Archive for February, 2016

Leap Day 2016

February 29, 2016

Since today, a leap day, occurs only once every four years, I thought I might like to write a little about why we have leap years and where the idea originated. Our calendar ultimately comes from the calendar used by the Romans. The names of the months and the number of days in each month are basically the same, though the year originally began in March and the Romans did not count the days from the beginning of the month but counted backwards from three fixed days, the kalends, the nones, and the ides.

The Roman calendar was, like many ancient calendars, a lunisolar calendar with a intercalary month added at intervals to keep the dates aligned with the seasons. The responsibility for inserting the intercalary month lay with the Pontifex Maximus, the leader of the order of Priests called the Pontiffs. (One of the titles of the Pope is the Pontiff.) Unfortunately this position was a political one and the Pontiffs got in the habit of inserting the extra month to prolong the terms of their political allies, or not inserting it if their enemies were in office. By the time of Julius Caesar the date was three months behind the seasons.

In 46 BC, Caesar returned to Rome from Egypt. The Egyptians had long used a solar calendar of 365 days. Caesar brought mathematicians and astronomers from  Alexandria with him and he directed them to reform the Roman calendar. The calendar they developed is called the Julian Calender. In this new calendar, they changed the first month to January and gave each month the number of days it now contains. Most importantly, they did away with the intercalary months altogether. The Julian calendar was to be solely a solar calendar and the months would have no relation to the moon. Caesar lengthened the year 46 BC to 445 days to bring the date back in alignment with the seasons. This year was called the year of confusion, but it was the last year of confusion as the Julian calendar was adopted throughout the Roman world and is used with some modifications to this day.

The most important reform the Greek astronomers made was the introduction of the Leap Year. The problem is that the year is not exactly 365 days. Instead, as the astronomers had learned, the year is closed to 365 1/4 days. So, it seemed that an easy way to keep the date aligned was to simply add a day every four years. And so, since Caesar’s reform of the calendar, we have had leap years every four years.

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Chelsea, Hilary and Faith

February 22, 2016

I see a lot of posts on social media or on the Internet telling that I am going to be disgusted or shocked at the latest outrageous act or statement of some politician or celebrity. I don’t much like reading them. For one thing, I think that I am able to decide for myself what I find to be disgusting or shocking and I really don’t need someone else telling me how I should react to someone’s actions or even whether I should care. For another, I am actually starting to be a little disgusted at this point of view in which people are always finding reasons to hate or distrust one another and always assuming the worst possible motives for their political opponents’ actions. Maybe we would all get along better if we stopped trying to find reasons to be outraged. Besides, most of the time, the alleged outrages are so minor or petty, I can’t imagine wasting the time or effort to have any emotion at all about them.

So, when I read this column at the Daily Wire about the latest outrage from Chelsea Clinton, I did not feel ill, as the headline suggested I should.

Sunday, Chelsea Clinton, stumping for her pro-abortion mother, showed she has learned her lessons well from her parents, as she offered a Byzantine defense of Hillary Clinton’s supposed faith.

Chelsea Clinton, in an attempt to limn her mother as a religious person, told an audience at a fundraiser that the reason she left the Baptist Church as a child stemmed from the church’s discussion of abortion when she was six years old. She wheedled, “I find it quite insulting sometimes when people say to my mom, my dad or me . . . that they question our faith. I was raised in a Methodist church and I left the Baptist church before my dad did, because I didn’t know why they were talking to me about abortion when I was 6 in Sunday school — that’s a true story.”

Uh-oh. When a Clinton claims something is true, watch out for what else is in the bag.

I see no particular reason to doubt her story, though it does seem unlikely that a six year old girl would be mature enough to decide to leave her parents’s church over the question of abortion. I doubt many six year olds have much of an understanding of the issue, though perhaps Chelsea Clinton was precocious. She is, after all, the daughter of the smartest woman in the world.

But I don’t really care about her religious or political views, and I wouldn’t bother writing this post except for the next section in the article.

Sure enough: “My mother is very deeply a person of faith. It is deeply authentic and real for my mother, and it guides so much of her moral compass, but also her life’s work.”

And: ‘I recognized that there were many expressions of faith that I don’t agree with and feel [are] quite antithetical to how I read the Bible. But I find it really challenging when people who are self-professed liberals kind of look askance at my family’s history.”

Now, if the child of a Republican presidential candidate had said that her parent was very deeply a person of faith who was guided by her faith, the progressive left would have a fit. The candidate would be denounced as a card carrying member of the Religious Right in all the usual media. There would be accusations that the candidate was planning to overthrow the sacred constitutional doctrine of absolute separation between church and state (found nowhere in the actual words of the first amendment, but in one of the penumbras that only left wing jurists can see) and institute a Christian theocracy. Editorials would be written which explain that in the secular government that our founding fathers created, no office holder should permit his private religious views to have influence over his actions and decisions because that would be the worst sort of religious discrimination against those who do not share his views. If the candidate’s religion has negative views on leftist hobby horses such as abortion or gay “marriage”, he would be called to repudiate the beliefs held by his more unenlightened co-religionists.

Hilary and Chelsea Clinton can say that Hilary’s faith motivates her and provides guidance, yet somehow this isn’t an offense against decency and democracy. If the progressives didn’t have double standards, they wouldn’t have any standards at all.

 

Space Seed

February 7, 2016

I have just finished watching the Star Trek Original Series episode “Space Seed“, probably one of the better episodes of the series, not least because it introduced the character of Khan Noonian Singh, one of the greatest villains of the entire Star Trek franchise and the antagonist of the best of the Star Trek movies, “The Wrath of Khan“. Ricardo Montalban‘s performance as Khan is truly wonderful, maybe the best of his career, as he portrays the villain just sympathetically enough for the viewers to admire and understand Khan while not forgetting that he is the bad guy.

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Khan is presented as a compelling figure. The result of scientific efforts to improve the human race through selective breeding, and probably genetic engineering, though that technology was scarcely imagined in the 1960’s, Khan and his followers are physically and intellectually superior to normal humans. Because of this superiority, the supermen decided that they had a natural right to rule over lesser humans and their attempt to conquer the world caused a series of wars called the Eugenics Wars. Upon being revived by the crew of the Enterprise, Khan perceives that the crew is made up of unmodified, inferior humans and naturally repays Kirk’s hospitality by attempting to seize the Enterprise and embark on a new career of conquest throughout the galaxy. Khan may be a megalomaniac, but his megalomania is justified because he really is superior to everyone around him.

Towards the end of the episode, when Kirk offers to drop all charges against Khan, if Khan and his followers agree to settle the barren but habitable planet Ceti Alpha V, Khan replies by asking Kirk if he is familiar with Milton. Khan is referring to the famous line in Milton’s Paradise Lost in which Lucifer declares that it is better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven. It is an appropriate sentiment for Khan since he and Milton’s Lucifer are much alike. Both are proud, strong-willed beings who are charismatic enough leaders to inspire their subjects to follow them even to Hell, or the hellish Ceti Alpha V. Khan is superficially charming and gracious, yet like Lucifer, the arrogance, lust for power and cruelty in his nature is never far below the surface. Khan has no compunctions about suffocating the bridge crew of the Enterprise in order to capture the ship. Khan’s fate is not unlike Lucifer’s. In the course of Paradise Lost, Lucifer becomes increasingly consumed by his pride and hatred until he descends into nihilism and madness as the demonic Satan. If he cannot rule, than he will spoil and ruin Paradise and its inhabitants, Adam and Eve. By the time of the events of the Wrath of Khan, Khan has been driven mad by the wrongs that he believes that Kirk has done him. Khan no longer wants his empire but only to destroy.

It is true that Kirk and Scotty note that there were no great massacres in the territories under his control. Apparently Khan did rule with some degree of justice, yet I imagine that it was expedience rather than any moral reservations that inspired Khan. He must have been shrewd enough to realize that mass murders are counter productive in establishing an empire and since he was guided by no ideology like Communism or Nazism, but only interested in his rightful place as ruler, he had little reason to commit the horrible acts of genocide of a Hitler or Stalin. The wise farmer does not wantonly slaughter his cattle, but takes care to keep them healthy. Khan probably felt the same way about his human cattle. As Spock retorts, there was also little freedom under his rule.

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I wonder whether Kirk or Khan were really as familiar with Milton as they believed. It is a commonly held view that Lucifer became the ruler of Hell in Paradise Lost, but Milton was more clever than that. In fact, Milton makes it clear in the end that Satan does not rule in Hell. Because God’s sovereignty extends to every part of the universe, including Hell, Satan was as much God’s servant in Hell as he was in Heaven. Satan was lying to himself and to his demons when he said that famous line.

If Kirk really knew his Milton, he would have known the folly of letting Khan go under any circumstances. Even if Lucifer had really been the ruler of Hell, he would not have long been content. Almost as soon as Satan recovers from the fall into Hell, he escapes and makes his way to Earth and Paradise. Satan could not be satisfied with only a part of the universe, he wanted to rule it all, and if he could not have it, he wanted to destroy it. Khan’s lust for domination and power could never have been satisfied with homesteading on a barren, deserted planet. It wouldn’t take long before Khan would want more. Kirk had no way of anticipating the destruction of the planet and the events that led to the Wrath of Khan, but he surely ought to have realized that Khan would attempt to seize any star ship that stopped by Ceti Alpha V.

That might be part of the reason that The Wrath of Khan is a good movie. In the original series, Kirk and crew travel from planet to planet solving problems and making decisions and we never get to see the consequences of their actions. None of the writers anticipated Star Trek movies or any other series being made and there wasn’t much interest in writing an episode revisiting old planets when there seemed to be a whole galaxy to explore. In those days, television series had self-contained episodes and no one thought of extending a plot arc over several episodes, or an entire season. In the Wrath of Khan, and its sequels, we finally do see Kirk face the consequences of his decision, and it isn’t pleasant for him. It makes me wonder how some of Kirk’s actions in other episodes turned out, and how many other children he has running around the galaxy.

Former Trump Supporter

February 1, 2016

I would have thought that John Hawkins of Right Wing News would have had more sense than to ever be a fan of Donald Trump, but we are all subject of the delusions and follies of the popular mood and at least Hawkins was able to see through Trump and change his mind, as he writes in this column at Townhall.com.

I understand why people like Donald Trump because I was a big fan of his as well.

I loved the fact that he’s a charismatic, politically incorrect fighter and a successful businessman. I am also genuinely grateful to him for changing the debate on immigration and starting a conversation about Muslim immigration that we should have had a long time ago. I don’t believe a ban on Muslim immigrants would ever pass

Congress nor do I think it’s practical (How would you realistically implement it?), but I do think blocking future refugees and immigrants from countries where Al-Qaeda and ISIS hold sway is more doable because of Trump. That’s a little ironic because he was initially in favor of bringing in Syrian refugees, but it’s true. Additionally, after years of being ignored, scorned and poorly represented by Republican leaders in Congress, it’s nice to have a politician who actually goes overboard to pander to conservatives.

So far, I agree with what Hawkins has to say. I can understand the appeal of Trump too. He is saying all the right things, including a good deal that needs to be said. The problem is that when I look over Trump’s past history, I get the impression that he is willing to say anything his audience wants to hear. I don’t think Trump is for anybody but himself and if he is elected, a lot of his current supporters are going to be very disappointed in what he actually does.

And there is this.

When you have genuine affection for someone, it’s easy to block out his faults. In Trump’s case, this is being taken to such an extreme that it’s starting to feel like we’re in Jonestown a few days before the Kool-Aid is handed out. Tell me I’m wrong if you like, but even Trump made reference to that when he said,

“And you know what else they say about my people? The polls! They say I have the most loyal people. Did you ever see that? Where I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters. It’s incredible.”

Since when do conservatives engage in this type of blind loyalty towards ANY politician?

I did not like the creepy cult of personality that some of President Obama’s supporters seemed to be following. Trump’s supporters haven’t gone quite so far in hailing him as their messiah, but I don’t think that the sort of blind faith some of them seem to have in this man is a good idea.

But here is where I start to disagree with Hawkins.

Similarly, Donald Trump talks incessantly about polls that are favorable to him, but the polls have also nconsistently shown that he loses to Hillary Clinton. Worse yet, his favorable/unfavorable ratings are 33/58. That’s the same as Jimmy Carter in early 1980. It’s WORSE than Walter Mondale. Trump even has a higher unfavorable rating with the general public than Nixon AFTER Watergate. It would be easier to rehabilitate Enron’s image than to make Trump President with those poll numbers.

Saying that a candidate with those poll numbers couldn’t win an election without a miracle is something that anyone who knows something about elections would normally agree on.  Yet, with Trump, many people seem unfazed. Basically, they think he’s going to use some kind of “Trump magic” that will guarantee a victory.

I am not so sure this polling matters so much anymore. Trump is very good at getting what he wants and if he really wants to be president, I think that he will be president. He is not playing by the same rules as regular politicians and he has shown extraordinary skill in managing the media to promote himself. Most politicians are afraid to say or do anything that might lead to negative coverage. Trump seems to realize that it doesn’t matter what the reporters and pundits are saying about him, whether positive or negative, so long as they are talking about Trump. The outrageous things that he sometimes says do not hurt him because they keep him in the public eye.

Trump is not a fool. I am sure that he is aware of his high unfavorability in the polls and he is undoubtedly considering ways to win over the people who currently view him negatively. Whether he is successful or not is unknown, but it would be unwise to underestimate him.

The problem with that is that successful though Donald Trump may be, he fails all the time. He’s had four bankruptcies. Then there’s Trump steaks, Trump Vodka, Trump the Game, Trump Magazine, Trump Mortgage, Trump Airlines, Trump University, Trump Casinos, the New Jersey Generals and happily, he also lost a lawsuit and was unable to take a widow’s home via eminent domain so he could build a limo parking lot. Trump has been a successful businessman, but an awful lot of investors who put money into his ill-advised projects because they just assumed he’d find a way to win have gotten burned doing business deals with him.

Trump’s failures could actually be spun as a point in his favor. Notice that despite the many unsuccessful ventures he has been in, Trump is still one of the richest men in America. Trump has learned to manage his failures in a way that leads to greater success, at least for himself. We learn more from our failures than our successes and this ability to manage failure is more impressive than an unbroken string of successes.  The fact that Trump doesn’t give up but keeps on trying new things speaks well of his character  and determination.

I am still against a Trump presidency though, for much the same reasons as Hawkins.

Since Trump is first and foremost a dealmaker, what makes you think you’d like the deals someone who doesn’t share your principles would cut on your behalf any more than you liked the deals John Boehner made? What makes you think Trump would be any different than another celebrity like Arnold Schwarzenegger who talked a good game and then ended up governing from the left-of-center once he was in office?

Also, as entertaining and successful as Trump may be, he doesn’t have the right temperament to be President. It’s a serious, sober job and even if you like him, you have to admit that he’s crude, mean-spirited, narcissistic, unpredictable and conspiratorial. Would you consider any other candidate who trashed POWs, “I like people that weren’t captured,” made fun of the disabled (He’s done this more than once), said he never asked God for forgiveness and keeps making creepy comments about how he’d like to date his daughter, “(Ivanka) does have a very nice figure. I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her?”Even if you’re willing to overlook those comments because you love Trump so much, people who aren’t Trump fans will not give him a pass. That will be doubly true after the Democrats hammer him with a billion dollars’ worth of negative ads that he won’t be able to effectively respond to because even Trump admits that hedoesn’t know how he would finance his campaign in a general election.

If we nominate Trump, we’ll have our third straight lose/lose election where most conservatives will have a candidate who doesn’t truly represent their views as the GOP nominee. Of course, if Trump is our nominee, I will vote for him and I will try to do what I can to help him win, but it would be easier to ski uphill than to get a wildly unpopular Rockefeller Republican like Trump into the White House.

I will not vote for Trump. If he is the Republican nominee, I will either not vote for president at all, or vote for the Libertarian candidate, which amounts to the same thing.

 

 

 


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