He’s Dead.

December 29, 2006

The blogosphere is raging with the news of Saddam Hussein’s death.  A sampling of the fascinating reactions:

CNN says yep, he’s dead, and describes celebrations around the body.

Brian says the death should not be celebrated because the act of invading a country, deposing its leader, and executing him sets a terrible precedent.

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Animals, AIDS and Evolutionary Epistemology

December 29, 2006

Peter Singer writes in the India Times about how certain aspects of American democracy hinder the movement for animal rights. In this case, it’s nothing “extreme,” just laws that would allow pigs and calves raised for meat to have enough room on their tethers or in their cages to turn around and lie down. Arizona and Florida recently passed measures like these, but Singer points out that America’s lack of federal animal welfare legislation for farm animals is largely a result of political lobbying. Our political parties are relatively weak, forcing candidates to raise their own money for campaigns and therefore making them subject to pressure from special interests. In other countries, where parties fund reelection campaigns, this pressure is less direct.

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A Change of Fortune?

December 29, 2006

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Somali troops representing the UN-recognized government have retaken Mogadishu from the Islamist rebel government, the capital of Somalia. This is a striking reversal in the often-dark recent history of Somalia, a country in the horn of Africa, bordering Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti (see a map of the region).

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The Arithmetic of Souls

December 29, 2006

(A continuation of the oh-so-controversial “Souls on Ice” post I made back in October.)

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So That Reminds Me…

December 27, 2006

My last post made me remember a joke I heard a while back.

Once upon a time there was a devout rabbi who was followed everywhere by his flock of trids. (Trids, you ask? Yes, they’re halfway between birds and kids that speed Yiddish.)

One day the rabbi and his trids came to a deep, deep canyon. The only way across was over a narrow, rickety bridge. The first trid bravely set off across the bridge to be sure if was safe for the much heavier trids and rabbi after him. Just when he was halfway across, the giant troll that lived under the bridge swung up and kicked him off into the void.

The next trid started across, got halfway, and was promptly kicked off the bridge as well. The other trids followed one by one, filled with a triddish rage that was terrible to behold. Finally, all of the cute like trids had been kicked off to their terrible demise.

The rabbi, grieving and pulling at his beard, began to make his way across the bridge, fully expecting to be kicked off to join his trids. But the evil bridge troll didn’t kick him at all. He simply swung out of the way, allowing the good man to pass.

“But why, oh bridge troll, did you kick off all of my trids one by one, but less me pass by to live forever without them?” the rabbi wailed.

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The Apostate Messiah

December 27, 2006

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Here’s a (relatively) little known historical episode, as related by Karen Armstrong in A History of God. In the 17th century a Jew named Sabbetai Zevi proclaimed himself to be the Messiah. Sabbetai (one of many spellings) was embraced by both rabbis and common Jews, throughout Europe and elsewhere.

Sabbetai Zevi grew up in the Jewish community in Smyrna, in what is today Turkey. Today he would probably be diagnosed as manic-depressive, as he had “periods of deep despair, when he used to withdraw from his family and live in seclusion” which were followed by “an elation that bordered on ecstasy.” During his manic days Sabbetai would “deliberately and spectacularly break the Law of Moses: he would publicly eat forbidden foods, utter the sacred Name of God and claim that he had been inspired to do so by a special revelation.”

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Auschwitz: God on Trial

December 23, 2006

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(Merry Christmas)

While I haven’t read Elie Wiesel’s The Trial of God, I have read his Night. I found Night to be one of the most ghastly things I’ve ever read, due to its simple descriptions and basis in the reality of the Holocaust. In Night, Elie Wiesel describes the hanging of a child in Auschwitz. In A History of God, Karen Armstrong describes the episode thus:

It took the child half an hour to die, while the prisoners were forced to look him in the face. The same man asked again: “Where is God now?” And Wiesel heard a voice within him make this answer: “Where is He? Here He is—He is hanging here on this gallows.”

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