Archive for December, 2013

The Peshawar Lancers

December 30, 2013

 

In The Peshawar Lancers S. M.Stirling writes an exciting adventure story set in an alternate history in which a comet strikes the Earth in the year 1878. The impact and the ensuing severe cooling of the climate caused by the dust and water vapor thrust into the atmosphere causes the death by starvation of most of the inhabitants of the Northern hemisphere and the collapse of civilization.Cover of "The Peshawar Lancers"

By the year of  the story, 2025, the world has almost reached the level of technology it possessed before the Fall. The British Empire has survived, based around its former colonial possessions, especially India. The Empire has even recolonized the British Isles. The French established themselves in Algeria and the Japanese have conquered China. The Russians have also survived after turning to Devil worship and sacred cannibalism of their subject peoples. The rest of Europe and most of North America is still inhabited by savage cannibals. In this world, Athelstane King is a captain of the Peshawar Lancers. Along with his aide, the Sikh Narayan Singh, his sister Cassandra, a mysterious Russian seeress Yasmini, and the Royal Family, King finds himself trying to foil a Russian conspiracy against his family with the fate of the Empire, and the survival of humanity at stake.

The Peshawar Lancers is, as I have said, an exciting adventure story, a little like Kipling’s best. S. M. Sterling presents an immensely imaginative background for the adventure with the details that makes the society come to life. The characters are, perhaps, somewhat two-dimensional with the villain, the Russian Ignatieff, being really, villainous, but they are likeable and their actions and motives are realistic. The plot moves along nicely with the right amount of suspense and action.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading the Peshawar Lancers and I hope the author might be persuaded to write more stories set in that world.

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Newhart Cancels Show for GLAAD

December 29, 2013

It seems that the drama involving the A & E Network and the Robertson family is nearly at an end. At any rate A & E gave in to the nearly overwhelming opposition of the show’s fans to their suspension of Phil Robertson and have allowed him to continue on the show. This is a victory, of sorts, for free speech and a stinging defeat for the GLAAD bullies. Unfortunately they will continue their efforts to marginalize anyone who happens to disagree with their views and not everyone has the resources or the will to fight them.

Comedian Bob Newhart was scheduled to give a performance at a conference by Legatus, a Catholic businessman’s organization. GLAAD decided that the group is anti-gay because they happen to support Catholic positions on sexuality and pressured Newhart to cancel the show. Unfortunately, Newhart complied.Here is an account in Lifesitenews.com.

Famed comedian Bob Newhart has canceled a headline show at a conference for Catholic business leaders after a homosexual activist group ran a campaign portraying the organizers as “anti-gay.”

After learning of the 84-year-old comedian’s scheduled appearance at the Legatus Summit in Orlando on February 6, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) began urging him last week to back out. Activists also organized a petition at Faithful America that garnered 17,000 signatures.

Legatus, which was begun by Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan in 1987 to network Catholic business leaders, is faithful to the Church’s Magisterium and therefore upholds the Church’s teachings on all moral matters including homosexuality.

“It’s unfortunate that Bob Newhart has decided not to perform at Legatus’ annual Summit in February,” Legatus Executive Director John Hunt told LifeSiteNews.com. “It’s clear from stories in the media that certain organizations have asked him to cancel his appearance.”

Hunt continued, “Despite the rhetoric in these news reports, Legatus is a faith-based organization that proudly holds firm to the teachings of the Catholic Church especially, in this case, to the teachings on human sexuality.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church bases itself on the Bible, calling homosexual sex “acts of grave depravity” and the inclination toward homosexuality “objectively disordered.” At the same time, it says those with same-sex attractions “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.”

Newhart, a lifelong Catholic, announced the cancellation on his Facebook and Twitter accounts Wednesday. “Upcoming Bob Newhart Tour Date Change — Bob will not be performing at the Legatus Summit in Orlando FL on February 6th, 2014,” the post said.

I can’t say that I am very disappointed in Bob Newhart. As the article states, He is 84 years old and he certainly doesn’t need to be involved in any controversies at his time of life. Also, as a life long performer, it is very likely that his politics are closer to GLAAD than Legatus. All the same, I wish that he had kept the engagement in order to stand up for the principle that performers should not have to seek permission from pressure groups to decide where to book performances. Does Newhart really want to live in a country where entertainers have to seek permission to perform? Does he want future performers to have to submit their material in advance  to ensure that nothing offensive is said. This may seem far fetched, but there have been places in the world where this was  and is the case.

A long time ago, I happened to see the Russian comedian Yakov Smirnoff on some late night talk show.I don’t remember which, but I think it might have been Johnny Carson. During the interview, Smirnoff mentioned that he while he worked in the Stoviet Union, he had to submit his material to a Department of Jokes. A comedian was not allowed to depart from the submitted material or improvise. The host thought this was a joke, but Smirnoff assured him this really was the case. When the host asked Smirnoff if a comedian who disobeyed would be sent to jail, Smirnoff answered that he would not, but he would never be allowed to perform again. Keep that in mind while reading what GLAAD has to say.

GLAAD praised Newhart’s decision Thursday. “Newhart is merely siding with the majority of fair-minded Americans who do not support the anti-LGBT agenda of organizations like Legatus,” said Rich Ferraro, GLAAD’s vice president of communications.

“These groups constantly struggle to find high-profile people of faith to speak at their events, but at a time when more and more people of faith are accepting of LGBT people, they will continue to be left to choose between increasingly fringe figures,” he added.

The homosexual activist group launched the campaign in a December 12 post titled “Bob Newhart, don’t become the next Kirk Cameron!”

If you don’t accept GLAAD’s agenda then you will be labeled a fringe figure and marginalized until you cannot find work. The only difference between GLAAD and a Soviet commissar is that GLAAD’s dictates do not have the force of law, yet. In a legal environment where a baker can be compelled to make a wedding cake for a same sex couple against his religious scruples, can the day when legal sanctions against “hate speech” really be so hard to imagine.

What does Legatus say that is so hateful and bigoted? Do they advocate executing gays? Imprisoning them? Well, no. Here are the statements that GLAAD finds utterly unacceptable, as reported by GLAAD. They are quoting from a piece written by John Haas.

There are many reasons why people suffer from SSA disorder. Some “discover” this tendency within them. Others grow into it through pursuits of pleasure or experimentation. Some use it to punish themselves or others. Whether the disorder has some deep, unknown roots over which one has virtually no control, or whether it’s a developed disorder resulting from bad choices, it leaves an individual disposed toward activities and a lifestyle that are dangerous — physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Fortunately there is hope for those who suffer from the disorder. The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality reports that significant numbers of homosexual persons have undergone treatment and had their sexual drives properly ordered. These findings are a beacon of hope to those suffering from SSA, as well as for their family and friends who desire their happiness and good health. Finally, for those who for whatever reason cannot be cured, there is a support group known as Courage to help them live safe, moral, chaste lives. Those who continue to suffer from this disorder can find true help through an orientation toward their Savior and Redeemer, “the Orient from on High,” and the life that He offers them in Himself.

And.

I often tell my students that no one has ever died from not having sex. Plenty of people have died from having sex, but no one has ever died from not having sex. This idea that sexual expression is the only or a necessary expression of love is the underlying principle behind the argument that we should not deny happiness to two people who are in love, even two people struggling with SSA.

No one is denying them love or happiness. We are not denying love or happiness to the alcoholic by taking away his alcohol. We are not denying love or happiness to the drug addict by taking away his drugs. We are not denying love or happiness to the pedophile by keeping him away from children. In fact, we are showing true love to the sinner by denying him his disordered passions.

Second, even if we grant that people are “born that way,” it is a specious argument to conclude that it is natural and must be accepted. People are born with bad eyesight, but we do not consider that natural. We consider it a disorder that should be corrected with glasses or contacts. People are born without arms and legs, but we do not consider that natural. We consider it a disorder that should be corrected with prosthetic limbs. People are born bipolar and with A.D.D., but we do not consider that natural. We consider it a disorder that should be corrected with medicine and psychological counseling. There is even scientific research showing that alcoholism and pedophilia are genetic, that people are “born that way,” but we still consider them disorders that should be corrected.

Consider that we are all born with original sin. Yet, we recognize that it is a disorder within us and we do our best to overcome it with prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, with the help of the sacraments, and the grace of God.

These do not seem to be malicious or hateful statements. The author feels that homosexuality is a disorder and wishes to cure those afflicted by it. Considering that homosexuality is not, in fact, conducive to a healthy or well-adjusted life, there are high levels of depression, substance abuse, sexually transmitted diseases and compulsive risk taking among homosexuals, there is good reason to consider it a disorder not dissimilar to alcoholism. It is perhaps more compassionate to seek to cure the homosexual than tell them that their orientation is fixed at birth and is immutable, especially if they are young people. The idea that sexuality is fixed at birth is, if not actually a lie, is vastly simplistic about a very complex part of human behavior. I strongly suspect that sexual orientation is, to some degree, fluid in most individuals.

I have long on long enough about this subject and frankly I am feeling a little ducked out.

The Nativity According to Matthew

December 24, 2013
The Adoration of the Magi (circa 1305) by Giot...

The Adoration of the Magi

Matthew begins his Gospel with the genealogy of Jesus. I’ll skip the genealogy and go straight to his account of Jesus’s birth.

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

18 “A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”

19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.” (Matthew 1:18-2:20)

Most people think that the slaughter of the baby boys in Bethlehem involved the murder of hundreds or thousands of innocents. Remember, though, that Bethlehem was a small village in this time with a likely population of a few hundred. It is doubtful that more than half a dozen children were killed, not enough to make it into any other sources we have for Herod’s rule. Herod was certainly ruthless enough to order such a massacre. He had no trouble killing members of his own family if he thought they threatened his rule. In fact, Herod being an Idumean (or Edomite) and not a Jew, was a foreigner and so was as despised by many Judeans as a Roman governor would have been. If he had heard that there was a potential rival to his throne, even a child, that the Jews might rally around, he would have wasted no time in disposing of that rival.

The word Magi usually refers to Zoroastrian priests. In Greco-Roman usage the term Magi had connotations of magicians or sorcerers, exotic figures from distant lands. It is not clear just who the Magi actually were. They may indeed have been Zoroastrians. The references to the Star of Bethlehem suggest that they may have been astrologers. The Babylonians had a reputation for being skilled in astrology and magic so the Magi may have come from Mesopotamia. They may also have been Jewish since they were seeking for a king of the Jews. The fact that they were unfamiliar with the prophets may prove that they were Gentiles. The number of the Magi is not given in the Gospel. The reason that three are usually pictured  is that there were three gifts; gold, frankincense,and myrrh.

It is also not clear just what the Star of Bethlehem actually was. There have been several theories presented, but none of them are entirely satisfactory. The star might have been a supernova, perhaps in a nearby galaxy. There is no way to know for certain since any supernova remnant so far away would be difficult, perhaps impossible, to detect. It might also have been a comet. This is rather unlikely. Although a comet would behave much as the star is said to behave, hanging in the sky over a certain location for several nights, comets were universally perceived as being harbingers of disaster in ancient, and not so ancient, times. The most likely explanation is a conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn. The astronomer Keppler discovered that there was indeed such a conjunction in the year 7 BC. The following year there was another conjunction of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. This might have been very impressive to the Magi. It may also be that the Star was a supernatural phenomenon and one that cannot be studied today. Whatever the truth of the matter is, I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas.

The Nativity According to Luke

December 24, 2013

Here is what Christmas is all about

Linus quotes from the Gospel according to Luke. There are two accounts of Jesus’s birth in the New Testament, the account that Luke gives and the account that Matthew gives. Mark ignores the question of Jesus’s birth entirely, preferring to begin with Jesus’s public ministry while John actually begins his account before the nativity and moves from there to Jesus’ career. Here is Luke’s account.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.(Luke 2:1-21)

There is a considerable amount of skepticism about the census, both on the dating and the procedure. Most skeptics regard it as extremely improbable that the Romans would make people travel here and there to register in their home towns. As a matter of fact that is just how the Romans conducted their censuses.

Every five years, each male Roman citizen had to register in Rome for the census. In this he had to declare his family, wife, children, slaves and riches. Should he fail to do this, his possessions would be confiscated and he would be sold into slavery.
But registration meant freedom. A master wishing to free his slave needed only to enter him in the censor’s list as a citizen (manumissio censu).
Throughout the entire republican era, registration in the census was the only way that a Roman could ensure that his identity and status as a citizen were recognized. Fathers registered their sons, employers their freedmen.
Primarily the census served to count the number of citizens and to assess the potential military strength and future tax revenue. Most important, the census transformed the city into a political and military community.
But the census performed a highly symbolical function. To the Romans the census made them more than a mere crowd, or barbarian rabble. It made them a populus, a people, capable of collective action.
To the Roman the census was one of the foundation stones of their civilization.

As the Roman Empire expanded and citizenship was given out to other cities in Italy and around the Mediterranean, I would imagine that every Roman citizen had to go to his native city to register. Presumably there were lists of citizens kept in major cities and in Rome. Paul claimed to be a Roman citizen at various times in Acts and you might wonder how he was able to prove it. Well, every Roman citizen had a sort of ID or diploma which would have been issued in his city.

But with the steady extension of the citizenship by individual grants to provincials isolated in peregrine communes, and with the informal settlement of large numbers of Italian immigrants in the provincial territories, a more effective means of registration became necessary. Formal documentation of the grant of citizenship to provincial soldiery appears first in 89 B.C., in the shape of a bronze tablet recording the decree of a proconsul enfranchising a unit of Spanish cavalrymen in the Social War, who are all named in a general list. Presumably each soldier received a copy. The cities of persons of higher status enfranchised by Octavian in c. 40 B.C. received a copy of a decree detailing all the privileges of their new status, while his auxiliary veterans could acquire copies of the enabling edict that enfranchised them. But it is only with the regularization of the grant of citizenship to the all time-expired auxiliaries by Claudius that a standardized document appears. This is the small bronze diptych known as the diploma civitatis, containing a brief and uniform formula conferring the Roman citizenship on the holder and his descendants, who is indicated by his name and military unit. These documents were not normally used for civilians, who received instead a copy in libellus form of the brief imperial warrant authorizing the registration of their enfranchisement in the archives at Rome.

Diplomata and libelli provided for new citizens. For the mass of the citizenry, for whom censorial registration at five-yearly intervals was an inefficient instrument, adequate provision was finally made by the creation of an official system of compulsory birth registration under the social legislation of Augustus (A.D. 4)… The Roman citizen was required to register the birth of his children within thirty days before a Roman official, and he received a wooden diptych recording the declaration, which acted as a certificate of citizenship for the child for the rest of his life. Like the military diplomata this contained the names of seven witnesses, and provided a presumptive proof of citizen status… Similarly the enfranchisement of freedmen, which depended upon a formal act, was recorded in a documentary tabella manumissionis. Citizens of diverse origins thus came to have some form of documentary evidence of their status.

Presumably Paul registered at Tarsus while he lived there. To get back to the census; obviously Joseph wasn’t a Roman citizen and Judea was under the rule of Herod, not the Romans. The census could have been a small time affair, the mention of Caesar Augustus being either an exaggeration or a long-standing policy of Augustus to encourage the provinces to conduct censuses, but conducted according to Roman norms, with every resident registering in his home town. You must not imagine, however, large crowds of people traveling to and fro. Remember that in this time most people would have lived their whole lives in the same village. Joseph’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem would have been very much an exception. The only thing really odd about this account was his taking Mary with him. There would have been no need for her to travel. As a woman, her residency would not have mattered much.

 

The Triumph of Capitalism

December 23, 2013

Cracked.com is a humor website that besides being funny is also surprisingly informative. You can learn all sorts of interesting facts from the writers while laughing. One recent article listed five amazing pieces of good news that nobody is reporting. News reporting usually focuses on dramatic events and these stories are happening in the background without anybody really doing anything, so they tend not to be noticed. I remain a little skeptical about number 5, we are closing in on world peace.

This one seems laughable — mankind has gone from fighting with swords, to muskets, to machine guns — right up to the modern era of poison gas and nukes that can murder every human on the planet in minutes. Mankind’s technological growth has been marked mainly by increasingly efficient ways to slaughter each other.

Sure enough, the 20th century had to have been the most violent in human history. Two world wars, conflict in Southeast Asia, constant war in the Middle East — and those were just the ones that America was directly involved in. At the beginning of the 21st century, with Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and rumblings of war with Syria, it seems like the world is a pack of rabid dogs about to pounce on a Snausage pinata.

The Good News:

Even with wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the first decade of the 21st century saw the number of annual battle deaths at its lowest ever in history.

Professor Joshua Goldstein put it best: “If the world feels like a more violent place than it actually is, that’s because there’s more information about wars — not more wars themselves.” Overall, we’re in the midst of an unheard of “long peace,” as no major powers have clashed since World War II, replacing them with smaller wars that historically would count as skirmishes — the U.S. lost 3,400 soldiers in Afghanistan, which is terrible, but during the American Civil War, 4,700 troops were killed on one side of one single battle. Here it is in graph form:

Via Wsj.com
Sans screaming.

OK, so maybe this is just a temporary breather after the bloodbath that was the previous century? Nope — it’s part of a long-term trend. As crazy as it seems to suggest it, the past couple of hundred years have been the most peaceful in world history. That’s including the world wars.

Yes, in absolute numbers, more people died violently in the 20th century than in any other century — but that’s because there are so many more people now. The chances that a person living in the 20th century would die violently were about 3 percent. That’s a historically low number — it was five times higher in prehistoric societies. In tribal societies, war was a daily occurrence — just the process of everyone settling down into large-scale governments, even violent ones, was an improvement. If our hunter-gatherer ancestors could see us now, they’d be confounded by the complete lack of annual head smashing and face stabbing (if you ever unfreeze a caveman, show him our violent video games — he’ll go nuts for that shit).

And it’s not just war, it’s all violent deaths — in 14th century England, some cities had a homicide rate as high as 110 per 100,000 citizens. London’s homicide rate in 2012 was just under 1 per 100,000. And we’ve previously talked about how violent crime is dropping to historic lows, even in the gun-crazy USA. No matter how you break it down, violence is slowly going out of style.
Maybe, but they were making similar statements back in 1913 and the international situation today is frighteningly similar to the situation just before World War I.
But I am more interested in the last piece of good news they present, number one, world-wide, poverty is dropping at a shocking rate. Please excuse the language.
For decades now, we’ve watched commercials that feature some retired actor stumbling through some impoverished village in some undisclosed location to make viewers feel bad enough to donate money. Considering that we’re mired in a worldwide recession, it’s a sensible question: “Does any of this shit even make a difference?”

Yes! Even though lately it seems like the whole world is in a race to the bottom, the poorest of the poor are actually climbing out of the financial shithole. From 1990 to 2012, the number of the world’s extreme poor was cut in fucking half. In case you were wondering, that would be the first significant global decline in extreme poverty.

Ever.

Not bad, right?

And these aren’t just statistical tricks here — when they calculate this, they’re not just counting income, they account for total living conditions — infrastructure, schools, access to clean water, everything. A billion people have that stuff for the first time. And what’s really encouraging is that this all happened three years ahead of the official estimates, which pegged 2015 as the soonest such a lofty goal could be achieved.

So how did this happen? International aid helped, but the big jump has been in the increased participation of previously isolated countries in international trade. You know how people are always complaining about how “they’re shipping our jobs overseas!” Well, this is where they went — to people who previously had no jobs at all. And that boom that swept across China and India is expected to continue in places like Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, and Rwanda — all of the places you previously only heard about in the context of heart-breaking ads begging for donations. If things continue at this pace, countries like Nepal and Bangladesh would likely see extreme poverty shrink to near-nonexistent levels.

What is the cause of this amazing reduction of poverty all over the world? The expansion of international trade and also the expansion of free market economics or capitalism. No system of economics or politics made by human beings is perfect and capitalism does have its flaws. Nevertheless, the expansion of free market reforms has been responsible not just for a reduction in absolute poverty but also for the rise of a middle class throughout the developing world. Countries like India and China, where the great mass of people have known nothing but poverty and near starvation now, at least, have a chance to live with some small degree of prosperity. For the first time in human history, the obese outnumber the starving.

Yet capitalism continues to be maligned as a system that enriches the few and impoverishes the many. Why is this? Are the critics of capitalism simply ignorant of these facts? Perhaps. Or, it may be that many of the fiercest critics of capitalism prefer to see the poor stay poor. Capitalism has a way of disrupting hierarchies. In a free market; the ambitious, the inventive or the hard-working can rise. The lazy or foolish can sink, even if they belong to an old family or a special caste. It is perhaps no coincidence that the defenders of the idea that the markets must be controlled and regulated tend to be those already on top. Think of how many grandchildren of successful industrialist embrace various forms of Socialism, or how successful European firms didn’t have a problem with Fascism or Nazism, or even Democratic Socialism. The biggest supporters of Big Government tend to be Big Businesses. As long as they have a hand in setting the rules,they can set them to their advantage. And, if you advocate the redistribution of wealth, you have many opportunities of redistributing wealth and power to yourself and your cronies.

I am a defender of capitalism because I am a defender of freedom, and because I would prefer that the poor not starve. As a system defined by the free exchange of goods and services, capitalism is the only economic system that promote freedom. Other economic systems such as Socialism or Feudalism are based on the forcible taking of goods and services from those that produced them to those deemed deserving by some elite. That way lies slavery and poverty.

 

Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus

December 23, 2013

Well, there was, at any rate. He was not a “jolly old elf”, he did not live at the North Pole, and he never made any toys or drove a sleigh with eight reindeer. He didn’t look like this.

He actually looked more like this.

Of course, I am talking about Saint Nicholas of Myra, the historical person on which the legends of Santa Claus are based.

Santa Claus is derived from the Dutch “Sinter Klaus”, and it was Dutch immigrants who brought over many of our ideas of Santa, including the idea of a man who gives out presents to well behaved children. Another influence was Father Christmas from Britain. And, of course there was the poem “The Night Before Christmas” which introduced the whole idea of the reindeer, going down chimneys, etc.The cartoonist Thomas Nast is believed to be responsible for the first portrayal of Santa in his red suit, and also the idea that he lives at the North Pole.

But the real Saint Nicholas was a bishop of the city of Myra in Asia Minor, or present day turkey. He lived from around 270-343. He was a Greek Christian whose parents died of an epidemic when he was very young. From his childhood he was religious. His uncle, also a bishop, raised him and when he was old enough made him a monk. Eventually he was made a bishop by the Christian community of Myra. There he stayed until his death in 343.

Nicholas apparently was quite a zealous bishop. He was imprisoned during the last great persecution of the Emperor Diocletian, but was released when Constantine became Emperor. He debated against and fought the pagans and the Arians, a heretic branch of Christianity, and participated in the great Council of Nicaea, where he lost control of his temper and actually slapped Arius. He was imprisoned for this but released after three days.

He was most famous for his acts of charity, many of which are probably legendary.The most famous story is that passing by a house he heard three daughters lament because their father could not afford a dowry for any of them. Without a dowry they could not get married and would probably have to resort to prostitution to survive. (Somehow this story never made into the children’s specials.) He threw a bag of gold into their window as each girl became old enough to marry. In one variation of the story, by the time of the third daughter, the father lay in wait to discover the identity of his benefactor. When Nicholas saw this, he threw the bag into their chimney.

After his death, Nicholas was buried in Myra, but in 1087, with Asia Minor being overrun by the Turks, some Italian sailors stole the remains and brought them to Bari, where they remain to this day.

Nicholas is a Saint in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches His feast day is December 6, today, and he is the patron saint of children, sailors, repentant thieves, pawn brokers, and others.

So, now you know the true story of Santa Claus.

If you want to know more about Catholic saints see here.

 

Steyn Stands Strong

December 23, 2013

One of the problems that conservatives have had is that all too often they buy into liberal premises about what is acceptable discourse. If the progressives insist that whole topics are out of bounds and any deviation from orthodoxy is racist, homophobic, islamophobic, bigoted, hateful, ignorant, greedy, and whatever other labels they can think of, all too often, conservatives will back down and agree to abide by the progressive’s rules. This has to stop. We have got to be on the offensive, or we will lose this country. Above all else we must be defenders of liberty, even if it means defending the rights of people we don’t necessarily approve or or whose speech is somewhat less civil than we might like. Mark Steyn from National Review understands this. I wish more conservatives did.

Having leaned on A&E to suspend their biggest star, GLAAD has now moved on to Stage Two:

“We believe the next step is to use this as an opportunity for Phil to sit down with gay families in Louisiana and learn about their lives and the values they share,” the spokesman said.

Actually, “the next step” is for you thugs to push off and stop targeting, threatening and making demands of those who happen to disagree with you. Personally, I think this would be a wonderful opportunity for the GLAAD executive board to sit down with half-a-dozen firebreathing imams and learn about their values, but, unlike the Commissars of the Bureau of Conformity Enforcement, I accord even condescending little ticks like the one above the freedom to arrange his own social calendar. Unfortunately, GLAAD has had some success with this strategy, prevailing upon, for example, the Hollywood director Brett Ratner to submit to GLAAD re-education camp until he had eaten sufficient gay crow to be formally rehabilitated with a GLAAD “Ally” award.

It is a matter of some regret to me that my own editor at this publication does not regard this sort of thing as creepy and repellent rather than part of the vibrant tapestry of what he calls an “awakening to a greater civility”. I’m not inclined to euphemize intimidation and bullying as a lively exchange of ideas – “the use of speech to criticize other speech”, as Mr Steorts absurdly dignifies it. So do excuse me if I skip to the men’s room during his patronizing disquisition on the distinction between “state coercion” and “cultural coercion”. I’m well aware of that, thank you. In the early days of my free-speech battles in Canada, my friend Ezra Levant used a particular word to me: “de-normalize”. Our enemies didn’t particularly care whether they won in court. Whatever the verdict, they’d succeed in “de-normalizing” us — that’s to say, putting us beyond the pale of polite society and mainstream culture. “De-normalizing” is the business GLAAD and the other enforcers are in. You’ll recall Paula Deen’s accuser eventually lost in court — but the verdict came too late for Ms Deen’s book deal, and TV show, and endorsement contracts.

Mark Steyn understands what the progressives are trying to do better than most of us here in the US. As a former resident of Canada, he has had personal experience with attempts to criminalize and de-normalize politically incorrect opinions.

Up north, Ezra and I decided that, if they were going to “de-normalize” us, we’d “de-normalize” them. So we pushed back, and got the entire racket discredited and, eventually, the law repealed. It’s rough stuff, and exhausting, but the alternative is to let the control-freaks shrivel the bounds of public discourse remorselessly so that soon enough you lack even the words to mount an opposing argument. As this commenter to Mr Steorts noted, the point about unearthing two “derogatory” “puerile” yet weirdly prescient gags is that, pace Marx, these days comedy repeats as tragedy.

I am sorry my editor at NR does not grasp the stakes. Indeed, he seems inclined to “normalize” what GLAAD is doing. But, if he truly finds my “derogatory language” offensive, I’d rather he just indefinitely suspend me than twist himself into a soggy pretzel of ambivalent inertia trying to avoid the central point — that a society where lives are ruined over an aside because some identity-group don decides it must be so is ugly and profoundly illiberal. As to his kind but belated and conditional pledge to join me on the barricades, I had enough of that level of passionate support up in Canada to know that, when the call to arms comes, there will always be some “derogatory” or “puerile” expression that it will be more important to tut over. So thanks for the offer, but I don’t think you’d be much use, would you?

Precisely. The end game is to make it impossible to fight against the progressives because you are unable to even articulate any opposing views. This is what George Orwell foresaw in 1984. This is the sort of mindset we are facing. It is no good trying to compromise or get along with these people. They are not interested in getting along. They mean to crush any opposition. We had best grow spines and fight.

 

How to Think Like a Neandertal

December 22, 2013

Neandertal men, or Neandertals have intrigued people since the discovery of the first fossil remains were discovered in the Meander Valley back in 1856. Early ideas about Neandertals were heavily influenced by preconceptions about human ancestry current at that time and so Neandertals were believed to be the missing link between human and ape and so Neandertals were depicted as bestial, sub-human primitives. More recent research has revealed that Neandertal Man or Homo neanderthalensis was very closely related to modern Homo sapiens, perhaps even a subspecies of sapiens. More recent depictions of Neanderthals have tended to be more sympathetic, including Jean M. Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear and the Geico cavemen.

Paleontological research and the sequencing of Neanderthal DNA have taught us a lot about their appearance and habits, but not so much, what they were really like. How “human” were the Neanderthals? Were as intelligent as modern humans, or more, or less? Would they fit into modern society?

Thomas Wynn and Frederick L. Coolidge attempt to answer these questions in their book, How to Think Like a Neandertal. Wynn, an archaeologist and Coolidge, a psychologist, go over the available evidence to try to reconstruct how Neanderthals really thought. This exercise necessarily requires a lot of speculation since there are no living Neanderthals to examine, but most of their guesses seem to be sound, based on the evidence they present.

how-to-think-like-a-neandertal-thumb-300x455-171911

Wynn and Coolidge believe that Neanderthals were as intelligent as modern humans were. Judging from the artifacts they left, they were certainly not stupid. Yet, their intelligence seems to be subtly different from ours. Neanderthals did not innovate much. Their tools are much the same in design throughout their range. The tools were well made, but they lacked the sort of regional variations that are characteristic of tribes of modern humans who live far apart. The tools retain the same designs for tens of thousands of years, while the tools of even the most primitive modern humans show some development over time. Wynn and Coolidge speculate that Neandertals were very conservative in temperament and did not like the new or unexpected.

Neadertals were very strong compared to modern humans and lived hard and dangerous lives. Wynn and Coolidge assert that emotionally, Neanderthals were stoic and used to dangers and injuries. They took care of injured members of their communities. These communities or bands were rather small, perhaps no more than a dozen or two dozen individuals. Neadertals did not travel much and did not interact with other bands except on rare occasions. They do not seem to have engaged in any sort of trade between bands. Because of this, Neadertals were probably suspicious of strangers and less sophisticated in social interactions than modern humans who lived in larger communities that interacted with one another.

Neadertals almost certainly had language. They had the same genes that in humans control the acquisition and use of language. There is no way now to know what their languages were like and how they compare to the languages of our time. Wynn and Coolidge believe that their language must have been different from any language used by Homo sapiens, perhaps more context specific and with more use of stock phrases as part of their conservatism. Their humor might also have been different, more physical and maybe far less use of word play. I think, though, that this subject is the one in which their speculations are less well based on available evidence. I believe that unless a Neadertal is resurrected using “Jurassic Park” technology, we simply do not have enough evidence on which to base any speculations.

How to Think Like a Neandertal is an interesting book about an interesting people. I only wish it were possible to know more about the Neandertals.

 

GLAAD isn’t Glad

December 20, 2013

There has been a backlash against the comments made by Duck Dynasty‘s patriarch, Phil Robertson, but not the backlash A & E or GLAAD might have wished for. GLAAD, or Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, is getting quite a bit of well deserved criticism for their efforts to silence dissenting viewpoints. I read about it at Yahoo News.

In the fallout over Wednesday’s suspension of “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson by A&E for anti-gay and racist remarks, GLAAD is experiencing record levels of backlash.

“In the five-and-a-half years I’ve worked at GLAAD, I’ve never received so many violently angry phone calls and social media posts attacking GLAAD for us speaking out against these comments,” the media watchdog organization’s vice president of communications Rich Ferraro told TheWrap.

He said those reactions range from those who simply believe as Robertson believes to those who feel that GLAAD and A&E’s actions limit the reality star’s free speech.

“I don’t think this is about the first amendment,” Ferraro said. “I feel it’s more about the America we live in today. That is one where Americans, gay and straight, are able to speak out when people in the public eye make anti-gay and racist remarks.”

I don’t think their representative really gets it. No one is questioning their speaking out against comments they find offensive. The problem is that GLAAD and similar organizations are unwilling to extend that same courtesy to others. Speaking out is one thing. Trying to silence people by trying to prevent them from making a living quite another. And, make no mistake about it, this is precisely what GLAAD is trying to do. The Robertson family are wealthy enough that they don’t really need the income from their reality show. The next person GLAAD targets might not be so fortunate. This whole  affair is meant to serve as a warning.

Robertson’s supporters have started petitions, called for boycotts and include Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity and Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal. Currently, more than 70,000 people have signed the online petition asking A&E to drop the suspension.

“It just means we still have a lot of work to do,” Ferraro said.

Meaning that not everybody is cowed by their bullying.

GLAAD spoke with A&E representatives on Wednesday morning to discuss why people would be offended by the comments and calls to action. ”They took this very seriously, as soon as the news broke,” Ferraro said.

After the meeting, GLAAD issued its statement on Robertson’s comments. A&E initially released a statement from Robertson in which he said he would “never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different from me.” But the network declined to comment itself until Wednesday night, when it announced the suspension, which GLAAD applauded.

Mr. Robertson has made it clear, in the GQ inerview and in statements afterwards, that he would not treat anyone with disrespect, even if he believes their lifestyle to be sinful. But that is not enough for GLAAD.

“We believe the next step is to use this as an opportunity for Phil to sit down with gay families in Louisiana and learn about their lives and the values they share,” the spokesman said.

The organization is also currently researching companies who use Robertson as a spokesperson.

“Silence is agreement in this case,” he said. “With such egregious anti-gay and racist comments, those companies that choose to be affiliated with this family need to speak out.”

It is not enough to simply agree to disagree, or simply be neutral,  as far as GLAAD is concerned. Everyone must be an active supporter of their agenda, or else. GLAAD and like organizations are being bullies in pushing their agenda and suppressing anyone opposed to them, and it is about time that they are stopped.

Who are the haters?

Who are the haters?

 

Awkward Holiday Debates

December 20, 2013

Once again, the Democrats are ready to help out with those awkward holiday political debates. This time the Truth Team has sent some talking points to use against that conservative relative.

David —

We all have that one relative — we won’t name names — who just loves to argue about politics.

It’s like clockwork — every year, the same conversations. And you just know that health care is going to come up this year — this time, make sure you’re ready. There’s a lot of good news on our side.

So here’s an extra large serving of truth, in the form of must-read Obamacare success stories from news outlets across the country.

Check them out and pass them along:

— Got a relative railing about health care costs? Well, according to The New York Times piece, thanks in part to Obamacare and its cost-control measures, “the slowdown in health care costs has been dramatic.” Not only that — according to the Times, the biggest savings might be yet to come. (Share on Facebook | Share on Twitter)

— Here’s a great round-up of a few success stories from the Los Angeles Times your relative probably missed, including this great quote from a new enrollee, “If not for the Affordable Care Act, our ability to get insurance would be very limited, if we could get it at all.” (Share on Facebook | Share on Twitter)

— A personal enrollment story featured in The Huffington Post from a self-employed blogger, including how much he loves his new coverage, and what he thinks about the push-back from his conservative friends. (Share on Facebook | Share on Twitter)

— A great story from a recent health care enrollee in North Carolina featured in the Raleigh News & Observer — and how easy it was for her to sign up. (Share on Facebook | Share on Twitter)

If you have a good talk about health care this holiday season, be sure to share your story with us — funny, inspiring, or even challenging, we’d love to hear how your conversations are going.

Last, but certainly not least — I want to say thank you for being such a champion for health care this year. You’ve been critical in helping get the good word out about Obamacare — and supporters like you will be all I’m talking about with my family this holiday season. You are inspiring. And you’re why I know that no matter what special interests throw at us, they won’t beat what we’ve got.

Have a healthy, relaxing holiday — don’t worry, there’s more truth coming soon.

Erin

Erin Hannigan
Health Care Campaign Manager
Organizing for Action

I certainly hope they won’t start naming names. It might be slightly creepy, in a Orwellian sense if Organizing for Action knew which of my relatives liked to argue about politics. Actually, they probably do have access to NSA files. Anyway, it seems to me that the best way to have a healthy, relaxing holiday might be to avoid getting into debates about politics with your relatives. Besides, who wants to turn into this guy?

Douchey-Obamacare-Guy

Not me!

 


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