Archive for February, 2013

The Jewish Annotated New Testament

February 28, 2013

The New Testament was and is a fundamentally Jewish collection of documents. At the time when much of the New Testament was written, most observers still regarded the new religion of Christianity as a Jewish sect. Every book of the New Testament is traditionally attributed to a Jewish writer, with the exception of Luke, Paul’s Gentile companion. All of the major figures of the New Testament, Jesus, his disciples, Paul, were devout Jews, learned in the Jewish Scriptures. The entire New Testament is permeated with Jewish culture and history.

Unfortunately as the Christians and the Jews parted ways and began to have an often antagonistic relationship with each other, this Jewish element to the Christian scriptures came to be somewhat downplayed. It was never forgotten that Jesus and his disciples were Jews, but as the Christian Church became an entirely Gentile institution, the Jewish background to the Gospels were often underappreciated and misunderstood. Yet, without knowledge of this Jewish background to the New Testament, it is impossible to properly understand the context in which Jesus, Paul, and the earliest Church lived and worked. While years of archaeological and historic research have increased our knowledge of the time just before the destruction of the Second Temple, there is much more to learn about the world of the New Testament. A study of the post-Temple rabbinical writings could provide Christians with more insight of the intellectual world in which the early Christians lived and improving relations between the Christian and Jewish communities can allow us, Christians to ask the help of our Jewish brothers in seeking to understand our own scriptures.

For this reason, I was pleased and gratified to find the Jewish Annotated New Testament. I am not certain if this work is intended more to teach Jews about Christianity or Christians about Judaism, but I believe that followers of both faiths will get a lot out of it. The Jewish Annotated New Testament is, as the title implies, a translation of the New Testament with annotations of each by made by a Jewish scholar. There are brief essays located at various points in the text explaining concepts raised by the New Testament author in better detail while at the end of the New Testament there is a series of longer essays describing various matters of the historical and religious background of the New Testament. The tone of the annotations and essays is always respectful of Christian sensibilities. The editor, Amy-Jill Levine deserves a lot of credit for putting the whole thing together.

I do have a couple of minor quibbles. The scholarship leans a little more liberal than I would like. I realize that not being Christians, the writers are under no obligation to believe that the New Testament is historically accurate, and, as I have said, the tone is always respectful, yet I feel that they tend to accept too uncritically ideas about the “historical Jesus” or who the true authors of various books might really be. That is a personal quibble and someone less conservative than I am might feel this tendency is a benefit.

The second quibble is more serious and involves only the Kindle edition. Not all of the links to the notes work in the Kindle. The textual links and the links annotations at the beginning of chapters and books are especially unlikely to work. I hope that Amazon will be able to fix this problem as it does detract somewhat from the enjoyment of this book.

Emigration to Mexico

February 27, 2013

One of the more contentious issues of our time is immigration, particularly illegal immigration from Mexico. Many conservatives fear an ever growing tide of immigrants who refuse to assimilate or become productive citizens and so become reliable Democratic voters. Many liberals hope for an ever growing tide of immigrants who refuse to assimilate or become productive citizens and so become reliable Democratic voters. Yet, there are signs that this debate is starting to become somewhat anachronistic as Mexico begins to develop economically and its birthrates decline. It may well be that in the not too distant future that Mexico will become the sort of country that people want to move to rather than leave. Walter Russell Mead writes about this in a couple of posts.

Mexicans don’t want to leave their native country any more than Americans do theirs, according to a new Gallup Poll. Only 11 percent of Mexicans said they would emigrate if given the chance, down from 21 percent in 2007 and equal to the 11 percent of Americans who would do the same.

Fears that America will be overrun by a mass of poor workers from Latin America are looking more and more like yesterday’s news. Birthrates in Mexico are falling, and the economic situation continues to improve. At 5 percent, Mexico’s unemployment rate is nearly three points below ours. In 2012, its GDP grew by nearly 4 percent, and foreign investors, encouraged by the turnaround, poured $57 billion into stocks and bonds in the first nine months. Forthcoming reforms in the telecommunications and energy sectors may also help those industries to boom. The country’s economic forecasts are so promising that the Financial Times has dubbed it the “Aztec tiger.”

This is good news. As the Mexican economy improves, immigration pressures will continue to abate. Who knows? If the trends continue, maybe we’ll even see southbound migrants outnumbering northbound ones.

Another four years of Obama may well turn America into the sort of third world sewer that people risk their lives trying to escape. What of the Mexicans already in this country? Will they fail to assimilate, remain trapped in low paying jobs or government relief and so become Democratic voters forever? Maybe, but maybe not. Mead talks about some interesting changes.

There’s a lotof talk these days that the GOP has lost American Hispanics “forever.” A recent poll by Gallup suggests the picture may be a litte more complex. After the November Presidential election, some Dems hoped and Gopers fretted that the Republican Party face imminent death unless it attracted more Hispanic voters by changing it’s immigration position. But if Gallup is right, some other factors might be at work.

The poll doesn’t look all that political on its face. The survey found that 60 percent of Hispanic Protestants are very religious—measured by weekly service attendance and how important the respondents said religion was to them—compared to only 43 percent of Hispanic Catholics. In addition, the number of Hispanic Catholics has declined over time, while the number of Hispanic Protestants has stayed steady:

Overall, the finding that younger Hispanics are proportionately more Protestant and that all Hispanics are becoming proportionately more Protestant over time suggest that the percentage of Hispanics who are Catholic may continue to slip in the years to come…This will be particularly true if today’s young Hispanics maintain their proportionally higher Protestant identification.

Mead discusses the possible future of the Catholic Church in America, and the institutional changes which have made it less helpful to new immigrants, and so less likely to command their long term loyalty. I am more interested in the political implications.

But the most startling implications of the trends reported by the survey are political. Being religiously observant in any faith correlates strongly with voting Republican; this goes double for evangelical Protestantism. There are exceptions to this trend, of course. Many Black Christians who theologically and culturally fit in the evangelical tradition are reliable Democratic voters. But overall the correlation holds: evangelical Protestants who spend a lot of time in church are among the most reliably Republican voters in the country.

If a lot of Hispanics are picking up their Bibles and heading off to church, this suggests that over time the GOP share of the Hispanic vote will grow.  Over the decades, another trend will likely reinforce that one: as immigrant groups become better established in the United States, their economic interests and their issue priorities often change in ways that benefit the GOP.

Take immigration. This is a burning issue with serious personal stakes in many Hispanic households in America today. But Polish-American and Italian-American households don’t necessarily feel the same way. On the one hand, each succeeding American generation is a little farther from the homeland and the family ties are a little more attenuated; on the other, as other countries develop and their demography changes, there is less interest in the old country in coming to the new.

We will have to see what happens. I would caution anyone who is predicting the long term dominance of either political party not to be too certain. I seriously doubt that we will see again a forty year period of time in which one party is in complete, or near complete control of the government, predictions of demographic changes notwithstanding.

The Republicans really ought to do more to peel away some African-American voters from the Democrats. The fact that 90% of the Black vote Democrat these days has been an absolute disaster for them, witness Detroit.

 

ThereThey Go Again

February 27, 2013

Obama and the Democrats continue to use demagoguery and fear mongering over the upcoming budget cuts, which are not really cuts at all but minute cuts in the rate of increase. Here are the latest emails they have sent me.

David —

If Republicans in Congress don’t act by Friday to stop the so-called sequester, there will be far-reaching consequences on our economy.

These disastrous consequences are completely avoidable, and the President has a balanced plan to stop the sequester.

Share the graphic below to make sure your friends know we need to stop the sequester — the more people who spread this information, the better chance we have of convincing Republicans in Congress to avoid these harmful spending cuts:

Here is the graphic.

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First point; as I have explained before, it does not matter in the slightest how many people support what plan. Just because 70% or 19% or 99% support a stupid plan, it does not change the fact that the plan is stupid. Also, it is all too easy for pollsters to get the desired results by manipulating the wording of the questions asked. Second point: President Obama has never shown the slightest interest in cutting spending in any department. He has increased spending more than any other president and seems determined to raise taxes on the undeserving rich, no matter what the consequences to the faltering economy. Third point: Head Start has been shown to be ineffective over and over. If we cannot cut Head Start,or PBS, or cowboy poetry festivals, what can we cut? Fourth point; what can we cut, if according to the president the slightest cut in the rate of spending will have devestating results. At some point we are going to have to cut spending somewhere. Where?

Actually, if we just rolled spending back to 2005 we wouldn’t balance the budget, but at least the problem would be more managable. I do not think that the need for government programs has increased all that much in the last eight years, despite the continuing recessionary economy, and a decrease in the yearly deficit might serve to restore confidence in the economy and spur more investment.

We could also repeal Obamacare and reform entitlements such as Social Security before we are overwhelmed by an aging population. We could encourage the production of oil and natural gas on public lands and have the government benefit through taxes from the US becoming a net exporter of energy. All of this would require leadership and hard work. It is much easier just to frighten people.

David —

Prepare yourself for job layoffs, reduced access to early education, slower emergency response, slashed health care, and more people living on the street.

This Friday is the final deadline for congressional Republicans to stop disastrous automatic spending cuts (known as the “sequester”) that will hurt everyday Americans — including you.

These budget cuts will take a sledgehammer to the budget, and indiscriminately cut critical programs vital to economic growth and middle class families.

If Congress fails to act, we’d see budget cuts pretty much across the board to critical services that teachers, first responders, seniors, children, and our men and women in uniform rely on every day.

It sounds bad because it is. And with all these cuts on the line, why are congressional Republicans refusing to budge?

Because to do so, they’d have to close tax loopholes for millionaires and billionaires, oil companies, vacation homes, and private jet owners. I’m not kidding.

It’s on each of us to speak up. Share what these budget cuts could mean to you — or someone you know — today. Congress needs to hear it.

President Obama has offered a balanced plan to reduce our deficit, asking the wealthy to pay their fair share so that we can protect programs that are incredibly important for working and middle-class Americans.

But congressional Republicans so far are refusing to compromise.

Here are some of the consequences if Congress fails to act by Friday:

— 10,000 teachers would be laid off, $400 million would be cut from Head Start, the program that makes sure at-risk preschoolers are ready for kindergarten, and 70,000 kids would be kicked out of the early-education program completely.

— The budget for firemen and other first responders to react when natural disasters strike would be cut by $35 million.

— Nutrition programs that help make sure seniors don’t go hungry would be cut by $43 million.

— A program that helps provide housing for the formerly homeless, including many veterans, would be shuttered, putting them at risk of going back on the street.

— A number of programs that help the most vulnerable families and children would be slashed — including the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children dropping 600,000 women alone.

Right now, each of us has a responsibility to step up and make sure Congress hears our voices.

Whether you’d be directly affected by these sequester cuts, or whether they’d affect a senior, veteran, or teacher you know, please share what they mean to you:

Again, all of these thing are going to have to be cut anyway. We cannot keep spending a trillion dollars more

English: This is just like File:US Federal Out...

This can’t continue forever.      (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

than we have every single year. It is simply not sustainable. We can either begin the process of cutting

spending responsibly, or we can go right off the cliff. What is going to happen to all of those people who rely on the federal government when the money is simply no longer there and no one is willing or able to lend it to us? Does the person who wrote this email really believe that even if we closed every single loophole that it would even begin to offset the increased spending of the Obama administration? Well, there is no sign that

anyone in the White House knows or cares about the budget.

Meat Cleaver

February 25, 2013

According to the Democrats, the round of mandatory spending cuts required by the sequester are like a meat cleaver slashing away at needed programs.

David —

If you didn’t do your job, you’d be fired.

But when Eric Cantor and John Boehner don’t do their jobs, two million Americans get handed pink slips.

Right now, House Republicans are refusing to even vote on the sequester. If they do nothing, a meat-cleaver will chop away, almost indiscriminately, at essential domestic programs and make life even harder for millions of Americans.

We can’t let that happen.

If we go over the sequester cliff on March 1st, two million jobs could be lost — including law enforcement, first responders and teachers. Essential programs for pregnant women, children and domestic abuse victims could shut their doors. And the economy could be thrown back into a recession.

President Obama made it clear: “This is not an abstraction — people will lose their jobs.”

Join the DCCC, Democratic Governors, and proud Democrats all across the country calling out Boehner and Cantor before the sequester deadline:

http://dccc.org/Stop-The-Sequester

Thanks,

Brandon

Brandon English
DCCC Digital Director

I only wish they were using a meat cleaver to cut the budget. We badly need to take a cleaver to cut spending. As it happens, the deep sequester cuts are really only cuts in the rate of spending, not actual cuts in spending. Even so, the cuts are hardly deep at all, as Veronique de Rugy explains.

Changes in spending from sequestration result in new budget projections below the CBO’s baseline projection of spending based on current law. The federal government would spend $3.62 trillion in the first year with sequestration versus the $3.69 trillion projected by CBO. By 2021, the government would spend $5.26 trillion versus the $5.41 trillion projected. Overall, without a sequester, federal spending would increase $1.7 trillion (blue line). With a sequester, federal spending would increase by $1.6 trillion (red line).

A further breakdown of the percentage of budget programs reveals that sequestration provides relatively small reductions in spending rates across the board. With sequestration, defense increases 18% (vs. 20%); nondefense discretionary increases 12% (vs. 14%); Medicare roughly increases at the same rate; and net interest increases 136% (vs. 152%).

While the sequester projections are nominal spending increases, most budget plans count them as cuts. Referring to decreases in the rate of growth of spending as “cuts” influences public perceptions about the budget. When the public hears “cut,” it thinks that spending has been significantly reduced below current levels, not that spending has increased. Thus, calling a reduced growth rate of projected spending a “cut” leads to confusion, a growing deficit, and an ever-larger burden for future generations.

Here is the graph that went with that article.

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The so-called deep cuts that will endanger the country and put millions out of work are hardly more than a statistical error. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Obama and the Democrats are simply lying when they describe the spending cuts as indiscriminate. If anything they are not nearly deep enough. There seems to be a certain unreality in both parties of our political class. The Republicans know there is a problem and that we cannot continue to run up astronomical deficits every single year. They are so afraid of being cast as the villains who want to cut the budget to hurt the poor and provide their rich friends with tax cuts that they are afraid to make anything more than symbolic cuts in the rate of increase of spending. They are right to be wary since that is precisely what the Democrats, with their allies in the media will do, regardless of the Republican position. The Democrats, for their part, refuse to admit that there is any problem with spending that raising taxes on the 1% won’t solve. President Obama is not in the least interested in cutting spending. He seems to be more interested in redistributing the wealth of the country in ways that he considers fair than in maximizing revenue. In fact, it may not be too cynical to imagine that Obama has been deliberately increasing the deficit in order to justify the higher, fairer taxes he craves.

Since no one in Washington cares to do their job, managing the resources of the government in a responsible fashion, then I think the best bet is simply to let the sequestration cuts go ahead. There may well be people hurt by the “cuts” but we have to start cutting the budget sometime. There will be a lot more people hurt if the federal government has to start defaulting on its debts or the dollar loses its value. As far as I am concerned the blame for anyone being hurt by spending cuts lies on the people who encouraged dependency with no regard for how unsustainable this sort of spending would be in the long, or even medium term.

 

How to Teach Physics to Your Dog

February 24, 2013

Physicist Chad Orzel talks to his dog. This is not all that unusual. Many pet owners talk to their pets and dogs make particularly good listeners. What might be a little strange is that Professor Orzel talks to his German Sheppard mix Emma about quantum physics. It turns out that dogs have a good intuitive grasp of quantum physics so they are able to have long conversations on quantum physics. In How to Teach Physics to Your Dog, Chad Orzel relates these conversations in which he explains to an eager Emma the basics of quantum physics. Emma interrupts his explanations with just the sort of questions the reader might happen to have. The dog and physicist talk about such topics as the uncertainty principle, virtual particles, quantum tunneling and entanglement.

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It’s a fun idea and Chad Orzel does a terrific job explaining physics to the lay reader in the guise of talking to his dog. He seems to have a good feel for how a dog acts and thinks, and I have no trouble imagining that if a dog could talk about physics she would be just as excitable, and as easily distracted by squirrels, bunnies, and treats.

The most important chapter in this book must be the last one, Beware of Evil Squirrels. Here Professor Orzel warns the read of the misuses and outright scams involving quantum physics. There are any number of con artists and New Age frauds who make use of scientific sounding terminology to mislead their victims into believing that one can get free energy from “vacuum energy” or heal oneself of all diseases by imagining oneself to be perfectly healthy. As Orzel explains, despite the many weird and wonderful manifestations of quantum physics, it is not magic, and follows the same sort of rules as anything else in the universe, including the common sense rule that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

I found How to Teach Physics to Your Dog to be appealing and informative. I think that some of the explanations were a bit hard to follow but that is perhaps more my fault than the writer’s.

 

Moby Dick

February 23, 2013

I have been reading Herman Melville‘s classic whale tale lately. Actually I have been listening to the audio book created by Librivox. If you are not familiar with Librivox, it is a library of digital recordings of books read by volunteers. All of the books read are in the public domain and are provided for free. I have thought about volunteering myself, but I imagine that all of the good books are taken by now, and anyway, I don’t have the time.

But, getting back to Moby Dick. I am only about half way through it and I find the story to be exciting. Unfortunately, Melville interrupts the action with long discourses on various aspects of whaling. The information he provides in interesting but it is a little tedious and distracting. I noticed that Victor Hugo did the same sort of thing with Les Miserables. I wonder if that is a regular feature of nineteenth century literature.

I actually don’t think that Captain Ahab is that crazy to want to hunt down and take revenge on the white whale that chewed his leg off. I have sometimes wished that I could hunt and kill every deer in North America for the damage they have done to various cars over the years. It might seem irrational to want revenge against animals acting on instinct, but I am convinced the deer are acting with a malicious purpose. What other explanation could there be for the way they jump out in front of my car.

English: Illustration from an early edition of...

English: Illustration from an early edition of Moby-Dick (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All the same, I think I am going to have to side with the whale. Considering that Captain Ahab was trying to kill the whale, and had already killed many other whales, perhaps even Moby Dick’s companions, I would say that the whale was acting in self defense. Besides, while I do not usually get overly sentimental about animals or nature, I do not think that I would be willing to kill an animal as majestic and powerful as a whale.

By the way, Kahn in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, quotes from Moby Dick as he hunts down Kirk. They changed the locations that Khan names to sound more “science fictionish” but the last words are the same. I imagine that the intent was to present Khan as man obsessed with vengeance, just as Ahab was.

 

Let Them Die and Decrease the Surplus Population

February 21, 2013

If there is anyone today who would echo Scrooge’s callous dismissal of the poor who wanted better lives, it might be the contemporary Green movement. I have long believed that the more radical environmentalists are motivated more by misanthropy than by any abstract desire to save the planet. You really don’t have to read too much of their literature before you encounter their anti-American, anti-capitalist, anti-technological, and ultimately anti-human ideology.

Robert Zubrin knows this better than most. Last year he wrote a book titled Merchants of Despair, which tells of the excesses of the environmental movement. Yesterday, he had a column in National Review Online, rebutting an editorial in the Denver Post, written by Phillip Cafaro. Cafaro writes of the link between illegal immigration and climate change. Robert Zubrin’s answer is worth reading but I want to examine how Cafaro’s editorial shows the anti-human bias of the Greens. Here are some excerpts.

According to U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet’s website, reforming immigration policy and combatting climate change are two of his key legislative goals.

But there is no evidence that the senator sees any connection between them, despite the fact that the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has identified population growth as one of the two key drivers of global warming, and that most of the increase in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in the past two decades has occurred due to population growth, while per capita emissions have remained relatively flat.

As can readily be seen, even at present immigration rates, the U.S. is on track for huge population increases during the 21st century, from a current population of 315 million to 524 million people by 2100. It is not clear how such increases can be accommodated in an ecologically sustainable manner.

Further increasing America’s already generous immigration rates, as proposed by Sen. Bennet, could add another 145 million people to our population. That increase itself is equal to almost half our current population. It would ensure that the U.S. more than doubles its total population by 2100, to 669 million people.

And make no mistake: Immigrants are not coming to the United States to remain poor. Those hundreds of millions of new citizens will want to live as well and consume energy at the same rates as other Americans.

All this suggests some obvious questions: What climate change mitigation measures does Sen. Bennet plan to put forward that could possibly equal the increased greenhouse gas emissions we would lock in by adding 145 million more new citizens to our population?

Now, my major concerns regarding immigration are assimilation and legality. I oppose illegal immigration simply because it is illegal. I bear no particular ill will for the immigrants but they are in violation of our immigration laws. I do not think it is wise to simply not enforce these laws. If there is a need for more immigrants in this country, than the laws should be changed. I oppose any sort of amnesty simply because I feel that it would be essentially rewarding people for breaking the law.

Having said all that, I have no problem at all with legal immigrants coming here and making a better life for themselves. It is my sincere desire that they do live as well and consume energy as much as other Americans. In fact, I wish that for higher standards of living all over the world. It shouldn’t be necessary to leave your home in the hope of having a decent life.

Cafaro feels otherwise. He wants the immigrants to stay home and stay poor. It’s necessary for them to stay poor and hungry in order to save the Earth. In fact, since there are really too many people, it might be best if they were to starve.

 

We’re All Doomed

February 20, 2013

As if the recent near miss by an asteroid and the actual impact in Russia were not enough, we have even more to worry about. Asteroids may be deflected. We could conceivably colonize other planets if something were to happen to the Earth, but what could we possibly do if the whole universe is destroyed? Yet that is a terrifying possibility, if the latest theories on the higgs boson turn out to be true. The higgs boson is believed to be the reason why matter has mass in the universe, and it would seem that the higgs boson is just the right mass to make the entire universe unstable, causing it all to destroy itself. I read the story at yahoo news.

A subatomic particle discovered last year that may be the long-sought Higgs boson might doom our universe to an unfortunate end, researchers say.

The mass of the particle, which was uncovered at the world’s largest particle accelerator — the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Geneva — is a key ingredient in a calculation that portends the future of space and time.

“This calculation tells you that many tens of billions of years from now there’ll be a catastrophe,” Joseph Lykken, a theoretical physicist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Ill., said Monday (Feb. 18) here at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“It may be the universe we live in is inherently unstable, and at some point billions of years from now it’s all going to get wiped out,” added Lykken, a collaborator on one of the LHC’s experiments. [Gallery: Search for the Higgs Boson]

The Higgs boson particle is a manifestation of an energy field pervading the universe called the Higgs field, which is thought to explain why particles have mass. After searching for decades for proof that this field and particle existed, physicists at the LHC announced in July 2012 that they’d discovered a new particle whose properties strongly suggest it is the Higgs boson.

For example, the mass of the new particle is about 126 billion electron volts, or about 126 times the mass of the proton. If that particle really is the Higgs, its mass turns out to be just about what’s needed to make the universe fundamentally unstable, in a way that would cause it to end catastrophically in the far future.

That’s because the Higgs field is thought to be everywhere, so it affects the vacuum of empty space-time in the universe.

“The mass of the Higgs is related to how stable the vacuum is,” explained Christopher Hill, a theoretical physicist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. “It’s right along the critical line. That could either be a cosmic coincidence, or it could be that there’s some physics that’s causing that. That’s something new, which we didn’t know before.”

Strikingly, if the Higgs mass were just a few percent different, the universe wouldn’t be doomed, the scientists said.

Oh, tens of billions of years from now. Well, maybe I won’t worry too much about it after all.

 

Obama Ran So We Could Fly

February 20, 2013
Official photographic portrait of US President...

The Great One (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have written about the creepy Obama cult before, here, and here, and even here. I might have thought, or at least hope that the cult would have faded away by now. To some extent it has, I suppose. Progressives seem to be less enamored with the Light Worker these days and many Blacks seem to be disappointed by him. Still, the cult continues in certain quarters, notably in our public school system. I read about the latest manifestation of the cult in a Townhall.com column written by Kyle Olson.

It’s no secret government schools have put President Obama on a pedestal unlike any other national leader.

Schools have been named after him long before his retirement or death, which is rather unprecedented. Students have been led in organized chants of his honored name. There are lesson plans comparing him to Abraham Lincoln.

But sometimes school employees take the rhetoric a bit too far and wind up in propaganda territory. The latest example comes from DeKalb County, Georgia.

For Black History Month, Livsey Elementary School created a cute display with the lines:

Rosa sat…so Martin could walk.
Martin walked…so Obama could run.
Obama ran…so our children could fly.

The jingle obviously refers to Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and the display features their pictures. There’s no questions their actions forged a pathway for many black Americans to have decent lives, and for first-term Illinois Sen. Barack Obama to run for – and win – the presidency of the United States.

But Americans shouldn’t teach children that they need politicians of any stripe to be successful in life. In fact, they should know that President Obama’s is about to hand them – and successive generations – an astronomical national debt that they will have to deal with someday.

This deifying of Obama is unhealthy for our students because we’re teaching them to look to an individual – or government in general – for life solutions. If anything, today’s kids need to be reprogrammed to remember that they are the masters of their own destinies, and they themselves make the decisions that will ultimately determine the course of their lives.

Deifying any leader is bad for the country as a whole. After all, we are supposed to be a republic not a monarchy, and there is no place in the constitution for a god-king.

Of course, if we teach the children to look to themselves for the solutions to life’s problems, they’ll have no reason to vote Democrat. If, as I suspect, a large number of the students attending Livsey Elementary  School are African-American, there there is even more reason to teach them to rely on the government. We have have the Blacks leaving the plantation.

Rating the Presidents

February 18, 2013

While shopping at Goodwill yesterday, I came across a book called Presidential Leadership, published by the Wall Street Journal. This book features a collection essays assessing the historical legacy of each of the presidents from George Washington to George W Bush. The writers seem to be conservative commentators, so perhaps the collection has a rightward tilt. Still, I am sure the book will be interesting to read, although I have not had time to do more than skim through the book. Towards the end, after the essays about the presidents are essays about presidential leadership and appendices of various scholars’ attempts to rank the presidents. Since today is President’s Day, I thought I would write a little about the Presidents.

The three Presidents generally ranked the greatest are George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. George Washington probably wouldn’t be considered much of a president today. He wasn’t an activist executive and he deferred to Congress. He might be considered a do-nothing president by today’s standards. Still, there is no question that he was one of our greatest presidents. He was the first and he had to work without any clear precedents or guidelines. Abraham Lincoln was also one of the greatest. A lesser man might have given upon the Civil War and let the South go. Lincoln had a clarity of vision that eludes most politicians and was willing to sacrifice his popularity and chances of reelection to do the right thing.

I am not sure Roosevelt deserves to be considered one of the greatest presidents. His New Deal policies probably prolonged the Depression. That was not his intent and he does deserve credit for raising the nation’s morale in a difficult time, yet it has become clear that he really didn’t have any idea what he was doing. Roosevelt was an effective war time leader. In general, he picked the right men for doing the job, especially George Marshall as Army Chief of Staff. His only fault in the handling of that war was his trust of Joseph Stalin. Roosevelt seemed to be unaware that Stalin was just as vicious and evil as Hitler and believed that Stalin could be handled like any other politician. In this, Roosevelt may have been badly advised by the members of his administration who were Communists, or Communist sympathizers. To the extent that Roosevelt was unaware of the treacherous leanings of some of his staff, he deserves the blame for the concessions he made at the Yalta Conference. I also believe that Roosevelt did poorly in running for  a third and then fourth term. He reversed the long standing precedent that a president should only serve two terms. It may well have been that Roosevelt felt that no one else could do the job effectively, but the foundation of a republic rests on the concept that no one man is indispensible. In any event, by 1944 Roosevelt was in failing health and must have know he would not have live to finish another term.

The worst presidents are generally regarded to be Franklin Pierce, Andrew Johnson, Warren Harding, and James Buchanan. These seem to be fair assessments, except for Warren Harding. He did possess remarkably poor judgment in selecting his subordinates, which led to a series of scandals late in his administration, yet Harding ended Woodrow Wilson’s more egregious civil rights violations, released the anti-war protestors and Socialist that Wilson had jailed, and did his best to return the country to normalcy. I kind of suspect that Harding’s low rankings have as much to do with ending “progressive” policies as any thing else.

I think something similar could be said of Ulysses S. Grant. He also exhibited poor judgement in some of his appointments and there were a series of scandals in his administration. Grant, like Harding, tried to return the country to normalcy after the horrendous Civil War and the impeachment of Andrew Johnson. He fought for the rights of the former slaves and used military action to suppress the Ku Klux Klan. He even believed that the Indians should be treated decently.  I think that the low ranking Grant is usually given reflects the ire of Southern historians who were outraged that anyone should defend the Blacks, not to mention Grant’s key role in winning the Civil War.

John F Kennedy is almost certainly the most overrated president. For all his charisma and sympathy from the intellectual class, he didn’t actually do all that much. He does deserve some credit for his handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis, but it should be remembered that that crisis would not have arisen at all if he had handled the Bay of Pigs invasion. He ought to have either given the rebels his full support or cancelled the operation entirely. By allowing it to go ahead but withholding air support, he assured its failure and made himself look weak and foolish. Kennedy’s reputation would not have been  so favorable if he had not been assassinated. As it is, his ranking has gone steadily downward over the years.

Thomas Jefferson is another overrated president. He was an accomplished man, in many ways, but he was not a very good president. His second term was a disaster.

Richard Nixon is an unusual case. By all respects, he should have been a successful president. He got us out of Viet Nam without actually losing the war. He negotiated the SALT agreement with the Soviet Union and opened up relations with China. Nixon was the president who created the EPA and large scale Affirmative Action. Yet, Nixon is often regarded as a failure. This is, of course, because of the Watergate scandal. Watergate was, in itself, not so large a deal as has often been reported, previous presidents have done far worse. The intense and increasing partisanship in American politics caused the scandal to assume an outsized role and ultimately led to Nixon’s resignation. I wouldn’t regard Nixon as a great president, however. He was at least partly to blame for the enmity held against him.

The greatest president you have never heard of is James K. Polk. He may have been the only president to have actually fulfilled all of his campaign promises. He served only a single term but did more than most presidents have in two terms. Polk expanded the territory of the United States by provoking and winning the Mexican War while negotiating a peaceful settlement with Great Britain over the boundaries of the Oregon Territory.

Another great but forgotten president is Grover Cleveland. He was an honest and strong man who fought to keep the government honest. He favored a strong money policy over those who wanted the government to expand the money supply and create inflation, ostensibly to help the cash poor farmers of the West. He also limited government spending.

Presidential reputations change over time, sometimes due to changing ideas about what a president should be, and sometimes because new information about a president is revealed. I have already noted Kennedy’s declining reputation. It seems that the more one looks beyond the myth of Camelot, the tawdrier the whole thing appears. Dwight Eisenhower, on the other hand, has become more respected over the years. Eisenhower was a popular president, but the general feeling has been that he was a rather relaxed chief executive who didn’t do much. As more has been learned about his administration, historians have discovered that he was a very active president indeed. Eisenhower was not much concerned with getting credit for his actions and so was underestimated. Another president whose reputation has improved is Harry S. Truman. Truman is well thought of today, but he was a very unpopular president. He left the office with a job approval rating of 22%, lower that Richard Nixon’s and about the same as George W. Bush’s. Somehow, Truman’s blunt, uncompromising personality looks a lot better in hindsight, and history seems to have vindicated his policies on the Cold War. Perhaps the same will be true of Bush.

There is a lot more that I could say about the presidents. I have barely scratched the surface in rating some of the presidents and here are so many that I haven’t even mentioned. This post is starting to get overly long, however, so I think I will end it here. The presidents do make a fascinating subject and I am sure I will find more to right about.


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