Hitch and Maher do Raztinger

America’s most lovable atheist interviews Anglo-America’s most irritating on Pope Benedict’s cover-up crisis, and though it pains Andrew Sullivan to say it, “he’s right, isn’t he?” Moneyquote:

Suppose you and I are having a martini… and I ask you [if you’ve ever been in trouble with the law], and you say, “Well, there was that thing with the joint, and that thing with the traffic light, and there was that time I was really short of money and the bank of Santa Monica…” and I think “OK, all right, we’re all human.”

But if you say, “And I had some friends once who had two little boys, and they trusted me as a babysitter, and, boy, I had a lot of fun with those kids!” And if you say, “Want to have lunch with me next Friday?” No, I don’t. It’s the one crime that no one can think of without vomiting—that’s the one the great moral church wants wiggle room for.

…The Pope, when he did his letter to the Irish on the weekend, you probably saw, everyone reported saying, “Strange he didn’t call for anyone to resign or anyone to be arrested. He only expressed regret.” Well, if he called for anyone to be arrested, or anyone to resign, he’d be starting his own impeachment process, because the reasons they’d have to quit are the reasons he has to quit.

The Ten Commandments redux

Displaying customary humility, atheist showboat Christopher Hitchens takes a stab at re-writing the Ten Commandments in the current Vanity Fair and on YouTube. Andrew Sullivan responds by recalling a parallel attempt by Walt Whitman, in the prose preface to Leaves of Grass:

Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown, or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons, and with the young, and with the mothers or families, re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book, and dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem, and have the richest fluency, not only in its words, but in the silent lines of its lips and face, and between the lashes of your eyes, and in every motion and joint of your body.

As between Moses, Hitch, Walt, and Sully, Walt gets Contrarian’s vote.

Olympic roundup

Contrarian amused himself yesterday by seeing how long a non-sports fan living in Canada without television and with the radio turned off could avoid learning the outcome of the Canada-US hockey game.

Answer: Until a 6:59 p.m. AST email bulletin from the New York Times.

Herewith some of the very few Olympic nuggets that actually tweaked my interest:

What a difference a second makes:

Olympic seconds

Amanda Cox of the New York Times uses a musical interactive graphic to illustrate the extent to which elite athletes cluster near the winning time in various events. When you “play” each event, a staccato musical tone represents each contestant crossing the finishing line.  In Men’s Downhill, the 14th finisher, Carlo Janka or Switzerland, crossed the finish line less than a second behind the winner, Didier Defago, also Swiss. Try it for yourself.

Olympic pictograms through the ages:

Also from the New York Times, Designer Steven Heller has assembled a fascinating video depicting the evolving style of pictographs used at each Olympic games:

Sports as opiate of the masses:

Those of us who believe the Olympics, from Canada’s repulsive “own-the-podium” campaign through the insipid opening ceremony up to and including the dramatic Cole-Harbourian finale, were a colossal mis-allocation of public resources toward people who are already over-celebrated and away from neglected priorities, generally learn to keep out mouths shut during the biannual orgy of self-congratulation. Not so Christopher Hitchens, writing in Newsweek:

[G]enial, welcoming, equable Canada, shortly to be the host of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, is now the object of a stream of complaints from British and American sports officials, who say that their athletes are being denied full access to the venue’s ski runs, tracks, and skating rinks… Nah nah nah nah nah: it’s our mountain and you can’t ski on it, so there, or not until we’ve had the best of it. “We’re the only country to host two Olympic Games [Montreal in 1976 and Calgary in 1988] and never have won a gold medal at our Games,” whined Cathy Priestner Allinger, an executive vice president of the Vancouver Organizing Committee. “It’s not a record we’re proud of.” But elbowing guests out of your way at your own party—of that you can be proud.

I didn’t have to read far to find the comment I knew would be made about this spiteful, petty conduct. A hurt-sounding Ron Rossi, who is executive director of something snow-oriented called USA Luge, spoke in wounded tones about a supposed “gentlemen’s agreement” extending back to Lake Placid in 1980, and said of the underhanded Canadian tactic: “I think it shows a lack of sportsmanship.”

On the contrary, Mr. Rossi, what we are seeing is the very essence of sportsmanship. Whether it’s the exacerbation of national rivalries that you want—as in Africa this year—or the exhibition of the most depressing traits of the human personality (guns in locker rooms, golf clubs wielded in the home, dogs maimed and tortured at stars’ homes to make them fight, dope and steroids everywhere), you need only look to the wide world of sports for the most rank and vivid examples. As George Orwell wrote in his 1945 essay “The Sporting Spirit,” after yet another outbreak of combined mayhem and chauvinism on the international soccer field, “sport is an unfailing cause of ill-will.” As he went on to say:

I am always amazed when I hear people saying that sport creates goodwill between the nations, and that if only the common peoples of the world could meet one another at football or cricket, they would have no inclination to meet on the battlefield. Even if one didn’t know from concrete examples (the 1936 Olympic Games, for instance) that international sporting contests lead to orgies of hatred, one could deduce it from general principles.

Taking the Lord’s name in Ireland

On January 1, a new law in Ireland bans publication or uttering of material grossly abusive or insulting to matters held sacred by any religion and thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion. The law carries a 25,000 Euro fine and permits some defenses. The website blasphemy.ie declares it “both silly and dangerous.”

It is silly because medieval religious laws have no place in a modern secular republic, where the criminal law should protect people and not ideas. And it is dangerous because it incentives religious outrage, and because Islamic States led by Pakistan are already using the wording of this Irish law to promote new blasphemy laws at UN level.

Athiest Ireland marked the law’s coming into force by publishing 25 blasphemous quotations by such notables as Jesus Christ, Muhammad, Mark Twain, Tom Lehrer, Randy Newman, James Kirkup, Monty Python, Rev Ian Paisley, Conor Cruise O’Brien, Frank Zappa, Salman Rushdie, Bjork, Amanda Donohoe, George Carlin, Paul Woodfull, Jerry Springer the Opera, Tim Minchin, Richard Dawkins, Pope Benedict XVI, Christopher Hitchens, PZ Myers, Ian O’Doherty, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor and Dermot Ahern. A sample:

Mark_Twain-ssMark Twain: “[Y]ou notice that when the Lord God of Heaven and Earth, adored Father of Man, goes to war, there is no limit. He is totally without mercy — he, who is called the Fountain of Mercy. He slays, slays, slays! All the men, all the beasts, all the boys, all the babies; also all the women and all the girls, except those that have not been deflowered. He makes no distinction between innocent and guilty… What the insane Father required was blood and misery; he was indifferent as to who furnished it.”

jesus-christ-head-cf-ssJesus Christ, speaking of Jews: “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him.”

dawkinsRichard-ssRichard Dawkins:  “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

Salman Rushdie aptly expressed the philosophical danger such laws pose:

The idea of the sacred is quite simply one of the most conservative notions in any culture, because it seeks to turn other ideas – uncertainty, progress, change – into crimes.

The  practical danger is that it will fuel fanaticism like the attempted New Year’s Day murder of Danish artist Kurt Westergaard, one of the 12 cartoonists whose 2005 satirical depiction of the Prophet Mohammed sparked riots a year later in which dozens of people died.

Mohammed Cartoons