Articles in section: 'News'

Insult My Mum and I Will Punch You

Pope FrancisHaving objected to his comments in this space at the time, it behooves us to follow up on how Pope Francis’ frankly stupid remarks regarding free speech and respect for religion have already been bearing bitter, if predictable, fruit. It was less than a week after the massacre at the office of Charlie Hebdo last month when Pope Francis, discussing those broader issues with reporters, helpfully explained that if someone insulted his mother “he can expect a punch. It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”

In a protest in London on February 8th—about 3 weeks after the pope said this—thousands of Muslims took to the streets to protest Charlie Hebdo and the use of any expression by anyone to “slander” a figure known as Muhammad, who they believe was a prophet who lived in the 7th century. They bore signs, including many quoting Pope Francis: “Insult my mum and I will punch you.” (Images in Tweet embedded below.) [Read more →]

Pope Francis Punches Out the Wrong Guy

Pope FrancisBarely a week since the Charlie Hebdo massacre and the additional murders that followed, the Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis, has made some remarks on the broader issue of free speech and the appropriate response to insults to one’s religion. According to the Associated Press, he spoke in an interview aboard the papal airplane and opined that there should indeed be limits to free speech, which he illustrated with this example:

If my good friend Dr. Gasparri [an aide to the Pope] says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.
[…]
There are so many people who speak badly about religions or other religions, who make fun of them, who make a game out of the religions of others. They are provocateurs. And what happens to them is what would happen to Dr. Gasparri if he says a curse word against my mother. There is a limit.

It may be surprising to many to hear Pope Francis speak uncritically of punching someone for merely delivering an insult or curse. What happened to turning the other cheek? That was, after all, kind of a big theme with the gentleman who started this whole Christianity racket (in which—full disclosure—yours truly endeavors to sometimes participate). What was his name again? [Read more →]

Pens versus AK-47s and Cartoons versus Atrocities

Je Suis CharlieWhat happened today in Paris at the offices of the publication Charlie Hebdo ought to be a watershed moment that forces just about everyone in what we think of as the free Western world to remember what freedom is, and one that makes the ever growing threats against that freedom no longer possible to deny or excuse. However, a few hours into the watershed moment, it’s not exactly clear that this will the result. There has already been plenty of equivocation, talk of how what the satirists at Charlie Hebdo did was too provocative, and so on. Indeed, it was meant to be provocative, but in a free society provocation by way of ideas and statements should only produce in response other ideas and statements: not riots, not punishment under the law, and not bullets from a Kalashnikov. The spontaneous gathering of people in the streets in France (and around the world) to stand up for those massacred today, symbolically lifting pens into the air, is, on the other hand, a reason to hope that the correct lesson is being drawn by the critical mass of citizens. [Read more →]

For Christmas in New York: Murder

Officers Ramos and LiuRafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were murdered in Brooklyn yesterday, five days before Christmas. They were shot to death as they sat peacefully in their patrol car, eating lunch, and performing duty that would have found them without question coming quickly to the assistance of anyone in trouble in the nearby public housing project, as NYPD officers do on a routine and daily basis. The church that Officer Rafael (Ralph) Ramos regularly attended was reportedly packed this morning with those showing sympathy to his bereaved family. Ramos himself, a devout Christian, was to graduate today from the New York State Chaplain Task Force. His partner, Officer Wenjian Liu, had gotten married just two months ago. He and his bride were described today by a neighborhood acquaintance as having been “quiet and clearly in love.” [Read more →]

Is Ebola Coming for My Dog?

Ebola and dogsIn Spain, a nurse’s aide named Teresa Romero Ramos contracted Ebola from a patient (in a manner that has yet to be confirmed). In response, authorities quarantined her husband, Javier Limon, and three other people. And then today they killed her dog, a twelve-year-old mixed breed named Excalibur. The dog was showing no symptoms, and had not been tested and shown to be carrying the virus. (What message does this send to other desperately-needed health professionals dealing with Ebola victims? Just this: If you contract the disease during your work, your pets will be killed.)

In a funny (although not very “ha-ha”) way, this story may be bringing home the seriousness of Ebola to people who haven’t worried much about it. I think most people have indeed paid attention to it, and been concerned, but those of us living in the West have likely been assuming that this is a Third World disease and that the superior health systems in the developed world will be able to handle and contain it. There is some generalized apprehension, yes, but most individuals are likely not fearful for their own lives. (I think that most of us, at least until we get to a certain age, still regard ourselves as more or less immortal, anyway.) However, this killing of the dog is a little different. It is more mundane, more comprehensible: the government decided the dog needed to be killed, and it was (and this despite burgeoning protests and a petition garnering 350,000 signatories). We may find it hard to picture ourselves dying from Ebola, but we can more easily picture the van pulling up and the government agents arriving to drag our dog off to be euthanized. [Read more →]

Articles of Faith (and How to Commit Genocide and Get Away with It)

Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 18Article 18 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights is simple enough and says the following:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

This document was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1948, and eventually (by 1976) it was included in two larger “Covenants” which were ratified by a sufficient number of member states to take on the force of international law.

Yeah: right. [Read more →]

James Garner 1928 – 2014

James Garner passes aged 86James Garner died over the weekend at the age of eighty-six. As a film and TV actor, he had a remarkably long career, and his passing is provoking tributes from far and wide. But I suppose to people in my own age group (whatever that may be) he’ll always be remembered and loved first and foremost for the character of Jim Rockford, private investigator, a character created and written for him and which he played so incredibly well and clearly relished.

It’s difficult to re-imagine my own childhood without The Rockford Files in it, and I daresay it must be the same for many others. Sure: it was just one of a bunch of detective shows on TV (and the 1970s produced some great television) but there was something special about Rockford. Who couldn’t relate to him? He was no superhero; he broke the rules, wisecracked his way out of situations, was unafraid to show fear for his own skin, worked for the pay-off but—you always knew—had heart of gold underneath his jaded exterior that prevented him from ultimately doing anything truly wrong and mean. It was a somewhat different portrayal of manliness from some other popular ones on the screen, to be sure, but it still was manliness; he was not a weasel. [Read more →]

The World Dithers While Israel Fights

JihadIn Nigeria, the jihadist group Boko Haram is reported to have massacred at least 100 people a few days ago while attacking, taking over and largely burning down a town named Damboa. They gunned people down as they fled their firebombed homes. The official death toll is naturally expected to increase. Of-course, they’ve been massacring many thousands—mainly Christians—for a very long time now. What you might call their “vision of Islam” involves eliminating all Western and non-Islamic influences, so schools and students have all along been favored targets. The world briefly paid closer attention when, in April of this year, instead of simply massacring people they chose to kidnap some: more than 200 schoolgirls. Twitter hashtags were brought to bear against the group by those concerned in the world-at-large, but so far the jihadists have only responded with more massacres, destruction and kidnappings. (Perhaps improved WiFi access in the area would better get the message across?) So, aside from token measures, the world wrings its hands. [Read more →]

Elaine Stritch and “Two’s Company”

Elaine Stritch & Two's CompanyMentioning to my better half this morning that actress Elaine Stritch had just died, she asked, as people do in these situations, how old she had been. (The day before someone dies, no one cares how old they are, but, once they kick the bucket, it’s an important fact for us to obtain.) I said that the paper reported she was eighty-nine years-old, but that this had surprised me: I would’ve thought she must be at least one hundred and twenty, because when I watched her on TV many decades ago she already seemed older than the Devil, at least to my eight-year-old eyes. But my wife hadn’t seen her on TV back then. I, unlike she, was residing in Ireland when Elaine Stritch starred in a sitcom called “Two’s Company” on a British television network, which we picked up over the airwaves. The series was likely rebroadcast in the U.S. somewhere at some point but apparently had not become terribly well known.

The media is full of those paying articulate tribute to Stritch as a legend of Broadway and the stage, but I can’t do that, having never seen her perform live. I do have a lot of respect for those who pour their chief energies and talent into live performances that exist in the moment and live on only in the memories (and reviews) of those who saw them. Elaine Stritch did some other screen work (recently a role on a show I’ve never seen named “30 Rock”) but all I really know her from is this English sitcom, and, while I was not writing reviews back then, I guess her presence and performance was sufficient so that I always remembered her name and her face. [Read more →]

A Young Punk, a Knife and an Elderly Couple

Punk, Knife, Elderly CoupleIt’s a bloody and unspeakable vignette far too common in America and in this broken world generally. A 25-year-old man had been doing odd jobs in a neighborhood in Springfield Township, in the state of Ohio, including for a 92-year-old World War II veteran named Hugh, and his wife Ruby, aged 89. Apparently he got the idea that they might have a lot of cash in their home. One day he knocked on their door, which was opened by the frail 89-year-old Ruby. He made pleasant small talk, saying he’d soon be going to college, which made Ruby very glad. Then he asked if he could come in to use their telephone. On being ushered in, he talked with Ruby’s husband, Hugh, while she left the room. When she returned a minute later, she saw to her horror that he was wielding a knife and demanding money. Hugh was enraged, telling the young thug to “go to hell.” The punk swung the knife, slashing the elderly WWII veteran in the face and throat. He died on the floor from his wounds. The attacker then stabbed Ruby, pushing her to the ground. Then he apparently grabbed what he could find in the space of a few minutes. Cops who later picked him up—still in possession of the elderly couple’s credit cards and Ruby’s wedding and engagement rings—estimated that he basically had gotten away with a couple of hundred dollars in cash. Ruby survived long enough to describe to the police what had occurred, but died a week after the brutal attack. [Read more →]

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