Saturday, October 31, 2009


I believe a holy, catholic and apostolic church
-Apostle's Creed
This post continues a remembrance of John Calvin on the 500th anniversary of his birth.
The Protestant Reformation is not a very well known event. Many people might know of the 95 theses nailed on the Wittenberg Church door, others may know of Martin Luther's efforts but it was so long ago and so muddled with the Renaissance that the history is not well understood. The truth is, while the Protestant Reformation is the most famous and successful attempt to reform the Catholic church, it was not the first. To truly understand the impact of John Calvin and the Protestant Reformation, we have to look back a few centuries through history before him.

When the Christians first gathered in homes and public houses in the Roman Empire, all they had was what we call the Old Testament, the teachings and writings of the apostles, and their interpretation of what they knew. Even a quick read of the letters of the New Testament, whether Paul or Peter or John or any other reveals a pattern: churches confused, in conflict, and straying from the faith. The Galatians were plagued with "judaizers" who wanted to impose the old covenant laws and restrictions, while the Corinthians had problems with thinking being saved meant any behavior whatsoever was permissible. Early gnosticism (a belief in secret revelation directly from God and that while matter is sinful, the spiritual is pure and sinless) plagued the church along with other various movements.

Under the leadership of the apostles and other great thinkers such as the men who came to be known as "church fathers" such as Eusebius, Ambrose, Clement, and Polycarp the Christian church began to form a more consistent, shared faith which was overseen by bishops in various cities. This faith, labeled "catholic" (meaning universal, shared by all believers) came to be identified with orthodox Christianity and thus the Catholic Church was born. For centuries, this was the only real "denomination" of the church, although there were local and regional variants.

Due to the vast political power and established structure the Catholic church enjoyed, it had unfortunate openings to corruption and over the centuries stories of greed and misuse of power became all too common.

Even the monastic orders, formed to separate from the sins and troubles of modern life, were all too subject to this corruption. Each successive order was created to address the problems and lack of piety in the previous monastic organization. The Benedictines were formed at least in part out of concerns with the early monastic orders, establishing structures, hierarchy, rules, and structure which defined monks and nuns from that point on. However by the 9th century, the Carolingian (Charlemagne's dynasty) kings tried to reorganize and control the monks who despite their efforts to live apart from sin, materialism, and modern culture were becoming fat and rich and corrupted all too often.

In the beginning of the second millennium St Bruno saw the problems with the monastic orders in France and formed the Carthusians. In the 1100s the Cistercians were formed to deal with problems they saw. In the 1200s St Francis of Assisi formed the Franciscan monks because of corruption in the orders. The Dominicans, Templars, Jesuits and so on all were formed out of a need to reform and repair the problems in the previous monastic orders and to address theological concerns which they believed were neglected. Yet the monastic reformations were not the only attempts of change the Catholic Church faced.

In the first millennia ended with a major fight in the Catholic Church. In the East, the church had shifted gradually away on several doctrinal issues and by the turn of the millennium, were almost in open war with the western Church. Cultural issues and the collapse of the Roman Empire had resulted in a divide in the existing western civilization, and finally the two split officially over a piece of the Nicene Creed called the "filioque clause."

Now there were two official churches, the Orthodox and the Catholic. The Orthodox included Turkey, Greece, and Russia, while the Catholic Church included the nations in the "Holy Roman Empire," which was most of modern Europe. The Eastern church could not reconcile their differences with the west, and ended up with their own structure of leadership, theology, and worship. While similar in many ways to the Catholics, theologically there were significant differences.

The Eastern Orthodox Church has remained unreformed for over a thousand years, holding to virtually unchanged doctrine established in the first millennia AD. The Catholic Church had multiple attempts to reform it, to recover orthodox Biblical faith. There were struggles against heretics such as Pelagius, Arius, and the Nicolatians, each met by church councils which clarified and officially stated orthodox Christian doctrine as the church had understood it.

As an aside, I want to emphasize something here which has been distorted or deliberately defrauded by modern writers: the councils did not create or invent doctrine, they officially recognized and agreed to existing doctrine. The council of Nicea did not invent the Bible, nor did they create the canon of scripture (at Constantine's demand or otherwise). The canon of scripture had before that already been well established and held by Christians for centuries, all the council did was make an official church statement about it in response to heresies and questions that arose.

The first major attempt at reforming the Roman Catholic church was led by a man named Wycliffe. John Wycliffe was an English theologian in the 1300s (14th century) who was an early advocate for translating the Bible into the vulgar, or common tongue. At that time, the Bible was strictly translated into Latin out of a sign of respect and due to the academic belief that Latin was more scholarly and "beautiful" a language. Wycliffe believed that the people would be more Biblically literate and pious if only they could read the Bible themselves.

The Catholic church disagreed, considering the Bible dangerous for common people to read. It would lead to all sorts of heresies and confusion; the common people were largely illiterate in any case, so it would be pointless, they argued. Wycliffe disagreed and he thought that while the people were largely illiterate, having a Bible to read would help change that, and it would help if pastors could read the scripture in a language that the commoners understood.

Wycliffe was a strong believer in the doctrine of predestination which in brief is the belief that God has chosen those He will save from before creation, and by logical extension, those He will not. He also believed that the church should be poor, not wealthy, and that it ought not be so tied into political activity. The kings and secular rulers of England liked that idea, too. He got a lot of support from nobles and his ideas were pushed rather strongly, especially by certain firebrand nobles who were sick of both having half their taxes go to the church and being bossed around by priests.

Wycliffe also disagreed with the strong hierarchy of the church, in particular the Papacy. He saw this as a political structure that was not just unbliblical, but that led to considerable corruption and misuse of power. Many doctrines the Pope officially called for Wycliffe disagreed with and noted that if there hadn't been this system these doctrines might never have taken hold. He began to oppose the monastic orders as improper and called for a simpler, more Biblical church that went back to what the Bible more originally taught rather than the baggage and changes over more than a thousand years of history which the Catholic Church had added on, or so Wycliffe believed. He taught that the Bible, not the Church, was the official and final authority for Christians

The Roman Catholic Church disagreed. They labeled Wycliffe a heretic, and his followers came to be known as Lollards (or "mumblers"). Wycliffe was never of strong health, although by all accounts (even his enemies) he was a very pious man and well regarded by even nobility, who relied on his teaching and advice. Wycliffe died, and the Catholic Church ordered his books burned, his followers treated as heretics (which meant you were jailed and often put to death), and his remains finally dug up and burned in 1488, the ashes scattered on the nearby river.

A lesser known reformer was Jan Hus. Hus was a Czech Catholic priest and master at Charles University in Prague. Hus became influenced by Wycliffe's teachings and like many at the time was annoyed with the Catholic Church. At that time there were as many as three popes at once: two major ones (one in Avignon and one in Rome) and one lesser Pope. Each one claimed absolute authority over the Catholic Church, and each fought each other with weapons, letters, academic declarations, and theological struggles. Hus by 1411 was so influential that entire movements in Eastern Europe and the area now known as Germany were started. The Moravians, for instance, were followers of Jan Hus.

Hus was strong in his condemnations of the crusades, calling them little more than money making efforts which had nothing to do with Biblical faith. He was especially vexed by the fact that one of the popes declared a crusade against one of the other popes. Hus also condemned the use of indulgences, something Martin Luther later also condemned.

Indulgences were special dispensations the Pope was able to issue. An indulgence was an official declaration that someone's previous sins were completely forgiven. They were originally meant only for acts of unusual faith or service to the church, but as the Popes ran low on cash, they began to issue these documents for payment.

Hus taught, like Wycliffe, that Jesus Christ was the head of the church and not the Pope, and further more that one may disagree with the Pope and still be saved. The Church was not amused, and unfortunately for Hus, he was of stronger constitution than Wycliffe. He was taken prisoner, tried, questioned, tortured, and burned at the stake for being a heresy. His followers were condemned as heretics, and were hunted for hundreds of years like Wycliffe's, by the Inquisition.

The most famous and effective reformer was Martin Luther. Briefly, Luther had the same problems with the indulgences which Hus did, and his problems were exacerbated by the fact that a man named Tetzel was being particularly crass about selling them. In 1517, so enraged by Tetzel's crass money making efforts (by the there was only one Pope again, but he was raising money to build St Peter's Basilica in Rome) he nailed a list of theses he wanted to discuss on the door of the local church.

This was not unusual. Any time someone had a public discussion of academic and scholarly intent he would do the same thing. Martin Luther's was not odd, nor was it his first. This time, however, something different happened. The 95 Theses were nailed on that door regarding a topic which a lot of people were upset about and word spread rapidly. Not only that, but in 1440, a man named William Guttenberg had invented a handy device called the Printing Press. By the time Luther nailed his long list of theses to the door, the press was very popular and in common use in Germany and around Europe.

Those theses were nailed to the door on October 31st. Thus, many reformation-heritage churches celebrate Reformation Day, not Halloween (a Roman Catholic holiday) on that day.

The 95 theses were copied, printed, and distributed all around Europe. Martin Luther at the time was not a full fledged reformer, he was largely orthodox in his Catholicism, but was becoming frustrated with the corruption, misuse of power, and problems in theology he saw in his studies. Soon after, he moved rapidly toward Wycliffe and Hus in his theology, and began writing about his ideas. He had to flee, and while in hiding translated the Vulgate (the official Latin Bible of the Catholic Church) into German.

For political, cultural, and certainly supernatural reasons, Martin Luther did not face the same fate as the previous reformers. Luther was excommunicated and fled for his life, he was put on trial and was threatened with death, but despite this responded simply:
Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments, I can and will not retract, for it is neither safe nor wise to do anything against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.
The Diet of Worms where he was held and tried condemned him and ordered him to not repeat his heresies, but let him live. Luther lived to the age of 62 in 1546, married and happy. He wrote many books and his efforts to reform the church were, although unsuccessful, immensely influential in Europe.

Martin Luther, like the men before him, were reformers. They wanted the Catholic Church to be fixed, not ruined or split away from. They fought for a return to scriptural standards and beliefs, against what they saw as corruption, sin, and error. They wanted to repair and reform, but in the end the best they could accomplish was to split away. The protestant movement, for those who protested against the Catholic Church, was formed because of Martin Luther, but the work of men before him laid the groundwork.

By this point, the name Catholic Church no longer really applied. Not only was there a major split in the beginning of the second millennia AD, but the Protestants split off and many left the church. It was no longer universal, so the name "Roman" Catholic church was coined, although the Roman Catholic Church still refers to its self as merely "Catholic."

The Roman Catholic Church did have a reformation of sorts - a council was held to address the excesses of indulgences and corruption, and things did get better in many ways. The problem from Luther's point of view was that the corruption was a symptom of bad theology, a natural consequence of error and sin. Failing to repair that theology would not make much difference in the ways that truly mattered to the reformers.

The primary concerns of the reformers I'll deal with in the next essay in this series, but primarily it was a belief that the Bible, not the church, was the final and primary authority. It was a concern that the official religion and structure of the church was in the way of faith and orthodoxy, and the baggage of centuries had caused the church to stray from Christian doctrine. Primary among these concerns was justification by faith as well. These two primary concerns have never changed in the Roman Catholic Church, which is why the protestant denominations still disagree and resist the Roman Catholic efforts to bring them "back" to the church.

Born in 1509, John Calvin was a contemporary of Martin Luther and was heavily influenced by the German monk. There is no evidence the two ever met or communicated, but Calvin was definitely indebted to Luther for his teachings and writings. Calvin's teachings took Luther's basics to their finest pinnacle of thought and theology, and then applied those ideas to the world through culture and political thought.

From Calvin's teachings and example in Geneva, later protestants built and expanded, influencing art, philosophy, medicine, science, education, industry, and more. John Calvin was the one who took the beginning efforts of these reformers and turned them into a world-changing worldview.

This is part of a series on Calvin and his work. Part one may be found here.

Friday, October 30, 2009


"too bizarre"

Ms Carter
Any time someone gets power and money, there is the danger of corruption. Every government around the world sees this, and even the state of Oregon suffers from corruption. This time around it was a state legislator, who took a job after leaving office. Thom Jensen at KATU news has the story:
Common Sense for Oregon’s Executive Director Ross Day said Carter violated the state’s Constitution by using her votes on the Senate Ways and Means Committee when she voted for HB 2009.

“This certainly is unconstitutional,” Day said. “What it (Constitution) says is that no legislator can fill an office of profit - which that is what this is - that was created during the term that the legislator served.” Day also added, “We will be filing a lawsuit later this week.”

The bill split the Department of Human Services and Day said it helped create Carter’s new position as a DHS deputy director, raising her annual pay from just over $21,000 to almost $122,000.

“You’ve got a legislator who not only did this, who lobbied for a hundred-thousand dollar a year increase, but then she turned around and was a key vote in raising taxes. I mean to me that just smells bad,” Day said.
Ms Carter was unavailable for interview, claiming illness, but the DHS director scoffed at the charges. Yet the Oregon constitution does plainly prohibit a legislator from taking a job that she created or enhanced. Particularly by more than five times.

Oh, missing from the entire story? The fact that Ms Carter is a Democrat. Minor detail, that. The Oregonian doesn't care about this tale, they're more concerned about how diverse the legislature is (as defined by how people look, its definitely not diverse in terms of political ideology).

One is reminded of the job which a hospital which wanted something from state legislator Obama, who gave his wife a six-figure job when they got what they wanted, then ended the job once she left.


Here are a few more creepy pictures to enjoy, or shudder at.


Tis the season, I suppose... although there's another season I plan on writing about tomorrow, a far more important and significant event than candy and a costume ball based on spooky things.


"We need to redouble our efforts to deal with the challenge."

The third quarter US Economic news is over and the federal government is reporting 3.5% growth, a respectable amount after a year of contraction. Economists primarily credit the "stimulus" package for this growth as it has injected hundreds of billions of dollars into states for projects such as jogging tracks, repaving roads, and constructing a Beatles museum in New York City. This means jobs and money. I hope that this helps jumpstart the economy and things turn around, but if it does not, it will merely be a slight arresting of the recession which will start again once the initial impact of the stimulus money runs out. And, as Ace points out, the news coverage of this is a bit different than when President Bush was in office. Back then the growth was over 7% (!) and the news, after noting that the tax cuts brought this about, was hand wringing about jobs:
While Treasury Secretary John Snow predicted this month the economy would soon be adding 200,000 jobs a month, other White House officials Thursday were quick to note the recent burst of growth has yet to create many jobs.
In fact, during a quarter with the strongest growth rate since 1984, total employment fell by 165,000 jobs, according to Labor Department statistics, in part because of strong productivity growth, which enables companies to get more work out of fewer workers.
The jobs did come, of course, they always lag the other economic indicators (and losing 'only' 165,000 jobs would be a massive upturn in this economy). So lets hope the jobs come soon, rather than the inflation and return to recession I fear.

*UPDATE: Consumer spending for September was down .5% according to Reuters, reversing the one bright spot in the economy so far. Despite the recession spending was staying high, but as I've noted in the past, that lags behind recession some as people have resources for a while.

Unfortunately, new home sales dropped even as the recession slowed, a drop of almost 4% over the last month. This is one sector of the market which the Obama White House hoped would recover, stimulated by tax incentives and different laws, but it has been struggling all 2009. Simply put, people are hesitant to make large purchases such as a home when the jobs are so scarce. At the same time, sales of durable goods (items meant to last 3 years or more, such as a refrigerator) rose by 2%, giving some economists hope.

From CNN Money, we hear that estimates the Cash for Clunkers program cost $24,000 per car, since most of the autos sold would have sold anyway. That means the program didn't stimulate car sales for most of those vehicles,

Energy Tribute ran an interesting article recently: an old essay by Albert Einstein explaining why, based on his famous E=MC2 formula, renewable energy cannot answer our energy needs. Here's a few samples:
Let’s start with hydroelectricity. Water falling off a high dam reaches a speed of about 60 miles per hour or 80 feet per second. Raising the height of the dam by 80 or more feet cannot increase the velocity by more than 20 miles per hour. The only way to increase the energy output is to increase the mass, meaning we must use more water.
Wind is less dense than water so the land requirements are even greater. Contemporary 50-story windmills generate 1-½ MW apiece, so it takes 660 windmills to get 1000 MW. They must be spaced about half a mile apart so a 1000-MW wind farm occupies 125 square miles. Unfortunately the best windmills generate electricity only 30 percent of the time, so 1000 MW really means covering 375 square miles at widely dispersed locations.

Tidal power, often suggested as another renewable resource, suffers the same problems. Water is denser than wind but the tides only move at about 5 mph. At the best locations in the world you would need 20 miles of coastline to generate 1000 MW.
If we covered every rooftop in the county with solar collectors, we could probably power our indoor lighting plus some basic household appliances – during the daytime.
There is only so much energy we can draw from renewable sources. They are limited, either by the velocities attained, or by the distance that solar energy must travel to reach the earth.
According to Dr Einstein, physics proves that these alternate energies do not provide enough juice to actually run our economy, no matter how completely they are exploited. And that's why, my conspiracy minded friends, these resources are not being taken advantage of as much as they might (aside from the usual suspects opposing every single possible attempt to build alternative power plants). There's no vast cabal of energy companies blocking these efforts, alternative energy sources just don't work like you think they do. The present sources of energy we use were chosen not at random or whim, but because they're the best available to us at the moment.

Home here in Oregon, a man illegally entered a house to commit a crime. Interestingly enough, that's defined as "burglary" even if he has no intention to steal anything. His crime was the intent to sell pot to a teenage girl who lived there. He was convicted of burglary, and appealed his case all the way to the supreme court, who ruled that the man was guilty not of burglary but trespassing. Why? Because, the court said, the prosecution had no evidence of him committing a crime (other than trespassing). The fact that he was carrying a bag of weed to distribute to a minor was, in their mind, not actually a crime despite it being illegal in Oregon.

Hurricanes are what Alan Caruba has on his mind at Warning Signs. He wants to ask a question of Al Gore: where are they?
The hurricane season that runs from June through November is about to end with nothing more than one weak to borderline moderate tropical storm that hit Florida’s panhandle, but there have been NO hurricanes; at least none that made landfall.

So, where are the hurricanes of 2009, Mr. Gore?
For the last four years, the official hurricane predictions of major organizations have been consistently wrong and too high, despite assurances that we'd see more hurricanes of greater destructive force each year due to global warming. Even the larger number of hurricanes seen in the 1990s were fewer than seen early in the 20th century (the last time the Sun's activities increased global temperatures).

Glenn Garvin at has a terrific piece up about Communist apologists in academia and the press. Unlike movie stars these guys aren't fawning worshipers, they don't go visit Castro and Chavez or make movies that praise these tyrants. They just write papers and articles.
In 1983 the Indiana University historian Robert F. Byrnes collected essays from 35 experts on the Soviet Union -- the cream of American academia -- in a book titled After Brezhnev. Their conclusion: Any U.S. thought of winning the Cold War was a pipe dream. "The Soviet Union is going to remain a stable state, with a very stable, conservative, immobile government," Byrnes said in an interview, summing up the book. "We don't see any collapse or weakening of the Soviet system."

Barely six years later, the Soviet empire began falling apart. By 1991 it had vanished from the face of the earth. Did Professor Byrnes call a press conference to offer an apology for the collective stupidity of his colleagues, or for his part in recording it? Did he edit a new work titled Gosh, We Didn't Know Our Ass From Our Elbow? Hardly. Being part of the American chattering class means never having to say you're sorry.
Miami University's Robert W. Thurston, in his 1996 book
Life and Terror in Stalin's Russia, rejects the overwhelming evidence that Stalin's purges took the lives of millions. He concedes only 681,692 executions in the years 1937 and 1938, and a mere 2.5 million arrests. Even using those low-ball figures, that means that nearly one of every 20 adult Soviet males went to prison and that more than 900 of them were executed per day. Nonetheless, Thurston says Stalin has gotten a bad rap: There was no "mass terror...extensive fear did not exist...[and] Stalin was not guilty of mass first-degree murder."

Theodore Von Laue, a professor emeritus of history at Clark University, goes further in a 1999 essay in
The Historian. He says it's the damnable Russian peasantry that ought to be begging poor Stalin for forgiveness: "He supervised the near-chaotic transformation of peasant Eurasia into an urban, industrialized superpower under unprecedented adversities. Though his achievements were at the cost of exorbitant sacrifice of human beings and natural resources, they were on a scale commensurate with the cruelty of two world wars. With the heroic help of his uncomprehending people, Stalin provided his country, still highly vulnerable, with a territorial security absent in all history."
The new picture of American Communists that emerged looked nothing like the one painted by the revisionists. The CPUSA was founded in Moscow, funded from Moscow (as late as 1988 Gus Hall was signing receipts for $3 million a year), and directed by Moscow; the Comintern reviewed everything from the party's printing bills to its public explanations of the nuances of the Hitler-Stalin pact, and the slightest misstep could bring scorching rebukes.

Worse yet, it really was a nest of spies: Hundreds of CPUSA members had infiltrated the American government and were passing information to the KGB. They honeycombed the State Department and the Office of Strategic Services. Virtually all of the revisionists' martyrs really were spilling secrets to the Kremlin, including Alger Hiss, the Rosenbergs, and a pair of Roosevelt aides, Harry Dexter White and Laurence Duggan, who died (White of a heart attack, Duggan of a jump or fall from a window) after being questioned by HUAC.
A prodigious apologist, [Ellen] Schrecker in one article conceded that Julius and Ethel Rosenberg delivered atomic secrets to the Soviets, then plaintively demanded: "Were these activities so awful?" She also coined the immortal phrase "non-traditional patriots" for the Rosenbergs, a felicitous way of saying that they lived in the United States but were loyal unto death to the Soviet Union.
Go take a look. These apologists for Communist brutality and tyranny are unable to apologize for their being utterly wrong. The article comes from a book called In Denial: Historians, Communism and Espionage, by John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr.

Robin Pagnamenta reports in the Times that England is using up so much land for wasteful, inefficient, costly, and polluting biofuels that they'll soon need to start importing grain. Biofuels have been largely rejected, even by former supporters, as a remotely useful replacement to petroleum (again, that's used not because of whim or random choice, but because it's the best we have right now) but governments are slow to act and slow to back away from stupid ideas they embraced to seem up to date and caring.

Democrats in the US Congress voted to give notoriously corrupt and illegal leftist organization ACORN a seat on the Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA) board along with other radical organizations of its type. ACORN's illegal activity has gotten so excessive and so noxious that even their defenders are backing away, but the Democratic representatives in congress think they should have a bigger say in US government.

Speaking of ACORN, the Democratic Party senses a couple of close election, such as the upcoming New Jersey Governor vote. We all should all know by now what that means: maneuvering to steal the election as Ace of Spades points out. The first step according to National Review Online is to pressure the Secretary of State (a Democrat in a corrupt administration) to ignore absentee ballots whose signatures are different than those on registration cards. Meanwhile, the New York congressional district 23 is looking close too, so Democrats are on the job: they want to immediately impound any new machines used for the election, according to Rick Karlin at the Albany Times Union.

Also in England, we find that, according to government stats released recently, gun crime has almost doubled since the Labor Party took power. That happened despite a series of ever more restrictive laws regarding gun ownership and use in the country which have made it virtually illegal to own any handgun whatsoever. Its almost as if criminals don't care what the law says.

Finally at Right Wing News, McQ writes about the difference between choice and choice. When it comes to abortion and health care, the Democrats in the federal government wants you to have choice (at least between government insurance and private; they don't care for you to choose between many insurance companies). When it comes to schools, not so much. He notes how President Obama's words while campaigning are being used in an ad trying to get Washington DC's voucher program reinstated, and the White House is displeased. "We're losing several generations of kids," Obama says, "and something has to be done." Now his song is a bit different:
President Obama isn’t taking kindly to a television ad that criticizes his opposition to a popular scholarship program for poor children, and his administration wants the ad pulled.

Former D.C. Council member Kevin Chavous of D.C. Children First said October 16 that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder had recently approached him and told him to kill the ad.
Choice, it seems, is more about a persuasive slogan than actual liberty.

Quote of the Day

During what should be rush hour, reporters from the Free Press play a macabre game, called King of the Corner. The object is to stand at a downtown intersection and look all four ways. If you can't see a single human being in any direction, you are King of the Corner. Every morning anoints its own royalty. Detroit, America's sixth largest city, is the only metropolis in the country where you can walk a downtown block during business hours without passing a living soul.
-Ze'ev Chafets, Devil's Night: And Other True Tales of Detroit

Thursday, October 29, 2009


"Play some Skynyrd dude!"

Guitar Wizard
Guitar Solos used to be pretty much required in rock songs. During the 70s the ubiquetous guitar solo (and live, the drum solo) was so standard it became cliche and mocked. By the 1980s, guitar solos had vanished - along with guitars and non electronic drums. The backlash didn't last long as people really did like to hear the soaring, talented guitar work and heavy metal always featured dazzling guitar work.

These days there's not as much as there used to be - you can't fake a really good guitar solo in the studio no matter how much overdubbing and sampling you do - but it still is out there. Yet the guitar isn't the only instrument that can have a solo. Drum solos are still around, if rare as ever, and Jethro Tull has always had flute solos in their music. The solo gives the rest of the band time to rest, get a drink, visit the bathroom, have a sandwich, and so on. And they are still popular.

So here is my list of songs with great solos, I'm sure I've missed hundreds but this is what I could come up with, in no particular order. I tried to avoid duplicate bands (Dire Straits for example has several incredible solos by Mark Knopfler, but I only put one in). Sometimes a musician will show up several times, but in different bands as a guest guitarist. All these songs are songs with lyrics, I can't really classify an instrumental in these songs. There have been great performances in instrumentals but is there really a solo in a song that's only music?
Pink Floyd: Comfortably Numb
Metallica: One
Lynyrd Skynyrd: Free Bird
Stevie Ray Vaughn: Texas Flood
Deep Purple: Highway Star
Jimi Hendrix: Little Wing
The Eagles: Hotel California
Boston: Hitch A Ride
Ozzy Osbourne: Mr Crowley
Guns 'n' Roses: Sweet Child o' Mine
Allman Brothers Band: Blue Sky
Dire Straits: Sultan of Swing
Queen: Bohemian Rhapsody
Journey: Stone In Love
Neil Young: Like a Hurricane
Iron Maiden: Two Minutes to Midnight
Steely Dan: Kid Charlemagne
Judas Priest: Painkiller
Rush: Working Man
Michael Jackson: Beat It
Ted Nugent: Stranglehold
Pat Travers: Crash and Burn
King Crimson: 21st Century Schizoid Man
Carlos Santana: Black Magic Woman
Kansas: Carry On My Wayward Son
Red Hot Chili Peppers: Higher Ground
Alice In Chains: Man in the Box
Living Color: Cult of Personality
The Who: Won't Get Fooled Again
Robin Trower: Bridge of Sighs
AC/DC: You Shook Me All Night Long
Stone Roses: Breaking Into Heaven
Megadeth: Symphony of Destruction
ZZ Top: La Grange
Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention: Zoot Alures
Soundgarden: Jesus Christ Pose
Going For the One: Yes
Blue Oyster Cult: Don't Fear the Reaper
Chuck Berry: Sweet Little Sixteen
The Doors: Light My Fire
Billy Joel: Downeaster Alexa (Izach Pearlman doing a sea chanty!)
Led Zeppelin: Stairway to Heaven
The Byrds: So You Want To Be A Rock And Roll Star?
Radiohead: Creep
Fleetwood Mac: Oh Well
Prince: Purple Rain
Sammy Hagar: Bad Motor Scooter
Aerosmith: Crazy
Jane's Addiction: Been Caught Stealing
Del Shannon: Runaway
Bruce Springsteen: Jungleland
David Bowie: China Girl
Chet Atkins: How High the Moon
Sting: Englishman In New York
The Rolling Stones: Brown Sugar
The Police: Message in a Bottle
I'm sure readers have a few examples, and I know I missed some, such as Jeff Beck (couldn't pick out one really outstanding song with a solo).


"Americans, can you say much good about them?"

Sean Penn thinks corrupt, communist dictator Chavez in Venezuela is a terrific guy. So does Michael Moore. Never mind that Chavez declared himself president for life, destroyed the Venezuelan constitution, closed down radio stations and newspapers which dissent from his opinions, seized control of businesses around the country and has thrown thousands in prison for disagreeing with him. He's just terrific. Ask Michael Moore, who joked around with Chavez on the Jimmy Kimmel show and boasted of drinking with the tyrant.

In the late 50s and early 60s, being pals with Castro was hip and popular for the left in America. Castro at least had the distinction of leading a revolution against a dictator who jailed is opponents. Chavez just took control and removed the democratic government. He wasn't a hero who defeated tyranny, he's just a thug who took power. Yet apparently as long as you kick America and are sufficiently left leaning, that's enough.

Just ask Zelaya, who tried to seize control in Honduras the same way Chavez did in Venezuela. The other two branches of the Honduran government threw him out of office and banished him from the country, but the Obama white house is treating them as if they set up a coup. President Obama's administration has cut off diplomatic contact and aid to Honduras, trying to force them to take Zelaya back.

When the Washington DC Law Library did a study, they determined that the Honduran government had acted according to their constitution and in a reasonable manner to a threat to liberty. Senator Kerry wants that decision reversed because it is in opposition to the official Democratic Party position on the subject.

The sitting interim president's nephew, Enzo Micheletti, was found dead, executed with his hands tied behind his back, in the Honduran jungle. Zelaya is hiding out in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa, fomenting trouble in the city and trying to get back into power.

Most people would wonder why the US government is taking sides against one of its strongest allies in the region, aligning its self with communist dictators such as Castro, Chavez, and Ortega who hate America. The Obama administration insists that the Honduran government is now illegal, and backs the would-be tyrant. Why? Michael Moore is openly, blatantly America-hating and communist, so his position is not hard to understand. But others like Naomi Campbell, Benicio Del Toro, Oliver Stone, and Danny Glover seem to be completely ignorant what they're dealing with, yet starry-eyed.

I can only speculate why these thugs and communists are heroes to the left, and "they are idiot actors and politicians" only goes so far. A flat out deliberate support of communism at any cost, a fascination with communist leaders who have succeeded and a hero worship of their extremist left politics has to play a part. And President Obama seems to be right along side them, openly.

It just seems to me that should matter more to people than it apparently does.


If you're looking for that special gift for this Christmas, perhaps you might consider S Weasel's little store. She's been making interesting images for years now, and recently she has collected a batch of them for tee shirts, buttons, stickers, coffee mugs, and so on. Her most famous image is Zombie Reagan:

but she has plenty of others. One of the most recent and effective is this one:

Maybe you are holding it wrong, and that matters, Mr President. For some reason President Obama kept using mopping as an illustration in speeches recently, and not very effectively, I might add.


Quote of the Day

"In modern America, anyone who attempts to write satirically about the events of the day finds it difficult to concoct a situation so bizarre that it may not actually come to pass while the article is still on the presses."
-Calvin Trillin

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


"Sometimes, to do what's right, we have to be steady and give up the thing we want the most. Even our dreams. "

Dr Connors
There is a rumor going around the internet that the next Spider-Man movie will be a bit more tame than the previous one. Spider-Man 3 was, to put it mildly, disappointing. The first two movies were rather great, they captured the characters and the setting wonderfully while keeping Raimi's sense of humor and interesting directorial style.

The third installment of the series kept some of Raimi's style but was so confused and busy that the real story he wanted to tell (just a guess but watching it I think I'm right) about Sandman got buried in three other stories, none of which were given proper attention and time. And honestly, it is very hard for me to care whether Mary Jane likes Peter Parker or not. Spider-Man really is at its best when Peter is miserable, so down that the only way he can escape is to put on the suit and go cut loose. Because of the love story, the Venom story (a character I have never liked), the black suit story, the Sandman story, and the Green Goblin story were all packed into a single movie it just was no good.

Spider-Man 4 will carry over the same cast, but this time it will be stripped down. I suspect that the studios forced all that extra crap on Raimi who had a more simple, direct story in mind, but you gotta do what the bosses say when they pay the bills. This time around Professor Connors, the friendly mentor for Peter Parker in the university and one-armed scientist, will end up as the Lizard. This is one of the more classic Spider-Man story arcs and should be handled well if the studios can just let the writers and Raimi do his job.

Unfortunately there's another rumor going around that Carnage, a villain I hate even worse than Venom, will be in the movie as well. The latest news is that they're leaning toward just Lizard, which would make a far better movie and be a lot cheaper to make. Since the same actor (Dylan Baker) has been playing Dr Connors for several movies, I've been expecting this, but the delay has actually made it more interesting. Having him be around for fans to recognize but not taken advantage of gives the movies a real sense of continuity.

We'll have to wait a while, Spider-Man 4 isn't slated for release until May 2011.


"Then suddenly out of the gloom came a sharp hiss. 'What has it got in its pocketses?'"
-The Hobbit

Back at the end of 2008, we were told that the TARP bailouts absolutely had to be done or we were all doomed. It would cause total economic collapse, fire would rain from the skies, dogs and cats would live together... mass hysteria. The Wall Street Journal ran opinion column after column telling everyone why this was absolutely necessary. Some otherwise more cautious right leaning bloggers such as Ace at the Ace of Spades HQ insisted this had to be done.

People like me asked how on earth it was ever a good idea to give the federal government hundreds of millions of dollars without any oversight or legal restrictions on how to spend it. How suddenly these businesses should be immune to the consequences of their own stupidity and how it was a good idea for the market to not work its natural course and let bad or poorly run businesses die. How it was reasonable that the immensely wealthy get bailouts when the poor got kicked out of their homes.

The TARP bills passed, and President Bush (who insisted that this had to be done) spent about half the funds, leaving the other half to President Obama. After almost a year now, the story is coming out in small pieces, and it essentially tells us that not only was the bailout not needed, but it has largely been used to pad the pockets of powerful donors and friends of politicians.

Ace recently admitted he was wrong about TARP. The Wall Street Journal recently posted an editorial reversing their previous position.
The Troubled Asset Relief Program will expire on December 31, unless Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner exercises his authority to extend it to next October. We hope he doesn't. Historians will debate TARP's role in ending the financial panic of 2008, but today there is little evidence that the government needs or can prudently manage what has evolved into a $700 billion all-purpose political bailout fund.

We supported TARP to deal with toxic bank assets and resolve failing banks as a resolution agency of the kind that worked with savings and loans in the 1980s. Some taxpayer money was needed beyond what the FDIC's shrinking insurance fund had available. But TARP quickly became a Treasury tool to save failing institutions without imposing discipline (Citigroup) and even to force public capital onto banks that didn't need it. This stigmatized all banks as taxpayer supplicants and is now evolving into an excuse for the Federal Reserve to micromanage compensatio
What's hidden in this? An admission that since the TARP funds were not spent as they should have been and thus the way the WSJ thought it would be... yet there was not a catastrophic economic collapse.

In other words: they were for the TARP bailouts because they thought they would do X, Y, and Z. Without that, the WSJ argued that everything would go to hell in a handbasket. X, Y, and Z were not done. Things did not collapse utterly. They are against an extension of TARP. In brief: they were wrong about TARP.

Which honestly shouldn't have been even an issue. The problem with many on the right is that they've confused love of free markets with love of big business. That's utterly absurd, a free market sometimes means big businesses fail or are wrong. Free markets require monopolies be broken up or fail. Free markets mean you don't have the government step in to save a company "too big to fail." The guys at Wall Street Journal should have known better.

Yet there is some information recently released which explains not only why these guys abandoned their free market principles for socialism, but why the hapless and tax-cheating Timothy Geithner ended up as US Secretary of the Treasury.

Back in 2008, Geithner was the head of the New York Federal Reserve office (these positions are not filled by or controlled by the President, who was Bush at the time). At Bloomberg we get the story from Richard Teitelbaum and Hugh Son of what happened when AIG was collapsing under bad debts and stupid management:
By Sept. 16, 2008, AIG, once the world’s largest insurer, was running out of cash, and the U.S. government stepped in with a rescue plan. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the regional Fed office with special responsibility for Wall Street, opened an $85 billion credit line for New York-based AIG. That bought it 77.9 percent of AIG and effective control of the insurer.

The government’s commitment to AIG through credit facilities and investments would eventually add up to $182.3 billion.

Beginning late in the week of Nov. 3, the New York Fed, led by President Timothy Geithner, took over negotiations with the banks from AIG, together with the Treasury Department and Chairman Ben S. Bernanke’s Federal Reserve. Geithner’s team circulated a draft term sheet outlining how the New York Fed wanted to deal with the swaps -- insurance-like contracts that backed soured collateralized-debt obligations.
The cost? 13 billion dollars of taxpayer money. The US government's funds were used to keep AIG alive and pay for a large portion of their debts despite the fact that AIG was, in essence, bankrupt at that point. Why do this? So that Goldman-Sachs and other big banking interests would stay solvent and AIG could be saved.

It was government regulation and pressure which made banks start making the idiot loans in question, and government regulation which allowed these loans to be swapped between lenders for tax breaks and to make a profit. It was the government which, backing the already corrupt and collapsing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, assured these banks that these loans were safe and guaranteed by the two lenders.

Back as far as the late 1990s, a woman with the improbable name of Brooksley Born (head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission) warned everyone he could reach that this system of trading bad loans and guaranteeing them through the federal government would collapse. He was shunned and silenced by Clinton era officials Larry Summers and Robert Rubin as well as Alan Greenspan at the Fed. Born thought the way to fix this was with more government regulation. The way to fix it would be to stop pressuring banks to loan to people who plainly could not pay their bills and stop guaranteeing awful loans with federal dollars.

Why didn't they stop this system? Well it is a combination of PC desire for social "justice" in which leftists think that its unfair that poor people cannot buy as much as more wealthy people, and at least a little bit of wanting a crisis to occur so that policies and ideas they have which are unpopular and unwanted can be pushed through as a solution. The "stimulus" package, which by all accounts has failed utterly in its goal of stopping the recession and reducing unemployment, was passed under this principle. And the worse the economy gets, the more the left thinks they have a better chance of passing socialized medicine.

Robert Pear at the New York Times explains:
The bad economy is good for President Obama and Democrats as they try to reinvent the health care system with scant Republican support.

That is the conclusion of many Congressional Democrats, who say that economic insecurity and high unemployment stoke public support for their proposals to guarantee insurance for millions of Americans.
Being a NYT article, it regurgitates the 47 million uninsured claim which is at best misleading and little more than a flat out lie. Yet the position is clear: the more of a crisis, the more likely they can pass unpopular legislation, or as White House advisor Rahm Emmanuel put it "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste." As Rush Limbaugh has said in the past, what's bad for America is good for Democrats.

Yet the American people aren't buying it, yet at least. When 49 of 50 states have lost jobs in the past year (plus the District of Columbia) and unemployment is almost at 10% nationwide, with well over 10% in several states, people are more interested in why the federal government is not doing something about that instead of finding new ways to spend more money it doesn't have.

And in the process, while many economists think they see the beginnings of a recovery from the recession, they also fear something far more devastating on the horizon. Pretty much everyone is sure that unemployment is going to stay the same or get worse for the foreseeable future. What they are afraid of is what concerns me. Even if there's some manner of recovery going on, that gigantic 11 trillion dollar deficit that the Democrats in the federal government have rung up means trillions of dollars were printed just to pay for projects and leftist schemes. That money has to either be settled in higher taxes, which quite frankly will not happen - even if the top 1% richest in America were taxed 100% it still would not be enough - or the value of the dollar drops as each dollar's real worth is reduced to match the amount that's been printed without anything to give it worth.

That means inflation, and not just a little. When you mix inflation with unemployment, that means a serious drop in the national economy, and with numbers like we have right now combined with inflation... the Carter years are a best case scenario.


I'm worried that the 150 or so little flags at the top slow loading of the blog down too much, is that a problem for anyone?

I don't care how much the president golfs or doesn't golf, or takes vacations, or stays in the White House. I care what he's doing on the job and why. As far as I'm concerned if you do the job well and get it done, you can play as much golf as possible with whoever you want.

If in the Dune series of books, the result of a lasgun hitting a personal shield is like a nuke going off, what possible significance is there to family atomics?

Remember when science fiction series used to at least ostensibly be about science and adventure rather than relationships and drama?

If the CSI: New York guys are constantly struggling with budget cuts, why do they work in an office that looks like Microsoft and have not only a wall-sized interactive television screen but a laser holographic display out of Star Trek and a gesture-motion interface on their 9-monitor computer terminals?

When did it become fashionable for girls to dress as slutty as humanly possible during Halloween?

If Newt Gingrich thinks Republicans ought not fight against or criticize other Republicans and always support the GOP candidate, why is he fighting so hard against GOP Candidate Hoffman in New York?

I suspect that the recent decision by the Pope to accept Anglicans into the Roman Catholic Church - even married priests - will erode the RC's long standing traditions and moral code such as banning priests from marrying.

For an industry always hungry for new talent and on the lookout for the next big seller, book publishers make it awfully hard to actually contact them and show them your work.

Were I in charge of a newspaper, I'd fire the staff columnists and stop buying syndicated columns and cartoons, then hire a full time internet scout to find me talent and buy their work cheaper than syndication.

If I had enough money, I'd start up a chain of holiday stores, stores which only stocked seasonal and holiday supplies and goods, shifting every season and new holiday to hold specific stock. You could throw in a party supply section as well that would always be stable.

If you haven't been checking out News Fifty, you should. Its like Drudge Report with less sensationalism and more focus on the individual states of the US.

Is there anyone who doesn't like Skittles?

Is anyone else out there sick of vampires and zombies in popular culture?

Does anyone else have the sneaking suspicion that we're living in the golden age of the internet, and eventually all the stuff that's so free and easy to access won't be?


Quote of the Day

"About the most originality that any writer can hope to achieve honestly is to steal with good judgment."
-Josh Billings

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


“It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.”
-Herman Melville

Magnificent Seven
Something I wonder about now that I'm writing books is the difference between a cheap copy, a knockoff... and a genuine homage or variant. Take The Magnificent Seven. The director and writer deliberately made a western version of The Seven Samurai, they even talked to the famed director Kurosawa about what they were doing. It was a pretty direct translation with changes due to genre. The Magnificent Seven is a classic movie, though. In reverse, the movie Yojimbo (which then was made into several American films such as Fistfull of Dollars and Last Man Standing) was an adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's novel Red Harvest.

Then there are movies like Eragon which is a really thinly disguised copy of Star Wars crossed with Dragon Riders of Pern. It sucked. Or Sword of Shannara, which was a really amateurish copy of Lord of the Rings. Even Star Wars is said to be a copy of a Japanese movie called The Hidden Fortress. Oh Brother Where Art Thou, one of my favorite movies, is an adaptation of Homer's Odyssey.

On one side you have a classic, an homage or adaptation which people respect and understand. On the other you have a cheesy knockoff, a failed attempt to copy an established and beloved story. What makes the difference? Why is the former acceptable and even appreciated, while the latter is reviled and mocked?

It seems to me the key to the difference is quality. If you make a good copy, an entertaining, well-written, and interesting version of an existing product, you've created an homage or an adaptation. If you do a lousy job, then its a cheap copy. Certainly the "adaptation" can't be too literal or direct. Your dialog can contain some of the same themes or even a line or two in homage of the original, but just a line for line copy with different outfits is going to be awful.

I wonder about this because I have a few... adaptations in mind for my writing, and I'd like to see them received as a clever and respectful homage rather than a cheap knockoff.


"I feel disposed toward violence for the offending parties."

Another terror plot has been broken up. You don't hear much about it in the news now that it isn't useful as a lever to topple Republicans from office, but the War on Terror keeps going. Sure, the Obama White House wants to call terrorist attacks "man made disasters" and declared the war on terror over, but the operations keep going and the worldwide efforts keep stopping terrorists. Words don't mean as much as actions, in the end.

These two men had a plan, cooked up in America. Remember those mild and inoffensive Danish cartoons, such as one with Muhammad wearing a turban with a cartoon bomb in it? They wanted to kill the man they thought was most responsible for those cartoons, years ago. They had other targets in mind too. Mike Robinson reports at the AP:
David Coleman Headley, 49, and Tahawwur Hussain Rana, 48, were charged in separate complaints filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Chicago. Headley told FBI agents that the initial plan called for an attack against the newspaper building in Copenhagen, but he later proposed just killing the paper's cartoonist and former cultural editor, according to an FBI affidavit released Tuesday.

Prosecutors said Headley traveled to Denmark to identify potential targets for a terrorist attack and that Rana helped arrange Headley's travel.

Headley is charged with conspiracy to commit terrorist acts involving murder and maiming outside the United States. He could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted. He was arrested Oct. 3 at O'Hare International Airport as he boarded a flight to Philadelphia, the first leg of a trip to Pakistan.
That's good news: the good guys got them before they pulled off their attacks. Yet I'd like to draw attention to two things.

First, despite previous policy during the Bush administration to never use the word "terrorist", the Associated Press now uses it to describe their plans. Previously the words "militant" and "activist" were substituted for terrorist, to avoid making anyone feel bad and mostly to avoid giving the impression that terrorism is actually a problem that the Bush administration should be addressing.

Second, read through that whole article, its one page long. Do you find a single reference in any place, anywhere in that article 891 words long find a reference to the religion of these men? We're only given three hints:
  1. That the two men attended "a school" together in Pakistan (a maddrassa)
  2. That the men contacted al`Qaeda
  3. That "Islamic Law" frowns on depiction of Muhammad
What could it possibly be? Perhaps they are Methodists! Or maybe they are Scientologists? Could they have been druids?

These men are Muslims, but the AP could not quite bring themselves, despite letting the word "terrorist" squeak out (at least in this edition) to admit that fact. They are Muslim terrorists trying to kill the Danes who printed these cartoons.

Sadly, given the recent track record of federal prosecutors, they'll probably walk.


"There's a real need out there for low-cost transportation"

So the Cash for Clunkers program is done and gone, giving a temporary spike in auto sales, then a drop in the following month. What's the aftermath? A pair of recent news stories give us a hint. First, via Warner Todd Huston at Right Wing News, there is a shortage of cheaper used cars in some areas. Mike Urban has the story at the Reading Eagle out of Pennsylvania:
Some local used car dealers specializing in vehicles priced $5,000 and under agreed that there are fewer inexpensive vehicles available.

They say cash for clunkers is part of the reason, but they also point to the down economy, which has forced many who own older cars to hang on to them instead of trading them in for newer ones.

In his 20 years in the business, salesman Mark Sauer has never had a tougher time finding inexpensive used cars.
The trend is occurring nationally as well.

The Manheim Used Vehicle Value Index reported that prices reached record highs in September. The consulting firm that publishes the index blamed low inventories.
In essence, by destroying the cheaper used cars that would normally be resold once they were traded in, the program actually is causing a hardship on poorer people, as predicted by many.

The second story is by Dan Gearino in the Columbus Dispatch out of Ohio:
Charities feel like they have been run over by "Cash for Clunkers."

A variety of groups rely on donations of old cars to fund their programs -- the kind of cars headed to the crusher under the government program that seeks to boost new-car sales and take gas guzzlers off the road.

This week, the Volunteers of America auction lot on the West Side was almost empty. About 25 cars were parked under a metal canopy, about half as many as manager John Cleland would like to see.

"It's pretty slim," he said.

His organization uses proceeds from the weekly auction to pay for its charitable activities, which include housing, job training and substance-abuse counseling.

The recession had hurt car donations before the "clunkers" program started in earnest late last month. Now, donations have come to a virtual standstill.
This too was predicted: auto donations to charities tailing off and even stopping because potential donations have been instead traded in for the cash for clunkers program. Also mentioned in the same story is the fact that many used car dealerships are suffering as a result of less inventory and higher prices because the cheaper cars just aren't available to them. Between that and the recession, some of these businesses are going under. That means even fewer options for poorer buyers.

By now, the government has finally sent reimbursement funds to most dealerships for the cars they accepted at least. Yet the program which seemed like a good idea suffered on several fronts:
  1. It was unconstitutional: again, taking money from taxpayers to help others out is not permitted in the US constitution, but nobody in congress or the legacy media even bothered to ask if that was a problem.
  2. It was poorly run and sloppy, slow to pay out the funds needed - typical for a government-run program, but not encouraging as the Democrats attempt to take over medical insurance
  3. It hurt the poor and needy by reducing the number of cars they can buy and reducing charitable giving.
  4. It failed to reduce the number of less fuel efficient cars on the road as buyers tended to get trucks
  5. It failed to help US automakers by as much as hoped as buyers largely went after foreign cars
Just something to consider when you hear about another "compassionate" program created by the federal government. When the government gets more power, even in the name of doing good, that means less power for you, and more power for them to do things you don't care for.


What happened here, mommy?

Quote of the Day

"When buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators."
-P. J. O'Rourke

Monday, October 26, 2009


"Lovey, call the Coast Guard, my cravat isn't starched properly!"

One of the newest gadgets that hikers carry along when they head up to the wild is a Personal Locator Beacon. This is a hardy case containing a GPS locator and a radio that will call for help if you hit a button on the device. It is intended for emergencies, for someone who becomes hurt or stranded or lost and needs rescuing.

Here's a few other reasons these beacons are being set off by day hikers:
  • The water "tastes salty"
  • Cold and Damp
  • Bumped accidentally while hiking
  • Frightened by Thunderstorm
Another concern of rescue workers is that people are packing these in and attempting hikes they might not have otherwise tried. The idea being "well I would never try this normally, but if I get in a jam I can just hit a button and they'll get me out!" Is the weather looking nasty? That's OK if it gets too bad, just hit the button. Helicopters and hikers and special equipment will scramble and run to your rescue.

Rescue workers are getting upset at how these are being used, for good reason.
"Now you can go into the back country and take a risk you might not normally have taken," says Matt Scharper, who coordinates a rescue every day in a state with wilderness so rugged even crashed planes can take decades to find. "With the Yuppie 911, you send a message to a satellite and the government pulls your butt out of something you shouldn't have been in in the first place."

"There's controversy over these devices in the first place because it removes the self sufficiency that's required in the back country," Scharper says. "But we are a society of services, and every service you need you can get by calling."
For a culture which increasingly relies on others for everything and considered push-button, on demand immediate service not an amazing luxury or convenience, but a right this kind of thing becomes inevitable.

In the past if you got stuck or lost, you had to work on a way out yourself. Some people didn't. Most people did, sometimes crawling. That kind of self reliance is what you'd expect from someone who packs all they'll need on their back and walks into a wilderness area. Hiking is sort of the last bastion of rugged individuality and self reliance. Or, at least it was. With these gadgets now just any schmuck can stroll out somewhere he's unprepared for and call in because he forgot a can opener.

The news is full of various crises of appearance: how fat you are, how bad your teeth are, how ugly your clothes are. What's missing are crises of character: how honorable you are, how wise you are, how virtuous you are. And merely bringing these things up is met with hails of antagonism: how judgmental of you! I'd rather be fat and dress funny than be such a chump I call down rescue helicopters over the thunder is scary.


"Ha! Americans are fat!"
-comedian looking for an easy laugh

America is having an obesity crisis! At least, that's what we're told. The number of people overweight in the country is said to be at a crisis level, Americans are infamously fat, mocked around the world for being bloated.

Here's the stats from a recent AP report. About 5% of Americans are "morbidly obese" which is defined as more than 100 pounds over weight. A third are considered obese, which is defined as any amount over the Body Mass Index BMI's ideal weight level. So that sounds awful, right? Horrendous, immensely fat.

The problem with the BMI is that it doesn't really take into account different kinds of builds, and it has an idealized target weight which isn't reasonable for most human beings. For example I am just under 6'3 and weigh around 200 pounds, give or take 5 depending on how long its been since I ate and whether its Thanksgiving. That gives me a BMI of 25. 30 is considered "obese." In other words, I'm 5 units from being not just out of shape but obese. That's absurd, I am not exactly cut and toned, but I'm not fat by any definition. That's beacuse I have fairly broad shoulders and am built to carry this much weight properly.

The BMI is making the problem of obesity appear awful. Another problem is the word "obese" because nobody pictures someone with a few pounds or a little heavy as "obese" they think "bury in a refrigerator crate." So when you use that word and say 30% of Americans are obese, people think this:

Rather than this:

Both are considered "obese" because both have more than a 30 BMI. One is clearly unhealthy and has a problem, the other is curvy and looks darn good. Yet that word "obese" conjures up disgusting images of rolls of fat rather than curves.

Again I can't help but think back to the models vs refugees post I did which has been swarmed with angry comments (including people claiming to know the models) telling me how stupid I am for noting the gaunt, skeletal nature of these poor girls. Ralph Lauren clothing recently got into trouble by taking an already skinny model and photoshopping her into Auschwitz territory.

If that's what you think ordinary humans should look like no wonder you think the plus size model above is obese. Your perception of the human figure is so distorted you've got the same mindset as a bulimic staring in the mirror. You see the same fat pig that she sees, when everyone sane sees her as dangerously underweight.

Is America all that fat, by the way? Sure it makes for a cheap joke and an easy insult. It's the narrative that the rest of the world loves to cling to, but how valid is it?

Here's a list of the top 20 countries and the percentage of people considered "obese" by the standards above:

1. Nauru 94.52.
2. Federated States of Micronesia 91.13.
3. Cook Islands 90.94.
4. Tonga 90.85.
5. Niue 81.76.
6. Samoa 80.47.
7. Palau 78.48.
8. Kuwait 74.29.
9. United States 74.110.
10. Kiribati 73.611.
11. Dominica 71.012.
12 Barbados 69.713.
13 Argentina 69.414.
14 Egypt 69.415.
15 Malta 68.716.
16 Greece 68.517.
17 New Zealand 68.418.
18 United Arab Emirates 68.319.
19 Mexico 68.120.
20 Trinidad and Tobago 67.9

But America is disgustingly obese. Mind you this is just the list of people over 30 BMI, it doesn't list the number of people actually obese as most people would define it - dangerously heavy with health damaging consequences. I can't actually find that number, nobody is making the list showing who is very heavy, just the bare minimum.

Incidentally, by this standard, the World Health Organization estimates that 1.6 billion people around the world are considered obese. That's just round 30% worldwide, the same as the US. But its America that's uniquely and grossly bloated.


"The Obamas are evolved...all of them!"

Mrs Obama
Its rare to open up a Sunday edition of a newspaper (especially the inserts like Parade or other weekly specials) without finding an article about how wonderful Michelle Obama is. Even during the week we'll see style editors praising her astonishing sense of fashion and her stunning beauty, women's writers reporting on what an amazing human being and superior example of womanhood Mrs Obama is, and so on.

It goes on and on, every week you'll see another piece. Here's some excerpts from recent one from Charles Blow in the New York Times:
Forgive me in advance for fawning, but Michelle Obama is the coolest first lady ever. She clinched it for me this week by jumping double Dutch on the South Lawn as part of a “healthy kids fair.”
I could pile on platitudes here about her professional accomplishments, or explore to what degree she is redefining the role of women, or predict how she will be viewed by historians in the pantheon of her predecessors. I could, but I won’t. That’s not my bailiwick.

But I will say that she seems particularly suited to these times. She provides a certain authenticity and clarity of self in a time of uncertainty, projecting a casual grace onto a world of amplified anxiety. She has become a powerful symbol of fearlessness, refinement, frugality and frivolity, managing to be both fun and serious simultaneously. She’s genuinely human.
Michelle Obama has been photographed a lot in specially prepared events, but almost never is she given a microphone, largely because every time she speaks it seems like she sounds more angry, more anti-white, and more anti-American.

That doesn't stop this sort of praise, though. And its shared by readers of the times as well, here's a sampling of the comments:
And besides all that, she planted a garden. How kool.

Love her, love her, love her!

Now I look forward to hearing what *she* thinks, what *she* feels.

I agree She is wonderful. She has had to focus on whats real so often in her life - why should she stop now.

She's tough, she's tender, she's hard, she's soft. There is no denying her brilliance nor her absolute devotion to her role as Barack's wife and their children's mother.

Loved the column and love Michelle! It's so refreshing to read what I've been thinking for a long time.
Putting aside the ignorant and ahistorical content of both the article and most of the comments (Mrs Bush broke her hip sledding with her grandkids when first lady with President Bush the elder, for example, and ever first lady has a garden), the praise again is hilariously overstated.

Between the deification of President Obama and the slobbering over praise of his wife, the news is practically sopping with drool by the time it reaches increasingly rare subscribers. Basically we're told this woman is not just the smartest woman ever, but the best dresser, the most beautiful, the most sophisticated, the best mother, and the strongest, most easy to like human on the planet. She's a goddess, a transcendent being we are barely worthy to view with the naked eye.

And I can't help wondering if they really believe that or realize the game they're playing? Michelle Obama isn't especially attractive to me, and she has the fashion sense of a 70's carpet designer. Her outfits are often just ugly and usually contain odd, seemingly random combinations that, were she not the black first lady, would be the mockery of the fashion world. This shouting seems to be the sort of thing someone does when they know they have no real case, so they get louder and more insistent just to drown out objections. This overwhelming need to sell every single aspect of the Obama Presidency as The Most Wonderful Thing Ever©
was tired and unwelcome by the end of the first day.

So what if she's not the most beautiful human being to ever walk the planet? So what if she's not the most brilliant first lady in the history of the country? So what if she's not particularly fashionable? Can't she just be a supportive wife and mom who tries to be a good public figure? Why does she have to be the most wonderful person conceivable? This overselling and completely over the top excess makes me wonder if the writers don't think they need to overcompensate.

Mrs ObamaGranted, she's not exactly the warmest and most easy to like figure. Her statements during the campaign alternated between contempt and barely contained rage. She'd tell women not to chase wealth and position after living a life that was defined by little else. She'd talk about how America was such a horrible and rotten place of continuous misery, and how she was never proud of her country in the past. I can see where they might feel the need to shape that perception and make her seem more approachable and nice.

I just think they're trying so hard it looks desperate, contrived, and false. But clearly, its working on at least some of the readers of the New York Times.