Tuesday, December 25, 2012

It's a Wretched Life

The war on Christmas is over, and time has once again emerged victorious. Eventually Christmas will amass enough support that it will be celebrated year-round. Hordes of elf-hat-topped red-and-green storm-troopers will goose-step straight through the fourth of July, and successfully out-flank thanksgiving.

The nuclear family at whose table I sit as patriarch went to go see the new Hollywood film version of Les Miserables today. What a wonderful holiday movie; it should have a seat with "Its a Wonderful life" or "Miracle on 34th Street".

The original French title of Victor Hugo's 1900-page tale of compounded woe can also be translated as “The Wretched”.

The version we saw was a screen adaptation of a English language adaptation of a French musical adaptation of Hugo's tale. Hugo's tale was about events taking place from 1815 to 1832, and it was first published in 1862. The musical came out in French in 1980, and English in 1985.

It is interesting to note that the 1985 opening of the English language Les Miserables musical in London closely coincided with the 100th anniversary of the installation of the Statue of Liberty in New York.

Lady Liberty also came from France, and inscribed in its pedestal is the poem entitled “The New Colossus”, which was penned by the little-known poet Emma Lazarus. Interesting as the name Emma Lazarus may appear her father's name was actually Moses Lazarus, and I would think it would be quite interesting growing up in New York with a name like that.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
                       --- The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus 1883

To think that we so ironically paraphrased this entire poem by simply voicing our desire to go see Les Miserables in the movie theater. Of course ours is an adaptation of the poem perverted by our consumered perspective.

On the way home from the matinée we drove slowly past the final battlefields of the war on Christmas. The WalMart parking lot was eerily empty. The day's slush was turning to ice in the mercury-vapor light. Since 2012 was a leap year 365 days have passed since the WalMart parking lot stood empty, and it was open 24 hours of each of those 365 days.

We are all enlisted in the war on Christmas. I personally have been running a fifth-column campaign. I have been purposely wishing folks a “Merry Christmas”; enthusiastically to those who know I am an atheist.

“Shouldn't you be wishing people a Happy Nothing or Wonderful Winter or something?” I have been asked.

“Since you mention it I do wish you a Wonderful Winter” I would retort “But I want to wish you a merry Christ-Mas as well. I don't have to believe any of that stuff to wish you a Merry Christ-Mas do I? It is really about you and the traditional ritual celebrations you use to mark this time of year. We can all enjoy the great sales and deep-deep discounts that this holiday season graces us with.”

Unfortunately nobody this year hit me with a “You know that Jesus is the reason for the season”. I guess they gave up after last-year's Christmas skirmishes.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Nibiru

Zecharia Sitchin did not make it. He had a good run, but on October 9th of 2010 he died; he was 90 years old. Would it have been too much to ask of the Anunnaku that he be given some sort of restorative draft so that he could live til 21 December 2012?  Just long enough to witness the cataclysmic collision between their home planet (Nibiru) and ours?

I guess the fact that we are all the genetically engineered work-slaves of the Anunnaku detracts from the value any one of our lives might have for them. We have really overpopulated the planet since we were created. Humans are now the most populous vertebrate species on the planet.

The Anunnaku are undoubtedly busy with the collision of their planet with Earth. Just what do you take with you when something like that is going to happen?

Though the Planet Niburu has been hidden from view all these centuries we were given fair warning that the big splat would take place. Extensive detailed records were left with the Sumerians. There were even pictures. The information was right there staring us in the face, but it took the work of Zecharia Sitchin to show us that everyone who had looked at the Sumerian artifacts before and since had gotten it wrong.

Instead of the standard “gods mundanely controlling everything and acting badly” fare of ancient civilizations the Sumerians were given a detailed account of Nibiru pinballing through the solar system, colliding several times with a planet called Tiamat, and forming various components of the solar system; One of those components was the Earth. To most researchers it just seemed like it was a standard set of mythologies, but Zech knew better, and he convinced the thousands of people who bought his book.

Some of you are probably insisting that there must be more evidence than uncovered re-translations of ancient Sumerian texts, and as luck would have it there is. Even though the super intelligent god-like Anunnaku from Nibiru might think of us as disposable constructs (as evidenced by the fact that they constructed, and then disposed of us) there are others in the universe more empathetic to our needs as sentient beings.

The super-inteligent beings who inhabit one of the planets orbiting a binary star called Zeta Reticuli in the southern Reticulum constellation (about 39 light years away) have been providing more modern updates. They implanted a transmitter into the brain of an otherwise unimpressive member of our species called Nancy Lieder.

Nancy receives regular transmissions from the “Zetas”. She also meets with all sorts of other interesting aliens. Unfortunately the transmissions must sometimes have a bit of static in them. Nancy originally predicted that the Nibiru cataclysm would take place in 2003. Now she knows that it takes place tomorrow, on 21 December 2012. This coincides with the Mayan calander stuff, and the winter solstice, and Stonehenge has something to do with it I’m sure.

I really would go out and sit in a lounge chair sipping iced tea to welcome our uninspiring super-intelligent creator’s planet, but it is just too darn cold outside here. This morning it was 0F (like -18C) outside.

They are just going to have to start the cataclysm without me.


Monday, December 17, 2012

Five Stages

It is unnerving how precisely psychological grief follows Kubler-Ross’s five stage process. Sure there are people that get stuck in some stage or another, but those who successfully move to acceptance usually go through the previous four stages in their prescribed order. Acceptance itself is not a perfect state, but it does provide the appearance of some temporary balance. Only people who have never experienced a great loss in their lives think that acceptance is the end to healing, but if they live long enough they will have the opportunity to learn otherwise.

Most people are not intimately affected by the Sandy Hook massacre; I’m certainly not. The little kids who were gunned down would likely have lived to adulthood without ever interacting with me. I’d likely never meet their parents, and if I did I would probably never know their kids ever went to Sandy Hook Elementary.

The size of the massacre was not enough to cause a great disturbance in the force either. If the averages played out 80 kids in the US under the age of five died on December 14th; an estimated 19,000 died in Africa.

Yet despite the myriad of reasons to minimize, or even ignore, the Sandy Hook Massacre many people –myself included- are reacting to this as if it was a personal tragedy. This is both unworthy and commendable: unworthy because there are actual people suffering very significant loss, and they are not me; commendable because empathy is rarely misplaced.

So I am ambiguous about finding myself force-marched through the stages of grief, but at least I know what’s coming.

The Kubler-Ross stages of grief are:

   1) Denial and Isolation
   2) Anger
   3) Bargaining
   4) Depression
   5) Acceptance


   1)  I personally would prefer to just go through the grieving process alone. It is unseemly and best handled without anyone else’s input. Besides, as I pointed out earlier, there really is no reason why I should be going through a grieving process for those kids. There is really nothing to grieve about for me. In fact, when I really think about it, this is just the same as any news story, and I’m perfectly OK.

 I’ll just listen to some happy music. Nothing really is wrong. I just want to be alone.

   2)  But how could that a**hole even think about doing something like that. This is what is wrong with society these days. Too many a**holes!

 Just look at the way this is being spun. How can people say things like “We take god out of the schools and the Devil strolls in” or “20 kids get an early Christmas present: they get to meet Jesus.” Somehow my atheism is to blame for this massacre.

Just yesterday someone messaged me with a: “People like you make me so f**king angry when things like this happen.

To which I replied snarkily: “Well that’s a lot better than angry with no f**king involved.

Prety much everyone is an a**hole aren’t they. They don’t want the right kind of gun control, or they balk at effective school security, or they are paying too much attention to the shooter, or whatever; they are just paving the way for something like this to happen again.

   3) But can't something substantive come from this loss.

 It is a fact that the ready availability of his mother’s guns allowed this to take place the way it did. On the other hand the firearms were stolen after the owner was killed, and many of the recommended national gun control measures are less stringent than what is in place in Connecticut.

 Maybe a solution lies in providing better treatment for our mentally ill children. Of course the over-prescription of psychiatric drugs is already a serious epidemic in the US.

   4)To be perfectly honest I have no idea what to do. Maybe these things will just happen. I can’t really protect my kids from the many varieties of violence in my society.

 Eventually we all have to die, and we can only hope that the road getting there is not too rocky.

   5) However, before we die there is work to do. Life goes on, and it is genuinely good to be changed by tragedy. Hopefully even people like me will be a little more comfortable at expressing empathy after an exercise like this.

 There are many meaningful conversations that should lead to substantive change.

If we are still talking after stage 2 we can have those conversations.




Saturday, December 15, 2012

Reflections on violence

After yesterday’s massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary I took a full moment of silence in reflection. It felt right so I took another. I reflected on confusion, and anger, terror, and loss. I reflected on kids, and vulnerability, and innocence.

Reflect too much and you begin to resemble a mirror. I strolled into the bathroom while the radio continued to play out incomplete and conflicting reports, and I stared into a real mirror to see how reflection is done right.

How many lifetimes-worth of fear are ticking off while parents struggle to find out if their child was in the sobbing mass who escaped Adam Lanza’s killing spree? What horrible end to that fear comes to those parents whose child did not make it out? I tried to reflect on what that would mean in my life, with AOD or AYD, but the mirror's reflection of me was blurry. I could wipe a moment of clarity from my eyes, but the lack of focus would rapidly return.

When Americans target other Americans they often target children. When we take the foreign 9/11 attack out of the top three terrorist attacks in the US the other two have an enormous child body count.

Timothy McVeigh parked his truckload of explosives right under the Murrah building’s daycare center. 19 kids under the age of 6 were killed.

Andrew Keogh placed his rough explosive charges all around the Bath consolidated school. 38 children between the ages of 7 and 11 were killed despite the fact that much of the explosive did not detonate.

The shocking enormity of these wholesale massacres may try to overshadow the retail killing of children in the US, but the sheer regularity of “unconnected” killings has grown their raw statistics so large they should block out the sun. When was the last time a year went by without a handful of reports of some adult violently ending the lives of a couple kids?

You know the drumbeat of this endless march; each beat another grisly headline: a mother drowns her kids, a father shoots his whole family, Cassie Anthony, a naked child’s body is found in a roadside ditch... The mass killings like Bath or Sandy Hook are just the occasional cymbal crash or “shave and a haircut”.

There is an argument to be made that negligence is a type of violence against kids. If we look at the numbers of kids killed one-at-a-time by negligent caregivers not a day goes by without the dispassionate numbers growing.

Including the act of negligence does more than simply swell the already too big numbers; it provides a way that I can see myself as part of a solution.

When the talk is about gunning children down in a school the very fact that I cannot imagine someone choosing to do this prevents me from picturing myself in the solution. When the talk is about a crazed father burning his family alive in their trailer I look at AOD or AYD, and I cannot imagine someone choosing to do that. However, when I ask myself if I have neglected my kids today I always realize that there is enough time to give them one more hug; one more word of encouragement.



Thursday, December 13, 2012

Disco Cancer

I just heard about a new super cancer treatment. It is amazingly more effective than conventional treatments, and has zero side effects. Yesterday I heard of one as well. Did you know marijuana cures cancer? So does Sour sop, and baking soda. I’m not sure how anyone conducted cancer research before the advent of facebook.

Treatment for cancers has improved dramatically in the last 40 years. Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL) is one of the cancers that has responded quite well to early advances in chemotherapy. In 1950 nearly all children with ALL died. By 1980 there was an over 70% 5-year survival rate. Continuing advances have increased the survival numbers, and even cautiously optimistic researchers are suggesting that a 100% cure rate may soon be possible for childhood ALL patients. The high cure rate would obviously be dependent on competent diagnosis and responsible treatment.

There are so many cancer treatments that are 100 times as effective as conventional treatments that we really should have hit that 100% cure rate for ALL by now. According to my facebook feed we just need to unhook those kids from chemo, and hand them a fatty. If conventional treatments are leaving 3 patients out of 10 uncured then whatever is making the rounds on the internet this week should leave only 3 out of 1000 uncured. That is a 99.7% cure rate, and that is pretty darn close to 100%.

What is apparently standing in the way of the medical realization that the world is brimming with natural safe and effective therapies is that big pharma, or big government, or some big-something organization is conspiring to prevent these cancer patients from getting the low-cost effective therapy they need. They are all in this: the drug companies, the cancer researchers, the politicians, the court system…everyone but the people passing on vital information through facebook.

Just this past week a young girl who had been diagnosed with ALL was saved from conventional cancer therapy. Her parents spirited her away to Mexico where she could get real treatment. The conventional doctors said she was in remission, but can you really believe them? Knowing what truth they are keeping from you? What lies they are feeding you to protect their jobs and investments? I bet you can find clues to their conspiracy by doing something like staring at the new 20-dolar bill and slightly crossing your eyes; the big conspiracies often slip up by publishing clues on common objects.

In 1979 the 5-year cure rate for ALL had not yet hit 70%, but Chad Green was one of the luck few kids who was in remission from ALL. Chad’s parents had received information attesting to the efficacy of a metabolic therapy (MT) that included a compound called vitamin B-17 (aka Laetrile). They decided to start Chad on MT.  Chad developed symptoms of cyanide poisoning, which was not surprising because the apricot pit extract that was B-17 contained cyanide. Chad’s parents were sued for custody, and Chad was put back on conventional chemotherapy. In order to save Chad from conventional therapy his parents spirited him away to Mexico for continued MT. Seven months later Chad was dead from possible cyanide poisoning.

Treating kids for ALL is not a gentle affair. When Emily Bracamontes appeared on the TODAY show and Good Morning America with her mother Norma she was wearing a hot-pink hat that had a cartoon face and sequins sewn onto it. The hat covered the hair loss her ALL treatment had caused. Emily also had a bandaged stump where before her chemotherapy she had a right arm. Emily, like Chad, was in remission. The path through treatment to remission had been paved with torment and agony.

In the 1970s the battle for MT was taken to the courts. The embattled proponents of B-17 found enough money to successfully sue to make their product legal in 28 states. Tens of thousands of people received MT. In 1980 a study of 178 possibly terminal patients (for some an effective conventional cure was not commercially available) was conducted. Not one patient was cured with B-17. The only clinical effect of B-17 was to cause alarmingly high –almost toxic- levels of cyanide to develop in the patients.

Slowly the use of B-17 disappeared from the American cancer therapy landscape. However, you can still buy it on the internet under the name Vitamin B17 or Amygdalin. MT and related therapies are also still available in Mexican clinics. Is Emily trading conventional therapy for a disproven therapy from the age of Disco?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Being and Nothingness

There has got to be room for stuff.

I have been told that I own too much stuff; although the word used for stuff rhymed with “IT”. The “too much” judgment perhaps came from the mistaken idea that the IT took up too much room, but that cannot be the case since there is nothing that can take up more room than it does. In other words there is at least a one-to-one mapping of IT to the nothing it sits in.

“On voit que, pour arriver à la solution de ces deux questions, il fallait d'abord bien connaître l'analyse et la nature du corps susceptible de fermenter, et les produits de la fermentation ; car rien ne se crée, ni dans les opérations de l'art, ni dans celles de la nature, et l'on peut poser en principe que, dans toute opération, il y a une égale quantité de matière avant et après l'opération ; que la qualité et la quantité des principes est la même, et qu'il n'y a que des changements, des modifications.” -- Antoine Laurent de Lavoisier

Matter, or stuff, can be converted to other assemblies of matter, but it stays matter. The famous E=MC^2 of the general theory of relativity states that it is possible to convert matter to energy (and back again), but that refinement to Lavoiser’s law of conservation of matter did not become clear till Antoine’s head and body had been separated for a over a century. Antoine birthed the discipline of chemistry by conjecturing that every single type of stuff is created by rearranging elemental building blocks.

Antoine shot down the idea that there was an elemental phlogiston that is destroyed when things burn. Instead the transformations seen in fire are the result of interacting measurable and postulated attributes assigned to the components of existence differentiated by having attributes from the nothing they exist in. In this model existence and nothingness themselves are attributes of being.

This idea, that the nothing needed for the context of existence is an attribute of being, is a basic concept of our understanding of any thing, and by extension hints at an underlying one-ness behind every thing. This, of course, has not gone unnoticed.

"Oh Sariputra, form does not differ from the void, and the void does not differ from form. Form is void and void is form” -- Hsuen Tsang

However, the idea that the space for stuff cannot be separated from the stuff itself predated the discovery that most of the stuff we know is void. At first gasses were separated into concentrated and dilute quantities, and pressure on the containers of diluted gas was found to be proportional to the concentration of the gas outside the diluted gas container. The attribute of the gas that was concentrated was described as being comprised of particulate molecules. The material the molecules moved through, and that which the gas was diluted by when molecules were concentrated out, was vacuum.

Is it proper to call vacuum a material? Is it possible to concentrate void? Can we have areas of space where there is more void than form?

The substance we have arguably the most intimate experience with –air- is mostly void. That is one reason why it is so much easier to put stuff into a room that has mostly air in it rather than one containing boxes of more solid material. Solids contain less void. So far from being synonymous, or void being an attribute of matter, it appears as if matter is an attribute of void.

When humans stepped into space (I like the solid metaphor of the astronaut, but it is more historically correct here to think of some abstract “stepping into space”) they encountered a seemingly infinite void that swallowed entire galaxies, and diluted what we know of as matter into unimaginable levels of vacuum. And space was very cold.

I have looked out into the fragile distance of oceans. Waves near and far continually obstruct an even farther horizon. It is as infinite an expanse as I am capable of imagining without coffee, and when I stand on its shore I can see its terminus at my feet.

Ex nihilo nihil fit

When humans began dissecting the atom they found the scale of the void around them increased. Form retreated into the void, and only after incredible increases in the resolution of our observations were we able to see it. There is was hiding in 0.00000001% of what we thought was there. The void was 100% of the universe. It was 100.0% of the universe. It was 100.00% of the universe. It was only after we could determine that 99.99999999% of every atom was void that we could see where the stuff was that for millennia was all we could see.

It is as if we were all we knew existed till we realized we were hardly there at all.



Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Chuck Norris's Hobby

You are entitled to your own opinions, but only Chuck Norris is entitled to his own facts.”

I have lots of hobbies. Many of them involve doing things alone, like looking into the night sky and imagining the extent of everything. Some involve other people, and some of those are my favorites.

There is a company called Hobby Lobby that purportedly sells items necessary for all sorts of hobbies. Looking at their online items it appears as if their idea of "all sorts of hobbies" involve lots of silk flowers, glitter, and yarn. These are not things that I buy for any of my hobbies.

I expect that Hobby Lobby does sell Super Glue. Cyanoacrylate (CA) glues are wonderful playthings. There is a company called Hobby Lobby International which sells large containers (and by large I mean one full fluid ounce in volume) of CA glue. This company is not connected with the Hobby Lobby craft stores.

The Hobby Lobby craft stores do not sell important hobby items like microcontroller units or ammonium perchlorate.  I have a sneaking feeling that they may not consider hobbies requiring items like these as being proper hobbies. For some other hobbies they are much more direct about their condemnation.

Hobby Lobby refuses to sell shot glasses. They apparently won’t allow their store locations to be sold to liquor stores or allow “backhauling” of beer shipments.

They also do not think that any money they spend should go to healthcare options that pay for contraceptives.

Hobby Lobby’s owners apparently frown on many of the really good hobbies. They have even gone to court to fight against the possibility that any money they have touched might be spent by anyone on hobbies they disapprove of.

A federal judge has recently ruled that Hobby Lobby's religious liberties have not been violated by requiring Hobby Lobby to provide heath care benefits for its 13,240 employees.

I’ve read several articles on the subject, and none of them have mentioned the outstanding contraceptive-free healthcare benefits that Hobby Lobby is currently offering their employees. The articles tend only to pontificate on religious liberty and the millions of dollars in fines Hobby Lobby will have to start paying in a few weeks.

A more jaded researcher might suspect that they are not currently offering a healthcare package that is much better than what they will be required to provide under Obamacare.  I'm sure they must..I mean in order to really have the moral high ground they must be offering something that is gold-plated awesome. 

I searched the Hobby Lobby webpage to find out more about the amazing contraceptive-free healthcare that their employees will not have once they switch to the new mandated plans. I found extensive information about their missionary activities. I found out that they were closed on Sundays, and did not use barcodes in their stores. I found out that their mission statement included the statement: “ Providing a return on the owners' investment, sharing the Lord's blessings with our employees, and investing in our community.” Perhaps “the Lord’s blessings” is the name of a gold-plated healthcare plan.

The fact that Hobby Lobby is being beaten up by the big bad Obamacare is more important than the healthcare of their employees now, in the past, or anytime in the future.

Those who can afford it get themselves a bodyguard when they are in danger of getting beaten up, and who would make a better bodyguard than Chuck Norris?

Chuck is getting a little long in the tooth these days –he will be 73 next March- and he is not able to take on big bad healthcare by himself. He wants your help to “choke the life out of Obamacare”.

“There’s no middle ground in this fight. Citizens and employers shouldn’t be forced to choose between obeying the law and honoring the Sixth Commandment.” – Chuck Norris

But Chuck says he is not only protecting good Christian Americans like Hobby Lobby, he is also protecting people like you. Apparently, when people think that they can suddenly get healthcare for free, they will swarm healthcare providers and cause costs to skyrocket. He points out that Canadians and Europeans already swarm to America to get our better healthcare because their countries are foolish enough to give it away for free.

According to Aaron E. Carroll, M.D., M.S. of the AARP there are some rich Canadian folks who travel to the US for procedures, “But for the vast, vast majority of people, that’s not happening.” Some people even say there is a problem with Americans flocking to Canada for affordable healthcare.

However, Chuck says that the Canadians are flocking to the US, and are you going to argue with Chuck Norris?

Chuck knew this was going to be a problem. Before the election he and his lovely wife Gena pleaded with America to “preserve for our children this last best hope for man on earth”.  By "last best hope" they meant Mitt Romney.

Gena and Chuck identify this plea as the words of Ronald Reagan, and they quote him further as warning that: “we will sentence them to take the first step into 1,000 years of darkness," Ronald said those things in 1964 while promoting the candidacy of Barry Goldwater so we should be a good ways into that 1,000 years of Darkness by now. It is interesting to note that Ronald’s own two terms as POTUS comprise 0.8% of that darkness.

However, Chuck said the “1,000 years of darkness” prophesy really applied to the responsibility to vote for Mitt Romney in 2012, and are you going to argue with Chuck Norris?

I must admit that I had to look up what the sixth commandment was when I read Chuck's essay on choking the life out of Obamacare. I bet some of you had to also.

It is embarrassing because it is such a popular commandment that it can be either: “Thou Shall Not Commit Adultery” or “Thou Shall Not Kill”, depending on who you ask.

It is interesting to link contraception to adultery. I suspect that adultery is not a hobby that Hobby Lobby would condone. Adultery is usually described as having sex with someone who is not your spouse, and does not necessarily have anything to do with contraceptive use. Chuck certainly did not use contraceptives when he and Johanna DeCioli were at a drive-in movie conceiving Dina a few miles away from the apartment Chuck and his then wife Dianne Holechek lived in.

However, Chuck says that contraception violates the sixth commandment, and are you really going to argue with Chuck Norris?

Chuck has a blog over at WorldNetDaily where he is much more active than I am here. Looking over old posts by Chuck one can see that he has personal facts about all sorts of things.

He really needs to find a new Hobby.

I bet he knows some folks who can help with that.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

gnomon twins

The word “gnomon” is apparently pronounced: “No-Men”. For years I have been  pronouncing it “No-Mon”; sometimes affecting a cheesy faux-Jamaican accent while saying it.

  Sanka Coffie:       Hey Derice! Ya dead?
  Derice Bannock:  No mon, I'm not dead.
        -- From the 1993 Disney movie “Cool Runnings” 

The gnomon is the sticking up part of a sundial. It is movement of the shadow of the gnomon along the sun-dial that one uses to tell time.

Sundials are not the simplest of time-telling devices. One can be tricked into believing that they are by comparing one to a wristwatch. The wristwatch has all sorts of moving parts where the sundial just has a few numbers on a disk, and a stick. The stick is the gnomon (pronounced “no men”) .

The moving parts for a sundial are the rest of the universe. This happens to be a very complex mechanism.

The length of an effective gnomon is determined by the shadow it casts at noon on the summer solstice. This shadow is almost non-existent. The winter solstice –or goru in the north- casts the longest noontime gnomon shadow.

This year’s goru is supposed to be our last. Though I have been told that the end-of-the world has been predicted with amazing accuracy it has only been resolved to a single 24-hour period. Important details like what hour or how the international dateline affects the prediction have not been reveled.

And how will the world end? It cannot be a simple series of earthquakes and fires as those are parts of the world’s existence that will have to go in order for the world to really end. Will the world go “pop”? Will the world fade in-and-out while a scratchy soundtrack goes “whschnzzzz-whschzzzzzz-whschzzzzzz”? I have seen cut rate movies use this as a special effect for teleportation devices, and sometimes they don’t work right. I have seen the same thing used in the original Star-Trek series, but with a slightly different sound effect. Will we find ourselves confronted by our evil twins from another dimension? Apparently that sometimes happens when a teleportation device malfunctions.

If this is the way the world ends I hope my twin has flamboyant facial hair and fashion accessories like the Star-Trek extra-dimentional twins had.

I will call the twins no-men and no-women.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Islands in the dark

Just today I was introduced to this tidbit of philosophical poetry from the 6th century. It struck me as interesting how the concepts of things such as good and evil are presented as elements of a pattern that might be thought of as following some set of physical laws.   Even after two hundred years of the dark ages had perverted civilization in Europe the beauty derived from a shadow of the concept of a deistic god provoked verse.  Europe would remain in the dark ages for another eight hundred years before the ideas in this fragment of poetry could openly bear fruit.


  From Anicius Manlius Severinus Boëthius's Consolatio Philosophiae written in the year 524.  Translated by H.F Stewart and E. K. Rand in 1918. 

Consolatio Philosophiae
       IV
 
Si uis celsi iura tonantis
Pura sollers cernere mente,
Aspice summi culmina caeli.
Illic iusto foedere rerum
Veterem seruant sidera pacem.                                            
Non sol rutilo concitus igne
Gelidum Phoebes impedit axem
Nec quae summo uertice mundi
Flectit rapidos Vrsa meatus.
Numquam occiduo lota profundo                                            
Cetera cernens sidera mergi
Cupit oceano tingere flammas.
Semper uicibus temporis aequis
Vesper seras nuntiat umbras
Reuehitque diem Lucifer almum.                                           
Sic aeternos reficit cursus
Alternus amor, sic astrigeris
Bellum discors exulat oris.
Haec concordia temperat aequis
Elementa modis, ut pugnantia                                            
Vicibus cedant umida siccis
Iungantque fidem frigora flammis
Pendulus ignis surgat in altum
Terraeque graues pondere sidant.
Isdem causis uere tepenti                                              
Spirat florifer annus odores,
Aestas Cererem feruida siccat,
Remeat pomis grauis autumnus,
Hiemem defluus inrigat imber.
Haec temperies alit ac profert                                           
Quidquid uitam spirat in orbe.
Eadem rapiens condit et aufert
Obitu mergens orta supremo.
 
 
      If thou would'st see
    God's laws with purest mind,
    Thy sight on heaven must fixéd be,
  Whose settled course the stars in peace doth bind.
      The sun's bright fire
    Stops not his sister's team,
    Nor doth the northern bear desire
  Within the ocean's wave to hide her beam.
      Though she behold
    The other stars there couching,
    Yet she uncessantly is rolled
  About high heaven, the ocean never touching.
      The evening light
    With certain course doth show
    The coming of the shady night,
  And Lucifer before the day doth go.
      This mutual love
    Courses eternal makes,
    And from the starry spheres above
  All cause of war and dangerous discord takes.
      This sweet consent
    In equal bands doth tie
    The nature of each element,
  So that the moist things yield unto the dry,
      The piercing cold
    With flames doth friendship keep,
    The trembling fire the highest place doth hold,
  And the gross earth sinks down into the deep.
      The flowery year
    Breathes odours in the spring
    The scorching summer corn doth bear,
  The autumn fruit from laden trees doth bring.
      The falling rain
    Doth winter's moisture give.
    These rules thus nourish and maintain
  All creatures which we see on earth to live. 



Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The plural of anecdote [is | is not] data

I like stories, and many people I know like stories. You can make a story by gluing together a bunch of related observations. Polish spurious details out of a story with a little context and it can become a metaphor.

Anecdotes are stories that are either: “real and interesting” or “hearsay and unreliable”. Recently I have taken note of the term anecdote being defined both ways in the same talk. Somehow calling a story an anecdote tells you something about the story, but what it tells you depends on something external to the term “anecdote”.

The telling and understanding of stories has been a defining element of human culture possibly dating back to before the emergence of Homo sapiens. How to handle the information in a story can be a defining element of personality, and so the telling of stories stitches a person to a culture.

Anthropologists have used the collected stories of selected cultures to describe important aspects of them. We look to collected stories about happenings in our society to understand its culture, and we often call those stories anecdotes. In this freshly bedded election candidates threw anecdotes around like facts in order to persuade the listeners to invest in their understanding of our culture.

As human civilization has developed the ability to handle information and facts has matured. Though there is still a need for anecdotes we now have “data” and “theories” that themselves are parts of a self-referential context for our cultural understanding.

“The plural of anecdote is data” -- Raymond Wolfinger 1969

The idea that collected anecdotes can comprise a data set is enticingly simple. This definition places stories into a modern context. In much the same way that we can define information content of a particular datum we might be able to quantitatively asses the cultural relevance of an anecdote. This definition even puts the competing definitions of anecdote into place. There is good data and bad data just as there are real and unreliable anecdotes.

I particularly like the Wolfinger’s definition of anecdote as it bridges the divide between a modern understanding of culture and a primitive sitting-around-the-campfire-eating-partially-burnt-gazelle approach to culture. I cannot immediately picture most English majors I have known sitting around a campfire ripping chunks of crispy meat off of a freshly killed gazelle haunch , but the definition also helps to bridge an understanding of cultural relevance between humanities and the sciences. I suppose the definition could be viewed as a good will gesture between mutually misunderstanding branches of study equivalent to the “welcome to our fire” handshake still slippery with the fat of the successful hunt.

Wolfinger is a well-known political scientist who first crafted the definition as a rejoinder to a student of his who was dismissing a piece of data as “just an anecdote”.

"I said 'The plural of anecdote is data' some time in the 1969-70 academic year while teaching a graduate seminar at Stanford. The occasion was a student's dismissal of a simple factual statement -- by another student or me -- as a mere anecdote.” -- Raymond Wolfinger

Many of my readers will immediately identify Wolfinger’s definition as being the opposite of the popular saying that:

“The plural of anecdote is not data” -- Frank Kotsonis or Roger Brinner

It is interesting to note that these competing sayings may have been in informal use long before the time of reliably preserved memories of their usage. In other words there are anecdotal accounts of their use that predate the cited first uses (and the citations I have found for first use are sketchy).

Though I like Wolfinger’s definition because it is simply true the Kotsonis and Brinner’s saying is more accurate.

Data is information that can be used for a purpose. Usually this purpose is formal representation of something. By formal I mean quantitative through the application of specific measures of relevance, but in practice these can be abstracted to some informal description of a representative connection.

At best anecdotes can be representative data elements within a population that describe something similar to the “mode”or median in elementary statistics. They can also be descriptions of other statistical elements; like outliers or even unrelated elements. At worst they are stories designed to misrepresent the population from which they are pulled.

This can be well illustrated by using anecdote as an adjective. Picture a report of a “median income” figure from a state. The idea of median tells you something about the population of the state. Now imagine a report describing an “anecdotal income”. The larger the population the anecdotal figure is drawn from the less actual information it conveys about the population.

Now picture the word “random” similarly used as an adjective. A random income figure from a population says more about the population than an anecdotal figure. The plural of random information is data. Anecdotes are not randomly derived so having many of them does not comprise a data set; at least not a useful data set.

Because of the cognitive bias of the human mind an anecdote over-represents any population it is pulled from. In essence anecdotes are multiplied in the mind until the data set is re-constructed by this clonally derived plural. An anecdote is selected on the basis of some bias (even if that bias is as seemingly innocuous as “being interesting”) and multiplying the anecdote amplifies that selection bias.

“Anecdotes are not selected at random or they would just be data”




Monday, November 12, 2012

Come Home Soon

Today is the day that the people of the United States officially celebrate the service of all those who have ever honorably worn the uniform of one of its armed forces.

Thank you for your service.

An American soldier follows orders that are conceived from mission plans which in turn come from strategies devised to achieve the will of the population of our democratic republic. We all must shoulder the responsibility for the decisions that make young people soldiers, but only the soldiers shoulder the risks when they are put into harms way.

Veteran’s day was grafted as an American observance onto Armistice day following World War Two. Armistice Day marks the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month as that is the time (Paris time) that the armistice marking the end of World War One (The War to End All Wars) took effect. Veterans day is observed on the first Monday after Armistice Day as it is always better to do things with the day off work.

Because of its origins in the international day of celebrating the end of World War One it is not too surprising that one poem that gets trotted out more than most for this ocation was written by a British poet who died on 23 April 1915 en route to Gallipoli at the height of World War One.

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

“The soldier” by Rupert Chawner Brooke

Brooke would die aboard a ship; his body wrecked by dysentery and sepsis. There was no “Rich Earth” or “Flowers to Love” where he died.

Brooke’s close friend William Denis Browne attended his death. William was a British composer and pianist who knew of Rupert’s desire to be buried in the earth. William took Rupert’s body ashore at Skyros, and had him buried in an Olive grove there. William would die at Gallipoli on June 4th.

Today thousands of veterans have returned home from conflicts old and new. Today many more of them return home “only” wounded. Today the American soldier is more likely to take his own life than to have been killed in conflict with an enemy.

Too often when two veterans meet for the first time the only conversation they have is: “Where and for how long?” Though this might be more pronounced amongst former frontline grunts the veteran who simply affixed missiles to a drone in some distant base will also see something in the fleeting distance as if part of their poetry was washed away with blood.

Ironically we remember only Rupert’s death wishes as they relate to his being a soldier. It is as if we have heard his poem a hundred times, and only asked: “Where and for how long?” Rupert may have died before his thirtieth birthday, but he lived his life more fully in that time than could be captured in describing his few short months in the Royal Navy.

O dear my loves, O faithless, once again
This one last gift I give: that after men
Shall know, and later lovers, far-removed,
Praise you, "All these were lovely"; say, "He loved."

from “The Great Lover” by Rupert Chawner Brooke

On occasions like today it is a great pleasure to say “Thank you for your service” to our veterans. However, on every day it is a greater pleasure to be able to say “Welcome Home!”, and when asked to remember those who have not made it home I would rather say “He (or She) Loved!



Sunday, November 11, 2012

Bob Crandall

On August 14th miners from the Century coal mine near Beallsville Ohio were told by their employer that attendance of a political rally for Mitt Romney was mandatory. The mine they worked at was shuttered for the day, and the not-so-subtly implied threat was that there would never work for them at the mine if they were discovered to have not attended the Romney rally.  Exactly five years earlier another mine owned by one of Robert E. Murray’s companies was also shuttered. On Monday, August 6, 2007, at 2:48 A.M. the Crandall Canyon mine near Huntington Utah suffered a collapse that trapped six miners; on August 14th the mine was still swarming with increasingly despondent rescuers.

In 2007 Bobb E. Murray was the figurehead of several mining companies that were being fused into a continuous coal mining operation that leveraged techniques to maximize profitable production from the mines; they were able to lap up existing operations, and whip them back into profitability. Accident rates at Murray-owned mines were often several times the national average for comparable mines. In 2003 just one of his mines in Kentucky earned Murray’s company (in this case KenAmerican Resources) a total of $306,000 in fines.

I take the safety of my miners to bed with me every night." – Robert E. Murray to the Columbus Dispatch years before 50 Shades of Gray was published.

Murray’s company had only owned the Crandall mine for a few months when it collapsed, and so his group had only amassed $12,000 in fines. This was undoubtedly a small amount in comparison to the increased profit the new mining techniques at Crandall were bringing in.

Though it is not new to the world retreat mining was apparently new to the Crandall mine. They had been removing the coal using a method called Room and Pillar where columns of coal are left behind to hold up the roof. In retreat mining miners go in and take out the columns of coal.

On August 6th 2007 a large section of the roof collapsed causing a large bump. So much material moved that it registered 3.9 on the Richter sale to local seismographs.

Bob Murray contributes large amounts of money to political figures. He testifies on safety matters. He influences the tenure of mine safety bureaucrats. Of all the candidates he has supported Mitt Romney was one of his favorites. He was emotionally driven to get his miners to the rally this august.

In his August 2007 appearances he was also described as emotional. He was also described as “Angry” and “Rambling” and “Melting down”. Pictures from one of his post collapse press conferences for the families of the trapped miners show him tracing the path of mock tears on his face with his fingers. Though Murray was emotional at the collapse conference he was not attune to the emotions of those to whom he was speaking. He was described as “Callous” and “Damaging”.

Murray seized upon the 3.9 seismographic reading. He insisted that it was a natural earthquake, and promised proof. He never suggested that a natural earthquake might have aftershocks (or might be a preshock) that would endanger the rescuers. Apparently the insistence from all scientific sources that the characteristics of the seismograph readings were those of a mine bump not a natural earthquake were good enough when determining the safety of his workers; it only fell short when it came to blame-shifting.

Murray's political efforts do not end at supporting political candidates. He attacked the notion of climate change and Al Gore by prophesizing: “the destruction of American lives and more death as a result of his hysterical global goofiness with no environmental benefit." as a result of cap-and-trade. Hillary Clinton was “Anti-American”.

On August 16th 2007 the Crandall mine suffered another collapse. Three resue workers were killed, and six more wounded. The bodies of the three rescue workers were recovered, but the bodies of the initial six trapped miners still remain in the mine.

Murray’s company was levied over $1 million in fines as a result of the Crandall collapse. The fines were appealed for years, and on September 27th 2012 settled with the Federal government on the last of the fines to a tune of $1.1 million.

Murray still maintains that the bump was caused by a natural earthquake, but has yet to produce any of his promised evidence. All of the geologists who have examined the seismographic data have declared that it was a product of the bump, and not the cause.

A few weeks after settling on the fines Murray’s candidate for president was defeated.

The day after the election Murray fired about 150 workers. About two-thirds (105) of them had worked in Utah.

In addition to the pink slip the fired miners were given a copy of Murray’s “Prayer for America” that explained the motivation for the action.

Here is the text of Murray’s “Prayer for America”:

Dear Lord:

The American people have made their choice. They have decided that America must change its course, away from the principals of our Founders. And, away from the idea of individual freedom and individual responsibility. Away from capitalism, economic responsibility, and personal acceptance.

We are a Country in favor of redistribution, national weakness and reduced standard of living and lower and lower levels of personal freedom.

My regret, Lord, is that our young people, including those in my own family, never will know what America was like or might have been. They will pay the price in their reduced standard of living and, most especially, reduced freedom.

The takers outvoted the producers. In response to this, I have turned to my Bible and in II Peter, Chapter 1, verses 4-9 it says, “To faith we are to add goodness; to goodness, knowledge; to knowledge, self control; to self control, perseverance; to perseverance, godliness; to godliness, kindness; to brotherly kindness, love.”

Lord, please forgive me and anyone with me in Murray Energy Corp. for the decisions that we are now forced to make to preserve the very existence of any of the enterprises that you have helped us build. We ask for your guidance in this drastic time with the drastic decisions that will be made to have any hope of our survival as an American business enterprise.

Amen.


Many right-wing religious nut-jobs are angrily despondent over the re-election of POTUS Obama. My look-alike -Glenn Beck- has advised his listeners to buy up farmland and guns.

Ted Nugent, who owns lots of farmland and guns, suggests that "Pimps and Whores" " hav a president to destroy America".  I think he was talking about Glenn. 




Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Election 2012

I don’t think a single candidate I voted for won last night’s elections. I did not expect them to win; though it would have been nice if my presidential candidate had gotten at least 1% of the popular vote.  Despite this overwhelming loss I’m happy the way things turned out in many of the elections.

If Florida is not decided in the next year could we just carry over the votes to the 2014 elections?

Some of my co-workers are physically ill at the result from the re-election of Barak Obama. One man ushered me out of his office after tears welled up in his eyed when he mentioned that Mitt Romeny lost. It was as if saying it suddenly made it real to him.

It looks like Romney carried Utah by less than a three-to-one margin [73% Romney 25% Obama]. There must be a major liberal wave washing over Utah.

The communists-taking-over-everyone-looses-there-jobs-mandatory-gay marriage rhetoric will surely subside as Thursday dawns without a zombie apocalypse. Several people have pointed out that the world will be ending just before Christmas anyway. I almost wish it were legal to hand out emergency Prozac just to help everyone through this apparently rough stretch of life.

There were two races I had mentioned earlier. Neither of the two candidates I mentioned won.

There is no Love in congress; at least not from Utah. Though Mia Love may not have been the African-American statesman that Allan West was she was able to get millions of dollars to finance her campaign for congress. I hope people simply wondered what the mayor of a tiny outer-burbia town would bring to Washington. Her failed campaign cost more than the operating budget of her town.

Dick Jones lost his bid for Granite School Board 1 by about the same margin Obama lost the Utah’s Electoral College votes. I kinda wonder how anyone could cast a vote for him. Perhaps they had a bottle of Purell in their pocket?

I am happy about outcomes in the rest of the nation. However, I wonder if more contests would have gone favorably if I had published a set of endorsements. I will have to think about that for 2016; assuming the world and this blog are still around then.


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Dick and Dan

Four years ago Richard Wagner Jones was re-baptized into the Mormon Church. This was just three years after his 10 year probation ended. His probation started when he finished serving his five year sentence in prison. His five year prison term, and his excommunication from the Mormon Church, began in 1990 as a result of his felony conviction for second-degree sexual abuse of an 8-year-old girl. Now Dick is on the November 6th ballot hoping to fill one of the three positions on the Granite School Board.

Dick sometimes goes by the name of Rickard Wagoner. This is a great name for politics in Utah as it sounds like it has something to do with covered wagons.

Photo of Richard Wagner Jones from the Utah Department of Corrections Sex Offender Registry

Dick is still a registered sex offender, and will need special permission to visit elementary and middle schools in the school district even if he is elected.

Dick sometimes goes by the name Rick Oliver Kidd. I would not think “Kidd” would be the best alias for a convicted child abuser.

The Granite School District is a suburban district just north of the Canyons School District

Dick is running against Dan Lofgren. Dan is the President, CEO, and founder of Cowboy Partners and Cowboy Properties ; a real estate development firm. Dan is also chairman of the Board of Trustees of the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA). The SITLA is a uniquely Utahn entity. It controls the sale, use, and collection of revenues from land set aside to generate income for Utah schools. It makes perfect sense to have an active real estate developer running it; doesn’t it?

In other words Dick and Dan are two alleged rapists running against each other so they can be in charge of what they potentially desire that the Utah school system has.

Candidates for the other two Granite school board positions are running unopposed.

Dick has not run from his past; in fact he has spoken to groups about protection from sexual abuse. He explains “that those who are sex offenders are not mentally ill, they are people with serious thinking errors.".

Prior to the conviction for sexual abuse of a child Dick was in the elders quorum presidency of his local Mormon Church. This gave him access to many young children, and may be where he identified his victim.

Dick’s face has been splattered all over the news due to his sordid past. At least one new alleged victim has come forward after seeing his face on the news. This woman, who is now in her mid 40s, claims that when she was just a 14 year old girl from a troubled home she was sent to live with Dick (who was 37 at the time).

"I was pretty much Dick Jones' slave, sex slave, pimped out to his business partners and associates." – Anonymous alleged victim of Dick Jones.

She allegedly ran away, and told case workers about her virtual imprisonment, but nobody believed her. The allegations were apparently not brought out when Dick was convicted of sexual abuse of another younger child a few years later.

Dick wants people to realize that he has paid his debt to society, and focus on the issues instead of his personal baggage.




Friday, October 26, 2012

Cue Balls

If you believe the information that ignites the main-stream media you have recently found out that over a month ago our vice president said something inappropriate to a grieving father at an official memorial service. The grieving father was Charles Woods who was the father of Tyrone Woods.  Tyrone was one of the two ex-Navy SEALS killed while trying to protect ambassador Stevens when the Benghazi consulate in Libya was attacked on September 11th.

In a recorded telephone interview Charles Woods clearly recalls that Vice President Biden asked him “in a loud and boisterous voice”: "Did your son always have balls the size of cue balls?"

Charles apparently called up both the Lars Larsen and Glenn Beck shows to break the silence on this.

However, there was no silence to break. The repatriation ceremony Charles talks about took place at Andrew’s air force base on the 14th of September, and was filmed. Joe Biden was not alone in meeting with the families. Also in attendance were the POTUS Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, Secretary of Defense Panetta, former Secretary of State Powell, Senator McCain, and other dignitaries. There was also the usual horde of taggers-on that each of these dignitaries enjoys.

Nobody besides Charles caught the vice-president’s “Balls the size of cueballs” question. Once Charles brought it up there were hordes of commentators tripping over each other just to mention it so it was obviously not missed due to it being dismissible. The cueball comment was even mentioned on “the View”.

It is also bizarre that even the rest of Tyrone’s family missed Biden’s “Loud and boisterous” comments. In fact Tyrone’s mother (Cheryl Croft Bennett) described the repatriation ceremony soon after it took place. She described the ceremony honoring the death of her son on her FaceBook page:

'The entire afternoon was overpowering … Little did I know that I would find myself in a reception room being comforted, hugged, and, yes, even kissed by the President of the United States. Along with the President, there was Vice-President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and General and Mrs Colin Powell. They were all wonderful. They held my hand, offered condolences, gave warm hugs, and were extremely compassionate and genuinely sad for my loss, as I fought back tears and tried to project an image of strength to honor my SEAL son.' -- Cheryl Croft Bennett

So everybody missed this very interesting and inappropriate “loud and boisterous” comment made at an official function except Charles, and Charles did not think it worthwhile to talk about it till the memory of the function had cooled. All the fresh recollections of the function missed it. Of course it is more likely that the recollection is piqued more by the proximity of November 6th than September 14th.

This sounds like Karl Rove type bullcrap. People say Kerry was "Swiftboated" perhaps we will soon be saying that Obama was "Cueballed".  Instead of rubbing the nations face in it reporters should be asking how deep the pit of crap is.

The cueball revelation coincides with an analysis of Romney’s stump speeches that shows Mitt has dropped mention of Libya from them. Mitt stops talking about Libya as the underbelly of his campaign starts talking about Libyan Cueballs.  It is as if there is a coordinated plan to erect a firewall between the candidate and any backlash that might occur as the veracity of the crass cueball comment came under scrutiny.

How do we even know that the comments were made by Charles Woods. Even FOX news has only reported the comments second-hand, but Charles was able to call at least two radio stations. I know firsthand that Fox news can have a newsvan out in front of someone’s house in a matter of minutes. How did they not catch Charles on camera telling the world this story face-to-face? It is exactly what Fox would love to show, and they have had an entire day to get it without result.

I think it is reasonable to suggest that it was not Charles Woods making those comments on the radio. It is easy to believe that the likes of Glenn Beck would rather air the cueball statement than check it out. Perhaps even Fox news had too much integrity to air the statement as if it was one that had been responsibly sourced.

What does it do to the families who have lost their loved ones to rub crap into their grieving process? Even if it was Charles Woods on the phone what level of respect does it show to his ex-wife and the rest of there son’s family to invent such a politically motivated untruth about the vice-president making testicle jokes at a somber ceremony?

Whoever was pretending to be Charles Woods must have balls the size of cueballs to make this up.




Thursday, October 25, 2012

Mail Call Two

The other piece of mail I got yesterday was the newest issue of Decision magazine (volume 53 Number 11). I think the publishers of this tax-exempt publication may have decided to influence the election.

On the cover is a picture of two campaign buttons; one is red-white-and –blue and has the word “VOTE” on it, and the other is black with white letters forming the word “PRAY”. In the lower left hand corner red capital letters order the reader to “TAKE A STAND FOR BIBLICAL VALUES ON NOV. 6”.


On the inside of the front cover is a picture of a younger Billy Graham (he looks barely 80 in the black-and-white photo) holding a book and looking resolved. At the top of left hand side of the page are the words “VOTE BIBLICAL VALUES TUESDAY NOVEMBER 6” in an over-sized font. Just to the right of the command is a special message from Billy that ends with an image of his cursive signature.

“The legacy we leave behind for our children, grandchildren and this great nation is crucial. As I approach my 94th birthday, I realize this election could be my last. I believe it is vitally important that we cast our ballots for candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel. I urge you to vote for those who protect the sanctity of life and support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman. Vote for biblical values this November 6, and pray with me that America will remain one nation under God.” – Billy Graham

The BGEA has a page asking everyone to share the information and reprints of the inside cover on all sorts of social media sites, and to print it out to show to people.

The first article in the magazine is titled “the Campaign for Immorality”. In this article John Macarthur expounds on an edited excerpt from Romans 1:

“ For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness …[this portion removed by Decision magazine]…God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness…[this portion also removed by Decision magazine]… haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things,” -- Exerpt from Romans 1 18, 26-30 NKJV

In his article John tells us of the biblical teaching that “if you don’t work you don’t eat”. I bet there was a voucher program in place to make sure this pre-Randian principle was not violated by “The lilies of the field” (Mathew 6:28).

John gets more specific by stating that the “elimination of god” by one party created a "Romans 1 platform”. He states that putting God back into the platform was blasphemy because the platform talked about “sexual freedom”. John also states, in an apparent contradiction to his ire at leaving God out, that God should not be in either agenda; John is very hard to please.

In his article John repeatedly states that what he is saying is “not about politics”. John must have a keen sense of the seemingly contradictory nature of his irony as most people would casually think that the question of who a person votes for is the essence of politics in a democratic society. John is apparently not trying to tell us to vote for a particular party. No, he is just saying that the Democratic Party is “literally creating a platform out of what God hates”.

John is terribly concerned with homosexuality. He talks about unnatural acts, and I bet he has a much more vivid picture of the details of those acts than I have. He may even have pictures; I don’t know. The picture of a LGBT (though I prefer QUILTBAG) demonstration did not look terribly unnatural to me. The photo did feature an agitated-looking ginger with a nosering and a sign asking people to “SUPPORT LGBT EQUALITY NOT WAR”. I guess I could see this picture as a bit unnatural; noserings must be awfully inconvenient now that cold and flu season is upon us.

Throughout most of the article John pulls back from directly naming the Democratic party as being the target of God’s potential wrath. At the end he lets it slip that the Democrats are the one who will burn in hell, and he does so in a parting bit of self-contradictory irony that puts paid to any doubts about his sensibilities:

"What I’m saying is not hate speech. What the Democratic Party is saying is hate speech, because they must hate homosexuals if they will allow them to go the direction they are going, if they affirm that direction, knowing that it will take them to hell. That’s hate speech. This is love speech.” -- John Macarthur

This issue of Decision has at least five other articles that deal directly with the election. Because I’ve just eaten I’ve only been able to skim them, but they are very focused on the idea that the country is denying God, homosexual sex, and abortions. It looks like denying God is the root cause of abortions and homosexual sex.

On the surface this appears contradictory as one of the often cited problems evangelicals have with homosexual sex is that it does not lead to abortions. I think the only thing that they are clear on is that being an atheist is bad. Since they are clear that laws should be enacted that help to eliminate homosexual behavior and abortions it is logical to assume that they will go after the root cause.

There has been a call to eliminate religious freedom in the US, and the religious freedom they want to eliminate is none.

Freedom of religion must include freedom from religion.




Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Trump Card

I received two interesting pieces of mail today.  Interesting in a “road kill" way. I want to know what is really meant by these tidbits before their advanced state of decay has made them almost unidentifiable. The first of these was from Donald Trump, and came to me electronically.

For several days Trump had been promising to release a “bombshell” today.  I read through his announcement, and never felt the dynamite go “boom”. The announcement turned out to be a proposal. 

"If Barack Obama opens up and gives his college records and applications, and passport application and records, I will give to a charity of his choice, a check immediately for $5 million." – Donald Trump

So..what are these records that the Donald says POTUS must release? The list is not specific. The only specific thing is the offer for a donation of $5 million. The Donald mentions his request for a long form birth certificate from the POTUS, and how he takes credit for the release of that document; though he does cast doubts on its authenticity in today’s records request by calling it “whatever it was that he released”.

“Many Americans have serious questions – questions that should not be part of the presidential dialogue” – Donald Trump

The Donald is not specific about what questions would be addressed with the records release or whether anyone of sound mind is asking them. This is not the kind of ambiguity that I like. Without a comprehensive viable list of what records are needed, what questions need to be answered, or what acceptable authenticity tests would be it is impossible for anyone to reasonably fulfill the terms of the Donald’s bargain.

The most probable set of questions that the Donald is concerned with are the “Birther” questions. Prove that POTUS was born in the USA.

I actually love the Birther questions because they require that the following be true:

A single mother ready to give birth to her first child decided that she would rather travel almost 11,000 miles to Kenya; this despite the lack of medical facilities and family she had access to in Hawaii. She purchase a round-trip ticket to Kenya with her limited funds despite the looming expenses of a new baby. Without a passport she flew to Kenya without being stopped at any border; the plane had to refuel at least twice on the way, but there were no inspections that caught her. She met with people at the airport who drove her away from the barely adequate medical facilities in Nairobi to a mud-floored hut some many kilometers away. There she secretly gave birth before being whisked back to Hawaii in a reverse of the impossible events that had brought her to Kenya.

Meanwhile, back in the states, the single Mom’s operatives planted a birth announcement in the local newspaper, but forgot to forge a birth certificate. Over the years the young boy born secretly in Kenya would accidentally declare that he was born in a different country in order to secure scholarships and school admissions. Money and admissions that apparently the omnipotent conspirators could not come up with otherwise.  The young man is able to switch from being a Kenyan national to an American-born citizen at will; no questions are asked.

Realizing that their ruse might be bad for the now fully-grown boy from Kenya the now dead single mother’s still-surviving operatives forge a birth certificate, but they neglect to forge the right kind; they also overlook all those times the young man had used his status as a foreign-born individual to get special treatment.

What type of person believes this is possible? I don’t really know. One thing is certain though; that Mitt Romney does not stand a chance of getting elected without them. No matter how ignorant the propagation of these fantasies are a required portion of Mitt Romney’s election strategy.


As I mentioned earlier, the Donald does not go into detail about what he hopes to find in his $5 million-dollars-worth of records. The Donald describes his request as a general search for transparency in the office of the POTUS.

“Their president will become transparent like other presidents” – Donald Trump

But we have not seen transparency in this election from the other candidate for president. I cannot think of any other major-party candidate for president who has not released many years of tax returns when prompted. Mitt Romney’s own father released many years of records when he was running for GOP nomination in 1968. Mitt has become the GOP nominee, and still has not released his tax returns.

We do not know what the unspecified “records” from the POTUS might reveal, and the only competing theories are fantastically ignorant. However, the tax returns of Mitt Romney could reveal some very mundane nefarious activities.

Harry Reid suggests that they show Mitt did not pay taxes some years. Mitt himself said that people should be wary of someone who pays more taxes than they should; I guess it would be a sign of a conniving or soft mind. Strangely enough one of the two tax returns that Mitt did release shows that he did pay more taxes than he needed to in 2011. It looked like he was trying to pay at least 14% as he had advertised. Mitt is sensitive to the charge that he did not pay taxes, and so his refusal to release the tax returns suggests that there could be some level of accuracy to Harry’s accusations.

Mitt’s returns could show other dubious activities. It could show that the Mormon church gave him a break in tithing (Mitt tithes millions of dollars each year) if he funneled that money into political activities instead. Did Mitt act like a money-laundering political activist for the Mormon church? What did ne support for the church? Specific candidates? Prop 8 in CA?

Did Mitt not fully tithe, and yet retain his temple recommend? A member must fully tithe in order to be eligible for a temple recommend. As I have pointed out several times before the loss of a temple recommend removes many of the blessings the church bestows on its members. It can even open the door for treatment by the church that would be illegal if the Mormon Church was a secular entity. The tax returns would show if he had lied on his temple recommend interview. If he had could fully tithing members of the Mormon Church support him?

The tax returns could also show that Mitt’s business dealings were not as he described. This could open him up to legal trouble, but it more likely would expose several areas where he has stretched the truth about his business dealings.

Whatever the tax returns hide it is likely issues that the Romney campaign has decided would turn voters off to the idea of voting for him.

There is no similarity between these two requests. They differ in scope and definition. Comparing these two requests is tantamount to comparing the mystical properties of unicorn dung to the stench of an overused litter box.

Let’s take care of the crap that's real.




Monday, October 22, 2012

Prey with Billy

According to the US constitution there cannot be any religious test for office

“no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” -- Article VI, paragraph 3, US Constitution

Apparently the converse is not true as we have been seeing this presidential election being used as a forum for adopting the LDS church as a true branch of Christianity. We have seen the administration of a political test for religion. Because Mitt Romney is seen as electable the Mormon Church is now a mainstream, and fully Christian, religion.

For decades any “True Believing” Christian would chafe at the affront on mainstream Christian theology they saw in the additions made by Mormons. There are multiple gods, there are multiple heavens, there are even multiple worlds with a distribution of gods many of which were former members of the LDS high command. Perhaps worst of all is that the Mormon scripture describes an account of Jesus Christ himself coming back to earth for a quick tour of the Americas after his ascension into heaven, this sequel tour tarnishes the whole finality-till-the-second-coming aspect of traditional Christianity.

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” -- John 14:6

In order to believe Mormonism is true on its own merits one has to acknowledge that Jesus came back and kept the whole second coming a secret till 1835. That’s a long time to keep something big like that a secret. To add insult to injury the ghost of Saint John the Baptist appeared to Joseph and Hyrum Smith one day and baptized them personally. Ghostly John also told them that they were the only ones who had gotten things right for several centuries. In order to embrace Mormonism one has to throw generations of True Believing Christians under the church bus.

On October 7th many conservative churches celebrated what they called “Pulpit Freedom Sunday”. On this Sunday, in direct knowing violation of federal law, pastors openly endorsed candidates from the pulpit. In this election cycle the “pulpit freedom” from many churches has spilled over into campaign signs and an ongoing berating of churchgoers to vote the right way. Every day is "Pulpit Freedom Day".  One Texas church received notoriety for posting “Voter for the Mormon not the Muslim” as its Sunday message marquee.

"participate in, or intervene in, ( including the publishing or distributing of any statements) any political campaign on behalf of- or in opposition to -any candidate for public office." – 1954 amendment to the US tax code limiting political activities of tax-exempt 501(c)3 organizations.

Some larger church organizations avoid directly confronting the IRS. Though the IRS blinked when Mac Hammond endorsed Michelle Bachmann from the pulpit the initial legal “win” by Hammond appears to be more of a technicality. The more money a church controls the more they would have to lose if the winds of change blow some IRS investigations from an on hold status to some flavor of unfavorable decision.

The typical endorsement of a US politician is for a major evangelical leader to pray with the politician. The Reverend Billy Graham recently prayed with Mitt Romney.

"It was a privilege to pray with Gov. Romney—for his family and our country. I will turn 94 the day after the upcoming election, and I believe America is at a crossroads. I hope millions of Americans will join me in praying for our nation and to vote for candidates who will support the biblical definition of marriage, protect the sanctity of life and defend our religious freedoms." -- Rev Billy Graham October 2012

Billy Graham sits at the head of an enormous evangelical organization: the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. They print books, and magazines, and do the TV thing, and all sorts of other stuff. Their flagship magazine is called “Decision”, and the October edition had a street sign on the cover; one road was labeled “Following God” and the other street was labeled “Rejecting God”. One of the cover’s listed highlights was “America on the road to Destruction”. One of the articles in the magazine was titled “Can an Evangelical Christian vote for a Mormon?”; the answer in the article was “yes”.

The day after Billy and Mitt prayed together all mention of the Mormon church as a “cult” or "insane" were removed from the websites of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

The reasons Billy gives for his support of Mitt are Mitt’s opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. Apparently the need to eliminate abortions and prevent legalization of same-sex marriages is more important than maintaining a negative opinion about a region that maintains as some of its core principles the idea that Billy and all of his followers will never get into the best heaven where all the really cool people go.

Apparently spending a few years with same-sex married people is a worse hell than spending eternity in the regular hell. Billy will be 94 soon so he would not have to endure the damning vibes pouring off the marital bliss of same sex couples for very long; so it must be a very bad thing for him to be so willing to cash in on his Pascal’s wager.

"What a strange people these Mormons are. They are like a flock of sheep; if I should jump into hell, I believe they would follow me!" -Joseph Smith as quoted in Macomb Journal, January 25, 1877, p. 2

Of course there is the possibility that none of these men really believe the stuff they say. I prefer to think that the softening of rhetoric between the various camps of invisible dude followers is due to some sort of enlightenment. The words of intolerance are just the product sold to followers who need more than they discern.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Tastes like ambiguous

On the list of things in the universe I like to write about ambiguity is, if one judges desire by frequency, at the top. It is difficult to write about ambiguity…to really capture things ambiguously…and still structure a document so that it can be effectively skimmed over.  It is so difficult that I don't even try to do it.

I can, and do, write material that can easily be skimmed, but not usually for this blog, and it is scrubbed clean of ambiguity. Without the ambiguity it is simple to do. It helps to break things into sections. Then all someone has to do is read the first paragraph, and then maybe read the first sentence or so of each section. Sentences should be short, and avoid comas; they should also avoid using semi-colons.

The issue with writing stuff with the intent of having it skimmed is that one is writing with the intent of having much what one is writing ignored. Why not leave out the part that is not designed to be read? Why not just tweet the major point, and be done with it?

It is always possible to compress stuff down, but if there is data in the message then information is lost upon compression. There are ways of measuring this. Doing so requires abstracting the concept of information into some quantifiable set of terms. This is actually very interesting; a kind of algebraic philosophy.

Expanding information from a tweet into a longer study cannot be done without outside information. This is why short communications are so comforting. In order to make any sense they have to tell you things you are already familiar with.

One interesting trend is creating blog posts by bundling a bunch of tweets. Perhaps there is a way of making content by arraigning short communications about like Lego blocks.

Implied content is effective at reinforcing prejudices and preconceptions. Strip away the ambiguity, and everything makes more sense.

The latest presidential campaign has flooded the “airwaves” with info bytes. One can easily be exposed to so many little bits of information that one is full before even realizing that you were snacking. Volume mimics variety. Everything starts to look and sound the same, and it crowds out more meaningful communication.

“If everything tastes like chicken then what does chicken taste like?”

In order to pass as interesting the information packets become more bizarre. I must admit that descriptions of the president as a “secret fundamentalist Islamic atheist communist delivered to the world through a witch doctor’s black magic ceremony in Kenya” are more interesting than how Romney’s “five-point plan is really a one-point plan”, but even the hysterically crazy gets tedious after a few iterations. However, it was due to my secret fondness for the irrational that I found myself interested in this badly-photoshopped picture.



The caption described how democrats had opposed abolition (BTW we are coming up on the 150th anniversary of the battle of Fredericksburg; a battle that was simultaneously one of the most humiliating defeats and greatest victories in American military history) and therefore comprise a large portion of the KKK. It goes on to give this as a reason why they endorsed Obama in his first run for president, and then goes on to state how this proves that voting for the re-election of the first black president is actually a racist action. Just imagining someone following this line of reasoning is akin to watching a bad bicycle accident: “that’s just gotta hurt”.

Embedded in the caption for this photo was a link to a NYT article that purportedly reported on the KKK endorsement. I read the article, and instead of an endorsement the KKK spokesperson described Obama’s election as a calamitous betrayal that would cause more people to join the KKK. Hardly a ringing endorsement.

“The betrayal will stare them in the face each time they watch the news and see little black children playing in the Rose Garden,” -- Thomas Robb, National director for the KKK.

So the picture becomes a Trojan horse of sorts. People propagate it because it proves what they already know, but without bothering to read the content they are posting they inadvertently transmit information that questions the position that motivated them to post the material in the first place.

I guess this is a type of ambiguity, and it is amusing. It ignores the more compelling ambiguity that is part of the human condition. No matter what people do the end result will be that people are doing it. We can embrace the figure and grain that is humanity, or we can attempt to skim over it.

Unfortunately an election forces one to make a parsimonious choice that refuses to acknowledge ambiguity. We do not have to become the choice. We do not even have to abandon ambiguity in order to make an unambiguous choice.