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Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

“When Pawel looks into the mirror, he can still sometimes see a neo-Nazi skinhead staring back, the man he was before he covered his shaved head with a skullcap, traded his fascist ideology for the Torah and renounced violence and hatred in favor of God.

“‘I still struggle every day to discard my past ideas,’ said Pawel, a 33-year-old ultra-Orthodox Jew and former truck driver, noting with little irony that he had to stop hating Jews in order to become one. ‘When I look at an old picture of myself as a skinhead, I feel ashamed. Every day I try and do teshuvah,’ he said, using the Hebrew word for repentance. ‘Every minute of every day. There is a lot to make up for.’

“Pawel, who also uses his Hebrew name Pinchas, asked that his last name not be used for fear that his old neo-Nazi friends could harm him or his family.

“Twenty years after the fall of Communism, Pawel is perhaps the most unlikely example of the Jewish revival under way in Poland, of a moment in which Jewish leaders here say the country is finally showing solid signs of shedding the rabid anti-Semitism of the past.” (cont’d @ NY Times)

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“The Polish police said Friday that the iron sign over the gate to the Auschwitz memorial with the infamous phrase ‘arbeit macht frei’ — ‘work sets you free’ — has been stolen.

“Katarzyna Padlo, a police spokeswoman, said the police believe it was taken between 3:30 a.m. and 5 a.m. Friday.

“Ms. Padlo, who was quoted by The Associated Press, said the sign over the main entrance to Auschwitz, the former Nazi death camp in southern Poland, near Krakow, was removed by being unscrewed on one side and pulled off on the other. She said the authorities immediately launched an intensive search.

“The sign was erected soon after Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi extermination camp, was built in May 1940, and more than a million people died during the four-and-a-half years of Auschwitz’s existence. The victims were mainly Jewish men, women and children but included Polish political prisoners, Soviet prisoners of war, Roma families, gay men and lesbians, people with disabilities and prisoners of conscience.

“The camp was liberated by the Red Army on Jan. 27, 1945.” (cont’d @ NY Times)

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Anti-Nazi and Anti-Papal graffiti, Rome, Italy (May, 2009) [Click images to enlarge]

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“In a 21st-century version of the age of discovery, teams of computer scientists, conservationists and scholars are fanning out across the globe in a race to digitize crumbling literary treasures.

“In the process, they’re uncovering unexpected troves of new finds, including never-before-seen versios of the Christian Gospels, fragments of Greek poetry and commentaries on Aristotle. Improved technology is allowing researchers to scan ancient texts that were once unreadable — blackened in fires or by chemical erosion, painted over or simply too fragile to unroll. Now, scholars are studying these works with X-ray fluorescence, multispectral imaging used by NASA to photograph Mars and CAT scans used by medical technicians.

“A Benedictine monk from Minnesota is scouring libraries in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Georgia for rare, ancient Christian manuscripts that are threatened by wars and black-market looters; so far, more than 16,500 of his finds have been digitized. This summer, a professor of computer science at the University of Kentucky plans to test 3-D X-ray scanning on two papyrus scrolls from Pompeii that were charred by volcanic ash in 79 A.D. Scholars have never before been able to read or even open the scrolls, which now sit in the French National Institute in Paris.” (cont’d @ Wall Street Journal)

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killingfieldHolocaust deniers aside, the world is not ignorant of the systematic Nazi slaughter of some six million Jews in World War II. People know of the gas chambers in Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen; many have heard of the tens of thousands shot dead in the Ukrainian ravine of Babi Yar. But little has been known about the hundreds — perhaps thousands — of smaller killing fields across the former Soviet Union where some 1.5 million Jews met their deaths.

“That is now changing. Over the past few years, the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum and research center in Israel has been investigating those sites, comparing Soviet, German, local and Jewish accounts, cross-checking numbers and methods. The work, gathered under the title ‘The Untold Stories,’ is far from over. But to honor Holocaust Remembrance Day, which starts Monday evening, the research is being made public on the institution’s Web site.” (more @ NY Times)

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The presence of many lethal genetic diseases affecting the brain among Ashkenazi Jews may also increase their intelligence – so say Gregory Cochran (bottom), a physicist and genetics buff, and geneticist Henry Harpending (top), authors of the recently published, The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution.

From the Los Angeles Times:

“The biological basis for intelligence can be a thankless arena of inquiry. The authors of ‘The Bell Curve’ were vilified 15 years ago for suggesting genes played a role in IQ differences among racial groups.

“But Cochran, 55, and Harpending, 65, say there’s no question that as a whole, Ashkenazi Jews — those of European descent — have an abundance of brain power. (Neither man is Jewish.)

“Psychologists and educational researchers have pegged their average IQ at 107.5 to 115. That’s only modestly higher than the overall European average of 100, but the gap is large enough to produce a huge difference in the proportion of geniuses. When a group’s average IQ is 100, the percentage of people above 140 is 0.4%; when the average is 110, the genius rate is 2.3%.

“Though Jews make up less than 3% of the U.S. population, they have won more than 25% of the Nobel Prizes awarded to American scientists since 1950, account for 20% of this country’s chief executives and make up 22% of Ivy League students, the pair write.” (more @ LA Times)

RelatedAre Jews Smarter?

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andrew-sullivan“Andrew Sullivan’s story is inherently implausible. How did an HIV-positive gay Catholic conservative from the poky English town of East Grinstead end up as one of the most powerful writers in America?

“Today his blog, the Daily Dish, is regularly named as one of the most influential in America, and in November it reached 23m hits in the month. Politicians from Condoleezza Rice to Barack Obama himself have courted Sullivan in the hope of friendly posts. After he moved his blog to the website of the venerable Atlantic Monthly magazine, the traffic there rose by 30%.

“This is all the stranger since—unlike other big-name bloggers such as the liberal-Democratic Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos or the libertarian Republican Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit — he has no obvious political constituency. Sullivan is regarded by his critics as an attention-deficit bundle of contradictions. He is a conservative Christian who rages against the self-proclaimed forces of conservative Christianity. He is a pioneering crusader for gay marriage savaged by the gay left as ‘chief faggot’, herding homosexuals on behalf of The Patriarchy. He admits: ‘I’m very uncomfortable with audiences who agree with me… I’ve never really had a place where someone didn’t dispute my right to be there.’ So what is the glue that holds together the blogger-king?” (cont’d @ Intelligent Life)

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girls-gone-wild“A Philadelphia cable network’s early morning broadcast of a Good Friday service at the Vatican abruptly changed to something wildly different – a 30-second ‘Girls Gone Wild ad.

“Comcast spokesman Jeff Alexander says the 2 a.m. Friday programming glitch was due to a required test of the Emergency Alert System. He says such tests are usually done in the overnight hours.

“The test automatically tunes viewers to a preselected channel that would provide information in the event of an emergency. But during tests, the channel airs regular programming, which in this case included a paid advertisement for the racy videos.

“Alexander says the problem affected the network’s entire local area, but only one person called to complain.” (via Huffington Post)

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crumblastsupperRobert Crumb‘s cover for “The Last Supplement to the Whole Earth Catalog,” from Jeremy Barker’s collection of 100+ pop culture adaptations of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper. (more @ Popped Culture,”; via Wired)

[Click image for a larger version of the R. Crumb cover.]

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chabon“Thirty years ago the American Jewish fiction of Philip Roth and Saul Bellow was all about Yiddish insults, blonde shiksas, and getting away from the past. Today’s talented crop of young Jewish writers, such as Nathan Englander, Michael Chabon, and Dara Horn, are weaving tales bound in a newfound ethnic pride that has revitalized Jewish literature in America.” (cont’d @ Vanity Fair)

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“In “Defiance,” a clunky but well-meaning action film set during World War II and starring Daniel Craig, the Bielski brothers save hundreds of fellow Polish Jews by battling Nazis in the Belarussian forest. Directed by Edward Zwick and based on a true story, the movie, released around New Year’s, tried among other things to counter Hollywood’s usual tales of Jewish helplessness during the Shoah.

“Whether it did, or instead implied that Jews who didn’t fight bore a measure of responsibility for their own fate, became a matter of some passing debate in America.

“But the film provoked a different sort of fuss shortly before it arrived here some weeks later. Movie critics in Poland wondered whether Hollywood would ever get around to showing Polish partisans as heroes, as opposed to anti-Semites. . . .

“As Europe diversifies, nearly every nation and culture on the continent seems to battle for victimhood status. Poles have especially good reason to see themselves as long oppressed, having been fought over and occupied for much of the last century by vicious regimes. Shifting political power struggles during and after the war, among other complications of Polish Jewish history, led some Polish Jews at certain points to side with Soviets against Nazis and Polish partisans. The whole moral morass, essential to Polish identity, tends to be lost on outsiders, many of whom unthinkingly regard the country, throughout most of the last century at least, as just a Jewish killing field.” (more @ NY Times)

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cartoon-protest“Prints of the Danish cartoon depicting Islam‘s Prophet Mohammed as a suicide bomber in 2005 — much to the chagrin of the international Muslim community — will now be sold by the Denmark Free Press Society for $250 each. One thousand copies are to be printed and sold, with each having a designated number and signature by the artist, Kurt Westergaard, who has been in hiding due to numerous death threats. . . .

“The controversial cartoons caused riots throughout the Muslim world in early 2006, resulting in a number of deaths, property damage and a general wounding of diplomatic relations between east and west that has still not fully healed.” (more @ Huffington Post)

“Westergaard, 73, is one of 12 cartoonists whose drawings of the Muslim prophet were first published in Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in September 2005, sparking controversy among Muslims worldwide.” (more @ Straits Times)

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alhambra“One of Spain’s most enduring historical mysteries is close to being solved as experts decipher and translate more than 10,000 Arabic inscriptions adorning the walls of the Alhambra palace in Granada.

“The intricate Arabic inscriptions carved into the ceilings, columns and walls inside the imposing hill-top fortress have long fascinated visitors. They contain everything from snatches of poetry and verses from the Qur’an to clever aphorisms, pious wishes and boastful slogans.

“There are so many of them, however, that nobody has ever managed to study each and every one. Now a team of researchers armed with 3D laser scanners and digital imaging software is slowly working its way around the complex recording, transcribing and translating every inscription.

“‘There is probably no other place in the world where studying walls, columns and fountains is so similar to turning the pages of a book,’ said Juan Castilla, of Spain’s Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), who heads the team.” (cont’d @ Guardian UK)

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schindlerpapers“A list of Jews saved from the Nazi death camps during World War II by the German industrialist Oskar Schindler has been found in research notes at an Australian library and will go on public display on Tuesday.

“The list of 801 Jewish men was found among six boxes of papers that belonged to the Australian author Thomas Keneally who wrote the book ‘Schindler’s Ark’ that was the basis for the Oscar-winning film ‘Schindler’s List‘ by Stephen Spielberg. The 13-page, yellowing, document was found tucked between research notes and German newspaper cuttings by a researcher at the New South Wales Library in Sydney sifting through the boxes of manuscripts acquired by the library in 1996.” (more @ Reuters)

RelatedSchindler’s List found in Sydney

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PD*27902069“A German pastor who sought to teach children the Easter message by fashioning bibilical scenes out of specially adapted Playmobil figures has been ordered by the toy maker to dismantle his creations.

“Rev Markus Bomhard, 38, an evangelical preacher from Eschborn, Hesse, glued breasts on to his ‘Eve’ character and even recreated the Passion in plastic, depicting the Crucifixion by using a hairdryer to melt and mould the Christ figure’s hands to a cross.

“But the montage attracted the wrath of Germany’s favourite toy company, which produces the Klicky figures used by the pastor, after a series of pictures were published on the internet.” (more @ Daily Telegraph UK)

Meanwhile . . .

In Great Britain, “A nightclub leaflet showing the late Pope John Paul II holding a bottle of beer and dancing with a blonde woman has been banned.

“The Advertising Standards Authority branded the flyer offensive and ordered it to be removed [sic] a complaint by the Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality (ISCRE) on behalf of angry Poles and Catholics. . . .

“It was distributed to promote a night called Berserk at Club Fire nightclub in Ipswich.” (more @ Daily Telegraph UK)

[Update: (4/9/09) I’ve decided to leave empty the now-broken link where the image of the lecherous Pope leaflet appeared in my post. When the Daily Telegraph updated the article yesterday they apparently deleted the image, no doubt at the request of some “higher authority.” Commentary enough, I think, on the power of  “angry Poles and Catholics.”]

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vampire“Matteo Borrini, an anthropologist from the University of Florence, said the discovery [of a woman’s skull with its mouth agape and a large slab of rock forced into its mouth] on the small island of Lazzaretto Nuovo in the Venice lagoon supported the medieval belief that vampires were behind the spread of plagues like the Black Death.

“‘This is the first time that archaeology has succeeded in reconstructing the ritual of exorcism of a vampire,’ Mr Borrini said. ‘This helps … authenticate how the myth of vampires was born.’

“The skeleton was unearthed in a mass grave from the Venetian plague of 1576 – in which the artist Titian died – on Lazzaretto Nuovo, which lies around 2 miles northeast of Venice and was used as a sanatorium for plague sufferers.

“The succession of plagues which ravaged Europe between 1300 and 1700 fostered the belief in vampires, mainly because the decomposition of corpses was not well understood, Mr Borrini said.” (more @ Daily Telegraph UK)

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Dissent editor Michael Walzer considers the options for Israeli-Palestinian relations in the aftermath of the recent Gaza war: 

“No one can say with any certainty that the two-state solution was viable before the war in Gaza. I can imagine arguments that the war made it more viable and also that it made it less viable. But, really, its viability doesn’t have a lot to do with the immediate strategic/political situation. There isn’t any other solution; this one is unique. People keep coming back to it because there’s no other way to go. It survives, therefore, I guess, it’s viable.

“But it isn’t in great shape right now, even though everyone knows what each side would have to do to realize this solution. The Palestinians have to end their civil war, and form a provisional government that recognizes Israel and represses all terrorist activity. The Israelis have to form a government that recognizes the Palestinians’ right to a state of their own, defeats the settler movement, and begins the evacuation of the settlements.” (more @ Dissent)

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williamsburg_540

“A month after allegations of child sexual abuse surfaced in the mainstream press, the Hasidic community in Brooklyn, N.Y., is taking cautious steps to confront the scandal. Meanwhile, outsiders are tackling the issue head on.

“On Sunday, state Assemblyman Dov Hikind plans to host a community-wide ‘morning of chizuk’ (support) for the alleged victims of abuse. Hikind, an Orthodox Jew who is largely responsible for bringing public attention to the scandal, has recruited rabbis and community leaders to speak at the event, which takes place in Boro Park, the center of the Hasidic district he represents. Some community members believe the gesture is merely symbolic, but Hikind calls the event ‘unprecedented.’

“‘No one has touched this subject before,’ he says. ‘We’re telling the victims we’re sorry we didn’t see your pain before, and we’re turning the corner.'” (via NPR)

[The website for the organization Survivors for Justice, run by “survivors of childhood sexual abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community and their advocates who are committed to offering guidance and support to victims seeking justice through the criminal and civil legal system,” can be found here.]

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porn-computer“Americans may paint themselves in increasingly bright shades of red and blue, but new research finds one thing that varies little across the nation: the liking for online pornography. . . .

“‘When it comes to adult entertainment, it seems people are more the same than different,’ says Benjamin Edelman at Harvard Business School.

“However, there are some trends to be seen in the data. Those states that do consume the most porn tend to be more conservative and religious than states with lower levels of consumption, the study finds.

“‘Some of the people who are most outraged turn out to be consumers of the very things they claimed to be outraged by,’ Edelman says.”

For example:

  • Eight of the top 10 pornography consuming states gave their electoral votes to John McCain in last year’s presidential election
  • Residents of 27 states that passed laws banning gay marriages boasted 11% more porn subscribers than states that don’t explicitly restrict gay marriage.
  • States where a majority of residents agreed with the statement “I have old-fashioned values about family and marriage,” bought 3.6 more subscriptions per thousand people than states where a majority disagreed.
  • A similar difference emerged for the statement “AIDS might be God’s punishment for immoral sexual behaviour.” (via New Scientist)

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margaret-atwood-002“The acclaimed Canadian author Margaret Atwood has pulled out of a Dubai literature festival after the blacklisting of the British novelist Geraldine Bedell for potential offence to ‘cultural sensitivities’.

“Bedell’s novel The Gulf Between Us, a romantic comedy set in a fictional Gulf emirate, was due to receive its official launch at the event, which claims to be the ‘first true literary festival in the Middle East’.

“According to Bedell, organisers were initially keen to feature the book, but then backtracked, citing its discussion of Islam and its focus on the Iraq war, as well as the fact that a minor character is a gay sheikh with an English boyfriend.

“In a letter to Isobel Abulhoul, the festival’s director, Atwood wrote that ‘as an international vice-president of Pen, an organisation concerned with the censorship of writers, I cannot be part of the festival this year’.”

(via The Guardian)

Abulhoul’s response to Atwood’s withdrawal has been published on the Emirates Airline International Festival of Literature website.

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Update

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