Archive for the ‘My Life’ Category

Hey, Christian, Have You Read the Bible

October 17, 2014

Not too long ago, I finished reading the Bible. This is an undertaking I have completed numerous times, to the point where I honestly don’t know how many times I have read the Bible all the way through. I became curious about how many people have actually read the Bible all the way through, I doubt there are many even among devout Christians and Jews, so I asked that fount of all knowledge and wisdom, Google.

The first thing I noticed from the results is that there seems to be a prevailing idea that few Christians have read much  of the Bible. Only Atheists have actually read and studied the Bible in any sort of rigorous fashion and they are uniformly appalled by the ignorance and atrocities found in the “Good Book”. This line of thought goes on with the corollary that anyone who does actually read the Bible will, if he is honest and  intelligent immediately convert to Atheism.  This, Isaac Asimov said, “Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.”, and we get these sort of graphics.

atheists and the bible piechart

 

 

and

reading-bible

 

I don’t find that to be the case myself. In fact, I do not think I could be an honest atheist. The best I could manage might be a sort of Deism, but that is a subject for another post. I also find that the Bible “grows” on me, even the less interesting books. I find, in a curious sort of way, that I get more out of the Bible every time I read it and this appreciation grows even greater when I study the historical and cultural background in which the Bible was written. It is a grave mistake to read your Bible as though you were reading a newspaper or a contemporary novel. While the truths of the Bible may be eternal, they are expressed from the viewpoint of  cultures very different than our own, ones closer to the edge than our comfortable modern, Western world. For this reason, I suspect that a reader from the Third World must have a much easier time understanding the motives and actions of the people in the Bible than a middle class American ever could. I can also see why an ignorant and superficial reading of scripture may lead to many very wrong ideas, including Atheism.

One of the results of the Google search was an article from the website Atheism Resource titled, “Hey, Christian, Have You Read the Bible.”, written by a fifteen year old Atheist named Cassie Huye.

I have read the bible from cover to cover. How many people can actually say that? I will admit that I have forgotten many of the small details and even some of the major events, but at one time my eyes did glaze over the entire thing.

At school, I once had a girl in my class ask why I knew so much about Christianity. When I told her, she was astounded that an Atheist knew anything about her precious little religion, and could not bring herself to find any reason at all that I could be capable of not believing in her god, had I read all of his wondrous miracles in the bible.

What is considered a wondrous miracle anyway? I’ll admit that the ability to turn water into wine is pretty cool, but it seems like that should be a magical spell in some Harry Potter type book with an alcoholic wizard.

I think we have the next great Atheist apologist here. With snarky comments like “her precious little religion”, and generally deriding her classmates, she could be the next Sam Harris or Christopher Hitchens.

And then there is Kings 2: 23-24 “And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.”

I guess if you are the bald man, the death of those who made fun of you for something you can’t help is a miracle, but it really isn’t fair to the kids. The reason we cannot even legally drink until we 21 is because children’s brains are not even totally developed until they are 21. God made us right? He is all knowing… so doesn’t he know they were just using their underdeveloped child brains to make the stupid decision of making fun of a chosen one of God? I mean, if anything, it is God’s fault that they made fun of the man. He made them to have underdeveloped brains!

Do I even have to note that the word translated as “children”, נצר na’ar could also mean young man, adolescent or even servant and that “little” קטנ qaton means little, small, insignificant?  Keep in mind, also, that the city of Bethel was a center of worship for the Kingdom of Israel and thus was a rival to the Temple in Jerusalem and to the prophetic tradition of Elijah and Elisha.

25 Then Jeroboam fortified Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim and lived there. From there he went out and built up Peniel.

26 Jeroboam thought to himself, “The kingdom will now likely revert to the house of David.27 If these people go up to offer sacrifices at the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, they will again give their allegiance to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah. They will kill me and return to King Rehoboam.”

28 After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” 29 One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan. 30 And this thing became a sin; the people came to worship the one at Bethel and went as far as Dan to worship the other.

31 Jeroboam built shrines on high places and appointed priests from all sorts of people, even though they were not Levites. 32 He instituted a festival on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, like the festival held in Judah, and offered sacrifices on the altar. This he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves he had made. And at Bethel he also installed priests at the high places he had made. 33 On the fifteenth day of the eighth month, a month of his own choosing, he offered sacrifices on the altar he had built at Bethel. So he instituted the festival for the Israelites and went up to the altar to make offerings. (1 Kings 12:25-31)

It is possible, then that the “little children” were actually a mob of young men intent on insulting and even attacking Elisha. You may still find the incident with the bears disturbing, but a closer investigation shows that the incident is not what it seems to be based on a superficial reading based on ignorance of the historical conditions of the time.

Cassie continues.

This is just one example of the many absolutely insane things that are written in the bible. I promise you that the language the bible is written in was made to bore, but if you want a violent story or just a little comedy, you can find it in your bible.

She is right here. You can find action, comedy, romance, even zombies in the Bible if you know where to look.If you find the language boring, try another translation. But as for insane, again a knowledge of the background of the times will lead to a greater understanding. Dismissing things you do not understand as insane is simply pride in remaining ignorant.

But back to the original question of how I can read about the wondrous miracles of God and be an Atheist. It’s easy, all I had to do was actually read the miracles, and after reading them I don’t know how anyone could be Christian knowing what they say they think is true.

So I encourage you to go out, whoever you are, whatever religion you are: read about your own religion, and read about someone else’s too. Maybe you will realize that you have wasted years listening to someone scam for your money, or maybe you become convinced that you have found the true answer. But at the very least, you will know a little more about the world. As the motto goes, knowledge is power.

Actually, she assumed that miracles cannot happen and that any account of miracles must therefore be false. This assumption that miracles cannot occur is a reasonable assumption given that we do not ordinarily witness miracles, but it is only an assumption. The fact that the Bible contains miracles in its narratives does not prove that the narratives are completely false. They could be reliable history with some exaggerations included. The Bible could be literature, like Homer or Virgil, with a grain of true history at the core, or the miracles could have actually happened. Some of the stories in the Bible may seem strange to us. They did not seem strange to the people who wrote the Bible. As I have indicated, a knowledge of the culture and history of ancient times good serve to make the “insane” stories of the Bible less insane.Cassie Huys dismisses the Bible and Christianity at the age of fifteen after reading the Bible without even trying to understand it. She should take her own advice.

The Home Lie Detector

October 16, 2014

I have mentioned before that I am on the mailing list of Hammacher Schemmer, the store that has sold the best, the only, the unexpected,and the absurdly expensive for the last 166 years. In a recent catalog, I spotted a must have item, the home lie detector.

This is the USB lie detector kit with digital pulse and skin monitors for conducting a polygraph test at home. Using sensors applied to a subject’s fingers, the system takes baseline readings of the pulse rate and the skin’s electrical resistance and measures any changes in response to questioning. Data is graphed and stored in real time using free software, so testers can assess whether the subject’s pulse accelerates or the conductivity of their skin begins to change—the same physiological signs that professional polygraph examiners use to determine whether a suspect is lying. Although results are not legally binding, they may provoke a teenager’s confession about sneaking in after curfew or simply elicit laughs at a party. The system connects to a computer using the included USB cable. For Windows 8,7, Vista, XP, and Mac OSX. Box: 8″ L x 6″ W x 4″ D. (2 lbs.)

HLD

 

This can be yours for only $399.95.

There is, of course, not really any such thing as a lie detector, at least not in the sense that there is actually a machine that can determine if a given statement is truthful or not. What is often called a lie detector is, in fact, a device called a polygraph.

A polygraph operates by measuring various physiological processes, such as pulse rate or the skin’s electrical resistance, as mentioned in the catalog, and perhaps respiration and blood pressure depending on the device. The theory is that these measurements change when the subject is telling a lie.The extent to which this theory is valid is unknown since there doesn’t seem to be any consensus on how effective the device actually is. Professional polygraphers and their trade associations claim a better than 90 % effectiveness. Others, including the American Psychological Association are skeptical about whether the device is effective at all.

It is not quite true that the results of a polygraph test are not legally binding. That actually varies by state in the United States. Something like nineteen states do admit polygraph results as evidence, depending on circumstances. Polygraph evidence may also be admitted in a Federal trial, if the presiding judge at a court permits it. In general the results of a polygraph test can only be used in court if both the prosecutor and the defendant have no objections.

Since every individual responds to stress or lying in a different way physiologically. no polygraph device can determine if a person is definitely lying or telling the truth. No such device has a button that lights up or a alarm that sounds if a lie is told. The results of a polygraph examination must be interpreted by the examiner, and this is why there is so much uncertainty concerning the effectiveness of the polygraph is at detecting lies. The usual procedure is for the examiner to ask a series of innocuous questions to the subject being tested in order to establish a baseline for the various physiological processes being measured. Once that is done, the examiner can proceed with the actual interrogation of the subject. Even then, the results are far from being unambiguous and determining whether a subject is being honest is more an art than a science. A good many polygraph examinations end up being simply inconclusive. I suspect that in the cases in which a polygraph examination is effective at detecting lies, it may be more because the subject believes the polygraph to be effective and is more nervous about lying than he otherwise should be.

It occurs to me that a person who is knowledgeable about the workings and actual effectiveness of a polygraph would be more able to cheat the device than someone who really believes it can detect lies. I would also imagine that an experienced liar or criminal would display less of the reactions tested than a person who is naturally honest. It may well be that the honest, law abiding citizen, or the inexperienced and perhaps guilt ridden criminal would have more to fear from a lie detector test than the career criminal used to lying, or the sociopath who believes there is nothing especially wrong with lying. It should be noted that the notorious traitor and spy Aldrich Ames passed two polygraph examinations with flying colors while he was passing information to the Soviets, as did Gary Ridgeway, the Green River Killer. There have been suspects who have failed polygraph examinations only to be exonerated by actual evidence.

If you are ever asked to submit to a polygraph test as part of a criminal investigation, you should refuse unless your attorney is present. The police cannot force you to submit to a lie detector under any circumstances and you should not be certain that the results of such a test will show you to be innocent. You also cannot be required to take a polygraph test as a condition of employment by most private employers, the exception would employers who work with the government and have access to classified materials. If you apply for a job and are asked to submit to a polygraph test or if your employer asks you to take an exam as a condition of continued employment, chances are they are breaking the law. You might want to consider whether you want to continue working for someone who obviously mistrusts you.

So, if you want to have fun at parties, by all means buy the Home Lie Detector. I wouldn’t recommend you use it on your teenager or anyone else. If even people who administer polygraph tests professionally can sometimes find the results difficult to interpret, you might not want to be too confident of your own, or the computer’s interpretations. And, forcing your child to submit to a polygraph test might not be the best way to build trust in a relationship.

Open Carry Follies

October 11, 2014

I happen to be a staunch supporter of the second amendment right to bear arms, and naturally I oppose strict gun control laws. This is not because I have a great love of guns. I have never owned a gun of any sort and I don’t have any plans to acquire any sort of firearm. I have never even shot a gun in my entire life. I am certain that if I did happen to have a gun, I would be more dangerous to myself than to any potential enemy. My support for the second amendment is entirely on libertarian grounds. If you want to own and carry a gun, that’s your right and I wouldn’t want to stop you. I have no use for guns, but I respect your right to have one.

Having said all that, I must confess that I find that the thinking of some of the more enthusiastic gun lovers to be a bit, well, dumb. What I mean is the idea some of them seem to have that they will happen upon the scene of a crime in progress or will be confronted by a mugger and they will whip out their trusty sidearm and take care of the situation. I think they must have a scene rather like this one playing in the theater of their minds.

I wish I could have found that clip without the commentary. Anyway, this story relates a somewhat more likely outcome.

A Gresham, Oregon open carry enthusiast was robbed of his weapon on Saturday by another man with a gun.

According to KOIN Channel 6, 21-year-old William Coleman III of Gresham was standing and talking to his cousin shortly after 2:00 a.m. on Saturday when another man approached him and asked for a cigarette.

The other man — described as a black male around 6 feet tall with a lean build and wavy hair — asked Coleman about his weapon, a Walther P22 pistol.

He then pulled a pistol from the waistband of his pants, pointed it at Coleman and said, “I like your gun. Give it to me.”

Coleman did as he was told and the man then fled on foot. He was reportedly wearing gray sweatpants, flip flop sandals and a white t-shirt and had a small patch of facial hair on his chin.

Coleman told police the suspect appeared to be between 19 and 23 years of age.

Now, concealed carry makes sense in that if the bad guy doesn’t know you are armed, you can give him a nasty surprise. That element of uncertainly whether a potential victim is armed may act as a deterrent to a criminal. Openly carrying a gun makes less sense, since a criminal can see that you are armed and take precautions, such as pointing his own weapon at you and disarming you, or even deciding to shoot first.

But the real lesson in this particular story is that it is easy to concoct fantasies about what you might do in a dangerous situation but the simple truth is that none of us can possibly know what we might do until the situation is actually occurring. Unless you are specially trained or have actual experience, chances are that you will not engage in a shootout with a criminal. You will not stop a madman shooting up a shopping mall. You will be running and hiding like all the other people. Carry a gun, either openly or concealed if you wish, but don’t take for granted that you will be a hero when the time comes.

I should say that I am likely to prove a bigger coward than most if I were confronted with an armed attacker. Since this is not something that occurs in my environment, I would have no idea how to react and would probably freeze and stand looking at the shooter stupidly, not even being able to panic. I say this in case anyone reading the previous paragraph might imagine that I am trying to make myself look braver or smarter than others. I know myself better than to imagine that would be the case. (Although, the one time I was robbed while working the night shift at a convenience store, I was not afraid but irritated. I do not know whether they were actually armed. One of them had his hand in his jacket pocket as if he were holding a hand gun, but I think he was bluffing. They tried to open the cash register but it locked and when they told me to open it, I told them I couldn’t because they had messed it up. A customer entered the store and they fled with nothing for their trouble. I cannot say I was especially brave, just irritated because they really had messed up the cash register.)

I should also say that looking over the comments of this story is a really depressing experience. I don’t know whether the ignorant and the vindictive are drawn to the comments section of stories like this, or commenting on such stories brings out the worst aspects of human nature. Either way it is depressing.

General Tso’s Chicken

September 21, 2014

The other day, I was eating at a Chinese restaurant and I noticed that one of the items at the buffet was called “General Tso’s chicken“. I started to wonder who General Tso could be and why he has a chicken dish named after him. Was he, perhaps, the Chinese equivalent of Colonel Sanders? Naturally, I consulted that infallible fount of knowledge and wisdom that is Wikipedia.

Well, as it turns out, General Tso was a nineteenth century Chinese military leader who helped to suppress some of the rebellions that were endemic in the last century of the Qing  Dynasty. His name was actually Tso Tsung-T’ang, or Zuo Zongtang using the Pinyin system of romanization. Zuo Zongtang was born in Xiangyin County in the province of Hunan in the year 1812. His family was poor but he was ambitious so he took the Imperial civil service exam seven times, failing each time. This was no cause for shame, the vast majority of candidates did not pass, but it did limit his options for advancement. Discouraged, Zuo Zongtang retired to his family farm to raise silkworms and study. The world was changing and new ways of rising in China were opening up. It was becoming increasingly obvious that China had fallen behind the European nations in science, technology and military power.  Zuo became aware of China’s increasing backwardness and he was one of the first Chinese to study Western science and culture. Zuo became known and respected as an expert in the new, foreign learning.

Zuo Zongtang

The Man(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When the Taiping Rebellion broke out in 1850, Zuo became an advisor to Zeng Guofan, the governor of Hunan, who was tasked with raising an army to defeat the Taiping rebels after they had fought and destroyed the regular Qing armies in the region. By 1860 Zuo was given command of an army and he managed to clear the rebels out of Hunan and Guangxi provinces. He and Zeng captured Nanjing in 1864, ending the Taiping Rebellion at last. In 1865 Zuo was appointed Viceroy over the provinces of Fujian and Zhejiang. He was also made Commissioner of Naval Industries and opened China’s first modern shipyard and naval academy in the city of Fuzhou.

province-english

In 1867, Zuo became Viceroy of Shaanxi and Gansu provinces and was ordered to put down the Nian Rebellion which had plagued northern China the same way the Taipings had been in the south.  He accomplished this task by the following year and was then sent out to the west to deal with the Muslim rebels in the autonomous region of Xinjiang.  By 1878, Zuo Zongtang had crushed the rebels, converted Xinjiang into a province of China, with himself as the first governor and had persuaded the Russians to withdraw from the border regions they had occupied in the chaos of the rebellion. Zuo Zongtang has seen to it that his troops were armed with modern weapons and so was able to credibly threaten war against the under manned Russian outposts. This was one of the few times in the nineteenth century in which the Chinese were able to resist a foreign power.

Zuo Zongtang was promoted to the Grand Council in 1880. Zuo was not really a politician or bureaucrat and didn’t much like the post so in 1881 he was made governor of Liangjiang. His last military commission was as Commander in Chief of the Army and Inspector General of coastal defenses in Fujian when the Sino-French War broke out over the status of  Vietnam in 1884. Again, the Chinese army under Zuo performed somewhat better than they had against European armies previously and they managed to give the French a hard time in Vietnam and southern China. The French won the war, however, largely because the French Navy could bombard the coastal cities of China at will. Zuo Zongtang died in 1885, just after the war ended, a national hero.

That explains who General Tso was, but how did he get a the chicken named after him? Did he work as a chef when he wasn’t leading armies? Was sweet, spicy deep-fried chicken a particular favorite of his?

PS GeneralTsosChicken1

His chicken(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The truth is that nobody seems to know how General Tso’s chicken came to be named after General Tso. He couldn’t have possibly eaten it. The dish was actually invented in America, by Chinese immigrants who had fled China after the Communist takeover in 1949. The Shun Lee Palace in New York City claims to be the first restaurant to serve General Tso’s chicken in 1972, but that claim has been contested. Peng Jia was Chiang Kai-Shek‘s chef when Chiang fled to Taiwan and in 1973 he opened a restaurant in New York. Peng claims to have invented the dish while experimenting with ways to make Hunanese cuisine more palatable to non-Hunanese, mostly by adding sugar and sweetening it. Whatever the case, General Tso’s chicken was unknown in China before the Chinese government opened China to foreign trade and contacts. Since then, Chinese chefs have successfully introduced the dish to China although it is not a favorite in General Tso’s native Hunan. Most Hunanese consider General Tso’s chicken to be too sweet.

 

 

Talk Like a Pirate Day

September 19, 2014

Arrrr! Ahoy mateys, today be Talk Like a Pirate Day. This be the day those who be scallywags talk like true buccaneers not like lubbers.

English: Mark Summers ("Cap'n Slappy"...

English: Mark Summers (“Cap’n Slappy”) and John Baur (“Ol’ Chumbucket”), founders of Talk Like a Pirate Day. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, the pirates of the Caribbean didn’t really talk like that The real language spoken by a pirate crew would have depended on the nationality of the crew, an English crew would have spoken English, French would have spoken French, and so on. Whatever language they spoke, the crews of a pirate ship would probably have spoken a lower class sailor’s dialect, not too different from the workingmen’s speech of their native country, though with nautical jargon. Of course, the Caribbean was a melting pot of races and nationalities and I suppose pirate crews reflected that diversity. There were a number of pidgins and creoles spoken in the region, which were spoken on pirate ships and which didn’t sound much like the language we associate with pirates.

So, where did our ideas about talking like a pirate come from? Most likely from the same place most of our other ideas about pirates, Robert Louis Stevenson‘s Treasure Island. That children’s adventure story is responsible for most of ideas about pirates, buried treasure, parrots, pirate ships,pieces of eight,  the whole genre. Treasure Island is where you can find such expressions as “shiver me timbers” and “avast, matey” not to mention the dead man’s chest.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, Cha...

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1911 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The actual sounds and wording what we think of as pirate language seems to have come from the actor Robert Newton who played Long John Silver in the 1950 Disney adaptation of Treasure Island. He reprised the role of  Long John Silver in an 1954 Australian film of that name. Newton also portrayed Blackbeard in Blackbeard the Pirate. Newton was originally from Dorset, in south-west England and he was educated in Cornwall. For his pirate roles, Newton opted to use an exaggerated version of his native West Country dialect with its rolling r’s or Arrrr’s. Robert Newton’s portrayals of pirates were popular enough that his speech became established as the real pirate speech in popular culture. Thus we have a Talk Like a Pirate Day in which people don’t really talk much like pirates at all.

Then again, Robert Newton’s dialect may not have been that far off. A lot of sailors came from south-west England and the region was a center of shipping and trade and it is likely that many pirates came from the region, including Blackbeard. Of course, we have no recordings of the way eighteenth century pirates or sailors spoke, so there is no way to know for sure. Still, it’s fun and we could all use some more fun in our lives.

Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest!

Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!

God’s Not Dead

August 31, 2014

The other evening we attended a get together with some friends from church. We ate pizza and enjoyed one another’s company. I think I can speak for everyone by saying that a good time was had by all. For entertainment, we watched the movie God’s Not Dead, which had come out on DVD not too long ago. As is my custom, I looked up the movie on Wikipedia, etc when I got home. I was not too surprised to learn that the critics generally hated God’s Not Dead, panning it for having one dimensional caricatures as characters and ham handed messaging. I was also not too surprised to learn that it was a box office success. The fact that a film that appeals to the faith and sentiments of a large section of the American people has been described as a “surprise hit” says a lot about the disconnect between the values of the entertainment industry and the people they expect to buy their products. I doubt if any other industry that was so clueless about their potential customers would long survive.

God's_Not_Dead

There is not much to be said about the plot of God’s Not Dead that isn’t already generally known through the publicity the film has generated. A professor of philosophy, Jeffrey Radisson, played by Kevin Sorbo, demands that the students in his class write out “God is Dead” in order to receive a passing grade in his class. Every student writes the statement and signs their name except for Josh Wheaton who finds that he cannot act against his faith. Professor Radisson then demands that Josh prove the existence of God in three debates that are to take place at the end of the next three classes. The premiss may seem rather outlandish, then again maybe not. The environment on many universities does seem to be increasingly hostile to religion, particularly Christianity. The influence that causes many young Christians to lose their faith on campus may be far more subtle than depicted in God’s Not Dead, but it is there.

On the whole, I think that the criticisms leveled at God’s Not Dead are just ones. The message of  Christians being required to defend their faith is not very subtle. Professor Radisson and the other atheists in the movie are caricatures of the stereotypical angry, obnoxious atheists. However, in defense of God’s Not Dead, I have to say that its failings are not, in fact, worse than much that comes out of Hollywood. If atheists are offended by the shallow depictions of their beliefs found in God’s Not Dead, then now they know how many Christians and conservatives feel  as we sit in a theater. I also have to say that many atheists really do come across as the sort of obnoxious arrogant jerks that Kevin Sorbo plays. For the person whose exposure to atheism consists only of the writings of Richard Dawkins and the antics of internet trolls, not to mention the Freedom from Religion Foundation who seem to be deliberately trying to make atheists pariahs, Sorbo’s depiction rings true. I have also seen movies with some environmentalist or generally left-wing message presented with far less skill than God’s Not Dead.

I don’t think that the arguments presented by either Josh or Professor Radisson were very good ones. There was not enough screen time devoted to the actual debate to really develop the arguments. This is part of the reason why although I generally liked God’s Not Dead, I did feel a certain frustration while watching it. This movie was not as good as it could have been. The premise is interesting. Kevin Sorbo and the other actors were good. The production values were as high as could be expected, yet it was all somehow not quite enough. This could have been a thought-provoking movie, but it didn’t quite reach the mark. I think that most of the extraneous subplots ought to have been cut out to make a leaner, more straightforward narrative. The movie also could have done without the cameos by Willie Robertson and the Newsboys. These subplots and cameos only served as distractions. Professor Radisson ought to have been depicted in more sympathetic fashion, rather than as almost a cartoon villain. Perhaps they ought to have had him challenge Josh after a class discussion. This might have made for a more interesting movie.

God’s Not Dead is a movie worth watching but it could have been so much better.

 

Dollar Crash

August 4, 2014

Here is an e-mail I received recently.

Dear Fellow Citizen,

Ron Paul recently told us that we will soon experience a “Major Crash of the Dollar”. We see signs that it’s coming every day …

But what if Dollar Crash has already begun? Consider …

Value of a $1 Federal Reserve Note in 1913 Dollars

If your retirement savings are exposed:

Thanks to an Extraordinary IRS “Loophole”, now you can legally move your IRA or 401(k) out of a dying dollar and into Gold – it’s what Dr. Paul calls his “insurance against the dollar fiasco.”

While you still can: We have an Information Guide on Gold ready to send you – there is ZERO cost and ZERO obligation to you.

You can Get Your FREE Info Guide Here.

This comprehensive, 16-page guide reveals how gold and silver:

  • Safeguard from a falling dollar,
  • Protect in times of uncertainty, and
  • Offer tremendous growth potential

    ==>

    Click HERE to Get Your Information Guide
    (ZERO cost and ZERO obligation to you)

    Sincerely,
    Birch Gold Group
    The Precious Metal IRA Specialists

As far as I can tell, the Birch Gold Group is some sort of brokerage firm that deals in gold and silver. I have to wonder, if I agree to use their services and have my 401k account transferred into gold, how am I expected to pay for it? Do they take a share of the gold or do I pay them in the rapidly decaying dollar? If the dollar does crash and takes the American economy with it, what makes them think that gold will be worth anything? Will people be paying for things with gold coins? If I retire, will they send me gold instead of depositing money in a bank account? What happens if the price of gold collapses?

I think I will pass on this deal and just continue to use dollars.

 

Obvious Child

July 11, 2014

Obvious Child is the name of a new film which seems to be a romantic comedy exploring the lighter side of abortion. Apparently some critics like the idea while most conservatives hate it, along with the audience, whose opinion should matter most considering they are the ones who are expected to buy tickets to see the movie. Jonah Goldberg has some things to say about the wider implications of this film’s failure at the box office which I caught in his column at Real Clear Politics.

In the film Obvious Child, Jenny Slate plays Donna Stern, a stand-up comedian who specializes in making jokes about her private parts, with the occasional foray into fart humor. She is about to go onstage. Her friend offers her some encouragement: “You are going to kill it out there!”

Donna replies: “I actually have an appointment to do that tomorrow.”

Donna’s talking about her abortion appointment.

Get it? It’s funny because it’s true. Or if you’re like me, you think it’s not funny because it’s true.

Many critics think it’s funny. One dubbed it “far and away the most winning abortion-themed comedy ever made.” Of course, as an artistic genre, that’s setting the bar pretty low, like serving the best gas-station sushi in the state of Oklahoma.

Since it opened last month, the film has grossed less than $2 million. Compare that to 2007’s Juno, a brilliant film widely seen as pro-life (at least among pro-lifers), or Knocked Up, a raunchier romantic comedy also hailed by abortion foes, both of which grossed more than $140 million domestically. Obvious Child, then, seems less like the cultural watershed its friends and foes make it out to be and more like a barely successful art-house flick.

 

My late friend Andrew Breitbart liked to say that politics is downstream of culture, meaning that any truly successful political turnaround needs to start by changing popular attitudes. Adam Bellow, a storied editor of conservative books, has a similar conviction and is trying to launch a conservative revolt in the world of fiction.

I wish them great success. Still, I think there’s something missing in this ancient conversation on the right (conservatives have been making such arguments since the 1950s — if not the 1450s, with the publication of the Gutenberg Bible). Conservatives refuse to celebrate, or even notice, how much of the popular culture is on their side.

Sure, Hollywood is generally very liberal, but America isn’t. Judging by their campaign donations, Hollywood liberals are very supportive of abortion rights. But there’s a reason why sitcoms since Maude haven’t had a lot of storylines about abortion. Indeed, nearly every pregnant TV character treats her unborn child as if it’s already a human being.

The Left may be anti-military, but such movies tend to do poorly, which is why we see more pro-military films. Similarly, it’s a safe bet that Hollywood liberals loathe guns. But you wouldn’t know that by what they produce. Not many action stars save the day by quoting a poem. Most Hollywood liberals probably oppose the death penalty, yet they make lots of movies where the bad guy meets a grisly death to the cheers of the audience. The Left rolls its eyes at “family values,” but family values are at the heart of most successful sitcoms and dramas.

I think he is right, as far as it goes and certainly Hollywood is missing opportunities for profit by taking up such a position of opposition to the values of so many mainstream Americans, but I think there is a more fundamental reason why Obvious Child is not doing better at the box office. Abortion is not funny.

Abortion is a serious matter. As with most matters of life and death, it is not a subject that can be taken lightly. For people on the pro-life side, abortion is murder on a large scale and a comedy about abortion is in as much poor taste as a comedy about the Holocaust. People on the pro-choice side may not feel quite the same way about abortion, but except for a few extremists, the sort that Rush Limbaugh used to call “feminazis”, they are aware that it is a serious and controversial subject. Thus, a movie like Obvious Child which seems to treat abortion as of no greater significance then getting a pedicure, is going to offend everyone but those few extremists.

I am glad that Obvious Child is not doing well. The degeneration of our popular culture seems to be accelerating at an ever faster pace and I am glad for any sign that there are still limits to  what we are willing to watch.

Ignorance is Bliss

July 10, 2014

Two recent e-mails I have received prove this old saying true. First there is one from Moveon.org.

Dear MoveOn member,

If you thought House Republicans couldn’t get worse, I’ve got bad news. Speaker John Boehner is now threatening to sue President Obama because House Republicans are mad that President Obama is using his executive authority to get things done where Congress won’t act.1

Such a ridiculous lawsuit would be a wasteful and inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars for political purposes, and we’ve hatched a plan to fight back.

Our legal team is investigating options to hold Speaker Boehner accountable if he moves forward—from launching a lawsuit of our own, to filing a formal complaint in Congress, to other responses. And we are planning protests outside of Republicans’ district offices and other tactics that can break into the news. Together, we can help expose the lawsuit for the cynical political ploy that it is and generate press coverage that holds Republicans accountable as the November elections loom.

Because MoveOn is its members, we want to know what you think before we decide whether to proceed. Do you think we should move forward—or do you want us focused on other things? Click to let us know:

Yes, MoveOn should fight to hold Speaker Boehner and House Republicans accountable if they use taxpayer dollars to sue President Obama.

No, I’d prefer for MoveOn to focus on other things (and tell us which other things).

Thanks for all you do.

–Anna, Bobby, Matt, Amy, and the rest of the team

Checks and balances? What’s that. As it happens, I don’t think Speaker of the House Boehner should sue the president either. There are other options Congress can use to rein in an over bearing president. The House of Representatives, in particular, has the power of the purse. I think it would be better if John Boehner worked as hard as he could to get as many Republicans elected as possible. With a majority in both houses of Congress, they have a much better chance of stopping Obama. Suing him will only fire up the liberal base. I could say something similar about calling for impeachment. The Republicans have a good chance of winning big this year, but both of these tactics could ruin things.

I wish, though, that the people at Moveon.org, and elsewhere, would think very carefully about the statement that the President must act by executive authority because Congress won’t. What exactly do we have a Congress for? If the only legitimate role of Congress is to rubber stamp everything the president decrees,than why bother to have a Congress at all? Why not just make the President a dictator who we elect every four years? They seem to think we should have a system like the old Soviet Union or some banana republic in which there is a phony legislature that pretends to be passing the laws while the Leader is calling all the shots. Haven’t any of these people stopped to think that there may come a time when someone they thoroughly detest becomes president and enacts policies they oppose over the will of Congress, maybe we might even get another Republican as president? When that time comes, they may wish we still had the checks and balances they worked so hard to eviscerate.

The other e-mail is from Organizing for Action.

Friend –

Big news in the fight to raise the minimum wage:

In the last few months, four states have passed laws to raise the wage, and several cities and local governments are following suit.

That’s how we make progress, even if a minority in Congress is blocking it.

OFA’s petition to lawmakers already has nearly half a million signatures on it — yours belongs on it, too. Add your name to the petition today.

A higher minimum wage isn’t just good for workers, it’s the right idea for our economy.

More money in minimum wage earners’ pockets means more money to spend at area businesses.

That’s why governors and legislators on both sides of the aisle are working to raise the wage. Just since May, we’ve seen Maryland, Michigan, Hawaii, and Massachusetts pass higher state minimum wage laws.

This fight is also happening on the local level. Seattle, Philadelphia, and Richmond, California, have all taken steps forward to raise the wage for thousands of workers in their cities.

In Las Cruces, New Mexico, supporters delivered more than 6,000 petition signatures to put a minimum wage increase measure on the ballot this fall.

That’s grassroots energy, and it’s proof that when we make our voices heard, progress is possible — with or without Congress.

This petition is how we’re going to send a message that the other side can’t ignore. We’ve got hundreds of thousands of signatures.

Right now, it looks like your name is missing, but that’s alright.

You can add your voice today, and tell lawmakers it’s time to raise the minimum wage:

http://my.barackobama.com/Raise-the-Wage-Petition

Thanks,

Lindsay

Lindsay Siler
National Director of Issue Campaigns
Organizing for Action

Raising the minimum wage helps the economy because people have more money to spend in area businesses. There is something that doesn’t add up here. I have dealt some of the problems with raising the minimum wage before. Yes, the people who work at or slightly above minimum wage will have more money to spend at area businesses. But the increase in labor costs caused by the mandated increased in wages will mean that the area businesses will have a lower profit. You might think, “So what. The greedy capitalists shouldn’t be making such a large profit”. Remember that for a small business owner, that profit is their wage. That is what they are trying to live on. Even for a large corporation that profit is what they use to expand their business and pay put dividends to their stockholders. In order to maintain their profits in the face of rising labor costs, businesses, both small and large, will be forced to consider ways of cutting costs, making do with fewer employees, and increasing income, raising prices. In terms of purchasing power, many of those people who received a raise will eventually find themselves back where they were before.

It must be nice not to have to think things through, to just go with whatever feels good at the moment. You can support all sorts of foolish policies that may ultimately harm the people you intend to help, but if you never stop to consider the unintended consequences of such policies that  thought will never cross your mind. Ignorance is bliss.

 

Merhaba

June 30, 2014

I found an e-mail in my spam filter written in an unfamiliar language.

Merhaba,
Memnun oldum,
Benim adım i kişiyi gördüm ve seni bilmek ilgilenmeye başladı Evelyn, ve, sizinle kalıcı bir ilişki kurmak benim için arzu varsa ben göndermek böylece benim e-posta adresine(evelynedgard2009@yahoo.com) yoluyla bana ulaşın benim senin ve benim hakkımda daha sizeanlatmak için resim,
Teşekkür ve Tanrı sizi korusun,
Evelyn.

It doesn’t look like any language that I have ever seen. I have, at various times, studied German, Spanish, Koine Greek, and Latin, and while I am far from proficient in any of these languages I can sometimes make out the general meaning of a text written in these languages. This text doesn’t seem to be related to any of them. It is written in the Latin Alphabet, which narrows down the possibilities, but none of the words seem to be familiar. There was a translation written below.

Hello,
Nice meeting you,
My name is Evelyn i saw your contact and became interested to know you, and establish a lasting relationship with you, if you have the desire for me Please contact me through my email address (evelynedgard2009@yahoo.com) so that i can send my pictures to you and tell you more about me,
Thanks and God bless you,
Evelyn.

I don’t think I will take Evelyn up on her offer. I decided to run the foreign text through Google Translate in detect language mode and see if that would identify the language. It turns out that it is Turkish. I don’t think I have ever seen written Turkish before.

Linguists classify Turkish in the Turkic family which is considered part of the Altaic group, though this is controversial. This would make Turkish related to various Central Asian languages, mostly spoken in the Asian Republics of the former Soviet Union like Khazakhstan, Uzbekistan, etc. It is more distantly related to Mongolian and various languages spoken in Siberia. Korean and Japanese may be still more distantly related, but this is uncertain. What is certain is that Turkish is not an Indo-European language like English, or the other languages that I am familiar with, which would account for the way in which I could not decipher a single word of the message.

Turkish used to be written in the Ottoman-Turkish Script which was based on the Arabic alphabet. This alphabet was not particularly well suited for the Turkish language, most notably for the absence of short vowels. Arabic is a Semitic language, in which it is not all that important to distinguish vowels in writing. Turkish has more vowels than Arabic and fewer distinctions between certain consonant sounds. Therefore, as part of the reforms that Kemal Ataturk enacted with the establishment of the Republic of Turkey, after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, a new alphabet based on the Latin Alphabet was created for Turkish. The new alphabet had 29 letters, mostly the same as other European languages but with q,x, and w omitted and six added. They are:

a, b, c, ç, d, e, f, g, ğ, h, ı, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, ö, p, r, s, ş, t, u, ü, v, y, and z

The letters sound about the same as in English, with some exceptions, and I suppose that if I tried to read that message aloud a Turk might understand me. I wouldn’t know what I was saying, though.

English: Mustafa Kemal Atatürk introducing the...

English: Mustafa Kemal Atatürk introducing the new Turkish alphabet to the people of Kayseri. September 20, 1928 Türkçe: Mustafa Kemal Atatürk 20 Eylül 1928’de, Kayseri’deki Cumhuriyet Halk Fırkası önünde, halka yeni Türk harflerini öğretirken (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Turkish is what linguists call a agglutinative language. Turkish speakers pile affixes onto a base, resulting in long words that in English might be expressed by a phrase, or even a sentence. Here is an example from Wikipedia on how this works.

Avrupa                                                                  Europe
Avrupalı                                                              of Europe
Avrupalılaş                                                         become of Europe
Avrupalılaştır                                                   to make become of Europe
Avrupalılaştırama                                           be unable to Europeanize
Avrupalılaştıramadık                                   we were unable to Europeanize
Avrupalılaştıramadık                                   that we were unable to Europeanize
Avrupalılaştıramadık                                   one that we were unable to Europeanize
Avrupalılaştıramadıklar                             those that we were unable to Europeanize
Avrupalılaştıramadıklarımız                    our those that we were unable to Europeanize
Avrupalılaştıramadıklarımızdan            of our those that we were unable to Europeanize
Avrupalılaştıramadıklarımızdanmış     is reportedly of our those that we were unable to Europeanize
Avrupalılaştıramadıklarımızdanmışsınız you are reportedly of our those that we were unable to Europeanize
Avrupalılaştıramadıklarımızdanmışsınızcasına as if you are reportedly of our those that we were unable to Europeanize

 

Good grief. Every suffix has a meaning or conveys grammatical information. Some other agglutinative languages are Japanese, Eskimo, Sumerian, and Klingon. English is, by the way, somewhere between a synthetic language, one that uses inflections like German or Latin, and an isolating language, like Chinese. We used to have many inflections but have lost most of them over the centuries.

Well, even though I have no intention of contacting Evelyn or sharing pictures with her, I should thank her for giving me the excuse to learn a little about the Turkish language. It has been interesting.

 


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