Ninotchka (1998-2010)

She looked a lot like this.
Indifferently, her eyes will trace your hand
That stoops to smooth the graceful serpentine
Ceasing a moment only to define
The faithful boundaries of that strange land
That bred her silence: Egypt’s lazy sand,
The River of Sleep…shapes more or less divine,
Perpetuations of our world. Her spine
Rolls gently as you pause before the grand
Arch of her back, her taut tail like mast
That lengthens, it seems, endlessly. At last,
She settles, daringly, upon your knee
In effortless elegance. How many
Lives have suffered as painlessly as yours
To ponder beauty in its briefest hour?

Meet “Sam”

I know I shouldn’t be doing this, but this comment is so stoopid it’s irresistible. Blame P.Z. Myers.

“First off, there is no such thing as atheist (but is there such thing as “Sam?”), it is indeed plain simply (I think you mean “plain and simple”) arrogance and utter rudeness to the scientific community let alone the religious one (I never made any promises), their claim in itself is a positive one (which claim?), u (you) can( )not provide proof of his existence (whose existence?), whihc (ahhhh!) make u logically at best agnostic who lack(s) humility (who me?) to accepting lack of knowledge (of what again?).
in so far as the quran goes, seems like u were expecting mathematical notions, or some scientific formula “although there scientific stuff in there” (there be science!). are u mad (those be my initials, genius)?
t(T)he point is about, the highly likelihood of his being, rather than nothing coming out of nothing, and forget about the quantum fluctuation and string ripples (what’re you smokin’, dude?), the numbers dont add up (what numbers???). and there is already been proved that universe paradox, is a logical fallacy in itself. (pot, kettle)

In case anyone is wondering, this was posted as a comment to Another atheist reads the Qur’an. I don’t mean to make fun of “Sam”, but he could’ve put a bit more thought and effort into making himself comprehensible to someone so hard-hearted he offends both the scientific and religious communities in the same breath (in your dreams, pal!)

I should’ve taken that job as a proofreader.

Another end of the year reading list for 2010

The Jive Five

I read many books this year, nearly all of them processed from dead trees. Will they ever figure out a way to make a decent reading surface that doesn’t involve raping the environment? Probably not in my lifetime.

Here are five books I read in 2010, arbitrarily chosen over breakfast for this list.

1. The Qur’an by Muhammad | This is the story of one man’s struggle with dyspepsia. Not much of a plot, but I did learn that I am pretty much unrivalled as the scum of the earth. In fact, the phrase comes from here.

2. The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson | I don’t usually read Man Booker Prize winners, assuming they are the UK equivalent of Oprah’s Book Club, but this was a romantic comedy about anti-Semitism, so how could I go wrong? (PG-13)

3. Voodoo Histories by David Aaronovitch | Did you ever wonder whether the Holocaust really happened? If Jews actually rule the world from a central office in an octopus’s brain bigger than planet Earth? Whether the “moon landing” was staged in a Hollywood bungalow? Then this is the book for you.

4. Hitler’s Pope by John Cornwell | Another love story woven around a twisted plot. Pope Pius XII goes ga-ga for Germany; gets hitched; they squabble over minor doctrinal points; the Jews are murdered wholesale in Europe. Nonetheless, their relationship is solid as a rock. Hey, isn’t that phrase from the Old Testament? Cool!

5. Why Truth Matters by Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom | Yes. No. Maybe? Truth is a pain in the ass, y’all. My review is here.

 

More Bibles, please!

Hooray! The Regione di Veneto is passing out Bibles to all the students! Here’s why:

“We’re convinced that the shift towards secularism, often rooted in the precepts of relativism and nihilism, cannot be an effective response to a world in continual evolution…”

What was that about “continual evolution?” According to the Regione di Veneto website,

“The secular laws of our nation are written in the Bible, and it contains the religious norms of our spiritual life. To clarify, our proposal of obligatory Christian education does not infringe upon the Concordat.”

The Concordat means the Lateran Treaty, the agreement with the Catholic Church that public schools will be draped with crucifixes and students will receive (optional – meaning you can sit in the hallway for an hour if you choose) Catholic religious education. In a sense, this is even worse: it’s obligatory, as the website makes clear. What about all those students from non-religious families? They are to be taught that even secularism is Christian, Christian is Catholic and there is to be no escape from Jesus, ever.

Italy is in the throes of a full-fledged War Against Secularism. Everyone from Joseph Ratzinger to the law-makers in Parliament to the regional and local levels of government are caught up in a crusade against the very principles of secularism. Which is ironic, because the Italian Constitution defines laicity, or secularism, as a “supreme principle of the State.”

I hope the students actually read their Bibles instead of trashing them, though. There would be no better way to make ardent secularists out of them.

More religion, please!

On. Giovanna Melandri, a deputy with Italy’s Democratic Party, has recently proposed a law to introduce even more religion into public schools. She has courageously published it on her blog. I’ve commented on it, but my comment has not yet been approved, perhaps due to strong words like “superstition”. I figure the next best thing is to take up the matter on my own blog.

The thrust of her proposal is this: God is alive and well in the world; belief in Him heavily influences the lives of millions and “entire communities;” a sense of the sacred is central to the lives of human beings; we must find a way to live in a multicultural, pluralistic society (presumably without fighting over whose version of God represents the truth); we must engage the “other,” etc…it sounds like she’s been reading Karen Armstrong.

This brings her to the realization that it’s time “to rethink education.” My first thought would be, “Let’s get Catholic religious education out of the schools and increase secular studies like science and foreign languages.”

Melandri’s proposal is – brace yourselves – to introduce comparative religion. She even suggests a “scientific, not a dogmatic approach.” Which sounds nice and fuzzy at first, as if to imply that all religions are part of the fabric of humanity, and none of them have any exclusive claim to truth. But then she adds that “particular attention must be paid to monotheism,” and that “adequate space should be reserved for Eastern religions.” So, Jainism and Islam will share space on the blackboard with Catholicism?

But Melandri admits there might be some difficulty in finding impartial teachers to teach the vast smorgasbord of human belief. Not to worry, though, for “incompatibility between teachers will only be temporary.” How does she know this? It seems to me that in her mind she would like disagreement to simply dissolve before the comforting flames of multiculturalism.

This isn’t realistic. More likely teachers will be at each other’s throats. Supposing there are more than a handful of teachers who aren’t nominally Catholic – already improbable in Italy – and as Catholic religious education is already part of the State curriculum, she will have to convince those lovable, infinitely pliable gentlemen over at the Vatican to loosen their stranglehold on the young. Since no Italian politician is likely to ever go against them, this rings hollow. There is not greater obstacle to comparative religious education in Italy than the Catholic Church.

Further on, Melandri assures us such a multicultural approach won’t infringe upon the Vatican’s right – according to the 1929 Lateran Treaty – to impose its own religious teachings in Italian public schools. She continues: “We believe that the discovery of the transcendental dimension, and how humanity in all its stages has dealt with this experience, is a fundamental component of personal development.” Here the text reads much more like a homily by Benedict XVI than a proposal to teach religion in a “scientific” sense (whatever that means).

In my comment I asked On. Melandri why students receiving a public education should have to study religion – the “catalogue of the world’s superstitions,” as I phrased it. Of what use is it, really? The impracticability of such an endeavor, the fragility of people’s sensibilities about religion, the mutual exclusivity that religion fosters and the utter nonsense of religious belief all point in one direction: less, not more, religion in public schools.

If Melandri wishes to do something radical, she should work on abolishing the Lateran Treaty and minimizing the influence of the Catholic Church, pulling crucifixes of the walls of classrooms and making Italian public schools more secular in nature. That is the only fair way to deal with students of multiple cultural backgrounds: by leveling the playing field once and for all.

Poetry magazine rejects Sandro Penna

Or so they thought. Penna died in 1977.

Dear Sandro Penna:

We’re not going to be able to keep anything from this submission, we’re sorry to say. Thank you, though, for letting us have a chance with your work.
Sincerely,

The Editors
POETRY
444 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1850
Chicago, IL 60611

Penna’s reply:

Dear Editors,

It was indeed an honor to find myself, in the email rejecting my translations thereof, addressed as one of Italy’s greatest 20thcentury poets, Sandro Penna himself! Thank you for the attention.

Sincerely,

miseraestupendacittà

The War Against the Jews

An incomparable description of Hitler’s mental world:

“The Jews inhabited Hitler’s mind. He believed that they were the source of all evil, misfortune and tragedy, the single factor that, like some inexorable law of nature, explained the workings of the universe. The irregularities of war and famine, financial distress and sudden death, defeat and sinfulness – all could be explained by the presence of that single factor in the universe, a miscreation that disturbed the world’s steady ascent towards well-being, affluence, success, victory. A savior was needed to come forth and slay the loathsome monster. In Hitler’s obsessed mind, as in the delusive imaginings of the medieval millenarian sectarians, the Jews were the demonic hosts whom he had been given a divine mission to destroy.”

(Dawidowicz, The War Against the Jews p. 21)

I find this passage utterly chilling.