  The Things threaten Esk and Simon, but once Esk realizes they are merely ideas without independent existence, they atrophy and evaporate.

Overall classification:  Humorous fantasy, but not for children.  Don’t beware of Things.

Theological rating:  ☈.  (Absurdist.)

Note:  I do not yet own a copy of Mort (Discworld Series, book 4), so it will be a while until I review it.  I could skip to the next book in the series I have, but I would rather review the series in order.  Anyone wishing to speed things up is welcome to send me copies of Discworld books I do not already own.

Topic 2:  The daily dose of anti-Semitism:  “Anti-Israel Detractors Go Postal to Stamp Out Israel (May 16, 2010)” and “"You Lied to Me, Jew Producer": Comedy Central Shocker”.  Irony may be found in “Rachel Corrie Died for This?”  “Journalist says only truth will set Palestine free” deals with the question of what it really means to be “pro-Palestinian”.  “Israeli-Palestinian conflict rages on Wikipedia” deals with a relatively recent method of trying to get a set of beliefs enshrined as the truth.

Topic 3:  For today’s religious humor: “I IS AMISH LOLCAT.”  (Sorry, they made no provision for embedding this one.  You will have to click on the link.)

Peace and ḥagh sameaḥ.

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Mind over crude oil???


Jewish date:  29 ’Iyyar 5770 (Parashath BeMidhbar).

Today’s holidays:  Day 44 of the ‘Omer (Judaism), Ascension Day/Feast of the Ascension (Christianity), Feast Day of St. Judy Tenuta (Church of the SubGenius).

Worthy causes of the day:  “Support Clean Energy Jobs - Take Action Today @ The Hunger Site”, “End the Pet Primate Trade - The Petition Site” and “Take Action: Tell Obama to stand up to Big Oil!

Topic 1:  “Guess Who 'Enjoys' US-Israeli Tensions”.  HonestReporting keeps reporting on anti-Semitic bias from the BBC.  I keep passing the reports on to you.

Topic 2:  “Boulder man hopes to stop Gulf of Mexico oil spill with meditation”.  I cannot make up something like this.  People like talking about “mind over matter”, but that only really works to some degree over one’s physiology.  There are no nerves linking this man’s brain to the gaping hole spewing petroleum into the Gulf of Mexico.

Topic 3:  For today’s religious humor: “Pope Happycat the 1st”:
Pope Happycat the 1st is full of win & awesome!!


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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Ignorant politicians whom everyone should vote against


Jewish date:  28 ’Iyyar 5770 (Parashath BeMidhbar).

Today’s holidays:  Day 43 of the ‘Omer (Judaism), Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day) (Judaism), Feast Day of Nereus and Achilleus (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Hugh Hefner (Church of the SubGenius).

Topic 1:  “Hezbollah-Iran-Syria Axis-Supporting Arab/Muslim Knesset Member, Ganaim, calls for Islamic caliphate in Israel”.  This article deals with Arab Keneseth member Masud Ganaim, who presents what are arguably treasonous political views which make sense from an Islamic point of view.  He wants the restoration of an Islamic caliphate, with Israel included  as part of it.  Two quotes are of especial interest:
We are not necessarily talking about Israel here, but I believe an Islamic caliphate would be in the interest of the Jews themselves, since their golden era was under this caliphate.
We are not against the Jews, but against the Zionist movement and its racist ideology. We have no objection to the Jews managing their own matters themselves.
These quotes would only make sense from an Islamic point of view.  Islam has the notion that Muslims should be in charge and that everyone else should be subservient.  This is only in the interest of Jews in so far as being second-class citizens (dhimmis), they would be under constant pressure to convert to Islam—the goal that Muslims want, not necessarily what Jews would consider to their benefit.  While Jews had their moments under Muslim rule, it was never because of Muslim rule but rather despite it.  Considering that Israel is a scientific and technological powerhouse and its Jews have high levels of voluntary religious observance (even among self-proclaimed secularists), the idea that Jews need Muslim rule to prosper is untenable.  Furthermore, the Qur’an is littered with anti-Semitism, so the claim of being not against Jews but only against Zionism is also untenable.  At best it can be interpreted only as “We are not against Jews when they are subservient to us”.  That Ganaim knows nothing about the ideology of Zionism should be obvious; Jews are not a racial group, as they have always accepted converts without regard for ancestry.  I am seriously considering moving to Israel, and if I do so (YHWH willing), I intend to vote against obvious ignoramuses like this.

Topic 2:  “Sarah Palin: American Law Should Be 'Based On The God Of The Bible And The Ten Commandments'”.  Competing with Mr. Ganaim for sheer historical ignorance is Sarah Palin.  Palin is completely unaware that the United States is a Christian nation only in the sense of having a Christian majority.  Little does she know that the Founding Fathers were not so unanimously Christian (e.g., Thomas Jefferson was a known deist), and the Constitution neither invokes the Christian Trinity nor promotes Christianity.  On the other hand, we have a legal separation of church and state, and the government is supposed to be religion-neutral.  This is why Palin is completely getting wrong the notion of a National Day of Prayer.  No one (trying to work within our legal system) is arguing that Americans should not pray or discuss religion publicly; such a restriction would be a violation of freedom of religion and free speech.  Rather, it is simply not the business of the government to encourage or discourage prayer.  If I remain in the United States, this is the sort of obvious ignoramus I will continue to vote against.

Topic 3:  For today’s religious humor: “The Kitty’s Journey: Joseph Campbell and Friskies”:  This article argues that a cat food commercial fits the pattern of religious stories which Joseph Campbell laid out in The Hero with a Thousand Faces.  I think I will let this absurdity speak for itself.


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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

On The Light Fantastic (Discworld Series, book 2)


Jewish date:  27 ’Iyyar 5770 (Parashath BeMidhbar).

Today’s holidays:  Day 42 of the ‘Omer (Judaism), Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Easter (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Salvador Dali (Church of the SubGenius).

Worthy causes of the day:  “CARE : Defending Dignity - Fighting Poverty :  International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act”, “Stop Terrorists from Buying Guns and Explosives - The Petition Site”, “Friends of the Earth U.S.:  Tell President Obama to Support a Financial Speculation Tax”, “Save BioGems: Take Action: Stop the Pebble Mine”, “Ban New Offshore Drilling - The Petition Site”, “Working Families » Take Action!:  Sign the petition to Albany”, “Take Action:  Mr. President, THIS is why drilling is bad.”, “Empowering Women Can Save Children - The Petition Site”, and “Heart Disease and Stroke. You’re the Cure.:  Ask Your Legislator to Override the Veto!”

Topic 1:  The daily dose of anti-Semitism:  First up, the cartoons “The Goldstone Whitewash” and “Jerusalem (1982)”.  Both of these deal with hypocrisy and double standards in anti-Semitic politics and diplomacy.  Notable articles include “Complex crisis most analysts fail to explain”, “Biased Broadcasting Corporation?”, and “Glorifying murderers only scores points at home”.

The Light FantasticImage via Wikipedia
Topic 2:  The reason there has no blogging for a few days while I wrote the review:  The Light Fantastic (Discworld Series, book 2) by Terry Pratchett:


The Light Fantastic picks up where The Color of Magic left off, with the wizard Rincewind, the tourist Twoflower, and the Luggage going over the side of the Discworld.  (The demon in Twoflower’s camera presumably goes over the side of the Discworld, too, but only by implication.  He barely appears onscreen in this book, as Twoflower does not get in much photography.)  However, instead of ending up as a stain on the shell of the world-turtle Great A’Tuin, our heroes (if you can really call them that) suddenly find themselves back on the Discworld elsewhere.

What at first might seem like an attempt by the Lady to cheat Fate (or a gross continuity violation), is actually the result of the spell from the grimoire Octavo which Rincewind carries around in his head working to preserve itself.  

Meanwhile, Great A’Tuin is now getting closer and closer to a red star with eight moons.  The wizards of Unseen University, lead by the dangerously ambitious Trymon, determine that they need to read all eight spells of the Octavo in order to save the Discworld.  Thus they set out, both in person and by proxy, to find Rincewind and bring him back to Ankh-Morpork so that all eight spells can be recited.

The misadventures of Rincewind, Twoflower, and the Luggage on their way back to and in Ankh-Morpork contain frequent religious references.
  • Our heroes (if they can be called that) encounter Druids(!) trying to repair a Stonehenge-like stone computer.  (The humor falls a bit flat since the author’s understanding of computers falls short.)  As part of the process, the Druids try to sacrifice the virgin Bethan.  (Whether any of this bears any resemblance to real Druidism is beyond me.  I have not studied it yet.)  Luckily, Bethan is saved by Rincewind, Twoflower, and the 87-year-old hero Cohen the Barbarian.  (He is an obvious parody of Conan the Barbarian, even to someone who never read the relevant literature and only remembers two of the movies fuzzily.)  In this segment of the book, Rincewind notes that in his culture sacrifice is normal, while Twoflower claims that is totally absent back on the Counterweight Continent where he comes from.  I applaud Terry Pratchett for making the Discworld have multiple religions.  (Compare the Star Trek Universe, in which the usual case is for a planet to have a single religion and a single culture.)
  • Rincewind finds himself in Death’s Domain, where he finds Twoflower teaching the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to play a card game.  Death for some reason has an adopted daughter, Ysabell.
  • The approach of the star to the Discworld (or its relativistic equivalent, the approach of the Discworld to the star), sets off a religious panic.  Many people flee the cities for the mountains so they can have a better view of the coming destruction.  A new red star cult forms which tries to bring practically everything on the Discworld to a standstill by violence or threat thereof.  Notably, the Discworld gods, who were so prominent in the previous book, are silent here.
  • Trymon steals the Octavo for himself and absorbs the seven spells still within it, intending to gain power for himself besides saving the Discworld.  In the process he opens the Discworld up to the Dungeon Dimensions, inhabited by clones of creatures from the (dreadful) horror stories of H. P. Lovecraft.  Interestingly, Pratchett describes the Dungeon Dimensions creatures not as evil, but as “eldritch”.  And he explains the difference:  evil may seek power over your soul or the world, but it sees the value of your soul or the world.  “Eldritch”, on the other hand, sees no value in your soul or the world and will step on you if you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  This is actually a misinterpretation of what “eldritch” is supposed to mean (“weird and sinister or ghostly” according to the New Oxford American Dictionary via Apple’s, but it is a faithful characterization of how the pseudo-gods of Lovecraft’s stories behave:  they simply do not care about humanity.  Trymon, who has acted callously and selfishly throughout the entire book, quite poetically transforms into one of the Lovecraftian creatures.  Of course, Rincewind defeats him (obviously, since this is not the end of the series), but how that happens will not be spoiled here.
  • Once Rincewind beats Trymon, he evicts the eighth spell from his head back into the Octavo and reads all eight spells.  The red star’s eight moons hatch into (relatively) small world-turtles, each with four (relatively) small world-elephants and a (relatively) small discworld on the elephants’ backs.  Great A’Tuin and the hatchlings paddle away from the star, thus averting the crisis.  Thus is a nice chunk of the mystery of the origin of the Discworld cleared up.  (Actually, the spells of the Octavo discuss the origins of the Discworld earlier in the story with Rincewind, but none of them agree on what happened.  And they do not mention anything like this.)  This setup suggests that the Octavo being left behind on the Discworld by the Creator was not an accident.  No word is given on whether each of the new discworlds has its own copy of the Octavo, though considering that the series has a few tens of books, there are plenty of opportunities to find out.
Overall classification:  Humorous fantasy, but not for children.  Beware of the Luggage.

Theological rating:  Q.  (Absurdist.)

Next up:  Equal Rites (Discworld Series, book 3).

Topic 3:  For today’s religious humor: “PINK??! BASEMINT CAT”:
funny pictures of cats with captions


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Friday, May 7, 2010

Don’t fall for taqiyya


Jewish date:  23 ’Iyyar 5770 (Parashath BeHar-BeḤuqqothay).

Today’s holidays:  Day 38 of the ‘Omer (Judaism), Friday of the Fifth Week of Easter (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Peter Lorre (Church of the SubGenius).

Worthy causes of the day:  “Take Action: Support Faster FOIA”, “Take Action: Benchmarks Report Card | Save Darfur”, and “Save BioGems: Take Action: Say No to New Offshore Drilling”.

Topic 1:  “Jerusalem:  One Nation’s Capital Throughout History”.  This extensively end-noted document document discusses the strength of the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and the paucity of Islamic connections thereto—despite Islamic claims to the contrary.  (Major rule:  if one’s religion sanctions lying in order to advance it (taqiyya), then one has to expect the false claims to be debunked and disbelieved.)

Topic 2:  “Why Would Anyone Want to Blow Up Times Square?” and “Is the U.S. Diplomatic and Intelligence Community Being Brainwashed in Dealing with Islamism?”.  These articles deal with what one might consider the implicit acceptance of the claims of taqiyya:  refusal to accept that Islam has anything to do with terrorism.  This is despite the claims of terrorists themselves, who these days often are Muslims and claim that they commit acts of terror in the name of Islam.  Correctly noted is that refusing to define the enemy makes fighting him/her harder.  One cannot justify targeting militant Muslims unless one makes it clear that militant Muslims are the problem.  Yes, this is a tolerant democracy, and we hate to pick on people of any particular background.  However, there is nothing unfair or immoral (in most moral systems) about defending oneself or other.  Nor is accepting what one is well able to tell is false information ever (so far as your humble blogger can tell) considered by anyone a virtue.  We are stuck in an ugly war, and we might as well be honest with ourselves who we are fighting and what they are trying to accomplish.

Topic 3:  For today’s religious humor: “Ceiling Kitteh”:
Funny Pictures of Cats With Captions

Peace and Shabbath shalom.

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Thursday, May 6, 2010

On conscience in V


Jewish date:  22 ’Iyyar 5770 (Parashath BeHar-BeḤuqqothay).

Today’s holidays:  Day 37 of the ‘Omer (Judaism), Thursday of the Fifth Week of Easter (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Guiness (The Stout) (Church of the SubGenius), National Day Of Reason (Humanism), National Day of Prayer (USA).

Topic 1:  The latest episode of V, “Hearts and Minds”.  This episode puts Father Jack through a wringer.  Our heroes shoot down what is supposed to be a V craft without any humans aboard, and in the wreckage they find what are apparently bones—human bones.  While no one is particularly happy about this, Father Jack, being a priest, is distraught.  He is very explicit that preservation of human life is paramount, and he cannot bring himself to deliberately endanger humans.  He even tipped off Chad (who is turning into a double agent) not to be aboard any V crafts the day our heroes planned to shoot one down.  At the end of the episode Father Jack insists that even though they are at war, they must not let the Vs compromise their principles.

Also:  In his distress, Father Jack talks to his bishop without actually specifying what he feels guilty about.  The bishop, while all for confession (they are Catholics, after all) tells him that if what Father Jack feels guilty over having done is a matter of (state) law, he should make a “different kind of confession”, that is, go to the police.  Intuition suggests this is a reflection of how the real-life Roman Catholic Church should have handled cases of suspected sexual abuse by priests.  We can only hope that real Catholic clergy will act this way in the future.

Also:  Lisa seems to be developing a conscience.  She looks disturbed at a human being subjected to the V version of abduction and probing.  (Think of cliché alien abduction scenarios which make more sense in terms of paranoid fantasies rather than ways to gain knowledge of humans.)  Furthermore, her feelings for Tyler appear to be genuine, and in an effort to apparently spare him being tortured or whatever Anna have in mind for him, she breaks up with him and then tells Anna that she has failed to convince him to live aboard the V mothership.  Anna, however, climbs to the next level of being a psychopath.  Her response is to punch Lisa in the face so hard as to leave a bruise, and then she orders one of her guards to break Lisa’s legs.  The point of this is to claim that Lisa was attacked by the Fifth Column and to lure Tyler into trying to help her.  I have to admit:  the writers are definitely doing a good job of making Anna scary.

Topic 2:  The daily dose of anti-Semitism:  “BBC's Non-Response to HR Report”.  Essentially the BBC tried to bluff their way around a serious bias problem.

Topic 3:  “Shanghai Is Trying to Untangle the Mangled English of Chinglish” and “A Sampling of Chinglish”.  This article and slide show are about translation gone horribly wrong due to people relying too much on dictionaries and not enough on people who know English well.  This should be a warning to anyone underestimating the importance of good translation.  Try to envision the level of disaster when stuff like this happens to religious texts.

Topic 4:  For today’s religious humor: “Crossin’ bridge to holy grail, BRB”:
Crossin bridge to holy grail, BRB!
I think there may be something of Monty Python and the Holy Grail in this one.


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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

On a masterpiece of failing to connect the dots


Jewish date:  20 ’Iyyar 5770 (Parashath Behar-Beḥuqqothay).

Today’s holidays:  Day 25 of the ‘Omer (Judaism), Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Easter (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Rodney Allen Rippey (Church of the SubGenius), Beltaine (Wicca).

Worthy cause of the day:  “Save BioGems: Take Action: Put an End to Commercial Whaling”.

Topic 1:  “Corrections, Clarifications, and Outright Obfuscations”.  More anti-Semitic, bungled reporting of the news, including blaming Israel for the death of an Arab kid who was really quite alive and well and in Egyptian custody for illegally crossing the border.  (Oops.)  You would think reporters would do a little fact-checking.

Topic 2:  “Religion’s Summer of Discontent”.  Rav Shmuley Boteach discusses current public perception of religion, noting its perceived “uselessness” and “irrelevancy” to many due to scandals and focusing tightly on one or a few issues to the exclusion of other, often more pressing concerns.  His solution is concentrate more on those pressing concerns, such as through his initiative “ Turn Friday Night Into Family Night”.  Definitely notable is his asking Pope Benedict XVI to work with him.

Topic 3:  “Some profit from wives despite French polygamy ban”.  There was no way your humble blogger was going to not mention this article.  Here is a little exercise for the reader.  This article deals with the problem of polygamy—or to be more specific, polygyny, marriage of one man to more than one woman simultaneously—among immigrants in France, which is subject to abuses, both of the women involved and the welfare system.  (This sort of thing should be offensive even to those who see nothing wrong with polygyny itself; plural marriage does not justify lying, cheating, stealing, and treating one’s wives and children badly.)  Now, this article goes into great detail of what is wrong (practically) with polygyny.  It even says a little what countries the abusers are from.  But what religion do they belong to?  Take a few minutes, look over the article, and see what it says.

Have you found the answer?

The answer is:  the article never says.  It starts off mentioning the issue of Muslim immigrants wearing burqas, but the subject of religion is quickly dropped and not addressed at all regarding polygyny.  Which is notable since there are only two major religions in the West which are problem-children when it comes to polygyny.  The first is Mormonism, primarily in its non-mainstream varieties.  Mormonism, while having spread beyond the United States, is barely ever mentioned as having a presence in Europe; your humble blogger has never heard of the pro-polygyny variants as having reached Europe at all.  The other major problem-child religion when it comes to polygyny is Islam.  Unlike mainstream Mormonism, which repudiated polygyny, Islam still allows men to have up to four wives.  The spread of Islam in Europe and the difficulties in integrating Muslims into general European culture are also major worries over there.  The perpetrators of polygyny mentioned in this article are almost certainly Muslims, yet the author of the article completely fails to acknowledge any connection.  Yes, blaming Muslims for problems which are created by Muslims but not members of other religious groups (including agnostics and atheists) might be considered politically incorrect, but failing to recognize something clearly relevant to the problem is not going to do anything to fix it.

Topic 4:  For today’s religious humor: “Honey, call the exorcist.”׃
funny pictures of cats with captions


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Monday, May 3, 2010

Exactly how is anyone supposed to be able to prove their virginity?


Jewish date:   19 ’Iyyar 5770 (Parashath Behar-Beḥuqqothay).

Today’s holidays:   Day 34 of the ‘Omer (Judaism), Feast Day of Philip and James (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Frank Zappa (Church of the SubGenius), Discoflux (Discordianism).

Worthy cause of the day:  “Don't let the climate deniers drown out science”.

Topic 1:  “Who Can Mock the True Catholic Church?”  By now everyone who is not living in isolation from civilization probably has heard of the Catholic sexual abuse scandal, the real scandal being not that individual priests did something horrible, but that their higher-ups knew about it and covered it up rather than stopping it.  At this point, it is very easy to attack the Roman Catholic Church in general and assume it is 100% horrible and evil.  This article correctly notes that despite everything that has gone wrong, there are still priests and nuns out in the trenches (so to speak) out to do actually helping people, e.g., by helping the poor and downtrodden.  The transgressions of some Catholic clergy does not mean the rest are guilty.


Topic 2:  “The virginity industry”.  (Submitted by Barry.)  Islam forbids premarital sex, which is the usual among Abrahamic religions.  However, unlike Jews and Christians, Muslims will kill women who are discovered to have prematurely lost their virginity.  This has led Muslim women to have their hymens repaired to cover their transgression, compounding one sin with another.  What your humble blogger is puzzled about is how is any man really knows that the woman he is marrying is a virgin or not.  In some cases it may be evident, e.g., he gets a disease only transmitted sexually from her. However, I have heard that the spilling-of-blood-from-the-hymen test is not perfect, and it is not simply that women have sometimes managed to cheat.  Like any other part of the human body, the hymen can be damaged (non-sexually).  Furthermore, I have heard that by the time people usually get married these days (as adults, rather than the Arab practice of child brides), the hymen has already deteriorated, thus making the test in question return even for a genuine virgin a false negative.  Relying on this test would thus seem to be a good way to commit unjustified homicide.

Topic 3:  For today’s religious humor:  “Put ur monee in the bowl 4 Jeeesus!”:
This cat apparently thinks he/she is a televangelist.


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