Muhammad the Jew

This is a hilarious exchange from Dale McGowan’s secular parenting blog The Meming of Life. McGowan is the editor of Parenting Beyond Belief, a handbook for parents wishing to raise their children without religion. Apparently it took him two years to find a publisher who was interested. In America.

ERIN (11): Mohammed is believed by Muslims to be directly descended from the Angel Gabriel.

DAD, looking up from his book: Uh…really? I didn’t know that.

ERIN: It’s a question, Dad. True or false.

DAD, suddenly interested: Is this homework?

ERIN: Yes Dad, it’s homework, social studies, world religions, I’m terrible at it, so is it true or false??

DAD: Well you won’t get better at it if I just give you the answers.

ERIN: Plee-he-he-heeease, Daddy.

DAD: First tell me who Mohammed is.

ERIN: (*Sigh*) I don’t know. Some Jewish guy.

Berlusconi Courts the Nobel

I couldn’t believe it when I first saw it, but the richest man in Italy is now seriously courting the Nobel Peace Prize. On his website he promotes himself as an economic humanist inspired by Milton Friedman and Muhamud Yunus. Of course, he has recently been embroiled in a spiraling sex scandal which may follow him to the grave. Last week he was rebuffed by Michelle Obama, causing enormous guffaws among his detractors.

Italy’s current political tragedy is that the left has nobody better to offer than this man.

Blogging Reduces Fever

I’m sitting alone in our apartment fiddling with my blog, which is always crying out for me to fiddle with it. I’m getting over a slight fever (at least I hope so). The windows are open and a nice Roman breeze is blowing in, which is probably contrary to doctor’s orders. But it feels good. Outside it’s around 80 degrees, and I’m sweating.

This is as good an excuse as any to overhaul one’s blog. I’ve changed the format slightly, making it easier to read (I think). Besides, I was growing tired of that old blue-grey tone—too damn confederate.

It’s been a while since I’ve visited Jeffrey Goldberg over at the Atlantic, who has dug up a weird photo of wookies in Teheran. The Iranians just seem to be floating further and further away from normalcy, which makes me sorry for all the Iranians who just want to live in a normal country.

A Little Perspective on the Goldstone Report

The UN is truly a unique kind of animal: part ferocious, man-eating beast, part wimpy, diplomatic fish flopping around on the beach. It is no mystery that it is obsessed by Israeli “war crimes” and “human rights violations” even in a part of the world where much, much worse is the norm. To the north you have Hezbollah, to the south Hamas, to the East a cold peace with Jordan and beyond…Iran, whose president has been constantly courted by the UN for years despite his genocidal rantings and the human rights “record” of his nation. Nobody on earth can feign ignorance about the nature of the Iranian dictatorship in the Age of Twitter. So where does the UN’s moral authority come from, you ask? Why is their record so bad?

From Ynet:

Goldstone explained in the interview that it is the obligation of the international community to hold sovereign states accountable of alleged human rights violations.

Of course, this is most ironic when the Human Rights Council that established Goldstone’s Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict is composed of countries that have frequently and freely violated international human rights laws, including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Syria and Somalia.

Good question.

My Life as a Creationist

Well, it didn’t last long. I had just discovered God and was attempting to bend the world to my perception of the Bible. I remember being in a plane, crossing the Atlantic, when I read an article about the Dover School District creationism scandal (must’ve been 2005–so long ago!) My gut reaction was, unsurprisingly, “Of course evolution is bullshit! The handiwork is God’s and His only.”

What is surprising–or surprisingly unsurprising–is that this holier-than-thou attitude followed a lifetime of secular normalcy. It was due to my recent “discovery” of God, and my consequent insistence on fitting the universe into my nutshell conception of that God, that was responsible for such a foolish thought. This now seems inconceivable to me, like a brief loss of memory before I awoke to my rightful place among thinking, reasoning humanity.

Creationsim is not science. The Bible is, in many ways, a fascinating and wonderful book (so is Moby-Dick, for that matter). But it is not the true tale of how things have come to be as they are on this earth. It is a collection of writings by humans who knew far less about the nature of the universe than we do, and even the least educated among us is better informed scientifically than the authors of the Torah and Gospels.

I just wanted to get that off my chest.

The Economist Weighs in on the Goldstone Report

It sounds (almost) as if The Economist was about to express a less than negative opinion of Israel’s conduct in Gaza. Almost. You can read the entire report here. UN Skeptics can have fun with this.

Two questions face countries that have gone to war. Was the cause just? And, where possible, did the troops do their utmost to spare civilians? It was over the second of those questions that Israel found itself under a cloud on September 15th, when a United Nations mission accused it of having deliberately committed war crimes during its three-week attack on Gaza that ended in January. Yet this week’s report was deeply flawed. In a conflict where missed opportunities are as common as Qassam rockets, the risk is that both sides will now conclude the wrong thing: Arabs that Israel has just been found guilty; and Israel that it will never get a fair hearing in a hostile world.

From the very start, this report had to overcome the taint of prejudice. It was mandated by the UN Human Rights Council, an anti-Israeli outfit notorious for having congratulated Sri Lanka’s government on brutal conduct that led to appalling loss of life among Tamil civilians. Israel refused co-operation. But the mission was headed by a respected international jurist, Richard Goldstone. A Jew himself, Mr Goldstone insisted on scrutinising the conduct of Hamas as well as Israel. There was hope that he might wrestle the inquiry into balance.

Yet the report takes the very thing it is investigating as its central organising premise. Israeli policy in Gaza, it argues, was deliberately and systematically to inflict suffering on civilians, rather than Hamas fighters (see article). Israel’s assertions that, in the difficult circumstances of densely populated Gaza, it planned its military operations carefully and with constant legal advice are taken by the report as evidence not of a concern to uphold international law but of a culpable determination to flout it. Israel’s attempts to drop warning leaflets, direct civilians out of danger zones and call daily humanitarian pauses may well have been inadequate, but the report counts them for nought. As many as 1,400 people died in the fighting. It is a grisly thought, but if Israel really had wanted to make Palestinian civilians suffer, the toll could have been vastly higher.

Israel has argued that Hamas fighters endangered civilians by basing themselves around schools, mosques and hospitals. The mission had Hamas’s co-operation, but its fact-finders could detect little or no evidence for this—despite plenty of reports in the public domain to support it. The report does criticise Hamas for firing rockets indiscriminately into Israel and for using the conflict as cover to settle scores with its Palestinian rivals. But its seemingly wilful blindness to other evidence makes that look like a dash for political cover.

To some, Israel’s Gaza war will always be in principle unjust: a disproportionate response to Hamas’s rockets. Indeed, the suffering in Gaza, from war and the economic blockade, has been grievous. They may be tempted to applaud Mr Goldstone’s report for that reason alone. Yet if the mere fact of Israel’s attack were enough to condemn it then Mr Goldstone’s report was pointless all along. And there is a danger of double standards. American and European forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo also caused thousands of civilian deaths, without attracting a Goldstone.

The pity is that the report frustrates the objective that Israel should be striving for: to hold its politicians and soldiers to the highest standards of Israeli and international law. After its costly war in Lebanon in 2006, Israel plainly chose to minimise its own casualties by using massive firepower in Gaza. It went too far. There have been credible allegations that individual soldiers broke rules banning the use of Palestinian civilians as human shields sent first into properties where fighters may be holed up; that civilians known not to pose any military threat were killed in cold blood and that Israeli forces used white phosphorous over built-up areas. Israel is pursuing 23 criminal investigations so far into the Gaza operations. It must finish the job. Unlike Syria, say, Israel is a democracy that claims to live by the rule of law. It needs to make its case by moral force as well as by force of arms.

The UN report has not come at a good moment. Barack Obama is trying to restart direct talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. The peace process was never going to be easy. With its thimbleful of poison, the Goldstone report has made the job all the harder.


If Obama Is Spock, You Must Be Jewish

I have an idea: let’s start a thread. It began with this article, posted by Bob on his Facebook page. The author proposes an interesting thesis: Barack Obama is America’s first Jewish president.

Obama’s logic-driven pursuit has led many to the Vulcan analogy. When Jewish actor Leonard Nimoy first personified this fictional people, he made a traditional Jewish symbol Vulcan, popularizing the spread-finger gesture of the rabbinic Cohanim.

Which, of course, led to this:

And this:

They’re not just talking about the ears. For those of us who watched the show in the 1960s (or during the countless reruns since), Nimoy’s alter ego was the harbinger of a future in which logic would reign over emotion, and rational thought triumph over blind faith. He was a digital being in an analog world; the Pied Piper who led our generation into the Silicon Age.

This was all pretty obvious from the president’s Rosh Hashanah greeting, though. If you look closely, you can see his horns.

The Teabagger Socialist-Free Purity Pledge

Well, Pharyngula is my new favorite blog, replacing the much overrated Pariz Hylton. 

This pledge is mainly a list of things in the United States run (or made possible) by the government of this country (by which I mean the United States of America, not Italy). Now that so many Americans are apparently opposed to their own government, this is worth examining in some detail. The authors of this document, thankfully, have both the time and inclination that I don’t.

This list reminds me of all the things one must boycott if one is to seriously boycott the State of Israel, as opposed to changing the color of one’s avatar or updating one’s Facebook status: