Archive for the ‘My Life’ Category


June 30, 2015

When I wrote my review of the Two Towers, I neglected to mention what I consider to be the best part the book. As Frodo and Sam make their way into Mirror they stop to rest and fall asleep while Gollum leaves them. Gollum returns and almost repents of his plan to betray them to Shelob.

Gollum looked at them. A strange expression passed over his lean hungry face. The gleam faded from his eyes, and they went dim and grey, old and tired. A spasm of pain seemed to twist him, and he turned away, peering back up towards the pass, shaking his head, as if engaged in some interior debate. Then he came back, and slowly putting out a trembling hand, very cautiously he touched Frodo’s knee –but almost the touch was a caress. For a fleeting moment, could one of the sleepers have seen him, they would have thought that they beheld an old weary hobbit, shrunken by the years that had carried him far beyond his time, beyond friends and kin, and the fields and streams of youth, an old starved pitiable thing. But at that touch Frodo stirred and cried out softly in his sleep, and immediately Sam was wide awake. The first thing he saw was Gollum –‘pawing at master,’as he thought. ‘Hey you!’he said roughly. ‘What are you up to?’‘Nothing, nothing,’said Gollum softly. ‘Nice Master!’‘I daresay,’said Sam. ‘But where have you been to –sneaking off and sneaking back, you old villain?’

Gollum withdrew himself, and a green glint flickered under his heavy lids. Almost spider-like he looked now, crouched back on his bent limbs, with his protruding eyes. The fleeting moment had passed, beyond recall. ‘Sneaking, sneaking!’ he hissed. ‘Hobbits always so polite, yes. O nice hobbits! Sméagol brings them up secret ways that nobody else could find. Tired he is, thirsty he is, yes thirsty; and he guides them and he searches for paths, and they say sneak, sneak. Very nice friends, O yes my precious, very nice.”

If Sam had spoken kindly to Gollum when he awoke, Gollum’s good side, Smeagol, might have come out on top and the plot of the would have been very different. Smeagol might have warned the hobbits about Shelob and helped them to avoid her trap. Frodo wouldn’t have been captured by the enemy and the trip to Mount Doom would have been quicker and easier.




I have been thinking of this over the past week with the Supreme Court decision regarding gay marriage. I am afraid that many Christians, myself included, have acted much like Sam in our relations with the Gay community. We have been more interested in condemning sin then in loving the sinner and perhaps have turned many of them away from from the love of God. Certainly Christians have, in the past, and all too often even now have acted in a way that has caused homosexuals to hate Christianity and Christians. We must remember that our mission is not to win debates or legislate morality but to bring souls to Heaven.

I do not mean, of course, that we should endorse the homosexual lifestyle or accept same-sex marriage. Christians must hold true to Biblical teachings concerning marriage and sexuality. Those churches which have hung up rainbow banners and celebrated the Supreme Court ruling may believe that they are doing the loving, compassionate thing, but they are making a mistake and putting themselves in grave danger of apostasy. Indeed, many of those more liberal denominations have become almost entirely apostate and can be regarded as Christians in name only. Churches which abandon the standards of scripture do not flourish. Rudderless, they sway back and forth with the wind in no set direction save momentary ideas of political correctness.

But, churches must support all the Biblical teachings regarding marriage and sexuality. A church that accepts pre-marital sex (fornication), secular ideas about divorce and remarriage, or adultery is in no position to lecture the homosexual about sexual morality. The same goes for Biblical teachings on other subjects. A church can be made up of the most upright prudes imaginable, but if they lack a spirit of love and compassion, they are no better than the pagans. Remember what Paul had to say about this.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror;then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor 13:1-13)

Let us not, then, become clanging cymbals. We must preach the truth, but it must be done with love understanding. And we should keep in mind that sexual sins are not the only sins we can commit. There are worse sins, excessive pride and hatred are worse. Also, I think it would be helpful if more Christians understood why God’s rules about sex and marriage are what they are. These are not arbitrary rules from the Bronze Age. God wants us to be happy and to join Him in Heaven. He understands better than any of us that an excessive or misplaced devotion to sex, like an excessive or misplaced devotion to anything other than Him will not, ultimately, make us happy or bring us to him. God does not hate “fags”. He hates that which takes them, and us, away from Him.

Islam Means Peace

June 19, 2015

I have been called a bigot twice in the past week. To be honest, I am not at all offended. Whatever the origin of the word “bigot” (from French meaning a religious hypocrite, perhaps originally from German “bei Gott” or by God), the contemporary meaning of the word is increasingly one who tells truths the left doesn’t want to hear.

The first time was I was called a bigot was over my insistence that Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner is still a man no matter how strongly he feels that he is a woman. To tell the truth, I am just about over that particular struggle against reality. In fact, I would have nothing to say about Mr. Jenner’s life choices were it not that it illustrates a distressing tendency among our intellectual and media elite to consider that feelings and words determine the nature of reality better than actual, empirical observations and facts.  But enough of that.

The second time, I was not personally called a bigot. A Facebook friend of a friend posted a link and video describing some recent atrocities committed by some practitioners of the Religion of Peace. Someone commented that these people were violent extremists and their actions in no way reflected the real beliefs of the vast majority of peaceful Moslims. After all, he asserted, Islam means peace. I, and several others, including the author of the post, responded by posting quotations from the Koran and pointed out that people in the Islamic State have been following the example of Mohammed. He responded in the usual logical fashion by calling the lot of us bigots. Naturally, I was intrigued by the question of the etymology of the word Islam so I did a little research.

Islam is an Arabic word, of course, and Arabic is a member of the Semitic family of languages along with Hebrew, Aramaic, Amharic, and many others. One thing that the Semitic languages have in common is that most words are formed from roots, usually of three consonants, with express basic concepts. The actual words are formed by adding vowels and affixes. The triconsonantal root that seems to be most often used as an example in textbooks and Wikipedia is K-T-B, which essentially means to write or something written. Some of the words in Arabic formed from the root K-T-B include kataba “he wrote”, yahtub “he writes”, kitab “book”, katib “writer”, maktab “desk” or “office” and many others. Hebrew also forms words from the K-T-B root, such as katabu “I wrote”. The word Islam is derived from the root S-L-M, which does mean peace, among other concepts. The Hebrew word for peace, shalom, is derived from the S-L-M root as is the Arabic for peace, salaam. Jerusalem and Solomon are names derived from S-L-M. So, etymologically, Islam is derived from the same root as peace.

But, there is more to the meaning of S-L-M than “peace” and the word peace itself often means more than simply the absence of conflict. The full meaning of S-L-M includes the concepts of being whole, safe, secure, in health. Shalom and salaam used as greetings mean more than simply wishing the person greeted to be at peace, but also include a wish that for the person to be in good health and to prosper. And, as we have seen from the words derived from K-T-B, a concept expressed by a triconsonantal root can cover a range of meanings. The more precise meaning of the word Islam is submission to the will of Allah, which brings peace and well being.

Most people in countries that have been attacked by Islamic terrorists believe that these terrorists are monsters, or cowardly extremists who have distorted the peaceful tenets of Islam. Surely, most the majority of Muslims want to live in peace. Only a bigoted Islamophobe would state that all Muslims are violent or that Islam encourages terrorism. This belief may be comforting to those who do not wish to face hard facts, but it is not useful because it is not true.  The terrorists have more support in the Islamic world than many in the West are willing to acknowledge. This does not mean that all Muslims are terrorists or killers, but a large number are on the side of the terrorists and we ought to try to understand why.

Few people fight wars just for the sake of fighting. In almost every case, those who go to war fight to make a peace more advantageous or more just for their side. The allies went to war against Nazi Germany in order to bring about a peace in which the Nazis were destroyed. If the Nazis had been victorious in World War II, there would have been peace, but not the peace that the allies would consider a just peace. When the Muslims say they follow a religion of peace, they are being completely honest. Extremists like the late Osama bin Ladin and the Islamic State do not fight and commit terrorist acts just for the sake of violence. They want peace as much as we do. The difference is that their idea of a just peace is one where the entire world is in proper submission to Allah and Islam is the the dominant, if not the only, religion. A peace in which Islam co-exists peaceably with other religions would not be not a just or honorable peace since it leaves large numbers of people still in rebellion against Allah.

We like to say that the terrorists are monsters and their acts are senseless, but they do not see themselves in that way. They believe that they are fighting for a better world and from their point of view, we in the West, are the aggressors. The West and particularly the United States plays a vastly disproportionate role in setting the cultural and political norms throughout the world and our values are often hostile to the values of many devout Muslims. We believe our values, like treating women like human beings, not stoning gays, democratic governments that protect freedom of religion, are universal value held by all people of good will. They find such such values to be alien and repugnant, an offense against the divine law. When Westerners state that Islam should modernize and become more tolerant, they interpret it as an invitation to return to the state of Jahiliyyah, the time of pre-Islamic ignorance. Imagine how you might feel if your faith and your cherished values were under attack in the books, movies, music, etc put out by a foreign culture that dominates the world of entertainment. (Well, actually if you are a conservative Christian you don’t have to imagine it.) Mark Steyn and others worry about the emergence of Eurabia. Many in the Islamic world worry about the seductions of Western culture.

This is why many Muslims who are good people who do want to live in peace feel sympathy for terrorists and Jihadists. They want a world at peace and in its proper place under submission to Allah and His law. That is also why drawing a connection between Islam and terrorism is not ignorant bigotry but an understanding why many Muslims believe we are an enemy that they must fight. Pretending a problem does not really exist does not make it go away and ignorance is seldom bliss.

Patrick Stewart Channels Voltaire

June 11, 2015

Voltaire is supposed to have said, “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” He probably didn’t really say it but Patrick Stewart effectively did. I have read about this in various places, but here is the story at the Christian Broadcasting Network.

Actor Patrick Stewart is supporting the free speech rights of Christian bakers from northern Ireland who declined to decorate a cake with a pro-gay-marriage message.

An Irish court fined the owners of Ashers Bakery £500 for not writing the slogan “Support Gay Marriage” on a cake.

The bakery owners say they’re happy to bake a cake for anyone, but reserve the right to decline messages that are contrary to their religious beliefs.

Stewart, who is known for his roles in “Star Trek” and “X-Men,” told BBC “Newsnight” that no one should be forced to write things they disagree with.

Gay activists have been attacking Stewart for his comments.

Boldly going where few actors dare to go

Boldly going where few actors dare to go

Sadly, it has become increasingly rare in our politically correct world, with its microaggressions and trigger warnings, for anyone to adopt Voltaire’s view on permitting freedom of speech, even for those you don’t like and Patrick Stewart deserves some praise for doing so. Naturally, he was subjected to the usual criticism from the supporters of tolerance and diversity and he felt he had to clarify his position on his Facebook page.

As part of my advocacy for Amnesty International, I gave an interview on a number of subjects related to human rights, civil rights and freedom of speech. During the interview, I was asked about the Irish bakers who refused to put a message on a cake which supported marriage equality, because of their beliefs. In my view, this particular matter was not about discrimination, but rather personal freedoms and what constitutes them, including the freedom to object. Both equality and freedom of speech are fundamental rights— and this case underscores how we need to ensure one isn’t compromised in the pursuit of the other. I know many disagree with my sentiments, including the courts. I respect and understand their position, especially in this important climate where the tides of prejudices and inequality are (thankfully) turning. What I cannot respect is that some have conflated my position on this single matter to assume I’m anti-equality or that I share the personal beliefs of the bakers. Nothing, absolutely nothing, could be further from the truth. I have long championed the rights of the LGBT community, because equality should not only be, as the people of Ireland powerfully showed the world, universally embraced, but treasured.

There are a couple of things about this statement that bother me. Why does Patrick Stewart feel the need to declare his fealty to politically correct orthodoxy. I feel as if he is saying that he supports the right of thought criminals to speak freely but he is certainly not a thought criminal himself, or that he is most offended by the idea that he might be one thought of as one of those ignorant mouth-breathers who are opposed to same-sex marriage. I understand that Stewart does not want his views on this issue to be misconstrued and that he probably doesn’t intend his statement to be taken this way, but this assurance that he is on the right side gives a somewhat begrudging feel to his defense of free speech, as if he is saying he supports their right to be wrong. But, maybe I am reading too much into it.

The other thing that bothers me about Patrick Stewart’s statement is that he had to make any clarifying statement at all. I do not know precisely what his critics have been saying, but it seems that their reasoning is that the only reason that Patrick Stewart would support the right of a baker to refuse to decorate a cake with a pro gay marriage message is that he must agree with the baker. The idea that one can support the free speech even of people one disagrees with seems not to have entered into their minds. Voltaire’s statement could be left untranslated in the original French for all the good it does people like this.

Is Voltaire’s concept really so hard to grasp? Does it not ever occur to these people that defending the free speech of others is the only way to protect one’s own free speech, or that once free speech is abridged, they might be next? Do they never consider that the other side might be right but if they shout them down, they will never learn any better, or that if the other side is wrong, compelling outward compliance to orthodoxy does not persuade anyone? Perhaps they don’t think much at all.

Patrick Stewart stated that freedom of speech and equality are fundamental rights. I would say that freedom of speech is far more important. If we have freedom of speech, we can speak out about whatever changes are needed to ensure equality. Without freedom of speech, we can do nothing. The real danger here in America and throughout the West is that there seems to be an increasing number of people who either believe freedom of speech is, at best, a secondary right inferior to the struggle for social justice and equality or that freedom of speech is not a right at all. I’m glad at least one person from Hollywood is willing to publicly support the right to dissent from liberal orthodoxy. I hope others follow Stewart’s lead.

The Real O’Neals

May 18, 2015

Here is another petition that I probably won’t be signing.

If you didn’t know who Dan Savage is until today, it’s probably a good thing. But right now we need you to familiarize yourselves with one of the cruelest, most vile political activists in America.

Why? ABC plans to release a pilot sitcom based on the life of radical activist Dan Savage. Dan Savage is a hateful anti-Christian bigot.

This is a complete disgrace.

We are asking for ABC and its parent company Disney to IMMEDIATELY cancel their pilot sitcom based on the life of radical activist Dan Savage.

Don’t get me wrong. I do know who Dan Savage is. He is a nasty, bigoted piece of work who seems to believe that because some Christians have been less than Christ-like in their treatment of homosexuals, he as a homosexual activist has the right to bully Christians. Why ABC has decided to loosely base a sitcom on his life is beyond my comprehension. Here is a description of this charming project.

Well, anything remotely having to do with sex columnist and pro-gay bully Dan Savage would have to be bad, and the just-released trailer for The Real O’Neals confirms it. “The O’Neals are your typical Irish Catholic family,” the voiceover begins. Which of course means the daughter pockets what she collects for church charities, Mom and Dad are divorcing, the family priest’s vow of poverty doesn’t apply to his Lexus, and the main character, a teenage son, is gay and struggling to come out of the closet. Supposedly based on Savage’s early life, The Real O’Neals is all pretty standard religious-people-are-hypocrites lefty stuff. There are shots at Catholic theology and iconography (“I can’t come out. Have you ever met my mom? She put a statue of the Virgin Mary over the toilet so we’d remember to put the seat down.”) and lots of talk about vaginas and condoms. And it appears the whole plot comes to a very public boil at the parish bingo night. Frankly, there’s nothing new and it doesn’t look very funny, so ABC’s determination to go ahead with developing the show in the face of protest from the MRC and a host of religious groups and leaders looks like a cultural thumb in the eye.

Did I mention that Dan Savage is a nasty bigot?

Savage is a hateful anti-Christian bigot who publishes filth under the guise of “sex advice.”  Some of his greatest hits: In March Savage invited Dr. Ben Carson to “Suck my dick.” Last January, he suggested the Christian parents whose transgender teen committed suicide be charged with murder, tweeting “an example needs 2 be made.” He’s hoped Sarah Palin gets cancer, and marked the retirement of Pope Benedict’s retirement by headlining his column: “That Motherfucking Power-Hungry, Self-Aggrandized Bigot In the Stupid Fucking Hat Announces His Retirement.” Most infamously, because Savage didn’t like something Sen. Rick Santorum said about homosexuality back in 2003, he “Google-Bombed” the senator’s name in the vilest possible way.

All the same I will not support this effort to get ABC to cancel the upcoming show. If I were the sort of person who wanted to tell television networks what shows they should run, I would be a liberal. As it is, as far as I am concerned, they can run whatever garbage they please. It is unlikely I’ll be watching.

The other reason that I do not support this petition is that it will do no good. It is obvious that the executives from ABC and the other networks do not care what conservatives or Christians think or whether they are offended. In fact, from their perspective, protests from conservatives are the best possible reason to go ahead with the program. No doubt the executives at ABC are patting themselves on the back, praising their courage for standing up to the “religious right”. Also, it must have occurred to more than one person in production and promotion of the The Real O’Neals that this show isn’t really very good and will likely be cancelled before the season is over. They have probably decided that the only way to get people to watch the the show is to invoke the “banned in Boston” effect by playing up the show as a controversial program that the Christians want to censor, hoping that the progressive and the dull witted (but I repeat myself) can be encouraged to keep watching just to show those anti-gay conservatives. I would rather not play into their hands.

The best way to protest an obnoxious and offensive show like this is simply to not watch it and not give it the attention it does not deserve.

Kill Your Television

April 13, 2015

That is a radical cure for the nation’s ills proposed by Ace of Spades.

I feel so hopeless about the political situation I’ve begun looking for Hail Mary solutions.

When a problem seems impossible so solve, Donald Rumsfeld said,expand it.

We all know what the expanded version of the problem is: The problem is that we live in, as Andrew Breitbart called it, a “Matrix” of leftist assumptions and propaganda, all being delivered to us 24/7 by a wireless intravenous drip system called television.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this. I’ve been thinking it’s time to actually do something.

Just an idea, but I would like to start thinking seriously about delivering a truly grievous wound to the Political-Entertainment Complex.

I’m thinking about, firstly, stopping watching almost TV entirely and shedding cable stations. (Some cut the cable entirely.)

I guess that I have already taken the first step since I do not currently have cable and haven’t for some years. It has never seemed to be worth the expense since we never watched most of the channels that the cable companies bundled together. Cable or satellite television might have been more tempting if we had been able to choose and pay for just the channels we a truly wanted to watch, but somehow that was never an option.

I watched a lot of television when I was growing up. I must have spent three or four hours watching whatever came on in the afternoon after I got home from school. There was also Saturday morning cartoons, (do they still have that?), and  the prime time evening shows. I would also watch movies late into the night. When we got our first VCR, (I actually lived in the primitive times before television shows could be recorded.), I would watch movies and record favorite episodes of shows. All through high school and college, I was a TV addict. I did do other things. I have always liked to read. A lot of time television was the background noise while I was engaging in other activities.

I do not watch much television anymore. I do not like watching television and I detest even the use of TV as background noise. There are one or two shows I like to watch and I don’t mind watching something on DVD, but even then I tend to begrudge the time I could be spending doing something else, like reading. What is the cause of this change in lifestyle? Ace of Spades has the answer

One problem — for me; maybe your own mileage varies — is that TV makes it very easy to waste your life. It’s a kind of death-before-death. We dream seven hours a night; do we have to also sit before a dreaming box and watch other people’s dreams another three hours a day?

The other problem, of course, is that the Media is, as Andrew Breitbart always says, the Matrix, poisoning our minds with stupid, lazy, obese thinking, and they do so via the most effective means of transmitting stupidity, venality, and moral emptiness: The television.

And we will live in the Matrix until we destroy the Matrix.

So my idea is to start, as a movement, boycotting tv almost entirely, picking up, get this, new skills and hobbies and interests to fill the time we would otherwise be spending in front of the Radioactive Drug of the television screen.

It is not just that so much of what is on television is pernicious. There are a lot of shows that are just plain awful. I do not object to the excess of sex and violence so much as how mindless and stupid so many of them far, not to mention that the vast majority of writers, producers, and actor see life through a left wing lens and so the shows they make cannot help but reflect their biases. It is relatively easy to detect factual and logical errors and bias in written words. It is far more difficult to do so with a brain anesthetized by flicking images on a screen and a vapid story. But, the real problem that I have with television is that it is a passive activity. You do not have to contribute anything. You just have to sit and take it all in.

What made me decide to curtail my watching of television was that one evening I realized that I had spent the last three hours watching television and could not remember the details of a single program I had watched. I had a vision of myself sitting slack jawed and immobile for hours on end and decided that I was wasting my life. I did not simply stop watching television. In fact, I came to no such conscious decision. I just gradually began to develop a distaste for the experience of watching television. The fact that the programs have been steadily declining in quality has helped to increase this distaste. It is rather sad to watch older shows from the golden age of TV and realize how far this form of entertainment has declined.

Actually killing your television is extreme and it might seem to go to far to cut out television altogether, yet I am sure that everyone of us, except the Amish, could do with cutting back an hour or two. Just watch the shows you really, really want to watch and turn it off all the rest of the time. At the very least, don’t pay for it. You wouldn’t pay someone for the privilege of pumping toxic waste directly into your living room, why pay for cable or satellite TV?

Mandatory Voting

March 29, 2015

Not too long ago, President Barack Obama proposed that voting be made mandatory. I cannot see why making people who are disengaged and uninformed about politics vote would lead to any improvement in American politics. I suspect that Mr. Obama is counting on  those disengaged and uninformed people to deliver more votes to the Democrats and more support for the sort of policies he supports. In fact, if this is his intention, he may be disappointed. As this article in the Washington Post suggests,universal compulsory voting may not make much of a difference in the balance of power between the parties.

But perhaps I am being too cynical about Mr. Obama’s motives. Mandatory voting would lead to increased voter turnout which surely would be good for democracy, wouldn’t it. Low voter turnout in the United States has been something of a scandal in recent decades. Voter turnout has generally been around 60% in Presidential elections and 40% in midterm elections. This low turnout seems to indicate a loss of faith in the political process among Americans. If we had a higher voter turnout, our democracy would be more robust, right?

I am not so sure about any of this. Personally, I believe that the problem with American politics is not that too few people are voting, but too many. That is to say, too many of the people who do go out and vote are among the disengaged and uninformed. I think our politics would be improved by putting limits on the number of people eligible to vote.

To start with, I think we really need to raise the voting age to thirty. More than twenty-five centuries ago Aristotle argued that young men should not be involved in politics because they lack experience and are carried away by their passions. I imagine that Aristotle would think we were insane to allow men as young as eighteen, not to mention women of any age, to vote in national elections. Very few people under the age of thirty, and all too many over that age, have the experience and maturity necessary to make wise decisions about their country’s future. Young people are often the most enthusiastic supporters of dictators and demagogues.

There is the argument that if one is old enough to fight for their country, they are old enough to vote. I don’t think that is a particularly good argument. The skills and experiences necessary to serve in the military are not the same as those necessary to make responsible decisions about the country, and what of the great majority of young people who do not serve their country? Still, it might be fairly argued that young people who have served in the military are likely to be more mature and responsible then their peers and perhaps the right to vote should be extended to veterans of any age.

Which brings us to the idea proposed by Robert Heinlein in his science fiction book Starship Troopers; that only veterans be permitted to vote and hold office. This idea has often been criticized as Fascist or militaristic, which only demonstrates the ignorance of the critics. In the world Heinlein describes everybody is eligible for government service in some capacity, it need not be strictly military, and it is matched with the applicant’s abilities. The service is not a sinecure, real and demanding work is involved, even it if only amounts to peeling potatoes in KP, and not many complete their term. The idea is that only those who have demonstrated a willingness to place the needs of the community above their own desires should have the right to vote. Non-veterans cannot vote but have all the rights that any citizen in a twentieth century democracy would have, and Heinlein hints that the Federation government is somewhat more libertarian than our democratic governments since the voters aren’t continually voting benefits for themselves.

I think this idea has some merit, although I can see some flaws.  There probably would be a more informed and engaged electorate and if voting were seen as a right to be earned through service rather than just something handed out to anyone who reaches a certain age, it would be more valued and taken more seriously. On the other hand. if the franchise wee restricted to a small minority, it is difficult to see why the people with the vote wouldn’t be tempted to vote themselves all kinds of privileges at the expense of non-voters.

Not too long ago one of my children was going through the process of getting her driver’s license. It occurred to me that we put effort into teaching prospective drivers the various traffic regulations and require them to take tests to show that they can operate a motor vehicle before granting them a license to drive. This is held to be necessary and good because of the dangers to the driver and others if the driver lacks the ability to drive safely. Yet, he give almost no preparation and do not test the ability of a prospective voter to make important choices about the future of the country. Surely putting the future of the nation in the hands of incompetent and unprepared voters is a far more serious matter than the relatively few people affected by an incompetent and unprepared driver. We ought to have voter ed classes in every high school which should cover the basics of what used to be called civics. When a voter reaches the voting age, he should be required to take a test in order to receive a voter’s license which should be renewed at regular intervals, just like a driver’s license. If an applicant fails the test or if the license is not renewed, he may not vote in the next election, but he can take the test again after the election.  Again, this will make voting something to strive for, rather than something simply handed out and those people who do apply for a license and pass the test will take their duty as a voter more seriously. Having renewable voter’s licenses provided at no cost to the successful applicant will also help to cut down on voter fraud.

But, maybe instead of limiting the number of people eligible to vote, we should weigh the vote in favor of the more responsible elements of society. In his short story, “The Curious Republic of Gondour“, Mark Twain explained that the constitution of the Republic gives every citizen the inalienable right to a vote. Unfortunately this meant that the scum of the Republic had the same amount of political influence as the intelligent and successful, which was leading to the ruin of the country. The leaders of Gondour decided that they could not take away any citizen’s vote, but there was no reason why everyone should have just one vote. They permitted people to have additional votes based on wealth and education. The votes based on education were more prestigious than the ones based on wealth because a voter could lose money but not education. This might not be a bad idea and I think it could be arranged without a constitutional amendment.

Of course, none of these schemes are likely to be put into effect or seriously considered. We could at least try to do a better job educating voters about our system of government and to approach the issues with reasoned consideration, but I am afraid our political leaders prefer dumb and excited voters. Part of what the TEA Party has been doing has been to educate people about the constitution and look at all the hostility that engendered.



The Personal Submarine

March 23, 2015

I found what I want for Christmas in the Hammacher-Schlemmer Catalog, the personal submarine.

This is the two-person submersible that can descend to a depth of 1,000′. Providing access to underwater features such as coral reefs, shipwrecks, and the sea floor, a completely transparent, climate-controlled 3 1/4″-thick acrylic pressure sphere keeps explorers safe while dipping even into the mesopelagic zone, offering a chance to see exotic, bioluminescent species such as lanternfish. With a maximum speed of three knots, it is powered by a 120- and 24-volt battery bank that provide up to six hours of continuous undersea adventure. The craft is propelled by two 3-hp main thrusters that provide fore, aft, and directional control and two 3-hp vertical/translational thrusters that provide up, down, and lateral control. A centrally located joystick with independent main and vertical/translational thruster controls enables precise positioning near undersea attractions. The craft’s dual-pontoon structure and broad freeboard ensure superior surface stability, even in high sea conditions. While submerged, four external 150-watt quart-halogen lamps illuminate subjects while a xenon strobe light and RF beacon alerts others of the craft’s whereabouts. The 56 3/4″-diameter sphere’s inner diameter enables comfortable, upright seating for passengers. A VHF radio provides surfaced communication and its underwater telephone communicates while submerged. It is equipped with a suite of standard instrumentation, including a barometer, thermometer, hygrometer, depth gauges, fluxgate and magnetic compasses, mechanical clinometers, pressure gauges, and a GPS receiver. Fully classified and certified as a +A1 passenger-carrying manned submersible by the American Bureau of Shipping. Includes comprehensive training. 10 1/2′ L x 8 1/2′ W x 6 1/4′ H. (6,600 lbs.)


It’s only $2,000,000. Cheap.

But if that is too expensive, for only $300,000, you can get me the amphibious sub-surface watercraft.

This is the partially submersible watercraft that provides above- and underwater viewing options, driving right off a trailer and into the water without the need for a crane, tender vessel, or dock. Ideal for exploring underwater environments without the need for a fully submersible craft, this one is composed of a buoyant above-water upper hull and two-person cockpit that provides 180º surface views and an inverted 1 1/2”-thick acrylic hemisphere below that provides two additional passengers underwater views. The upper cockpit houses controls for two horizontally oriented underwater thrusters that provide up to 6 knots forward/4 knots backward movement as well as 360º turns. While on land, each of the craft’s ground track systems are driven by dedicated 48-volt intercooled electric motors, enabling their heavy-duty rubber tracks to negotiate up to 30º gradients for convenient ocean-, lake-, or boat ramp-based water entry and egress. The tracks enable 360º axis turns, ideal for precise maneuvering. Two 24-volt lithium battery banks provide 110 hours of water operation (up to 8 hours on land) before requiring a recharge using the included AC adapter. Consult local ordinances for road legal use. 12′ L x 8′ W x 8′ H. (3,400 lbs.)


Hammacher-Schlemmer certainly does offer the Best, the Only, the Unexpected , and the Ridiculously Expensive gifts.

Saint Patrick’s Day

March 17, 2015

Today is St. Patrick‘s day and I thought it might be appropriate to write about St. Patrick. So, who is St. Patrick and why does he get a day? Not very much is known for certain about his life. It is possible that his story has been confused with one Palladius, a missionary who became the first bishop of Ireland. Still, Patrick wrote a short autobiography called “The Declaration” or “The Confession” as part of a letter which seems to be genuine.

Get out snakes!

Patrick, or Patricius was a Roman who lived in Britain. He may have been born around 387 and lived until 460 or possibly 493, so he lived during the twilight of the Roman Empire in the West. At the age of 16 he was captured by raiders and enslaved. He worked as a shepherd in Ireland for about six years. He managed to escape and return to his home, but then he became a priest and returned to the land where he was a slave and worked to convert the pagans to Christianity. He seems to have been very successful during his lifetime, though there were many other missionaries in Ireland. He helped to organize the Church in Ireland and is supposed to have traveled to Rome to seek the Pope’s assistance in this endeavor.

According to legend, Patrick died on March 17, so that date has become his feast day. He has never been officially canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. He became known as a saint long before the modern procedure for canonization was developed. He is, obviously, the patron saint of Ireland, and also Nigeria, Montserrat, engineers, paralegals, and the dioceses of New York, Boston, and Melbourne.

There are many legends about St. Patrick. The most widely known is that he chased all the snakes out of Ireland, thus ruining the local ecology. Another is that he used the example of the three-leaved shamrock to illustrate the trinity.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all the Irish, and Irish at heart, out there!

Sorry about the green text. I couldn’t resist.


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Pi Day

March 14, 2015
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 very special Pi Day. The first digits of pi are 3.1415 so this year 3/14/15 is the Pi Day of the century.

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.



The Nativity According to Luke

December 22, 2014

The Gospel of Luke tells us what Christmas is all about


Linus quotes from the Gospel according to Luke.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke is a historian of the Hellenistic school, like Herodotus or Thucydides. Although he tries to establish times and places, he is actually less interested in being precise than in understanding the meaning of the events he records. In fact, it wasn’t so easy to give exact dates in those times, given that every city and region had its own calendar and way of numbering or naming the years.

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

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

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

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

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

Presumably Paul registered at Tarsus while he lived there. To get back to the census; obviously Joseph wasn’t a Roman citizen and Judea was under the rule of Herod, not the Romans. The census could have been a small time affair, the mention of Caesar Augustus being either an exaggeration or a long-standing policy of Augustus to encourage the provinces to conduct censuses, but conducted according to Roman norms, with every resident registering in his home town. You must not imagine, however, large crowds of people traveling to and fro. Remember that in this time most people would have lived their whole lives in the same village. Joseph’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem would have been very much an exception. The only thing really odd about this account was his taking Mary with him. As a woman, her residency would not have mattered much. In the other hand, she was also of the line of David and perhaps her presence in Bethlehem might have been desirable. Again you must not imagine that Mary was on the point of giving birth as they traveled. They could have spent several weeks in Bethlehem.




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