Condolences to North Korea

All over North Korea, the people and even nature itself is mourning the loss of their Dear Leader Kim Jong Il. It is hard to know how sincere the expressions of grief that North Korean television has been showing actually are. It is possible that many North Koreans, living in an isolated country and knowing only what official propaganda has been telling them really do feel a great loss. If you hear that the Dear Leader is the most wonderful person in the world every waking moment, you might come to believe it. Then too, North Korea is a country in which the insufficient display of grief might well get a North Korean and his entire family sent to a prison camp.

With all that in mind, I can hardly blame the North Korean for their displays. I would be doing the same if I lived in North Korea. I would like to ask, however, what Jimmy Carter’s excuse is. This article from the Washington Times tells the story.

Former President Jimmy Carter has sent North Korea a message of condolence over the death of Kim Jong-il and wished “every success” to the man expected to take over as dictator, according to the communist country’s state-run news agency.

A dispatch from the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said Mr. Carter sent the message to Kim Jong-un, Kim Jong-il’s son and heir apparent.

“In the message Jimmy Carter extended condolences to Kim Jong Un and the Korean people over the demise of leader Kim Jong Il. He wished Kim Jong Un every success as he assumes his new responsibility of leadership, looking forward to another visit to [North Korea] in the future,” the KCNA dispatch read.

When contacted by The Washington Times for comment, the Carter Center provided an email contact to a spokeswoman who is out of the office until the New Year.

North Korea is routinely labeled as one of the world’s most oppressive governments under an eccentric personality cult surrounding the Kim family. Harrowing reports from defectors describe North Korea as a dirt-poor nation filled with concentration camps and Communist propaganda. Kim Jong-il ran the reclusive country according to a “military first” policy since the mid-1990s, after a famine that may have killed as many as 2 million people.

Mr. Carter has visited North Korea twice — including a 1994 visit for talks on nuclear issues that led to a deal in which North Korea agreed to dismantle its nuclear-weapons program in exchange for oil deliveries and the construction of two nuclear reactors. That deal collapsed in 2002.

The former U.S. president also downplayed a 2010 North Korean attack on a South Korean island and disclosure of a uranium enrichment facility, saying the acts were merely “designed to remind the world that they deserve respect in negotiations that will shape their future.”

I honestly don’t know if Jimmy Carter is really that stupid or if he is simply evil. He has spent the bulk of his post-Presidential career befriending every anti-American dictator in the world while opposing our allies,especially Israel, which he considers to bear the entire blame for the lack of peace in the Middle East. He discredited himself with his awful presidency and I don’t know why anyone would care what he has to say on any subject.

The Story of Hanukah

Hanukah begins at sunset today, so I thought I would write a little about this holiday. Hanukah 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 Hanukah are celebrated December 20-28.

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.

Ancient Graffitti

Glenn Reynolds mentioned this, and I thought it was really interesting. People have been writing graffiti since the invention of writing and this article provides translations for ten pieces of ancient graffiti.

People have been making graffiti since there was writing — everywhere we go we find messages lost in time. Some of these ancient writings give us priceless insight into lost civilizations. Other pieces, though, just give us big lumps of awesome.

First on their list is from ancient Athens.

10. “Sydromachos has an ass as big as a cistern.”

Someone in Athens wrote this 1,500 years ago. It makes you hope there’s no afterlife, because no matter how big Sydromachus’ ass was, it doesn’t deserve to be what’s most remembered about him over a millenium later. On the other hand, it makes you hope that there is an afterlife and you meet the ghost of whoever wrote this. Civilizations rise and fall. Languages evolve out of recognition. Schadenfreude lasts forever. That would be one happy ghost.

How would you like to be remembered like that millenia from now?

8. The Earliest Recorded Slam Against Christianity

That’s someone worshiping a crucified donkey. Guess what new religion it was mocking? We tend to think of the olden days as far more pious, or far more violent. People either converted to Christianity or tried to wipe it out. This shows us that religious mockery has been around for a long time.

I’ve heard of this one before, but I have never seen the picture.

Political cartoons are an ancient art.

4. The Politician’s Head

This isn’t a very accomplished sketch. It’s just some clueless dude in politics, in Rome, a couple of thousand years ago. The thing is, it could be in the New Yorker in the nineteen fifties, or online today, or scribbled on a wall throughout the last few centuries. It turns out one of the most immortal themes of art is political caricature.

Just imagine that as your least favorite politician. I know it’s so hard to choose just one.

And, there is this one.

2. “I’m amazed, O wall, that you have not fallen in ruins, you who support the tediousness of so many writers.”

Why is everyone else on Youtube so stupid? Youtube or Pompeii. Whichever.

I could say “I’m amazed, O Internet, that you have not fallen apart, you who support the tediousness of so many writers.”

 

Kim Jong Il is Dead

 

English: Kim Jong-il, North Korean leader
Gone below

This is wonderful news to start off the day. North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il has departed this life and taken up residence in Hell. I wonder whether the seventh circle, first round (the violent and tyrants) would be appropriate for him, or the eighth circle, eighth pit (evil counselors).

Unfortunately, the evil regime in North Korea is still in power, for now. Kim’s son Kim Jong-un will be taking over as “Great Successor”. But, maybe the long suffering of the North Korean people is nearing its end.

On Vacation

Once again I am on vacation. We are not going anywhere, so if any burglars are reading this, don’t get your hopes up. We will be here. Not to mention we have two guard dogs, three attack cats, two ferrets specially trained to bite ankles, and eight parakeets with razor sharp beaks. My son is also planning to get a deadly tarantula soon. So stay away.

Come to think of it, if we did go anywhere, we would have to get someone to take care of all of those animals. So, we don’t go anywhere.

 

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

Christmas Grinches

Christmas is almost upon us and no Christmas season would be complete without the Grinches coming out to steal Christmas from all of us. I’m putting together a few stories I’ve found here and there.Grinches come in all shapes and sizes. Some ruin Christmas for a single family. Others try to ruin Christmas for whole communities.

First, there is the attempt by the Freedom From Religion Foundation to force a Texas Town to take down a nativity scene. I have already mentioned this here.

The so-called War Against Christmas is coming to a head in a Texas town Saturday, as protesters from across the country will be rallying against a nativity display put up in front of the town’s courthouse.

A Wisconsin-based group called the Freedom From Religion Foundation took major issue when they heard that the Christian display was put up outside of the Henderson County courthouse, prompting them to write a letter of complaint.

But a letter from out-of-state isn’t going to leave the people of Henderson rattling in their cowboy boots, as the Attorney General Greg Abbott has boosted the beef to a Texas-sized proportions.

ur message to the atheists is don’t mess with Texas and out Nativity scenes or the Ten Commandments,’ Mr Abbott told Fox News & Community.

Fair warning: The Attorney General stood up for the town’s right to a nativity

The FFRF sent a banner to the court house that it wanted displayed, with a very different message then the birth of Christ.

The group’s banner read ‘At this season of the Winter Solstice, let reason prevail.’

‘There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but a myth & superstition that hardens hearts & enslaves minds,’ it finished.

A mystery man put the sign up on Wednesday on a tree next to the nativity scene in Athens, Texas, about 70 miles south east of Dallas, but it was removed shortly by sheriff’s deputies about 10 minutes later.

Though Judge Richard Sanders may have ordered its removal because of the missing forms and compliance with city procedures, the state’s Attorney General is taking a much more philosophical stance.

There is a school district in New York that has banned the phrase “Merry Christmas”.

New York State’s Batavia City School District is taking the “merry” out of Christmas. The school board is banning the use of the phrase “Merry Christmas” and they have a list of other holiday activities deemed “unacceptable”.

The school board has asked principals to enforce a policy banning Christmas and Hanukah decorations in classrooms.

In a memo titled “Religious expression in the schools” the board lists unacceptable holiday activities. Teachers have been told they cannot use the phrase “Merry Christmas” and it quote “should not be included in any spoken or written remarks.” That includes songs.

I guess the war on Christmas has expanded to include Hanukah. Maybe I shouldn’t be too surprised at that. A festival commemorating people who fought for the freedom to practice their religion is not the sort of thing we want to teach kids nowadays.

Here is a neighborhood association that takes exception to one man’s Christmas decorations.

It is not unusual to see a crowd in front of Thyno Zgouvas’ house.

“We come out every year. It’s probably the best show in town,” says one passerby.

For eight years Zgouvas has wowed folks with 70,000 blinking lights.

This Christmas, that number was cut in half.

“The homeowner’s association decided that it was a nuisance–which I completely disagree with,” says Zgouvas.

But other residents–like Terry Phillips–raised concerns about the amount of traffic the show brings to the neighborhood.

“I’ve come home sometimes and it’s taken me 30-45 minutes to get to my house.”

Others worried it would be difficult for emergency vehicles to find homes because of it.

Zgouvas downsized the show to appease the homeowner’s association–all the while making a point of his own with HOA signs and blow-up grinch figures behind them.

“They’ve blown it way out of proportion, I feel,” says Zgouvas.

Each year Mr. Zgouvas puts music to his light show and all you have to do is turn up your radio. He says he does it to keep music from blaring out into the neighborhood.  This year, it’s the theme to the Grinch.

“I have to take my stand just because it’s Christmas lights,” he says.

I understand their concern about traffic, but still.

The Obama Administration tried to get into the season with a Christmas Tree Tax, but wisely backed off. I hope Obama fired whoever came up with that idea. Actually, it seems that the Christmas Tree growers wanted it.

Let’s get one thing straight at the outset: Yes, the Obama administration did propose a tax on Christmas trees, and no amount of obfuscation by its knee-jerk defenders can change that fact. The Department of Agriculture planned to impose a 15-cent duty on every Christmas tree sold by tree-sellers who unload more than 500 trees a season. That is an excise tax — a tax on a specific product, levied per unit of sale, just like federal taxes on tobacco and gasoline.

The proposal provoked an uproar, and the White House will now “revisit this action.” That’s politician-speak for “run from the issue like a scalded dog.”

Was the tax sought by Christmas-tree growers? Indeed it was. They wanted the federal government to run a Christmas-tree promotion campaign, much like those it runs for eggs and other agricultural products. But that’s no excuse. As Ilya Schapiro of the Cato Institute notes, this little tale epitomizes everything wrong with government today.

Here is a Grinch that really did steal one family’s Christmas.

A family came home to find the gifts under their Christmas tree stolen.

The family arrived at their apartment in the 500 block of F.M. 1488 in Conroe Wednesday and found that their front door had been kicked in.

“Someone came in and took away my hard work,” mom Felicia Cunningham said. “My hard work and what I’ve done for my kids.”

Conroe police said the thieves unwrapped all the presents before taking off with the ones that they liked.

“The ruined my Christmas because they took my stuff,” Cunningham’s 9-year-old daughter said. “They just came into the wrong house.”

Cunningham, a single mother, also has an 11-year-old daughter whose Christmas was destroyed.

“Why me? Why this apartment? Why here? Why my kids’ gifts?” Cunningham asked.

I am sure that Santa has lots coal to put in the stockings of all of these Grinches

Here is a slightly different take on Christmas.

Few people engaged in the “War on Christmas” are aware that at one time it was a crime in Massachusetts to celebrate Christmas. Oh sure, some will say, count on liberal Massachusetts to pass a law against Christmas. But it was Calvinist Massachusetts, in the days of the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies, the Pilgrims and Puritans, that established penalties for the observance of Christmas Day “by abstinence from labor, feasting, or any other way.”

Those Puritans seem to have been as much fun as modern secularists.

And, finally, to end on a lighter note,  here  is a scientific discussion over just how strong the Grinch actually is.

 

RIP Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens
Image via Wikipedia

Christopher Hitchens died yesterday, ending his battle with esophageal cancer. I would not say that he was my favorite writer and I didn’t often agree with his positions, yet what he wrote was always worth reading and he had the ability to make you think. The one good thing that I can say about him was that he was always his own man. He did not follow any orthodoxy but his own conscience. He was a life long Marxist who abandoned Marxism when he realized that capitalist America is really the most revolutionary country in the world. He spoke out against the threat that militant Islam poses to freedom when it was not politically correct to do so and defended Salman Rushdie when many feared to. He supported the US invasion of Iraq, alienating nearly all his friends on the Left, because he realized that Saddam Hussein was a dangerous tyrant who needed to be stopped. And yet, he criticized President Bush for some of his policies. As Hitchens himself said,

My own opinion is enough for me, and I claim the right to have it defended against any consensus, any majority, anywhere, anyplace, anytime. And anyone who disagrees with this can pick a number, get in line and kiss my ass.

In his later years, after the publication of god Is Not Great, he was best known as a advocate of the New Atheism. I would have to say that I didn’t much care for god Is Not Great. It was not because the book is an argument for Atheism, but because it was a poor argument for Atheism, more of a prolonged, angry rant than a reasoned apology. One Christian who he debated summarized Hitchens’s argument as “God does not exist, and I hate Him”.

Cover of "God Is Not Great: How Religion ...

Whether you agreed or disagreed with him, Hitchens was always interesting and he will be missed.

Scientists on Track of the Elusive God Particle

Here is some exciting news from the world of particle physics. I wrote about this once before and it seems that they have made some progress.

Physicists are closer than ever to hunting down the elusive Higgs boson particle, the missing piece of the governing theory of the universe’s tiniest building blocks.

Scientists at the world’s largest particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland, announced today (Dec. 13) that they’d narrowed down the list of possible hiding spots for the Higgs, (also called the God particle) and even see some indications that they’re hot on its trail.

“I think we are getting very close,” said Vivek Sharma, a physicist at the University of California, San Diego, and the leader of the Higgs search at LHC’s CMS experiment. “We may be getting the first tantalizing hints, but it’s a whiff, it’s a smell, it’s not quite the whole thing.”

Is it just me, or does the beginning of the article sound like they are on the trail of some obscure species of squirrel? Kind of like a hunting magazine?

Tally-ho!! We've got that higgs boson cornered!!!

Or maybe like something from Croc Hunter.

“Crikey!! Today mate, we are on the trail of the elusive higgs boson! It’s hard to find because nobody knows exactly what its mass is!?

Large Hadron Collider Physicist tackles Higgs boson

I really miss that show. Okay, I’m being silly. Here is a bit more from that article.

The Higgs boson is thought to be tied to a field (the Higgs field) that is responsible for giving all other particles their mass. Ironically, physicists don’t have a specific prediction for the mass of the Higgs boson itself, so they must search a wide range of possible masses for signs of the particle.

Based on data collected at LHC’s CMS and ATLAS experiments, researchers said they are now able to narrow down the Higgs’ mass to a small range, and exclude a wide swath of possibilities.

“With the data from this year we’ve ruled out a lot of masses, and now we’re just left with this tiny window, in this region that is probably the most interesting,” said Jonas Strandberg, a researcher at CERN working on the ATLAS experiment.

The researchers have now cornered the Higgs mass in the range between 114.4 and 131 gigaelectronvolts (GeV).For comparison, a proton weighs 1 GeV. Outside that range, the scientists are more than 95 percent confident that the Higgs cannot exist.

Within that range, the ATLAS findings show some indications of a possible signal from the Higgs boson at 126 GeV, though the data are not strong enough for scientists to claim a finding with the level of confidence they require for a true discovery.

“Based on the predicted size of the signal, the experiments may have their first glimpse of a positive signal,” University of Chicago physicist Jim Pilcher wrote in an email to LiveScience. “It is especially important to compare the results of two independent experiments to help reduce statistical fluctuations and experimental biases.”

But it shouldn’t be much longer before scientists can be sure if the Higgs exists, and if so, how much mass it has.

“We know we must be getting close,” Strandberg told LiveScience. “All we need is a little bit more data. I think the data we take in 2012 should be able to really give a definitive answer if the Higgs boson exists.”

I hope they will have a definite answer soon and they win the Nobel Prize.

For more information, here is a blog by a real scientist. I believe that he has just attended a conference where they discussed their latest results.

 

Atheist Gets Kicked off Fox News Show

I don’t actually watch any television news shows anymore but I found this story here and there and I thought it was interesting. On a segment of a show called “Follow the Money”, hosted by Eric Boller reported on the efforts of the Freedom from Religion Foundation to compel a town in Texas to take down a nativity scene. Eric Boller interviewed Dan Barker, and the exchange became so acrimonious that Boller told him to leave, after only three minutes.

During a dialogue with FFRF spokesperson Dan Barker (who is married to FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor), “Follow the Money” host Eric Bolling was so dumbfounded by the group’s anti-Jesus views that he ended up booting the atheist-spokesperson off of the program. Mediaite’s Colby Hall called the moment a “‘War on Christmas’ miracle!”

At the center of the discussion was a Texas nativity scene that the Madison, Wisconsin-based FFRF has been demanding be torn down immediately. During the dialogue, Barker claimed that America is not a Christian nation and that the nativity should not be present on government property. He went on to say that the nativity represents “an insult to human nature that we are all doomed and damned.”

It was this comment that commenced the uncomfortable exchange between Bolling and Barker. “Sir, I have to take exception to the way you’ve described the nativity scene. It’s not an insult. It’s certainly not an insult to me. I’m a Christian,” Bolling explained. “It is an insult, sir,” Barker countered. At this point, the interview continued, as Bolling sought to move on to another question. But it didn’t take long for Barker to, once again, push Bolling’s buttons.

“Why was Jesus born? To save us from our sins. What an insult that we are degraded, depraved human beings — that Jesus created a hell — a place or torture,” Barker quipped. “And how would you feel if you didn’t believe that… superstition?”

Bolling interrupted the insults and abruptly ended the interview. Here is the video.

 

Conservatives seem to be overjoyed that Dan Barker was asked to leave. I am not so sure it was the right thing for Eric Bolling to do. This is sure to be spun as “ignorant Christian throws Atheist off show because he can’t stand the truth”. Still, notice how quick Barker was to resort to insults, when they weren’t necessary and even when asked to stop. I have to wonder, what is it about these people that they seem to be so angry and bitter? What knid of a person looks at a nativity scene and thinks it is an insult to human nature? This is one of the reasons that I am not an atheist. I always assumed, perhaps wrongly, that people in possession of the truth would be happy. I also have no desire to join the legions of the permanently aggrieved.

One interesting point. That town in Texas said they would take down the nativity scene when Hell freezes over. According to Dante, the bottommost circle of Hell, reserved for traitors, is frozen.

And, regarding Benjamin Franklin’s religious views, they are actually hard to categorize. He wasn’t an Atheist, or even a Deist. He  admitted in his autobiography that he explored Deism in his youth but found it was not “useful”. He was not an orthodox Christian. The best I can tell is that Franklin was a practical worldly man who valued religion for its role in upholding public morality rather than for any spiritual truths.

Still, in the spirit of the holidays, I would like to suggest a compromise. The Atheists should let Christians put up nativity scenes to celebrate Christmas, and in return the Atheists can pick one day out of the year to celebrate Atheism and put up any appropriate displays. I suggest April 1.