Archive for September, 2019

Rosh Hashanah

September 30, 2019

Today is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and the first of the High Holy Days. To be more precise, Rosh Hashanah actually began yesterday evening, since the Jews traditionally begin a new day at sunset. This holiday takes place on the first two days of the month of Tishrei in the Hebrew calender. Because the Hebrew calendar is a lunar calendar, the dates wander a bit in our Gregorian calendar. This year it takes place on September 29-)October 1. The New Year is celebrated for two days because of the difficulty of determining the precise day of the new moon.

Rosh Hashanah, which means “the head of the year”,  is not mentioned as such in the Bible. Instead, the day is called “Zikaron Teru’ah” a memorial of the blowing of horns in Leviticus 23:24 and “Yom Teru’ah” the day of blowing the horn in Numbers 23:9.

 23 The LORD spoke to Moses: 24 “Tell the Israelites, ‘In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you must have a complete rest, a memorial announced by loud horn blasts, a holy assembly. 25 You must not do any regular work, but you must present a gift to the LORD.’”  (Lev. 23:23-25)

1 “‘On the first day of the seventh month, you are to hold a holy assembly. You must not do your ordinary work, for it is a day of blowing trumpets for you. 2 You must offer a burnt offering as a sweet aroma to the LORD: one young bull, one ram, and seven lambs one year old without blemish.  3 “‘Their grain offering is to be of finely ground flour mixed with olive oil, three-tenths of an ephah for the bull, two-tenths of an ephah for the ram, 4 and one-tenth for each of the seven lambs,note 5 with one male goat for a purification offering to make an atonement for you; 6 this is in addition to the monthly burnt offering and its grain offering, and the daily burnt offering with its grain offering and their drink offerings as prescribed, as a sweet aroma, a sacrifice made by fire to the LORD. (Num 29:1-6)

I mentioned that the Hebrew calendar is a lunar calendar. That is not quite correct. A fully lunar calendar would be based solely on the phases of the moon that would cycle through the year, as the Islamic Calendar does. Instead, the Hebrew calendar is a lunisolar calendar. The twelve months add up to 354 days, so to keep up with the seasons extra, intercalary months are added in a nineteen-year cycle. Seven intercalary months are added during the cycle so that a thirteenth month is added every two or three years. This means that the dates wander a bit compared to the Gregorian calendar but stay within the appropriate seasons.

Anyway, Shana Tova everyone.

 

 

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Pride and Prejudice

September 22, 2019

I saw this meme posted on Facebook.

I don’t actually subscribe to the point of view expressed in this meme. To begin with, I do not believe that expressing pride is actually a good thing. Pride, according to Roman Catholic doctrine is considered to be one of the seven deadly sins. Many Christian thinkers have viewed pride as the worse of all the sins, the sin that caused Lucifer to rebel against God and become Satan. As C. S. Lewis put it in Mere Christianity:

The vice I am talking of is Pride or Self-Conceit: and the virtue opposite to it, in Christian morals, is called Humility. You may remember, when I was talking about sexual morality, I warned you that the center of Christian morals did not lie there.  Well, now, we have come to the centre.  According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride.  Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.

If pride in oneself and one’s own accomplishments is a vice or a sin, what about pride in one’s race or ethnicity? None of us have had any choice about the race in which we were born. It seems to me to be more than a little silly to take pride in something over which we had absolutely no control over. Why should I be proud to be White? I did not choose to be White. If other White people have accomplished a great deal to be proud of, they are not my accomplishments. Race pride is both foolish and pernicious.

If I do not agree with the sentiment in this meme, I cannot deny the logic expressed.  Why is race pride considered to be a good thing in every case except for Whites? Perhaps the answer is that Whites have committed horrible crimes against people of other races in the past and present and therefore being White ought to be a cause of shame rather than pride. But this only raises another question. If every White person ought to feel a collective shame and guilt for the admittedly considerable injustices and atrocities of other White people, then why should they not also feel pride in the considerable accomplishments of other Whites?

The idea seems to be that encouraging greater collective identification among people belonging to groups, racial or otherwise, who have been discriminated against in the past will help to eliminate discrimination against them. Highlighting the particular accomplishments of each group will help to alleviate the lingering effects of past discrimination. Shaming Whites, particularly While males for being the perpetrators of past discrimination against other groups will help to eliminate present and future discrimination. Dividing everyone up into groups and encouraging everyone to be proud of their group, except White males will help everyone get along better.

I think this emphasis on race pride will have the opposite effect. I think that encouraging everyone to identify with and take pride in their race will only encourage racism. As C. S. Lewis pointed out, pride is essentially a competitive sin.

Now what you want to get clear it that Pride is essentially competitive – is competitive by its very nature – while the other vices are competitive only, so to speak, by accident.  Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If someone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone.  That is why I say that Pride is essentially competitive in a way the other vices are not.  The sexual impulse may drive two men into competition if they both want the same girl. But that is only by accident; they might just as likely have wanted two different girls. But a proud man will take your girl from you, not because he wants her, but just to prove to himself that he is a better man than you. Greed may drive men into competition if there is not enough to go round; but the proud man, even when he has got more than he can possibly want, will try to get still more just to assert his power.  Nearly all those evils in the world which people put down to greed or selfishness are really far more the result of Pride.

You cannot really be proud of your group without eventually distaining members of other groups. A person who is proud of his race is proud because he believes his race his better than others. He can only take pride in his own race by believing that other races are inferior. The net effect of encouraging race pride can only be to set people of different races against each other.

I also do not believe that treating Whites as though white skin were the mark of Cain is going to be very effective at reducing White racism. In the long run, it is more likely to increase racism among Whites. No one wants to be the villain of the story. Over time, Whites are going to become more conscious of the hypocrisy of rewarding expressions of race pride among other races while condemning any expression of racial pride in their own race. They are going to feel as if they are the ones being discriminated against. Whites will be all the more susceptible to racist demagogues who tell them that they have no reason to be ashamed of their race. In fact, they will say, Whites have more reason to be proud than others. It will not end well.

If we must be proud of our race, why not be proud of belonging to the only race that really matters, the human race. If we want to fight racism, we shouldn’t be driving people of different races apart by emphasizing what makes us different but bringing ourselves together by focusing on what makes us alike. To quote C. S. Lewis again, this time from Prince Caspian

“You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve,” said Aslan. “And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content.”

Let us be content.

Undoing the Industrial Revolution

September 13, 2019

CTV News reports that former Vice-President Joe Biden has promised to end fossil fuel use.

Joe Biden is looking voters in the eye and promising to “end fossil fuel.”

The former vice-president and Democratic presidential candidate made the comment Friday after a New Hampshire environmental activist challenged him for accepting donations from the co-founder of liquified natural gas firm.

Biden denied the donor’s association to the fossil fuel industry before calling the young woman “kiddo” and taking her hand. He said, “I want you to look at my eyes. I guarantee you. I guarantee you. We’re going to end fossil fuel.”

The activist, 24-year-old Rebecca Beaulieu, later said she appreciated that Biden took her question seriously, but that he was not satisfied with Biden’s plan to eliminate net carbon emissions by 2050.

Essentially, Joe Biden and the other Democratic presidential candidates are promising to undo the Industrial Revolution. Our economy and civilization depend on the use of fossil fuels. There is simply no alternative to their use, except for nuclear power, which they’re also against if we want to maintain our current level of prosperity.

For most of history, the only available sources of power were human and animal muscles. These sources, supplemented by water and wind beginning in the Medieval Period do not provide much power. The amount of work that can be done with muscles, human and animal, is sharply limited. As a result, the great masses of people, in any society, lived in poverty, with barely enough to survive. Only a very tiny elite could live in any degree of comfort.

This situation only changed when humans learned to harness the power of fossil fuels. Burning fossil fuels could unleash far more energy than could be obtained through the power of muscles, energy to power machines that could do more work and produce more wealth than would have been conceivable before. Unlike wind and water mills, which were only usable at particular times and places, factories powered by fossil fuels could be placed anywhere convenient. The resulting industrial and technological revolution, along with the development of free-market capitalism, something else the current crop of candidates is campaigning against, allowed a higher standard of living than could ever be possible previously. For the first time in history, ordinary people could live lives of comfort. The difference between rich and poor in the developed world is no longer one of kind, whether a person has enough to eat or sufficient shelter from the elements, but of degree, how nice that house, car or food. At the present time, we are living in a world in which the greatest health problems of the poor stem from having too much unhealthy food to eat. We may be within a generation of eliminating poverty worldwide, thanks to fossil fuels.

What if Joe Biden and the other Democrats have their way? What if the use of fossil fuels is severely curtailed here in the United States, and elsewhere in other to combat climate change? Could renewable sources of energy make up the difference? No, they could not. Renewable sources of energy; wind, water, and the rest simply do not provide enough energy to maintain our current use of power, not by orders of magnitude. Nonrenewable sources are only available in limited times and places, necessitating the storage or long-distance transmission of energy, which can be difficult and expensive. Nuclear power could make up the gap, but the people who want us to stop using fossil fuels also dislike nuclear power.

A world in which fossil fuel use was eliminated would be a world in which energy was much more expensive than it is at present. As a result, all the necessities of life would be much more expensive. It would be a poorer world, a world in which a small elite could live comfortably while the majority of the population would be struggling to survive. It would be a step back to the bad old days. Even if it were conceded that man-made climate change was the dire threat to humanity’s continued survival and well-being, a concession I am not willing to make, surely the cures proposed by the Democratic candidates are far worse than the problem. I do not believe that any crisis can be resolved by crippling the most productive and innovative economy in the world. It may not be the intention of those proposing such radical solutions to global warming to create a neo-feudal world of impoverished masses lorded over by a tiny elite, but that would be the inevitable result.

There will come a time when advancing technology will make the use of fossil fuels obsolete. This time will come only if people are free to innovate in a prosperous economy. It will not come by stifling innovation with overbearing government fiats in a crippled and impoverished economy. That is just what the Democratic candidates are proposing.

Eighteen Years

September 11, 2019

It has been eighteen years since the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, and I still remember it as if it were yesterday.

On that Tuesday morning, I was at work, driving from Madison\ to North Vernon when I got a call from my wife. She asked me if I was listening to the radio. I was not. She told me to turn it on because something terrible was happening. I turned my car radio on and listened to the coverage of the attack.

I went about my duties at the stores in North Vernon in a sort of state of shock.  The North Vernon WalMart and Jay C played continuing news coverage of the day’s events instead of the usual soothing Musak. Not too many people were working or shopping in the stores. They were mostly just listening.

I had to go to Seymour for a meeting that afternoon. On the way, I noticed that some gas stations had raised the price of gasoline to a then unheard of price of $5 per gallon. At the meeting, no one wanted to discuss the business at hand. Instead, we talked about the terrorist attack. It seemed certain to us all that more attacks were on the way and that this time we couldn’t just launch a few missiles, blow up some tents, and then move on. We were in for a long fight.

I don’t remember much about the rest of that day. I went home but I don’t remember much about it.

I was once in the World Trade Center. I was in New York with some friends as a sort of tourist and we took the elevator to the top floor of one of the twin towers. There was a gallery up there where you could look out over the city of New York. The day was foggy so I didn’t see anything. They had a gift shop in the center section of the floor. It sickens me to think that the people who worked there went to work one morning, and then had to choose between burning to death or jumping, Not to mention the tourists, who only wanted to look at the city.

It still sickens me to think about the people who were only doing their jobs having to lose their lives.

twin

 

 

The Election of 1884

September 4, 2019

The election of 1884 was a vicious contest between James G Blaine, a man known for his personal integrity, but suspected of corruption in his public life and Grover Cleveland, a man known to be an honest public servant but with a somewhat scandalous private life. There were serious issues, of course. Tariffs were always a point of contention in nineteenth-century American politics and the country had been in a recession since 1882. Still, it was the contrast between the two candidates that everyone really cared about.

The Republicans met for their national convention in Chicago from June 3-6. President Chester A. Arthur would have liked to run for a full term. He was popular enough, but in the end, he decided not to run for re-election because of concerns about his health. General William T. Sherman was considered to be a potential candidate, but he absolutely refused to run, vowing to refuse to serve if elected. Robert Todd Lincoln, son of Abraham Lincoln was also approached as a potential presidential or vice-presidential candidate, but he wasn’t interested. In the end, the Republicans nominated James G. Blaine from Maine.

Although James G. Blaine had been born in Pennsylvania on January 31, 1830, his public like was spent in his wife’s home state of Maine. There he had owned a newspaper and become involved in politics, first as a Whig and then a Republican. Blaine had served in Maine’s legislature from 1858-1862, moving on to the U. S. House of Representatives where he served from 1863-1876, becoming the Speaker of the House from 1869-1875. Blaine had served in the Senate from 1876-1881. There, he had opposed President Hayes’s policy of ending Reconstruction in the South. Blaine had been a serious contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 1880 but questions about the suspicious circumstances surrounding his sale of bonds to the Union Pacific Railroad derailed his candidacy and James Garfield was nominated instead. President Garfield made Blaine his Secretary of State, but Blaine resigned after Garfield’s assassination. The Republicans went on to nominate John A. Logan from Illinois as his running mate. Logan had been a capable general during the Civil War and had served as Senator from Illinois from 1871-1877 and 1879-1886.

Blaine was popular among the Republicans, and he seemed to have a good chance of winning, but questions about financial improprieties still hounded him, especially after some letters were uncovered to Boston railway attorney Warren Fisher, one of which ended the command to “burn this letter”. The Democrats had a field day, chanting, “Burn this letter” at rallies and “Blaine, Blaine, the continental liar from the state of Maine.”

For their part, the Democrats met in Chicago from July 8-11. Grover Cleveland from New York was the obvious candidate. Cleveland had served as Sheriff of Erie County from 1871 to 1873, Mayor of Buffalo in 1882 and Governor of New York from 1883 to 1885. Throughout his political career, Grover Cleveland had earned a reputation as an honest and fearless reformer, fighting corruption and willing to take on entrenched interest in the name of a better, more honest government. The New York Party bosses from Tammany Hall hated Cleveland, but that was a recommendation for his reform-minded supporters. Grover Cleveland easily won the Democratic nomination for president, along with Thomas A. Hendricks from Indiana for Vice-President. Hendricks had served in the House of Representatives from 1851-1855, in the Senate from 1863-1969, and as governor of Indiana from 1873-1877. He was known to be an honest man and a strong orator, who had opposed Reconstruction.

Because Cleveland had a public reputation for honesty, as opposed to Blaine’s alleged corruption, several prominent Republicans came out in support of Cleveland. These defectors came to be known as “mugwumps“, a name derived from an Algonquin word for chief. Although the name was given in derision, the Mugwumps adopted it with pride as champions of reform and honest government. Grover Cleveland’s reputation was stained by the revelation that he had fathered a child by Maria Halpin while a lawyer in Buffalo. When this scandal broke, Cleveland took the unusual step of instructing his campaign workers to tell the truth. He admitted to having a relationship with Halpin and while he was certain the child in question was his, he had paid child support as a public duty. This ex[planation may have appeased his own supporters, but the Republicans took to chanting, “Ma, Ma where’s my Pa?” at campaign events.

There were some third party candidates, including Benjamin F. Butler former Governor of Massachusettes for the Greenback Party and John St. John former governor of Kansas for the Prohibition Party.

The Election of 1884 was a close race and either candidate might have won, particularly whoever won the state of New York. The New York native Grover Cleveland might have seemed to be the obvious favorite, but James Blaine was also well-liked in New York, particularly by the Irish Catholics, since his mother had been Catholic and he was known to be anti-British. Then Blaine managed to destroy his chances twice in a single day. On October 29, Blaine made an appearance in New York City at which a speaker, a Presbyterian minister, made a remark about the Democrats being the party of “Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion“, alienating thousands of Irish Catholics. If that wasn’t bad enough, Blain attended a fundraiser that evening along with some of the richest men in the country. There wasn’t anything particularly wrong about that, except that the optics, as they say nowadays, of hobnobbing with the rich and famous in the middle of an economic recession didn’t look good.

Ma Ma where’s my Pa?
Gone to the White House ha ha ha.

 

In the end, Grover Cleveland won a narrow victory. Cleveland won 4,914,482 (48.9%) popular votes to Blaine.s 4,856,905 (48.3%). John St. John got 150,890 votes and Benjamin F. Butler won 134,294 votes. In the Electoral College Cleveland got 219 electoral votes, sweeping the South and winning Indian, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut in the North. Blaine had 182 electoral votes winning the West and the rest of the North. Cleveland’s won New York by fewer than 1200 votes, and if not for Black Wednesday, October 29, Blaine would likely have won New York’s 36 electoral votes and won the election. As it was, the Democrats could finally respond to the Republicans’ taunts with, “Gone to the White House ha, ha, ha”.

 

 

 

 

The Election of 1884


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