Century Marks

Century Marks

Loaded argument

Gun rights activists have argued that Hitler’s gun control laws left European Jews defenseless and that the Holocaust would not have happened—or at least would not have been as catastrophic—if Jews had had guns. The Anti-Defamation League has objected to the use of Nazi analogies to advance any political cause. An ADL spokesperson said that armed people couldn’t have stopped the totalitarian power of the Nazi state. Some European Jews had access to a small number of firearms. At most they could put up symbolic resistance, as happened in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising (RNS).

Carbon fast

For the third year in a row the Massachusetts Conference of the United Christ of Church is sponsoring an Ecumenical Lenten Carbon Fast. Participants receive an e-mail each day during Lent suggesting an action one can take that day to reduce one’s carbon footprint. Actions include eliminating “vampire” electrical use by unplugging appliances, reducing driving speed and buying local produce. More than 10,000 people participated in previous fasts (macucc.org/carbonfast).

Mind blowing

In a famous medical case of the 19th century, Phineas Gage, a railroad worker, prematurely set off a charge. The blast sent a tamping iron through his cheek and out the top of his head, damaging his frontal cortex. Gage maintained all his intellectual capacities, but he was no longer able to control his own actions. His doctor said, “Gage was no longer Gage.” Philosopher Nancey Murphy says that this case is a clear indication that morality and prudence are functions located in a part of the brain, not lodged in the “soul.” This case, and others like it, raise questions for neuroscientists and philosophers about moral responsibility and personal identity (Interpretation, January).

Textbook case

Palestinian textbooks have long been criticized for demonizing Israelis and even calling Jews pigs. A recent study of textbooks for Palestinians, Israelis and ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel concluded that though textbooks of both sides are one-sided, demonization of others is rare in any of them. The most extreme examples of a negative bias were found in the ultra-Orthodox textbooks. Both Israeli and Palestinian textbooks avoid acknowledging the existence of the other’s territory. Only 4 percent of Palestinian textbooks show the green line, which separates their territory in the West Bank from Israel. On the other side, 76 percent of Israeli textbooks fail to label the Palestinian territories and show no boundaries between Israel and Palestine. Bruce Wexler of Yale, who led the study, said: “The idea of maps is to represent reality; here it represents fantasy.” The study was sponsored by the U.S. State Department (Guardian, February 3).


The success of the chess team at Brooklyn’s Intermediate School 318 demolishes the notion that chess is a game of the privileged. Last year the middle school’s team won the national high school championship, beating players who were as much as four years older. More than half the students at IS-318 come from families with incomes below the federal poverty level. Carlos Tapia is a typical player on the team. His Mexican-American parents don’t know how to play chess. Despite the team’s accomplishments, funding for extracurricular activities at the school is drying up (Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times, January 30).