Sunday, August 20, 2017

So what about those Confederate statues?

Well, it depends.

People don't fight other people. Political entities fight other political entities for political or economic reasons.

Soldiers simply fight to defend their homes and families. With some exceptions, soldiers are the greatest victims of war.

I'm opposed to monuments that celebrate the Confederacy itself. The Confederacy existed and went to war for the simple economic reason of defending slavery. This historical revisionism about state's rights is bunk. The only state's right they cared about was the right to keep slavery legal.

As for monuments memorializing the soldiers that fought for their homes and families, such as those at Gettysburg, those I'm inclined to accept.

Does this includes statues of Confederate Generals such as Robert E. Lee? Yes it does. Does it include the carvings at Stone Mountain Georgia? No it doesn't. Because in addition to Lee and Stonewall Jackson the carving includes Jefferson Davis. Davis wasn't a soldier but the top of the political structure of the Confederacy.

What do I base this on?

First, because on Christmas Day 1868 President Johnson extended full amnesty to Confederate soldiers and restored to them full citizenship rights. He didn't make an exception for officers.

Second, in 1958 Congress passed Public Law 85-425 related to the pension rate for the widows of veterans. This law defined "veteran" for the purposes of the law to include "a person who served in the military or naval forces of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War…”

Also in 1958, Congress passed Public Law 85-811 dealing with the procurement of headstones for veterans. This law stated “That the Secretary of the Army is authorized and directed to furnish, when requested, appropriate Government headstones or markers at the expense of the United States for the unmarked graves of the following…” The first category listed is “Soldiers of the Union and Confederate Armies of the Civil War.”

In neither of these two laws does Congress make an exception for officers, high ranking or otherwise.

So while Congress never specifically declared that soldiers of the Confederacy are US veterans, the implication of these two laws is that they should be considered as such.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Extra Biblical Evidence for Jesus

I've done this before but I'm going to do it again in order to provide a safe place to stick my most recent thoughts on the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth.

The argument is not that there is no evidence, the argument is that the evidence is weak and better explanations exist for the emergence of Christianity than it originated with a historical figure. I keep running into Youtube videos repeating the same old supposed evidence. Tacitus - There is a major flaw with the Tacitus passage. Pontius Pilate wasn't a procurator, he was a prefect. This makes it almost certain that Tacitus did not get his information from official Roman records. Tacitus was writing in the early 2nd century about the Emperor Nero who had been dead for over 40 years. Tacitus is listing all of the attempts by Nero to dispel the rumors that he was responsible for the great fire of Rome in 64 C.E. He lists these items and ultimately gets to Nero supposedly trying to pin the blame on the Christians. "Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace." "Called Christians by the populace" implies he is in fact working from hearsay or common knowledge. Accuracy in describing the Christians or their beliefs is not one of Tacitus' priorities here as it's just one more example of Nero trying to shed blame. Lucien - He is describing Christians and their beliefs. He never mentions Jesus by name. The beliefs of Christians are not in doubt. Suetonius - The position that "Chrestus" is the misspelled title "Christus" of someone not in Rome at the time is no more likely than it is the proper name of someone that was in Rome. Thallus - This is simply Julius Africanus arguing that Thallus is wrong about a solar eclipse he records. Why should anyone believe Africanus over Thallus?  Pliny the Younger - Like Lucien, Pliny is talking about Christians and their beliefs. Again, Christian beliefs are not in doubt. As for their willingness to die, people are dying today in the Middle East for Allah and the promise of 72 virgins. Mara Bar-Sepion - The letter mentions the men of Samos burning Pythagoras but there is no record of this happening. How Pythagoras dies is unknown so how reliable should one consider the rest of the letter? Josephus - Then there's Josephus. Josephus was a Pharisaic Jew. He would never have called Jesus the Messiah so if it actually says that then it is almost certain that the main passage is at least a partial interpolation. If he was recording the beliefs of others then the entire passage is hearsay isn't it?  Yes there is evidence but it isn't very strong and the silence of people such as Philo of Alexandria is deafening. Personally I was always of the position that Jesus was a historical character despite the weak evidence. Recently however Richard Carrier has been winning me over a bit so now I have to say I'm uncertain. The web site you reference presents nothing new. In order to accept that as sufficient evidence one would already have to be a believer.

Charlottesville

Thing just keep going from bad to worse.

I admit that I've been a bad boy. I've haven't done any posts because they're too depressing but I can't let this one go by.

The background is a slow but steady movement to tear down monuments to the Confederacy across the south. The complaint is that they glorify the defense of slavery and slavery itself. The defense is that they are simply representative of "Southern Heritage."

You know, like lynchings and Jim Crow laws.

There is a statue in Charlottesville Virginia that some people want taken down. White Nationalists, including Neo-Nazis and the KKK, emboldened by a Trump White House, rallied in solidarity to protest any removal of Confederate monuments.

Left Wing elements, including Black Lives Matter and a group known as Antifa (Anti-fascist), rallied to counter protest.

Now, I wasn't there; I'm too old for that sort of stuff, so I really don't know what went on and neither do I care. When you put two such groups of people together there are going to be sparks, fist fights and flying debris. The Charlottesville police force would probably quickly find itself out of ideas for keeping things under control.

That seems to be just about what was going on but then something else occurred. A 20 year old right wing supporter from Ohio drove his car into the counter protest crowd killing one women and injuring 19 others.

He's been arrested and is being held without bail to face a 2nd degree murder charge in addition to a dozen or so other charges.

This reminds me of the 1960s and the Civil Rights and Vietnam War clashes but it's different, Those were conflicts surrounding mostly a single issue. This strikes me as a conflict about cultures and covers a broader range of issues.

The other thing that is different, and dangerous, is that we have a major political party in the Republicans that appears to be supportive of right wing radical politics.

Now, I'm going to be honest. I'm not sure if the GOP actually agrees with the extreme right wing or just wants their votes. I used to think it was the latter but I'm no longer so sure about that.

Worse is we have a president that first declares that blame is on both sides, then declares he's opposed to white nationalism, then declares that blame in on both sides and finally declares that there are some "very fine people" among the white nationalist demonstrators.

Someone seriously needs to put a muzzle on Trump. Every time he opens his mouth he sticks his head up his rear end.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Categories of Trumpettes

And now for a completely unscientific analysis.

In my experience I have found that there are two main categories of Trumpettes.

Category #1 — The Greedy. These are people who make a lot of money. They work hard and either through talent or luck have managed to place themselves in a position of wealth. These folks don’t like paying taxes and they don’t like it even more than the rest of us don’t like it because they think their money is going to help people too lazy to work for themselves.

They think they should pay a smaller share of taxes even though they benefit from government activity far more than people of more modest means. If nothing else they have more to lose. When I talk to these people I can’t help thinking of the Phil Ochs song “The Ringing of Revolution.”

“In a building of gold, with riches untold,
lived the families on which the country was founded.
And the merchants of style, with their vain velvet smiles,
were there, for they also were hounded.
And the soft middle class crowded in to the last,
for the building was fully surrounded.
And the noise outside was the ringing of revolution.”

Category #2 — The Spiteful. These are your uneducated white working and lower middle class folks who struggle to pay the mortgage, put food on the table and meet unexpected bills yet they have enough money to buy guns, cigarettes and cases of beer on a regular basis.

They claim to be highly religious but if they ever met the real Yeshua bar Yosef they would be horrified at both his appearance and his ideas.

They think Christianity is under attack by the universities and educated people in the cities and suburbs. To a certain extent they’re right about this but they don’t understand why that’s the case. They don’t understand that hostility to religion is a backlash from Christians trying to impose their religious beliefs on everyone else whether it’s abortion restrictions or raising massive stone tablets of the 10 Commandments on public grounds.

These people look around and think they see blacks, Hispanics, immigrants and basically everyone but them being helped by handouts from the government using their hard earned tax dollars. These people will vote for anyone who will put THOSE PEOPLE in their place even if it means hurting themselves.

Like I said, this is an entirely unscientific analysis based upon my own observations and probably significantly colored by my own prejudices. But I don’t apologize for that. People in these two categories are never going to see the farce and danger the rest of the world sees. One group is blinded by their greed and the other by their hate.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

The Obama Economy

It never cease to amaze me when people talk about how horrible the economy was under Obama. The latest criticism had to do with the fact that the number of people within 125% of the poverty line increased under the Obama presidency while real income declined.

They manage this slight of hand by comparing the numbers from 2007, BEFORE the great recession to the numbers near the end of the Obama presidency in 2015 while ignoring everything that happened in between.

If you think the economic meltdown under Bush had nothing to do with those numbers then you need to have your head examined.

The percentage of people below 125% of the poverty level in 2007 was 17.0%. Thanks to the 2008 Great Recession the number ballooned to 19.8% in 2011 and then dropped to 17.9% by 2015. Looks to me like Bush was the problem and Obama was the solution.

Now let's look at real income. The real median household income in the US in 2007 was $57,423. Again, thanks to the Great Recession it dropped to $52,666 in 2012 but by 2015 it was back up to $56,516. So again, the problem was Bush and the solution was Obama. Rather than bad mouthing the man based upon no facts, maybe next time people should check where the real problem was.

When Obama took office the stock market was at 9,000, unemployment was at 10%, the economy was SHRINKING and the deficit was over $1 trillion. When he left office the stock market was over 19,000 (Nov 2016), unemployment was down to 4.7%, the economy was growing and the deficit had been reduced to around $570 billion.

All of this while avoiding a double-dip recession.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Trump and Comey and Sessions OH MY!

Watching this soap opera unfold in the Senate is an absolute joke. Basically everyone says everyone else is lying. Of course Trump can't make up his mind whether Comey "vindicated" him or told terrible lies about him.

Sessions say the whole Russian collusion idea is a lie. Well, Jeff baby, it's only a lie if the person making the accusation knows it's a lie.

What to make of this he said, he said, he said fiasco?

It's generally been my experience that people lie when either they (a) can gain something from the lie or (b) they need to protect themselves. I think we can pretty much exclude the altruistic white lie from the conversation.

The guy that appears to have the least to gain or protect is Comey. That doesn't mean he isn't lying but it's not clear to me what reason he would have for opening himself up to perjury charges.

Trump isn't making his statements under oath and I'm not sure Sessions knows the difference between a lie and the truth.

So I sort of suspect that Comey is closest to being completely honest, Sessions is a distant second and Trump still trying to get out of the starting gate.

Do I think Trump is guilty of obstruction of justice in the Flynn investigation? Yes, I do. Do I think he meant to obstruct justice? No, I think he was simply doing the same sort of backroom maneuvering he's used to in the business world and didn't realize what he was doing was illegal.

Do I think the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians to tilt the 2016 election to Trump? Six months ago I would have said that's ridiculous but now I'm not so sure.

So what happens if that turns out to be the case? The proper thing to do would be for Trump and Pence to resign or be impeached leaving Paul Ryan as president.

Do I think that will ever happen? Not in a million years. Even if you could come up with sufficient evidence I'm sure the Republicans would come up with some "alternate facts" to try and smooth the whole thing over.

Do I think this could lead to civil war? Probably not. I don't think enough people are ready to start killing in the streets over this.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

The Paris Accords on Climate

I never learn. Seriously, I never learn. I always assume that people actually understand what a thing is before deciding whether it's a good witch or a bad witch.

After going though a few comment sections on the Paris Accords it was obvious that no one, including Trump and his "advisers," had any idea what was in the agreement.

First, allow me to identify what is an Intended Nationally Determined Contribution or INDC. An INDC is the amount of emission reduction that a country VOLUNTARILY establishes as a target in order to meet the stated goals in the agreement of (1) staying below an average temperature gain of 2 degrees C or (2) staying below an average temperature gain of 1.5 degrees C.

Switzerland was the first country to submit an INDC calling for a reduction of 50% of emissions over the 2005 level by 2030.

India's INDC called for a 33%-35% reduction per unit of GDP by 2030 but warned it would need $2.5 trillion in financing to meet that goal.

China's INDC called for a 60%-65% reduction per unit of GDP by 2030.

The US INDC called for a 26%-28% reduction of green house gases over the 2005 levels by 2025.

However notice the slight problem here. Different INDCs are specifying targets in different ways.

Switzerland and the USA are specifying their targets in total reduction of green house gases (GHG). China and India are specifying their targets per unit of GDP which means their total emissions may actually increase.

Why the difference?

Because while Switzerland and the USA are "developed countries" by the United Nations definition, China and India are considered "developing countries" whose GDP per capita is still a fraction of the GDP per capita of developed countries,

So basically that's the problem that people express in different ways. I'm more than a little terrified that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt doesn't appear to have a clue as to not only the details of the Paris Accords but even as to who emits the most GHG.

Who emits the most you ask? It depends upon how you're measuring. You can measure either as total emissions or emissions per capita.

In total emissions China is first followed by the US then the European Union and then India, In terms of emissions per capita the US is larger than China and India combined but I think total emissions is the more important way to measure.

And China is a real problem. Its total emissions of 10 millions kilotons of CO2 is twice the US total of 5 million kilotons. Yet as a "developing country" China will do no more than stop the increase of CO2 per year by 2030.

The assumption is that developed countries have the technological base to do more in a shorter period of time. The Obama administration has made the right moves for the US to meet its INDC by 2025.

With Trump trying to resurrect the dead coal industry and allowing the initiatives of the Obama Administration to wither, there's not a snowball's chance in hell.

This may well turn out to be the stupidest decision ever made by a so-called President of the United States. Luckily states and cities in the US are moving forward and essentially saying fuck you Trump.

It's only a matter of time before a Trumpian pronouncement forces some of the states to refuse to implement or enforce what he's ordering. If Trump then tries to force the issue all hell will break loose.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Trump Pulls out of Paris Accords

President Trump has announced that he intends to pull out of the Paris Accords on climate.

If you needed any additional evidence that Trump in particular, and Republicans in general, care absolutely nothing for the country, the planet and the people living on the planet this should do it.

This is a pure play to the under 80 IQ trailer part set. This is beyond stupid; this borders on criminal.

The science on climate change is very clear despite what some conservative pundits try to claim. It's not that hard to understand.

By digging up fossil fuels such as oil and coal, and burning them, we have added to the carbon cycle by putting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Add to that deforestation and the cutting down of rain forests, which decreases the amount of carbon dioxide being taken out of the atmosphere, and you get a slow but steady build up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

This is clear from measurements.

Carbon dioxide is a hothouse gas. It tends to hold in heat. This is leading to a slow but steady rise in global temperatures. The rise in global temperatures is leading to melting icecaps, rising sea levels and shifting climate.

Everyone in the world appears to understand this except Trump. the Republicans, Syria and Nicaragua.