John Stossel

John Stossel
John Stossel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I always like watching John Stossel back when he was the consumer affairs correspondent on 20/20. It was always fun to watch him expose scams and con artists. Since then, he has moved on to Fox News and his political views have changed dramatically from the typical liberalism of most people in journalism to strong Libertarianism. He talked about this transition in his first book Give Me a Break.

What caused Stossel’s conversion? As he tells it, in his work as a reporter, he made some observations that caused him to change his worldview. It is not often that someone will do that, especially a person with a career in the public eye. Most people would rather die than ever admit they were wrong, or change long held beliefs. John Stossel seems to be one of the few honest and courageous enough to do so.

Stossel’s first discovery was that most business people are not, in fact, crooks. This may seem counter-intuitive to anyone raised on Hollywood’s anti-business and anti-capitalist fare, but Stossel realized that the great majority of people who own a company try to run it honestly and ethically. The scam artists he made a career exposing were in the minority and they were never very successful in the long run.

Here, Stossel stumbled on an important aspect of a free market economy. In order for a business to flourish, it has to provide customers with a good quality good or service at a price they are willing to pay. A company that does not do this will, sooner or later, fail, unless it convinces a government that it is too big to fail. The classic example here would be the American auto industry. After World War II, the big three auto makers; Ford, GM, and Chrysler had a near monopoly on the US market. They began to get lazy. They began to sell poor quality cars to the American consumer, thinking that the consumers had nowhere else to go. They were wrong. Now two of the three are owned by the government.

An example of a business that does thing right is Amazon.com. My Kindle stopped working yesterday. The screen developed large patches that seemed frozen. I called their support center and they said they would ship me a replacement. There was no trouble. I did have to pay $69 because the warranty had run out, but considering that buying a new one would have cost me $139, this seemed a bargain. Why did Amazon do that. They might have made more money by telling me “tough luck” and expecting me to buy a new Kindle. Then again, maybe not. There are other people out there selling e-readers. I suppose Amazon is making a profit out of the deal, but even if they are not, it is worth taking a loss to keep me a satisfied customer.

Imagine, if Amazon.com had a monopoly on electronic publishing. Better still, imagine if this monopoly were enforced by law, or that Amazon.com were a government agency. Would they care about making me happy? Probably not. Just look at our public school systems if you have any doubts about how well governments respond to consumers.

This is not to say that business people are all wonderful or even especially virtuous, much less that they are somehow superior to people who work in government. They are not. Nevertheless, anyone in business has a certain incentive to maintain a good reputation that people in government do not. This is why the free market is far, far superior in meeting people’s needs than any centralized planning agency.

The other thing Stossel discovered was that government regulations designed to save people from being taken advantage of often hurt the very people they are meant to help. The simple truth is that the crooks will always be able to game the system for their own advantage and care little whether or not they are following the rules. Honest people who are obliged to comply to an ever more complex system of rules and regulations find themselves at even a greater disadvantage against the unscrupulous. And one should keep in mind that it is all too easy for the powerful and well-connected to change the rules to benefit themselves against their less fortunate competitors. An inconvenient truth is that big business is not often really opposed to big government, if big government can help them crush the competition. Remember the anti-trust suit against Microsoft? Bill Gates’s enemies relished the opportunity to use the government to to take him down.

I would also consider the efforts to curtain the production of methamphetamines in this light. Here in Indiana you have to show an ID to buy any cold remedy that contains pseudo ephedrine, an ingredient of methamphetamines. There are limits to how much you can buy, etc. This is an inconvenience to anyone suffering from a cold but has it worked? It seems that the police are discovering a new meth lab in our county every week. Obviously the meth dealers are having no trouble getting around the law.

I don’t get to watch John Stossel on television much any more, but I have read his first two books. He has just now come out with another one called No They can’t. Maybe I’ll download it when my kindle arrives.

Santorum’s Out

Rick Santorum ended his campaign today.

After calling Mitt Romney to concede the race for the Republican nomination, Rick Santorum suspended his campaign Tuesday during a press conference in Pennsylvania, his home state.

“We will suspend our campaign effective today,” Santorum said surrounded by members of his family in Gettysburg.

Santorum spent the weekend off the campaign trail with his 3-year-old daughter, Bella, who suffers from a rare genetic disorder, after she was rushed to the hospital Friday.

“We made a decision over the weekend that, while this presidential race for us is over, for me, and we will suspend our campaign effective today, we are not done fighting,” he said. (Yahoo News)

Since Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul are behind Santorum, it looks as if Romney will be the Republican candidate for president. He is not the one I would have preferred and I am not sure he can beat Obama, but I will vote for him and do what I can to see he is elected. I hope that every Conservative will do likewise. It might be tempting to hope Romney loses in the expectation of getting a more truly Conservative candidate in 2016, but I don’t think this country can recover from another four years of Barack Obama.

 

 

 

A History of the Japanese People

A History of the Japanese People is a comprehensive history of the Japanese Empire from its mythological beginnings up to the date of publication in 1912. Because the copyright has expired, it can be downloaded free, which is very convenient for anyone who wishes to learn more about the earliest Japanese history.  Naturally, this book cannot cover more recent events, including World War II and after, but the lack is more than made up for by the authors’ exhaustive coverage of Ancient, Medieval, and early modern Japan.

The first chapters do drag a bit as the authors describe the mythological history of prehistoric Japan. The myths and legends are rather disordered and the names of the gods are confusing and repetitive. Once they move on to firmer ground, the story becomes more engrossing.

Despite the excellent quality of this work, two weaknesses made the book less than completely satisfactory. First, the kindle edition does not include the illustrations or the maps. I could do without the illustrations, but at least one map of the Japanese islands would have enabled me to follow the events better, especially the military campaigns.  The second weakness is that in a comprehensive history such as this, there are many unfamiliar (to the Western reader) names and terms and it is sometimes difficult to remember them all. A glossary would have been helpful. Despite these weaknesses, I highly recommend this book.

I might add, not as part of the review, in light of later events in Japanese history, it is a bit chilling to read the authors defense of Japanese aggressions in Manchuria and Korea, especially when they suggest that the Japanese annexation of Korea in 1910 was for the benefit of the Korean people. I think few Koreans would agree with that sentiment.

Easter

We left the story of Jesus of Nazareth last Friday. He had been executed in the most painful and degrading way possible. His closest followers were disperse and in hiding. It must have seemed that Jesus and his movement had ended in utter failure. But then, something remarkable happened. This something is commemorated by the Easter holiday. Although Christmas is the more popular Christian holiday, Easter is actually the most important holiday in the liturgical year as the celebration of Christ’s resurrection is theologically more important than his Nativity. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The Gospel of Mark has the most concise account on what happened that first Easter.

1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

9 When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene,out of whom he had driven seven demons.10 She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping.11 When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.

12 Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country.13 These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either.

14 Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.

15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.17 And these signswill accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons;they will speak in new tongues;18 they will pick up snakeswith their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands onsick people, and they will get well.”

19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heavenand he sat at the right hand of God.20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signsthat accompanied it. (Mark 16:1-20)

Mark 16:9-20 seems to be a later addition. At any rate the earliest manuscripts do not have those verses. Whether the original ending has been lost or Mark intended to end his account so abruptly is unknown.

Matthew has more details.

1After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

The Guards’ Report

11 While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

The Great Commission

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt 28:1-20)

Luke and John have more to say of Jesus after His resurrection but I won’t quote them here.

The date of Easter has been a matter of some controversy in past centuries. The date of Easter is related to the date of Passover. The calculations on which the date of Easter is determined is based on a lunisolar cycle like the date of Passover but the cycle is not the Hebrew calendar. Generally Easter falls about a week after Passover but it occurs about a month later in three years of the nineteen year cycle. Various groups of Christians have had different methods of calculating Easter over the years and these differences have led to bitter disputes. There is still a different date for Easter among the Eastern churches since they use the Julian calendar for the liturgical year while Catholics and Protestants use the Gregorian calendar.

Among Catholics and some Protestants, Easter is generally celebrated by an Easter vigil beginning the previous evening. At dawn, a mass or service begins, etc.

And, of course, many people celebrate Easter by finding Easter eggs and eating candy delivered by the Easter Bunny.

The Easter Bunny

Good Friday

Today is Good Friday, the day of Jesus’s crucifixion. It may seem strange to call it “Good” Friday since being crucified wouldn’t normally be considered as part of a good day but the word good is used in an obsolete sense meaning holy. Good Friday is generally celebrated with fasts and vigils. In the Roman Catholic church no mass is held on this day.

Once again, I will be using the Gospel of Mark to tell the story.

Mark 15

Jesus Before Pilate

1Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, made their plans. So they bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate.

2 “Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate.

“You have said so,” Jesus replied.

3 The chief priests accused him of many things. 4 So again Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.”

5 But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.

6 Now it was the custom at the festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested. 7 A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. 8 The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did.

9 “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, 10 knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.

12 “What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them.

13Crucify him!” they shouted.

14 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.

But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”

15 Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. (Mark 15:1-15)

It would seem that this meeting of the Sanhedrin at night and before Passover was highly irregular and some have questioned the historicity of the Gospel accounts on that basis. I think that if the elders and priests of the Sanhedrin believe Jesus to be on the point of declaring himself the Messiah and leading a rebellion, they might not have been too concerned with fine points of legality in the face of a national emergency. Little is known of Pontius Pilate but in the historical accounts of Josephus and others, he does not seem to be the sort of man who had any scruples about putting a trouble maker to death even if he wasn’t certain of the man’s guilt. It is possible that he was impressed by Jesus’s force of personality. On the other hand, Josephus makes it clear that Pilate was a tactless man who did not like the Jews much. He was eventually recalled because his actions seemed likely to cause rebellions. Perhaps Pilate resented having the High Priest and others, who he might have considered semi-barbarians, insist on his crucifying a man. He might have refused just to be obstinate.

16 The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. 17 They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. 18 And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” 19 Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. 20And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

The Crucifixion of Jesus

21 A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. 22 They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). 23 Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 24And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.

25 It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS.

27 They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. [28][a]29 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 come down from the cross and save yourself!” 31 In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! 32 Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.(Mark 15:16-32)

Luke has one of the thieves taking Jesus’s side.

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.[d]

43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)

Crucifixion is probably the most painful method method of execution ever devised. The victim is slowly asphyxiated as he hangs on the cross. It was not uncommon for a man to linger for days writhing in pain the whole time. In addition to the pain, crucifixion was meant to be a humiliating, shameful punishment. Only the lowest of the low were crucified, which might have been a stumbling block to early Christian proselytizing.

33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).[b]

35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

36 Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.

37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.

38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died,[c] he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

40 Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph,[d] and Salome. 41 In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.

Those words were the first verse of Psalm 22. Matthew’s account parallels Mark’s but Luke and John report different last words.

46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”[e] When he had said this, he breathed his last.  (Luke 23:46)

28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.(John 19:28-30)

John adds another detail.

31 Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. 32 The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. 33 But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. 35 The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. 36 These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,”[c]37 and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.” (John 19:31-37)

Strange as it may seem, the breaking of their legs was an act of mercy since they would die sooner. It was surprising that Jesus had died after only being about six hours on the cross.

42 It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. 45 When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. 46 So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid. (Mark 15:42-47)

To anyone on the scene, this must have seemed the end of the matter. Jesus of Nazareth was dead and his followers scattered. It would seem that, at best, he would only be a minor footnote in history.

Related articles

Holy Thursday

Easter Sunday is approaching and the Easter weekend begins today with Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday. This day commemorates Jesus’s last supper with his disciples. In the Roman Catholic church, they hold a chrism mass in each diocese in which the bishop consecrates the oils used in anointing of the sick, baptisms, etc.

The story of the last supper is found in all four Gospels with variations in detail. John has an extended discourse by Jesus in which he gives his final instructions to his disciples. John omits the introduction of the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist which is described in the other three Gospels. I am going to quote from Mark since it is the shortest and fastest paced Gospel.

12On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”

13 So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. 14 Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 15 He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.”

16 The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.

17 When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. 18 While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.”

19 They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely you don’t mean me?”

20 “It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, “one who dips bread into the bowl with me. 21 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”

22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”

23 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it.

24 “This is my blood of the[c] covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. 25 “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

26 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Mark 14:12-26)

Various Christian denominations celebrate the Lord’s Supper in various ways. Many celebrate it every Sunday, others less often. The eucharist is a major source of controversy between Catholics and Protestants. Catholics take Jesus’s words literally and believe that the eucharist actually becomes the body and blood of Christ while Protestants believe it to be symbolic. This is the point of Catholic doctrine that Richard Dawkins was mocking at the Reason Rally.

27“You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written:

“‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep will be scattered.’[d]

28 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”

29 Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.”

30 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice[e] you yourself will disown me three times.”

31 But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the others said the same. (Mark 14:27-31)

Despite their bluster, the disciples ran like scared rabbits when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus. Peter even denied knowing Jesus three times.

66 While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came by. 67When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him.

“You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus,” she said.

68 But he denied it. “I don’t know or understand what you’re talking about,” he said, and went out into the entryway.[g]

69 When the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, “This fellow is one of them.” 70 Again he denied it.

After a little while, those standing near said to Peter, “Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.”

71 He began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.”

72 Immediately the rooster crowed the second time.[h] Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows twice[i] you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept. (Mark 14:66-72)

After the last supper Jesus and the disciples went to the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed.

32 They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 34“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”

35 Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. 36“Abba,[f] Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

37 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? 38 Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

39 Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. 40 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.

41 Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. 42 Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” (Mark 14:32-42)

The betrayer is Judas, of course. They needed him to identify Jesus, since they wouldn’t want to arrest the wrong man. You might wonder why the Jewish leaders wanted to get rid of Jesus. It would  take another post to explain the historical and political background of first century Judea, but suffice it to say that they had good reason to fear anyone who might raise an insurrection against the Romans, since the Roman response would be devastating. The Jewish War, just forty years later showed their fears were justified.

43Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders.

44 Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” 45 Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. 46 The men seized Jesus and arrested him. 47 Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.

48 “Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? 49 Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” 50 Then everyone deserted him and fled.

51 A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, 52 he fled naked, leaving his garment behind. (Mark 14:43-51)

The young man is not mentioned in any other Gospel and there is a tradition that he was Mark himself, who couldn’t resist mentioning himself. John identifies the disciple who attacked the guard as Peter.

10Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)

11 Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (John 18:10-11)

Luke mentions that Jesus healed the guard.

49 When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” 50And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.

51 But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him. (Luke 22:49-51)

Tomorrow the story continues with Good Friday.

 

 

Obama Questions the Supreme Court

I found this editorial in the New York Sun through Instapundit and found it interesting enough to comment on. It would seem that Obama expects that his health care legislation has a good chance of being overturned by the Supreme Court but is trying to convince himself that it won’t happen.

It’s been a long time since we’ve heard a presidential demarche as outrageous as President Obama’s warning to the Supreme Court not to overturn Obamacare. The president made the remarks at a press conference with the leaders of Mexico and Canada. It was an attack on the court’s standing and even its integrity in a backhanded way that is typically Obamanian. For starters the president expressed confidence that the Court would “not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.”

Reuters’ account noted that conservative leaders say the law was an overreach by Obama and the Congress. It characterized the president as having “sought to turn that argument around, calling a potential rejection by the court an overreach of its own.” Quoth the president: “And I’d just remind conservative commentators that, for years, what we have heard is, the biggest problem on the bench was judicial activism, or a lack of judicial restraint, that an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law.”

It is outrageous enough that the president’s protest was inaccurate. What in the world is he talking about when he asserts the law was passed by “a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress”? The Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act barely squeaked through the Congress. In the Senate it escaped a filibuster by but a hair. The vote was so tight in the house — 219 to 212 — that the leadership went through byzantine maneuvers to get the measure to the president’s desk. No Republicans voted for it when it came up in the House, and the drive to repeal the measure began the day after Mr. Obama signed the measure.

It is the aspersions the President cast on the Supreme Court, though, that take the cake. We speak of the libel about the court being an “unelected group of people” who might “somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law.” This libel was dealt with more than two centuries ago in the newspaper column known as 78 Federalist and written by Alexander Hamilton. It is the essay in which Hamilton, a big proponent of federal power, famously described the Court as “the weakest of the three departments of power.” It argued that the people could never be endangered by the court — so long as the judiciary “remains truly distinct from both the legislature and the Executive.”

I think it more than laughable that he would consider Obamacare to be passed by a strong majority of Congress. As I recall, they had to use every trick they could to get that mess through. A majority of the people still oppose the health care reform and it is not likely Obama will be saying very much about it on his campaign stops.

Looking over his remarks, I am struck by how ignorant he seems to be of the basic concepts of American government. The whole point of the Constitution was not to allow any one faction or branch of government to become powerful enough to dictate policy. This is why the Constitution has the balancing act between the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial branches along with a federal system of shared power between the national government and the states. Since the framers of the Constitution feared tyranny by the majority as much as they feared tyranny by a king or dictator (and perhaps they knew from history how often tyrants come to power by appealing to mobs),  they wanted the system to be democratic but not too democratic. I am sure they must have covered all of this some time in his classes at Harvard Law School.

Of course, it is more likely that he knows more about constitutional law than I ever will and ending the balances is part of his plan to fundamentally change this country.

A Modest Proposal Concerning the Trayvon Martin Murder

I have not been following the Trayvon Martin case or the controversy which has erupted over the last week or so to any great extent. Nevertheless, I would like to make a modest proposal in the interest of preserving the public order. I think that it would be best if anyone who is not directly connected with this case or has personal knowledge of the events would keep their mouths shut and not try to stir things up.This means, please don’t assume that George Zimmerman is a hateful bigot who shot Martin for no reason. Trayvon Martin was not a little kid. He was 17 years old and about the same size as Zimmerman. Zimmerman could well have believed he was acting in self-defense. That is for the courts to decide. As it is, the media frenzy over this issue may well make it impossible for him to get a fair trial anywhere in the country.

This also means not digging up dirt on Trayvon Martin. I don’t imagine that he was perfect. No doubt he was involved in all of the follies of youth. None of this is particularly relevant. It would also be nice if race hustling scoundrels wouldn’t try to make this tragedy into some sort of metaphor for race relations in America or use this to make political points, use twitter to promote vigilantism, blame the hoodie, or any other such foolish comments. Just keep quiet if you don’t know what you are talking about.

An April Fool

Last Saturday, March 24, there was a “Reason Rally” in Washington DC. One of the featured speakers was Richard Dawkins. It might have been more appropriate to have this event today.

1 The fool says in his heart,
“There is no God.” (Psalms 14:1)

I hope any atheist reader will forgive my little joke and I’m sure they have heard some variant before. Yet, Dawkins is a fool. Consider his remarks at the rally.

But even the laughs turned into malaise as the event drew to a close. Famed atheist headliner Richard Dawkins labored through a speech that quickly grew bitter.

“Do you really believe that when a priest blesses a wafer, it turns into the body of Christ?” he said, ridiculing Catholics. “Are you seriously telling me you believe that?  Are you seriously saying that wine turns into blood?”

Hawkins challenged his fellow atheists to expose people who still cling to their faith in spite of their doubts.

“Mock them, ridicule them in public, don’t fall for the convention that we’re far to polite to talk about religion,” a frustrated Dawkins continued, “Religion is not off the table. Religion is not off limits. Religion makes specific claims about the universe, which need to be substantiated.  They should be challenged and ridiculed with contempt.”

Does he really believe that he will get people to come around to his ideas by mocking their deeply held beliefs? Does he really imagine that treating people with contempt will improve their perceptions of atheists? This is, after all, the man who coined the term “bright” to describe non believers and couldn’t understand why believers might find the term offensive. Because it implies that they are “dim” perhaps?

He wasn’t the only obnoxious person at that rally.

But as gloomy rain clouds hung low over the Washington Monument, the rally quickly degenerated into open mockery of religion and people of faith.

“F— the motherf—-, f— the mother—- pope,” sang Musician Tim Minchin as he played profane songs on the piano for a laughing and cheering crowd.

Few religions remained unscathed while cruel spokesmen of reason roundly ridiculed Mormons, Buddhists, Christians, and Muslims.

As the event continued, it became clear that the leaders of the movement were not clamoring for equality, but rather superiority.

“When it comes to religion, we’re not two sides of the same coin and you don’t get to put your unreason on the same shelf as my reason,”  HBO’s Liberal comedian Bill Maher said to the crowd via a video monitor. “Your stuff has to go over there on the shelf with Zeus and Thor and the Kracken.”

I can tell they are on the side of reason by their calm and rational discussion. Actually, they sound like intolerant bigots. I suppose if their kind ever got into power, they would start building the coliseums to feed the Christians to the lions again.

I don’t believe that the attendants at this “Rally for Reason” really represent the majority of people who happen not to believe in the Deity. Rather, this is a subset of people who relish controversy for its own sake and who enjoy offending as many of their fellows as possible, rather like the Atheist equivalent of the Westboro Baptist Church.

 

Palm Sunday

 

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.’”[a]

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[b] to the Son of David!”

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

“Hosanna[d] 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)

As Ann Coulter pointed out in her book Demonic, many of these same people were calling for Jesus to be crucified less than a week later, such is the fickleness of mobs.

 

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)