Archive for November, 2011

Obama Less Popular Than Jimmy Carter

November 29, 2011

I love Glenn Reynold’s comment on this.

OBAMA APPROVAL now worse than Jimmy Carter’s. Well, he’s a worse President than Jimmy Carter, which took some doing.

I wonder if Carter is upset over this. I doubt it. He actually thinks that he was a great president.

What he’s most proud of, though, is that he didn’t fire a single shot. Didn’t kill a single person. Didn’t lead his country into a war – legal or illegal. “We kept our country at peace. We never went to war. We never dropped a bomb. We never fired a bullet. But still we achieved our international goals. We brought peace to other people, including Egypt and Israel. We normalised relations with China, which had been non-existent for 30-something years. We brought peace between US and most of the countries in Latin America because of the Panama Canal Treaty. We formed a working relationship with the Soviet Union.”

Which was actually part of the problem.

Psychopathic Brains

November 29, 2011

I think this article in the Daily Mail is interesting. According to researchers there really is a difference in the brains of people with a psychopathic personality, that is people apparently unable to feel empathy or guilt, and normal people.

Psychopaths such as Hannibal Lecter – Anthony Hopkins’ character in the film The Silence of the Lambs – are callous, anti-social and sometimes violent. They are incapable of feeling empathy or guilt.

Many lead ‘normal’ – even successful – lives. In fact, a recent study suggested that up to one in 25 business leaders may be psychopaths.

One per cent of the population at large is generally reckoned to be psychopathic – but up to 20 per cent of the prison population is reckoned to be psychopathic.

The disorder prevents people feeling ‘empathy’ towards other people, or guilt for offences.

Psychopaths don’t suffer from delusions, though, so serve their jail terms in ordinary prisons, rather than mental facilities – and many are highly adept at ‘pretending’ to think in the same way as normal people.

 

Ameriocan researchers took a magnetic-resonance imaging scanner to a medium security prison in Wisconsin, and scanned the brains of 40 prisoners in a doing time for similar offences, half of whom had been diagnosed with psychopathy.

Results of the study revealed both structural and functional abnormalities in the brains of the psychopaths, with scientists finding there was less communication between two key areas of their brains than the other prisoners.

The first of these structures, known as the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, is responsible for emotions including empathy and guilt.

The second, called the amygdala, controls levels of fear and anxiety.

It is thought the lack of communication between these two areas makes it difficult for psychopaths to regulate their social and emotional behaviour.

Study author Professor Michael Koenigs, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison said the two structures ‘seemed not to be communicating as they should.’

I can see two scenarios which could come from this sort of research and I am not sure which is more disturbing. One is that defense attorneys will use this to argue that their clients with this sort of abnormality are not responsible for their actions and should not be punished. The other is that someone will argue that everyone should be screened and those which have the brain type that is associated with psychopathy should be watched or locked up.

I do question the idea that certain behaviors are “hard-wired” from birth.

New research has uncovered that manipulative, callous and sometimes violent behaviour could actually be hard-wired into psychopaths from birth.

The disorder is untreatable – and this discovery could unlock new ways to understand, and perhaps even treat the disorder.

Is it not also possible that engaging in anti-social behavior could alter the brain’s structure in this manner? The brain is affected by the environment. Whatever the cause of certain mental disorders, it is important not to dismiss the concept of free will and responsibility for our actions.

Barney Frank not Running in 2012

November 28, 2011
Representative Barney Frank, co-architect of t...

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Here is a bit of good news. The most disgusting man in Congress, and I’m NOT saying that because he is gay, has decided not to run for reelection next year.

Democratic Rep. Barney Frank, a gay pioneer in Congress and a Massachusetts liberal whose name as well and fingerprints are on last year’s sweeping bill regulating Wall Street, announced plans Monday to retire at the end of his current term, his 16th in Congress.

“There are other things I would like to do with my life,” the 71-year-old lawmaker said at a news conference. He added that his retirement plans were hastened by two years by reapportionment, which moved 325,000 new constituents into his district.

My guess is that he has looked at the polls and decided he might have a chance of actually losing, though why his constituents didn’t throw him out years ago, after the gay prostitution scandal, I’ll never know.

Maybe he thinks he has done enough damage.

As a longtime member of the House committee that oversaw the banking and housing industries, he often worked to expand affordable housing and end redlining, a practice in which banks are accused of imposing onerous lending conditions on residents of inner cities and other poor neighborhoods.

Onerous lending conditions like actually being able to pay back the loans. This kind of legislation is, of course, why the housing market has collapsed.

I wish Mr. Frank well in whatever work he chooses to do in the future, as long as it has nothing to do with public affairs. He’s done enough there.

Update: I found this article on Drudge. Barney Frank is the seventeenth Democrat from the House of Representatives to decide not to run for reelection, as opposed to only seven Republicans. I wonder what is going on. They must fear big losses next year.

Man Builds Hobbit Hole

November 27, 2011

I saw this story on The Blaze. All I have to say is when can I have one.

This is not some set left over from The Lord of the Rings. This hobbit house is an honest-to-goodness man-sized home. Not only does it fit a family of four, but it cost just over $4,650 to build.

The Daily Mail reports that Simon Dale built the home without any prior home building or carpentry experience on a plot of land that was provided for free in exchange for watching over the owner’s other property. Nestled in a Welsh hillside, much of the home is made from scraps and scavenged material and wood:

“Being your own have-a-go architect is a lot of fun and allows you to create and enjoy something which is part of yourself and the land rather than, at worst, a mass-produced box designed for maximum profit and the convenience of the construction industry.

“Building from natural materials does away with producers’ profits and the cocktail of carcinogenic poisons that fill most modern buildings.”

[...]

As well as being made from sustainable material the Hobbit house, as it is dubbed by locals, has lime plaster on its walls instead of cement, a compost toilet, a fridge cooled by air from beneath the foundations and solar panels for power.

Mr. Dale said: ‘This sort of  life is about living in harmony with both the natural world and ourselves, doing things simply and using appropriate levels of technology.’

The builder seems to be a bit of an enviromentalist nut, and I think I would want an actual architect to build it, but I can see there would be definite advantages in having an underground house, as far as insulation goes, not to mention the coolness factor in having a house like Bag End.

Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire

November 27, 2011

It has been said that he who does not study history is condemned to repeat it. With this in mind then, the history of the rise and fall of the Roman Empire must be especially instructive for the great powers of our own era.  While it is not true that history repeats itself and cultures very widely over the centuries, yet the same virtues and vices cause the rise and fall of empires.

Simon Baker presents us with the story of just such an empire rising and falling in his book Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire. This book, a companion to a series of documentaries on BBC, chronicles the rise and eventual fall of the Roman Empire. Simon Baker does not present a continuous narrative of all the centuries that Rome ruled the world. Rather, he focuses on about six key events or turning points of Roman history. He manages to present enough of the background history so that the reader who is not acquainted with ancient history is not at all lost.

I am not sure if it was the author’s intent but if there is one lesson that I learned from reading Ancient Rome, it would be the importance of leadership. When the Roman Republic had good leadership, with Senators willing to make sacrifices for the common good, the Republic flourished and rose to rule the known world. When the Senators became corrupt and self-serving, the institutions of the Republic no longer worked. Then Julius and Augustus Caesar transformed the Republic into the one-man autocracy we call the Empire.

The Empire worked well enough under good emperors such as Augustus and Hadrian. Under bad or incompetent emperors such as Nero, the system did not work so well. The lack of any firm rules for succession caused the Empire to nearly fall apart in the third century but, fortunately, the Emperor Diocletian was able to pull the Empire back together and Constantine gave it a reboot with a new capital, Constantinople and a new religion, Christianity.

The Western half fell to the Germans in the fifth century, but contrary to the speculations of many historians over the centuries, there was nothing inevitable about that fall. The Goths were not trying to overthrow the Roman Empire. They were fleeing the depredations of the Huns and seeking a safe place to live. Wise leadership by the Romans would have enabled the Goths to become assimilated as Romans. However, there were no wise rulers in Rome and so the end came.

 

 

 

 

Obama Assassination Tempting?

November 25, 2011

That is what the President of the College Republicans at UT Austin had to say.

Hours after Pennsylvania State Police arrested a 21-year-old Idaho man for allegedly firing a semi-automatic rifle at the White House, the top student official for the College Republicans at the University of Texas tweeted that the idea of assassinating President Obama was “tempting.”

At 2:29 p.m. ET, UT’s Lauren E. Pierce wrote: “Y’all as tempting as it may be, don’t shoot Obama. We need him to go down in history as the WORST president we’ve EVER had! #2012.”

Pierce, the president of the College Republicans at UT Austin, told ABC News the comment was a “joke” and that the “whole [shooting incident] was stupid.” Giggling, she said that an attempted assassination would “only make the situation worse.”

I know it was just a joke but I think that it was a bad one. I think we should leave the jokes and fantasies about assassinating people to the loony left and the Occupy Wall Street crowd.

The Zoroastrians of Iran

November 25, 2011
Carving of Persian Soldiers with Farvahar on P...

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I read this article from CNN about the persecution that the Zoroastrians in Iran have suffered.

As Zoroastrian funerary processions enter the graveyard overlooking the Tehran suburb of Ray, their sobriety is often shattered by the sound of explosions and gunfire. Frequently, the way forward is blocked by Islamic Revolutionary Guards conducting a combat exercise among the tombs. According to Zoroastrian custom, burial needs to take place within 24 hours, and the Revolutionary Guards will not halt their training activities there for the funerals.

This is just another sign of religious freedom fading in the Islamic Republic.

Much that is written about the Zoroastrians of Iran portrays them as a venerable and quaint religious community. But these followers of an ancient faith are not insulated from the tribulations of their country.

The Iranian government has persecuted Christians, Baha’s, Jews (are any left in Iran?), and others but the persecution and slow destruction of the Zoroastrian community in Iran is, I think, especially bad considering that Zoroastrianism is the indigenous religion of the Persians, until the Muslims invaded in the eighth century.

They were no mere pagans. Zoroastrianism is a monotheistic religion, some believe the earliest monotheists. Their beliefs are thought to have had an important influence on the development of Judaism and Christianity. The Zoroastrians had a highly developed system of ethics. Cyrus the first ruler of the Persian Empire was unique among the kings and conquerors of ancient times in the mildness and tolerance of his rule. His example was followed by most of his successors.

The Zoroastrians have been persecuted since the Muslims invaded Persia in the eighth century. Centuries of discrimination have caused their numbers and culture to decline until only about 20,000 remain in Iran. About a thousand years ago, a large number migrated to India to gain the religious freedom denied in their homeland. About 70,000 of their descendants still live in India where they are called Parsees.

It should come as no surprise that the Iranian Revolution and the Islamic Republic made things worse for the Zoroastrians.

When the Islamic revolution occurred in 1979, fundamentalist Shiites stormed the fire temple at Tehran. There, Zoroastrians worship in front of a blazing fire, as a symbol of God’s grace, just like Christians face a cross and Muslims turn to a qibla pointing toward Mecca. The portrait of Zoroaster was tossed down, a photograph of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was put up in its place, and the congregation was warned not to remove the image of Iran’s new leader. Only months later could the prophet’s picture be mounted upon an adjacent wall.

Their schools and classrooms began to be covered with images of Supreme Leaders Ayatollah Khomeini and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and with verses of the Quran that denounce non-Muslims. Those who do well academically nonetheless find no openings within state-controlled universities.

When the bloody war with Iraq raged from 1980 to 1988, young Zoroastrians were involuntarily drafted for suicide missions in the Iranian army. Rejecting the Shiite mullahs’ claim that military martyrdom would lead them to a heaven full of virgins was futile. Failing to offer their lives on the battlefield could result in execution for treason.

Then in November 2005, Ayatollah Ahmed Jannati, chairman of the Council of Guardians of the Constitution, disparaged Zoroastrians and other religious minorities as “sinful animals who roam the earth and engage in corruption.” When the Zoroastrians’ solitary parliamentary representative protested, he was hauled before a revolutionary tribunal. There, mullahs threatened execution before sparing his life with a warning never to challenge their declarations again. A frightened community subsequently declined to re-elect him.

And yet, curiously enough, this old religion still has an attraction for the Persians.

Over the past two years, many Muslim Iranians have begun publicly rejecting the Shiite theocracy’s intolerant ways by adopting symbols and festivals from Zoroastrianism. Those actions are denounced as causing “harm and corruption” by ayatollahs like Khamenei and Jannati.

Sensing that popular sentiment among Iran’s Muslim majority is shifting away from the mullahs, even President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has begun utilizing Zoroastrianism’s past for his own political ends. In September 2010, he arranged for the Cyrus Cylinder, a sixth-century B.C. document that speaks of religious tolerance and Iranian greatness, to be loaned from the British Museum. During a public ceremony in Tehran, Ahmadinejad lauded indigenous traditions as superior to Arab-imposed Islam. Privately, his chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, even referred to King Cyrus as “a messenger of God.”

This is more a matter of patriotism for the Iranians. The Zoroastrians do not proselytize and do not accept converts. This means that their numbers are declining, even outside of Iran. It is likely that they will die out entirely in the not too distant future. That would be a shame. From what little I know of Persian culture, I do not think that Islam is a very good fit for them. I think the Iranians would be better off if there were some kind of Zoroastrian revival.

 

Trouble Getting Connected

November 24, 2011

I have been having trouble with my Internet connection since Tuesday, I haven’t been able to post anything. I bought a new router today and with some difficulty managed to set everything up.

In any event Happy Thanksgiving.

The Number of the Beast

November 21, 2011

This is an interesting story from CBS.

A Georgia factory worker claims in a federal lawsuit that he was fired after he refused to wear a 666 sticker he feared would doom him to eternal damnation.

Billy E. Hyatt claims he was fired from Pliant Corp., a plastics factory in northern Georgia near Dalton, after he refused to wear a sticker proclaiming that his factory had been accident-free for 666 days. That number is considered the “mark of the beast” in the Bible’s Book of Revelation describing the apocalypse.

Hyatt, who said he’s a devout Christian, had worked for the north Georgia plastics company since June 2007 and like other employees wore stickers each day that proclaimed how long the factory had gone without an accident.

But he grew nervous in early 2009 as the number of accident-free days crept into the 600s. As the company’s safety calendar approached day 666, Hyatt said he approached a manager and explained that wearing it would force him “to accept the mark of the beast and to be condemned to hell.” He said the manager assured him he wouldn’t have to wear the number.

When the day came on March 12, 2009, Hyatt sought a manager to discuss his request. He said he was told that his beliefs were “ridiculous” and that he should wear the sticker or serve a three-day suspension.

Hyatt took the three-day suspension, and was fired at a human resources meeting several days later. He then filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and his attorney Stephen Mixon said the agency granted him the right to sue the company in August.

The lawsuit, which seeks punitive damages and back pay, said the company forced him into a terrible situation: Keep his job or “abandon his religious beliefs.”

I am not sure how to put this, but Billy Hyatt’s religious beliefs are ridiculous. I don’t think he understands the meaning of the number of the beast in the book of Revelation. Here is the relevant section.

16 It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, 17so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name.

18 This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man.[e] That number is 666. (Rev 13:16-18)

The beast is introduced earlier in chapter 13.

And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on its horns, and on each head a blasphemous name. 2 The beast I saw resembled a leopard, but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion. The dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority. 3 One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed. The whole world was filled with wonder and followed the beast. 4 People worshiped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshiped the beast and asked, “Who is like the beast? Who can wage war against it?”  5 The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise its authority for forty-two months. 6 It opened its mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven. 7 It was given power to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. And it was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation. 8 All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life, the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.

(Rev 13:1-8)

Most people know about Roman numerals but I imagine that few know anything about Greek or Hebrew numerals. Both the Greeks and Hebrews used letters of their alphabets to represent numbers, alpha would be 1, beta 2, and so on. For more information see here and here. The fact that numbers could be used to spell out words lent itself to a form of numerology called gematria for Hebrew letters or isopsephy for Greek letters. Various numbers in either system could have special meanings depending on the words they spelled out.

With that is mind then the intent of the author of Revelation becomes clearer. The beast is a person. The number, 666, is the sum of the values of the letters, Greek or possibly Hebrew, of that person’s name added together. Who that individual could be has been the subject of speculation for millenia. Roman emperors, popes, kings, Mohammed, Martin Luther and many others have been suggested as candidates over the years.

The mark of the beast appears to be a tattoo or a brand. It could represent some sort of token or certificate that Romans received after completing their patriotic duty of worshipping the Emperor. In any event, I am fairly certain that the mark is not referring to a sticker worn after completing 666 days without an accident. It would seem, instead, that the mark would only be given as a voluntary sign of allegiance of the beast, so that it simply would not be possible to accidentally get the mark. Mr. Hyatt does not need to worry about going to Hell over a sticker.

March Against the Judaization of Jerusalem

November 21, 2011

I got this from Pamela Gellar.

The new Islamic supremacist rulers of Egypt have given their blessing to a “million man march” against the “Judaization” of Jerusalem.

This is particularly galling. Jerusalem is Jewish and is mentioned well over 700 times in the Bible. Jerusalem is our Jewish identity, which is why the Palestinian Muslims are so rabid in their pursuit to steal it.

Jerusalem is not mentioned in the quran.

A march against the “Judaization” of Jerusalem is a march against the Jewish people. They are inextricably tied.

Considering that Jerusalem has been the center of Jewish religion and culture since King David captured it from the Jebusites around 1000 BC, I would say that they are about 3000 years too late.

Reproduction of 17th century Indian (Mughal) m...

Image via Wikipedia

She is not quite correct in saying that Jerusalem is not mentioned in the Koran. The name never appears, but in sura 17, there is a description of Mohammad’s “Night Journey“, in which he has a vision, or really travels, up to Heaven. He is taken by Buraq, a winged horse (Pegasus?), first to the al-Aqsa Mosque or the Farthest Mosque and from there up to the seven Heavens where he meets various prophets and Allah. For whatever reason the al-Aqsa Mosque is considered to be in Jerusalem.

It is actually not too surprising that these people wouldn’t know too much about the actual history of Jerusalem. One of the features of the Koran which make it particularly difficult to read is the near complete absence of any historical context. Various prophets, such as Abraham, Moses, or Jesus are mentioned but without any clue as to who any of them actually are, when they lived, or their relationship to each other. Jews are mentioned but you would never know that they lived in Israel, or anywhere, or the Koran was your only source.


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