Mandatory Voting

March 29, 2015

Not too long ago, President Barack Obama proposed that voting be made mandatory. I cannot see why making people who are disengaged and uninformed about politics vote would lead to any improvement in American politics. I suspect that Mr. Obama is counting on  those disengaged and uninformed people to deliver more votes to the Democrats and more support for the sort of policies he supports. In fact, if this is his intention, he may be disappointed. As this article in the Washington Post suggests,universal compulsory voting may not make much of a difference in the balance of power between the parties.

But perhaps I am being too cynical about Mr. Obama’s motives. Mandatory voting would lead to increased voter turnout which surely would be good for democracy, wouldn’t it. Low voter turnout in the United States has been something of a scandal in recent decades. Voter turnout has generally been around 60% in Presidential elections and 40% in midterm elections. This low turnout seems to indicate a loss of faith in the political process among Americans. If we had a higher voter turnout, our democracy would be more robust, right?

I am not so sure about any of this. Personally, I believe that the problem with American politics is not that too few people are voting, but too many. That is to say, too many of the people who do go out and vote are among the disengaged and uninformed. I think our politics would be improved by putting limits on the number of people eligible to vote.

To start with, I think we really need to raise the voting age to thirty. More than twenty-five centuries ago Aristotle argued that young men should not be involved in politics because they lack experience and are carried away by their passions. I imagine that Aristotle would think we were insane to allow men as young as eighteen, not to mention women of any age, to vote in national elections. Very few people under the age of thirty, and all too many over that age, have the experience and maturity necessary to make wise decisions about their country’s future. Young people are often the most enthusiastic supporters of dictators and demagogues.

There is the argument that if one is old enough to fight for their country, they are old enough to vote. I don’t think that is a particularly good argument. The skills and experiences necessary to serve in the military are not the same as those necessary to make responsible decisions about the country, and what of the great majority of young people who do not serve their country? Still, it might be fairly argued that young people who have served in the military are likely to be more mature and responsible then their peers and perhaps the right to vote should be extended to veterans of any age.

Which brings us to the idea proposed by Robert Heinlein in his science fiction book Starship Troopers; that only veterans be permitted to vote and hold office. This idea has often been criticized as Fascist or militaristic, which only demonstrates the ignorance of the critics. In the world Heinlein describes everybody is eligible for government service in some capacity, it need not be strictly military, and it is matched with the applicant’s abilities. The service is not a sinecure, real and demanding work is involved, even it if only amounts to peeling potatoes in KP, and not many complete their term. The idea is that only those who have demonstrated a willingness to place the needs of the community above their own desires should have the right to vote. Non-veterans cannot vote but have all the rights that any citizen in a twentieth century democracy would have, and Heinlein hints that the Federation government is somewhat more libertarian than our democratic governments since the voters aren’t continually voting benefits for themselves.

I think this idea has some merit, although I can see some flaws.  There probably would be a more informed and engaged electorate and if voting were seen as a right to be earned through service rather than just something handed out to anyone who reaches a certain age, it would be more valued and taken more seriously. On the other hand. if the franchise wee restricted to a small minority, it is difficult to see why the people with the vote wouldn’t be tempted to vote themselves all kinds of privileges at the expense of non-voters.

Not too long ago one of my children was going through the process of getting her driver’s license. It occurred to me that we put effort into teaching prospective drivers the various traffic regulations and require them to take tests to show that they can operate a motor vehicle before granting them a license to drive. This is held to be necessary and good because of the dangers to the driver and others if the driver lacks the ability to drive safely. Yet, he give almost no preparation and do not test the ability of a prospective voter to make important choices about the future of the country. Surely putting the future of the nation in the hands of incompetent and unprepared voters is a far more serious matter than the relatively few people affected by an incompetent and unprepared driver. We ought to have voter ed classes in every high school which should cover the basics of what used to be called civics. When a voter reaches the voting age, he should be required to take a test in order to receive a voter’s license which should be renewed at regular intervals, just like a driver’s license. If an applicant fails the test or if the license is not renewed, he may not vote in the next election, but he can take the test again after the election.  Again, this will make voting something to strive for, rather than something simply handed out and those people who do apply for a license and pass the test will take their duty as a voter more seriously. Having renewable voter’s licenses provided at no cost to the successful applicant will also help to cut down on voter fraud.

But, maybe instead of limiting the number of people eligible to vote, we should weigh the vote in favor of the more responsible elements of society. In his short story, “The Curious Republic of Gondour“, Mark Twain explained that the constitution of the Republic gives every citizen the inalienable right to a vote. Unfortunately this meant that the scum of the Republic had the same amount of political influence as the intelligent and successful, which was leading to the ruin of the country. The leaders of Gondour decided that they could not take away any citizen’s vote, but there was no reason why everyone should have just one vote. They permitted people to have additional votes based on wealth and education. The votes based on education were more prestigious than the ones based on wealth because a voter could lose money but not education. This might not be a bad idea and I think it could be arranged without a constitutional amendment.

Of course, none of these schemes are likely to be put into effect or seriously considered. We could at least try to do a better job educating voters about our system of government and to approach the issues with reasoned consideration, but I am afraid our political leaders prefer dumb and excited voters. Part of what the TEA Party has been doing has been to educate people about the constitution and look at all the hostility that engendered.

 

 

Palm Sunday

March 29, 2015

Today is Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter. Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem and the beginning of the climax of his earthly ministry.

Jesus Comes to Jerusalem as King

1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”

4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:

5 “Say to Daughter Zion,
‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”

6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”

11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” (Matt 21:1-11)

Palm Sunday is often celebrated by palm leaves to worshippers in churches. If palm leaves are not available locally, than other tree branches may be substituted. In many churches the priest or other clergy blesses the palms and they are saved to be burned at Ash Wednesday the following year.

The actual date of Palm Sunday, like Easter varies from year to year because the date is based on a lunisolar cycle like the Hebrew calendar. The date differs between Western and Eastern Christianity because most Eastern churches still use the Julian calendar for their liturgical year, even though the Gregorian calendar is universally used for civil purposes.

Palm Sunday begins Holy Week, or the last week of Lent.

Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey

Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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The Rise and Fall of the Akkadian Empire

March 26, 2015

The first great empire builder known to history was Sargon of Akkad who founded the Akkadian Empire in Mesopotamia. Dates are always uncertain in ancient times, but the best guess for the reign of Sargon seems to be from 2334 to 2279 BC, though some accounts have his death at 2215. He lived in the Sumerian city of Kish, though he was not a Sumerian but a member of the Semitic people later known as Akkadians. Sargon’s actual name, or title, was Sarru-kinu meaning true or legitimate king in the Semitic language he spoke. This name that he apparently adopted, his birth name is unknown, is a good indication that he was not the legitimate king but a usurper, which is indeed the case. According to legends, Sargon was the cup-bearer to King Ur-Zababa of King, also a Semite. Sargon apparently led a coup against Ur-Zababa, with the support of the goddess Inanna, or Ishtar as she was later known, and deposed and killed him.

Bronze head of a king, most likely Sargon of A...

Bronze head of a king, most likely Sargon of Akkad but possibly Naram-Sin. Unearthed in Nineveh (now in Iraq). In the Iraqi Museum, Baghdad. Height 30.5 cm. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Once secure in power at Kish, Sargon began a series of military campaigns against the other Sumerian city-states, eventually uniting all of Mesopotamia. He led his armies North, East, and West until he had conquered parts of Syria, Iran, and Asia Minor. Not content to rule from Kish, Sargon founded his own city, Akkad or Agade to be the new capital or his new empire. Thus his people came to be known as Akkadians and his empire the Akkadian Empire. The Akkadian Empire lasted a little under two centuries and then fell rather abruptly around 2154. A semi-nomadic and uncivilized people from the Zagros Mountains known as the Gutians invaded and conquered Mesopotamia, ending the Akkadian Empire and disrupting the economy and culture of the region in a century long dark age.

Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This account of the fall of the Akkadian Empire to barbarian invaders seems straightforward enough, but there must be more to the story. Why were the Gutians able to overcome their more advanced and civilized neighbors so easily? The Sumerians and Akkadians had been able to hold them off before. Why did the Gutians decide to leave their homes in the mountains and move to Mesopotamia instead of simply being content with raiding?
Archaeologists have discovered that the soil deposited in this period was dry and sandy, lacking traces of the activity of earthworms. It seems likely that there was a change in climate in the twenty-second century BC causing the entire region to become more arid. Agriculture failed due to the long lasting drought causing famine. The cities were overpopulated by famine and Mesopotamian civilization broke down under the strain. Meanwhile, the Gutians also suffered from the drought and left their homes to seek food and water in Mesopotamia. This change in climate probably affected much of West Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean region. It was during this period that the Old Kingdom in Egypt ended with Egypt falling into chaos.

We like to believe that we human beings are the masters of our destiny both as individuals and as nations. Most historical accounts of the rise and fall of empires attribute the fate of nations largely to human elements, what this or that king or statesman did, or these or those economic and social conditions. They do not like to give credit to nature for its contribution, yet nature in the form of changes of climate and epidemics has surely played a greater role in the course of history than many kings.

About a thousand years after the fall of the Akkadian Empire, around 1200 BC, there was another prolonged period of drought throughout Western Asia and North Africa, causing the collapse of every civilization in the area and vast movements of people. The Hittite Empire in Asia Minor, the Egyptian New Kingdom, the Mycenaean Greeks and others were swept away in the chaos. Assyria and Babylon in Mesopotamia survived but were weakened for more than a century. We perhaps retain dim memories of these dire years in Homer’s poems about the Trojan War and the Biblical accounts from Exodus to Judges.

Plague destroyed Athens’s chance of winning the Peloponnesian War with Sparta. Climate change may have been a leading factor in the decline of the Roman Empire in the West while also explaining the movements of Germans and Huns into Roman territories. Plague and short term climate change, perhaps caused by a volcanic eruption in the tropics during the reign of Justinian made his dream of reconquering the Western Empire impossible. The prosperous period known as the High Middle Ages coincided with the Medieval Warm Period. When the climate cooled and the Black Death appeared, the High Middle Ages ended.

This is part of the reason why I cannot take the warnings and alarmism of the environmentalists too seriously. The Greens seem to believe that nature has been in a state of perfect equilibrium for eons only to be disturbed by the coming of Homo sapiens. Human beings, and only human beings are responsible for any changes in climate or the environment. We are responsible for the degradation of the planet and only we can save the planet. This is all nonsense. The planet Earth has been around long before we appeared on the scene and will be around after we are extinct. The Earth doesn’t need us to save it. The effects of nature on the climate and the environment dwarf anything we could ever dream of doing. It really wouldn’t take much of a change in climate to bring our advanced civilization crashing down just like the Akkadian Empire and we would no more be able to stop it than they were.

That is not to say that we shouldn’t be concerned about the damage we do to our environment. It is never wise to foul one’s own nest, but let’s not deceive ourselves into believing we have more impact than we actually do.

History Denial

March 24, 2015

A little while ago there was a minor controversy when former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani stated that he did not believe that President Barack Obama loves this country. I do not know the president personally and I cannot tell whether he loves America or not. Perhaps he does, in his own way. I think that it would be fair, however, to state that the good people at Watchdog.net do not love America. How could they, when they view American history as nothing more than a sordid tale of oppression and genocide? That is what they want our children to learn in schools and they deeply resent any attempt to set the record straight about this country.

Dear David Hoffman,

A bill in the Florida Senate would make a right-wing revisionist historical documentary required viewing for the state’s 8th and 11th graders.

“America: Imagine The World Without Her” argues that Native American genocide didn’t happen, and that the descendents of slaves are better off as a consequence of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

The film claims that America’s indigenous population declined due to disease, not genocide. Nowhere does the film mention the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the incarceration of Native children in religious boarding schools, or the forced sterilization of Native women.

The documentary also claims that, because lots of countries throughout history have had some form of slavery, America’s brutal slave economy wasn’t that big of a deal.

Tell Florida Senators that racist, revisionist history has no place in public schools!

PETITION TO FLORIDA SENATORS: The film mandated by SB 96 has no academic merit and instead offers an inaccurate, racist account of American history. Vote down SB 96!

Click here to sign — it just takes a second.

Thanks,
— The folks at Watchdog.net

The documentary in question is Dinesh D’Souza’s America: Imagine the World without Her. I have never seen the documentary but I do not believe that it is a whitewash of American history. Rather, it seems to argue that despite all of its flaws, the United States of America has generally been a force for good and justice in the world; a concept truly hateful to the left. I believe that Dinesh D’Souza also rebuts the leftwing distortions and lies which are all too often taught in our public schools. As it happens,what the people at watchdog.net consider to be racist, inaccurate, revisionist history  is actually the truth, not that truth has ever mattered very much to people on the left.

First, the great majority of the Native Americans who died during and after the European conquest did indeed die of disease. The European conquest of the New World would not have been possible if large numbers of Indians had not died of the diseases the Europeans brought to the Americas. We read of conquistadors like Cortes and Pizarro conquering empires of millions of inhabitants with only a few hundred Spaniards and attribute this to the superior technology of the the Europeans. The conquistadors did have guns and horses, but they would have been quickly crushed by the Aztecs and Incas, had not their empires been fatally weakened by epidemics and internal dissent. The Spanish conquerors could generally count on the tribes subjugated by the Aztecs and Incas to provide them with help to overthrow their masters. It seldom occurred to the people of Mexico and Peru that they were simply exchanging one master for another. In North America, the English settlers at Jamestown and Plymouth Rock would not have survived had not the natives in the region obligingly died of disease, leaving cleared fields for the settlers to take over.

It was never actually the policy of any of the colonizing  powers to exterminate the Native Americans. Something close to 90% of the Native population of Spanish America died in the century following the Spanish conquest. Mistreatment by the conquerors no doubt accounted for much of this loss of population, yet the Spanish were surely not foolish enough to want to kill off their labor force. The English and later the Americans were not interested in enslaving the Indians but in taking over their land for settlement. Yet, while there were a good many Americans who believed that the only good Indian was a dead Indian, this was not an official policy of the United States government. I do not wish to minimize the injustices and suffering we have inflicted on the Native Americans, but this was not a deliberate attempt at genocide as the Nazi destruction of European Jewry or the Soviet starvation of the Ukrainians were. Neither were the Indians helpless victims. They fought as well as they could for their land and way of life and might have succeeded in fending off the European invaders if their numbers had not been decimated or if they had managed to unite in a federation against their common enemy.

Next, if the people at Watchdog.net have any questions about whether the descendants of the Africans brought to America as slaves are better off, they should take an extended tour of Africa. The trans-Atlantic slave trade was truly one of the greatest crimes against humanity on record, yet the African-American of today has good reason to be thankful for the sufferings of his ancestors. Historically, the descendants of slaves have been freer and have enjoyed a standard of living far higher, not only than those of their brothers who were left behind in Africa, but also of the lower classes in almost every part of the world, even under segregation and Jim Crow. I do not wish to justify either slavery or the discrimination faced by African Americans. The treatment of Black Americans has all too often been terribly unjust. I do want to put matters in perspective. Even in a country as racist as the United States has been, many Blacks were better off than peasants in China, India, or even parts of Europe.

I do not, and I am sure that Mr. D’Souza does not, intend to present a false, whitewashed view of American history. I freely acknowledge that there have been times that we have not lived up to our high ideals. Nevertheless, I still believe that the United States of America is the greatest country in the world, not least because we do acknowledge and try to correct our mistakes. I believe that the Western civilization, of which America is a part, is the highest and noblest civilization on this planet. Slavery has been a part of the human experience since the beginning of history. It is only in the West that anyone challenged the existence of slavery. No one in Africa or Asia spoke out against it. Genocide and wars of aggression have existed for centuries.  America and the West have done terrible crimes, but at least we have come to realize that they were crimes and have sought to put an end to them.

It is too bad that the people on the left feel the need to deny historical facts to justify their pathological hatred of their own country. There is nothing we can do about it, except try to keep them away from our children.

The Personal Submarine

March 23, 2015

I found what I want for Christmas in the Hammacher-Schlemmer Catalog, the personal submarine.

This is the two-person submersible that can descend to a depth of 1,000′. Providing access to underwater features such as coral reefs, shipwrecks, and the sea floor, a completely transparent, climate-controlled 3 1/4″-thick acrylic pressure sphere keeps explorers safe while dipping even into the mesopelagic zone, offering a chance to see exotic, bioluminescent species such as lanternfish. With a maximum speed of three knots, it is powered by a 120- and 24-volt battery bank that provide up to six hours of continuous undersea adventure. The craft is propelled by two 3-hp main thrusters that provide fore, aft, and directional control and two 3-hp vertical/translational thrusters that provide up, down, and lateral control. A centrally located joystick with independent main and vertical/translational thruster controls enables precise positioning near undersea attractions. The craft’s dual-pontoon structure and broad freeboard ensure superior surface stability, even in high sea conditions. While submerged, four external 150-watt quart-halogen lamps illuminate subjects while a xenon strobe light and RF beacon alerts others of the craft’s whereabouts. The 56 3/4″-diameter sphere’s inner diameter enables comfortable, upright seating for passengers. A VHF radio provides surfaced communication and its underwater telephone communicates while submerged. It is equipped with a suite of standard instrumentation, including a barometer, thermometer, hygrometer, depth gauges, fluxgate and magnetic compasses, mechanical clinometers, pressure gauges, and a GPS receiver. Fully classified and certified as a +A1 passenger-carrying manned submersible by the American Bureau of Shipping. Includes comprehensive training. 10 1/2′ L x 8 1/2′ W x 6 1/4′ H. (6,600 lbs.)

11726_170x170

It’s only $2,000,000. Cheap.

But if that is too expensive, for only $300,000, you can get me the amphibious sub-surface watercraft.

This is the partially submersible watercraft that provides above- and underwater viewing options, driving right off a trailer and into the water without the need for a crane, tender vessel, or dock. Ideal for exploring underwater environments without the need for a fully submersible craft, this one is composed of a buoyant above-water upper hull and two-person cockpit that provides 180º surface views and an inverted 1 1/2”-thick acrylic hemisphere below that provides two additional passengers underwater views. The upper cockpit houses controls for two horizontally oriented underwater thrusters that provide up to 6 knots forward/4 knots backward movement as well as 360º turns. While on land, each of the craft’s ground track systems are driven by dedicated 48-volt intercooled electric motors, enabling their heavy-duty rubber tracks to negotiate up to 30º gradients for convenient ocean-, lake-, or boat ramp-based water entry and egress. The tracks enable 360º axis turns, ideal for precise maneuvering. Two 24-volt lithium battery banks provide 110 hours of water operation (up to 8 hours on land) before requiring a recharge using the included AC adapter. Consult local ordinances for road legal use. 12′ L x 8′ W x 8′ H. (3,400 lbs.)

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Hammacher-Schlemmer certainly does offer the Best, the Only, the Unexpected , and the Ridiculously Expensive gifts.

Goggle Gatekeeper

March 20, 2015

The internet is truly a wonderful invention, for which Al Gore doesn’t get nearly enough credit for creating. Thanks to the internet anyone can research any topic and acquire information in a matter of minutes that would have taken hours or even days before, if at all.  Best of all, one can bypass the traditional gatekeepers of information such as the mainstream media. There is the problem of the quality of the information gathered by search engines such as Google. Since the results are generally ranked by popularity, websites promoting crazy conspiracy theories and medical quackery get the same attention as sober scientific journals. It requires a certain amount of judgement to sift through the results of any web search to get accurate information.

According to some reports, Google is getting ready to do the sifting for us. The researchers at Google are trying to develop a search algorithm that will rank pages according to facts in their database. Webpages will get a truth score based on how closely the claims in that page correspond to the facts in Google’s database. They will then be ranked according to how truthful or accurate they are, at least according to Google.

It should not come as much of a surprise that progressives are gleeful about the possibility of putting a new gatekeeper over the Internet. Reality and truth have a liberal bias, as they say, and fact-checking by the right sort of people can make sure people with ideas contrary to liberal truths are able able to spread their misinformation. I read an article in Salon that is positively ecstatic about putting “anti-science advocates” in their place.

Google could launch an effort to keep trolls and bad information at bay, with a program that would rank websites according to veracity, and sort results according to those rankings. Currently, the search engine ranks pages according to popularity, which means that pages containing unsubstantiated celebrity gossip or conspiracy theories, for example, show up very high.

Google has recently implemented a kind of Knowledge-Based Truth score lite with its medical search results. Now, doctors and real medical experts vet search results about health conditions, meaning anti-vaxx propaganda will not appear in the top results for a “measles” search, for instance.

Even though the former program is just in the research stage, some anti-science advocates are upset about the potential development, likely because their websites will become buried under content that is, well, true.

“I worry about this issue greatly,” said Anthony Watts, founder of climate denying website “Watts Up With That,” in an interview with FoxNews.com. “My site gets a significant portion of its daily traffic from Google… It is a very slippery and dangerous slope because there’s no arguing with a machine.”

One need not have read John Stuart Mill to understand why this is a bad idea, though it might help. You only need to ask a simple question, what if Anthony Watts is right?What if global warming is not a real threat and measures to prevent it will only waste billions of dollars and make a lot of people poorer? Well, we wouldn’t know until too late because Google might place his blog at the bottom of the rankings because they believe him to be wrong. A gatekeeper in charge of sifting good information from bad will not eliminate the problem of bad information on the Internet. It will only ensure that bad information preferred by the gatekeeper will go unchallenged. This idea that the common people cannot decide for themselves what is correct and incorrect has been the pretext for autocrats, despots, and theocrats, throughout history to justify controlling the information possessed by the common people by censorship, propaganda, or other methods. The despots and autocrats have never liked to be shown that they were wrong and their contemporary admirers are no better. If Google ever manages to make this truth ranking system to work, it will inevitably reflect what the designers of the new search algorithm believe to be the truth whether right or wrong. Truths that they do not like, perhaps like global warming is a fraud, will be buried.

Messy as it is, we must have faith that in the free marketplace of ideas the truth will ultimately prevail over falsehood. There is no other way to get at the truth except by allowing all sides to have their say. I predict that if Google adopts this new search method, Google will be a great deal less useful as a search engine and perhaps people will turn elsewhere to find things on the Internet.

Saint Patrick’s Day

March 17, 2015

Today is St. Patrick‘s day and I thought it might be appropriate to write about St. Patrick. So, who is St. Patrick and why does he get a day? Not very much is known for certain about his life. It is possible that his story has been confused with one Palladius, a missionary who became the first bishop of Ireland. Still, Patrick wrote a short autobiography called “The Declaration” or “The Confession” as part of a letter which seems to be genuine.

Get out snakes!

Patrick, or Patricius was a Roman who lived in Britain. He may have been born around 387 and lived until 460 or possibly 493, so he lived during the twilight of the Roman Empire in the West. At the age of 16 he was captured by raiders and enslaved. He worked as a shepherd in Ireland for about six years. He managed to escape and return to his home, but then he became a priest and returned to the land where he was a slave and worked to convert the pagans to Christianity. He seems to have been very successful during his lifetime, though there were many other missionaries in Ireland. He helped to organize the Church in Ireland and is supposed to have traveled to Rome to seek the Pope’s assistance in this endeavor.

According to legend, Patrick died on March 17, so that date has become his feast day. He has never been officially canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. He became known as a saint long before the modern procedure for canonization was developed. He is, obviously, the patron saint of Ireland, and also Nigeria, Montserrat, engineers, paralegals, and the dioceses of New York, Boston, and Melbourne.

There are many legends about St. Patrick. The most widely known is that he chased all the snakes out of Ireland, thus ruining the local ecology. Another is that he used the example of the three-leaved shamrock to illustrate the trinity.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all the Irish, and Irish at heart, out there!

Sorry about the green text. I couldn’t resist.

 

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Meccania: The Super-State

March 16, 2015

Before George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel of life in the totalitarian country of Oceania, there was a similar book written by, Owen Gregory titled Meccania the Super-State published in 1918. Gregory, like Orwell, was concerned about the growth of authoritarian governments in Europe with the consequent loss of freedom during and after the First World War. While Orwell took the contemporary rule of Stalin as his model for Big Brother’s tyranny, Gregory projected the authoritarianism and militarism of Prussia and Germany to what he saw as a logical extreme. By doing, Gregory was able to predict, with astonishing accuracy, many of the features of the twentieth century totalitarian state, which Orwell could observe.

Meccania

Meccania is set in the year 1970 and is a first person account of the visit of a Chinese man, Ming Yuen-hway, to Meccania, a thinly disguised Germany. After visiting Luniland (Britain) and Francaria (France), Ming decides to make a trip to Meccania to see if the stories about the country are true. His difficulties in getting into Meccania and travelling about the country would be familiar to anyone who has tried to visit Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia. It is not easy to arrange to get into Meccania and once inside, Ming is accompanied by conductors. He is not permitted to speak to Meccanians without permission and must follow a prearranged tour. He learns that he will not be permitted to take his diary out of the country, especially since much of it is written in Chinese.

In Meccania, Ming discovers a country in which everything and everyone are precisely and efficiently organized. The people are divided into seven classes, from unskilled labor, to skilled labor, artisans, professionals, businessmen, to the military and noble classes at the top. No one is free in Meccania. Everyone eats the food, wears the clothing, works the job, and even attends plays and concerts prescribed for him by the state. There is no private life; the state even requires its subjects, and foreign visitors like Ming, to fill out diaries account for their location and activities throughout the day. No one reads for enjoyment. Every book and children’s toy is educational.

This system began to be put into place by the great Prince Bludiron (Bismark) in an attempt to counter the influence of Spotts (Marx) among the working class. After Meccania’s defeat in World War I, it appeared that all of Bludiron’s work would be dismantled and Meccania would become democratic. Fortunately, Prince Mechow came into power and refined and extended Bludiron’s policies until Meccania became the Superstate. The Meccanians profess to believe that this system is superior to all others and look forward to the day when the whole world is ruled by a superstate.

Owen Gregory displayed a good deal of prescience in this book, at least in so far as the way in which totalitarian states attempt to impress foreigners. There is much that Ming is not allowed to see, but he is a perceptive observer and is able to deduce much that the Meccanians don’t want him to know. Gregory’s predictions are not perfect, however, though when he errs it is usually in underestimating the viciousness of such regimes. He wrote before the Holocaust or the Gulag, so perhaps that is expected. Dissidents in Meccania are not shot or sent to concentration camps. Instead, Meccanian psychiatrists claim to have discovered a mental illness, “chronic tendency to dissent”. Dissenters are placed into mental hospitals until they recover (recant). This is, in itself a remarkable forecast of Soviet psychiatric methods, but Gregory is apparently unable to imagine that a superstate dedicated to efficiency would be so irrational as to seek to eliminate sections of its own population for political reasons.
This Meccanian efficiency is Gregory’s greatest blind spot. He, through Ming, laments the loss of freedom of the Meccanian people and fears that other states might be forced to adopt Meccanian methods in order to compete with Meccania’s military and economic power. If the adoption of a totalitarian superstate really resulted in an increase of industrial and military efficiency, such that the standard of living of even the poorest was improved, then it might be worth the bargain. As it is, the results of command economies, such as the Soviet Union show that a superstate would be anything but efficient. No planners, however sophisticated can easily anticipate the needs of a modern economy and no citizen, however docile, will work as hard doing what the state requires as he would doing what he wants.

Overall, Meccania is a surprisingly enjoyable book to read, better than most dystopias, including 1984. It is a more pleasant book, since the main character is a visitor to the dystopian state not a subject trapped in it. It might is still a timely warning. Communism, Fascism, and other totalitarian systems may have been discredited, except on American college campuses, but the desire to create a super state, for our own good, is still very much in evidence among the do-gooders, the nanny statists, the Bloombergs, and they still bear watching.

Pi Day

March 14, 2015
English: Pi Pie, created at Delft University o...

English: Pi Pie, created at Delft University of Technology, applied physics, seismics and acoustics Deutsch: Pi Pie (π-Kuchen), hergestellt an der Technischen Universität Delft (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For all of the nerds out there, including me, today is international Pi Day, the day when we celebrate our favorite mathematical constant. Pi Day is best celebrated by pi memorization contests, walking in circles, and, of course, eating pies, or is it pis? I think I will celebrate by writing a little about pi. This year is a very special Pi Day. The first digits of pi are 3.1415 so this year 3/14/15 is the Pi Day of the century.

Pi or π is, as everyone should know, the ratio between a circle’s diameter and its circumference. Pi is an irrational number. By this, they do not mean that pi makes no sense but rather that pi is a constant that cannot be expressed as a ratio of two integers. Numbers like 2 or .445 or 1/2 can be expressed as a ratio of two integers and so are rational. Numbers like pi or the square root of any number that is not a perfect square, the square root of 2 for instance, are irrational. An irrational number expressed in decimal form never ends or repeats but continues to infinity. Thus, there can never be a last digit of pi.

The symbol π was first by the mathematician William Jones in 1706 and was popularized by another mathematician, Leonhard Euler. They chose π, the Greek equivalent of the Latin letter p, because it is the first letter of the word periphery. Π, by the way is not pronounce “pie” in Greek but “pee”, just like our p. I don’t think that international “pee” day would be nearly so appealing.

Although the symbol for pi is relatively recent, the concept is very old. The ancient Egyptians and Babylonians knew about it. Pi is even mentioned in the Bible.

23 He made the Sea of cast metal, circular in shape, measuring ten cubits from rim to rim and five cubits high. It took a line of thirty cubits[o] to measure around it. 24 Below the rim, gourds encircled it—ten to a cubit. The gourds were cast in two rows in one piece with the Sea. (1 Kings 7:23-24)

Properly speaking, the line around the “Sea” should have been 31.5 cubits but the ancient Hebrews were very knowledgeable about geometry and measuring techniques were crude.

There is no particular reason to calculate pi to so many digits. No
conceivable application of pi would possibly take more than 40 digits.
Still, the challenge of calculating pi to the farthest digit possible has been an irresistible one for mathematicians over the years.

Around 250 BC, Archimedes was the first mathematician to seriously try to calculate pi. He used a geometric method of drawing polygons inside and outside a circle and measuring their perimeters. By using polygons with more and more sides he was able to calculate pi with more precision and ended determining the value of pi as somewhere between 3.1408 and 3.1429. Archimedes’s method was used in the west for more than a eighteen hundred years. The Chinese and Indians used similar methods. The best result using the geometric method was the calculation of pi to 38 digits in 1630.

With the development of calculus by Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz in the 1660’s it was possible to calculate pi using infinite series, or the sum of the terms of an infinite sequence. The best calculations with these methods were done by the mathematician Zacharias Daze who calculated pi to 200 places in 1844 and William Shanks who spent fifteen years to calculate pi to 707 digits. Unfortunately he made a mistake with the 528 digit. Meanwhile, in 1761 Johann Heinrich Lambert proved that pi is irrational.

Computers made the calculation of pi much faster so pi could be calculated to more digits. ENIAC calculated pi to 2037 places in 1949. This record didn’t last long. A million digits were reached 1970. As of  2011, pi has been calculated to 10,000,000,000,050 places.

Pi is not just used in geometry. There are a number of applications of pi in the fields of statistics, mechanics, thermodynamics, cosmology, and many others. Here is a list of just some of the formulae that use pi. It seems you can find pi everywhere.

With that in mind then, happy pi day! For your enjoyment here are the first thousand digits of pi.

3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510
  58209749445923078164062862089986280348253421170679
  82148086513282306647093844609550582231725359408128
  48111745028410270193852110555964462294895493038196
  44288109756659334461284756482337867831652712019091
  45648566923460348610454326648213393607260249141273
  72458700660631558817488152092096282925409171536436
  78925903600113305305488204665213841469519415116094
  33057270365759591953092186117381932611793105118548
  07446237996274956735188575272489122793818301194912
  98336733624406566430860213949463952247371907021798
  60943702770539217176293176752384674818467669405132
  00056812714526356082778577134275778960917363717872
  14684409012249534301465495853710507922796892589235
  42019956112129021960864034418159813629774771309960
  51870721134999999837297804995105973173281609631859
  50244594553469083026425223082533446850352619311881
  71010003137838752886587533208381420617177669147303
  59825349042875546873115956286388235378759375195778
  18577805321712268066130019278766111959092164201989

 

A Third Term for Obama?

March 12, 2015

That is what they are expecting at the Tea Party News Network.

With Hillary Clinton constantly on the ropes from scandal after scandal, and no other real democratic leader stepping up to the plate, the democrats are going to have to find someone who can take on a strong conservative candidate.

But will he do it?

Obama has continually demonstrated his disregard for the rule of law.  It wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to believe he has the audacity to pursue a third term.

Don’t believe me?  Take a look at the transcript of a speech he gave last summer comparing his administration to FDR’s:

“I would put my administration up against any prior administration since FDR.  We didn’t ask for the challenges that we face, but we don’t shrink from them either.  And the truth is, it will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up over the decades.  It will require common effort, shared responsibility, and the kind of bold, persistent experimentation that Franklin Roosevelt pursued during the only crisis worse than this one.”

A few weeks ago, Vice President Joe Biden spoke in Iowa hinting at the possibility of an Obama third term.  He said

“Those seeking to lead the nation should protect and defend and run, yes run, on what we’ve done; own what we have done. Stand for what we have done, acknowledge what we have done, and be judged on what we have done. … Some say that would amount to a third term of the president. I call it sticking with what works and what we ought to do.”

It’s not a direct statement announcing the President’s bid for an unprecedented third term, but with Hillary’s chances looking dimmer and dimmer, you can bet they are considering it.

There is one small obstacle to Barack Obama’s seeking a third term as president, the twenty-second amendment to the constitution forbids it. There have been a lot of conservatives complaining about President Obama’s attempts to expand the powers of the presidency and bypass Congress through the use of executive orders, with some justice, but it is one thing to push the limits with executive orders, which are, after all, simply an interpretation of existing legislation, and blatantly violating the constitution by seeking a third term. I do not think that the President would even have the support of his own party in seeking an unconstitutional third term. The Democratic National Committee would have a very good idea how controversial and unpopular such a move would be and they would want no part of it. It is not very likely that Obama could get his name on the ballot. A presidential election is not really a national election but fifty separate state elections for the state’s electoral votes. Each state’s Secretary of State enforces the states election laws and any Republican Secretary of State would certainly refuse to add Obama to the ballot. Even most Democrats would be reluctant. Unless Barack Obama manages to repeal the twenty-second amendment or cancel the 2016 election, he is not going to serve a third term.

I don’t think he even wants to. I have never gotten the impression that Barack Obama really enjoys being president all that much. He likes the perks, the tax-payer funded vacations, Air Force One, having a forum for his speeches, but I don’t think he likes the day-to-day work of administration and politicking that takes up most of a president’s time. He has always seemed disengaged and impatient with the process of creating legislation for Congress to pass and lobbying Congressmen to enact his agenda, even when he was a Senator. He is no Lyndon B. Johnson, with intimate knowledge of the legislative process and personal relations with every important Representative and Senator. He does not seem to enjoy politics the way Bill Clinton does. I think that if all he had to do was make speeches, Barack Obama would be happy. There is a job with that description, former president. Obama is probably counting the days until he can leave the White House.

And, while I am on the subject of the 2016 election, I predict that Hillary Clinton will not be the Democratic nominee for president. She’s not really a very good politician and she is old hat anyway. The Democrats would be better off with a fresh face.


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