What I’m Reading, February 24, 2015

The First Victims of the First Crusade, Susan Jacoby, New York Times, February 13, 2015

The message from the medieval past is that religious violence seldom limits itself to one target and expands to reach the maximum number of available victims.


Cultural ignoramuses portrayed President Obama’s references to the Crusades and the Inquisition at the recent National Prayer Breakfast as an excuse for Islamic terrorism, but the president’s allusions could and should have been used as an opportunity to reflect on the special damage inflicted in many historical contexts by warriors seeking conquest in the name of their god.


Thomas Asbridge, director of the Center for the Study of Islam and the West at the University of London, commented in this newspaper that “we have to be very careful about judging behavior in medieval times by current standards.”

This issue is better judged from the other side of the looking glass. What we actually see today is a standard of medieval behavior upheld by modern fanatics who, like the crusaders, seek both religious and political power through violent means. They offer a ghastly and ghostly reminder of what the Western world might look like had there never been religious reformations, the Enlightenment and, above all, the separation of church and state.

Unreconciled History: Why even victims don’t have the right to rewrite the past, Michael Kinsley, Slate, February 13, 2015 Continue reading


What I’m Reading, February 18, 2015

Conservatives Smear Slain ISIS Hostage Kayla Mueller Because She Cared About Palestinians Too, Zaid Jilani, AlterNet, February 11, 2015

26 year-old Kayla Mueller accomplished much before her death while in ISIS custody. She traveled the world, working for various international nonprofits. By all accounts, she was a big-hearted humanitarian and represented the best of America’s values abroad.

But all of that is unimportant to a group of Islamophobic conservatives who took issue with Mueller’s advocacy for the Palestinian cause – which included joining protests against the Israeli occupation.

SF/F Saturday: The Years of Rice and Salt, Adam Lee, Daylight Atheism, November 15, 2014 Continue reading


What I’m Reading, February 4, 2015

Marshawn Lynch and Richard Sherman Are Black Heroes, Jaleesa Jones, Huffington Post, January 30, 2015

The systematic iteration of the word “thug” in reference to black bodies is problematic because it perpetuates white supremacist ideologies about black people, namely that we are pathological, violent and lawless.

I’ve grown particularly weary of the phrase recently as the media have lampooned Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman and running back Marshawn Lynch with it.

The duo presents an interesting case study as both have been labelled “thugs” for polar reasons.

Sherman has been criticized for his “arrogance,” from his assertion that he’s “the best corner in the game” to his refusal to entertain inane questions. Conversely, Lynch has been attacked for his ostensible unwillingness to speak to the press. Of note, media have tended to practice selective attention — effectively ignoring friends’ speculation that Lynch has a fear of public speaking and is wary of sharing his intimate thoughts and disadvantaged past with strangers — and write Lynch off as stony and impersonal, even inhospitable.

Death of a Boogeyman: Why We Must Dispel the Black Fatherhood Myth, Goldie Taylor, Blue Nation Review, January 30, 2015 Continue reading


Losing the War of Ideas

I haven’t written anything about the war in Gaza over the past few weeks, but I’ve gotten in more than a few arguments with people about it. One thing I hear a lot is that the Palestinians are winning the “PR war,” as though this were all a matter of messaging. This bit of news suggests that, whether or not the Palestinians are “winning” anything relating to PR, Israel isn’t doing so well at it.

Henk Zanoli, a 91-year-old Dutch attorney who in 1943 saved a Jewish boy from the Nazis, has returned to Israel the “Righteous among the Nations” medal awarded him three years ago by the Yad Vashem museum. Zanoli’s mother had sheltered the boy, Elchanan Pinto, at risk to her own life, until the end of the war.

Zanoli’s grand-niece married a Palestinian, Ismail Ziadah, who had a house in Gaza where some of his relatives continued to reside. On July 20, an Israeli fighter jet bombed Ziadah’s home, killing his mother, three of his brothers, his sister-in-law and a nephew. These were, as Zanoli noted in his letter to the Israeli ambassador to the Netherlands, the blood relatives of Zanoli’s mother’s own descendants: “The great- great grandchildren of my mother have lost their grandmother, three uncles, an aunt and a cousin at the hands of the Israeli army…”


What I’m Reading, April 15, 2014

"Dragons famili" by mapazhe [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/)], via deviantARTHow We Won the War on Dungeons & Dragons, Annalee Newitz, io9, March 26, 2014

[U]nlike my fantasy of being a hot half-elf, the Christians actually had some control over our lives. My best friend got kicked out of Catholic school for playing D&D, which we counted as a win because it meant she could come to our shitty public school and play D&D with us. Outside our southern California town, however, D&D players weren’t getting off so easily. They were ostracized by their peers, kicked out of public schools, and sent to glorified reeducation camps by parents who feared their children were about to start sacrificing babies to Lolth the spider demon.

It sounds crazy in our world today, where there are Dungeons & Dragons movies and a rich game industry full of titles inspired by those old paper-and-dice games we played back in the twentieth century. One of the most popular shows on television, Game of Thrones, features plots that my friends and I might have cooked up back on that playground at lunch. Somehow, the popularity of epic fantasy and role playing overcame America’s fear of young people making up stories about monsters and gods.

The Cost Of Permission Culture: Or Why Netflix Streaming Library Sucks Compared To Its DVD Library, Parker Higgins, TechDirt, April 9, 2014

The problem is that, unlike earlier movie-rental options, streaming rights fall fundamentally within a permission culture. Netflix is a great illustration of what’s gone wrong here. It’s gone from having a nearly unrivaled catalog of films available to rent to being the butt of Onion jokes. What happened: It shifted from a system where nobody had a veto power over its operations, to one where it had to get permission and make deals with Hollywood. Sometimes it’s difficult to find the concrete costs of living in a permission culture, but the decline of Netflix’s selection is an important cautionary tale.

Physicist surprised to see himself in ‘documentary’ claiming the sun revolves around the earth, Robyn Pennacchia, Death and Taxes, April 8, 2014

Like any other Christian pseudoscience theory, geocentrism is built upon the premise that humans are special and earth is special and God made them special, so any science conflicting with that must be wrong. Like, probably Satan somehow made it look like the earth is really old and revolves around the sun just to destroy our self-esteem. The film makes this premise clear, with its suggested hashtag, #areyousignificant.

How Hatred of Islam Creates Strange Bedfellows of Christians and Atheists, CJ Werleman, AlterNet, April 11, 2014

Despite claims by David Silverman, president of the 501(c4) political lobby group American Atheists, atheism does not earn an atheist the title of freethinker. With very few exceptions, movement atheists are not. They’re parrots. Don’t believe me? Ask an atheist to opine on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, and he or she will invariably wax lyrical about religious motivated violence, Islamic extremism and suicide bombers. In other words, expect a recital from atheist luminaries Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens.


Atheists, myself included, enjoy mocking religious fundamentalists for their inability to question authority or dogma. But very few atheists sound dissimilar to the aforementioned atheist heavyweights when it comes to assessing the roots of Islamic terrorism. In the aftermath of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, American Atheists president Silverman tweeted, “Dear Peaceful Muslims: Sorry, but yet, that IS your Islam and your Prophet’s followers.” Silverman included the hashtag #IslamIsBarbaric. If you were told neo-con firebrand Ann Coulter had posted this careless tweet, you would have believed it.

No doubt, Harris (neuroscience) and Dawkins (evolutionary biology) are leaders in their respective fields. What they’re not is experts on terrorism and the Middle East. So movement atheism needs to stop pretending like they are, because the words of Harris, Dawkins and Hitchens serve only to make movement atheists sound like neo-conservatives, Zionists and the Christian Right, which ultimately makes seeking peace even harder to attain.

[Ed. note: The URL slug for the above article is “how-atheists-are-complicit-atrocities-and-oppression-palestinian-people.” Just thought that was worth noting.]

Photo credit: “Dragons famili” by mapazhe [CC BY 3.0], via deviantART.


This Week in WTF? August 17, 2012

godwincat-thumb-298x319-155479– A fan of right-wing faux-historian David Barton Godwins himself, and not even subtly (cf. Godwin’s Law.)

– A lost parakeet in Japan named Piko-chan is reunited with his owner after telling police its address.

– Authorities in Kazan, capital of Tatarstan, Russia, have found a Muslim sect (some might say “cult”) literally underground:

Seventy members of an Islamist sect have been discovered living in an eight-level underground bunker without heat for more than a decade, just outside the city of Kazan, Russia.

The BBC says four members of a breakaway Muslim sect have been charged with cruelty against children for keeping them underground in catacomb-like cells without heat. Many had never seen sunlight.

Police discovered the sub-terranean community in the Tatarstan region, a mainly Muslim area on the Volga River, during an investigation into recent attacks on Muslim clerics in the region.

Some of the children, aged between one and seventeen had never left the compound, gone to school or treated by a doctor.

A more nuanced view of the compound, suggesting (or hinting) that Russian authorities have exaggerated the conditions in order “to show they are cracking down on radical Islamic groups” comes from The Blaze, of all places.

– Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men in Israel have the latest cutting-edge technology to protect them from seeing hotties out on the street:

New prescription glasses that blur out temptress daughters of Eve are now available for ultra-Orthodox Jewish men in Israel whose religious beliefs require that they strictly avoid contact with women in public, especially “immodestly” dressed women.

The new glasses allow ultra-Orthodox men to maintain a strictly devout lifestyle that prescribes segregation of the sexes on buses, streets, restaurants, parks and other public spaces. According to the ultra-Orthodox interpretation of Jewish law, all contact between unmarried men and women is forbidden.

The Associated Press reports that the ultra-Orthodox community’s “modesty patrols” are selling the glasses equipped with special blur-inducing stickers on their lenses. The glasses allow for clear vision only up to a few meters but all objects beyond that range are blurry.

I have two thoughts on this: (1) This is a far preferable solution, as opposed to trying to dictate what Israeli women must wear or where they can sit. (2) It is very hard not to point out the symbolism of special glasses for ultra-religious individuals that only allow them to see a few feet in front of themselves.

– A newfangled 3D printer in Japan will create a replica of your unborn fetus. As Allegra Tepper at Mashable notes, “It’s kind of like a snow globe — of your unborn child.” So, uh, not creepy at all…

– A civilian contractor, with the oddly-appropriate surname Fury, faces two federal counts of arson for allegedly setting two fires on or near the nuclear submarine USS Miami. The fire on board the sub reportedly caused $400 million in damage and took twelve hours to extinguish. The prosecution is claiming that he set at least one of the fires so he could leave work early. The judge is keeping him in jail until trial.

– Medical marijuana activists sent fake letters, purporting to be from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, to pharmacies in San Diego warning them that they would be shut down within forty-five days. The point of the hoax, apparently, was to highlight U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy’s mission to shut down medical marijuana dispensaries around California (presumably because drugs are bad, mmmkay?), and the disparate treatment pharmacies receive from federal authorities compared to dispensaries. Hard to argue with the message, but the tactic seems very junior high.

Photo credit: Godwin Cat, via dollymix.tv.