Researchers at Kwansei Gakuin University in Japan have been investigating whether rats are helpful to one another in times of trouble, and to what extent it might be said that they possess powers of empathy. To that end, they performed a series of experiments with rats in cages separated by a door that the rats could learn to open with their paws. They demonstrated that, in ordinary circumstances, a rat would not open the door to enable entry for another rat in the separate area of the cage. However, if the other rat were in distress—specifically by virtue of struggling in a pool of water—the rat in the dry area would tend to figure out how to open the door and allow that distressed rat inside to safety. Continue reading A Rat in Need …
We live in an age of near total surveillance. For my own part I live in New York City, where I know I can’t walk fifty feet without being recorded on someone’s camera. But far beyond that, we know that the “intelligence community” has access to all of our digital communications and activities, and likely our analog ones as well. We are given to understand that all of this is the price we must pay for safety, in order to thwart would-be terrorist attacks.
Being “under surveillance” meant something different back in the old days, when the entire population wasn’t being subjected to it. Remember the quaint concept of being tailed? That meant an actual human being would be watching where you went and what you did, from a discreet distance. We’ve all seen the old movies and cop shows, with the guy outside in his car, keeping his head down and going through endless cups of coffee, pastrami-on-rye sandwiches and cigarettes. Continue reading “Under Surveillance”
We might have woken up to news of dozens of people shot to death at a cartoon exhibition in Texas, with scenes of corpses and pools of blood, and triumphant announcements from jihadists declaring that the “honor of the prophet” had been avenged, in a repeat of events that occurred on January 7th, 2015 in Paris, France. Instead, thanks to the good shooting skills of some members of the Garland, Texas police department*, two would-be enforcers of the rules of Islamic sharia are dead, having only managed themselves to wound a security guard before they and their AK-47s fell to the ground. And may that security guard have a speedy and complete recovery. Continue reading Jihad in Garland, Texas
I am continually and genuinely perplexed when major Christian institutions—whether that be particular Protestant denominations or indeed the great Roman Catholic Church—seem to go out of their way to take official positions on matters of international relations that specifically run counter to the expressed security interests of the people of Israel. It is not at all that I think these churches ought to reflexively support the line of the Israeli government of the moment, but rather that I cannot understand why they feel obliged to put themselves out there officially on the given issue at all, versus merely doing what religious teachers are after all most qualified to do, which is to lead people in prayer for good and peaceful outcomes. Some of us Christians actually devoutly believe in the real power of prayer and conversely have much less faith in the power of bishops and priests to make accurate judgments on matters pertaining to hard-nosed international diplomacy, economics and military strategies. (Call us crazy.) Continue reading The Strange Inclination of Christian Church Institutions Against Israel
Having 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.) Continue reading Insult My Mum and I Will Punch You
Barely 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? Continue reading Pope Francis Punches Out the Wrong Guy
What 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. Continue reading Pens versus AK-47s and Cartoons versus Atrocities
Rafael 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.” Continue reading For Christmas in New York: Murder
In 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. Continue reading Is Ebola Coming for My Dog?
Article 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.