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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Friday, December 31, 2010

PICTURE OF THE DAY

Death to Babies
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WORD AROUND THE NET

"Obama uses his control over Executive Branch agencies to do what Congress or the courts have forbidden."

Ignoring Separation of Powers
Sometimes the news media can get so bad that even other left leaning media sites can't help but take note. For example, the Los Angeles Times couldn't help but snicker at the headline that ran earlier this year:

Obama assails Republican foes, urges bipartisan effort

That's from Stan Holland at the Reuters News Service. Was he trying to be ironic? Was he mocking President Obama? Or did he just not consider what that says?

New York City got socked pretty hard by a blizzard, like most of the east coast, and the cleanup of all that snow was so slow that people died waiting for emergency services to reach them, like ambulances. At first New Yorkers were upset at Mayor Bloomberg, but it turns out he might not have been the problem at all. Sally Goldberg, Larry Celona and Josh Margolin write at the New York Post:
Miles of roads stretching from as north as Whitestone, Queens, to the south shore of Staten Island still remained treacherously unplowed last night because of the shameless job action, several sources and a city lawmaker said, which was over a raft of demotions, attrition and budget cuts.

"They sent a message to the rest of the city that these particular labor issues are more important," said City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Queens), who was visited yesterday by a group of guilt-ridden sanitation workers who confessed the shameless plot.
Seeing as these are sanitation workers who replaced the last batch who went on strike, you'd think they would know better than to enrage a public more opposed to public unions than at any time in the last 100 years.

Scientists are baffled by the way the sun is acting, with such minimal solar activity for so long they haven't ever seen the like before. What worries them is that it might be building up to massive activity after such a long quiet. The problem is nobody really knows why the sun acts how it does or what really causes the storms or inactivity, so there's no basis for prediction or even guessing. Solar storms cause radio interference (yes, your phone too), and can even cause greater damage. AFP quotes various scientists (courtesy Breitbart):
In the front line are telecommunications satellites in geostationary orbit, at an altitude of 36,000 kilometres (22,500 miles) and Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites, on which modern airliners and ships depend for navigation, which orbit at 20,000 kms (12,000 miles).

Another precaution is redundancy -- to have backup systems in case one malfunctions.

On Earth, power lines, data connections and even oil and gas pipelines are potentially vulnerable.
...
An early warning of the risk came in 1859, when the biggest CME ever observed unleashed red, purple and green auroras even in tropical latitudes.

The new-fangled technology of the telegraph went crazy. Geomagnetically-induced currents in the wires shocked telegraph operators and even set the telegraph paper on fire.

In 1989, a far smaller flare knocked out power from Canada's Hydro Quebec generator, inflicting a nine-hour blackout for six million people.
...
Recurrence of a 1921 event today would fry 350 major transformers, leaving more than 130 million people without power, it heard. A bigger storm could cost between a trillion and two trillion dollars in the first year, and full recovery could take between four and 10 years.
Then again, maybe it won't happen for decades, and be very mild. Nobody really knows.

Put this in the abuse of power folder: a woman who protested TSA groping "security" by showing up in lingerie has been banned from flying, according to Oklahoma's channel six news. The YouTube video of her protest was a big hit on the internet, but the security officials claim it is because of nitrates detected on her.

Passengers aren't the only ones feeling this pressure to shut up and obey the TSA. Kim Minugh and Cathy Locke write at the Sacramento Bee about a pilot who filmed TSA misadventures for YouTube:
The video, posted Nov. 30, has since been pulled from YouTube, and Liu has been stripped of his role in a federal anti-terrorism program that allowed him to carry a handgun while flying.
...
TSA officials arrived at Liu's Colfax house earlier this month and confiscated his weapon. Placer County sheriff's deputies, who accompanied the TSA, suspended his permit to carry a concealed weapon.

TSA authorities have defended the action, saying that pilots who participate in the program "must be able to maintain sensitive security information."
Lesson learned: if you anger this administration, it will use its federal powers to make you pay.

Speaking of power, one favorite trick of the Obama administration when it can't get congress to go along with its wishes is to just tell agencies to do it anyway. Jeffrey Anderson at The Weekly Standard writes:
Not satisfied with the colossal amounts of power that she would acquire under Obamacare if it isn't repealed, Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary Kathleen Sebelius has issued a 136-page "rule" that will now give her (and her subordinates) largely unchecked power to pass judgment on the prices of health insurance throughout the United States. Notwithstanding the fact that 43 states already regulate and approve health insurance premiums, Sebelius claims that we need an additional, more centralized, protection against insurers' unseemly 'profit motive.'
It must be nice to be able to just write a report granting yourself greater federal power without even needing to bother with legislation. Nice and unconstitutional.

Gabriel Malor at the Ace of Spades HQ has a great year-end wrap up of the ways the Obama administration has been using executive orders and agencies to ignore congress and enact his wishes without bothering with legislation or legality. Here's the lowlights:
  • Forcing Card Check
  • Blocking offshore drilling
  • Shut down Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage
  • Implementing FCC control over the internet
The courts have already shot down several of these attempts, but when that happens, the Obama team tries it again, with slightly different wording. When it comes down to a choice between being constitutional and carrying out the agenda of pointy headed leftist academics, Obama knows where he's going, full speed. Hey, they believe what they're doing is so right and so important that they have to ignore that old and confusing separation of powers bit.

The Ford Motor Company was praised by a lot of people (including me) for not taking auto bailouts this time around, and having turned their company around on their own. At least Ford wasn't taken over by the Obama administration like GM and Chrysler. Except, according to Jalopnik, Ford did get federal money, under the table.
In the depths of the financial collapse, the U.S. Federal Reserve pumped $3.3 trillion into keeping credit moving through the economy. It eventually lent $57.9 billion to the auto industry — including $26.8 billion to Ford, Toyota and BMW.

The Fed on Wednesday was forced to reveal the identity of the companies it aided during the crisis, after contending to Congress that keeping their identities and the details of such lending secret was essential. Much of Wall Street, and corporate giants such as General Electric, Harley Davidson and McDonald's, took advantage of the Fed's help. We've done the math on how the Fed propped up the auto industry.
...
According to the data, from October 2008 through June 2009 the fed bought $45.1 billion in commercial paper from the credit arms of four automakers - Ford, BMW, Chrysler and Toyota - along with GMAC (the former General Motors credit arm). Of those, Ford sold the most, with $15.9 billion.
Ford has benefited from the perception they were pure of this sort of bailout. They aren't.

Accountability is something people really prefer to see in their government, and its one of the things President Obama campaigned on then abandoned when in office. the Government Accountability Office (GAO) supposedly checks figures and issues trustworthy information on federal government financial state, when it can. With this administration, its just given up, according to Accounting Today:
The main obstacles to a GAO opinion were: (1) serious financial management problems at the Department of Defense that made its financial statements unauditable, (2) the federal government’s inability to adequately account for and reconcile intragovernmental activity and balances between federal agencies, and (3) the federal government’s ineffective process for preparing the consolidated financial statements.

In addition, the GAO said last week it was unable to render an opinion on the 2010 Statement of Social Insurance because of significant uncertainties, primarily related to the achievement of projected reductions in Medicare cost growth. The consolidated financial statements discuss these uncertainties, which relate to reductions in physician payment rates and to productivity improvements, and provide an illustrative alternative projection to illustrate the uncertainties.

Dodaro also cited material weaknesses involving an estimated $125.4 billion in improper payments, information security across government, and tax collection activities. He noted that three major agencies — the DOD, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Labor — did not get clean opinions. Nineteen of 24 major agencies did get clean opinions on all their statements.
Most transparent... well you know the rest.

Lest you think Democrats are the only problem, check out this bit from the New York Times, courtesy Hot Air about how Republicans are finding new ways to hide their spending:
Though Mr. Kirk and other Republicans thundered against pork-barrel spending and lawmakers’ practice of designating money for special projects through earmarks, they have not shied from using a less-well-known process called lettermarking to try to direct money to projects in their home districts…

Lettermarking, which takes place outside the Congressional appropriations process, is one of the many ways that legislators who support a ban on earmarks try to direct money back home.
Mind you, Democrats do the same thing, but nobody really expects them to do anything but increase spending and throw money to their districts. Essentially, they're doing earmarking without bothering to actually write anything into the law. Instead they send letters, emails, or call on the phone and "request" spending, which agencies understand is like a request from Don Soprano: we can cut off your funding at any time. Well, I guess technically they only promised not to use earmarks...

Publishers of books might be looking at a real problem. Because they pay their artists so little and make it such a pain to get published, writers are looking at other, newer options. Take Joe Konrath, author of books such as Shot of Tequila, Trapped, and Whiskey Sour, who is tired of going through the old system. Alex Pham writes at the LA Times:
Joe Konrath can't wait for his books to go out of print.

When that happens, the 40-year-old crime novelist plans to reclaim the copyrights from his publisher, Hyperion Books, and self-publish them on Amazon.com, Apple Inc.'s iBooks and other online outlets. That way he'll be able to collect 70% of the sale price, compared with the 6% to 18% he receives from Hyperion.

As for future novels, Konrath plans to self-publish all of them in digital form without having to leave his house in Schaumburg, Ill.
Its hard to argue with the numbers. Even if he only sells a quarter as many books as a publisher can get out there, he's still making about as much money as a well-paid author. Publishing houses have got to look at this and reconsider their business platform and how they treat the talent. The only drawback to this system: you can't simply write and publish a book online, if nobody knows its there or has heard of you. I've had a book in publication over a year and sold about 3 dozen total copies.

One of the talking points of the left during the Bush administration (dumped when President Obama won) was that Guantanmo Bay is a source of fury and propaganda among "Arab Street" and with al`Qaeda. Why, those people being held there are being used to recruit terrorists, they claimed. The truth is, not so much. Thomas Joscelyn writes at The Weekly Standard:
THE WEEKLY STANDARD has reviewed translations of 34 messages and interviews delivered by top al Qaeda leaders operating in Pakistan and Afghanistan (“Al Qaeda Central”), including Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri, since January 2009. The translations were published online by the NEFA Foundation. Guantanamo is mentioned in only 3 of the 34 messages. The other 31 messages contain no reference to Guantanamo. And even in the three messages in which al Qaeda mentions the detention facility it is not a prominent theme.

Instead, al Qaeda’s leaders repeatedly focus on a narrative that has dominated their propaganda for the better part of two decades. According to bin Laden, Zawahiri, and other al Qaeda chieftains, there is a Zionist-Crusader conspiracy against Muslims. Relying on this deeply paranoid and conspiratorial worldview, al Qaeda routinely calls upon Muslims to take up arms against Jews and Christians, as well as any Muslims rulers who refuse to fight this imaginary coalition.
The trouble is that people were projecting their understanding and ideals on al`Qaeda, which makes no sense at all. They don't give a damn if some guys are in prison somewhere; they have no outrage at people being kept in a warm vacation region (people pay a lot of money to stay in the Caribbean) and well-fed with medical care. Their anger is the usual: Jews, you won't submit to Islam, yadda yadda.

Professor Jacobson at Legal Insurrection has been looking at the "birther" conspiracy and he's noticed something odd:
It also seems that the supposed intellectual poles have been reversed.

People who supposedly are irrational and driven by hatred demand to see the evidence. People who supposedly are rational and driven by dispassionate intellect demand that the evidence not be seen.
Look, when even Chris Matthews is asking to see a physical copy of the actual birth certificate, maybe its time to stop stonewalling. President Obama was born in Hawaii, but there surely seems to be something on that document he really doesn't want anyone to see.

It is said if you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by. If you wait online long enough, your ideological enemies often will admit you're right. Such as this editorial in the New York Times which admits:
Starved for revenue and accustomed to decades of overspending, many states have been overwhelmed. They are facing shortfalls of $140 billion next year. Even before the downturn, states jeopardized their futures by accumulating trillions in debt that they swept into some far-off future.
Sure, their solution is "more taxes so we can continue to overspend," but at least they're willing to admit spending has been a mistake.

Juan Williams claims that Sarah Palin is "not on the same intellectual stage" as President Obama. I disagree. I don't see Obama as any great intellect. Sure, he's smart -- nobody makes it to that position of power without some smarts -- he's just not the vast intellect he was sold as and pretends to be. He's got the mannerisms, he's got the phrases the elite left love to hear and watch. He's just not particularly brilliant. Neither is Sarah Palin, from what I've seen. I'd consider them roughly equal, in a lot of ways. But its typical for the left to think anyone who agrees with them politically is a gargantuan brain and anyone who disagrees isn't just suspicious, wicked, hateful, and possibly insane, but idiotic.

America spends more on education than any other nation on earth. That's both in absolute dollars (which you'd expect) but as a percentage of its economy. Hans Bader writes for Open Market all about the data and points out something inevitable: this money isn't making for better education, and it might be making things worse. Given the vast administrative costs and the way teachers' unions have rammed pay, benefits, and pensions up, I'd say he has a point when he calls for cuts. Certainly the usual "we just need to spend more on education" leftist chant has less bite given this data.

And that's the Word Around the Net for December 31, 2010

Have a wonderful new year's day and I'll see you next year!

RIGHTPREVIEW

I wrote up something on religious freedom for RightNetwork, here's a preview:
At present, a vaguely spiritual secularism is the dominant religion in the United States. There's room for spiritual and religious beliefs in this system, as long as they are kept completely and utterly personal and without any public expression. You can read your Bible, just not in school. You can have your faith, just not bother anyone else with it. You can believe God has spoken, but not pass laws or execute policy influenced by that belief, according to the new secularism.

In the process, that can begin to erode other liberties. If you tell someone they cannot sing Christmas carols at school because they contain any vaguest reference to Christmas, Gaia forbid, that begins to encroach upon liberty for the sake of your faith system. If you tell someone they cannot wish others a "merry Christmas" or lose their job, again, you've begun to enforce your faith system on them and damaged their liberty.

Quote of the Day

"It takes in reality only one to make a quarrel. It is useless for the sheep to pass resolutions in favor of vegetarianism while the wolf remains of a different opinion."
-William Ralph Inge

Thursday, December 30, 2010

CONFUSTITUTION

"We The People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common Defense, promote the general welfare (notice they did not say provide it) and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this constitution for the United States of America."

Constitution for Dummies
Remember Ezra Klein? You should, he's the one that founded and ran Journolist, the email group made up of hundreds of reporters which was used to try to shape the news according to leftist ideas. He's a pretty reliable leftist and writes for the Washington Post, but recently he really went overboard on his leftist thoughts with this gem, from an interview at MSNBC's Daily Rundown. Newsbusters has the video and an audio MP3 file you can download. Here's the transcript:
INTERVIEWER: You heard all the different politicians talking about the constitution, well this is what's going to happen: when Republicans take over [the House of Representatives] next week, they're going to do something apparently that has never been done in the 221-year history of the House of Representatives, they are going to read the constitution out loud. Is this a gimmick?

KLEIN: Yes, its a gimmick I mean (chuckle) you can say two things: one is that it has no binding power on anything and two, the issue with the Constitution is not that people don’t read the text and think they’re following it. The issue with the Constitution is that the text is confusing because it was written more than a hundred years ago and what people believe it says differs from person to person and differs depending on what they wanna get done.
Now, I hate this style of interviewing. Its not really an attempt to get an answer so much as an attempt to make an editorial statement that is sort of shaped like a question. In any case, Klein has made his position clear here: Constitution hard.

Now I'd argue that few people have actually read the text of the US Constitution, whether in politics or not. It was a matter of distinction and fame that former Senator Byrd (D-WV, KKK) carried a copy around in his pocket and knew it well - that put him in contradiction with every other person in the Senate for his entire five decade career.

The fact is even my mom, who went to school in the thirties and forties, didn't get taught the US Constitution in school. I didn't. I doubt there's a single public school in America that teaches kids the constitution. Every student in the US should be barred from graduation from high school if they cannot demonstrate a working familiarity with the document, but I doubt its even mentioned more than once or twice.

So Klein stating that everyone knows the text is false, blatantly so. Now a lot of right leaning sites are blaring on about how Klein supposedly said the US Constitution has no binding power, but that's not what he said or meant. He meant that merely reading the document into record during a session of congress has no binding power. And it doesn't. Klein believes, like most leftists, that the US Constitution is the highest law in the land and has binding power as a legal document.

No, the problem here is twofold; he thinks the US Constitution is really old and therefore confusing. Now, mind you he'd have no problem supporting the more than a thousand page Government Health Insurance Takeover Act, but the 3 page Constitution, well that's just baffling.

Here are a few other works a century old or older that Klein probably thinks are great and no problem to read:
  • The Jungle (Upton Sinclair)
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain)
  • Moby Dick (Herman Melville)
  • Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
  • The Scarlet Letter (Nathaniel Hawthorn)
  • Oliver Twist (Charles Dickens)
  • A Communist Manifesto (Karl Marx)
And so on. Age doesn't make a document necessarily confusing, nor does a newer document necessarily become easier to understand (A Clockwork Orange was written just a few decades ago and is largely baffling, for instance).

What he's trying to do here is set up a narrative, a way of responding to the Republicans and the Tea Party Movement when they complain about unconstitutional spending and demand constitutional justification for any legislative activity. He recognizes that the congressmen who either said "I don't need to justify it" or "what are you talking about" looked like jerks and idiots.

So he's trying to set up a better refutation by saying "well its all so confusing, who can understand it, its so old you see." Strangely enough that age doesn't seem to stop the left from insisting that the 2nd amendment doesn't actually allow you to own or use firearms, and it doesn't stop the left from insisting anything ghastly, obscene, or particularly upsetting to most of America is protected free speech. Nor does it stop congressmen from insisting that any spending whatsoever they desire is perfectly constitutional.

In fact, the US Constitution isn't confusing at all. Its a very plain, simple, and straight-forward document. It was written very tightly and as shortly as possible (because James Madison who was the primary writer was very concerned about huge bills nobody could read), and it can be understood by anyone who reads it.

The only confusion comes when people try their damnedest to crowbar every conceivable spending they can come up with into the document. The truth is, the US Constitution only seems to really confuse people when it says "no." And it says that a lot. The basic position, the default idea behind the constitution is that the federal government starts with no power whatsoever. All the power is presumed to be in the hands of the people, all of it. Then, the US Constitution specifically and very carefully gives limited areas which the people give up some of that power to the federal government. This was a document designed and written to protect people from tyranny by their government.

No, the government cannot spend on anything it wants.
No, the government cannot take things away from people without specific and well-justified reason.
No, the government is not supposed to run the economy.
No, the government is not supposed to take money from people to help others.
No, you cannot do this unless the constitution specifically allows it.

Today, the opposite has become true. The Bill of Rights is believed by most on the left to not be a series of statements of rights that the government cannot interfere with, but instead a series of rights people cannot interfere with each other in, and the government has all power possible to interfere in order to stop them.

Klein doesn't like the way the US Constitution is written, as much as he's read it, so he's trying to find a way to get all those "nos" to not mean what they really mean. So this is the talking point: its so very confusing, nobody really understands it anyway, so those Republicans are just making noise to play up to their stupid, gun-clinging, praying radical extremist Teabagger constituents.

Expect to see a lot more people taking up this particular song and variations of it in the future.

PICTURE OF THE DAY

Who's that fellow? We don't know who the girl was. Here's a few hints:
  • This is his prom night (and she probably tells everyone she meets about this night)
  • He's an actor
  • He refuses to marry his girl until gay marriage is legal
The answer after the break

Brad Pitt.

Quote of the Day

"No Christian and, indeed, no historian could accept the epigram which defines religion as 'what a man does with his solitude.'"
-C. S. Lewis

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

FLY FREE

"If you can't explain what you're doing in plain English, you're probably doing something wrong"

Imagine a time when there were only a few really big airlines. They didn't need to compete with each other for passengers because there were not very many. The prices were high and the routes decided in Washington DC. Imagine that no one can start a new competitor without permission from the US government. Imagine it is illegal to lower your prices in an attempt to lure customers to your airline, illegal to make yourself more competitive. Imagine a time with no frequent flier miles and fewer airports.

You're imagining what it was like in until the late 1970s with US commercial airlines. The man responsible for changing all that was Alfred Kahn, who recently died. CNN reports:
The result of his work was the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, signed into law by then-President Jimmy Carter, who predicted it would reduce airfares by up to 50 percent and open up air travel to millions of Americans who previously couldn't afford it.The Department of Transportation became the industry watchdog, and airlines took control of themselves.

Deregulation gave birth to the concepts of airport hubs and frequent flyer miles and led to the creation of new airlines.

"His vision and actions resulted in a profound transformation of the U.S. airline industry and strongly influenced international air transportation," the publishers of Aviation Week and Space Technology said when they named him the winner of the 1997 Welch Pogue Award, which recognizes contributions to aviation.
Kahn was called the architect of deregulation, and he was responsible for one of the few good things that happened during the Carter administration. Kahn's efforts took a government-controlled socialist dream and freed it to the market and capitalism. Plane fares plummeted, and competitors like Jet Blue and other smaller airlines sprouted up. Unsupported by government controls, airlines like Braniff died.

Its true, the quality of an air flight dropped as well, but air travel changed from being an experience to merely a method of travel. Now, regulation and government control has turned the method of travel into travail and misery for air travelers, who have to wait hours to board, get groped by some leering stranger in the TSA, and can't even take a bottle of water on board to save themselves from dehydration in the recycled air.

We need more Kahns out there to kick the government out of businesses that they're artificially propping up (biofuels), outwardly running (banks, car companies), and hindering through regulation (just about everything else out there). Because the customers almost always benefit when that happens, and suffer when the government isn't beaten back to its proper boundaries.

PICTURE OF THE DAY

Celebrity
Who is this? Its the picture of a celebrity in his youth. Hints:

He was a musician
He died young
He used to be really popular.

Answer after the break

Curt Cobain, at around 12 I'd guess. he looks kind of like me at that age, actually.

THE NAME GAME

"When Obama's job performance improves, it will be fine to call it Obamacare."

One of the standard tricks legislators use is to name their bill the most innocuous, positive sounding bill on earth. That way when it is mentioned on the news, it sounds like a nice idea and they can make little comments like "How can my opponent have voted against the Free Hugs For Kittens Act of 2010?"

Generally the name is vaguely related to the actual law, such as the Employee Free Choice Act. This bill does have something to do with choosing and employees, but it means the opposite of the name: this would remove the secret ballot from union votes, opening people up to intimidation or worse by union thugs.

That's why I call the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act the "Government Health Insurance Takeover Act," because it more accurately portrays the legislation than its name. Recently Marilyn Sarafini wrote for the Washington Post about that bill, lamenting its poor acronym:
Puh-pack-uh? Is that some kind of llama?

In fact, it's the ungainly acronym of the new health-care law - PPACA, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Many people who support the law, or are neutral toward it, call it "puh-pack-uh" or "pee-pack-uh." Others call it the Affordable Care Act or plain old health-care reform.

But those less-than-inspiring monikers aren't much help to Democrats trying to convince the public that "Obamacare" - the Republicans' pejorative name for the law - is worth keeping, said Robert J. Blendon, a professor of health policy and political analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Democratic pollsters concede that there is a problem.

"We do need a common narrative that includes a name," said Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research Partners.
The entire article is about how this bill would be polling better and more liked if only it had a better name that could be sold more easily. Nowhere in the bill is it even implied that people might be opposed to the idea of this legislation, it merely has many people lamenting that the attempt to sell the bill failed because it wasn't packaged well.

It seems to completely elude the supporters of this legislation that people just may not like the entire idea and reject the bill because it sucks. It isn't like the president of the united states wasn't on television dozens of times talking about the legislation, or that there weren't ads with movie stars talking about it, or that there was insufficient discussion. People know basically what was being attempted even if they, like the people who voted for it, don't know exactly what is in the gargantuan bill.

It is a long-known and understood principle of logic that if your argument comes down to careful wording or deceptive terminology, you lose the argument. That's a standard in debates, and there's all sorts of logical terms for why and how that's true. What it comes down to is this: if the content of your argument cannot stand scrutiny and is not convincing, then you have a poor argument.

Arguing by impressive sounding language and carefully crafted, emotionally manipulative terminology has a name, too. It's called "sophistry" and it is held in contempt by reasoned people.

Quote of the Day

"I like Obama but I reject the suggestion that he is an intellectual. He is an activist merely mimicking the mannerisms of an intellectual."
-Richard Epstein

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

FINANCIAL BITS

I hate banks, I just can't stand 'em
Gimme a shovel and man, I'll plant 'em
-Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper, "I Hate Banks"

Big Pig
A few related banking and finance news items showed up recently and I wanted to just post them to give a feel for what's going on out there.

First is a really short bit from the Financial Times:
Some of the world’s strongest banks have profited from an emergency credit facility set up by the US Federal Reserve to shore up confidence in the global financial system, according to a Financial Times analysis of data released by the Fed.

More than half of lending under the Fed’s term auction facility – the largest of its crisis programmes – went to foreign banks. Details of the varied uses to which they put it may add to political criticism of the Fed.
Why? Because a lot of financial institutions are multinational and because if a really big, important foreign-owned bank collapses, it hurts the US too. The problem is that means US taxpayers are being compelled to - without being asked or told - support non US companies, when we're not all that happy with supporting US companies to begin with.

Meanwhile, we find that a lot of the banks which were bailed out to begin with are teeetering on the edge of collapse anyway. Katya Wetchel writes at Business Insider:
98 American banks that received $4.2 billion in bailout money are teetering on the edge of collapse, according to the Wall Street Journal.

In Q2 the number of unsound banks numbered 86; the increase to almost 100 institutions - most of which are smallish banks with about $439 million in assets - comes as a result of decreasing capital and more bad loans.

Mots of these are smaller banks who played around in the toxic loan market, lending money to people who plainly were unable to repay it, then trading those loans around as investments to other banks. They were some of the ones caught standing when the music ended in 2007. And, given that they were so stupidly run to begin with, is it any surprise they're still having problems today?

According to Eugene Robinson (courtesy Washington Post) the US Federal Reserve leaned on big, healthy financial institutions to take bailout funds even though they didn't need it. Why?

Hank Paulson and, later, Tim Geithner both leaned on relatively healthy financial institutions to participate in the bailout plan. This was to avoid stigmatizing the less-healthy institutions who desperately needed the money. The theory was that if you identified a bank as especially troubled, investors and depositors would flee and you'd inevitably end up with a failed bank. This "everybody in the boat" approach has kept depositors from getting nervous, but it makes investors suspicious of the whole passenger list. So instead of a few big banks sinking catastrophically, we've seen the whole boat taking on water.
So taxpayers were also on the hook to send money to banks that didn't even need it. The Obama administration and other Democrats have been big on demonizing the financial institutions for this big failure and economic collapse. And let's be honest, they deserve some of the blame. Yet in all this tongue lashing and criticism, behind the scenes things really aren't being done to change anything. The Community Reinvestment Act that triggered this all by legalizing loans to people who can't pay them back is still in place. The pressures to make those loans are still there. And as Business Weekly reports, Wall Street got pretty much everything it wanted from the recent financial bill touted as a punishment to fat cats on Wall Street:
The U.S. government, promising to make the system safer, buckled under many of the financial industry’s protests. Lawmakers spurned changes that would wall off deposit-taking banks from riskier trading. They declined to limit the size of lenders or ban any form of derivatives. Higher capital and liquidity requirements agreed to by regulators worldwide have been delayed for years to aid economic recovery.

“We continue to listen to the same people whose errors in judgment were central to the problem,” said John Reed, 71, a former co-chief executive officer of Citigroup Inc., who estimated only 25 percent of needed changes have been enacted. “I’m astounded because we basically dropped the world’s biggest economy because of an error in bank management.”

Basically the same bozos who got us into this mess are still in power, still in management, and still doing the same stuff, protected by the same government officials who did it before.
Ultimately we have to all realize that whatever economic recovery we might hear about or think is happening is a lot less sable and more troubled than it seems. I think a lot of employers and businessmen sense this and are waiting for the next shoe to drop off what seems at time to be a centipede.

DEATH PANELS

"End-of-life discussions between doctor and patient help ensure that one gets the care one wants."

Government Death Panels. That just has a horrible sound to it, something from Logan's Run or a bloody dictatorship. Its one of those terms which is, if not misleading, shapes an image in the reader's mind which may not be entirely accurate. I get the image of a group of dour people sitting at a high bench deciding who lives and who dies.

At the same time, when the left screams about this term, they're not being entirely accurate either. The concept isn't as grim as the term suggests, but the idea that spawned it is very real. the problem is that it isn't new or unique.

"Death Panels" describes how insurers must decide what they're willing to cover and what they are not. In the context of the government, it covers something a bit more grim: the push by government to encourage the very elderly to do without extreme care to prolong their life. For example, say Granny is 102 and she's dying of heart failure. Should she seek a heart transplant so she can live a few more months, perhaps a year? Or consider the case of the uncle who drank his whole life and at age 99 is dying from liver failure. A liver transplant might prolong his life a few months, or perhaps years if the rest of his body can keep going. Insurers would really rather not pay for this kind of extremely expensive procedure.

And personally I think when people get that old and that frail, they probably ought to consider the possibility that they can let that kind of thing go. I know several elderly people who, when they were very old and found out they were dying, nodded and said "well its time then" rather than undergo chemotherapy that might prolong their life a few months.

With the Government Health Insurance Takeover Act (fraudulently sold as "health care reform") came the burden of the US government to make those kind of decisions. Elderly people use more insurance and cost more in health care than any other segment of the population (young couples being next, for child care and birth). To keep costs down, at least some care has to be denied people, and the Obama administration pushed the idea of encouraging elderly people to not seek some care. This was dubbed "Death Panels" by Sarah Palin on her Facebook page, and the idea was dropped.

Until now. The New York Times has a recent article about how President Obama is now adding that idea back into the plan, just like he did abortion funding. Robert Pear writes:
Under the new policy, outlined in a Medicare regulation, the government will pay doctors who advise patients on options for end-of-life care, which may include advance directives to forgo aggressive life-sustaining treatment.

Congressional supporters of the new policy, though pleased, have kept quiet. They fear provoking another furor like the one in 2009 when Republicans seized on the idea of end-of-life counseling to argue that the Democrats’ bill would allow the government to cut off care for the critically ill.

The final version of the health care legislation, signed into law by President Obama in March, authorized Medicare coverage of yearly physical examinations, or wellness visits. The new rule says Medicare will cover “voluntary advance care planning,” to discuss end-of-life treatment, as part of the annual visit.

Under the rule, doctors can provide information to patients on how to prepare an “advance directive,” stating how aggressively they wish to be treated if they are so sick that they cannot make health care decisions for themselves.
Mr Pear probably didn't make any friends by writing this up, but it was inevitable people would hear about it eventually. The actual law written up by congress dropped the provision, but by regulatory power, President Obama is adding it back in (as he's doing more and more, expect it to happen a lot in the coming years with a less obeisant congress, as Robert Pear predicts).

This is, as I've noted before, not unique to the government health insurance scheme. All insurers have to decide what they'll cover and what they will not. The more stuff they cover, the more costly the plan. None of them will cover something they consider completely outrageous, like breast implants for your pet cat. This is, in effect, a "death panel" because there are limits to which all insurers will go.

The problem here isn't the concept of limited insurance, that's absolutely inevitable. No insurer can guarantee unlimited coverage of absolutely every medical-related action taken by their customers. This is the dirty little secret that the left didn't want people to consider when they were pushing for this bill (and socialized medicine in general). The push was accompanied by all sorts of examples of insurers refusing to cover people's medical expenses, and how evil that was, and why we need the government to step in because Health Care Is A Right, we were told. For example, President Obama said:
More and more Americans pay their premiums, only to discover that their insurance company has dropped their coverage when they get sick, or won’t pay the full cost of care. It happens every day.
Those evil, greedy corporations!

The fact is, Medicare denies more coverage than any other single insurer in the nation. That's something the left either didn't know or didn't care to mention. And of course they'd argue that means we need reform even more so the government can get everything covered! But there's just not enough money to cover it all, especially if you are going to cover everyone, no matter how young, healthy, and disinterested in insurance they may be.

Yet when an insurance company refuses to cover you for something, you have options. You can complain to the government and get them in trouble, if its fraudulent or bad faith. You can sue the insurer and try to force them to do what you want. You can pay more money to the insurer to expand your coverage. You can even change insurers to one that is more willing to help you.

But when government has your insurance, you've got a lot fewer options. The people in charge are unaccountable and often unassailable. They have comfortable, certain jobs and even when the president changes to a different sort tend to stay in their positions. Its not easy to sue the government, and its even harder to get the government to check on its own.

So while "death panels" is a bit dramatic, the reality is that's part of the insurance business and its inevitably part of the government attempt to take over health insurance in the United States. And once the ultimate goal of Obama, Pelosi, Reid, and many other Democrats comes true, there won't be any competitors to turn to if you can't get the coverage you want.

And that's not even getting into how the US Constitution in no conceivable manner grants the federal government power to sell or distribute insurance.

PICTURE OF THE DAY

Quote of the Day

"Fanaticism consists in redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim."
-George Santayana

Monday, December 27, 2010

INCOMPARABLE

In a recent column, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman recently said this (courtesy Newsbusters):
...there’s a well-developed right-wing media infrastructure in place to catapult the propaganda, as former President George W. Bush put it, to rapidly disseminate bogus analysis to a wide audience where it becomes part of what “everyone knows.” (There’s nothing comparable on the left...)
I agree, the left has nothing comparable to the right's few news and opinion outlets. The left has dozens of times more such outlets, including academia, entertainment, and print. There's no comparison at all between the left's ability to promote ideas and establish cultural themes through the vast majority of news outlets and the ability of the right to do the same. Krugman is right, sort of. That's just not what he means.

PICTURE OF THE DAY

X Files Intersection

BASHING FAITH, AGAIN

"A 30 line Java script could probably do this guys job for him. Just have it string together a random set of ignorant ravings about Galileo, how religion is, like, sooo mean vis-a-vis sexual morality and various choice quotes from Elmer Gantry."

Hate Christianity
It wouldn't be a modern Christmas without at least one rabid, bitter atheist sounding off about how evil the whole "save us from our sins, peace and joy to all" thing is. This time, like so often, it was by Richard Dawkins, wrote for The Guardian in response to the Pope's message of the gospel and salvation by Jesus Christ. Dawkins hit all the usual talking points with the literary acumen of a scientist, including these:
We've already had what little apology we are going to get (none in most cases) for the raped children, the Aids-sufferers in Africa, the centuries spent attacking Jews, science, women and "heretics", the indulgences and more modern (and tax-deductible) methods of fleecing the gullible to build the Vatican's vast fortune. So, no surprise that these weren't mentioned.
Dawkins then went on to rant about how awful the concept of original sin is, ending with this thought:
Almighty God, who reads our every thought and hears our every prayer, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent God couldn't think of a better way to forgive us than to have himself tortured and executed. For heaven's sake, if he wanted to forgive us, why didn't he just forgive us? Who, after all, needed to be impressed by the blood and the agony? Nobody but himself.
That's actually quite easy to answer, and has been answered thousands of times by Christians in very deep, eloquent, educated, and well-written manner for almost two thousand years, but Dawkins is less interested in the answer to his question than kicking Christians as hard as he can and as often as he can.

Most atheists are pretty easy to get along with. They disagree with religious teaching, but consider that a personal matter, and people believe all kinds of things. Its none of their business, and the wiser ones recognize good in religions as well as bad. At worst, most atheists tend to consider Christianity a myth told by well-meaning parents to kids like Santa Claus.

Then there are the really angry atheists, the small, but loud and obnoxious branch of the religion (yes, atheism is its own little faith) which hates religion, fears it, and considers religion the source of all evil and horror on the planet. They will with the slightest provocation begin to spew a litany of terrible things real, distorted, and imagined, which they attribute to religion over the history of mankind and then talk about the good, noble, and wonderful things done by atheists and without the horrible taint of religion over that same time period.

This sort of dishonesty is common among the very ideological: pick the worst of your opponent and the best of your side then hold them up for comparison. See, we're so much better than you! Its not just rude to do this, but deeply dishonest. There's good and bad in all sorts of people with all sorts of ideologies. Even the worst ideologies such as Communism had people who did good and noble ideas in it (why can't we all just have what we need, rather than fighting over it?).

Doonsebury
Dawkins is not what you'd call a towering intellect, nor is he a scientist of any great note. He's a spokesman for aggressive, angry Darwinism, the sort of Evolutionist who thinks anyone who dares disagree with the theory is not just confused or mistaken but pernicious and moronic. He regularly will publicize this sort of angry diatribe which doesn't do much to promote his side, but gives hundreds of his disciples new talking points - or more often, reworded old ones - to refresh their angry posts on the internet.

Dawkins' problem here isn't just that he's dishonest in his historical outlook or inexcusably ignorant of Christian theology, its that his thesis is fundamentally flawed.

His first problem is that atheism actually was responsible for the greatest horrors, most deaths, greatest amount of misery, torture, and lack in the history of mankind - particularly in the 20th century - a level which far eclipses all religious-based evils. The evils of the inquisition simply cannot, even over six centuries, even come close to the systematic and faux-scientific methodology of just over a decade of the holocaust. All the religious wars in history cannot equal the deaths caused by Communism in just seventy years.

To be sure, someone like Dawkins would argue that Communism, Nazism, and the other ideological movements of the 20th century which drove men like Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Nicolai Ceauşescu, and more famous monsters were ideologies that were effectively religions and it was not atheism which is to blame for what they did.

There are two problems with that argument. First, Christians could make the same argument, that it wasn't Christianity which promoted these evils, but people's ideology misusing it.

Second, Dawkins is making a logical error here. His argument is that atheism is noble and good, but religion is bad, but then he argues when confronted with the evils atheists committed that this wasn't due to atheism but ideology. Atheism is an ideology as well, but Dawkins wants us to believe that its perfectly noble. He wants us to believe that ideology when it does bad is religion and when it does good its atheism. He wants to argue that every ideology in the world is innately evil and flawed but atheism.

Which sounds an awful lot like any other religious person talking about their faith. I'll agree that Fascism and Communism ended up being much like any religion with its creeds and zealots and writings and rituals and so on. But then, so does atheism, particularly the really angry type that Dawkins holds to. What makes his religion not the bad kind, if religions are innately flawed?

He'd be better off with an argument along the lines of this: "If the inquisition had the technology and advanced science of the Nazis, they'd have done as bad or worse." That's impossible to refute because it is untestable and it has a reasonable sounding ring to it. That argument too falls apart on closer inspection (the very science he touts as being the result of atheism would negate the more superstitious and zealous parts of

But here's the biggest flaw in Dawkins' thesis. His entire argument is that the doctrine of original sin, atonement, and propitiation make no sense, that God should have just waved a magic wand and made everything okay. He thinks the concept of original sin is reprehensible and awful, particularly when dealing with cute innocent babies (apparently he didn't pay much attention to his daughter when she was a baby).

Yet he spends plenty of time every reference to religion talking about how evil and horrible it is and how terrible people are to each other in the name of religion. Where did that bad behavior come from? Dawkins would try to argue 'religion' but that's no answer because it has to have an origin. Why did religions cause people do do bad things? What forces of evolution make people invent imaginary deities and do nasty things to each other in their name, as he argues?

Christians point to original sin: we do terrible things because we are tainted by sin, it is an innate part of fallen human nature to do bad, restrained only by God's common grace. Dawkins has no origin point for bad.

What's more, he has no basis upon which to argue something is bad. He has no base line, no moral center to determine right and wrong. You can argue efficient or not, you can argue whether behavior is more or less likely to promote a stable society, protect life, or promote growth, but you cannot argue morality without an absolute, objective standard. All you can say is "this is what I'd rather not happen" never "this is wrong." What's worse, he has no basis for arguing anything is good either.

Evolution knows no morality, no right, no wrong. Its simply an apersonal force of continuing change in response to external stimulus. It is no more good or evil than photosynthesis or decay, it just is. Evolution cannot produce morality either, nor can it produce the ideals or principles of ethics. It simply produces changes which may or may not be beneficial for the creature's survival and ability to breed. There's no origin or bases for good and evil in Dawkins' philosophy.

So he's left off even worse than the Christian who cannot adequately explain why evil happens in a world with a sovereign and righteous God. He can't explain it either, nor can he explain good.

One final note: Dawkins and his ilk never seem to have much negative to say about other religions such as Islam which is practicing right now the kinds of evils which he attributes to Christianity in centuries past. Sure, they'll mumble something negative about Islam, but never with the frequency, fervor or especially public noise they do about Christianity. You'd think if their real purpose was to show how bad religion was and to try to stamp it out, the present evil would trump ancient ones long abandoned.

Of course, the Pope won't issue a decree that Dawkins be put to death for criticizing him or Christianity. But that doesn't explain why Hinduism, Buddhism, and dozens of other religions get such a pass from these really angry atheists. Sure, they'll mention them in a sort of group "evils of religion" side comment, but its Christianity that gets the bulk of their anger and hate. Methinks the gentlemen doth protest overmuch.

Quote of the Day

"Don't fight a battle if you don't gain anything by winning."
-Erwin Rommel

Friday, December 24, 2010

THE KING STAR

"wide-ranging and insightful scholarship"
Former Publisher and Editor, Scientific American magazine, and President, American Association for the Advancement of Science

"This explanation of the Star is compelling..."
NASA's Chief Engineer for the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station, Director of the Columbia Shuttle Accident Task Force

The Star of Bethlehem
One of the more cheerful events that happen for Christians is to watch the secular, often hostile, world confirm the Biblical narrative. By now its been established that the Bible is incredibly accurate, historically speaking. Locations, names, events, and so on all are regularly confirmed and established as truthful in the face of sometimes angry opposition.

King David, for instance, was considered mythical by some historians. They thought of him as being a sort of King Arthur sort, not real but possibly based on several other real kings. They were forced to back down from that position in the 1990s when Avraham Biran and his team of archaeologists unearthed a piece of stone with fragments of writing on it at Tel Dan near the River Jordan. In the writings was the words "House of David" It was the first mention of David in ancient inscription outside the Bible. This has happened again and again with various skeptical claims.

What archaeology and science tend not to confirm are the more spectacular, supernatural, and miraculous parts of scripture such as axe heads floating or people being raised from the dead. There is one such event, however, which has been very powerfully demonstrated by recent science: the star of Bethlehem.

For a long time people speculated on what this could have been: a nova, a comet, a meteorite, and so on. Each time a little more information was discovered, people got a little closer, but it was the study of Rick Larson which has uncovered the best case yet for the actual star and what it was. The full explanation of this is at Bethlehemstar.net.

THE CLUES
To do so, he studied the account of Matthew and found several clues which helped him uncover what the star really was. Here's his clues:
  1. Jesus was born during the reign of King Herod
  2. The magi had learned about a birth of a king
  3. The king was Jewish
  4. They saw the star in the eastern sky from what was probably Babylon
  5. The people of Jerusalem and Herod were unaware the event had taken place
  6. The star appeared at an exact time which could be confirmed and related to others
  7. The star endured for a considerable period of time
  8. The star was visible to the south of Jerusalem
  9. The star stopped moving
These clues help give a bit of information about what and where the star must have been. Using math determined by Johannes Kepler in the 15th century in a program called Starry Night, this math (refined by Newton) allows anyone to view any part of the starry sky - day or night - from any point on earth at any time on earth.

So Rick Larson took that software and those clues and got to work. He looked at the stars from Babylon (where the magi probably came from - seat of the Eastern school of Magi and the most prestigious), dating during Herod's life, and watched for anything interesting in the night sky that would have caught an astronomer's attention.

Because the magi were early astronomers and astrologers. They also studied math, biology, science, weather, medicine, and anything else they could find including alchemy and what they believed to be magic. Magi were likely Zoroastran, but they could also have been Jewish descendants of the remnant which stayed in Babylon after the exile, like Daniel and others had. These were men who studied the stars for meaning and events to try to understand the world around them. The ancient Roman historian Philo describes these men this way:
"Among the Persians there is a body of the Magi, who, investigating the works of nature for the purpose of becoming acquainted with the truth, do at their leisure become initiated themselves and initiate others in the divine virtues by very clear explanations."
So if something happened in the night sky of import, these guys would see it and take note. What they saw was so impressive they traveled about a thousand miles to a tiny Mediterranean country just to see what was going on. It wasn't the first time the school had done this, and the Roman historian Seutonius records a previous event when Magi came to ask about the birth of a king in De Vita Caesarum: Divus Augustus.

Rick Larson watched the Starry Night program and found one real event that was especially interesting during Herod's reign that took place in the eastern sky from the perspective of Babylon. This event took place in September of 3 BC, during Rosh ha-Shanah, the Jewish new year. It was something that absolutely would have caught the attention of and had deep meaning for the magi.

KING, KING, KING
What they saw was this: Jupiter in retrograde around Regulus. Now, to really understand this you have to know a bit of astrolnomy and history, because that doesn't sound very impressive - and by its self, it isn't.

Jupiter was called a planete by the Romans, and all ancient astrologers considered the planets the same way: stars that move. They were not recognized as other bodies like earth, but considered stars that moved around rapidly in the night sky. So Jupiter was, to them, a star.

And Jupiter wasn't just any star, just about every culture that had any astronomical study considered it the king of stars, as it is the biggest (and with a clear enough night and really good eyes, you can see a bit of a crown around it; Jupiter's moons). Both Babylonian and Roman scientist called Jupiter the king planet.

Apparent retrograde motion is a bit difficult to explain, but basically its the way a planet in a different orbit can appear to be moving in one direction, slow, then move backward, then move forward again. It can do this multiple times in a row depending on the relative motion of Earth and the other planet, its a well known phenomenon first explained by Galileo.

When Jupiter goes into retrograde motion it has a fairly flat circle, like a dish laid almost on edge or a halo in some old painting.

Regulus has the same root as the word regal, which means "kingly." It too was considered a king star by both cultures. So we have the king planet appearing to circle the king star. This was interesting, as Jupiter appears to move past Regulus every 12 years or so, so a conjunction of the two isn't especially meaningful even to astronomers; at least not so meaningful you travel across the wilderness to Jerusalem to talk about it.

What they saw which caught their attention was this: Jupiter went into apparent retrograde motion three times around Regulus. It circled over and over - saying "king, king, king" as Larson puts it - which caught the attention of the magi. And what's more, the constellation (again recognized by both Persia and Rome) which Regulus is found is what we call Leo, the lion. The lion is the sign of the tribe of Judah, the ruling tribe of the Israelites. This wouldn't have been significant if the Jewish people had not been so important to and noticed by the Persian people, particularly Daniel and Esther.

These magi, whose life was devoted to studying such things, would have noticed that meaningful sign. And notice: this was something magi would have absolutely noticed but nobody else really would. It was something you'd only see by tracing the path of Jupiter over weeks, and even though people tended to see the sky a lot more often and better than we do today (less light pollution and smog, for instance), it wouldn't really have been noticeable to someone who wasn't studying astronomy. So the people of Jerusalem were surprised by hearing this news.

Something very significant involving a Jewish king had or was about to take place, they concluded. And so we have found the star that the magi studied and followed to learn more, because that's what magi did.

MONTHS LATER
But wait, the Jupiter event only took place for a few months, and it would have been over with by the time the magi came to Jerusalem, right? It takes a while to get ready, it takes a while to study and learn the meaning of events, you have to get permission from the Persian king to travel, you have to settle things at home. Traveling 500 miles as the bird flies (about double that on a caravan route) was no little thing back then. And these men traveled with more than just a camel (incidentally their number isn't listed in the Bible, nor are their names - the 3 wise men bit is legend, but might possibly be true). So it would have taken them a while to get going.

And they didn't leave right away because while noteworthy, it wasn't apparently enough to take the arduous, dangerous journey. They didn't get going for months until something more happened.

And indeed it did. There are technically two events being described in the Bible. Sure, its the same star - Jupiter - but the event that got the magi's attention isn't the same one that they saw in Jerusalem and followed to Bethlehem.

A few months after the king dance around Regulus, Jupiter aligns with Venus. So now you have the king star, the biggest star in the night sky, lining up almost exactly with the mother star, the brightest star in the night sky. That was enough for the magi to get moving. If they weren't sure what was going on the first event, they had a pretty good idea what was happening now. Because this wasn't something that anyone alive had ever seen before - it happens roughly ever 155 years - and after the first event, it was too significant to ignore. And it happened in the constellation Leo, again.

It was time to travel west to Jerusalem and ask the authorities what was going on, so that's what they did.

But wait, weren't the magi at the manger for Jesus' birth? Absolutely not. Not only does the Bible clearly state that Jesus was not a baby any longer when the magi arrived (he's described in the Greek as a toddler), but he's not in the manger. One of the things that annoys me most is manger scenes with 3 wise men. They were not at the birth of Christ, and they couldn't have been, not even if there were jets back then to fly that fast to that location.

When the magi arrived, they went to the palace first, to Herod's consternation (he was supposedly very paranoid to begin with, hearing about a new king probably didn't sit well with him - especially a Jewish king during a period of revolt and trouble with the Roman authorities). The scholars and Jewish religious leaders pointed to a prophecy in Micah which said that the messiah would be born in Bethlehem, only a few miles south of Jerusalem. On a clear day you can see where Bethlehem was from Jerusalem.

And there in the night sky was the conjunction of Jupiter and Venus, and Jesus is just over a year old at this point. That conjunction was visible in the sky looking south from Jerusalem ("over Bethlehem") and it was at that point that Jupiter began going into retrograde motion; it stopped in the sky and started moving backward. The time it started its retrograde motion is also the brightest point, exactly on December 25, 2 BC.

THE STAR AND YOU
So there you have it: the star of Bethlehem in simple, clear astronomical terms and unmistakable history. On the Bethlehem Star website, there's a lot of praise from non Christian and mainstream scientists about the methods used, the accuracy of the information, and the veracity of Larson's claims.

What it all means and the significance it is given in the Bible is a matter of faith, but the historical events and the reality of the star is unmistakably true. The rest is up to you.

For much more about the star, the methods used to find this all out, and even more interesting astronomical events that happened at the end of Jesus' life, check out Bethlehem Star, or get Larson's DVD with the video presentation.

Quote of the Day

A voice of one calling: "In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken."
-Isaiah 40: 3-5

Thursday, December 23, 2010

WORD AROUND THE NET

"Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob"

Better than you
WATN is early this week as it is Christmas Eve tomorrow, and that will have a different sort of post in place.

Media Matters is a tax-exempt organization which takes money from donors and uses it to ostensibly look for falsehoods and improper reporting in the news. However, since it pretty much exclusively is instead an organization which (often with hilarious incompetence) attacks the right, Mark Levin believes the IRS should look into its practices. See, any such organization is supposed to be politically neutral, which Media Matters absolutely is not. However, its run by such hard core partisan idealists, they probably think they are being neutral, and the only bad stuff ever comes from conservatives.

Haiti continues to be a ghastly hell hole despite billions of dollars being donated to and sent there in aid and assistance after the horrendous earthquake earlier this year. According to AFP, a horrible outbreak of Cholera is being met by angry and outraged public:
Angry Haitian mobs have lynched at least 45 people in recent weeks, accusing them of spreading a cholera outbreak that has killed over 2,500 people across the country, officials said Wednesday.
Most of the people being lynched are, in fact, Voodoo priests. The angry and frightened people seem to believe that Voodoo is responsible for the disease. This makes me think of people who hung witches (not very many were ever burned in the US at least) for having supernatural powers and pacts with Satan: if this really is someone with terrifying magical powers, do you really want to try to kill them, and if they really are that powerful could you?

Recently the Obama administration admitted that the Polar Bear population is not endangered, something I've written about several times on this site. In fact, there are five times as many polar bears now than when records first were kept, in the 1950s. Still, the Obama administration wants to set aside a vast area of the Polar regions to protect the Polar Bear because they say mythical human-caused climate disaster "endangers" the animal.

Ben Affleck is pushing his new movie about evil corporations and went on NPR's Morning Edition recently. On it, he complained about how much CEOs earn and said that this was a very bad thing.
That speaks so perfectly to people's feelings about our country. It's like it's just about getting by, or people can like let people go if they can get away with it, that there's no deeper sense of right or wrong. The banks shouldn't -- people shouldn't make such a giant profit off just moving money back and forth. And CEOs' pay shouldn't be 200 times the average worker. It used to be nine times.
Meanwhile, Ben Affleck makes tens of millions of dollars a year and was paid $250,000 just to show up at a casino's grand opening. Gee, Ben, how much more do you make than the lowest-paid person at a movie shoot? Whether or not CEO's make more than is reasonable, Affleck needs to keep his pie hole shut about it while he's being paid extravagant sums himself.

Recently CBS News flashed a picture of President Bush's new book Decision Points on its news program. However, the picture they showed was of a photoshopped cover mocking President Bush. Accident? CBS wants people to believe so, but just how incompetent do you have to be to accidentally pick the wrong cover to a best-selling book? They knew it was fake, this was just one more time to scream their five minute's hate.

Pat Robertson recently announced he thought it was time to legalize marijuana. I disagree, but I think its not a federal decision. There's nothing in the US Constitution authorizing the federal government the power to declare drugs illegal; that's an in-state decision, which each state can make for themselves. The best the federal government could do is regulate the trade of these drugs between states. If prohibition taught us anything, its that getting the genie back in the bottle once you figure its a bad thing is impossible.

Over at Real Clear Politics, David Harsanyi argues that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has outlived its usefulness and probably should be abolished. I disagree, but I do think the FCC has far, far outgrown its proper and reasonable power and use. There is still a reasonable need for a body to regulate and check radio and broadcast transmissions around the nation (so you don't have 9 radio stations trying to broadcast on 93.7 FM at the same time, or people using emergency bands to chat about cooking, for example). The FCC goes far, far beyond that in an attempt to regulate content which probably ought to be left alone. Certainly (as federal courts have plainly stated) the FCC has absolutely no power over the internet.

David Freddoso at the Washington Examiner took a look at the population of the US and the census data and then at how many representatives there are. He points out that the original plan for the House of Representatives was to have approximately 1 representative per 300,000 residents in the US, but over time that's grown to 1/700,000. To bring the representation down to its originally intended levels, that would require an additional 100 members of the house of representatives. You can look at how that would work out proportionally by states at the site, but at some point the body simply becomes too big (it might be already) and more of a mob than a congress.

California, Illinois, Michigan, and a few other states are teetering dangerously closer to total economic collapse. When that happens, its inevitable that they will beg for help from the federal government, who under the Obama administration seems perfectly fine with just printing more money even if its utterly valueless. However, a state did crash once before, and defaulted on all its bonds. That state was Arkansas and the year was 1933. Joe Mysak writes at Bloomberg about how it took place and how, eventually, the newly created Hoover agency called the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) simply stepped in and took over the debt. Back then the idea that the federal government bail out a state was unthinkable, but now its pretty much inevitable.

Not feeling perky enough? Never fear, a new company called Bodyperks has the answer: prosthetic nipples. Useful for drag queens and sluts, this makes a lady (or man for that matter) seem erect at all times. No, this is not a joke, they sell for about 25 bucks including shipping and, er, handling.

Spain is rightly proud of its ham, it is one of the things the nation is famous for. Recently in the equivalent of a Middle School, a teacher in La Línea was telling the students about the Ham being produced in Spain as part of their civics lessons and he was informed that he had to stop. It seems a Muslim student was "offended" by the mention of pigs and ham, and denounced filed a complaint against his teacher. The court issued an injunction against the teacher for "psychological ill-treatment in the context of xenophobia and racism." The local and national government say they support the teacher and condemn the court's decision.

Students at Battlefield High School decided they wanted to make the Christmas season more fun for their peers, so they started dressing up in ugly, wierd sweaters, singing Christmas carols, and passing out candy canes. All ten of them were given detention and have to help clean the school as punishment. Why? Peggy Fox at WUSA9 reports:
"They said, 'maliciously maim students with the intent to injure.' And I don't think any of us here intentionally meant to injure anyone, or did," said Zakk Rhine, a junior at Battlefield High School.

The boys say they were just tossing small two-inch candy canes to fellow students as they entered school. The ones in plastic wrap that are so small they often break apart.

Skylar Torbett, also a junior, said administrators told him, "They said the candy canes are weapons because you can sharpen them with your mouth and stab people with them." He said neither he nor any of their friend did that.
They staged these cheer-spreading events before the start of school to minimize disruption. They did admit that the candy canes might result in litter, but they helped clean up the debris on their own time. Again: management over leadership, a focus on the fact of the zero tolerance policy rather than wisdom which examines why.

The Defense Department has ruled that straight soldiers not only may but must shower with openly gay soldiers. Terrence P Jeffery writes for CNS News:
A special Defense Department working group appointed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates has recommended that the military should “expressly prohibit” heterosexuals from using separate showers, bathrooms and bunking facilities from homosexuals when the repeal of the law banning homosexuals from the military goes into effect.
Why? Because it would be prohibitively expensive and problematic to set up separate facilities for gays and lesbians and it would hurt their feelings.
“And, even if it could be achieved and administered, separate facilities would, in our view, stigmatize gay and lesbian Service members in a manner reminiscent of ‘separate but equal' facilities for blacks prior to the 1960s,” said the report.
The report then went on to say that since gays have been around straights their whole life, they can handle the situation fine and nothing bad will ever happen. The fact that this could be argued with women and men was ignored, as was the idea of gays bunking with straight males. Basically their argument was "this will be too hard to fix, so we're gonna pretend its not a problem."

Trying to duplicate the wonderful success of the Macy's Hallelujah Chorus cultural event, a California choral flash mob invaded a food court in a mall. This time however, instead of wonder and joy, they spread panic and disaster. Ed Fletcher and Matt Kawahara write for the Sacramento Bee:
But with thousands of people crowding the second-floor food court, the "random act of musical kindness" never got off the ground.

"It was so jammed with people that you could not even move," said Connie Santos, who hoped to enjoy the music, then shop.

There were no reports of injuries as the mall was peacefully evacuated starting about 6:45 p.m. The mall was scheduled to close at 11 p.m.

"Somebody reported hearing two pops that sounded like the floor was giving way and another said the floor was shifting," said Tom Dodaro, a Roseville Fire Department spokesman.
Well, nobody said artsy types were good with logistics and planning.

John Nolte has been writing about well-produced leftist propaganda movies at Big Hollywood and one he wrote about was Moore's absurd agitprop Fahrenheit 9/11. The movie failed to deliver John Kerry the presidency, and despite making a lot of money, was overall a failure to shift culture against President Bush. However, Nolte had a bit of fun describing what the movie would be like today to have the same sort of attempted impact and mindset about the president:
[imagine a movie which] Puts forth the theory that President Obama is a Manchurian candidate — a foreign-born Muslim terrorist-sympathizer in league with the likes of Bill Ayers and Louis Farrakhan to bring down the United States from within.
That's pretty much the level of crazy that F 9/11 was. Thankfully for the Iraqi people, Moore failed to end the attempt to liberate them and failed to topple President Bush.

While the Chicago Tribune tries really hard to soften the blow by claiming Mayor Daley was wonderful for Chicago schools, the painful news is still painful. Here's the key sentence:
As recently as 2004, a Thomas B. Fordham Institute study found that 39 percent of CPS teachers sent their own kids to private schools.
Yeah. The teachers at Chicago schools would rather send their kids to any other school than the one they work for. These being the same schools which a younger Barack Obama was nominated by Bill Ayers to head up the Annenberg Challenge, a multi million dollar fund to help make the schools better. Guess he failed.

I haven't written about Pigford because other places have handled it much better, but basically the Obama administration used this old farming community to hand out reparations to people who were allegedly abused by rich farmers. There were whites abused, but only blacks got reparations. There were a small number of limited people who qualified, but as much as fifty times as many signed up. And the lawyer for the largest group recently admitted that his clients "got away with murder" in a recent video slip up. Don't expect any sort of whistleblowing or investigation into this incident despite the rampant fraud and misuse of funds in a questionable program to begin with. It would be racist to even consider it.

Syracuse Law school has had an anonymously penned satirical blog which has for the last school year been producing fake news like how a beer bong was elected class president. Its all in good fun, but one particularly prudish and bitter law professor didn't care for it. So he began investigating the site to shut it down and punish the proprietor. Adam Kissel write for the New York Post:
Law professor Gregory Germain (the "prosecutor" of this case in the school's judicial system) began investigating Len two months ago, and has kept Len completely in the dark for the whole two months. Who are the accusers? Which blog post was harassing? Len doesn't know. How could he even start to defend himself?

Knowing that universities can't defend in public what they try to do in private, Len sought to draw attention to these abuses. But Germain is now seeking a gag order that would severely hurt Len's efforts to publicize his situation. Germain wants to require any journalist reporting on the case to sign away the right to publish any case document unless the document is published whole. No excerpts, no quotations.

Germain knows full well that this would essentially prevent Audaer from appealing to the court of public opinion, leaving him no choice but to silently accept the findings of a campus judiciary that seems determined to get him.
Syracuse bylaws promise students "the right to express themselves freely on any subject" and "the right to fundamental fairness," but this student faces expulsion for being satirical about the school.

Apparently Cuba banned the Michael Moore movie Sicko despite its attempt to portray the Cuban medical care system as the best in the world and US health care as the worst. In typical Moore agitprop (read: lies to manipulate viewers) manner, Sicko shows Cuba in the most glowing possible terms. However Cuba was apparently worried that it would anger Cubans who have horrendous medical care when they are shown what visitors and heads of state enjoy. Note: Moore has sued to force the Guardian (where I got this story) to take it down.

Finally, if you're curious about literature and the frequency of word use, Google has an interesting tool you can use. Google has been putting as many books as it can get online for free reading, and you can search all these books for words. With the Ngram Viewer tool you can pick two words like "gay" and "happy" and see what their frequency of use was across any length of time they have records for (they're roughly equal, except a small spike in the use of the word "happy" after WW2 and a gigantic spike of the word "gay" once it became associated with homosexuality).

And that's the Word Around the Net, December 23, 2010.