The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Sod off, bra

The secular Israelis who work at a Jerusalem coffee shop got so sick of ultra-right religious nutters screaming at them that they chose a targeted counter-protest:

Bastet, a vegan and LGBT-friendly cafe whose blue tables spill across a central Jerusalem sidewalk, is a secular oasis for residents seeking Saturday refreshment in a city that largely comes to a standstill for the Jewish Sabbath.

But each week, a procession of ultra-Orthodox men, some in their finest fur hats and gold robes, invariably marches past in a show of displeasure at the cafe’s desecration of the day of rest. “Shabbos!” they chant, using the Yiddish word for the Sabbath.

On a recent Saturday, the wait staff struck back, lifting their shirts to reveal their bras in an attempt to push back the religiously conservative demonstrators.

But while the Bastet staff may have won a small reprieve, the wider battle is only expected to escalate. The ultra-Orthodox, also known as Haredim, make up only 12 percent of the population but are the fastest-growing segment of Israelis, with women giving birth to an average of 6.9 children.

In the early days of the Israeli state, many of the ultra-Orthodox were opposed to the secular Zionist movement that created it, fearing it would eradicate their form of Judaism. Now, they are increasingly using their power in Israel’s 120-member parliament, where they most recently won 16 seats, to promote and protect their interests, rather than shunning it.

Ah, religion. If you believe a supernatural, all-powerful entity has sanctioned your desire to do nothing but pray all day, every day, you might run into conflicts with the other several billion people in the world who find this behavior parasitical (or, at least, a head-slapping example of the free rider problem).

And yet this is how a significant minority of Israelis behave. Not only do they find it offensive that the majority of Israelis want them to, you know, give something back for all the privileges they receive, but also they find it offensive that the majority of Israelis don't sit around talking to the supernatural entity all day.

I'm glad to see, with the inability of Benyamin Netanyahu to get concessions from the center-right about these issues, that secular Israelis have had enough and have started pushing back in earnest.

How to get rid of religious nutters

Short answer: use their medieval beliefs against them:

Ultra-orthodox Jews in Israel have held protests against the scheduling of the Eurovision Song Contest on the Jewish Sabbath.

At one point, a small number of women held a counter protest, showing their bras.

You see, Jewish crazies believe in modesty to the point where women can't even show their real hair in public (they wear wigs). Their rules also prohibit them from touching members of the opposite sex not related to them, leaving open the option of a small group of women approaching them Romero-style with their arms out threatening to touch the zealots. I expect that's the next counter-protest.

Closer to home, production companies have started to flee the previously-burgeoning film industry in Georgia after the state passed a 19th-century anti-abortion law, and Missouri's new law has forced me to reconsider my planned trip to Busch Stadium in September.

More than €700m pledged to rebuild Notre-Dame

Yesterday's devastating fire in the Cathédral de Notre-Dame de Paris fortunately left the walls and bell towers intact. But the destruction of the fire and roof could take 10-15 years to fix, according to Le Monde. So far, corporations and other European governments have pledged over €700m ($790m, £605m) towards rebuilding it:

  • La famille Arnault a la première annoncé un "don" de 200 millions d'euros par le groupe de luxe LVMH et a proposé que l'entreprise mette à disposition ses "équipes créatives, architecturales, financières" pour aider au travail de reconstruction et de collecte de fonds ;
  • La famille Bettencourt a annoncé deux dons de 100 millions d'euros, l'un via L'Oréal et l'autre via sa fondation ;
  • La famille d'industriels Pinault, qui possède le groupe Kering, a annoncé débloquer 100 millions d'euros via sa société d'investissement Artemis ;
  • Le PDG du groupe Total, Patrick Pouyanné, a annoncé sur son compte Twitter, que le groupe, qui se présente comme le "premier mécène de la Fondation du patrimoine", allait faire un "don spécial" de 100 millions d'euros.

In the past few weeks, 9 churches in France have burned; however, the Paris Police have opened an accident investigation, suggesting they don't believe it's related. Also, firefighters appear to have saved not only the bell towers but also the grand organ:

The culture minister, Franck Riester, said religious relics saved from the cathedral, including the Crown of Thorns and Saint Louis’s tunic, were being securely held at the Hôtel de Ville, and works of art that sustained smoke damage were being taken to the Louvre where they would be dried out, restored and stored.

He said three stained-glass “rose” windows did not appear to be damaged but would be examined more closely when the cathedral was made safe. Photos from inside the monument suggest Notre Dame’s grand organ, built in the 1730s and boasting 8,000 pipes, was spared from the flames.

Sixteen copper statues that decorated the spire, representing the 12 apostles and four evangelists, had been removed for restoration only a few days before the fire. Relics at the top of the spire are believed lost as the spire was destroyed.

Still, the damage is appalling. I join with the people of France in hoping that they will be able to rebuild, even if it takes until the 2030s.

This should not be a difficult position to take

Apparently Josef Ratzinger, who resigned from being Pope, seems not to understand how resignations actually work:

Ever since Pope Benedict XVI became the first pontiff in six centuries to abdicate the papacy, transitioning to a life of near seclusion in a Vatican City monastery, there have been questions about how the notion of two living popes would impact the Roman Catholic Church.

The events of last week offer something of an answer.

Although many people hoped to hear from Benedict amid new allegations that a cover-up of sexual misconduct reached the highest levels of the church, he has established that an ex-pope should maintain a vow of silence about church matters — even during crises and even though he is particularly well positioned to affirm or knock down the accusations.

Some historians say that, for all of Benedict’s theological work, it is his resignation that will most come to define his legacy. Before his abdication, no pope since Gregory XII in 1415 had been willing to step down. Pope Paul VI had at least considered it, according to a book collecting his letters and documents. But Paul VI, who died in 1978, feared that doing so could open future popes to factional fighting, according to an essay by Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest. Pope John Paul II reportedly prepared a letter of resignation to submit in the event of a debilitating condition; he never used it. Instead, his physical faculties declined painfully and publicly as he dealt with Parkinson’s disease.

Yes, because it's hard to answer a simple question about whether raping children is acceptable to the organization you used to head. I can totally understand, from a PR perspective, why the organization wouldn't want its previous leader to stand on the balcony of St Peters Square and shout at the top of his lungs, "Thou shalt not rape children!"

Look, my only interest in Catholic Church politics is as far as they don't affect United States politics. Unfortunately that ship sailed when it came out that this particular religious institution, with tens of millions of American followers, was trying to avoid secular laws abut raping children to such an extent that the secular authorities (in the U.S. and Ireland at least) brought the hammer down so hard the organization is about to avail itself of secular bankruptcy laws.

And writing from some basic ignorance of Catholicism, it just seems stupid to me that there is a living ex-Pope who anyone listens to. I'm not even getting into the specifics of that guy. It just seems clear from the theology that the Catholic Church has promulgated in my lifetime that God appoints the Pope, and God calls the Pope home when God has moved on from that relationship.

I mean, if you get into it literally, God should be the ultimate polyamorist, since He literally loves everyone; but still, how do you get to papal infallibility with a papal resignation? It's almost as if the office of Pope were political and not ordained by a supernatural entity. Dear me, doesn't that call into question the entire basis of the Catholic Church's authority?

But again, I'm just an outsider trying to make sense of a news story that only makes sense if you believe that any secular government on earth should care one whit what an obsolete, morally corrupt, and entirely political organization believes. As soon as American Catholics get any distance from believing that the Catholic Church has any influence over their relationships with the Christian God or Jesus, then I think we can start addressing the horrors that the institution has afflicted on Americans for the last century. Just look at Ireland: it is possible.

One more thing. This has nothing to do with people who believe in Jesus or the Christian God. This is entirely about men taking advantage of that belief and using it to cover up gruesome crimes. I don't personally care whether someone believes in God or Jesus; but when they say that the men who wear the big hats can't be brought to justice because they are men of God, I say, render unto Caesar. We have laws in the U.S. (and just about everywhere else) against covering up crimes, which is just the legalistic entree into the basic fact that using a power relationship to take advantage of someone sexually is a crime everywhere in the Christian world.

If ex-Pope Ratzinger has any difficulty understanding that raping children is wrong, or if current Pope Bergoglio doesn't believe that purging the organization he heads of people who rape children is perhaps a win for everyone, then the Catholic Church has no moral authority whatsoever, and should be treated so.

No human being can speak for God; this seems axiom, regardless of your religion. But certainly, no one can claim that God approves of raping children or burying the babies of unwed girls in a field while they're still alive with a straight face that all of us wouldn't line up to punch.

As an outsider, with some respect for the political power of the Catholic Church, and the willingness of that organization to quit themselves of someone like Ratzinger, I had hope for this Pope. But they just can't do it, even with overwhelming evidence that so many of their people are committing crimes against children. Unfortunately for Pope Francis, this is his responsibility. Either God commanded it or he signed up for it; that's a distinction without difference in this case.

Pope Francis has an opportunity for perhaps another few days to make this right, and take an unequivocal position against raping children. If he doesn't, the world will have all the evidence it needs to evaluate the Catholic Church as an institution. That is, to the extent that it doesn't already. But as an outsider, looking at this organization that claims to speak for the creator of the universe, I just. Can't. Even. And neither can my Catholic friends.

U is for UUID

Blogging A to ZFor day 21 of the Blogging A-to-Z challenge I'm going to wade into a religious debate: UUIDs vs. integers for database primary keys.

First, let's define UUID, which stands for Universally Unique Identifier. A UUID comprises 32 hexadecimal digits typically displayed in 5 groups separated by dashes. The actual identifier is 128 bits long, meaning the chance of a collision between any two of them is slightly lower than the chance of finding a specific grain of dust somewhere in the solar system.

An integer, on the other hand, has just 32 or 64 bits, depending on the system you're using. Not only do integers collide frequently, but given that incrementing integer keys typically start at 1, they collide all the time. Also, using an incrementing integer, you don't know what ID your database will give you before you insert a given row, unless you create some gnarly SQL that hits the database a minimum of twice.

Many people have weighed in on whether to use UUIDs or auto-incrementing integers for database keys. People argue about the physical alignment of rows, debugging and friendly URLs, stable IDs vs deterministic IDs, non-uniqueness across tables, inadvertent data disclosure...lots of reasons to use one or the other.

The bottom line? It doesn't really matter. What matters is that you have sensible, non-religious reasons for your choice.

Both UUIDs and serial integers have their place, depending on the context. If you have a lookup table that users will never see, use serial IDs; who cares? If you use an ORM extensively, you might prefer UUIDs.

If you're new to programming, all of this seems like angels on the head of a pin. So read up on it, listen to the arguments on both sides, and then decide what works to solve your problem. Which is basically what you should do all the time as a professional programmer.

How a fundamentalist sect may be wiped out by polygyny

A fundamentalist Mormon sect living along the Nevada-Arizona border has a serious problem with a rare genetic disorder, because everyone is closely related to everyone else:

“With polygyny you’re decreasing the overall genetic diversity because a few men are having a disproportionate impact on the next generation,” says Mark Stoneking, a geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Germany. “Random genetic mutations become more important.”

In isolated communities, the problem is compounded by basic arithmetic: if some men take multiple wives, others can’t have any. In the FLDS, a large proportion of men must be kicked out as teenagers, shrinking the gene pool even further.

Which brings us to the good news. Since inbreeding tends to uncover “recessive” mutations that would normally remain in hiding, studying these communities has helped scientists to identify many disease-causing genes. That’s because genetic information is useless on its own. To be meaningful to medical research, it must be linked to information about disease. In fact, more human disease genes have been discovered in Utah – with its Mormon history – than any other place in the world.

It’s not the legacy Brigham Young expected, but in the end, it’s possible that the controversial practice might have some unintended positives.

Religion, man. Religion.

The Pope and the pagan

Andrew Sullivan's note Friday analyzes the President's trip to the Vatican from a distinctly conservative and Catholic perspective:

Trump is not an atheist, confident yet humble in the search for a God-free morality. He is not an agnostic, genuinely doubtful as to the meaning of existence but always open to revelation should it arrive. He is not even a wayward Christian, as he sometimes claims to be, beset by doubt and failing to live up to ideals he nonetheless holds. The ideals he holds are, in fact, the antithesis of Christianity — and his life proves it. He is neither religious nor irreligious. He is pre-religious. He is a pagan. He makes much more sense as a character in Game of Thrones, a medieval world bereft of the legacy of Jesus of Nazareth, than as a president of a modern, Western country.

Every pillar of Trump’s essential character is a cardinal sin for Christians: lust, gluttony, greed, envy, anger, and pride. We are all guilty of these, of course, but there is in Trump a centrality to them, a shame-free celebration of them, that is close to unique in the history of the American presidency. I will never understand how more than half of white Catholics could vote for such a man, or how the leadership of the church could be so terribly silent when such a monster stalks the earth.

He also fumes about Trump's trip to Saudi Arabia, a country we trade with but shouldn't exactly want to emulate.

Remember the American tourism industry?

Travel site Frommer's reports that foreign travel to the U.S. has plummeted since the inauguration, for obvious reasons:

[T]he prestigious Travel Weekly magazine (as close to an “official” travel publication as they come) has set the decline in foreign tourism at 6.8%. And the fall-off is not limited to Muslim travelers, but also extends to all incoming foreign tourists. Apparently, an attack on one group of tourists is regarded as an assault on all.

As far as travel by distinct religious groups, flight passengers from the seven Muslim-majority nations named by Trump were down by 80% in the last week of January and first week of February, according to Forward Keys, a well-known firm of travel statisticians. On the web, flight searches for trips heading to the U.S. out of all international locations was recently down by 17%.

A drop of that magnitude, if continued, would reduce the value of foreign travel within the U.S. by billions of dollars. And the number of jobs supported by foreign tourists and their expenditures in the United States—and thus lost—would easily exceed hundreds of thousands of workers in hotels, restaurants, transportation, stores, tour operations, travel agencies, and the like.

Wow, didn't see that one coming. But hey, with the euro at $1.05 and Sterling at $1.24, maybe it's time to check airfares?