Archive for the ‘My Life’ Category

Indiana’s Choice

May 2, 2016

For once, people actually care about how Indiana will vote in tomorrow’s primary. Indiana’s primary is held late in the season, the first Tuesday of May, and by that time both parties have usually all but decided who their presidential nominees are going to be. If the presumptive nominee has not actually acquired a majority of delegates, by the time Indiana gets to vote, at least he is in a position where he has the most delegates by a wide margin and most of the other candidates have dropped out. There may be one or two candidates hanging on, trying against the odds to eke out a victory, but everyone knows they have no hope. In the general election, Indiana almost always goes Republican and is not big enough or enough of a swing state for either candidate to bother fighting over.

This year it is different for Indiana. While Donald Trump is currently in the lead and some already  consider him the presumptive nominee, he has not yet managed to get a majority of delegates and may not have a majority when the Republican convention meets in Cleveland. Ted Cruz is still a viable candidate, though his chances of winning the nomination without some sort of convention manipulation of the delegate seems to be increasingly remote considering Trump’s recent string of victories. If Cruz can win Indiana, he might be able to break Trump’s momentum and at least deny him an outright victory before the convention. If Trump wins Indiana, Cruz might as well drop out, so Indiana voters might actually have some influence on the outcome of the 2016 election. Judging from the polls, Cruz has a decent chance of winning here.

I intend to vote for Cruz tomorrow because he is not Donald Trump, who I continue to distrust and dislike. It may be a futile gesture, however, since I am certain that Donald Trump will be the Republican candidate for president. By now, any Cruz victory will only delay this inevitable result. I really wish that the other Republican candidates had taken Trump seriously earlier in the race. They, and most commentators regarded Trump as a clown, until he started winning. By the time they realized that he was a greater threat than each other, it was too late.

I am going to go so far as to predict that Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States. I am not happy about this prospect, though he is preferable to either of the Democratic candidates. There are still many pundits who are assuming that a Trump candidacy will be a disaster for the Republicans, ending in a landslide victory for Hilary Clinton. The polls seem to affirm this, Trump has record high unfavorability ratings with just about every group, yet I am not sure the polls are telling the whole story. Trump has gone from victory to victory even as his opponents have been dropping out. One might think that the remaining candidates would have gotten the bulk of the anti-Trump votes while Trump’s proportion of the vote remained about the same, but that hasn’t been happening. Trump seems to have been gaining a treating proportion of the vote over time, as if the people who might have voted for Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, etc are deciding to support Trump. Somebody out there likes Trump, and despite what the liberals think, the majority of Americans are not hate filled bigots. Trump is obviously saying something that appeals to a great many Americans.

Without getting into a detailed analysis, I think that what appeals to most of Trump’s supporters is simply the idea that he is on their side and is willing to fight for them, even if it means he has to be politically incorrect or even crude. Most politicians try very hard not to offend any of the myriads of pressure groups who are perpetually offended and they back down and apologize just as soon as someone accuses them of racism, sexism, etc. Their public statements are bland and meaningless, and there is a feeling that they care less about the silent majorities who make this country work and more about the very loud minorities who seem intent on tearing the country down. People like a fighter, and Donald Trump is a fighter. He does not back down or apologize when someone claims to be offended, and people who are tired of having to watch every word they say like to see that. Trump is, at least in his public persona, a Jacksonian at a time when the Jacksonians are under attack.

I think that when the battle between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump gets underway, the Democrats and the media, but I repeat myself, will throw everything they can at Trump. He will be a racist, sexist, Islamophobe, and the reincarnation of Adolf Hitler. I don’t think it will work. Many people in mainstream America, Trump’s natural base, have come to believe, with good reason, that the entertainment and new media is not on their side, that it is hostile to them and their values. If they believe that Donald Trump is on their side, attacks on Trump will be seen as attacks on themselves by people they already know despise them. And, of course, Trump will not simply sit by ignore Hilary’s attacks. He will respond and attack, thus ensuring that he continues to be seen as a fighter.

I guess I’d better get used to saying President Trump. I’m still not very happy about it.

Betting on the Devil

March 23, 2016

South Park is a vulgar show. The characters, especially the children, routinely use foul language. (The creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker insist that children really talk like that and that only hippies and Democrats believe children to be sweet and innocent. Judging from my own memories of childhood, I am inclined to believe that they are right.) There are crude sexual situations and toilet humor in many episodes, and more than a little violence. The show is irreverent and even blasphemous and they is nothing that Parker and Stone won’t made fun of. One might think that South Park is a show with no redeeming features at all.

I disagree. I wasn’t actually aware that South Park was still on television after nineteen seasons, since I do not get cable, but last year, I began to see praise for the nineteenth season’s take down of political correctness and I started to watch the latest episodes online. I found, to my amazement, that South Park was as funny and relevant as ever. I started to see that South Park is actually a very good show, perhaps the best on television right now. It has characters you can come to care about, interesting plots, including the multi-episode arc this season and even some well thought out lessons, for those who care to look. Despite the vulgarity, the essential values of South Park are surprisingly wholesome, even, believe it or not, Christian. This is all the more remarkable considering that Parker and Stone are agnostics.

As evidence for this startling assertion, I would like to go all the way back to the first season of South Park to an episode titled Damien. In this episode there is a new kid, named Damien attending South Park Elementary who happens to be the son of the Devil.

Damien

Damien

He is in South Park to deliver a challenge from his father to Jesus, depicted as hosting a public access cable show, Jesus and Pals. Satan wants to meet Jesus for the final confrontation in the boxing ring.

South Park Jesus

South Park Jesus

At first, all the residents of South Park are certain that Jesus will easily defeat the Devil and place bets on Jesus. Then Satan appears in South Park. While Jesus is a 135 pound weakling, Satan is a muscular 350 pounds. There seems to be no way Jesus can possibly beat Satan.

Satan

Satan

 

Everyone in South Park rushes to their bookies to change their bets to Satan winning the fight. In fact, only one person bets on Jesus. Jesus warns the residents of South Park not to bet on the Devil, but no one listens. The day of the fight arrives and the two combatants meet in the ring. Satan pounds away at Jesus, taunting Him all the while and daring Jesus to hit him. Finally Jesus manages to get a blow in and Satan is immediately knocked out, or so it seems. It turns out that Satan has thrown the fight. It was his plan to lose to Jesus all along and he was the one person who bet on Jesus to win. Satan taunts the people of South Park for their foolishness and then returns to Hell wealthier from his winnings.

This is a silly story and the portrayals of both Jesus and Satan owe more to popular culture conceptions than to Christian scripture or traditions. After all, Jesus was a carpenter by trade and his associates were working class men. He was hardly likely to be the effeminate wimp that He is all too often imagined to be. The episode does have a moral that Christians ought to consider. A lot of times, people are betting on the Devil to win.

The final conflict between the forces of good and evil is not going to be in a boxing ring and Satan is not going to take a dive. The book of Revelation is full of confusing symbolism that Christians have been arguing about for centuries, but the end is quite clear, Jesus wins.

The real Jesus

The real Jesus

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns.He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:

king of kings and lord of lords.

17 And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, “Come, gather together for the great supper of God, 18 so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and the mighty, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave,great and small.”

19 Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to wage war against the rider on the horse and his army. 20 But the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed the signs on its behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped its image.The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur.21 The rest were killed with the sword coming out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.

And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time. (Rev. 19:11-20:3)

When I say that there are many Christians who are betting on the Devil to win, I do not mean, of course, that there are people who believe that Satan is going to defeat Heaven and rule the universe. I am referring to a certain lack of faith that God will overcome all of our difficulties in the end. People who are worried about the economy or terrorism, or declining morals, or even their own personal problems , are, in a way, betting that the Devil is winning. We must have faith that God as the Author of history has a plan for the world and for each one of us. Whatever our personal or national difficulties, we must not lose faith that Jesus will win in the end and His will will be done. As Jesus himself has commanded us.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[e]?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:25-34)

So stop worrying and betting on the Devil.

Pi Day

March 14, 2016
English: Pi Pie, created at Delft University o...

English: Pi Pie, created at Delft University of Technology, applied physics, seismics and acoustics Deutsch: Pi Pie (π-Kuchen), hergestellt an der Technischen Universität Delft (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For all of the nerds out there, including me, today is international Pi Day, the day when we celebrate our favorite mathematical constant. Pi Day is best celebrated by pi memorization contests, walking in circles, and, of course, eating pies, or is it pis? I think I will celebrate by writing a little about pi. This year is a special Pi Day. The first digits of pi are 3.1415926 with can be rounded to 3.1416 so this year 3/14/16 is the the Rounded Pi Day

Pi or π is, as everyone should know, the ratio between a circle’s diameter and its circumference. Pi is an irrational number. By this, they do not mean that pi makes no sense but rather that pi is a constant that cannot be expressed as a ratio of two integers. Numbers like 2 or .445 or 1/2 can be expressed as a ratio of two integers and so are rational. Numbers like pi or the square root of any number that is not a perfect square, the square root of 2 for instance, are irrational. An irrational number expressed in decimal form never ends or repeats but continues to infinity. Thus, there can never be a last digit of pi.

The symbol π was first by the mathematician William Jones in 1706 and was popularized by another mathematician, Leonhard Euler. They chose π, the Greek equivalent of the Latin letter p, because it is the first letter of the word periphery. Π, by the way is not pronounce “pie” in Greek but “pee”, just like our p. I don’t think that international “pee” day would be nearly so appealing.

Although the symbol for pi is relatively recent, the concept is very old. The ancient Egyptians and Babylonians knew about it. Pi is even mentioned in the Bible.

23 He made the Sea of cast metal, circular in shape, measuring ten cubits from rim to rim and five cubits high. It took a line of thirty cubits[o] to measure around it. 24 Below the rim, gourds encircled it—ten to a cubit. The gourds were cast in two rows in one piece with the Sea. (1 Kings 7:23-24)

Properly speaking, the line around the “Sea” should have been 31.5 cubits but the ancient Hebrews were very knowledgeable about geometry and measuring techniques were crude.

There is no particular reason to calculate pi to so many digits. No
conceivable application of pi would possibly take more than 40 digits.
Still, the challenge of calculating pi to the farthest digit possible has been an irresistible one for mathematicians over the years.

Around 250 BC, Archimedes was the first mathematician to seriously try to calculate pi. He used a geometric method of drawing polygons inside and outside a circle and measuring their perimeters. By using polygons with more and more sides he was able to calculate pi with more precision and ended determining the value of pi as somewhere between 3.1408 and 3.1429. Archimedes’s method was used in the west for more than a eighteen hundred years. The Chinese and Indians used similar methods. The best result using the geometric method was the calculation of pi to 38 digits in 1630.

With the development of calculus by Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz in the 1660’s it was possible to calculate pi using infinite series, or the sum of the terms of an infinite sequence. The best calculations with these methods were done by the mathematician Zacharias Daze who calculated pi to 200 places in 1844 and William Shanks who spent fifteen years to calculate pi to 707 digits. Unfortunately he made a mistake with the 528 digit. Meanwhile, in 1761 Johann Heinrich Lambert proved that pi is irrational.

Computers made the calculation of pi much faster so pi could be calculated to more digits. ENIAC calculated pi to 2037 places in 1949. This record didn’t last long. A million digits were reached 1970. As of  2011, pi has been calculated to 10,000,000,000,050 places.

Pi is not just used in geometry. There are a number of applications of pi in the fields of statistics, mechanics, thermodynamics, cosmology, and many others. Here is a list of just some of the formulae that use pi. It seems you can find pi everywhere.

With that in mind then, happy pi day! For your enjoyment here are the first thousand digits of pi.

3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510
  58209749445923078164062862089986280348253421170679
  82148086513282306647093844609550582231725359408128
  48111745028410270193852110555964462294895493038196
  44288109756659334461284756482337867831652712019091
  45648566923460348610454326648213393607260249141273
  72458700660631558817488152092096282925409171536436
  78925903600113305305488204665213841469519415116094
  33057270365759591953092186117381932611793105118548
  07446237996274956735188575272489122793818301194912
  98336733624406566430860213949463952247371907021798
  60943702770539217176293176752384674818467669405132
  00056812714526356082778577134275778960917363717872
  14684409012249534301465495853710507922796892589235
  42019956112129021960864034418159813629774771309960
  51870721134999999837297804995105973173281609631859
  50244594553469083026425223082533446850352619311881
  71010003137838752886587533208381420617177669147303
  59825349042875546873115956286388235378759375195778
  18577805321712268066130019278766111959092164201989

 

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.

uApht

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.

khan-star-trek-ii

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.

Al Jazeera America Shutting Down

January 17, 2016

I was a little surprised to learn that Al Jazeera America is shutting down its cable news network. Here is the story from the BBC.

Al Jazeera America will shut down its cable news channel despite spending heavily to break into the US market.

CEO Al Anstey said the business model “is simply not sustainable in light of the economic challenges”.

Al Jazeera America launched in 2013 vowing to be a more serious and in-depth alternative to CNN and Fox News.

The Qatar-based broadcaster spent millions of dollars hiring top US journalists but struggled to bring viewers to its news programmes.

Al Jazeera promised to expand its coverage of the US online after the channel shuts down in April.

The network replaced Current TV, a network founded by former US Vice President Al Gore.

The Qatar-based broadcaster bought Current TV for around $500 million (£308 million).

Al Jazeera America was available in about 60 million American homes. Politiconotes that the channel reached an average of 19,000 viewers each day in 2015, far fewer than its competitors.

The channel struggled with internal turmoil, as well, including multiple discrimination lawsuits that ended up ousting its founding CEO.

I wonder why Al Jazeera found it so difficult to break into the US market. Part of the reason might be that many American viewers did not believe that a news network funded by the Qatari government to be a trustworthy source of news. The Arabic name might not have helped. Al Jazeera sounds as if it could be the Osama bin Laden News Network. I think, though, that Al Jazeera’s main difficulty was simply that the North American market for TV news is saturated. We already have Fox, MSNBC, CNN, not to mention ABC, NBC, and CBS, and the BBC from across the Pond. There is probably simply not enough room for another news network. I also believe that the audience for TV news is declining, just as it as been for newspapers. I am too lazy to look up the ratings right now, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a shift towards the internet as the major source of news for many people, particularly for younger people. I notice that Al Jazeera is maintaining their online activities.

In a way it’s a shame, though. American news badly needs more diversity of viewpoints. Most of the news we get here in America is increasingly superficial and celebrity oriented, not to mention biased to the left. Fox is perhaps more evenhanded than most, with a bias to the right, but one right center network and a host of leftist networks, all based in the US hardly makes for much diversity. At least, we have the internet.

The Nativity According to Luke

December 20, 2015

Here is what Christmas is all about

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Halloween

October 31, 2015
Jack-o-lantern

Jack-o-lantern (Photo credit:

The name “Halloween” is actually derived from “All Hallow’s Eve“, that is the day before “All Hallow’s Day” or All Saint’s Day. All Saint’s Day was and is a Christian, primarily Roman Catholic, holy day which celebrates all the saints in Heaven and includes prayers for those in Purgatory.

Halloween, however, is not a Christian holiday. It seems to have come from the Celtic festival of Samhain, which was a summer’s end or harvest festival. The Celts celebrated Samhain with bonfires to ward off evil spirits and sacrificed animals and sometimes humans to their gods. This pagan heritage has made Halloween controversial among Christians at times. The Protestant Reformers in England did not like the holiday and tried to suppress it because of its pagan and Roman Catholic origins. The Scots were more lenient and Halloween is celebrated there more than in England. The Irish, of course, still celebrated it as they remained Catholic and true to their Celtic Heritage. Halloween was not much celebrated in America until large numbers of Scots and Irish immigrated here during the nineteenth century.

As for the customs which have grown up around Halloween, it would seem that carving pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns is an American innovation. The Scots and Irish used turnips. Pumpkins, which are native to North American, turned out to be larger and easier to carve. Trick or treating seems to be derived from the Scottish custom of guising. Guising is the custom in which children would go from door to door in costume begging for treats and performing a trick or song in return. This custom was first noted in America in the early twentieth century. Trick or treating became the custom by the 1930’s. Haunted houses have also become popular since the 1970’s.

So, Happy Halloween, or Samhain.

Saturday Night Trump

October 28, 2015

Donald Trump is scheduled to host Saturday Night Live next Saturday November 7 and it seems that some people are not particularly happy about this choice, especially Juan Escalante from Moveon.org.

Dear MoveOn member,

“Saturday Night Live” recently announced that Donald Trump would serve as host of the program on November 7, 2015, one year from the 2016 general election.1

The popular comedy show, which has been criticized for not adequately representing Latinos, is broadcast by NBC—the same network that terminated its relationship with Donald Trump over his derogatory comments about Mexican immigrants.2,3

Now, just three months after cutting ties with Donald Trump, NBC is seeking to boost its ratings at the expense of Latinos and immigrants by allowing Trump to host one of its most popular shows.

Will you join me in calling on NBCUniversal Chairman of Content Matt Bond and “Saturday Night Live” Producer Lorne Michaels to dump Trump?

Mass deportation is not funny! By allowing Donald Trump to host “Saturday Night Live,” NBC is excusing and even validating Trump’s hateful comments about immigrants and Latinos. Tell NBC to dump Donald Trump as host of “Saturday Night Live!”Sign Juan’s petition

By inviting Donald Trump to host “Saturday Night Live,” NBC is demonstrating that it doesn’t care about its Latino and pro-immigrant viewers. It is providing a platform for Trump’s insulting attacks on immigrants and calling it entertainment—something we do not find funny.

It is shameful for NBC to allow Donald Trump to host “Saturday Night Live,” a comedy show, when one of the main policies he has promised would rip apart millions of immigrant and Latino families.

NBC cannot bill hateful rhetoric as comedy, much less entertainment. Tell NBC to drop Donald Trump as host of “Saturday Night Live!”

Click here to add your name to this petition, and then pass it along to your friends.

Thanks!

–Juan Escalante

 

What about the people who might actually want to see Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live? What about the people who watch shows on television to be amused and who do not much care about the political affiliations of the people they are watching? Juan Escalante and other activists have every right to object to Trump’s presence on Saturday Night Live, or any other show and they can best express that right by choosing not to watch the show. But that is not good enough for them. They want to make sure that no one watches the show by pressuring NBC to prevent Trump from hosting. Who are these people who get to decide for the rest of us who and what are acceptable to appear on television? Why do they get to decide what speech is so offensive that the speaker must be ostracised.?Normal people watch television for amusement. They do not see their television as a means of political indoctrination.  Normal people do not carefully count how many of each ethnic group is represented on each show. They do not organize boycotts or petitions whenever someone says something in public they happen to dislike. Normal people have lives and jobs and don’t really have the time or energy for this kind of activism, even if they were so inclined, which not being sociopathic control freaks, they mostly aren’t. Who are these people like Juan Escalante that do have the time and inclination to be busybodies, always protesting something and always ready and willing to destroy the lives of people who dare express an unorthodox, politically incorrect thought in their hearing? Why have we given these thin skinned, hyper sensitive bullies so much power?

It seems to be that the best response that NBC could give to this petition would be to laugh and then point out that for every person who signs the petition, ten will tune in to Saturday Night Live just to see if Donald Trump can be funny. They won’t do that, of course. They probably won’t drop The Donald, he will bring in the ratings, but they will probably issue some sort of non apology apology stating how sorry they are if anyone was the least bit offended. Too bad. I wish people would start just laughing at the busy bodies and petty tyrants.  We would have a better, and freer, country if they did.

The Future is Today

October 21, 2015

It has been a long time since I have seen any of the Back to the Future movies so I wasn’t aware of the significance of this date, October 21, 2015, until I happened to see articles about the classic trilogy in places like USA Today. This is the day in the future that Marty McFly travelled to from 1985 in the second movie. The future is today. Naturally, everyone seems interested in discussing what the thirty year old movies got right, and wrong, about 2015. I am not really so interested in how correct their speculations were myself, except that I really did want one of those flying cars. I am more interested in discussing how Marty McFly’s mission in the first movie is one that he had absolutely no chance of completing successfully.

BTTFIIdate

I trust by now the plot of the three Back to the Future movies is familiar enough that I need not rehash it in exacting detail. Suffice it to say that fifteen year old Marty McFly takes Doc Brown‘s time machine/DeLorean back to the year 1955 and accidentally prevents his parents from meeting and falling in love. This is a serious problem for McFly since if his parents never meet, he won’t exist so with the help of a younger Doc Brown, Marty spends the rest of the movie trying to get his parents together, a mission made more difficult by the fact that his father is a nerd who is being persecuted by the school bully, Biff Tannen and his mother has become infatuated with Marty. Of course, Marty succeeds in the end and even arranges for his father to stand up to the bully. He returns to 1985 and takes of his old life again.

The problem is that this is impossible. Marty has already interrupted the course of events that led to his conception and birth. Even though he managed to get his parents to fall in love with one another, the whole timeline in which they dated, got married, and conceived Marty has been changed. Even if by some miracle, Marty managed to arrange for his parents to have intercourse at the precise time and place he was originally conceived, it is still unlikely that he would be conceived. When a man ejaculates, he releases hundreds of millions of sperm cells. It is simply not possible for Marty to arrange for the precise same egg and sperm to unite to create Marty. No doubt his parents would have a child at about the same time as they did Marty in the original timeline and it may even be a boy they named Marty, but it wouldn’t be the same person as the original Marty McFly. It would be like a sibling

I want my flying car

I want my flying car

But even if Marty’s parents had a baby with the precise genes as the original Marty, it still wouldn’t be the same person. We are more than the genetic code we inherit at birth. The experiences we undergo as we grow up also shape us into being the person we are. At the end of the first movie, it was made clear that Marty’s intervention had changed the lives of his parents. By arranging for his father to stand up to Biff Tannen, he gave his father a confidence and self-esteem he lacked in the original timeline and instead of being a loser stuck in a dead-end job, Marty’s father was a successful science fiction writer. Obviously, Marty growing up in the home of a successful writer is going to have different experiences than the original Marty. For one thing, Marty’s relationship with the older Doc Brown might not have been the same. Brown was something of a substitute father for Marty and if his own father was more impressive, perhaps Marty would not have sought out Doc Brown’s company.

And Mr. Fusion

And Mr. Fusion

The most realistic end for the first Back to the Future movie then might have been for Marty McFly to get his parents together and then fade away as he realized that he didn’t exist in the new timeline, or maybe for Marty to get back to 1985 and find another Marty in his place with no one knowing anything about the original Marty. Or maybe the timeline presented at the end of Back to the Future was the real timeline and his parents had always been brought together by their son. In other words what the viewer sees as cause and effect is actually reversed. It is confusing paradoxes like that which lead most scientists to believe that time travel into the past is impossible.

Back to the Future is still a fun movie to watch, if you don’t think too much about it.

The Martian

September 30, 2015

I have just finished reading the most amazing book, The Martian by Andy Weir. Perhaps you have seen the advertisements for the forth-coming movie starring Matt Damon as the Martian of the title. The movie is not out yet, and it is unlikely that I will watch it before it comes out on DVD, but I did read the book to see what all the hype was about. I d not know how they will adapt this book to the movie, such adaptations are always a chancy business and I am rarely satisfied with the result, but if the movie is at all faithful to the plot of the book, it will be well worth watching.

The_Martian_2014

The Martian is not, as the title would suggest, a science fiction novel about a person from the planet Mars. Instead it is the story of astronaut Mark Watney who is one of a crew of six astronauts on a mission to explore Mars. A dust storm causes NASA to abort the mission after only six days on the surface of Mars and Watney is seemingly killed while the crew is trying to get to the Mars Ascent Vehicle which is designed to return the crew to their orbiting space craft Hermes which will take them home to Earth. However, Watney is not dead but has been left behind, all alone on Mars with no way to return to Earth or even to communicate with NASA. The rest of the novel is concerned with Mark Watney’s efforts to stay alive on Mars until he can be rescued.

 

In many ways, The Martian is a hearkening back to the great, old days of science fiction, to a more optimistic time when science fiction was about man’s exploration of the universe and nothing seemed impossible with the application of scientific knowledge and reason, rather than the pessimistic post-apocalyptic dystopias and social justice warrior crap that one sees too much of in the genre these days. The plot is well paced and exciting. Although I knew that Watney will make it off of Mars, this isn’t the sort of story that has him die at the last minute, the question of just how he will manage the next crisis kept me, almost literally, at the edge of my seat and made the book almost impossible to put down. Mark Watney himself is an engaging character, something of a twenty-first century Robinson Crusoe, clever and resourceful enough to find ways to survive. Just as Crusoe was able to salvage his wrecked ship to enable himself to survive on his island, Watney is capable of making use of the equipment left behind on Mars. Much of the story is told by way of the audio log he keeps and his often humorous commentary on the conditions and problems he faces helps to make what might be tedious exposition enjoyable to read. There is no Man Friday on Mars for Watney, but scavenging the Pathfinder lander allows him to regain contact with Earth which surely must be just as momentous as Crusoe’s finding a footprint in the sand and realizing that he no longer has to face his troubles alone.

The story is also told from the point of view of Mark Watney’s crew-mates and the engineers and administrators at NASA who are desperately trying to find a way to bring Watney home, or at least send him supplies to last until the next mission to Mars. They are shown to be competent, loyal and determined and in that respect The Martian reminded me of the movie Apollo 13. The science in the Martian is rock solid and this is one of the hardest, on the scale between hard to soft, science fiction books I have ever read. Andy Weir is the son of a scientist and a student of science himself. All of the technology in the book is based on real life technology we have right now and the mission to Mars is based on real plans that NASA might adopt to send astronauts to Mars. Weir’s portrayal of Martian conditions is based on the very latest information from probes. If a man ever did get stranded on Mars, this is a realistic story of how he might survive.

I can highly recommend The Martian to any reader whether science fiction fan or not. There is just one problem. The Martian actually makes the prospect of living on Mars seem desirable. Ever since I finished it, I have had the most intense desire to hop on a spaceship and go to Mars myself. Where do I sign up?

The red hills of Mars

The red hills of Mars

 


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