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Insulting the intelligence




Good morning, children.

Today we are going to learn about two common rhetorical tricks that help greatly with the cynical manipulation of arguments.

First, disingenuousness. The Oxford Shorter English Dictionary defines disingenuous as “lacking in frankness, insincere, morally fraudulent”, in the sense of pretending not to know what you in fact know very well.

Second, the straw man argument.  Wikipedia defines this as misrepresentation of an opponent’s position, to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by substituting a superficially similar proposition (the straw man) and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original proposition.

Today, thanks to Mr Netanyahu, we have one handy slice of well-worn rhetoric to illustrate both rhetorical tricks.

from FaithWorld:

Who wrote the pope’s speeches for this trip?

pope-wall-speechWho wrote Pope Benedict's speeches for this trip? Why do his speeches to Muslims hit the spot and those to Jews seem to fall short? Does he have two teams of speechwriters, one more attuned to the audience than the other?

We don't know the answers (yet) but a pattern suggesting that has certainly emerged. Look at what he had to say today in Bethlehem to Palestinians, Christian and Muslim:

from FaithWorld:

Mixed Israeli press reaction to Benedict’s Yad Vashem speech

pope-yad-smallPope Benedict was never going to please his critics in Israel, so it's not surprising that today's headlines were almost all negative about his speech at Yad Vashem yesterday. Reading the English-language press this morning, I was interested in seeing the nuances in the different reactions. Here are a few examples of what I found:

In Haaretz, the main headline read "Survivors angered by Benedict's 'lukewarm' speech.'" That story focused on the reaction from Yad Vashem officials as we reported yesterday. You can see a PDF of its front page here. The two commentaries were more nuanced than the main story.

from FaithWorld:

Popes at Yad Vashem: comparing John Paul and Benedict

Pope Benedict's speech at the Yad Vashem today took a different approach from the speech his predecessor Pope John Paul delivered at the Holocaust memorial on 23 March 2000. Polish-born John Paul mentioned the Nazis twice while Benedict, a German, did not. John Paul recalled the fate of his Jewish neighbours; Benedict offered no personal wartime memories. John Paul spoke in a broader perspective, mentioning godless ideology, anti-Semitism, the "just" Gentiles who saved Jews and the shared spiritual heritage of Christians and Jews. Benedict took a narrower approach, meditating on the significance of names and speaking only of the Catholic Church rather than Christians in general.

Here are a few quotations comparing and contrasting the two speeches:


yad-jp2-1POPE JOHN PAUL: "In this place of memories, the mind and heart and soul feel an extreme need for silence. Silence in which to remember. Silence in which to try to make some sense of the memories which come flooding back. Silence because there are no words strong enough to deplore the terrible tragedy of the Shoah. My own personal memories are of all that happened when the Nazis occupied Poland during the War. I remember my Jewish friends and neighbours, some of whom perished, while others survived. I have come to Yad Vashem to pay homage to the millions of Jewish people who, stripped of everything, especially of their human dignity, were murdered in the Holocaust. More than half a century has passed, but the memories remain. Here, as at Auschwitz and many other places in Europe, we are overcome by the echo of the heart-rending laments of so many. Men, women and children cry out to us from the depths of the horror that they knew. How can we fail to heed their cry? No one can forget or ignore what happened. No one can diminish its scale. We wish to remember. But we wish to remember for a purpose, namely to ensure that never again will evil prevail, as it did for the millions of innocent victims of Nazism."

Speak softly and carry a big staff



As a long-time visitor and resident of the Middle East, I often feel a twinge of sympathy for visitors who might not be as inured as I have become to the rough-and-tumble of a region where religious, political and cultural sensitivites permeate every aspect of daily life, where arguments can blow up from the seemingly trivial and where, confusingly, remarkable levels of co-habitation and co-existence still show up against this explosive backdrop.

Pope Benedict, with his army of advisers and counsellors, is better prepared than many visitors for what the region might hold in store during his week here. But he must be acutely aware of the delicate nature of his trip – and that any gesture, word or act could become a major international issue

Branding Israel



For many Israelis the sight of European delegates walking out during a speech by Iran’s president at last week’s U.N. conference on racism was a rare moment of solidarity by countries often critical of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians.

“Defeated” read a front-page banner headline in one Israeli newspaper next to a picture of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who had to face the mass walkout by Western diplomats at the forum in Geneva when he called Israel a “racist state” in his speech.

The Holocaust’s untold toll


As Israelis prepare for their annual Holocaust commemorations on Monday, one scholar has taken a different tack on the tragedy by estimating how many Jews might have been alive today were it not for the Nazi genocide.

According to demographer Sergio DellaPergola, the systematic slaughter of 6 million Jews during World War Two more than halved the potential global Jewish community in the long-run. Rather than numbering some 13 million now, there might have between 26 million and 32 million Jews, he says in an article to be published in the journal of the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

The music stops for ‘Waltz’


In one of the biggest surprises on Oscar night, the animated Israeli documentary Waltz with Bashir did not walk away as many expected with the famed statuette in the Foreign Film category, which instead went to Japanese film Departures.

Even the star of Departures acknowledged he was expecting Waltz with Bashir to win the Academy Award.

Joint campaign…

Its no overstatement to say that politics in Israel – particularly at election campaign time – is a lively and occasionally surreal affair.

While Israeli politicians have shied away from debates and rallies – there’s a lot going on in cyberspace.