Archive for February, 2013

A Freed Slave

February 17, 2013

Slavery in America was abolished with the ratification of the thirteenth amendment to the constitution in 1865. Although discrimination against Blacks continued, especially in the former Confederate states of the South, a great evil was finally ended. Since slavery was ended 148 years ago, you wouldn’t expect to find any former slaves still living, but you would be wrong. Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee has affirmed, in a recent speech on the House floor, that she is a freed slave.

She certainly doesn’t look like she’s at least 150 years old. I wonder what her secret to preserving her youth is. Perhaps Ponce de Leon was looking for the fountain of youth in the wrong state.

Image of Sheila Jackson-Lee

Amazing! She doesn’t look a day over 50 (credit: Wikipedia)

Looking over her Wikipedia article, I see that this isn’t the first stupid thing she has said.

In July 2010 Jackson Lee said: “Today, we have two Vietnams, side by side, North and South, exchanging and working. We may not agree with all that North Vietnam is doing, but they are living in peace. I would look for a better human rights record for North Vietnam, but they are living side by side.”[27] It was noted that Vietnam had not been split for four decades.

The Hill reported in 1997 that Jackson Lee had asked NASA officials whether the Mars Pathfinder photographed the U.S. flag that Neil Armstrong had planted on Mars. When this incident was reported, her chief of staff wrote a letter to the editor suggesting that she was targeted because she was black.

In February 2013, Jackson Lee called herself a “freed slave” while talking on the House floor.

Sheila Jackson Lee serves on the Committee of Homeland Security and the Committee on the Judiciary. Lord help us.

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An Unexpected Journey

February 16, 2013
Ian Holm as Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson's T...

Ian Holm as Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We went to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey a couple of days ago. I liked the movie better than I thought I would. The special effects were excellent and the lush New Zealand scenery provided the perfect background for Middle Earth. It was nice to see Ian McKellen, Ian Holm and Christopher Lee reprise their roles as Gandalf, the old Bilbo, and Saruman. Martin Freeman was a perfect fit as the younger Bilbo. Seeing the riddle game between Bilbo and Gollum was, by itself, worth the price of admission.

However, I have the same complaint about Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit as I did about his Lord of the Rings, namely Jackson’s propensity to introduce personality conflicts into the story. In An Unexpected Journey, he has Thorin unwilling to seek help from Elrond at Rivendell because of his hatred and distrust of the elves. Gandalf has to trick him into going there. These additional conflicts do not really improve the story and they often lead the characters into acting in ways contrary to their personality as established in the book or movie, or in ways that are just stupid.

One example can be found in The Return of the King. Denethor decides that the Rohirrim are not coming to aid Gondor and refuses to light the signal fires. Gandalf has Pippin light the fires instead. Now Gondor was about to be invaded by the armies of Mordor. Wouldn’t the Steward of Gondor do everything in his power to get as much help as possible? There are other examples but you get the idea.

It was a nice movie to watch, but I have to say that these additions made the experience somewhat irritating.

The World Turned Upside Down

February 14, 2013

I have for some time suspected that the whole world is going mad, and every day I seem to find new evidence to back this contention. While driving today, around noon I turned my my car radio and listened to the first part of Rush Limbaugh‘s show. I like Rush well enough, but I don’t usually spend much time listening to him. This time, though, it was worth it. It seems that the top two stories on CNN the past day are whether Senator Marco Rubio has ruined his political career by taking a drink of water during his response to the President’s State of the Union address, and whether mass murderer Christopher Dorner is a hero. I wish I were making that up.

Here are some selections from the transcript of Rush Limbaugh’s show.

RUSH: Let’s do a little A-B, side-by-side comparison.  On the one hand, Marco Rubio may not be qualified, not only to be president, but to be US Senator.  He took a sip of water from an average looking bottle while delivering the answer to the State of the Union address on Tuesday night.

Meantime, elsewhere on that network, you’ve had panel discussions celebrating the relevance and the great contributions to fighting police brutality of a mass murderer, Christopher Dorner, on the very same network.  CNN had a panel all excited, and I’ve even got some additional tweets.  Listen to this, Marc Lamont Hill.  This guy’s a professor a Columbia University.  He was on CNN’s Newsroom yesterday afternoon with the anchorette infobabe Brooke Baldwin, and the infobabe said, “Do these Dorner sympathizers have a point?”  Now, keep in mind later on CNN, Wolf Blitzer was gonna ask whether or not a drink of water could ruin somebody’s career, whether they liked it or not, whether Rubio liked it or not.  But prior to that, this happened on CNN.

HILL:  This has been an important public conversation that we’ve had about police brutality, about police corruption, about state violence.  As far as Dorner himself goes, he’s been like a real-life superhero to many people.  Now, don’t get me wrong:  What he did was awful, killing innocent people.  He’s just bad.  But when you read his manifesto, when you read the message that he left, he wasn’t entirely crazy.  He had a plan and a mission here.  And many people aren’t rooting for him to kill innocent people.  They’re rooting for somebody who was wronged to get a kind of revenge against the system.  It’s like almost watching Django Unchained in real life.  It’s kind of exciting.

RUSH:  First day, I warned you they’re comparing this guy to Django, and here is a heralded, highly acclaimed professor — I don’t know what he teaches.  Doesn’t matter.  He could be teaching a course on ballroom dance and I guarantee you it’s politics.  Revenge, vengeance, grievance politics, whatever.  “It’s almost like watching Django Unchained in real life. It’s kind of exciting.”  So it’s not just the kooks on Twitter and Facebook, it’s now the liberals on CNN who are attaching legitimacy and value to Christopher Dorner.

Now remember that this is not just some nut tweeting. This is a guest on a show on CNN. It is simply unbelievable that a news organization with any pretense of responsible journalism (I know.) would have someone on who is essentially cheerleading a murderer. Of course since Dorner’s manifesto apparently repeated a standard list of leftist memes, perhaps it is only natural that people on the left might try to make him into some sort of folk hero. This celebration of a lunatic killer illustrates the moral incoherence of many people on the left. Here, by the way, is an excellent column on this subject by Dennis Prager.

It may very well be that Christopher Dorner had legitimate complaints about the actions of the LAPD. So what? That doesn’t make him any sort of hero. His ends do not justify his means.

Perhaps this is why so many people on the left feel that gun control is such an urgent necessity and why they accused the TEA Party of being violent and dangerous. These people seem to have a deep psychological need to glorify, and even fantasize about violence and so maybe cannot conceive of citizens peaceably assembling to petition for redress of grievances. They imagine that everyone is as unstable as they are and since they cannot be trusted to own guns, or really any sharp objects, and so believe that no one can be trusted.

Maybe I am wrong about this. If so, prove me wrong and stop cheering on criminals and mass murdering dictators.

 

Valentine’s Day

February 14, 2013
English: Saint Valentine kneeling

Valentine?

Today is Valentine’s Day, or St. Valentine‘s Day. Who was Valentine and why does he get a day named after him? The truth is, nobody really knows.Valentine or Valentinus was the name of an early Christian saint and martyr. The trouble is that nothing is known of him except his name. He may have been a Roman priest who was martyred in 269. There was a Valentine who was bishop of Terni who may have been the same man. St. Valentine was dropped from the Roman calendar of Saints in 1969 because of these uncertainties but local churches may still celebrate his day.

It is also not certain how Valentine’s day became associated with love. Some have speculated that the holiday was a Christian substitute for the Roman festival of Lupercalia. However, there is no hint of any association of Valentine’s Day with romance until the time of Chauncer. The holiday seems to have really taken off with the invention of greeting cards.

. Valentine postcard, circa 1900–1910

Jurassic Survival Guide

February 13, 2013

Have you ever wanted to get away from it all? Get away from civilization and all of its stresses and live a more natural life, perhaps on some remote island, untouched by modern society? Unfortunately, such places are rare and getting rare, as the march of technology makes the world ever smaller and more connected. It might seem that truly getting away from it all has become an impossible dream.

What about a trip to the distant past? Way back before the rise of man. In fact, how about a trip all the way back to the age of the dinosaurs. Perhaps the Jurassic period, some 150 million years ago would be just the thing. Of course, you might object that the plants and animals might be very different then. How would anyone know what was safe to eat and how to avoid the more dangerous predators? Well, fear no longer. Dinosaur expert, Dougal Dixon has prepared a survival guide for use for anyone who wants to travel into the Jurassic period. By reading A Survival Guide: Living with Dinosaurs in the Jurassic Period, you will become acquainted with the latest research on the plants and animals of the Jurassic period and learn which ones may51oL4dRP3dL._AA160_ be of use and which ones best avoided Dixon gives advice on finding the perfect place to locate your prehistoric getaway and how to best make use of the natural resources of the period.

 

It’s kind of a quirky idea, but honestly, I cannot think of a better way to learn about the dinosaurs of the Jurassic period. A Survival Guide is a lot more fun to read than a book on prehistoric life written in a more regular format. I have to confess that the first chapters, in which Dougal Dixon gives a rather exhaustive survey of the geography of the Jurassic period, are a little slow going, but once he gets into the descriptions of the life forms, the book’s pace picks up.

There is one curious omission, though. I find it hard to imagine that human beings could survive in a world with creatures as large as the Apatosaurus or the Allosaurus without firearms, of maybe even something heavier. Yet, Dixon nowhere mentions guns. I don’t think I would care to have to fight off one of the great theropods armed with nothing more than a spear or an axe and I am not at all sure that a fence of sharpened sticks would be sufficient to ward off migrating sauropods. At the very least, I think it might be useful to learn where their weak spots might be and whether the armor of an ankylosaur is bulletproof.

A Survival Guide by Dougal Dixon is a fun and informative book to read, whether you are a dinosaur novice wanting to learn more, or an expert.

Superman Writer Blacklisted

February 12, 2013

DC Comics has recently hired science fiction writer Orson Scott Card to write stories for their Superman comic. Considering that he is a Hugo and Nebula award winning author, this might seem to be quite a coup for DC Comics, except for one minor detail. Orson Scott Card has had the audacity to express politically incorrect opinions. Naturally, the enlightened, tolerant Left is trying to get him fired. Here is the story as related by The Guardian.

fans are up in arms at the decision of the publisher to appoint a noted anti-gay writer to pen the Man of Steel’s latest adventures.

Comic giant DC has commissioned Orson Scott Card, author of the award-winning and best-selling Ender’s Game sci-fi series, to write for DC’s Adventures of Superman series. The digital comic is set to be published in April.

The news has sparked a furious backlash from Card’s critics. Card is a long-time critic of homosexuality and has called gay marriage “the end of democracy in America”. In 2009 he became a board member of the National Organization for Marriage, a group that campaigns against same-sex marriage.

“Superman stands for truth, justice and the American way. Orson Scott Card does not stand for any idea of truth, justice or the American way that I can subscribe to,” said Jono Jarrett of Geeks Out, a gay fan group. “It’s a deeply disappointing and frankly weird choice.”

A film of Ender’s Game, co-produced by Card and starring Harrison Ford, is set to be released in November. Jarrett speculated DC was hoping pre-publicity for the movie would drive sales for the comic.

“I feel like they were hoping that no one will notice. It’s a free country, and what’s important is what we do here. This is a man who wants to take away my civil rights, and I will not be giving him my money,” said Jarrett.

Actor Michael Hartney, who describes himself as “as big a Superman fan as you’ll ever meet”, has written to DC voicing his concerns about Card.

“If this was a Holocaust denier or a white supremacist, there would be no question. Hiring that writer would be an embarrassment to your company. Well, Card is an embarrassment to your company, DC,” he wrote in a letter also published on Tumblr.

“And of all the characters Card could have been hired to write, you give him Superman? The character that taught me to lead by example? To do the right thing, even when it was hard? To keep going, even when it seemed hopeless? What an insult. Kids are killing themselves. They are killing themselves in a climate of intolerance and homophobia publicly fostered by people like Orson Scott Card. You don’t have to contribute to this. You shouldn’t. You mustn’t,” he wrote.

Do you see what is going on here? Card’s opinion on the issue of same-sex marriage has been declared ( by who?) to be beyond the limits of acceptability and therefore he is to be shunned, denied employment, if possible. Being against a radical redefinition of marriage and in support of traditional, Biblical values is now the equivalent of being a white supremacist or Holocaust denier.

One of the reasons that I have been against same-sex marriage is precisely because of this sort of behavior on the part of the activists. If it were simply a matter of everyone doing their own thing and live and let live, I might be indifferent on the matter. But, it is not, and perhaps never has been, a matter of live and let live. It is instead a matter of enforcing a certain viewpoint and limiting any debate.

I have never heard or read any logical or coherent arguments on why a radical redefinition of marriage is necessary or desirable. Instead, all I have heard is word games (marriage equality) and name calling (bigot! hater! homophobe!). What civil rights is Jono Jarett being denied exactly? He has the right to marry any one of the opposite sex he may want to, just the same as the rest of us. He has the right to indulge, in private, any sexual deviancy he wishes. What he, and others, do not have a right to is demand that a millenia old institution be changed to suit his desires. He, and others, do not have the right to demand that we fully appreciate and support any life style he wishes to indulge in. He does not have the right to demand that people act against their sincere religious beliefs, as they are with Orson Scott Card.

As for the intolerance, it seems to me that it is entirely on the side of the homosexual activists, as the President of Chick-fil-A and Carrie Prejean can attest. It is these people on the left who are the intolerant, hate filled bullies, and I don’t like bullies.

Pope Benedict XVI to Resign

February 11, 2013

English: Pope Benedict XVI during general audition

I was a little surprised to learn that the Pope is planning to resign at the end of the month. Here are some details from the Wall Street Journal.

VATICAN CITY— Pope Benedict XVI said Monday he planned to step down at the end of this month because of his deteriorating physical strength, a move that hasn’t happened in the Roman Catholic Church in centuries and that is likely to pave the way for a new pontiff by Easter.

In a speech in Latin to cardinals, the 85-year-old German pontiff, who has been in office since April 2005, said that leading the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics was a job that required strength of both mind and body. But the pope said his strength had “deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”

A papal spokesman added during a briefing with reporters that Pope Benedict had been thinking about the move for some time, saying it wasn’t due to an illness. Father Lombardi, the spokesman, said the pope would retire to a life of prayer and writing. He also said the pontiff had “no fear” of any potential schism in the church as a consequence of the pope’s resignation.

The resignation, which the Vatican said would take place as of 8 p.m. on Feb. 28, will give way to a conclave, a gathering of cardinals who will elect the new pope. Normally, after a pope dies, there is a nine-day mourning period before the selection his successor. This time, the process can begin right away, said Greg Burke, the Vatican’s media adviser. “This means we’ll have a new pope by Easter,” he added. The holiday falls on March 31 this year.

That’s too bad, though I thought he was too old for the job when he was first selected to be pope. Even though I am no longer Catholic, I always rather like Benedict XVI aka Joseph Ratzinger, if only because the liberals and the secularists hated him.  I hope the next pope is a younger, more dynamic man who is up to defending the faith in an increasingly hostile world.

I didn’t know that a pope was allowed to resign and it certainly isn’t common. The last pope to resign was Gregory XII, in order to end the Great Schism in which two or more men claimed to be the legitimate pope. From 1378 until 1414, there were rival popes at Rome and Avignon, with eventually a third pope at Pisa. All of Europe was divided between allegiance to one or the other pope until the issue was finally resolved by the Council of Constance, after which all of the popes were made to resign in favor of a new pope, Martin V who became pope in 1417.

That was a completely different situation, of course, and I don’t imagine there will be any trouble of that sort today. In fact, I would imagine that by resigning, Benedict will have more influence in the selection of his successor than he otherwise might have had.

The Washington Post and the Carbon Tax

February 10, 2013

The Washington Post has published an opinion piece in favor of wrecking the economy. Well, not really of course, but they do want President Obama to address climate change by putting into place a slowly rising carbon tax.

PRESIDENT OBAMA will deliver his 2013 State of the Union address on Tuesday, and expectations are high that he will devote significant time to climate change. We hope that he adopts a different approach to explaining the need for action than he did in much of his first term.

In past addresses, talking about green jobs didn’t work, nor did talking about energy independence. The credible way to justify fighting climate change is to discuss the science, the real reason to cut carbon emissions. There is overwhelming evidence that the planet is warming. The widespread burning of fossil fuels, meanwhile, pumps heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every second. There is still uncertainty about exactly how sensitive the climate system is to a given increase in carbon dioxide concentrations — but not enough uncertainty to justify ignoring the risks of rising temperatures.

Well, the evidence that the planet is warming may not be so overwhelming as they contend. I would say that there is not enough certainty to justify levying a tax that would permanently slow down the economy and put the US at a competitive disadvantage with China and India.

Here is their proposal.

Putting a slowly rising, significant price on carbon emissions would encourage people to burn less fossil fuel without micromanaging by Congress or the Energy Department. This approach would enlist market forces to green the energy sector. It would also allow for similar policies in other nations to connect with America’s, creating a bigger, global market for carbon.

Anything like carbon pricing must get lawmakers’ approval, though, which is the first reason Mr. Obama should make reaching out to them on climate policy a priority. True, a coalition of anti-regulation Republicans and coal-state Democrats killed the last major effort to price emissions, a 2010 cap-and-trade bill. But, in the big budget reform politicians have been promising, they will need new revenue from somewhere. A carbon tax would be an ideal source.

Even second- and third-best alternatives would need Congress’s say-so. These include establishing a national clean energy standard requiring that a defined and rising amount of electricity come from sources cleaner than coal, the top climate villain. Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the Energy Committee’s lead Republican and a voice of reason within her party, just released a 121-page plan with other ideas that could serve as a basis for some congressional action, such as paying for energy technology research, reforming subsidies for green power, advancing hydropower and promoting energy efficiency.

Since almost every industrial process emits some carbon dioxide, especially in energy and transportation, a tax on carbon dioxide emissions would be a tax on just about every industry and business in America. These costs will be passed on to consumers and the cost of living will increase. It is true that a new tax would be a bonanza of the federal government, at least until they squander the increased revenues on subsidies for green power.

It’s nice that they refer to coal as the top climate villain. How an inanimate substance could be a villain is not clear to me, but at this time, coal is also our cheapest source of energy and the one that is most abundant in North America. Requiring that a defined and rising amount of energy come from cleaner than coal would raise the cost of energy over time and again raise the cost of living. I begin to think that the editors of the Washington Post don’t like the poor and middle class very much, or perhaps they love the poor so much, they want to make more people poor.

And, they finish with a threat.

The president should also remind Congress that, without ambitious action from lawmakers, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can and will act on its own. The EPA has already established or is in the process of establishing a range of new air pollution rules. These rules will ensure than no new conventional coal plants are built in the United States, and they will force the closure of some particularly awful, ancient coal-fired facilities. More regulations are likely in store in Mr. Obama’s second term. The EPA, for example, has not yet set rules regulating the carbon emissions of major, existing sources of greenhouse gases. Using the EPA’s top-down approach, though, is not the best way to reduce carbon emissions. Mr. Obama should invite Congress to work with him on a better alternative.

So, do what the president wants, or he’ll have the EPA do it anyway. Why bother with a Congress at all, if that is the way we are going to do things? It seems to me that this is the best argument ever for reining in, or even abolishing the EPA. They have clearly become a rogue agency, seeing themselves as above the law and even common sense. Maybe, Congress should abolish the agency and replace it with something more responsible.

The Asteroid that Killed the Dinosaurs

February 9, 2013

The hypothesis that an asteroid collision was the cause of the extinction of the dinosaurs has been around for several decades now, but recent research has provided new support for the theory.

The idea that a cosmic impact ended the age of dinosaurs in what is now Mexico now has fresh new support, researchers say.

The most recent and most familiar mass extinction is the one that finished the reign of the dinosaurs — the end-Cretaceous or Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event, often known as K-T. The only survivors among the dinosaurs are the birds.

Currently, the main suspect behind this catastrophe is a cosmic impact from an asteroid or comet, an idea first proposed by physicist Luis Alvarez and his son geologist Walter Alvarez. Scientists later found that signs of this collision seemed evident near the town of Chicxulub (CHEEK-sheh-loob) in Mexico in the form of a gargantuan crater more than 110 miles (180 kilometers) wide. The explosion, likely caused by an object about 6 miles (10 km) across, would have released as much energy as 100 trillion tons of TNT, more than a billion times more than the atom bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

New findings using high-precision radiometric dating analysis of debris kicked up by the impact now suggest the K-T event and the Chicxulub collision happened no more than 33,000 years apart. In radiometric dating, scientists estimate the ages of samples based on the relative proportions of specific radioactive materials within them. [Wipe Out: History’s Most Mysterious Mass Extinctions]

“We’ve shown the impact and the mass extinction coincided as much as one can possibly demonstrate with existing dating techniques,” researcher Paul Renne, a geochronologist and director of the Berkeley Geochronology Center in California, told LiveScience.

“It’s gratifying to see these results, for those of us who’ve been arguing a long time that there was an impact at the time of this mass extinction,” geologist Walter Alvarez at the University of California at Berkeley, who did not participate in this study, told LiveScience. “This research is just a tour de force, a demonstration of really skillful geochronology to resolve time that well.”

The fact the impact and mass extinction may have been virtually simultaneous in time supports the idea that the cosmic impact dealt the age of dinosaurs its deathblow.

“The impact was clearly the final straw that pushed Earth past the tipping point,” Renne said. “We have shown that these events are synchronous to within a gnat’s eyebrow, and therefore, the impact clearly played a major role in extinctions, but it probably wasn’t just the impact.”

The new extinction date is precise to within 11,000 years.

“When I got started in the field, the error bars on these events were plus or minus a million years,” added paleontologist William Clemens at the University of California at Berkeley, who did not participate in this research. “It’s an exciting time right now, a lot of which we can attribute to the work that Paul and his colleagues are doing in refining the precision of the time scale with which we work.”

I can’t help wondering if there is any chance that some species of dinosaur might have been intelligence, perhaps even civilized. No fossils suggesting such a possibility have ever been uncovered, but given the haphazard way in which fossils are made and preserved, it is doubtful that that we know of even 1% of all the organisms that existed at any given time. If an asteroid were to kill us off, I wonder if any remains of our civilization would be recognizable after 65 million years. Considering that it seems that quite a few asteroids have passed, and will be passing extremely close by, maybe a far future paleontologist will be wondering what happened to the mammals.

By the way, I have been reading The Peshawar Lancers by S. M. Stirling. The book takes place in an alternate history in which an asteroid or comet struck the Earth in 1878, destroying civilization in the Northern hemisphere. One hundred fifty years later, the descendants of the survivors are finally reaching the levels of technology we had around 1920.

 

Assignment

February 9, 2013

Well, I’ve gotten my first assignment from Organizing for Action. I am supposed to forward this e-mail.

David —

President Obama has asked Congress to pass legislation to help protect our kids and reduce gun violence — and we need to do everything we can to help. Forward this email — and spread the word today:

Tell Congress it's time to act to reduce gun violence.

The first thought that crossed my mind when I saw this was the old classic advice from everyone’s mother; if 92 of all Americans decided to jump off a bridge, would you jump too?

Without commenting on the advisability of universal background checks, I would say that it does not matter to me in the slightest whether 10% or 99% of the population supports any given policy. If it is unconstitutional, it is still unconstitutional, no matter how many people are for or against it. If it is a dumb idea, it is still a dumb idea no matter how many people support it. If Obama’s people want to convince me that something they want is desirable, then they are going to have to give me good and logical reasons to support it, not just tell me to support x because everyone else wants it.


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