On Finding Out For Yourself


“The best things, perhaps the only things we should be telling to children are those things of which we can say “don’t take my word for it, go out and find out for yourself”.”

– Willem Etsenmaker

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Competing Religions and Peace


‘The idea that Islam is a “peaceful religion hijacked by extremists” is a fantasy, and it is now a particularly dangerous fantasy for Muslims to indulge. It is not at all clear how we should proceed in our dialogue with the Muslim world, but deluding ourselves with euphemisms is not the answer. It is now a truism in foreign policy circles that real reform in the Muslim world cannot be imposed from the outside. But it is important to recognize why this is so—it is so because most Muslims are utterly deranged by their religious faith. Muslims tend to view questions of public policy and global conflict in terms of their affiliation with Islam. And Muslims who don’t view the world in these terms risk being branded as apostates and killed by other Muslims.

But how can we ever hope to reason with the Muslim world if we are not reasonable ourselves? It accomplishes nothing to merely declare that “we all worship the same God.” We do not all worship the same God, and nothing attests to this fact more eloquently than our history of religious bloodshed. Within Islam, the Shi’a and the Sunni can’t even agree to worship the same God in the same way, and over this they have been killing one another for centuries.

It seems profoundly unlikely that we will heal the divisions in our world through inter-faith dialogue. Devout Muslims are as convinced as you are that their religion is perfect and that any deviation leads directly to hell. It is easy, of course, for the representatives of the major religions to occasionally meet and agree that there should be peace on earth, or that compassion is the common thread that unites all the world’s faiths. But there is no escaping the fact that a person’s religious beliefs uniquely determine what he thinks peace is good for, as well as what he means by a term like “compassion.” There are millions—maybe hundreds of millions—of Muslims who would be willing to die before they would allow your version of compassion to gain a foothold on the Arabian Peninsula. How can interfaith dialogue, even at the highest level, reconcile worldviews that are fundamentally incompatible and, in principle, immune to revision? The truth is, it really matters what billions of human beings believe and why they believe it.’

Harris. S. 2006. Letter To A Christian Nation p. 27-28

Human Well-being, Facts and the Arab-Israeli Conflict


The Arab-Israeli conflict is an ongoing and often violent religious clash over the land of Palestine. Both sides claim historical religious rights to the land and use those claims to justify fighting. This fight over the land officially began in 1948 after the UN gave the Jewish population Israel, and the Arabs felt that it was their land that was being given away.

Unfortunately, most of the commentaries regarding this ongoing conflict are heavily politicised and, worse still, often steeped in prejudices fuelled by religious hatred (and to complicate things, this hatred is not only emanating from the apparent religions involved).

If we are to have a real discussion about how we can further the cause of building a more peaceful society in the Palestine region, it behoves us to, firstly, condemn all violence without prejudice; and secondly, state merely facts which relate to human well-being (insofar as this can be determined).

Over a period of nearly 70 years,

  • 72% of the West Bank has been declared ‘Israeli state land’ and has been confiscated from Arab Palestinians who have occupied the region since the time of the British occupation and the Ottoman occupation before that. These confiscations, whatever the policy behind them, have never been compensated. This has, understandably, caused some friction.
  • 400,000 Israelis have settled in the expropriated land, often destroying the olive groves which were the source of employment and income of the local Arab population. This has, again, understandably, caused some friction.
  • Most of these Israeli settlers have access to their part of a 250 mile new highway network which, as opposed to the Arab Palestinians, provides free movement to the Israeli population and the well-equipped army which guards it.
  • As a result, at present, most West Bank Palestinians are confined to 200 disconnected enclaves. Today, this is, arguably, the most common source of friction between the two parties.[1]

“What I discovered was that a West Bank Palestinian could not work, build, study, purchase land, grow produce, start a business, take a walk at night, visit his family in Gaza, enter Israel or travel abroad without a permit from us and that we had imprisoned about one third of the entire Palestinian population.” – Uri Savir (Israel’s chief negotiator at Oslo from 1993 to 1996)


[1] Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (2003).

Geographic Illiteracy


Over a decade ago, National Geographic organised a global survey to measure the developed world’s geographic literacy.[1]

On average, fewer than 25 percent of young people worldwide could locate Israel on the map. Only about 20 percent could identify international news hotspots like Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq.

‘Geographically Illiterate: Someone who sucks at geography.’ – Urban Dictionary

More recent research shows no improvement. When the Russian Federation invaded the Ukraine in 2014, the Washington Post conducted a survey which showed that only 16% of Americans was able to locate the Black Sea nation on a map.[2]

More importantly, it was found that this lack of geographic knowledge is related to preferences and decision-making: namely, the farther their guesses were from Ukraine’s actual location, the more they wanted the U.S. to intervene with military force.

Whatever your views on this political squabble, the following conclusion is inevitable: whether people are in possession of a certain geographic fact determines their opinion in a certain way.

As for geography, knowledge of the location of places and the physical and cultural characteristics of those places are a requirement to function more effectively in an increasingly interdependent world.

On top of that, knowledge of the geography of past times and how geography has played an important role in the evolution of a society, their ideas, and its environment are not only prerequisites for historical knowledge, but also necessary for making sound decisions in the present.[3]

“If geography is prose, maps are iconography.” – Lennart Meri

These findings only underline the importance of teaching Geography. However, as always with formal education, it does not tell the whole story: besides teaching Geography as a core subject on the national curriculum, National Geographic researchers found that geographic knowledge also increases through travel and language proficiency.

In the highest-scoring countries of the National Geographic Survey (Sweden, Germany and Italy) at least 70 percent of the young adults had travelled internationally in the last three years, and the majority spoke more than one language (at the time, no less than 92 percent of young people in Sweden).

In the U.S. and Mexico only about 20 percent of young people had travelled abroad during the same period and the majority spoke only one language.

“All I ever wanted was a world without maps.” – Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

‘Our daily lives are interwoven with geography. Each of us lives in a unique place and in constant interaction with our surroundings. Geographic knowledge and skills are essential for us to understand the activities and patterns of our lives and the lives of others. We move from place to place, aided by transportation and navigation systems. We communicate using global networks of computers and satellites. We strive to live in healthy physical and social environments. We work to avoid the negative consequences of exposure to natural and technological hazards. We search for interesting destinations and vacations. We observe and learn about our own culture and other cultures around the world. We want to lead satisfying lives and contribute to the welfare of our communities. Geographic knowledge and understanding is fundamental to reaching our goals, and in attaining a higher quality of life.’
Why Geography Is Important (2005), Grosvenor Centre of Education


[1] The National Geographic–Roper 2002 Global Geographic Literacy Survey polled more than 3,000 18- to 24-year-olds in Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Sweden and the United States.
According to Robert Pastor, professor of International Relations at American University, in Washington, D.C., “The survey demonstrates the geographic illiteracy of the United States.”
About 11 percent of young citizens of the U.S. couldn’t even locate the U.S. on a map. The Pacific Ocean’s location was a mystery to 29 percent; Japan, to 58 percent; France, to 65 percent; and the United Kingdom, to 69 percent. Less than 15 percent could locate neither Israel nor Iraq.
“War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.” – Ambrose Bierce

[2] From March 28 to 31, 2014, The Washington Post asked a national sample of 2,066 Americans what action they wanted the U.S. to take in Ukraine, but with a twist: in addition to measuring standard demographic characteristics and general foreign policy attitudes, they also asked the survey respondents to locate Ukraine on a map as part of a larger, ongoing project to study foreign policy knowledge. The newspaper wanted to see where Americans think Ukraine is and to learn if this knowledge (or lack thereof) is related to their foreign policy views. The survey also found that 5 out of 2,066 Americans thought the Ukraine was located in the U.S. corn belt.

[3] The importance of geographic knowledge is of paramount importance, not only for a better understanding of historical and present geopolitical issues, but also as a scientific measuring device to help humans to make better decisions about the environment. Consider the intellectual poverty of young people who are ignorant of:

  • The basic physical systems that affect everyday life (e.g. earth-sun relationships, water cycles, wind and ocean currents).
  • Relationships between the physical environment and society.
  • How the processes of human and physical systems have arranged and sometimes changed the surface of the Earth – and still do.
  • The fact that the Earth is the homeland of humankind and knowledge of that planet provides insight for wise management decisions about how the planet’s resources should be used.

26/viii mmxv


Whenever the Torah is dropped on the floor, tradition holds that every person in the room must fast for 40 days in atonement.

One in four Canadian children between 7 and 12 are obese.

Approximately half the inhabitants of Indonesia live on the island of Java.

Jeremy Clarkson’s parents ran a business selling tea cosies before they invented the stuffed Paddington Bear.

The hemline index is supposed to predict how the market will fare. Coined in 1926 by U.S. economist George Taylor, the idea has been spookily accurate. When skirts get shorter, the market goes up.

See other: Quite Interesting Facts

To Tell The Truth


Frasier: Dad, we are talking about perjury! When is that ever acceptable?

Martin: Oh, you want an example? Fine! Let’s say, uh, what if there was a comet hurtling towards the earth—

Frasier: Oh, for God’s sake!

Martin: And you were the only person who could save the earth, but the only way to do it is by lying under oath. Would you do it then?

Frasier: Who am I lying to, the comet?

Martin: Oh, just answer the question!

Frasier: All right, I suppose in certain extreme cases—

Martin: So, then you’d lie?

Frasier: To save mankind from a talking comet, yes!

Martin: But you won’t lie for Niles.

Frasier: Oh, for God’s sake, you make me sound like some sort of insensitive lout who’s not aware that his brother’s out there in pain!

[Frasier takes a sip from the glass]

Martin: Isn’t that Niles’s water?

Frasier: I’m just checking to see it’s not too cold!

[…]

Frasier: You know, I can’t believe you’re being so casual about this! Do you realize you’re asking me to do something completely unethical?!

Martin: Oh, for God’s sake, nobody’s even going to know!

Frasier: Yes, but that’s the point! Ethics are what we do when no one else is looking! For heaven’s sake, I learned that from you! Are you saying you wouldn’t have any trouble with this?

[…]

Martin: Let me tell you something. One time when I was on the force, I saw a guy shoot somebody. When we caught him, I started to read him his rights, but he slipped out of his cuffs and he swung at me so I didn’t get a chance to finish. Two months later, I’m on the stand, and his lawyer asks me if I’d read his rights in full. Now, if I say no this guy walks, and this guy has been in and out of jail all his life, he could have read ME his rights! So I say, “yes, I did. I read them in full.” I lied under oath. Now you might think that I did an unethical thing but there’s not a doubt in my mind that I did the right thing.

 – Rob Hanning: Frasier (1993-2004)