Happy Mother’s Day to the Virgins

I’ve been listening to (excellent) lectures on Classical mythology by Professor Kathryn McClymond. One thing that I learned is that Remus and Romulus were described in some Roman sources as having been born to a virgin who was miraculously impregnated by a god (Mars). There may also have been a solar eclipse on the day of their birth. It turns out that the story of a virgin birth is older than the New Testament. Signs from the stars and a virgin birth were markers of future greatness for a variety of young heroes in the ancient world.

(The full course is “Great Mythologies of the World”, available from Audible.)

So Happy Mother’s Day to all of the readers who identify as mothers, including the virgins!

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Was there a golden age of religious coexistence?

“Religious Minorities Across Asia Suffer Amid Surge in Sectarian Politics” (nytimes), first three paragraphs:

The deadly attacks in Sri Lanka on Sunday highlighted how easily religious coexistence can be ripped apart in a region where secularism is weakening amid the growing appeal of a politics based on ethnic and sectarian identity.

In India, the country’s governing right-wing Hindu party is exploiting faith for votes, pushing an us-versus-them philosophy that has left Muslims fearing they will be lynched if they walk alone.

In Myanmar, the country’s Buddhist generals have orchestrated a terrifying campaign of ethnic cleansing against the country’s Rohingya Muslims.

(the reader who did not scroll to read the entire article would infer that Muslims were the victims of the recent sad events in Sri Lanka, according to the NYT.)

This is the “news” section of the paper, not “opinion.” There is an implicit factual assertion that there were some good old days of religious coexistence. Everyone in Asia had one of those “coexist” bumper stickers:

Is this assertion true? The “two-nation theory” that led to the partition of India (millions killed and/or displaced) started in the 19th century.

Has secularism “weakened” in the region since 1947 when 14 million people were displaced on the theory that Muslims should not have to live among Hindus?

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Passover thoughts on slavery in Egypt

From lectures that I’ve heard by scholars of Ancient Egypt, U.S.-style plantation slavery was not common in that society. A person referred to as a “slave” in Ancient Egypt may simply have been subject to paying a 20 percent income tax, for example, that “free” citizens were not subject to.

As noted in Wikipedia, there is minimal support for the historical truth of the Exodus story in the (otherwise excellent) written records of Ancient Egypt.

Suppose that Jews were indeed once “slaves” in Egypt, i.e., subject to higher-than-usual taxes. How would they be doing in modern times? PwC says that Egypt has a personal income tax rate that tops out at 22.5 percent. Compare to Israel at 50 percent and the U.S. at potentially over 50 percent (broken up into 37 percent federal and 13.3 California state income tax, for example).

Is this sort of like the founding myth of the U.S.? We tell K-12 children in our government-run schools that we started at war against Great Britain because of cruel and high taxation yet now the UK has lower taxes than the U.S. in a lot of areas, e.g., for entrepreneurs whose total tax bill of 10 percent in the UK will be lower than their state tax bill alone in California.

Oh yes, as long as we’re talking about Britain and Passover, as the Labour Party would say… “Happy Passover to readers who are practicing Jewcraft!”

[Separately, what about creating a Shmura Cheez-It Matzah cracker? Everyone likes Cheez-Its, right? And they’re not all that bread-like.]

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New York Times tells Muslims how to be Muslim

“Brunei’s Royal Barbarity and Hypocrisy” is from the New York Times Editorial Board:

The oil-rich sultanate imposes harsh Shariah law on its subjects, while members of the royal family enjoy lives of conspicuous luxury.

Brunei’s cruel, inhuman and degrading penalties are not a relic of history, like the sodomy laws that stayed on the books of American states well into the 20th century, but the whim of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, 72, who has ruled the Lilliputian nation since 1967 and ranks among the most ludicrously wealthy people on earth. He has long pushed his predominantly Muslim nation toward a conservative and restrictive form of Islam, and he first announced the new penalties — which, in addition to death by stoning for gay male sex, include amputation for theft and 40 lashes for lesbian sex — six years ago.

Besides the barbarity of the penalties, there is the danger that the law could nudge neighboring Islamic giants Malaysia and Indonesia toward tightening their own national or regional versions of Shariah laws targeting homosexuals.

The biographies of the authors do not suggest any expert knowledge of Islam or Shariah law. What qualifies these folks to tell Muslims in Brunei how to organize their lives in accordance with Islam? Is this “Amerisplaining”?

Also interesting… “The U.S. Immigration System May Have Reached a Breaking Point” (nytimes), from the same newspaper that said, three months ago, Donald Trump had manufactured a crisis. Now it seems that the “crisis” started five years ago:

The very nature of immigration to America changed after 2014, when families first began showing up in large numbers. The resulting crisis has overwhelmed a system unable to detain, care for and quickly decide the fate of tens of thousands of people who claim to be fleeing for their lives. … The country is now unable to provide either the necessary humanitarian relief for desperate migrants or even basic controls on the number and nature of who is entering the United States.

Trump is on the wrong track, as usual:

Mr. Trump has insisted on simply trying to stop people from getting into the country in the first place — a policy of deterrence that not only has failed but has made the problem worse.

Only a rookie would try to stop people from crossing the border into the U.S. by trying to stop them from crossing the border!

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Bulletin board at the Lutheran chuch

From University Lutheran Church in Harvard Square. Small sign to fit small window:

Why don’t black lives matter enough for a big banner down the side of the building?

Ever wonder about the difference between “use” and “utilize”? This sign should help:

Concerned about starving Venezuelans? It is the “hundreds of thousands of federal workers” whose paychecks are delayed for whom you should worry. Also that “this President [has made] numerous statements disparaging our fellow human beings, fellow people of the faith, and all of them children of God.”

Turns out that the God’s Jewish children living in Israel (perpetrators of “colonialism”) might need to be disparaged…

[Martin Luther himself proposed “First, to set fire to their synagogues or schools … This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians …Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed. …” It seems that the majority of Lutherans were supporters of Hitler and National Socialism (not to be confused with the Democratic Socialism espoused by Bernie Sanders and AOC). This church is part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which periodically makes the news for its anti-Israel positions (example). Maybe they can’t forgive Israel for executing fellow Lutheran Adolf Eichmann?]

Need help changing your gender so that you can qualify as an LGBTQ (but not “IA”?) minister?

Some final notes:

Related:

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Can any migrant from an Islamic country obtain citizenship in a Western country by saying “I renounce Islam”?

“Saudi teen lands in Canada after fleeing family” (CNN):

A Saudi teen who fled to Thailand to escape her allegedly abusive family has arrived in Canada after being offered asylum there. … Qunun had flown to Thailand from Kuwait to escape her family, saying she feared they would kill her because she renounced Islam.

Could this work for anyone willing to say to a Western official “I don’t think that there is a God”?

The U.S., Canada, Australia, or the European nations are required to offer asylum to anyone with a reasonable fear of persecution, right?

A lot of countries do not allow residents to commit blasphemy or apostasy. See Wikipedia on Freedom of Religion in Saudi Arabia, for example, or this page on how anyone who questions a major religion can be imprisoned for five years in Indonesia. Why couldn’t any of the 264 million folks who live in Indonesia move to Canada or the U.S. tomorrow, saying “I question the truth of all six recognized religions and I could be imprisoned for this if I were to be returned to Indonesia.”? How could a government official in Canada, for example, ever prove that such a declaration of disbelief was false?

Why would anyone from a country in which denying the truth of Islam is punishable bother with any other strategy for obtaining legal residency in a Western welfare state?

Related:

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Jews of Cuba and Cuba-Israel relations

I’d forgotten how prominent Cuba once was on the world stage, but our guide in Havana reminded us that Cuba and Israel are still on bad terms. Wikipedia notes that Cuba was a military ally for Egypt and relations were broken off by Cuba in 1973, when the countries were at comparable levels of economic development. Apparently not enough has changed in the intervening 45 years for relations to be reestablished!

Our guide said that roughly 1,500 Jews remained in Cuba and that most were elderly, the young Jews having emigrated to Israel. These facts are consistent with Wikipedia.

It makes me wonder what the point of having physical embassies might be. If relations were established tomorrow, could it really make sense for cash-strapped Cuba to set up and run an embassy in Israel where almost everything costs more than in the U.S.? Similarly for Israel, why pay someone an Israeli wage to sit around Havana and drink mojitos when almost any conceivable issue between two nations could be negotiated at the UN in New York and/or via Skype?

[A fellow guest at dinner shared her theory that all of the casinos in Cuba were funded with “Jewish money” and that, following the revolution, this money was used to build Las Vegas (see also the Wikipedia history of Las Vegas). That’s one of the beauties of cruising, in my opinion. One is exposed to a much broader range of people and opinions than at home. (This theorist was an African American from Connecticut, retired from a government job.)]

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Christmas versus Hanukkah

Massport enabled a direct comparison of religions with this display at Logan Airport:

10′ Christmas tree and 10″ menorah. That settles it! A hearty Merry Christmas Eve, then, to all readers who celebrate!

If you prefer Islam to Christianity you’ll be pleased to know that Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts has added Islamic verses and symbols to their Christmas Tree:

(“There is no god but God; Muhammad is the Messenger of God” from the Saudi flag, which also features a sword in case there is a need for beheading.  I think the green crescent and star is for the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, but the white stripe doesn’t belong. The red flag is for Turkey.)

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Why did Romans persecute Christians?

SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome:

But to a remarkable and in some ways unexpected degree, the Jews managed to operate within Roman culture. For the Romans, Christianity was far worse. First, it had no ancestral home. In their ordered religious geography, Romans expected deities to be from somewhere: Isis from Egypt, Mithras from Persia, the Jewish god from Judaea. The Christian god was rootless, claimed to be universal and sought more adherents. All kinds of mystical moments of enlightenment might attract new worshippers to (say) the religion of Isis. But Christianity was defined entirely by a process of spiritual conversion that was utterly new. What is more, some Christians were preaching values that threatened to overturn some of the most fundamental Greco-Roman assumptions about the nature of the world and of the people within it: that poverty, for example, was good; or that the body was to be tamed or rejected rather than cared for. All these factors help to explain the worries, confusion and hostility of Pliny and others like him. At the same time, the success of Christianity was rooted in the Roman Empire, in its territorial extent, in the mobility that it promoted, in its towns and its cultural mix. From Pliny’s Bithynia to Perpetua’s Carthage, Christianity spread from its small-scale origins in Judaea largely because of the channels of communication across the Mediterranean world that the Roman Empire had opened up and because of the movement through those channels of people, goods, books and ideas. The irony is that the only religion that the Romans ever attempted to eradicate was the one whose success their empire made possible and which grew up entirely within the Roman world.

More: read SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome

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European fears about Jews confirmed

Now that I’m back in provincial Boston, one conversation from Bryce Canyon still resonates.  I got into a conversation with a political science professor who was originally from France.  How could he have foresaken a thousand years of culture and moved to the land of fast food and the strip mall?  He said, “I didn’t want my children to end up living in a Muslim dictatorship.”  How was that possible, I inquired?  “If you look at the demographic trends, the Muslims in France will grow to 30 percent of the population within 50 to 100 years.  An average French couple has less than two children.  An average North African Muslim family or Palestinian couple will have 7 or 8 children.  Through immigration and the high birth rate of Muslims already in France, it won’t be long before Muslims are the largest voting bloc.  Most citizens don’t know what they want from the government and many don’t vote at all.  A relatively small but well-organized and coherent group of voters can easily take control of a democracy.”  (See “Muslims remaking old France” from the April 10, 2003 International Herald Tribune/New York Times for more on Islamic France.)


I was reminded of some conversations from my May trip to Wales, Scotland, and northern England.  The British middle class folks with whom I’d talked were concerned about the extent to which their country is being transformed by immigrants.  “I’m not saying that I agree with them completely,” one Welshman said of the far-right anti-immigration parties in the UK, “but I can understand where they’re coming from.  I hate going to London.  All of the signs are in Arabic.  Women walk around wearing veils.  It feels like a foreign country.”


What particularly irked the British, whose standard of living is just about the lowest in the EU (the UK is slightly ahead of Spain and Portugal but almost all of its wealth is concentrated near London), is paying taxes to support “asylum seekers”, which is the EU term for illegal immigrant.  If an Afghani, for example, manages to set foot on English soil the EU law gives him a fundamental human right to remain in England at taxpayer expense: apartment in London, food, health care, etc.  In the U.S. to get political asylum he’d have to have been the head of a banned opposition party but in England he can simply claim that the local police don’t like him.  If his claim for asylum is denied he loses his rights to live at English taxpayer expense but he doesn’t get deported; he can melt away into the suburbs.  Sometimes the legal arguments that the asylum seekers use are creative.  The latest batch of Afghanis, for example, claim that they were Taliban fighters trying to kill British and American soldiers and therefore if they returned they’d face arrest by the current British and American-backed government in Afghanistan.  (see the February 16, 2003 Telegraph article Taliban refugee still sees the UK as his enemy” for example)


Europeans seem to be suffering from an ironic turn of events:  the fears about Jews that the Europeans manufactured around the turn of the 20th century have become real, 60 years after the Europeans breathed a big sigh of relief.


As soon as Napoleon began the process of letting Jews out of their ghettos, the Europeans began to quake in fear.  Jews would have lots of kids and overwhelm the native population.  Jews would be clannish and keep to themselves rather than assimilating.  Jews would wield control over their politics.  Jews wouldn’t be patriotic.  The reality was quite different, as it transpired.  The Jews had a very low birthrate and a tendency to assimilate (German Jews were the most assimilated).  The Jews had so little influence on foreign policy that they couldn’t persuade any government to act against the pre-WWII Nazis or to bomb the death camps during WWII.  Jews served with such distinction in the German army during WWI that the Nazis had a tough time justifying the dispossession, deportation, and murder of so many decorated veterans.  The manufactured fears dominated thinking, however, to a sufficient extent that nearly every European country was happy to assist the Nazis in the extermination of all of their Jewish citizens.


Fast forward to 2003.  Each traditional European ethnic group ought to be happy, each in its own homogeneous country where everyone shares common values dating back to Roman times.  But much to their consternation the cities seem to be filling up with Muslims.  Statistical birthrate data show that European ethnic groups face a real prospect of becoming demographically irrelevant within their traditional nations. Assimilation is presumably happening but more visible and striking are the thousands of streets that have taken on a purely foreign character with signs in Arabic, Islamic schools, and big mosques.  The threat of local Islamic terrorism is sufficiently frightening that Muslims effectively control many aspects of European foreign policy (see this article on France and Iraq). Europeans don’t even hope for patriotism among their Muslim immigrants, many of whom express an open hatred of the values and structure of their host societies.  How soon, they wonder, will their guests begin to demand a traditional Islamic government and a full implementation of sharia?


So there it is.  Just as they feared, the traditional Europeans do finally appear to be threatened by a fast-growing religious and ethnic minority that constrains their foreign policy and who can’t be relied upon to support their secular governments.  It just happened later than they feared and with a different ethnic group.

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