Archive for June, 2014

Hobby Lobby Outrage

June 30, 2014

Today, the Supreme Court  ruled that a company need not cover contraceptives if it is against their religious convictions. This is a victory for religious freedom in this country, and really for freedom generally. If Hobby Lobby does not wish to pay for their employees’ contraceptives, they shouldn’t have to. If someone wishes to have their employer pay for their contraceptives, they should consider working for a company that does cover them.

Naturally the Democrats don’t see it that way. I have already received fund raising e-mails telling of their disgust and outrage over this decision and asking for money to elect Democrats to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Either they are quick writers, or they had already pre-written their appeals in the event of this decision.

Here is one from Stop the GOP.

Friend — It’s outrageous: Just hours ago, the Supreme Court handed corporations the power to deny women birth control coverage. It’s a sad day for America.

Mitch McConnell’s reaction? He’s gloating, and he just vowed to vote on “limiting abortions if Republicans take control of the Senate in November,” according to Rachel Maddow.

But mark our words: If we let the GOP steal the momentum in the wake of this decision and take the Senate, we will DEEPLY regret it. You MUST stop McConnell and the GOP.

With just 12 hours to go before the most critical FEC deadline of this election, please pitch in to stop a GOP Senate takeover. Your gift will be triple-matched.

Supporter Record: VN96C28FDA1
Mid-year Deadline: 12 hours

If you’ve saved your payment information with ActBlue Express, your contribution will automatically be processed when you click the links below:

EXPRESS DONATE: $3

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Republicans are ALREADY seizing on this ruling to push even more extreme policies.

Their Tea Party candidates are fighting for EVEN MORE radical policies — a COMPLETE ban on some forms of birth control and EXTREME abortion restrictions.

Don’t let them take the momentum and deliver a crushing blow to women’s rights.

Pitch in immediately to fight back against extreme Republicans before the deadline hits in 12 hours.

Thanks for your support,
Stop the GOP

But the Supreme Court didn’t vote to allow corporations to deny women birth control nor was this a crushing blow to women’s rights. They simply said a corporation could not be forced to pay for something that is against its religious convictions. There is nothing to stop a woman, or man for that matter, from paying for their own contraceptives. Hobby Lobby is not preventing them from doing  whatever they want with their own money. Why should Hobby Lobby, or any other company, pay for contraceptives if they don’t want to? Where did these people get the idea that if I choose not to pay for something someone else wants, I am preventing them from getting it?

Here is another, this one from the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee.

Friend — It’s disgusting: The Supreme Court just ruled that corporations can deny women insurance coverage for birth control.

It’s a shameful day for our country. But we CAN’T let the GOP use this to steal the momentum, erase our lead, and take over the Senate. The consequences would be dire.

With just 14 hours to go before the most critical FEC deadline of this election, please pitch in to stop a GOP Senate takeover. Your gift will be triple-matched.

If you’ve saved your payment information with ActBlue Express, your contribution will automatically be processed when you click the links below:

EXPRESS DONATE: $3

EXPRESS DONATE: $8

EXPRESS DONATE: $17

EXPRESS DONATE: $25

EXPRESS DONATE: $35

Or donate another amount.

This outrageous decision shows that some Supreme Court justices are just politicians in robes. They’re simply another wing of the Republican Party.

It’s revolting — but if we let the Republicans take the Senate because of this, we’ll never forgive ourselves. PItch in immediately — before the most crucial deadline of the election.

Thanks for your support,
DSCC Breaking News

I am getting just a little tired of the phony outrage these people are always writing about. They seem to be eternally outraged and disgusted by the latest foul deeds and extreme positions of the Republicans, conservatives, the Tea Party, or the Koch Brothers. It has a little of the 1984 Hate Week mentality behind it.

As for what happens next with Hobby Lobby, they have dared to oppose the State and Leader and have resisted the process of Gleichschaltung. I am sure they will be punished for it. I would guess that next year the IRS will find all sorts of irregularities in their taxes. Meanwhile, attempts to drive Hobby Lobby out of business, threats of boycotts, etc. Now might be a good time to shop there.

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Merhaba

June 30, 2014

I found an e-mail in my spam filter written in an unfamiliar language.

Merhaba,
Memnun oldum,
Benim adım i kişiyi gördüm ve seni bilmek ilgilenmeye başladı Evelyn, ve, sizinle kalıcı bir ilişki kurmak benim için arzu varsa ben göndermek böylece benim e-posta adresine(evelynedgard2009@yahoo.com) yoluyla bana ulaşın benim senin ve benim hakkımda daha sizeanlatmak için resim,
Teşekkür ve Tanrı sizi korusun,
Evelyn.

It doesn’t look like any language that I have ever seen. I have, at various times, studied German, Spanish, Koine Greek, and Latin, and while I am far from proficient in any of these languages I can sometimes make out the general meaning of a text written in these languages. This text doesn’t seem to be related to any of them. It is written in the Latin Alphabet, which narrows down the possibilities, but none of the words seem to be familiar. There was a translation written below.

Hello,
Nice meeting you,
My name is Evelyn i saw your contact and became interested to know you, and establish a lasting relationship with you, if you have the desire for me Please contact me through my email address (evelynedgard2009@yahoo.com) so that i can send my pictures to you and tell you more about me,
Thanks and God bless you,
Evelyn.

I don’t think I will take Evelyn up on her offer. I decided to run the foreign text through Google Translate in detect language mode and see if that would identify the language. It turns out that it is Turkish. I don’t think I have ever seen written Turkish before.

Linguists classify Turkish in the Turkic family which is considered part of the Altaic group, though this is controversial. This would make Turkish related to various Central Asian languages, mostly spoken in the Asian Republics of the former Soviet Union like Khazakhstan, Uzbekistan, etc. It is more distantly related to Mongolian and various languages spoken in Siberia. Korean and Japanese may be still more distantly related, but this is uncertain. What is certain is that Turkish is not an Indo-European language like English, or the other languages that I am familiar with, which would account for the way in which I could not decipher a single word of the message.

Turkish used to be written in the Ottoman-Turkish Script which was based on the Arabic alphabet. This alphabet was not particularly well suited for the Turkish language, most notably for the absence of short vowels. Arabic is a Semitic language, in which it is not all that important to distinguish vowels in writing. Turkish has more vowels than Arabic and fewer distinctions between certain consonant sounds. Therefore, as part of the reforms that Kemal Ataturk enacted with the establishment of the Republic of Turkey, after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, a new alphabet based on the Latin Alphabet was created for Turkish. The new alphabet had 29 letters, mostly the same as other European languages but with q,x, and w omitted and six added. They are:

a, b, c, ç, d, e, f, g, ğ, h, ı, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, ö, p, r, s, ş, t, u, ü, v, y, and z

The letters sound about the same as in English, with some exceptions, and I suppose that if I tried to read that message aloud a Turk might understand me. I wouldn’t know what I was saying, though.

English: Mustafa Kemal Atatürk introducing the...

English: Mustafa Kemal Atatürk introducing the new Turkish alphabet to the people of Kayseri. September 20, 1928 Türkçe: Mustafa Kemal Atatürk 20 Eylül 1928’de, Kayseri’deki Cumhuriyet Halk Fırkası önünde, halka yeni Türk harflerini öğretirken (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Turkish is what linguists call a agglutinative language. Turkish speakers pile affixes onto a base, resulting in long words that in English might be expressed by a phrase, or even a sentence. Here is an example from Wikipedia on how this works.

Avrupa                                                                  Europe
Avrupalı                                                              of Europe
Avrupalılaş                                                         become of Europe
Avrupalılaştır                                                   to make become of Europe
Avrupalılaştırama                                           be unable to Europeanize
Avrupalılaştıramadık                                   we were unable to Europeanize
Avrupalılaştıramadık                                   that we were unable to Europeanize
Avrupalılaştıramadık                                   one that we were unable to Europeanize
Avrupalılaştıramadıklar                             those that we were unable to Europeanize
Avrupalılaştıramadıklarımız                    our those that we were unable to Europeanize
Avrupalılaştıramadıklarımızdan            of our those that we were unable to Europeanize
Avrupalılaştıramadıklarımızdanmış     is reportedly of our those that we were unable to Europeanize
Avrupalılaştıramadıklarımızdanmışsınız you are reportedly of our those that we were unable to Europeanize
Avrupalılaştıramadıklarımızdanmışsınızcasına as if you are reportedly of our those that we were unable to Europeanize

 

Good grief. Every suffix has a meaning or conveys grammatical information. Some other agglutinative languages are Japanese, Eskimo, Sumerian, and Klingon. English is, by the way, somewhere between a synthetic language, one that uses inflections like German or Latin, and an isolating language, like Chinese. We used to have many inflections but have lost most of them over the centuries.

Well, even though I have no intention of contacting Evelyn or sharing pictures with her, I should thank her for giving me the excuse to learn a little about the Turkish language. It has been interesting.

 

The Christian Dark Ages II: The Early Middle Ages

June 28, 2014

In the previous post, I wrote against the all too widely held belief that the Middle Ages, that period of time between around AD 500-1500 was a Dark Age of ignorance, poverty, and religious fanaticism. No historian has held such a view for more than a century or longer, yet the idea of the Dark Ages still has many followers, mostly, it seems by anti-Christian polemicists eager to revive the outdated trope of an eternal war between science and religion. Since the Middle Ages were a very religious period of time, there could have been no scientific advances. Thus, there are quotes like the ones I copied from an atheist.

I am sure you have heard of the Dark Ages, but if not I’ll help you out. This was when, basically, science was outlawed, to the extent that if you were doing something that the church deemed blasphemous you were killed. This is when we hunted for witches because the bible says to kill witches, homosexuals, those who commit adultery, and the list goes on. If you were not a believer in god you were killed.

In addition this was also the time when the Crusades were going on. So we were killing both our own people and the people of other nations in the name of god. Following god’s laws was one of the worst times in history (IMO).

And Ayn Rand.

The infamous times you call the Dark Ages were an era of intelligence on strike, when men of ability went underground and lived undiscovered, studying in secret, and died, destroying the works of their mind, when only a few of the bravest martyrs remained to keep the human race alive. Every period ruled by mystics was an era of stagnation and want, when most men were on strike against existence, working for less than their barest survival, leaving nothing but scraps for their rulers to loot, refusing to think, to venture, to produce, when the ultimate collector of their profits and the final authority on truth or error was the whim of some gilded degenerate sanctioned as superior to reason by divine right and by grace of a club.

Along with this picture

darkages

In my previous post, I hope I showed that the High Middle Ages, from AD 1000-1350, were far from being a dark age. The High Middle Ages were, in fact, among the most dynamic and brilliant in human history. What of the period before the High Middle Ages, the Early Middle Ages from around 500-1000?

The Early Middle Ages could more justly be called the Dark Ages. This was a prolonged period relative economic and cultural stagnation. There were immense dislocations during the fifth century, when the Western half of the Roman Empire collapsed after the invasions and migrations of the Germans tribes and the Huns. Trade and urbanization declined as did education and literacy. It proved to be very difficult to maintain a high level of civilization in the face of incessant war. Still, when the Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Franks, and others settled down in the kingdoms they carved out of the Roman Empire, their kings invariably tried to restore Roman civilization with varying degrees of success. Then, when things began to get better, new waves of invaders, the Avars, Bulgars, Moors would disrupt things once more.

Europe, after the "fall" of the Roman Empire

Europe, after the “fall” of the Roman Empire

Under the Merovingian and Carolingian kings, the Franks conquered most of Western Europe. Their greatest king, Charlemagne, even tried, with partial success, to restore the Roman Empire in the West. He realized how far civilization had declined and set about trying to improve education and culture in his vast realm. This is the period known as the Carolingian Renaissance and it is thanks to efforts of Charlemagne’s scribes that many Latin texts survived from antiquity.  Unfortunately, Charlemagne’s empire broke up within a century of his death due to quarrels among his grandchildren and more invaders, this time the Viking, the Magyars and the Saracens.

In the East, the Roman Empire remained intact for two centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire in the West. They were hard beset by the Arab invasions of the eighth century. For a century, the Roman or Byzantine Empire, as it is often called in its Medieval incarnation, fought for its life against the Arabs fired with enthusiasm for their new faith of Islam and during this century, even Byzantium suffered from a relatively dark age. The Byzantines withstood the attacks, and incidentally saved Western Civilization just as it was beginning and after their borders were secure, around 800, the Byzantine Empire quickly recovered to become the most powerful and advanced state in Europe.

The history of the Dark Ages, then,was not the history of ignorant religious fanatics wantonly destroying knowledge and suppressing science. It was not a era of intelligence on strike. Rather, the Early Middle Ages were an era in which men worked valiantly in the face of seemingly insuperable difficulties to maintain some level of civilization. Christianity, far from suppressing knowledge and science, played a key role in the preservation of culture. Christianity is a religion of the book and therefore requires, at least in theory, a literate clergy. To meet this need, the Church established cathedral and monastic schools, which kept literacy alive even through the darkest periods. The expansion of Christianity into northern and eastern Europe spread literacy to hitherto illiterate peoples. Western Catholic missionaries taught the Latin alphabet to the Irish, Germans, Anglo-Saxons, and eventually the Northmen. Eastern Orthodox missionaries introduced the adapted Greek letters that we call the Cyrillic alphabet to the Slavs.

In western Europe, knowledge of the ancient Greek scholars was lost and few people could read any Greek.  In that sense the Early Middle Ages might be considered a dark age, yet there was a continuing Latin literary tradition. Contrary to what is still widely believed, there was no general decline in technology during the Early Middle Ages. In most respects there was a steady progress in technological innovation including some important inventions.  Such inventions included the moldboard plow, the horse collar, stirrups and horse shoes, the Carolingian miniscule, the three field crop rotation as well as increased use of legumes to replenish the soil. Better iron smelting techniques were developed and there was wider use of watermills. There was a decline in some areas, especially in architecture, mostly because the various successor states to the Roman Empire lacked the resources to erect large buildings or maintain extensive networks of roads.

To put the matter simply, there was no such thing as the Christian Dark Ages. Christianity did not cause a thousand-year dark age of ignorance and squalor. If it had not been for the advances made during the Middle Ages, it is likely that modern science would never have developed and it was not a coincidence that modern science developed in Christian Europe. Had it not been for the Christian Dark Ages, we would not be exploring the galaxy by now. Perhaps we would only be starting to explore the Earth.

The Christian Dark Ages I:The High Middle Ages

June 26, 2014

I have seen this graphic here and there on the Internet.

darkages

The atheist blog where I stole that particular image provides an explanation of the Christian Dark Ages.

I am sure you have heard of the Dark Ages, but if not I’ll help you out. This was when, basically, science was outlawed, to the extent that if you were doing something that the church deemed blasphemous you were killed. This is when we hunted for witches because the bible says to kill witches, homosexuals, those who commit adultery, and the list goes on. If you were not a believer in god you were killed.

In addition this was also the time when the Crusades were going on. So we were killing both our own people and the people of other nations in the name of god. Following god’s laws was one of the worst times in history (IMO).

Ayn Rand described the Dark Ages by having John Galt, the protagonist of her book, “Atlas Shrugged” saying,

The infamous times you call the Dark Ages were an era of intelligence on strike, when men of ability went underground and lived undiscovered, studying in secret, and died, destroying the works of their mind, when only a few of the bravest martyrs remained to keep the human race alive. Every period ruled by mystics was an era of stagnation and want, when most men were on strike against existence, working for less than their barest survival, leaving nothing but scraps for their rulers to loot, refusing to think, to venture, to produce, when the ultimate collector of their profits and the final authority on truth or error was the whim of some gilded degenerate sanctioned as superior to reason by divine right and by grace of a club.

Is any of this true? Were the Middle Ages a period of Darkness in which religious fanatics ran amok,  science was a crime punishable by death, and men of intelligence went on strike? Well, no. The idea that there was a thousand-year period of poverty, ignorance and stagnation caused by fanatic Christians who were opposed to any sort of intellectual endeavor is the result of a dramatic oversimplification of Medieval history and anti-Christian bigotry. It is simply not the truth.

There are not many historians nowadays who would fell comfortable labeling any period of the Middle Ages as the Dark Ages. This is not simply due to political correctness, but an acknowledgement that the period from around AD 500-1500 in European  history was too complex and diverse to be so simply labeled. There were indeed times and places in that period of history that were very dark, but there were also very bright times and places which attained a very highly developed civilization. Any two word phrase simply cannot do justice to the vast sweep of Medieval European History.

In general, historians divide the Middle Ages into the Early Middle Ages, from around 500-1000, the High Middle Ages, from around 1000-1350, and the Late Middle Ages, from around 1350-1500. I will ignore the Late Middle Ages since that period of time is usually referred to as the Renaissance, except to say that there was a sort of mini-dark age in the wake of the Black Death of 1349 and the general breakdown of Medieval institutions throughout the fourteenth fifteenth century.

Europe in 1190

Europe in 1190

I have already dealt with the Scholastic philosopher-theologians of the High Middle Ages and the important role they played in paving the way for the development of modern science. The High Middle Ages were the period in which the university was developed. European scholars gained access to ancient texts in Greek, and Arabic.  The population throughout Europe increased dramatically. More lands were cleared for settlement. Long distance trade expanded and modern banking and capitalism began to develop. Politically, this was the age in which nationalism began to develop and European states began to be more centralized and more efficiently governed. This was also an age in which the city states of Italy and norther Europe could flourish. Culturally, new movements in art and architecture began and literature began to be written in vernacular languages. The High Middle Ages saw an increase in religious devotion, along with the intellectual ferment, which should put to rest the idea that Christian piety and science are forever at odds. The Dominican and Franciscan monastic orders were introduced and there was an increase in religious activity among the laity which foreshadowed the Protestant Reformation. Among the new technologies either invented by Europeans or introduced to Europe were paper making, the magnetic compass, eyeglasses, the wind mill, the spinning wheel, the first mechanical clock, gunpowder and Arabic numerals, along with the re-introduction of the abacus.

Even the Crusades were a positive development.  As we will see, the Early Middle Ages was a period in which Europe was continually invaded from without. The Crusades were not just the result of mindless religious fanaticism, in which Christian barbarians slaughtered anyone who worshiped the wrong god. The Crusades were an attempt by the nations of Christendom to go on the offensive against enemies who had been threatening them for centuries. Transporting armies across a continent and defeating the Moslims on their own ground took a considerable amount of wealth and preparation. The fact that the Crusaders were victorious in the First Crusade is an early indication that the Europeans were beginning to pull ahead in technology.

The High Middle Ages were not a Dark  Age by any means. Instead, the High Middle Ages must be counted among the most brilliant and dynamic in human history. We would not be where we are today if the High Middle Ages had really been the Christian Dark Ages.

I had intended to take up the subject of the Early Middle Ages which could more justly be called a Dark Age but this post is getting long so I think the Early Middle Ages will have to have a post of its own.

 

 

 

That Hideous Strength

June 23, 2014

That Hideous Strength, the third book in C. S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy is not much like the previous two books, Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra. It is about twice as long, the story is set entirely on Earth, though the angelic Oyarses, the rulers of the planets, make an appearance at the climax. Elwin Ransom is not the protagonist of That Hideous Strength but he appears midway in the story and plays an important role in it. The supernatural plays a far greater role in That Hideous Strength than in the previous two books and it might be classified as more in the realm of fantasy than properly science fiction.

First edition cover

First edition cover (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The story of That Hideous Strength centers on Mark and Jane Studdock, a recently, though somewhat unhappily married couple. Mark Studdock is a professor of Sociology at Bracton College, part of the University of Edgestow. He is ambitious, desiring most of all to be in the inner circle. He is delighted to be part of the “Progressive Element” at Bracton and supports their intrigues to sell some of the college’s land to the National Instituted for Co-ordinated Experiments. Mark is excited to meet Lord Feverstone, aka Dick Devine one of the antagonists from Out of the Silent Planet. Feverstone is both a senior fellow of Bracton and a leading figure at the NICE and when he offers to take Mark to the institute at Belbury for a possible job, Mark eagerly agrees to go.

At the NICE, Mark meets a variety of strange characters including John Wither, the Deputy Director who seems only vaguely aware of his surroundings, Dr. Filostrato, a physiologist who has managed to keep the severed head of an executed murderer alive, and Major “Fairy” Hardcastle, the sadistic, lesbian head of security. At first, Mark is not sure what his new job is supposed to be, or even if he actually has a new job. He falls in and out of favor with the authorities at The NICE seemingly at random and is never sure where he stands. This is gradually revealed as a method to bring him further into the mysteries surrounding NICE. It turns out that the leaders of the NICE have been in contact with demons or fallen eldilla, though they are not aware of their true nature, believing them to be superior beings called “macrobes”.

Meanwhile, Jane Studdock while supposedly working on her dissertation on John Donne is dismayed to find that she has become merely a housewife. She has begun to have clairvoyant dreams. When she confides in the wife of her tutor, Mrs. Dimble, she is taken to a manor at St Anne’s where she meets Mr. Fisher-King, Elwin Ransom. Ransom has been much changed by his travels to Malacandra and Perelandra and is no longer the simple philologist he was at the beginning of the Space Trilogy. Because he has lived in Paradise on Venus, Ransom appears younger and no longer ages, though still bears a wound on his heel inflicted by Weston during their fight. Ransom has become the Pendragon, the heir of King Arthur and has gathered around him a small group of people dedicated to fighting the evil represented at the NICE.

Jane’s clairvoyant dreams indicated that the NICE is attempting to disinter the body of Merlin from his resting place in the land they purchased from Bracton College. Merlin is not dead but in a suspended state and the leaders of the NICE hope to make use of his knowledge of the ancient lore of Numinor to effect a union between modern science and ancient magic. Merlin, however has his own ideas.

In his review of That Hideous Strength, George Orwell said that the introduction of the supernatural weakened the story and that one always knew who would win in any fight between God and the Devil. I don’t agree. Leaving aside the fact that Lewis would not have written any fiction that was not infused with his worldview that contains the possibility of miracles, I did not find that the supernatural elements of the story in any way lessened the suspense. In fact, I can honestly say that That Hideous Strength was one of the few books that I couldn’t bear to put down, since I was desperate to know just what the villains at the NICE were up to. There is something of a deus ex machina effect at the climax in which the ruling oyarses of the various planets, identified with the Roman gods the planets are named after, descend to Earth to upset the plans of the NICE, but Lewis skillfully builds up to the climax. The repentance of Mark Studdock is also well handled as he realizes that everything he had been working toward isn’t really what he thought he wanted. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I think it is the best of C. S. Lewis’s fiction I have yet read.

 

 

Presbyterians Abandon Christianity

June 22, 2014

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) has voted to approve of same sex marriage as Christian.

The top legislative body of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has voted by large margins to recognize same-sex marriage as Christian in the church constitution, adding language that marriage can be the union of “two people,” not just “a man and a woman.”

The amendment approved Thursday by the Presbyterian General Assembly requires approval from a majority of the 172 regional presbyteries, which will vote on the change over the next year. But in a separate policy change that takes effect at the end of this week’s meeting, delegates voted to allow ministers to preside at gay weddings in states where the unions are legal and local congregational leaders approve. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriage.

In doing so, this denomination has fallen into heresy and apostasy. I do not say this simply because of this particular decision and if it were an isolated measure in a church body that has otherwise held firm to Christian doctrine and teachings, I wouldn’t feel the need to write anything about it. Unfortunately, this decision to recognize same sex marriage is part of a decades long trend in which the Presbyterians and the other “mainline” Protestant denominations have abandoned Christian teachings.

No longer Christian

No longer Christian

Christians ultimately derive their doctrines on beliefs and practices from the Bible, the Old and New Testaments. In the Protestant tradition Scripture Alone is considered to be the sole source for doctrine, while in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions Scripture along with sacred tradition and the teaching authority of the Church is the source of doctrine. In these branches of Christianity tradition and scripture cannot, or at least ought not to contradict one another and tradition must ultimately be based on scripture. Tradition supplements or amplifies scripture. It does not replace scripture.

Every Christian sect or denomination has some sort of body whose job is to apply the doctrines taught by scripture. They may not change the doctrines taught be scripture. No priest, minister, preacher, pastor, elder, bishop, council, assembly, or Pope has the authority to alter the basic teachings of Christianity. No one has the authority add or detract from the Bible or to change a single word. In fact, Christians are strictly forbidden to do so. . It is the duty of the Church to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. No authority at any level may substitute their own opinions or agenda for the Gospel nor may they preach a different gospel. The Pope may be infallible in proclaiming the teachings of the Catholic Church. He cannot singlehandedly change those teachings. He cannot announce that Jesus is not the son of God or that all religions are equally true.

The teachings of Christianity concerning marriage are quite clear and unambiguous. Marriage consists of a man and a woman united together as one flesh. Christian marriage must be monogamous and for life. Any sexual relation outside of marriage is a sin. No doubt this is a hard teaching and perhaps given the fallen nature of humankind, it is unrealistic to expect everyone to abide by such teaching in its full rigor. As a matter of charity and practicality, concessions must often be made because of the hardness of our hearts, but such concessions must not be mistaken for the ideal which ought to be upheld by the church.

By abandoning Christian teachings on marriage, as well as  many other subjects, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) has substituted the gospel of left-wing political correctness for the Gospel of Christ. They are failing to do their job of proclaiming the Gospel and saving souls. At this point it would be more honest if the Presbyterian Church (USA) would abandon any pretense of being a Christian organization of any sort and to re-invent themselves as a social group or a political party.

And then there is this:

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on Friday became the most prominent religious group in the United States to endorse divestment as a protest against Israeli policies toward Palestinians, voting to sell church stock in three companies whose products Israel uses in the occupied territories.

The General Assembly voted by a razor-thin margin – 310-303 – to sell stock in Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions. Two years ago, the General Assembly rejected a similar divestment proposal by two votes.

 

Omar Barghouti, a co-founder of the BDS movement, praised the vote as a “sweet victory for human rights.”

He said Presbyterian supporters of Palestinian rights have introduced divestment into the U.S. mainstream and have given Palestinians “real hope in the face of the relentless and intensifying cruelty of Israel’s regime of occupation, settler colonialism and apartheid.”

The top Presbyterian legislative body has been considering divestment for a decade. Representatives of the Presbyterian socially responsible investment arm told the national meeting in Detroit that their efforts to lobby the three companies for change had failed. Carol Hylkema of the Israel/Palestine Mission Network, a Presbyterian group that advocates for Palestinians and spearheaded the drive for divestment, said their action was modeled on the divestment movement to end apartheid in South Africa. The 2012 assembly had endorsed a boycott of Israeli products made in the Palestinian territories.

“Because we are a historical peacemaking church, what we have done is, we have stood up for nonviolent means of resistance to oppression and we have sent a clear message to a struggling society that we support their efforts to resist in a nonviolent way the oppression being thrust upon them,” said the Rev. Jeffrey DeYoe, of the Israel/Palestine Mission Network.

This is not a matter of Christian doctrine or teaching but it does show an astonishing lack of moral clarity on the part of this formerly Christian denomination, as well as a singular ignorance of the history and politics of the region. If the Palestinians wanted a separate state alongside Israel, that is democratic and respects human rights, and if  they were willing to work nonviolently in order to establish such a state, they would have achieved their goal many years ago. That is not, however, what the Palestinians seem to want. They want the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state. As long as that is their goal, there will be no peace in the region, since the Israelis are not willing to destroy themselves. By voting to divest in Israel, the Presbyterian General Assembly is not striking a blow for peace and human rights in the Middle East. They are giving hope to the terrorists and jihadists that Israel will be forced to make concessions that will weaken it and ultimately lead to its destruction. They are showing support to the enemies of both the Jews and the Christians. They are a disgrace.

 

The Two Sides of the Moon

June 19, 2014

One of the things everyone notices when looking at the Moon are the dark spots or the Man in the Moon.

near

The Near Side of the Moon

These dark places are called “maria” from the Latin word for seas. I suppose early astronomers speculated that they really were oceans on the Moon. There is, of course no water on the Moon and the “seas” are, in fact, plains of basalt formed by volcanic eruptions when the Moon was first formed. The maria are richer in iron than the lunar highlands and so are darker.

Naturally, astronomers expected the far side of the Moon to be much like the near side. Until the space age, however, there was no way to know what the Moon’s far side was like. When the Soviet space probe Luna 3 sent back the first photographs of the far side of the Moon, in 1959, astronomers were surprised to discover that there are fewer maria on the far side.

The Far Side of the Moon

The Far Side of the Moon

Why there should be so few maria on the far side has been something of a mystery. It seems clear that the Earth must have something to do with it, but what exactly? Does the fact that the Moon has two faces have anything to do with the way it was formed? The study of exoplanets, planets orbiting other stars, may have helped to solve the mystery. Here is the article I read at Yahoo News.

Heat radiating from the young Earth could help solve the more than 50-year-old mystery of why the far side of the moon, which faces away from Earth, lacks the dark, vast expanses of volcanic rock that define the face of the Man in the Moon as seen from Earth, researchers say.

The Man in the Moon was born when cosmic impacts struck the near side of the moon, the side that faces Earth. These collisions punched holes in the moon’s crust, which later filled with vast lakes of lava that formed the dark areas known as maria or “seas.”

 

Now scientists may have solved the 55-year-old mystery; heat from the young Earth as the newborn moon was cooling caused the difference. The researchers came up with the solution during their work on exoplanets, which are worlds outside the solar system.

“There are many exoplanets that are really close to their host stars,”lead study author Arpita Roy, also of Penn State, told Space.com. “That really affects the geology of those planets.”

Similarly, the moon and Earth are generally thought to have orbited very close together after they formed. The leading idea explaining the moon’s formation suggests that it arose shortly after the nascent Earth collided with a Mars-size planet about 4.5 billion years ago, with the resulting debris coalescing into the moon. Scientists say the newborn moon and Earth were 10 to 20 times closer to each other than they are now.

“The moon and Earth loomed large in each other’s skies when they formed, ” Roy said in a statement.

I would have liked to have seen such a sight.

Since the moon was so close to Earth, the mutual pull of gravity was strong. The gravitational tidal forces the moon and Earth exerted on each other braked their rotations, resulting in the moon always showing the same face to Earth, a situation known as tidal lock.

The moon and Earth were very hot shortly after the giant impact that formed the moon. The moon, being much smaller than Earth, cooled more quickly. Since the moon and Earth were tidally locked early on, the still-hot Earth — more than 4,530 degrees Fahrenheit (2,500 degrees Celsius) — would have cooked the near side of the moon, keeping it molten. On the other hand, the far side of the moon would have cooled, albeit slowly.

The difference in temperature between the moon’s halves influenced the formation of its crust. The lunar crust possesses high concentrations of aluminum and calcium, elements that are very hard to vaporize.

“When rock vapor starts to cool, the very first elements that snow out are aluminum and calcium,” study co-author Steinn Sigurdsson of Penn State said in a statement.

Aluminum and calcium would have more easily condensed in the atmosphere on the colder far side of the moon. Eventually, these elements combined with silicates in the mantle of the moon to form minerals known as plagioclase feldspars, making the crust of the far side about twice as thick as that of the near side.

“Earthshine, the heat of Earth soon after the giant impact, was a really important factor shaping the moon,” Roy said.

When collisions from asteroids or comets blasted the moon’s surface, they could punch through the near side’s crust to generate maria. In contrast, impacts on the far side’s thicker crust failed to penetrate deeply enough to cause lava to well up, instead leaving the far side of the moon with a surface of valleys, craters and highlands, but almost no maria.

“It’s really cool that our understanding of exoplanets is affecting our understanding of the solar system,” Roy said.

I did not know that astronomers had progressed so far in the study of exoplanets that they were able to learn some details about the geology of those planets. I am glad to be living in an age in which we are learning so much about the universe we live in.

 

 

 

Climate Justice

June 16, 2014

The word justice is a noun that does not usually need to be modified. As Dennis Prager has stated, you either have justice or you do not and if someone adds an adjective to modify justice, it means they have a (left-wing) agenda. In other words, if someone feels the need to add a modifier to justice that generally means they are trying to justify some injustice. Thus, there is social justice, racial justice, food justice, and now climate justice.

What is climate justice? Apparently, it is a way to justify keeping Africans poor and denying the use of Africa’s natural resources to make their lives bearable. At least that is the impression I get from this article I read from the Institute for Policy Studies.

This week, the House will vote on the Electrify Africa Act. This bill directs the president to draw up a multi-year strategy to strengthen the ability of countries in sub-Saharan Africa to “develop an appropriate mix of power solutions” to provide electricity, fight poverty, and “drive economic growth.”

Who could be opposed to helping African countries develop a workable infrastructure in order to drive economic growth. The only possible consideration I would have would be to make sure the money actually goes to helping people and not straight into the pockets of corrupt officials. The climate justice crowd have another objection, it might work.

Because of strong pressure from climate justice advocates, some positives—such as integrated resource planning and decentralized renewable energy—are named as a part of that mix. But because it still leaves the door wide open to fossil fuels, the bill doesn’t go far enough to protect people or their environment.

And the debate over Electrify Africa continues as the Senate drafts a companion bill.

Behind both pieces of legislation is a White House initiative announced last summer called “Power Africa.” It frames President Barack Obama’s approach to energy investment on the continent, which has been condemned by environmental justice groups. It’s an “all of the above” energy strategy that favors the fossil fuel companies that are destroying the planet and corrupting Washington.

Proponents of Electrify and Power Africa have been most publicly enthusiastic about new discoveries of vast reserves of oil and gas on the continent, which has many African activists wary of a resource grab. Executives from companies like General Electric—which according to Forbes has recently pivoted its attention to the continent—have appeared on the podium with President Obama to applaud the policy.

At a March Senate hearing on Power Africa, Del Renigar, Senior Counsel for Global Government Affairs and Policy at GE, even noted that one of the company’s “most significant efforts to date has been focused on the privatization of the Nigerian power sector.” He lauded the potential of Power Africa to help “reduce the obstacles” to negotiating deals for power projects. And some backers of dirty energy are attempting to use the initiative to weaken the existing environmental safeguard policies of national development finance institutions such as the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC).

Well, God forbid we allow the Africans to develop the vast reserves of oil and gas on their continent. That might actually alleviate the endemic poverty of the region. To be sure, there is a danger that countries that rely on the export of energy will be plagued with corruption and will fail to develop a more diverse economy. One only needs to look at the example of a country like Nigeria or much of the Middle East to see what a curse large reserves of oil can be. But again, that is not what the climate justice advocates are worrying about. They don’t seem to want the African people to have “dirty” energy. If that means that the African people must make do without energy, well, too bad.

They do address this objection.

The backers of keeping dirty energy in Power Africa like to portray their opponents as privileged elites who want to keep Africans “in the dark” by denying them electricity and industrialization, while keeping their own lights on.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The real concern here is that U.S. taxpayers will wind up supporting African energy development that caters to corporate industrial zones and natural resource exporters, leaving the majority of Africans in rural and neglected urban areas still without access to power and exposed to dangerous pollution.

Yes, that is precisely what they want, to keep Africans in the dark. Of course energy development will cater to corporate industrial zones and natural resource exporters, at first. But, if corruption is kept to an acceptable minimum and the economies of the various African companies are opened up to the free market, the amount of wealth in Africa will increase. Over time, prosperity ought to spread from the industrial zones out to rural and urban Africa, unless people like the Climate Justice movement interfere with the process.

A climate justice movement with a clear vision for a clean, equitable energy future is making itself heard. The drivers of this movement are people living on the front line of dirty energy in poorer countries and in low-income neighborhoods in wealthier nations like the United States. They understand firsthand the effects of dirty energy pollution and climate chaos, and are champions of innovative forms of clean rural and urban electrification—not only in the Global South, but just as urgently in the heavily polluting Global North. In fact, an international campaign to demand climate justice, representing over 100 groups in developing and developed countries, has called for efforts to ensure “people’s access to clean, safe, and renewable energy sources.”

In Africa, climate justice activists are speaking eloquently about a new economy for Africans and everyone else that leapfrogs fossil fuels and delivers electricity to hundreds of millions of people through clean energy and energy efficiency.

There are reasons why fossil fuels still produce most of the energy in the world. Fossil fuels are cheap and efficient. Renewable energy sources only make up around 9% of the total energy consumed in the United States. Of this 9%, 30% is from hydroelectric sources. The trouble is that Africa does not have many navigable rivers, only the Nile and the Congo can be traveled any great distance from the ocean. African does, however, have a number of small, swift rivers that are ideal for the construction of hydroelectric dams and other facilities. Unfortunately, they are not often near the largest concentrations of populations. Still, hydroelectric power does have a future in Africa. I don’t think that is what these people have in mind, though. I have a feeling they would oppose the construction of dams as much as they oppose the construction of coal-fired power plants.

The bottom line is that if you insist that Africa only be powered by clean, renewable energy that has a minimal impact on the environment, that is the same as insisting that Africa have no power at all. If technologically advanced countries find renewable energy to be expensive and limited, why should African countries be any different. One of the biggest problems that I have with the environmentalists is their doctrine that their concept of environmental purity come before the good of human beings, particularly the poorer, darker skinned human beings. This is just another example of their callous disregard for the welfare of the world’s poor.

The Incredible Shrinking President

June 13, 2014

That is the title of an article Walter Russel Mead has written in the Daily News. When you consider the contrast between the hype when President Obama was first elected and the public’s increasingly negative view of his job performance, he certainly seems to be shrinking. He came into office promising to heal the planet and now it seems he can’t get anything done. As Mead puts it,

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Less than two years after voters gave President Barack Obama a strong mandate for a second term, the White House is struggling against perceptions that it is losing its grip.

At home, the bungled rollout of the Obamacare website and the shocking revelations about an entrenched culture of incompetence and fraud in the VA have undercut faith in the President’s managerial competency.

Abroad, a surging Russia, an aggressive China, a war torn Middle East and a resurgent terror network are putting his foreign policy credentials to the test. With the GOP hoping to seize control of the Senate in November’s midterm elections, and the inevitable decline in presidential power that occurs as second term presidents move toward lame-duck status, Obama risks being sidelined and marginalized for the remaining two years of his term.

Mead has more to say about the president’s troubles but it is the second to last paragraph that intrigues me.

With 30 months to go, Obama still may have a chance to regain control of both the domestic and international agendas, but to do that he’s going to have to change his approach. He needs to focus on the nitty-gritty, day-to-day business of governing; six years into his administration, the public is fed up with promises and hungry for concrete accomplishments.

That has always been the problem with Barack Obama. He seems never to have been very interested in the day to day business of governing at any point in his political career. His colleagues in the Illinois State Senate and the US Senate remarked that he pref erred giving speeches on the Senate floor rather doing the actual work of preparing legislation in committees. He didn’t seem all that interested in the details of his most important legislation as president, Obamacare.

It is worth contrasting President Obama with another liberal Democratic president who had an ambitious agenda to change America, Lyndon B. Johnson. Both men believed in the power of the federal government to make life better for every American and both entered office with bold plans.On the whole, Johnson was more successful than Obama has been. Johnson was able to get Congress to pass his Great Society programs and civil rights legislation by large, bi-partisan majorities. Johnson took a personal interest in his policies and had an active part in designing the Great Society. Lyndon B. Johnson had spent twenty-four years in Congress before becoming John F. Kennedy’s vice president, serving in both Houses. He knew just who to talk to in order to get a bill passed and he knew how to persuade, intimidate or neutralize his opponents. He was a gregarious man who seemed to genuinely love politicking and policy.

That just isn’t Obama’s style and I doubt it ever can be. He just doesn’t seem to like dealing with members of Congress of either party all that much. There are reports that he is frustrated by the need to lobby people in Congress to get bills passed and would prefer to meet with world leaders and interesting people. He seems to believe that he can get things done by making grand proclamations and then every right-minded person will rush to make his policies happen. It seems that he does not believe that the people who oppose his policies might have different values or priorities and some compromise might serve the interests of both sides. Instead he thinks that any opposition can only be to personal dislike, racism, greed, or some other base motive. Johnson had great skill in crafting legislation to appeal to a broad majority. Obama seems not to be interested in trying

Since it is unlikely that a fifty-two year old man will be able to change his entire personality, the next two years of Obama’s presidency will undoubtedly be much like the last six. It’s going to be a long two years.

Thankfully Dictatorial

June 9, 2014

In her article in the National Journal, Lucia Graves is thankful that Barack Obama has taken “dictatorial” action with the new regulations restriction carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, and in so doing has managed to solve the greatest problem in political theory.

In college classes, climate change is taught as a textbook example of where democracy fails. And there are a whole host of reasons to think America will fail on climate change: We’ve waited too long; the consequences aren’t as tangible as in other areas of policy; we’re bad at sacrificing in the short term to achieve in the long term.

President Obama, who on Monday rolled out landmark regulations for coal-fired power plants, has found a way around that age-old political problem posed by climate change and democracies, in part by acting a little bit more like a dictator. This is something he’s been skewered for on the right, with Rush Limbaugh accusing the White House of focusing on global warming just because “it offers the president opportunities to be dictatorial.”

Limbaugh is onto something, but he has it precisely backward: The decision to use executive authority is the means, not the ends. It also makes a lot of sense when it comes to global warming given Congress’s failure to pass the Waxman-Markey energy bill in 2009, and, for decades before that, to pass any sort of comprehensive climate legislation whatsoever.

Considering that a fairly large number of Americans do not place global warming high on the list of problems they want solved, it seems that democracy in America is working just fine, on this issue. Congress has not acted because there has not been much public pressure to act. What Lucia Graves really means, of course, is that democracy has failed on this issue because the public has the wrong opinion on this issue, so the problem cannot be resolved democratically. A little but of dictatorship is in order.

If a little bit of dictatorship is necessary to deal with climate change, why not with other issues? There must be quite a few problems facing this country that are difficult to resolve democratically. Consider the federal deficit. Almost everyone agrees that the federal budget ought to be balanced, yet the government continues to run a deficit every year. Most people want the government to cut spending, except for the government spending they happen to be in favor of. So, spending increases. I wonder if Lucia Graves would approve of a president who decided that since Congress cannot act to balance the budget, he will make out the budget himself without consulting with Congress. For that matter, I wonder if she would approve if President Obama’s successor simply reversed the emissions regulations with a stroke of his pen.

Progressives have been impatient with the whole concept of checks and balances at least since the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, if not before. In this view, checks and balances, rather than being a safeguard against tyranny, just get in the way of the wise and benevolent Tribunes of the People from doing good for everyone. If it so happens that the people don’t really know what is good for them, all the more reason for them to be ruled by those who know better. Unfortunately, people who wield power are seldom wise and benevolent and are usually most interested in what is good for themselves, which is why the framers of the constitution put in so many checks and balances. I wish that the people who write admiringly of President Obama’s “dictatorial” actions would think about what a president they thoroughly disapprove of could do if allowed to act as a dictator. Perhaps they would be less thankful of the example he is setting.

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