Progressives Against Progress

Some of the most worthwhile things to read are not necessarily those which tell you something new so much as those which remind you of something you have forgotten or which express your own thoughts more clearly than you ever could. I had an experience like that when I came across a an article titled Progressives Against Progress, written back in 2010 by Fred Siegel in City Journal. Reading the article, I was reminded why I don’t pay too much attention to the modern day apocalyptic preachers who insist that global warming or some other environmental catastrophe is going to destroy the world. Part of the reason is that they have been shown to be wrong again and again, as Siegel points out.

Back in the early 1970s, it was overpopulation that was about to destroy the Earth. In his 1968 book The Population Bomb, Paul Ehrlich, who has been involved in all three waves, warned that “the battle to feed all of humanity is over” on our crowded planet. He predicted mass starvation and called for compulsory sterilization to curb population growth, even comparing unplanned births with cancer: “A cancer is an uncontrolled multiplication of cells; the population explosion is an uncontrolled multiplication of people.” An advocate of abortion on demand, Ehrlich wanted to ban photos of large, happy families from newspapers and magazines, and he called for new, heavy taxes on baby carriages and the like. He proposed a federal Department of Population and Environment that would regulate both procreation and the economy. But the population bomb, fear of which peaked during Richard Nixon’s presidency, never detonated. Population in much of the world actually declined in the 1970s, and the green revolution, based on biologically modified foods, produced a sharp increase in crop productivity.

In the 1980s, the prophets of doom found another theme: the imminent danger of nuclear winter, the potential end of life on Earth resulting from a Soviet-American nuclear war. Even a limited nuclear exchange, argued politicized scientists like Ehrlich and Carl Sagan, would release enough soot and dust into the atmosphere to block the sun’s warming rays, producing drastic drops in temperature. Skeptics, such as Russell Seitz, acknowledged that even with the new, smaller warheads, a nuclear exchange would have fearsome consequences, but argued effectively that the dangers were dramatically exaggerated. The nuke scare nevertheless received major backing from the liberal press. Nuclear-winter doomsayers placed their hopes, variously, in an unverifiable nuclear-weapons “freeze,” American unilateral disarmament, or assigning control of nuclear weapons to international bodies. Back in the real world, nuclear fears eventually faded with Ronald Reagan’s Cold War successes.

The third wave, which has been building for decades, is the campaign against global warming. The global-warming argument relied on the claim, effectively promoted by former vice president Al Gore, that the rapid growth of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was producing an unprecedented rise in temperatures. This rise was summarized in the now-notorious “hockey stick” graph, which supposedly showed that temperatures had been steady from roughly ad 1000 to 1900 but had sharply increased from 1900 on, thanks to industrialization. Brandishing the graph, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted that the first decade of the twenty-first century would be even warmer. As it turned out, temperatures were essentially flat, and the entire global-warming argument came under increasing scrutiny. Skeptics pointed out that temperatures had repeatedly risen and fallen since ad 1000, describing, for instance, a “little ice age” between 1500 and 1850. The global-warming panic cooled further after a series of e-mails from East Anglia University’s Climatic Research Unit, showing apparent collusion among scientists to exaggerate warming data and repress contradictory information, was leaked.

As with the previous waves, politicized science played on liberal fears of progress: for Gore and his allies at the UN, only a global command-and-control economy that kept growth in check could stave off imminent catastrophe. The anti-progress mind-set was by then familiar ground for liberals. Back in the 1970s, environmentalist E. J. Mishan had proposed dramatic solutions to the growth dilemma. He suggested banning all international air travel so that only those with the time and money could get to the choice spots—thus reintroducing, in effect, the class system. Should this prove too radical, Mishan proposed banning air travel “to a wide variety of mountain, lake and coastal resorts, and to a selection of some islands from the many scattered about the globe; and within such areas also to abolish all motorised traffic.” Echoing John Stuart Mill’s mid-nineteenth-century call for a “stationary state” without economic growth, Mishan argued that “regions may be set aside for the true nature lover who is willing to make his pilgrimage by boat and willing leisurely to explore islands, valleys, bays, woodlands, on foot or on horseback.”

The interesting thing is that these “progressives” seem to be against progress of any time and seek nothing so much as to turn the clock back to a simpler time when the lower orders knew their place.

As such proposals indicate, American liberalism has remarkably come to resemble nineteenth-century British Tory Radicalism, an aristocratic sensibility that combined strong support for centralized monarchical power with a paternalistic concern for the poor. Its enemies were the middle classes and the aesthetic ugliness it associated with an industrial economy powered by bourgeois energies. For instance, John Ruskin, a leading nineteenth-century Tory Radical and a proponent of handicrafts, declaimed against “ilth,” a negative version of wealth produced by manufacturing.

Like the Tory Radicals, today’s liberal gentry see the untamed middle classes as the true enemy. “Environmentalism offered the extraordinary opportunity to combine the qualities of virtue and selfishness,” wrote William Tucker in a groundbreaking 1977 Harper’s article on the opposition to construction of the Storm King power plant along New York’s Hudson River. Tucker described the extraordinary sight of a fleet of yachts—including one piloted by the old Stalinist singer Pete Seeger—sailing up and down the Hudson in protest. What Tucker tellingly described as the environmentalists’ “aristocratic” vision called for a stratified, terraced society in which the knowing ones would order society for the rest of us. Touring American campuses in the mid-1970s, Norman Macrae of The Economist was shocked “to hear so many supposedly left-wing young Americans who still thought they were expressing an entirely new and progressive philosophy as they mouthed the same prejudices as Trollope’s 19th century Tory squires: attacking any further expansion of industry and commerce as impossibly vulgar, because ecologically unfair to their pheasants and wild ducks.”

I have noticed that a lot of the people who call loudest for restrictions on peoples’ lifestyles and who rail against the ways in which billions of people in developing countries are lifting themselves out of poverty never quite seem to believe that they should cut back on their own excesses.

There is a lot more to the article.



The Conservative Bible Project

There have been attempts to rewrite the Bible almost since the the last books were written and the canon settled. One of the earliest such attempts was that of Marcion of Sinope who lived in the early second century AD. He believed that the Jewish God of the Old Testament was an inferior being to the God of the New Testament who was the real, universal deity. Marcion, therefore rejected the Old Testament entirely and only accepted the Gospel of Luke and ten of Paul’s letters which he edited to remove any Jewish influence. More recently, Thomas Jefferson cut out all of the portions of the Gospels which contained miracles, supernatural events, or claims that Jesus was divine. Joseph Smith not only wrote the Book of Mormon, but he “translated’ portions of the Bible to suit the needs of his new creed. The Jehovah’s Witnesses commissioned the New World Translation, which included changes in wording to support their doctrines.

These revisions were all made for religious reasons by members of various sects who believed that either the contents or the existing translations of the Bible were somehow distorted or corrupted. Jefferson was not an exception. He was a Deist and a naturalist who believed that the pure message of Jesus was corrupted by succeeding generations of clergymen. In our more secular age, we have people who seek to revise the Bible to support a particular political or philosophical agenda. Thus we see the very theologically liberal scholars of the Jesus Seminar publishing a Bible that reflects their very liberal views that the Bible most Christians read is unreliable. There is a group of homosexuals who have published the Queen James Bible, in which all of the uncomplimentary references to homosexuality have been removed. And, there is the Conservative Bible Project.

The Conservative Bible Project  is an effort to produce a new translation of the Bible which is free from any liberal bias. As the article on Conservapedia puts it,

The Conservative Bible Project is a project utilizing the “best of the public” to render God’s word into modern English without liberal translation distortions.[1] A Colbert Report interview featured this project.[2] We completed a first draft of our translation of the New Testament on April 23, 2010.

Already our translators have identified numerous pro-abortion distortions that omit or twist clear references to the unborn child.

Liberal bias has become the single biggest distortion in modern Bible translations. There are three sources of errors in conveying biblical meaning are, in increasing amount:

  • lack of precision in the original language, such as terms underdeveloped to convey new concepts introduced by Christ
  • lack of precision in modern language
  • translation bias, mainly of the liberal kind, in converting the original language to the modern one.

Experts in ancient languages are helpful in reducing the first type of error above, which is a vanishing source of error as scholarship advances understanding. English language linguists are helpful in reducing the second type of error, which also decreases due to an increasing vocabulary. But the third — and largest — source of translation error requires conservative principles to reduce and eliminate.[3]

As of 2009, there is no fully conservative translation of the Bible which satisfies the following ten guidelines:[4]

  1. Framework against Liberal Bias: providing a strong framework that enables a thought-for-thought translation without corruption by liberal bias. For example, the Living Bible translation has liberal evolutionary bias;[5] the widely used NIV translation has a pro-abortion bias.[6]
  2. Not Emasculated: avoiding unisex, “gender inclusive” language, and other feminist distortions; preserve many references to the unborn child (the NIV deletes these)
  3. Not Dumbed Down: not dumbing down the reading level, or diluting the intellectual force and logic of Christianity[7]; the NIV is written at only the 7th grade level[8]
  4. Utilize Terms which better capture original intent: using powerful new conservative terms to capture better the original intent;[9] Defective translations use the word “comrade” three times as often as “volunteer”; similarly, updating words that have a change in meaning, such as “word”, “peace”, and “miracle”.
  5. Combat Harmful Addiction: combating addiction[10] by using modern terms for it, such as “gamble” rather than “cast lots”;[11] using modern political terms, such as “register” rather than “enroll” for the census
  6. Accept the Logic of Hell: applying logic with its full force and effect, as in not denying or downplaying the very real existence of Hell or the Devil.
  7. Express Free Market Parables; explaining the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning
  8. Exclude Later-Inserted Inauthentic Passages: excluding the interpolated passages that liberals commonly put their own spin on, such as the adulteress story
  9. Credit Open-Mindedness of Disciples: crediting open-mindedness, often found in youngsters like the eyewitnesses Mark and John, the authors of two of the Gospels
  10. Prefer Conciseness over Liberal Wordiness: preferring conciseness to the liberal style of high word-to-substance ratio; avoid compound negatives and unnecessary ambiguities; prefer concise, consistent use of the word “Lord” rather than “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” or “Lord God.”

Terms like liberal and conservative are misleading enough when applied to contemporary American politics. They have absolutely no meaning at all in terms of the politics and economics of the societies in which the books of the Bible were written. Any honest translation of the Bible into a modern language seeks to convey the meaning of the words and phrases of the original languages as closely as possible to the intended meaning of the writers, without allowing contemporary issues in politics or theology to influence the translation. Allowing such issues to influence the translation is the same as rewriting the Bible. I don’t think there is very much difference between the Queen James Bible and a Conservative Bible. I also think that attempting to translate the Bible in such a way as to support a claim of divine sanction for any human made political or social system would not only be distorting the meaning of scripture but also close to blasphemy.


Civil War Levels

Senator Tom Harkin has expressed his opinion that American politics has reached the level of divisiveness not seen since just before the Civil War. Here is an account of his words at National Journal.

As the clock ticks down toward a possible government shutdown, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, isn’t holding back.

On the Senate floor before 10 a.m. Friday, the senator gave a speech describing how American politics have reached the level at which “a small group of willful men and women who have a certain ideology”—read: the tea party and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas—have been able to take over the congressional budget debate in the last week. “Since they can’t get their way,” Harkin said, “they’re going to create this confusion and discourse and hope that the public will be so mixed up in who is to blame for this, that they’ll blame both sides.”

This isn’t just congressional business as usual, Harkin said. It’s much, much more dire:

It’s dangerous. It’s very dangerous. I believe, Mr. President, we are at one of the most dangerous points in our history right now. Every bit as dangerous as the break-up of the Union before the Civil War.

This isn’t the first time the senator has spoken out about the spiraling budget and the fight over Obamacare. Harkin suggested Thursday that Cruz looked “foolish” for his “little tirade” that lasted from Tuesday afternoon until Wednesday morning. Harkin called out Cruz as being part of “the most extreme tea-party wing” of his party, and for his “ideology-driven obstructionism.”

I think that Senator Harkin should go back a read a few books about the Civil War. Until we start seeing Senators actually physically attacking one another, we are not quite that far gone.

Although fist fights in the Senate would make C-Span worth watching.


By the way, I should also say something about Senator Cruz’s reference to the Nazis.

Harkin isn’t the first to pull out a dramatic historical analogy on the Senate floor this week, either. During his 21-plus hour speech, Cruz hearkened back to Nazi Germany for a comparison to “pundits” who think Obamacare cannot be defeated:

If we go to the 1940s, Nazi Germany—look, we saw it in Britain. Neville Chamberlain told the British people: Accept the Nazis. Yes, they will dominate the continent of Europe, but that is not our problem. Let’s appease them. Why? Because it can’t be done. We cannot possibly stand against them.

In America there were voices who listened to that; I suspect the same pundits who said it couldn’t be done. If this had happened in the 1940s, we would have been listening to them. Even then they would have made television. They would have gotten beyond the carrier pigeons and letters and they would have been on TV saying: You cannot defeat the Germans.

Would it be too much to ask that we not compare any of our fellow Americans to the Nazis?


Rooting for a Shutdown

It is possible that we will be facing a government shutdown in the near future. Of course, the government won’t really be shut down. The essential functions of the federal government will continue to be funded. It will be interesting to see just what the government is doing that we won’t miss. It may even be that life will go on as normal, even with a partial government shut down.

In any case, Joshua Green at the Boston Globe is actually rooting for a government shutdown. He thinks that if may restore sanity to Washington. I doubt that anything could accomplish that aim. There are a couple of statements in his column that I have to take issue with.

Anyone paying attention to Washington this week has probably experienced a familiar sinking feeling: Congress is embroiled in another one of its periodic hostage-taking crises over a looming budget deadline that threatens to close the government, cost taxpayers billions, and possibly plunge the economy back into recession.

Hostage taking? Who is being held hostage? It seems to me that the government would run a lot more smoothly if politicians would stop referring to their colleagues who happen to oppose them as terrorists or hostage takers. When you start insulting people, it becomes very difficult to work together. Whatever happened to civility? Oh, I know. Civility only really meant, “sit down and shut up”.

What’s most maddening about these debates is that the 2012 election was supposed to have settled them. It appeared to do so in favor of the Democrats: Obama was reelected by 5 million votes and his party gained seats in the House and Senate. But most Republicans either ignore these results or believe that they no longer reflect national sentiment. “That was a year ago,” says Ohio Representative Jim Jordan, who wants to “defund” the Affordable Care Act. “I mean, c’mon!”

If the situation were reversed and we had a Republican president and the Democrats in Congress were opposing him, liberals would applaud the Democrats for standing up to the President’s evil agenda, while conservatives would be demanding the Democrats support the president because he won the election. The fact is that the Republicans are under no obligation to support the president’s agenda when if he had been re-elected in a landslide. At this moment, they are the opposition party. It is actually their job to oppose the president. In fact, the men who wrote the Constitution wanted something like gridlock. They didn’t want a majority to simply be able to roll over the minority nor did they want the government to be able to act recklessly.

Congress might start working again. The severity (and danger) of budget crises has steadily intensified as Congress has stopped working the way it is supposed to. It no longer operates as civic textbooks describe, where committees in both chambers study issues, pass bills, and then reconcile them in a formal negotiating conference. Instead, party leaders began resorting to last-minute, back-room deals. But Republicans, bitter about the deals they were getting, forced their leaders to stop. That led to the current system of negotiation-by-public-threat. A shutdown would be a bracing reminder to one party or the other (my money’s on the Republicans) of why the Gingrich approach failed so badly. When that lesson sinks in, the old, saner way of doing things will probably look much better.

The old, saner way of doing things is why we are in the mess we are in. The Democrats seem to think that they can just print more money and too many Republicans just don’t want to rock the boat. When a few Republican politicians actually begin to insist that the Republicans really try to keep their promises to balance the budget and decrease the size of government, they are labeled extremists and crazies and their leaders try to undercut them. It has come to the point that only drastic action, such as threatening to shut down the government is the only way to make the changes that we need. If everyone in both parties actually began to understand that we cannot keep going on the course we have been, then maybe all this drama will not be necessary and they can get to work.


The White Panther Party

White Panther Party
White Panther Party (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


A long time ago, while I was attending Indiana University, I happened to be wandering around the IU Main Library. I was supposed to be studying for a test, but I had better things to do. In one of the aisles, I came across a section filled with old newspapers and literature from various radical organizations from the 1950’s to the 1970’s. One group of papers that I found particularly interesting were the ones published by the White Panther Party.


The White Panther Party was founded in Ann Arbor Michigan in that tumultuous year 1968 by Lawrance Plamodon, Leni Sinclair, and John Sinclair. They were not, as you might expect from the name, a White supremacist organization. They were actually a radical leftwing group aligned with the Black Panther Party.  It is a little strange to think that a that a militant Black power organization had a White sister organization. It seems to me a little as if I learned that the Ku Klux Klan had opened a “Negro Auxillary”. They committed various crimes as part of the Revolution, got raided by the FBI, went to jail and were released, the usual round of activities of 60’s radicals. The group managed to survive into the 1980’s and relocated to California. Interestingly, in 1984 they initiated a recall election against then San Francisco mayor Dianne Feinstein because of her attempt to ban the possession of hand guns in the city.


Their newsletters were about what you might expect, rants against the Vietnam War, the capitalist system, racism, etc. There was a lot of anger expresses, but few actual solutions proposed except revolution. I suspect that many of the articles were written under the influence of various illicit substances. Here is their list of demands published in November 1968. Please excuse the language.


  1. Full endorsement and support of the Black Panther Party’s 10-point program and platform.
  2. Total assault on the culture by any means necessary, including rock and roll, dope, and fucking in the streets.
  3. Free exchange of energy and materials—we demand the end of money!
  4. Free food, clothes, housing, dope, music, bodies, medical care—everything free for every body!
  5. Free access to information media—free the technology from the greed creeps!
  6. Free time & space for all humans—dissolve all unnatural boundaries!
  7. Free all schools and all structures from corporate rule—turn the buildings over to the people at once!
  8. Free all prisoners everywhere—they are our comrades!
  9. Free all soldiers at once—no more conscripted armies!
  10. Free the people from their phony “leaders”—everyone must be a leader—freedom means free every one! All Power to the People!


There is really not much to be said about this manifesto. I do wonder where they thought all that free food, clothing, dope, bodies, and medical care was going to come from, especially if money were abolished. Farming is hard work, even in our mechanized age. I don’t imagine there would be many farmers who after spending months in their fields growing crops, would simply hand over the harvest to the first hungry hippie who came along. Who would they expect to make the clothing, tools, medicines, etc for free? Who is going to build and maintain the schools and structures? How would they expect to have anything like a modern society if everyone is a leader who does anything and everyone spends their time on drugs and fornicating in the streets?


I get the unsettling feeling that the members of the White Panther Party simply had no idea where the food on their plates or the roof over their heads actually came from. Judging from their manifesto, they seemed to believe that everything just appeared by magic and was free for the taking. The only reason anyone had to pay for anything was because of the wicked capitalists and the greed creeps. In a way, the thinking of these people was something like the famous cargo cults that appeared in the South Pacific after World War II. Those people tried to build air fields out of bamboo to attract more “cargo”. They were entirely ignorant of the principles involved in creating modern technology. In like manner, the White Panther Party fantasied about a revolution and creating a Socialist or Anarchist utopia, but simply had no idea how a modern, or premodern economy actually functioned, as well as having a woefully mistaken understanding of basic human nature.


This would all be of academic or historical interest  if the ideas of groups like the White Panther Party had died with the organizations. Unfortunately, this is not the case. There are millions of people in this country and many others whose understanding of economics and human nature is no better than the White Panther Party’s. All too many of these people happen to be in positions of influence and too many bad policies are the result. If you look at many of the policy debates going on in Washington, it seems that one or both sides really believe in the same sort of cargo cult economics that the White Panthers did. At least no one ever seems to consider that any free gifts the government gives out must ultimately be paid for by somebody, either now or in the future when the bills come due.




G is for Gravitational Constant

In the science is never settled department, the generally accepted measurement for the Gravitational Constant may be off by a little bit.

A trio of researchers working in France, along with a colleague from the U.K. has re-measured the gravitational constant using the same apparatus they built 12 years ago and have found a small change. In their paper published in Physical Review Letters, the team describes how they reconfigured their original equipment to re-measure the gravitational constant and this time came up with a slightly higher number than before.

The gravitational constant, denoted by G in math equations, has proven to be far more elusive than scientists imagined after it was first measured by Henry Cavendish approximately 200 years ago. The problem is that it’s far weaker than other forces such as . Fluctuating stronger forces acting on measurement equipment can cause changes to readings, leading to an inaccurate result. For that reason, scientists have been striving to come up with a way to definitively measure exactly how much force G exerts. In this new effort, the research team went back to the same apparatus they constructed 12 years ago—one that simultaneously measures G in two different ways. This time around, however, they reconfigured their device in ways they believed would make it more accurate—and in so doing found a slightly different result, but now, aren’t sure which of their is actually more accurate.

Modern researchers use two main types of methods to try to measure G, the first is a more advanced way to do the same thing Cavendish did two centuries ago, using lasers instead of candle light—it’s based on measuring the amount of applied to a thin ribbon set between heavy balls. The other involves applying voltage to a wire using a servo to counteract twisting due to G. In this renewed effort, the researchers ran both types of measurements in their device and averaged the results. In so doing, they discovered measurements revealed a value of 6.67545(18)x10-11 m3 kg-1 s-2, with 27PPM standard uncertainty. This value is 21PPM lower than the last time they ran the experiment (measurements by others have ranged as far as 241 ppm lower). The team is unable to explain why they found a difference, and cannot say with confidence which of their measurements is likely closer to G’s actual value.

Research into ways to better measure G will continue of course, with the hope that one day a method will be devised that will not be subject to other more powerful forces, or interpretation.

What is the Gravitational Constant? Basically the Gravitational Constant or G is a constant in the equation used to calculate the gravitational force between two objects. It would probably be best to begin with the man who discovered gravity, Sir Isaac Newton.

Before his time people just sort of floated around
Before his time people just sort of floated around

Well, he didn’t actually discover it. People had known since the beginning that there was a force which held them to the ground. Newton was the first one who realized that this was the same force that caused the planets to orbit the Sun and the Moon to orbit the Earth. On other words, Newton realized that gravitation was a universal force that caused every object in the universe to attract every other object. He also realized, with some help from the English scientist and architect Robert Hooke, that gravity diminished in strength inversely proportional to the distance between the objects. The equation that Isaac Newton developed to express the force of gravitational attraction was:

F = G \frac{m_1 m_2}{r^2}\

where F is the gravitational force between two objects, m1 and m2 are the masses of the two objects and r2 is the distance between the two objects squared. G is, of course, the Gravitational Constant. The metric unit of force is the newton. One newton is the amount of force needed to accelerate one kilogram by one meter per second per second. If the distance is measured in meters and the masses in kilograms than G is approximately 6.674 X 10-11 N(m/kg)2.

Newton was not able to measure G. As the article states, the first person to actually determine G was Henry Cavendish. Cavendish was a shy and somewhat eccentric man whose social life consisted almost entirely of attending meetings of the Royal Society. He was so shy around women that he could only communicate with his female servants by writing notes and he supposedly add a back staircase added to his house to avoid meeting them. Despite these eccentricities, Cavendish was able to make several important discoveries. He discovered the element hydrogen and helped disprove the long standing phlogiston theory in chemistry. He studied the transfer of heat and helped to develop the science of thermodynamics. He also attempted to determine the average density of the Earth so that he could estimate its mass. It was during the latter experiment that he determined the gravitational constant, thought he expressed G in terms of Earth’s density. Cavendish’s method consisted of a torsion balance made of a six foot long wooden rod on which were suspended two lead weights around 1.6 pounds. Two larger lead weights of around 350 pounds were suspended on a separate balance next to the smaller balls. With this device, Cavendish was able to measure the very small gravitational attraction between the weights.


His result was almost identical to the present measurement of G. The problem is that the force of gravity is so weak that it is very difficult to get a really accurate measurement of the gravitational constant and as a result, scientists have not been able to improve very much on Cavendish’s results. Even with more accurate equipment and more advanced technology, the best measurements often get differing results.

You may wonder how gravity could be considered a very weak force. After all, it is the force that holds us to the ground, the Earth in its orbit around the Sun, and creates black holes. The truth is that gravity is considerably weaker than the other fundamental physical forces of electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces. Think of it this way, a small magnet can hold a piece of metal against the gravitational force of the entire Earth. Gravity is 10-36times weaker than the strong nuclear force, that’s .000000000000000000000000000000000001 times weaker. By contrast, electromagnetism is only 100 times weaker that the strong force. Why gravity is so weak is one of the unanswered questions in physics, though it is a good thing for us that it is so weak. If gravity were very much stronger, the universe would have collapsed in on itself shortly after the beginning and the Big Bang would have been a big fizzle.




Nature’s Clocks

When a geologist says that a particular rock is one hundred million years old, how do you know he isn’t just picking a number out of his hat? Well, you don’t, unless you decide to study the methods by which scientists date rocks and minerals. I can’t think of a better place to start than Doug Macdougal’s Nature’s Clocks: How Scientists Measure the Age of Almost Everything. In this book, Macdougal covers the basics of the various sorts of radioactive dating that scientists use to date samples. He begins, appropriately enough at the beginning with the realization by early geologists like James Hutton that the Earth must be far older than Archbishop Usser’s 6000 years.


By studying the layers of rocks laid down and the fossils associated with each layer, geologists were able to get a good idea of the relative ages of these rocks, a layer on top of another layer is usually younger, but they had no way to measure the absolute age of these rocks or of the Earth until the discovery of radioactivity at the beginning of the twentieth century. It didn’t take long for scientists to realize that the unvarying rate of decay of a sample of a radioactive isotope into its daughter elements provided them with a clock they could use to measure the age of rocks and the Earth. All they had to do was to compare the amount of the daughter element to the amount of the mother element, and by knowing the half-life of the mother element, they could know the age of the sample.

It seems straightforward, but the process is much more complicated and took decades to develop. Scientists needed to find ways of knowing how much of the daughter elements were in the sample when it first formed. They needed to learn ways of minimizing any contamination of the sample. Macdougal describes the development of the three most common methods used for radioactive dating, radiocarbon, potassium-argon, and uranium-lead. This last was developed by Clair Patterson, who realized that the unusually high content of lead in the atmosphere that threatened to contaminate his samples was due to the use of leaded gasoline. This discovery drew attention to the health threat of such widespread usage of lead and his work ultimately led to the banning of leaded gasoline.

Macdougal moves on from the development of radioactive dating techniques to more of the more exciting recent uses, including the accurate dating of small grains of zircon to 4.1 billion years, making them the oldest material ever discovered on Earth. Macdougal explains these processes and discoveries in language that is accessible to the non-scientist, without sacrificing clarity or a basic understanding of just how they know a rock is that old. His enthusiasm for his work is contagious and makes Nature’s Clock actually fun to read. I can recommend it highly for anyone who wants to know more about radioactive dating.

Defunding Obamacare

I got a message from Organizing For Action.

David —

It’s Friday afternoon and you’re probably not watching C-SPAN, so I want to fill you in on what just went down.

House Speaker John Boehner has handed the reins over to an extreme group of Republicans who are willing to sabotage the economy over Obamacare — and they just got to push their plan through.

We’re 10 days from a government shutdown, and John Boehner just brought us closer to the brink.

This is heading for a showdown — now is the time to add your name to the Americans who are saying, “Enough already.”

We can see that this group in the House is so intent on playing games over Obamacare — today’s vote was their 42nd attacking it — that they’re willing to shut down the government over it.

Maybe John Boehner thinks the American people will just chalk this all up to “how Washington works,” but from what I can tell, we’re smarter than that. At a press conference right after the vote, Speaker Boehner said, “We had a victory today for the American people, and frankly, we also had a victory for common sense.”

Really? It’s not common sense to take away affordable health care from millions of Americans — and it’s definitely not common sense to risk a government shutdown over it.

Congress has until September 30th to work together to pass a budget — and instead of being a leader who finds common ground, John Boehner has put the people with the crazy plan in charge.

He’s basically daring you to fight back.

Add your name to tell Speaker Boehner that we can — and will — hold Congress accountable:

Thanks — more on this soon.


Lindsay Siler
National Director of Issue Campaigns
Organizing for Action

Considering how unpopular Obamacare still remains, I am not sure the people who want to defund it are exactly the extremists. It seems to me that Obama is the one who put the people with the crazy plan in charge. I think there are a lot of people who wouldn’t mind shutting down the government to stop Obamacare.

All the same, I am not sure if the attempt to defund Obamacare is the best way to go about things. The problem is that the Democrats still control the Senate and any bill that passes the House of Representatives which repeals Obamacare will not even be considered in the Senate and certainly will not be signed By the President. It may be the best strategy for the Republicans might be to attempt to change or reform the bill in such a way as to remove the more odious features of the bill. On the other hand, perhaps they should let it go forward. It is only going to get more unpopular as people get to know it better.

It is dangerous, though, to shut down the government. People might learn how useless the government really is.



Jihad Against the Ahmadis

Some news of the Religion of Peace and Tolerance courtesy of Jihad Watch. A conference held in Lahore, Pakistan called for a boycott against the Ahmadi population of the city with the goal of ridding the city of such contemptible infidels. Here is the story in the International Herald Tribune.

LAHORE: Speakers at an anti-Ahmadi conference on Saturday vowed to expel all members of the Ahmadi community from the city.

The Radd-i-Qadianiyat Conference was held at Jamia Naeemia. The participants were told they had a duty to wage a holy war against Ahmadis. The audience which included a large number of students of the Jamia, vowed to wage ‘jihad’ against Ahmadis through their writings, speech, charity funds and corporal strength.

Maulana Ghulam Hussain Kiani, one of the speakers, said they would force Ahmadis to leave the city. “Their presence has polluted the city… their so-called places of worship are in fact centres of conspiracies against Muslims,” he said.

Kiani said that he had the ‘honour’ of ensuring the removal of Kalma Tayyeba from Darul Zikr, an Ahmadi worship place, at Garhi Shahu.

Advocate Badiuz Zaman, another speaker, told the participants not to befriend any Ahmadis. “Sharing utensils with Ahmadis is sinful,” he said, “Being friends with them is worse… the Holy Prophet (pbuh) disapproved of that.”

Zaman asked the participants to promise that they would do everything in their power to oppose Ahmadis in every way.

Stage Secretary Maulvi Muhammad Asghar urged the participants to take practical measures against the ‘blasphemers’. “How can you eat your meals in peace while there are Ahmadis living peacefully in your city?” he said. Asghar accused former Supreme Court Bar Association president Asma Jehangir of committing blasphemy, “That must be stopped at all cost,” he said.

Asghar also told the participants to stop consuming foods and beverages produced by Shezan. “They are made by Ahmadis. Buying these helps their movement against Muslims,” he said.

“There are 1,200 Ahmadis currently fighting for the Israel Defence Forces,” Asghar said, “They torture innocent Muslim Palestinians… Muslims shouldn’t even shake hands with Ahmadis.”

Sahibzada Syed Ibrarul Hasan Shah was also critical of the Ahle Hadith.

He said, “I don’t know why they think they are the ‘thekedars’ (guardians) of Khatam-i-Nabuwat … they don’t even have the proper respect for the Holy Prophet (pbuh).”

The head of Jamia Naeemia said that according to the law, Ahmadis could not call themselves Muslims or preach their faith. They could also not call their places of worship mosques, but did.

The state should take action against them for violating the law, he said. “All schools of Islamic thought agree that Ahmadis are not Muslims,” he said.

Several people recited poems insulting Ahmadis and their religious leaders.

Mufti Haseeb Qadri, another speaker, regretted the language and criticised the conference organisers. “There should be some difference between the language used in the streets and a conference in a religious seminary,” he said, “The speakers should not have used indecent language. They should have focused on the subject.”

Munawar Ali Shahid, a member of the Ahmadiya community told The Express Tribune that the Anti-Ahmadi campaign was making their lives difficult.

He said the community in Lahore feared for their lives. “Many Ahmadi businessmen have left the city… instead of curbing such hateful speech the government provides these people security,” Shahid said.

How terrible that some people are allowed to live in peace. They should be driven out, along with the Jews, Christians and other infidels.  Then, everyone will know that Islam stands for the peaceful coexistence of diverse groups and anyone who says otherwise is an intolerant islamophobe.

The Ahmadis, in case you were curious, are a reformist sect of Islam that was founded in British India by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad towards the end of the nineteenth century. The Ahmadis share most of the beliefs of orthodox Sunni Islam. They agree that Mohammed was the final prophet and accept the authority of the Koran and Hadiths. There are some differences, however, and these differences have resulted in savage persecution by more mainstream Muslims. While the Ahmadis do not believe that Ahmad was a prophet, they do consider him to be the Messiah. Unlike orthodox Muslims who believe that Allah took Jesus to Heaven and substituted another person in the crucifixion, the Ahmadis believe that Jesus died a natural death in the Kashmir and that Ahmad fulfills the prophecies that Christians attribute to the Second Coming. They tend to reject jihad and emphasize the peaceful spread of Islam and look forward to the day when all humankind is united in peace under the banner of Islam. They also reject the doctrine of abrogation, in which conflicting verses of the Koran indicate that Allah has abrogated the earlier verse in favor of a new revelation. Ahmadis hold that all the verses of the Koran are equally valid and that any contradiction must be resolved according to the appropriate circumstances.

These differences appear minor to the outsider, but somehow it is the minor heresies that inspire the most hatred. The more orthodox Muslims of India and Pakistan view the Ahmadis as heretics and apostates and assign the same status to them as kafir or infidels. As the article above shows, they are definitely not considered to be Muslims. Their insistence that they are indeed Muslims, and closer to the primitive doctrine than mainstream Islam only makes the prejudice of the Muslims against them even worse than any bigotry against Christians or Jews. This hatred is so great that the only Pakistani to receive a Nobel Prize, Abdus Salam, was largely ignored by the Pakistani government because he was of that sect. The description “Muslim” was ordered to be erased from his tombstone by the courts.

I guess as long as these people are planning jihad against such despicable infidel and heretics, they don’t have to worry about Pakistan’s real problems, such as a collapsing economy or a corrupt government.


Redrawn Map

I have been having fun with the e-mails that I have been receiving from the Democrats for quite a long time now, but fairness demands that I also have some fun with the e-mails that conservative groups send me, at least when they descend into silliness or apocalyptic paranoia. Such is the case with this one I got from

Dear Reader,

The America you know and love could look completely different in a matter of weeks.

Under a plan circulating the D.C. corridor right now, up to 16 states are at risk to be terminated due to epic fiscal mismanagement.

These states would simply be wiped from existence and merged into their neighbors.

We’ve even seen the redrawn map of the U.S. and it’s nothing less than terrifying.

California may be forced to become a part of Mexico without any state strong enough to absorb it!

Last week Treasury Secretary Jack Lew even took the time to urge congressional leaders to take action before events unfold that could lead to this national tragedy.

But it may already be too late.

To see the redrawn map of the U.S. and learn if your state is targeted for potential termination, it’s essential that you watch this short video we’ve produced.

It could be the slight head start that saves your entire future.

View it here, for free, right now.

This is an advertisement for Wall Street Daily, some sort of financial newsletter that seems to cater to survivalists and doomsday preppers. The link leads to a video of a fake news report of the federal government defaulting on its debts. I didn’t have the patience to watch it all the way through so I haven’t seen the redrawn map. I think Indiana would be relatively safe since our fiscal situation is strong thanks to former governor Mitch Daniels. I hope they don’t add Kentucky or Illinois to our state. I don’t want them. I also have no objections at all to giving California back to Mexico. The nuts and the crazies have long since taken control of that state and run it into the ground. Let the Mexicans straighten them out.


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