Star Wars

December 12, 2018

Not long ago, I saw the original Star Wars for the first time in many years. What I found most interesting about this movie is how well it stands up after all these years. The plot is a little silly with holes you can drive an X-Wing Fighter through, but so what? Star Wars is still a lot of fun to watch. The special effects still look impressive, not even a little dated or cheesy, as one might expect after forty years. George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic was truly a master of producing special effects in that primitive pre-computer generated effects era. For this reason, I really wish that George Lucas had not decided to enhance the original Star Wars trilogy with digital effects.

The digital additions didn’t really advance the plot and weren’t much of an improvement on the original. It was interesting to watch the scene with the confrontation between Han Solo and Jabba the Hutt, which was cut from the original. The scene did help to establish Han Solo’s mercenary character and his motive for taking Ben and Luke’s commission to transport them to Alderaan, but it wasn’t essential. The computer generated Jabba the Hutt somehow didn’t look very realistic. Jabba didn’t seem to fit in the scene.

Changing the confrontation between Han and Greedo so that Greedo shot first ruined the scene. Han Solo was supposed to be somewhat amoral, in the beginning, growing more altruistic as the trilogy progressed. Changing the scene changed the arc of Solo’s character development.

However, even if the changes and additions had been an improvement, I still would have preferred that George Lucas had not made them. The special effects of the original Star Wars movies were truly ground breaking. Before Star Wars, science fiction movies had always looked rather cheap, no matter how much money was spent on the special effects, they never really looked good. 2001: A Space Odyssey was an exception, but it had Stanley Kubrick as director. It didn’t help that science fiction was not taken very seriously as either literature or as cinema. Science fiction movies were all too often relegated to a low budget ghetto to be enjoyed by children and nerds. Star Wars changed that. Yes, the plot was thin and it was kind of a kids’ movie, but the awesome special effects showed what could be done. Star Wars made science fiction a mainstream genre. When George Lucas went back and added in the digital enhancements, it was as if he was denigrating his accomplishments. It is as if D. W. Griffith had gone back and put a sound track in Birth of a Nation.

Watching Star Wars as an adult for the nth time can never be the same as the first time I saw it as a child, particularly after seeing the sequels and prequels. It is harder to fear Darth Vader as an evil villain when you know that behind the mask is a weary old man who hates what he has become. Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi seems to be less of a noble mentor and more of a cunning manipulator when you know he lied to Luke Skywalker about his father. (Yes Ben, that was a lie, not a truth from a certain point of view.) Even the whole premise of the movie can be called into question. Was the destruction of the Jedi by Darth Vader and the Emperor really such a bad thing? The prequels show the Jedi as being more than a little arrogant and narrow-minded. Maybe it is not such a good idea to rely on a small elite of people who happen to be blessed with a high midi-chlorian count. Is the rule of Emperor Palpatine really a bad thing? The Republic that preceded his rule was shown to be corrupt and ineffective. Maybe, from a certain point of view, the Empire stands for law and order and the Rebellion is a terrorist organization. After all, George Lucas said the Ewoks were inspired by the Viet-Cong, meaning perhaps that they were genocidal fanatics just as the real life Viet Cong were. That would make the Stormtroopers the Americans, the good guys.

Then there is the similarity between the award scene at the end and the Nazi rally depicted in Triumph of the Will

But now, I am overthinking it. Star Wars has never born close examination, either of its politics or its science, and George Lucas is not as profound a thinker as he would like to pretend. Star Wars is flashy, mindless fun. This is, by no means, a criticism. There is certainly a place for flashy, mindless entertainment. In fact, I think one of the problems with Hollywood these days is that they are taking themselves too seriously. They are more intent on preaching left-wing politics than with making movies people actually want to see. Even the Star Wars franchise has fallen victim to this plague of political correctness. We need more of the original Star Wars.

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It’s OK to be White

December 4, 2018

College administrators have been busy combatting the latest threat to the sensitive feelings of the wimpiest generation. From Inside Higher Ed, I found this article describing the latest horror of campus life.

“It’s OK to Be White” is the message that has periodically appeared on campus posters over the past two years, typically placed by people or organizations who haven’t taken credit for doing so, and who are believed to be from off-campus groups.

Pro-white propaganda of various types has been appearing on campuses in increasing frequency in the last two years. But the last week has seen a surge in such postings.

Last weekend leaflets with the “OK to be white” message turned up in Vermont, at the University of Vermont and Champlain College.

Since then the posters have appeared at American River CollegeDuke University, North Carolina State University, Tufts University, the University of Delaware, the University of Denver and the University of St. Thomas, in Minnesota.

The trend is not confined to the United States. One Canadian institution, the University of Manitoba, also had the posters turn up. In Australia, the use of the phrase by some politicians has set off a major political debate (and appearance of the posters), but in that case, the focus is not in higher education.

Also last week, white nationalist posters turned up at California State University at San Marcos.

The campuses seeing the posters do not seem to fit any pattern. They include public and private institutions, two-year and four-year, institutions where white people make up a minority of students and institutions where they are the overwhelming majority.

Colleges have generally removed the posters as soon as they are discovered. Colleges generally require those putting up posters to identify themselves and/or get permission to place them. That hasn’t happened in these cases. So while college leaders have condemned the message behind the posters, they have not faced free speech challenges because those putting up the posters have violated college rules.

Well, of course the people putting up these posters have neither asked for permission of identified themselves. How likely is any College likely to grant such permission? If anyone having anything to do with these posters actually came forward and identified themselves, how likely are they going to be allowed to remain in college?

I have a couple of questions about this. First, what precisely is wrong with saying, “It’s OK to be White”. The standard response is that such a statement is racist, but is it really? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, racism is

1: a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race

2aa doctrine or political program based on the assumption of racism and designed to execute its principles

ba political or social system founded on racism

3racial prejudice or discrimination

The posters are not saying Whites are better, but that it is acceptable to be White. If this is racist. why isn’t, “Black is beautiful” racist? Are the administrators who are busy taking down the posters as fast as they appear saying that it is not OK to be White? Isn’t that racist?

I suppose that the answer would be that Blacks and other groups have a history of being marginalized and discriminated against that Whites do not have and that therefore it is appropriate for them to show pride in their groups while Whites, who have historically been the oppressors ought not to. White pride seems to be associated with White supremacy in a way that Black pride is not associated with Black supremacy. But if this is the case, how long will it be before it is okay to be White? Times have changed and while there may still be discrimination against Blacks, it is far less than in the past. There is no one openly calling for White supremacy, and despite what progressives claim, racism is almost non-existent as a factor in American politics. Are Whites always to be considered the oppressors and Blacks the oppressed no matter how much progress is made in race relations?

It seems to me that if they really wanted wanted to end racism, the progressives would be working to made race a complete non-issue in American life. Instead, they seem to want to put race in the center of everything. Blacks, Asians, Hispanics are all encouraged to identify with their particular group. If this is the case, why are they so surprised that Whites want in on the fun too?

Richard A. Baker, president of the American Association for Access, Equity and Diversity, said via email that “on its face, the statement is both innocuous and obvious. It is OK to be white. But the intent of the flyer’s author is not to state the obvious. It is to find sympathizers to the white nationalists’ cause.”

Baker, assistant vice chancellor and vice president for equal opportunity services at the University of Houston System, added that “what is interesting is that a position is being inferred by some on the national stage that whites are a marginalized group and are being made to feel ‘not OK’ in their whiteness. This flyer’s purpose is to attract persons who may be sympathetic to that position but may not respond to a swastika or other traditional symbols of white nationalism or direct recruitment.”

It would be a stretch to claim that Whites are in any sense a marginalized group, and yet, in a way, they are. Every group and subgroup is encouraged to feel pride in itself except for straight, White, males. Whites, particularly males, are held to be uniquely responsible for all the wrongs in the world. Whites, and only Whites are expected to have a feeling of guilt and shame over the past sins of their race, really the common sins of the whole human race. Whites are always the villains and oppressors.

This is not a situation that can last. No one wants to play the villain in their own mind. If Whites continue to be told that their white skin is a mark of shame, there will bea reaction. The best way to inculcate bigotry in a group is to make that particular group feel as if they are being treated unjustly. First White students will tell each other that it is, in fact, okay to be White. Soon, they may start telling each other that it is better to be White. If every other group can feel that way, why not Whites?

The smart thing for these university administrators to do would be to ignore the signs, not to draw any attention to them while trying to promote a sense of genuine inclusion and unity among the student body. This would mean deemphasizing diversity. Instead of encouraging students to identify as every conceivable group, they ought to emphasize their common identity as students of whatever college they are attending, as Americans, and ultimately as human beings. I don’t expect them to do the smart thing.

 

 

The Story of Hanukkah

December 2, 2018

Hanukkah begins at sunset today, so I thought I would write a little about this holiday. Hanukkah is the Jewish Festival of Lights. It is an eight day celebration which lasts from the twenty-fifth day on Kislev to the second day of Tevet. Since the Hebrew calendar is a lunisolar calendar, the days float around from November to December in the Gregorian calendar. This year the days of Hanukkah are celebrated from December 2-10

English: Hanukkah menorah, known also as Hanuk...

Hanukkah was not a major holiday in the Jewish calendar, unlike Passover or the High Holy Days. The festival has increased in importance among North American Jews because of its proximity to Christmas. There is even a tendency among Gentiles to regard Hanukkah as some sort of Jewish Christmas. This is unfortunate, since the backgrounds of the two holidays are quite different. The story of Hanukkah is one of the Jewish people fighting for their freedom to worship God in their own way. I think this story is inspiring and worth learning, both for Jews and Gentiles.

The history goes back to the time of Alexander the Great. He conquered the Persian Empire in one of the most remarkable military campaigns in history. Unfortunately, when he died in 323 BC, he left no provision for any successors and so his generals fought among themselves and eventually Alexander’s empire was divided among them. One of these successors was named Seleucus and he gained control of what is now Iran and Iraq. His kingdom is known to historians as the Seleucid Empire. This time is known as the Hellenistic Era.

Around 200 BC the Seleucids defeated the Egyptians and gained the territories of modern Syria and Israel. During this time the Jewish religion was tolerated and respected by the Ptolemies of Egypt. During this time, also, the Greek language and culture spread far and wide among the conquered peoples. Greek culture had become “cool” and everybody wanted to be a part of it. People who adopted Greek culture could be said to be “Hellenized” from Hellene, the Greek word for Greek. This caused no little consternation among the more traditional Jews. They were afraid that in the rush to embrace Greek culture, many Jews would fall into the worship of the Greek gods and so to idolatry. So, to some extent, the events which followed were as much a civil war as a war between the Jews and the Seleucids.

Antiochus IV

In the year 175, Antiochus IV Epiphanes ascended the throne of the Seleucids. Unlike previous Hellenistic rulers he seemed to believe himself a god and was eager that everyone in his realm pay divine honors to the Greek gods. For most of the people in the Empire this was no great burden as a few more gods didn’t matter all that much. For all but the most Hellenized Jews, this was an impossible demand. There was only one God. When fighting broke out between Hellenized and traditional Jews, Antiochus sided with the Hellenized Jews and in 167 sent an army to capture Jerusalem and compel the worship of the Greek gods. A statue of Zeus was placed on the altar of the Temple and the Jewish religion was banned.

This sparked a rebellion and a guerilla war which was led by a priest named Matthias and his five sons. The most prominent of these was Judas Maccabeus. Antiochus IV had many other problems, especially with the Persians to the east and the rising power of Rome to the west and could never spare the forces necessary to crush the revolt. By 165, the Maccabees were able to retake Jerusalem and cleansed the Temple of the defilement of the pagans.

According to legend, there was only enough oil to light the Menorah for one day, and yet miraculously, they were able to keep it lit for eight days, until more oil could be procured. These eight days became known as the Festival of Lights and to commemorate this victory and miracle, a nine branched menorah is lit. A more prosaic explanation for the origins of this holiday is that the first Hanukkah was a belated celebration of Sukkot. Whatever the truth of the matter might be, I wish everyone a Happy Hanukkah.

The Economics of Abortion

November 27, 2018

Recently, Chelsea Clinton has been making the argument that abortion has been good for the economy. This is a new development in the abortion controversy, abortion not as a necessary evil but as a positive good. Here is more from the Washington Examiner.

The Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which legalized abortion nationwide, has been great for the economy, says Chelsea Clinton.

The number of women entering the workforce has exploded since the early 1970s, she explained this weekend. These women are responsible for adding about $3.5 trillion to the U.S. economy.

Roe v. Wade was also decided in the early 1970s. You do the math.

“Whether you fundamentally care about reproductive rights and access right, because these are not the same thing, if you care about social justice or economic justice, agency – you have to care about this,” Clinton said Saturday at a “Rise Up for Roe” event.

She added, “It is not a disconnected fact … that American women entering the labor force from 1973 to 2009 added three and a half trillion dollars to our economy. Right? The net, new entrance of women – that is not disconnected from the fact that Roe became the law of the land in January of 1973.”

“So, I think, whatever it is that people say they care about, I think that you can connect to this issue,” Clinton continued.

She added, “Of course, I would hope that they would care about our equal rights and dignity to make our own choices – but, if that is not sufficiently persuasive, hopefully, come some of these other arguments that you’ve expressed so beautifully, will be.”

I am not sure who Ms. Clinton is trying to persuade with this line of reasoning. Most people who are against abortion take this position because they believe that the unborn fetus is a human being and that abortion entails the destruction of an innocent human life. As far as pro-lifers are concerned arguing the economic benefits of abortion is life arguing for reinstituting slavery on the grounds that the reduced labor costs would be good for the economy. It may be true, but the argument about slavery or abortion has never been about economics but morality. It doesn’t matter if Roe vs. Wade has been responsible for much of the economic growth since 1973. Wantonly destroying human lives is wrong.

But, is the economic argument correct? Has the economy benefited from millions of women entering the work force thanks to abortion? It is impossible to know for certain. It is likely that many women would have entered the work force even if Roe v. Wade had not legalized abortion. One thing is certain. Clinton is overlooking a very important concept of economics.

Economics is mostly about choices; who makes the choices,’what choices are made, and how the choices are made. We cannot have everything we want. Usually, we have to choose between alternatives. When choosing between alternatives, we have to consider the costs and benefits not only of the alternative we choose, but the costs and benefits of the alternative we didn’t choose. Opportunity cost is the benefits we lost from the alternative we didn’t choose.

Suppose you go to a restaurant that offers just two choices, for simplicity’s sake. You can buy a hamburger for $3.00 or a taco for $1.50. You decide get the hamburger. After finishing your hamburger, you may think that you would really rather have had a taco. Besides, you could have gotten two tacos for the price of one hamburger. The cost of that hamburger is not just the $3.00 you spent on it, but also whatever pleasure you might have have had from eating the taco. Opportunity cost does not have to be about money. Suppose you are a student and you have an exam tomorrow morning. You can choose to study for the exam or go to a party. If you go to the party, you gain the enjoyment of partying, but the cost is the loss of time that might have spent studying, and maybe a bad grade on the exam.

Opportunity cost is an easy concept to grasp in the abstract, but not so easy to appreciate in real world experiences. This is because we can see the costs and benefits of the choices we do make. We cannot see the costs and benefits of the choices we do not make. This can be illustrated by the parable of the broken window.

Suppose an antifa thug decides to strike a blow against capitalism by throwing a rock through a store window. An alarm goes off and a crowd gathers. Someone might comment that the hoodlum missed his purpose. By smashing the window, he has actually helped the economy since the shop keeper will have to pay a glazier to replace his window. Thus, money will circulate and the economy will grow.

This is an obvious fallacy, but it is important to understand why it is wrong. Yes, the shop keeper will pay money to fix his window, but this is money that he might have intended to spend elsewhere. Perhaps he was going to buy new machines for his business, or give his employees a raise, or buy a new car or computer for himself. Now, he is obliged to spend money in ways he did not intend. He has lost whatever he might have gained if his window had not been broken.

Now, getting back to Chelsea Clinton’s idea that abortion has been a net benefit to the economy. She claims that legalized abortion has enabled millions of women to enter the work force, adding three and a half trillion dollars to the economy. I do not have any idea where she got this number or how accurate it might be, but for the sake of the argument, I’ll accept it. According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice organization, as of 2014 there have been an estimated 55.5 million abortions performed in the United States since 1973, the year Roe v. Wade was decided. Starting in the early 1990’s, these persons would have begun entering the workforce had they not been aborted. How much would they have contributed to the economy? Three and a half trillion dollars,at least? There is no way to know but given that a great many of the women who would not have have abortions if it were not legalized would have re-entered the workforce, it seems likely that Roe v. Wade has cost the economy trillions of dollars in people not born and adding to the wealth of the nation.

There are also intangible costs to be considered. Could one of the aborted persons be the next Einstein, developing new theories that better explain the universe we live in? Maybe the next Thomas Edison, or Jonas Salk or Bill Gates was aborted sometime in the 1980’s. Perhaps one of those aborted would have been a great statesman who would have brought peace to the world. There is no way to guess what we might have lost thanks to Roe v. Wade. Also, while a woman who stays at home and raises her child might not be contributing to the economy in a monetary sense, she is surely making a great contribution to the nation’s well being, perhaps far more than she might be through paid labor. It takes more than a village to raise a child. It takes mothers, and it is not appropriate for Chelsea Clinton to denigrate the very real contributions of stay-at-home moms by suggesting we would be better off if they killed their kids and went back to work.

I would hope that Chelsea Clinton would realize the obvious moral truth that the destruction of an innocent life, utterly incapable of defending itself, is always an evil act, justified only in preventing a greater evil, but it that is not sufficiently persuasive, than a consideration of the cost of the destruction of million of lives who might have done great good in the world would be, but I am not very hopeful. Ms. Clinton, like her parents and her party, seems to be a devout member of that cult of death that demands the endless sacrifice of the innocent.

Thanksgiving

November 22, 2018

Today is Thanksgiving in the United States. It is most unfortunate that this day has become little more than an excuse to gorge on turkey. Even worse, the obscenity known as Black Friday has begun to creep back into the holiday making what ought to be a day of giving thanks to the deity a day of frenzied shopping. We in America have perhaps more to be thankful for than any other nation in history and we are probably the biggest ingrates.

Well, anyway, the whole mythology surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday,with the turkey meal, etc is based on the Thanksgiving celebration held by the settlers of Plymouth colony in 1621. They had a lot to be thankful for. These Pilgrims had decided to immigrate to the New World so that they could practice their religion freely. They had intended to settle at the mouth of the Hudson River but their departure from England on the Mayflower had been delayed and the trip across the Atlantic had been rough. They reached America farther north then they had intended,at Provincetown Harbor in November 1620. While they did not really have a legal right to create a colony in what is now Massachusetts, no one really wanted to spend the winter at sea so on December 21, 1620 the Pilgrims began to build the settlement at Plymouth.

Model of a 17th century English merchantman sh...

Would you spend any more time in a leaky ship like this than you had to? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first winter at the new colony was very hard. About half of the colonists had died by spring. By what must have seemed incredible luck or divine providence, the colonists were able to make contact with two Natives who could speak English. One of these was named Samoset and he had learned some English from English trappers and fishermen. He introduced the Pilgrims to the other man, Squanto, who had a truly remarkable life. Captured by Englishmen, he was taken to England and instructed in the English language in the hope that he could serve as an interpreter. When he was brought back to New England, he was captured again, this time by members of John Smith’s expedition who planned to sell captured Indians as slaves in Spain. In Spain, some friars learned of this plan and had the Indians freed and instructed in the Catholic religion. Squanto was able to make his way back to England and then across the Atlantic. There, he discovered that his whole tribe had been destroyed by the diseases, probably smallpox, that the Europeans had  brought to the New World.

Squanto was willing to help the Pilgrims and taught what they needed to know to survive in New England.The harvest in the summer of 1621 was good enough that the Pilgrims did not need to fear starvation that winter. They had a feast that Autumn to celebrate their good fortune and to give thanks to God. This celebration was not considered to be anything very remarkable. Thanksgiving celebrations were fairly common at the time, especially among people who had successfully made the difficult and dangerous voyage across the ocean. It was not really the first Thanksgiving.

The First Thanksgiving, painted by Jean Leon G...

The First Thanksgiving, painted by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863–1930). 

There were proclamations of thanksgiving at various times in American history, especially during the Revolutionary War, but the holiday we know of as Thanksgiving really began in 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation that a national day of Thanksgiving was to be celebrated on the final Thursday of November. It might not seem that there was all that much to be thankful for in the middle of the Civil War but the tide was turning in the North’s favor after the victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg that July and the country was continuing to grow in strength and prosperity despite the horrors of the war. Lincoln’s proclamation set the date for the national holiday that has been celebrated ever since. Franklin Roosevelt set the date a week earlier in 1939 in the hope that an earlier date would mean a longer shopping season for Christmas, thus helping the economy still mired in the Great Depression. This was not without controversy and in October 1941 Congress officially set the date of Thanksgiving on the fourth, and almost always the last, Thursday in November.

So,enjoy your turkey but please spare a moment or two to give thanks to the deity you worship. If you happen to be an American you really are one of the luckiest people on Earth.

Cloud City on Venus

November 13, 2018

With a surface temperature hot enough to melt lead, Venus would not seem to be a candidate for manned exploration, but NASA seems to think otherwise, if this article in the Daily Mail is any indication.

Popular science fiction of the early 20th century depicted Venus as some kind of wonderland of pleasantly warm temperatures, forests, swamps and even dinosaurs.

In 1950, the Hayden Planetarium at the American Natural History Museum were soliciting reservations for the first space tourism mission, well before the modern era of Blue Origins, SpaceX and Virgin Galactic.

All you had to do was supply your address and tick the box for your preferred destination, which included Venus.

Today, Venus is unlikely to be a dream destination for aspiring space tourists.

As revealed by numerous missions in the last few decades, rather than being a paradise, the planet is a hellish world of infernal temperatures, a corrosive toxic atmosphere and crushing pressures at the surface.

Despite this, NASA is currently working on a conceptual manned mission to Venus, named the High Altitude Venus Operational Concept – (HAVOC).

But how is such a mission even possible? Temperatures on the planet’s surface (about 460°C) are in fact hotter than Mercury, even though Venus is roughly double the distance from the sun.

This is higher than the melting point of many metals including bismuth and lead, which may even fall as ‘snow’ onto the higher mountain peaks.

The surface is a barren rocky landscape consisting of vast plains of basaltic rock dotted with volcanic features, and several continent-scale mountainous regions.

It is also geologically young, having undergone catastrophic resurfacing events.

Such extreme events are caused by the build up of heat below the surface, eventually causing it to melt, release heat and re-solidify.

Certainly a scary prospect for any visitors.

Luckily, the idea behind NASA’s new mission is not to land people on the inhospitable surface, but to use the dense atmosphere as a base for exploration.

No actual date for a HAVOC type mission has been publicly announced yet.

This mission is a long term plan and will rely on small test missions to be successful first.

Such a mission is actually possible, right now, with current technology. The plan is to use airships which can stay aloft in the upper atmosphere for extended periods of time.

As surprising as it may seem, the upper atmosphere of Venus is the most Earth-like location in the solar system.

Between altitudes of 50km and 60km, the pressure and temperature can be compared to regions of the Earth’s lower atmosphere.

The atmospheric pressure in the Venusian atmosphere at 55 km is about half that of the pressure at sea level on Earth.

In fact you would be fine without a pressure suit, as this is roughly equivalent to the air pressure you would encounter at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. Nor would you need to insulate yourself as the temperature here ranges between 20°C and 30°C.

The atmosphere above this altitude is also dense enough to protect astronauts from ionising radiation from space.

 

HAVOC

 

The greatest disappointment of this space age in which we have learned so much about the planets is that not only is there no life on the other planets but they are all so hostile to life that manned exploration and colonization is going to be much more difficult than the science fiction writers of an earlier age could have imagines. Venus is not the swampy world with dinosaurs they imagined, but a literal inferno. Mars is not the home of an ancient civilization that may be planning to conquer Earth to rejuvenate their dying planet but a small, cold world with a very thin atmosphere. Even other solar systems do not offer much hope. Hot Jupiters seem to be the rule rather than the exception. It is safe to say that the Earth wouldn’t exist it there were a Jupiter in Mercury’s orbit. Nice Earthlike planets seem to be rather rare, though Earth sized planets are not easy to detect.

Well, if it were easy, it wouldn’t worth doing and the fact that colonizing the other planets is more difficult than we might have thought only adds to the glory once we have done it. We really need to establish humanity on other planets. It is never a good idea to carry all one’s eggs in one basket. The sooner we can spread ourselves far and wide across the universe, the better the chances of the long term survival of the species.

I think we ought to take the idea of a floating base for exploration a couple of steps further. Why not floating cities in the atmosphere of Venus? I can imagine a time in which there will be thousands or even millions of people living and working among the clouds of Venus. Perhaps they will be working on terraforming Venus, lowering the planet’s temperature and altering its atmosphere to something breathable. Maybe someday Venus really will be a tropical paradise. In the meantime, living in the clouds will do.

Future Venus colony

 

Personally, though, I’d rather live on Mars.

Midterms 2018: The Results

November 11, 2018

Well, it might have been worse, but it might have been a good deal better. The Democrats gained a majority in the House of Representatives, as expected, but the Republicans managed to not only maintain their majority in the Senate and even gain a few seats. It seems that neither party really won this contest. Both sides gained a little and lost a little. It could have been worse for the Republicans.

The Democrats gained 34 Congressional seats for certain making the new partisan balance in the House 227 seats held by the Democrats against 200 seats held by the Republicans. there are several elections too close to call just yet, but will probably go to the Democrats just as soon as they “discover” enough uncounted ballot boxes. In the Senate, the Republicans perhaps gained three seat, expanding their majority from 51-47 to 54-44, although their are three elections too close to call and subject to the recounts which somehow always favor the Democratic candidates. It seems that they hardly even bothering to hide their election fraud anymore.

What does this divided government mean for the next two years? I would guess that not very much is going to get done legislatively. Anything passed by one House is likely to be rejected by the other and in this polarized political environment, there is no sign that the Democrats in the House of Representatives are going to be willing to work with the Republicans in the Senate and and like likely to be even less cooperative with President Trump. We are likely to see one investigation after another Trump’s alleged collusion with the Russians and anything else the Democrats can think of to paralyse the government and to delegitimize Trump. I don’t think the Democrats will try to impeach Trump. They might have if they had won the Senate but there is no chance a Republican controlled Senate would convict Trump. Their lunatic base will expect impeachment and it will be interesting to see how the Democratic leadership will explain the absence of any impeachment attempt.

Given that the Senate is going to forestall any attempt by the Democrats in the House to advance some of their more extreme left-wing policies, we can expect more complaints about the undemocratic nature of the Senate, how unfair it is that Rhode Island or Wyoming has exactly as many Senators as California. Every time they lose, the left wants to change the rules. Somehow they are never concerned about how undemocratic the system is when an unelected judge makes rulings that have the effect of laws or overturns the results of a referendum.

Congressional elections weren’t the only elections this year. There were also 36 gubernatorial elections. The Democrats picked up from 7-9 new governorships this year, depending on how two undecided elections are resolved, changing the balance from 33 Republican governors and 16 Democrats to 27-25 Republicans and 23-25 Democrats. The Republicans had more governorships to defend this year.

Of the 99 state legislatures (Nebraska has a unicameral legislature.) the Republicans held a total of 67 chambers to the Democrats 32 chambers going into the midterms. The Democrats gained control of just seven chambers making the new balance 62-37. The Democrats still have not recovered from the disastrous Obama years in which they were devastated at the state level. Control of the state is more important than most people think. Even in this age of an overactive federal government, a good many of the laws we live under are created at the state level. Also, in many cases, the state legislatures are responsible for determining Congressional districts, or, gerrymandering. The party that controls the state legislatures has a better chance of controlling the House of Representatives.The state legislatures are also where the parties recruit candidates for higher offices. The Democratic losses over the last decade haven’t helped their chances in gaining those higher offices.

So, all in all, the results of the 2018 midterm elections were mixed. The Democrats made some gains, but not as many as they ought to have. They probably would have done better if not for their turn towards left-wing extremism and tolerance of uncivil and even violent behavior. I hope they will learn their lesson and try to behave more responsibly, but they probably won’t.

Midterms 2018

November 6, 2018

This is it. The 2018 midterm elections are today. Today the voters decide which party will have control of Congress for the next two years. At stake, President Trump’s agenda. If the Democrats manage to get a majority in both houses of Congress, Trump’s agenda will be stalled and his administration subjected to endless investigations, and possibly an attempt at impeachment. A democratic victory will be interpreted by the mainstream media as a rejection of Trump and his policies. A Republican victory will be a vindication of Trump and his policies, though I would hardly expect the mainstream media to acknowledge that.

Historically, the opposition party makes gains during the midterms, sometimes very large gains. In 1994, the Republicans gained 54 seats in the House of Representatives and 10 seats in the Senate, giving the Republicans a Congressional majority for the first time in forty years. In 2010 the Republicans won 64 seats in the House and five in the Senate. This doesn’t always happen, though. In 1998, the Democrats gained a few seats even though the Democrat., Bill Clinton was president. This was undoubtedly due to the Republican attempt to impeach Clinton that year. In 2002, the Republicans gained seats due to the aftermath of 9/11.

So, what is going to happen today? I don’t know and neither does anyone else. For whatever it is worth,here are my predictions. It doesn’t look like there is going to be a massive blue wave that is going to sweep the Republicans out of power. It seems likely that the Republicans will maintain their majority in the Senate and may possibly gain a seat or two. The House is less certain. It really could go either way. I think that the Democrats will gain seats in the House, perhaps enough to get a majority. If they do get a majority it will be by the thinnest of margins. We will see how accurate I am. Keep in mind, that I, like nearly everyone else, thought Hilary Clinton would be the president today.

If there is no blue wave, the Democrats have only themselves to blame. They should be confident of a massive victory right now. They had all the advantages going into this election and all they had to do was to be a responsible opposition party and craft a platform that would appeal to the moderates and independents. They could have highlighted Trump’s personality flaws while promoting Trumpian policies on immigration, trade and the economy. Instead, the Democrats decided to go right off the deep end. They decided to cater to their most extreme left wing base and adopt socialist ideas anathema to most Americans in flyover country. They loudly proclaimed the ridiculous meme  Trump was a Hitler clone and we were all in danger of an imminent Fascist dictatorship, while ignoring the simple fact that most Americans are better off than they were two years ago. They have made it clear that they care more about the interests of illegal aliens than American citizens and they have taken the side of millionaire athletes who disrespect the flag. Where Trump says, “Make America Great Again”, they say, “America was never great”.

The Democrats have become the party of the mob, of antifa, of rioting. They have encouraged violence and incivility against their opponents and have tried to censor speech they do not like. Worst of all, they have become the party of the busybodies, the scolds who want to tell the rest of us what size Big Gulps we are allowed to drink, what words we are allowed to use, and generally how we ought to live our lives because we are just ignorant deplorables. Is it any wonder that they are struggling when they should be coasting to victory? Is it at all surprising that groups that have traditionally been strongly democratic are starting to walkaway and exit the Democratic party?

I hope the Republicans win these midterm elections, not just for partisan reasons, but because the Democrats need to be punished for their recent excesses. They need to undergo a period of introspection to understand how and why they have managed to alienate millions of Americans. I don’t think they will, though.  If they do poorly, they will blame it all in Russian collusion or assert the system is rigged and undemocratic, and the old standby, the voters are racists.

 

Brett Kavanaugh and the Witches

November 1, 2018

The next time someone tries to tell me that the Democrats are the Party of Science while Republicans are science-denying, knuckle-dragging, flat earthers, I am just going to show them this article from The Independent.

Witches placed a hex on US Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during a protest ritual in New York.

The spell, which was livestreamed on Facebook and Instagram on Saturday, was also targeted at “all rapists and the patriarchy which emboldens, rewards and protects them”.

Organisers at the Catland occult bookshop in Brooklyn said the hex was as “an act of resistance and resilience” following the controversy over allegations of sexual assault against Mr Kavanaugh.

“He will be the focal point, but by no means the only target, so bring your rage and and all of the axes you’ve got to grind,” the bookshop told its followers.

Directions on how to cast a “stripped-down” version of the spell at home, were also provided on Facebook.

The ingredients included graveyard dirt, coffin nails, a black candle, a broken mirror, and revenge oil.

“Obtain a photo of your enemy,” read the instructions. ”Mark it according to your purposes and write out your curses on it. Dress it with the oil.

“Place the ingredients in the jar and then fill it halfway with water from a thunderstorm, war water, toilet water or vinegar and the rest of the way with your urine. Once finished, seal the jar tightly with the lid.

“Carve the candle with your target’s name, dress it with the oil and then roll it in the graveyard dirt. Melt the bottom of the candle and affix it to the lid of the jar.

The ritual should be repeated every Saturday after nightfall “to exact your curse upon your target”, it is claimed.

It follows three previous rituals to place hexes on Donald Trump last year. Half of the proceeds of the event are to be donated to charity and a second hex is planned for 3 November.

“The harm we want to inflict on Kavanaugh and Trump is that they be exposed and shown for what they are and ousted or at least discredited,” Dakota Bracciale, co-owner of Catland Books, told The Independent.

“On the practical aspect, yes there is spell casting and we are going to curse him and hex him and wish him bad things.

“But on a more important level, this is a coming together of people who recognise this as an important moment in our country.”

Witchcraft in the twenty-first century, really? Where is Cotton Mather when we need him?

Where’s my eye of Newt? How can I put a curse on Kavanaugh without my eye of Newt?

Now, most people reading about this nonsense are probably inclined to smile at the foolishness of witches casting hexes on public figures, but I would take this business more seriously. I do not believe in the efficacy of magic spells and I assume the reader, who is reasonably well-educated does not either. That is not the point. These women do believe that magic works and fully intend to harm their target by supernatural means. I am not sure there is any real difference between trying to harm someone through magic spells or by more conventional methods and I have to wonder if any of these witches would consider physically attacking their target when their witchcraft proves to be ineffective.

I also have to wonder about the effect carrying all that rage has on the spellcaster’s mental state. It cannot be psychologically healthy to have such a strong desire to harm another person. These are probably not mentally healthy people. We don’t prosecute people for witchcraft anymore, but maybe the appropriate authorities should be keeping an eye on these witches.

Halloween

October 31, 2018

Today is Halloween. The name “Halloween” is actually derived from “All Hallow’s Eve“, that is the day before “All Hallow’s Day” or All Saint’s Day. All Saint’s Day was and is a Christian, primarily Roman Catholic, holy day which celebrates all the saints in Heaven and includes prayers for those in Purgatory.

Halloween, however, is not a Christian holiday. It seems to have come from the Celtic festival of Samhain, which was a summer’s end or harvest festival. The Celts celebrated Samhain with bonfires to ward off evil spirits and sacrificed animals and sometimes humans to their gods. This pagan heritage has made Halloween controversial among Christians at times. The Protestant Reformers in England did not like the holiday and tried to suppress it because of its pagan and Roman Catholic origins. The Scots were more lenient and Halloween is celebrated there more than in England. The Irish, of course, still celebrated it as they remained Catholic and true to their Celtic Heritage. Halloween was not much celebrated in America until large numbers of Scots and Irish immigrated here during the nineteenth century.

As for the customs which have grown up around Halloween, it would seem that carving pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns is an American innovation. The Scots and Irish used turnips. Pumpkins, which are native to North American, turned out to be larger and easier to carve. Trick or treating seems to be derived from the Scottish custom of guising. Guising is the custom in which children would go from door to door in costume begging for treats and performing a trick or song in return. This custom was first noted in America in the early twentieth century. Trick or treating became the custom by the 1930’s. Haunted houses have also become popular since the 1970’s.

So, Happy Halloween, or Samhain.

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