Friday, February 27, 2009

The Journey to Bethlehem

Ok, this is one of those random biblical topics.

The gospel from which the lion’s share of the Nativity Story is taken is the Gospel of Luke. The exceptions are the Magi, the Slaughter of the Innocents and the flight into Egypt which are the major elements which come from Matthew. Mark and John don’t contain a birth narrative.

One of the criticisms of the account is the description of the census in Luke 2 which forces Joseph and Mary to journey from Nazareth over a hundred miles through bandit infested country to the city of Bethlehem.

Luke 2:1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2: (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3: And everyone went to his own town to register.

4: So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.

Many critics have pointed out the absurdity of displacing large segments of the population by having them return to an ancestral city. I happened to run across a counter argument to this criticism on several Christian web sites. The counter argument rests upon the discovery of a census decree issued in Egypt in 104 CE which reads:

“From the Prefect of Egypt, Gaius Vibius Maximus. Being that the time has come for the house to house census, it is mandatory that all men who are living outside of their districts return to their own homelands, that the census may be carried out . . . "

See, they say, it was normal for people to have to return to their ancestral city during a census and this proves it.

Well, not quite. There is a difference between returning home if you are away, which is what the Maximus decree is calling for, and returning to some ancestral city.

Let me give a modern example using myself. My grandfather came from Vienna. My father came from New York and that’s where I was born. My current home is in New Jersey but I spend a lot of time “living” in Ft. Wayne Indiana. My time away from home is usually pretty short. It’s normally a week or so but I know people who do it for months at a time.

So assuming that I was in Ft. Wayne, where would I have to go based upon the Maximus decree and the description in Luke 2?

Clearly, for the Maximus decree, I would return to my home in New Jersey and, if I happened to be in New Jersey, I would stay there.

For the description in Luke, I’d have to at least go to New York and maybe even Vienna! If I was home in New Jersey, I’d still have to leave and go to New York or Vienna.

The point is there is a big difference between a call to return home if you are currently living away from home and a call to return to some ancestral city. The first makes perfect sense as you want to measure where people currently live and not where they currently happen to be. The second makes absolutely no sense because measuring where they, or their clan, came from is meaningless.

The upheaval would be horrendous. Granted society is much more mobile today than it was 2,000 years ago but can you imagine the chaos trying to do something like return to the state you were born in for the U.S. census? Besides, what sense would that make?

This is a case of reading something into the Maximus decree that can be better explained with a more rational interpretation. To my mind the criticism about the illogic of the census as described in Luke’s gospel stands.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The President’s Speech and Plans

The speech was great (can you say FDR revisited?) but the plans strike me as a bit shaky.

What I was expecting was more of a “we have a problem and that’s going to mean sacrifices” sort of pitch. What I got was a “we shall overcome and we’re not going to let this slow us down” sort of pitch.

If I heard what he said, the Federal Government is going to (1) spend lots of money to create jobs, (2) become something of a super lending underwriter in order to get lending cash flowing again, (3) make available additional college loans based upon a promise by the recipients to serve the country either in a military of civilian capacity, (4) cut taxes for 95% of American families, (4) move out on the long term problems of energy independence, health care and education reform AND cut the Federal deficit by a healthy chunk during the Presidents first term.

You will excuse me but does this mean a Secretary of Magic is about to be appointed because I don’t see how you do all of these things simultaneously.

I do think that you need to do something and the Administration is taking action. I’m just not in a position to judge if it’s the right action.

In the meantime the Republicans appear to be doing everything possible to set up roadblocks. There’s even a rumor that some Republican governors may choose not to take stimulus package money.

I don’t know how to say this but this strikes me as hoping the country will come apart at the seams so they can say “I told you so” and gain the inside track in the next election.

So again, party politics is more important than the welfare of the country. That whirring sound you hear is Dwight Eisenhower and Barry Goldwater spinning in their graves.

As for Governor Bobby Jindal’s response, I have to wonder what planet this guy lives on. I got two messages from his speech. The first was “cut taxes and let private industry handle it” and the second was “look how great we’re doing in Louisiana.”

Private industry, when the economy was doing well, didn’t address the problems of energy independence, health care and education reform so why should anyone expect it to now when money is tight? Private industry in the U.S. simply doesn’t have the long term view required to address these problems without government encouragement and financing.

As for Louisiana, are you kidding me Jindal? You’re the governor of a state that ranks at the bottom in just about everything starting with murder rate and health. I suggest you look to your own house and try and get Louisiana up to about number 45 or so before you start telling anyone else how to do things.

They say one of the first things you should do in the event of social upheaval is to buy a shotgun to protect you and yours. I’m beginning to consider it.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Right America: Feeling Wronged

HBO’s Alexandra Pelosi does some good stuff. Her latest documentary on HBO chronicles the attitude of Conservative Americans who supported John McCain and Sarah Palin.

To be honest with you, I’m not sure how representative Pelosi’s snapshot was but interestingly enough I’ve encountered virtually all of the types she presented.

First you have the economic conservatives who have been sold on the idea of Supply side economics. To them you solve the economic problems by making more capital available to corporations and you make more capital available by cutting corporate taxes and taxes for the well to do.

There’s only one problem with that. That kind of solution works well in an inflationary spiral where demand exceeds goods and services. It allows production to catch up with demand, gets inflation under control and fosters a rapid growth spiral. Corporations expand, jobs are created and there is even more demand as unemployment drops.

The potential problem is that the increase in goods and services outpaces the growth in demand. If it didn’t, the increase and goods and services would accelerate until it did. At some point growth has to slow down as supply starts to catch up to demand. Unfortunately corporate “success” is gauged by growth. While the gap in demand is being filled, growth comes relatively easy. But once that gap is more or less closed, growth becomes hard and corporate boards start looking for “creative ways” to grow.

This looking for “creative ways” to grow is exactly what got us into the current mess.

At the moment we have an excess of goods and services and are in a downward spiral. The economy is shrinking. If you make more capital available to corporations what the hell are they going to do with it? They can’t sell what they’re producing now. What you have to do is expand the demand side which is precisely what Obama is trying to do. If we can get demand to once again exceed supply, then corporations will see opportunities in expansion, jobs will be created which will provide more demand.

Obviously this is a serious simplification but the basics are sound. The bottom line is that not all problems are a nail that require a hammer as a solution. The right economic policy in 1980 isn’t necessarily the right policy in 2009 (at least I hope it’s not or we’re royally screwed because the administration, for the most part, is putting its eggs in a different basket).

The second group was the Christians. One lady expressed things as the country needs to learn that there is one morality and one path to salvation. No surprise here that the average trailer camp religious coo-coo supported McCain and especially Palin.

The third group was the blue collar gun totin’ rural folks who felt that Obama, and others of his ilk, in other words city dwelling well educated white collar types, didn’t really understand them. These people have a point. Of all the groups represented they probably had the most righteous case.

Then there were the folks that bought into the lies about Obama not saluting the flag, not wearing a flag pin or being a Muslim, the pure racists and the totally over the top religious kooks who believe that Obama is the anti-Christ. And that’s not to mention the wide ranging disdain for the so-called Liberal media. Fox appeared to be the news source of choice. Lots of people appeared to be upset with Kathy Couric because she had the audacity to let Palin talk.

These people are scary. They’re uneducated, ignorant religious yahoos that I wouldn’t trust to walk a dog never mind vote in elections that might determine the future of my children. I’ll bet 80%, or more, reject evolution even though they don’t understand it. 100% appeared to reject socialism even though they had no idea what that was either.

There were lots of good reasons not to vote for Obama, and a lot of intelligent people chose not to; like I said before, the blue collar contingent probably had a good point. Never the less, these people really need to ask themselves who was actually trying to help them and who is really on their side?

The really scary point is the knowledge is that the more you try to reason with these dodos, the more they’ll dig in their heels and be convinced they’re right. Of course they won’t have the faintest idea what it is they’re claiming to be right about, or be able to explain why they're right but they'll be convinced they're right never the less.

Perhaps the most telling visual, which may have summed it all up, was that as Obama was calling for support and bi-partisanship in his speech in Grant Park, a camera scan of McCain HQ showed it empty and Obama's plea being unheard or ignored.

Someone said on a forum the other night that it appears that the Republicans would rather see America burn than Obama succeed. And they call themselves Patriots.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Gallup Poll on Evolution

The latest Gallup poll on evolution is out. On the disappointing side Gallup found that only 39% of Americans accepted the Theory of Evolution (Gallup used the term “believe in” which I consider to be wrong because it implies a level of faith).

On the plus side, only 25% say they didn’t accept it. A whopping 36% said they had no opinion.

More encouraging was that 49% of younger people, from age 18-34, accepted evolution as opposed to only 18% that rejected it.

Again education turns out to be the key. For people with a High School education or less, 27% rejected evolution while only 21% accepted it. The majority, 52%, said they had no opinion. For those with a college degree, 53% accepted evolution, only 22% rejected it and 26% said they had no opinion. With a post-graduate degree, acceptance rose to 74%, rejected dropped to 11% and 16% expressed no opinion.

Not surprisingly, the more you go to church, the less you’re likely to accept evolution. For those who go weekly, 41% reject evolution and only 24% accept it. For those who go seldom or never, 55% accept evolution and only 11% reject it.

Explain to me again how religion is compatible with science?

I actually find the poll encouraging. By allowing people to opt for no opinion, a truer picture emerges. Especially encouraging are the numbers showing that the younger you are the more likely you are to accept evolution.

Now, remember when I said one of the primary reasons I rejected Christianity was its continued refusal to accept the Theory of Evolution? Looks like that’s still a valid reason ain’t it? So to all of you that challenged me on that, RAZZZZZBERRRRY!

Fourteen Kids

Six plus eight equals fourteen. I’m pretty sure about that. I raised three kids and it almost killed me. How is this lady in California going to raise fourteen and what the hell was she thinking when she went for fertility treatments when she already had six kids she couldn’t afford?

You will excuse me but she is an idiot, the doctor that helped her give birth to octuplets is a bigger idiot, and now it looks like it’s the taxpayers of California that are going to be stuck with the bill for all this idiocy.

The doctor should lose his license and the state of California should begin proceedings to take all fourteen kids away from the mother as she is obviously mentally unfit to raise them.

Everyone, and especially the kids, would be better off with all fourteen in adopted homes.

If this sounds harsh, I’m sorry, but this is just so over the top. This lady is 33 years old, unmarried and unemployed. She is already collecting Social Security disability benefits for three of the original six kids. The cost of caring for a premature infant is around $150,000. Multiply that by eight and you have a whopping $1.2 million dollar hospital bill. She doesn't have that kind of money so the hospital is looking to the state of California for help in paying the bill. Regardless, the hospital will probably eat a good chunk of it. This is precisely how hospitals fail reducing the care available for everyone else.

Then there is the whole question of feeding, clothing, housing and caring for fourteen children ranging in age from a few weeks to 7 years of age. That is a herculean task far beyond the ability of one person or even any reasonably sized extended family.

How is she going to pull this off? She’s going to complete her Master’s degree in counseling while supporting the kids through student loans for which she already owes $50,000. That’s like hitting the rest of us for cash because student loans come from the Federal Government and the payments are deferred until graduation. They are also the type of loan with the highest rate of default. Please give me a break. If this lady isn’t engaging in fraud as well as stupidity then she’s even dumber than she sounds.

And who’s going to take care of the kids while she’s attending class? According to her it will be the California State University daycare center and volunteers.

Does this lady intend to pay for anything herself? This is an absolute joke. And to top it all off, she now has a web site where you can go and donate money to help out. I wouldn’t mind pitching in to help out the kids but only after she’s out of the picture permanently.

This woman deserves no sympathy. There has to be some law that she’s broken. Unfortunately the kids are innocent victims and they do deserve sympathy. I say throw the book at her but figure out a way to save the poor kids.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Stimulus Plan

The bickering continues. Actually I think things are going fairly well. There’s always room for improvement and hopefully the negotiations are getting the most obviously wasteful provisions gutted.

I still find the fact that not a single Republican in the House of Representatives voted for the bill mind boggling. I assume you guys have a better idea?

Is there waste and inefficiency in the package? You bet there is and there always will be because most of that waste and inefficiency is going to creep in during the actual execution and not in the earmarks themselves.

Is it the right thing to do? I sincerely hope so although I’ve always considered economics something of a black art (and I have a minor concentration in it to go along with my major concentration in mathematics). I figure I’m screwed no matter what but then again, I could probably use a new career in my twilight years anyway.

I’m happy that the provisions which attempt to guard against spending the stimulus money for religious purposes appear to be staying intact although the ACLJ is threatening lawsuits contending free speech violations over them.

I’m NOT happy that Obama is sticking with his plan of continuing the office of Faith Based Initiatives started by Bush. The administration also seems to be backing off some of the restrictions on how the money could be spent that they promised back in July.

A politician changing his view once he encounters reality? So what else is new?

In the meantime, over on the bank bailout front, Congress is about to hold sessions on exactly how the banking industry has used $176 billion in bank bailout money appropriated last October. It’s a little incredible that they don’t know isn’t it?

The bank CEOs claim they’ve been using the money righteously but there have been rumors of big bonuses, expensive perks and the hording of cash reserves totally at odds with the intent of the bailout.

Barney Frank is heading the committee doing the investigating. It should be REALLY entertaining because you just know some of that money went to inappropriate crap like new office furniture for executives. Assuming Frank can locate it, and it might just be too well camouflaged to be found, we’ll see some very colorful language as Frank rips them new orifices all over their bodies.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Trials of Ted Haggard

HBO has produced a documentary on the disgraced pastor Ted Haggard. As luck would have it Haggard was at the top of the world and a major power in the Evangelical Christian arena during HBO’s filming of its “Friends of God” documentary three years ago. Since Ted was the President of the National Association of Evangelicals and had a camera friendly big toothy grin and ah shucks western demeanor, Ted figured prominently in that first HBO documentary.

Then the roof fell in. In 2006 a male escort outed Haggard supposedly because of Haggard’s support for an anti-gay marriage amendment to the Colorado State Constitution. After initial denials, Haggard ultimately admitted to getting a massage from the male prostitute and to purchasing crystal meth. Overnight Haggard went from confidant of the President to shunned pariah. His own congregation basically disowned him.

Haggard still denies actually having gay sex but the Overseer Board at his church concluded that their “investigation and Pastor Haggard's public statements have proven without a doubt that he has committed sexually immoral conduct."

Haggard committed three boo-boos. First, he went to a prostitute, second he purchased an illegal substance and third he allegedly engaged in homosexual sex. The church seems to be concerned only about the first and third. Personally I find the second far more objectionable, the first only mildly so and the third not at all. Hey, if that’s who you are, to thine own self be true.

With the exception of O.J. Simpson, it would be hard to identify a contemporary individual that has fallen so far so fast. At least Haggard isn’t in jail. I watched part of the HBO documentary and while I’m about the last person to give any kind of priest or pastor, especially a fundamentalist one, any respect whatsoever because, in general, I consider them to be blood sucking scum that prey upon the young, the ignorant and the frightened, I sort of felt sorry for poor Ted.

On an individual basis I know that the blood sucking scum categorization doesn’t always apply. Watching Haggard on the HBO special he struck me either as a good guy that honestly believed the claptrap that he spewed all those years or one hell of a con man that has even managed to sucker me in a little. As part of his settlement agreement with the church he’s had to leave Colorado and is currently living in Scottsdale Arizona (which is not the poor end of the brisket by any means, Scottsdale is nice). The only company that he claims would hire him is a health insurance company that has him trying to sell policies door to door on a commission only basis all over the southwest. Talk about blood sucking scum.

On the other hand, Haggard was paid $138,000 in severance, made $110,000 in the first 10 months of the year he got booted, has a house on Colorado worth an estimated $750,000 yet sent out an e-mail appeal for funds in August of 2007 much to the surprise of the church Overseer board which was supposedly overseeing Ted through his time of “repentance, recovery and restoration.” The appeal was ostensibly to support the family while Ted and his wife were attending the University of Phoenix. I didn’t hear anything about the University of Phoenix on the HBO show, but maybe that was in the part I didn’t see (*cough, cough*).

Sort of strengthens the “con man” hypothesis doesn’t it?

Is he a con man or a saint? I suspect he’s a con man that’s hit rock bottom and it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. I hope HBO didn’t pay him a lot for taking part in the documentary.

Ok, I blew it again

So Kurt couldn’t pull it out against the Steelers. It wasn’t for lack of trying I can tell you that. Damn good game. Final score, Steelers 27 Cardinals 23.

So what do you think? Will Kurt Warner retire or come back for an encore? My bet is he's coming back. Just like Brett Favre wasn't going to allow his last play in the NFL to be an interception, Warner isn't going to allow it to be a fumble. Watch for Kurt to be back in Cardinal Red next season.