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Not any more June 26, 2012

Posted by Ezra Resnick in Ethics, Freedom, Religion.
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A step in the right direction by a German court:

Circumcising young boys on religious grounds causes grievous bodily harm, a German court ruled Tuesday in a landmark decision that the Jewish community said trampled on parents’ religious rights.

The regional court in Cologne, western Germany, ruled that the “fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity outweighed the fundamental rights of the parents,” a judgement that is expected to set a legal precedent.

“The religious freedom of the parents and their right to educate their child would not be unacceptably compromised, if they were obliged to wait until the child could himself decide to be circumcised,” the court added…

“The body of the child is irreparably and permanently changed by a circumcision,” the court said. “This change contravenes the interests of the child to decide later on his religious beliefs.”

What arguments do outraged members of Germany’s Jewish community offer in defense of their tradition? It’s rather pathetic.

The head of the Central Committee of Jews, Dieter Graumann, said the ruling was “an unprecedented and dramatic intervention in the right of religious communities to self-determination.”

But “self-determination” needs to be determined by each individual for himself. A community doesn’t have the right to force an unnecessary medical procedure on anyone, least of all a child who hasn’t had the chance to determine whether he wants to be part of that community or not.

The judgement was an “outrageous and insensitive act. Circumcision of newborn boys is a fixed part of the Jewish religion and has been practiced worldwide for centuries,” added Graumann.

Just like slavery used to be.

“This religious right is respected in every country in the world.”

Not any more.

A computer scientist plays Twenty Questions June 12, 2012

Posted by Ezra Resnick in Computer science, Game theory.
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“Would you like to play Twenty Questions?”

“Sure, how do we play?”

“I think of a famous person — alive or dead, real or fictional — and you have to guess who it is, in no more than twenty yes-or-no questions.”

“Well… I could use binary search to identify a single letter of the alphabet in 4.7 yes-or-no questions (on average), so nineteen questions should allow me to identify four letters. Why don’t you just tell me the first four letters of your person’s last name, and I’ll guess who it is.”

“Actually, I don’t think I want to play any more.”

“That’s OK — the game is flawed, anyway: it assumes there are no more than 1,048,576 famous people to choose from…”

There is more than one way to burn a book June 6, 2012

Posted by Ezra Resnick in Freedom, Literature.
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Ray Bradbury died yesterday, at the age of 91. The following is from the coda (written in 1979) to Fahrenheit 451:

There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches. Every minority, be it Baptist / Unitarian, Irish / Italian / Octogenarian / Zen Buddhist, Zionist / Seventh-day Adventist, Women’s Lib / Republican, Mattachine / FourSquareGospel feels it has the will, the right, the duty to douse the kerosene, light the fuse. Every dimwit editor who sees himself as the source of all dreary blanc-mange plain porridge unleavened literature, licks his guillotine and eyes the neck of any author who dares to speak above a whisper or write above a nursery rhyme…

For it is a mad world and it will get madder if we allow the minorities, be they dwarf or giant, orangutan or dolphin, nuclear-head or water-conversationalist, pro-computerologist or Neo-Luddite, simpleton or sage, to interfere with aesthetics. The real world is the playing ground for each and every group, to make or unmake laws. But the tip of the nose of my book or stories or poems is where their rights end and my territorial imperatives begin, run and rule. If Mormons do not like my plays, let them write their own. If the Irish hate my Dublin stories, let them rent typewriters. If teachers and grammar school editors find my jawbreaker sentences shatter their mushmilk teeth, let them eat stale cake dunked in weak tea of their own ungodly manufacture.