An amazing Holocaust story plus thoughts about the Big Bang and the human soul

Allies during WWII Hitler and the Grand MuftiHitler loved Islam.*  If you didn’t know that he loved Islam, you might think that Hitler, with his race-based obsessions, would have been hostile to a religion primarily centered on a Semitic people.  To Hitler, though, Islam was a manly religion that shared his goals:  the eradication of the Jews coupled with world domination.  That abiding respect for Islam as practiced by the world’s Muslims, led him to ally  himself closely with Muslims whenever possible:

As David Motadel writes in “Islam and Nazi Germany’s War,” Muslims fought on both sides in World War II. But only Nazis and Islamists had a political-spiritual romance. Both groups hated Jews, Bolsheviks and liberal democracy. Both sought what Michel Foucault, praising the Iranian Revolution in 1979, would later call the spiritual-political “transfiguration of the world” by “combat.”



By late 1941, Germany controlled large Muslim populations in southeastern Europe and North Africa. Nazi policy extended the grand schemes of imperial Germany toward madly modern ends. To aid the “liberation struggle of Islam,” the propaganda ministry told journalists to praise “the Islamic world as a cultural factor,” avoid criticism of Islam, and substitute “anti-Jewish” for “anti-Semitic.” In April 1942, Hitler became the first European leader to declare that Islam was “incapable of terrorism.” As usual, it is hard to tell if the Führer set the tone or merely amplified his people’s obsessions.

The above historical fact is important to know because it explains one of the most amazing Holocaust survival stories I’ve ever heard.  My learning the story came about in a peculiar way, too.  I was speaking with a friend about our memories.  His is and always has been excellent, but is failing ever so slightly with age.  Mine has always been idiosyncratic, in that I can remember anything that interests me, but have almost no success with brute force, rote memorization (explaining why I’ve never been able to master a language in a classroom).  This conversation about memory reminded my friend of the story behind his Jewish relatives’ survival in wartime Paris.

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The Bookworm Beat 1-27-15 — a potpourri of stuff

Woman writingI’ve been telling myself that the legal work I’ve been doing lately is good for my brain. It’s like fitness training. If only it didn’t take away from my blogging. Still, I do what I can and this time around I have a short and sweet Bookworm Beat:

Primo Levi on passive evil

One of the things we talk about a lot here is that only 10% of the world’s Muslims are active supporters of violent jihad. That’s a large number of people when you consider that there are around 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, but it does imply that the other 90% of Muslims are opposed to jihad. Of course, the reality is different. Although the numbers differ from nation to nation, it’s obvious that a good 40% of the world’s Muslims are all good with violent jihad, even though they don’t want to do it themselves — and probably don’t even want to know the facts when violent jihad goes into action. In that way, they can tell themselves and others with a straight face that their Islam is a religion of peace.

I thought of that little charade when I read about a letter Italian concentration camp survivor (and later suicide victim) Primo Levi wrote to a little girl who asked him two simple questions:

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Watcher’s Council winners for 1/23/15

Watcher's Council logoHere it is, straight from the Watcher’s mouth.  Oh, wait a sec!  Before I get there, let me remind you to check out the Watcher’s Council forum, in which you can read interesting opinions from Council members about the Super Bowl.  I got overwhelmed by family matters and didn’t respond to the forum but, if I had, I would have said I’ll probably watch.  I like football (it’s very American in its single-minded press down the field), so that’s an incentive.  The disincentive is that I don’t like either of the teams playing.  I dislike Seattle so much I normally would root for the Patriots, but I’m less than thrilled by the probability that the Patriots had a little help with their footballs.

Oooh!  One more sec before I get to the Council results:  Be sure to check out this week’s nominations for “Weasel of the Week.”  As always, it’s a tough fight, with weasly people the world over trying desperately to out-weasel the competition.

And now, for real — Watcher’s Council results:

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John Whiteside “Jack” Weaver, Jr. — RIP

Longtime readers may remember ExPreacherman, a fellow blogger.  The person behind that blog was a man named John Whiteside “Jack” Weaver.  Although we lost touch a few years ago, he and I used to correspond frequently.  We came from different places — He, a deeply devout Christian, and I, a vaguely agnostic Jew — but we met in a middle place of loving our country and both respecting and liking each other.  I learned today that Jack died at 85 following heart surgery.  To the end, his strong faith supported him and in his family.

Jack and his loved ones are in my thoughts.  Rest in Peace, my friend.

[VIDEO] Anthony Esolen gives the Medieval Era its due

When I worked at the Bancroft Library at Berkeley, one of my great pleasures was to head to the basement stacks and look at the illuminated manuscripts kept down there. That may explain why I always see the Middle Ages in blazing, gilt-edged color, whereas when I think of the 1920s and 1930s in America I see a rather dark, black-and-white world. Perhaps that’s part of the reason I’ve never underestimated the Middle Ages.

The other reason is my passion of medieval church architecture. After all, how primitive can an era be when it’s capable of the magnificence of St. Chapelle in Paris, which is unequaled by anything else I’ve ever seen:



Prager University has produced a short video explaining that the Dark Ages weren’t dark at all. What the video doesn’t say, but I’ll pass along here is that part of why we look back upon them is because Western history was written by Protestants, who had a vested interest in making the Catholic Church look more repressive than it actually was.

The Bookworm Beat 1-25-15 — the “Fresh off the Spindle” edition and Open Thread

Woman writingAnother productive Sunday: six loads of laundry, two dishwasher loads emptied and filled, one grocery shopping trip, one dinner cooked, one visit to my Mom, and one complaint drafted. I’m going to try to wrap it up with one Bookworm Beat, since I have around sixteen articles sitting on my cyber-spindle, waiting to be shared with you.

No, Boehner did not commit a felony and, yes, Bibi is doing the right thing

A meme making the rounds amongst my Progressive Facebook friends is that Boehner, by inviting Bibi Netanyahu to speak before the House committed a felony by “negotiating” with a foreign power:

How dumb do you have to be not to be able to distinguish between inviting someone to give a formal and public speech, and actually negotiating with a foreign power? Don’t answer that. Not only is it a rhetorical question, but we’re asking it of people who are on board with John Kerry’s boast that, as a young naval lieutenant, he was engaged in top secret peace talks with the communists during the Vietnam War. Even if our government didn’t routinely give passes to Democrats who work against American interests, I suspect Kerry would never have been charged with treason because the whole story is an obvious confabulation, although the wishful thinking behind it is disturbing.

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Run, don’t walk, to see American Sniper

308555id1i_TheJudge_FinalRated_27x40_1Sheet.inddUnusually for me, I saw a first-run movie tonight. It was, as you’ve already realized, American Sniper. Also unusually, the Century Cinema, which is Marin’s premiere movie theater, with a big screen and a George Lucas-installed sound system, had an almost completely packed house on the second weekend of a January movie. One expects packed houses for the first week or two of a Star Wars or Harry Potter franchise movie during the summer, but it just never happens for any other type of movie, especially in January. Never. And for the first time in my admittedly experience seeing a movie in Marin, about half the theater broke into applause when the movie ended. Marin’s conservatives are creeping out from undercover to see this one.

Not being a professional movie reviewer, I’m not quite sure where to begin with this one. You already know the story: Texas good ol’ boy Chris Kyle leaves the rodeo circuit, joins the Navy, becomes a SEAL, and heads off to Iraq, where he becomes a legend as the most successful sniper in American military history. After four tours of duty, he returns home and begins helping vets who suffered physical or emotional injuries during the war (or, of course, both). One of those vets, a Marine, murders both him and a neighbor, Chad Littlefield. Throughout it all, Kyle and his wife love and fight and love some more, and have two children who make both of them proud. It’s a simple story, really.

When Chris Kyle died, America mourned.  His funeral cortege and memorial service drew thousands of people, although his former Commander-in-Chief (and still current Commander-in-Chief of the American military) was never heard to mention Kyle’s name. I guess Kyle just didn’t look enough like the son Obama never had — although it seems that Hugo Chavez, Whitney Houston, Robin Williams, Trayvon Martin, and Michael Brown did look like that son, at least if one is to judge by the encomiums Obama poured upon them and the representatives he sent to the hoodlums’, er sons’ funerals.

Unlike me, Clint Eastwood’s film is carefully apolitical. It keeps a very tight focus on one man and the people around him. Just as they were in Kyle’s autobiography, his family by blood and marriage vie for first place in his heart with his SEAL family. Kyle is enormously patriotic. He’s repulsed by the sadism and immorality he sees amongst the Iraqis he fights. He lives to protect his fellow servicemen. And he has troubles transitioning rapidly between war in Iraq and peace at home.

In this regard — the profound disconnect between wartime on Monday and peace on Tuesday — Kyle’s situation reminded me strongly of British WWI fighters who also made almost painfully rapid transitions between home and war. Just as Kyle talks on the phone with his wife while sniping on a rooftop, British troops sometimes received by the afternoon post the mail their loved ones had sent that morning. (For other interesting similarities and differences between the British experience in WWI and the American experience in Iraq, I recommend this book.

To the extent I notice a director’s touch, Eastwood’s was deft and sure.  Those two simple words count as high praise from me. I usually notice the director’s role in a movie when I hate the movie because of the director’s bizarre, irritating, or offensive decisions. Eastwood makes none of those mistakes. His style is smooth, professional and, when it comes to the fighting scenes, incredibly dynamic, while still being coherent enough to keep the audience engaged.

What really makes the movie, though, is Bradley Cooper’s incredible acting. “Acting” actually seems like the wrong word. Cooper doesn’t “act” Chris Kyle; he “is” Chris Kyle. Admittedly, I’ve never met Chris Kyle, so I’m taking a leap of faith by saying what I did. What I really mean is that Cooper inhabits his character’s skin so seamlessly that there is never, ever a sense that Cooper is acting at all. This is a fully realized character. One has no sense of the actor named Bradley Cooper positioning himself on the set and then, when he hears the word “action!” going through the motions of the character named Chris Kyle. There is no actor named Bradley Cooper.  There is just Chris Kyle.

One of the things that makes it clear just how extraordinarily Cooper fills the role is to watch the other actors. They’re all good . . . but you can see them acting. I have a vague memory of having seen Cooper in some other roles and not noticing him. He apparently was waiting for this role.

All in all, American Sniper is a movie that deserves its accolades and blockbuster revenue. Chris Kyle was one of those great, salt-if-the-earth Americans who emerges in times of war — not a man who loves killing for killing’s sake, which would make him no better than the enemy, but a true sheepdog who is willing to get dirty in the fight to protect his flock.  Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, and the rest of the American Sniper paid Kyle his due by creating this great movie.

Movie Review: “Boyhood” — a celebration of depressive dysfunction in a clever package

Boyhood movieBoyhood, which opened in July 2014 and is currently slated as one of the top contenders for Best Picture, has earned that rarest of rare accolades:  a 100% score on Metacritic.  Critics just love the movie.

The most obvious thing they love about the movie is the movie’s gimmick, which is actually quite clever.  The movie was filmed over the course of 12 years, with the same actors gathering together for a few days each year to shoot that year’s scenes.  It’s seamlessly edited, so you see the children grow up and the parents grow old.  In that way, it’s like watching a very well-produced montage of home movies.  Small wonder that probably 75% of each of the reviews I read centers on this clever technique.

Gimmicks alone, however, are not enough to sustain a 100% score created by looking at 49 different critic reviews.  The critics also really like the movie’s story arc and character development.  [If you're planning on seeing the movie, you might want to stop right about now, because I'm going to go into SPOILER territory.]

Giving you time to think about whether you want to continue. . . .

Tick. . . .

A little more thinking time. . . .

Tock. . . .

Okay, last chance.  After this sentence, a review filled with SPOILERS is about to begin. . . .

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