05 July, 2012

MOVED...

After suffering through formatting issues and other frustrations for months, I have picked up my brain spillings and moved on over to Wordpress.


If interested, you can find me at www.dangerous-thought.net.


On the way you may bump into a warning that the link redirects to a Wordpress page, but have no fear.  It is merely one small part of my plot to undermine civilization and rule the world.

27 June, 2012

Why the Bureaucrats Need You Dead!


The Sky Isn't Falling!

And regulators are worried.

By JAMES TARANTO



A corollary of the old man-bites-dog adage is that it's news when a plane crashes, but not when a plane lands safely. A recent Bloomberg dispatch challenges that assumption. The lead sentence: "More than a decade has passed since the last major-airline accident on U.S. soil."

Come to think of it, that is news of a sort, and precisely because safe flights usually aren't news. It's been so long since we thought about accidental plane crashes that it didn't occur to us until now that the last major one was in November 2001. (It was an American Airlines flight to the Dominican Republic, which crashed shortly after takeoff from New York. At first everyone thought it was terrorism.)
 
Now you might think that this is a pure good-news story, like if the Supreme Court strikes down ObamaCare in its entirety tomorrow. But no. It turns out that the lack of plane crashes is bad for airline safety. Here's the second sentence: "That's great news for aviation companies and their passengers--and a complication for rule makers trying to improve flight safety."

The second paragraph explains: "The benefits of aviation rules are calculated primarily on how many deaths they may prevent, so the safest decade in modern airline history is making it harder to justify the cost of new requirements."

Then comes one of the most wonderful quotes we've ever encountered, from William Voss, president of the Flight Safety Foundation: "If anyone wants to advance safety through regulation, it can't be done without further loss of life."








11 June, 2012

Be Libertarian With Me...

My Breakfast, and Lunch, With Andre...


My weekend was spent as a delegate to the 2012 Texas State Libertarian Convention as well as acting as a host to the gentleman who would be, if voters were bright and attentive and the media were truly not biased, the next president of our nation.
The Convention had its contentious moments. Hell, we are Libertarians.  It also offered hope for unity and renewed energy going forward, so I will avoid an unnecessary autopsy of said conflicts and simply report that our party is strong and poised to be a factor in many state and local contests this election cycle.
Beyond the politics, and the pistol-sucking minutia (hat-tip to friend William Sparkman) of rules and platform debates, I would instead point to what for me were the three highlights of the weekend:
  • The luncheon speaker on Saturday was Tom Woods, who offered a talk in two parts; 1) What Libertarians should be saying to non-libertarians to win them over, and 2) What Libertarians should be saying to each other.  Dr. Woods is the author of many books on history and economics, and a powerful and persuasive speaker who offered up more gems of wisdom per minute than anyone whose name is not Christopher Hitchens I have ever heard.  Google him and try to read a few of his books.  It will be time well-spent.
  • Perhaps an unanticipated highlight was my favorite moment of the weekend.  As mentioned above, I served as host to Governor Gary Johnson, former two-term governor of NM, the Libertarian candidate for president in 2012. On Saturday morning we learned Andre Marrou, who was the 1992 LP candidate for the same position, would welcome the opportunity to meet with Governor Johnson.  The arrangements were made and on Sunday morning I had both the honor and pleasure to participate in a breakfast meeting of the two. That was not my favorite moment, however.  Mr. Marrou had not attended a Libertarian event since the year he ran for president, but was persuaded to stay for our Sunday luncheon where the governor was to be the keynote speaker.  Most in attendance had no idea what had happened to Mr. Marrou in the years following 1992, nor even where he lived, so the announcement that he was our special guest brought a standing ovation from the audience and a warm smile to Andre’s face.  I cannot say for sure, but I would not be surprised to see Mr. Marrou appear at a few more LP functions going forward, and that can only be a very good thing for all concerned.
  • The third thing that stood out was Governor Johnson’s speech at the aforementioned luncheon. It offered a strong and bold preview of his coming campaign against the Democratic president and Republican challenger.  I like the governor personally, and also strongly support his effort to slay the duopoly that has our nation in a clear and frightening downward spiral.  His Saturday talk seemed to me to rank with his emphatic debate speech to the delegates at the LP National Convention prior to being chosen as our nominee, and this video which seems to have gone viral on the internet and attracted the attention of many disenchanted Republicans.
I would be remiss if I failed to reiterate what I hinted at above. Wife Pat and I had the pleasure of hosting Governor Johnson Saturday and Sunday evenings, and I have served as his “escort” on visits to North Texas on this and a previous occasion.  He is a warm and modest gentleman in every sense of that word.  In my time I have had beers and conversations with Joe Biden (whom I still remember fondly), hosted Bob Barr in my home, and been a guest of President Lyndon and Ladybird Johnson at their Texas ranch. There is no political figure with whom I would rather spend time, nor for whom I would rather work for their election, than Gary Johnson.  I am pleased to consider him a friend, and recommend him highly to you.

06 June, 2012

I Will Try to be Polite, But...



Today I received what seems like the umpteenth appeal from Mitt Romney, or at least his campaign, for my "support", which is politicese for money.


Allow me to explain what it would mean for me to support Mr. Romney, who I am sure is a reasonably fine fellow in many regards. It would mean in essence that I believed that someone who believes that a here-there-to unmentioned angel was sent from god to visit and provide an updated revelation to a petty convicted felon in upstate New York, that not only was the Garden of Eden an historical fact and place, but that its location was somewhere in Missouri that no one has quite stumbled across just yet, that Native Americans were really the Lost Tribe(s?) of Israel, that Jesus found time (and a previously undisclosed form of transportation) during his short duration on earth to visit said Lost Folks, and that wearing a special kind of magic underwear could and would make you a better person, was fit to be president of the most powerful nation on earth.


Hell, I don't even believe that someone who believes all that, and much more I have not the time to mention, should even be permitted unsupervised home visits, much less allowed to ascend to such a high and prestigious office.


But here's the thing, even if I believed all of the above was sane and logical and defensible, I still could not and would not lift a finger nor spend a bad penny on Mr. Romney's behalf.  You see, I also believe marriage is a civil right whether a band of bronze-age, cattle-sacrificing nomads believed so or not.  I believe that no American should be summarily executed without a fair trial, nor detained without the ability to exercise their rights under habeas corpus.  I believe that taxation without representation applies every bit as much to our grandchildren as it did to our forefathers, and that it is unconscionable for us to leave them 50 to 100 trillions of dollars in debt simply because we cannot screw up the moral courage to bring federal government spending under control. I believe that for too long we have served as both the world's policeman and financier, and we now need to refocus our efforts and our treasure on our problems rather than on someones else's.  Finally, although I could go on like this for a very long time, I believe that we have destroyed too many lives and invested far too much of our resources fighting an unwinnable "War on Drugs".


So no Mr. Romney, or whoever is sending me these mailings, you can save yourself any and all additional printing and postage, because I believe on one hand you are batshit crazy, and on the other you are merely more of the same.  Believe me when I say I have my fill of both.

01 June, 2012

What Carnivores and Prey Animals Can Teach Each Other



A "Science and Religion" blog is running a "discussion" under the following headline:
What Believers and Atheists Can Teach Each Other

Taking their lead, I just might do a bit and title it "What Carnivores and Prey Animals Can Teach Each Other".  Seriously!

The only thing a religious person can teach me is how they have finally decided to keep their cosmic fantasies to themselves, which means from this moment forward refraining from attempts to impose their peculiar world views on others in general, and me in particular, whether through government mandates, undermining of the educational process, especially as it pertains to Science, and/or one or another form of ecclesiastical imperialism.

I am, by the way, most ready to return the favor. As soon as the religious get out of my face, I swear to stop bitching about them being in my face.  It only seems fair.

30 May, 2012

Hari-ed?

Talk about surreal.


I did some shopping at my local Market Street grocery this afternoon.  I was checking out, preparing to pay with my debit card, when the cashier began ringing a bell and dancing up and down, soon to be followed by the bag girl.


Had I been in Britain I would have been nonplussed, here I settled for slackjawed.  Was Market Street now hiring Hari Krishnas?  Was I an unwitting participant in a cosmic joke?


Fortunately, nothing so bizarre. Shortly the cashier paused her bell ringing to inform me I had won free groceries.  Sure enough, the register screen was displaying $0.00 where seconds before it had read $208 and change. I shop there all the time, and had no idea they even did such a thing.


And 208 bucks beats a gaggle of Krishnas any day.

Worth Considering...


For all my Progressive/Liberal friends who, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, still subscribe to the mantra that more government regulation and/or involvement in the banks, or healthcare, or whatever, will make those things safer, cheaper, fairer and so on, I offer up some info on one example where the U.S. did actually deregulate an industry:


In 1978, Congress deregulated the airline industry.  Between 1950 and 1978, the Civil Aeronautics Board had received 79 applications for startup interstate airlines, and rejected every one of them, effectively protecting the business and profits of a handful of legacy carriers.


Since 1978 however:

  • Airline fares have fallen eighteen percent in real dollar terms,
  • Airline safety has improved year after year and air travel is now safer than it has ever been,
  • Air travel has been opened up to the vast majority of Americans.  Prior to 1978, fewer than 20% of Americans had ever flown on a commercial airliner, today it is estimated that 85% have done so, and
  • Competition has increased dramatically, with airlines such as Southwest, Jet Blue, Horizon, and Virgin America (to name just a few) forcing what is left of the legacy carriers to reorganize, retool, and rethink their approach to the business.
Faced with these results, and the fact that most large industries are still heavily regulated, over-regulated actually, how can anyone argue that federal regulation or control is a good thing, or that the public interest would not be better served with far less regulation as opposed to more?

Ernie Hancock has famously stated that "There are only two kinds of people in the world, those who want to be left alone and those that won't let them".  I submit that the forces of regulation are manned entirely by "those who won't let them", and that they are what stands between Americans and cheaper, more accessible healthcare, lower bank fees, better energy sources, and on and on.  The cost to progress, and fairness, is enormous.

21 May, 2012

Penn "Smokes" the President

Penn Jillette takes President Obama to task for his cavalier attitude about, and harsh treatment of,
non-violent drug offenders.


.

15 May, 2012

Real Money...

A Libertarian friend, Jeffrey Jones, sent me the following info. It portrays as well as anything I have seen the awful impact out of control government spending and a money-printing Federal Reserve have had on our real wages and inflation. Imagine how much better off we'd be today if we were paid in gold, even without receiving a raise over the past 50 years.  


Average wages in 1959: $5,016 - or 143 oz. of Gold


Average wages in 1977: $15,000 - or 120 oz of Gold


Average wages in 1999: $28,970 - or 104 oz of Gold


Average wages in 2008: $41,335 - 53 oz of Gold


And they say Ron Paul is nuts!

10 May, 2012

Epicurus, Lucretius, and Thomas Jefferson



Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?

Attributed to Epicurus, circa 300 BCE

In the strictest sense, Epicurus probably was not an Atheist.  He at least claimed to believe in the gods of ancient Greece, but at the same time curiously asserted that they were not at all concerned with humankind.  Being gods, what need might they have of us, or concern as to how we lived?

Other contributions of Epicurus include the promotion and further explanation of the atomist hypotheses generally attributed to Democritus, an early stab at a hypothesis of evolution, and the supposition that the earth was not the center of the “world”, nor for that matter was the sun.  Rather, he wrote, the stars were all suns like ours, and as such they would be surrounded by planets like our earth which would be inhabited by “other races”.  Further, he asserted, death was not to be feared – for we were dead before we were born.  Death was simply the atoms which composed our body rearranging themselves once again.  (And all this 300 years before a questionable and gory series of events in Palestine set human progress back at least a thousand years.

He may be best known however for his philosophy that living a life of pleasure was the highest ideal to which we can aspire.  By “pleasure” Epicurus was not referring to copious amounts of rich food, great wine, or sex, but rather to the simpler pleasures of learning, discourse, moderation, and living without fear.

Only three letters and a few small scraps of his writing is all we have left of Epicurus; all, except for the epic poem On the Nature of Things by the Roman writer and philosopher Lucretius.  The Roman’s work itself was nearly lost to us, only to be retrieved in the 15th century by Poggio Bracciolini, a Papal secretary.  Many historians credit the rediscovery of Lucretius’ work with providing an impetus for:  first the Renaissance, and later the Enlightenment.  We know that many Enlightenment figures such as Montaigne, Locke, and Diderot owned copies of, and made frequent reference to, On the Nature of Things.

And here’s the thing:  Thomas Jefferson owned at least five copies of the multi-volume poem, and referred to it frequently.  You certainly recall his phrase “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…”, the last phrase of which is pure Epicurus.

In the past, upon reading Jefferson’s phrase “Nature and Nature’s God…”, I have always assumed he was making a reference to the Deist god, a deity which after the act of creation went off to play Bridge, or perhaps badminton or something, with the other gods and was thus unconcerned with mere mortals or anything else in nature.  (Sorry Christian revisionists, T.J. was not one of you.) What if, however, Jefferson was instead referring to Einstein’s god; nature and the laws of nature themselves?  Einstein was familiar with Lucretius and thus Epicurean thought, just as was Jefferson.  I recently found what could be considered at least strong circumstantial evidence:

In a letter to William Short, dated October 31, 1819, Jefferson answered in response to an inquiry as to his guiding philosophy, “I am an Epicurean.”  Further, “I consider the genuine (not imputed) doctrines of Epicurus as containing everything rational in moral philosophy…” In his diary, John Quincy Adams attributed a similar response to Jefferson during an 1807 dinner conversation.  At the very least we can rule out Christianity as being at the core of the author of the Declaration’s moral core.

Proof?  Perhaps not.  Stronger evidence however than the Cult of Torture and Human Sacrifice can offer, and that is a start.

27 April, 2012

SENDING HIS SON TO ISRAEL


A Jewish businessman in Chicago decides to send his son to Israel to absorb some of the culture from the Jewish Homeland.
 
When the son returns, the father asks him to tell him about his trip.

The son says, "Pop, I had a great time in Israel. By the way, I converted to Christianity."

"Oy, vey," says the father, "Vat haf I dun?"

He decides to go ask his friend, Jacob, what to do.

Jake says, "Funny you should ask. I too sent my son to Israel, and he also came back a Christian. Perhaps we should go see the Rabbi and ask him what we should do."
So they go to see the Rabbi.

The Rabbi says, "Funny you should ask. I too sent my son to Israel. He also came back a Christian. What is happening to our young people? Perhaps we should go talk to God and ask Him what to do."

The three of them pray and explain what has happened to their sons and ask God what to do.

Suddenly a Voice loud and clear from Heaven is heard, "Funny you should ask. I, too, sent my son to Israel. . . " 

25 April, 2012

A light-hearted look at "Alternative Medicine"...


“By definition”, I begin
“Alternative Medicine”, I continue
“Has either not been proved to work,
Or been proved not to work.
You know what they call “alternative medicine”
That’s been proved to work?
Medicine.”

“Science adjusts its beliefs based on what’s observed
Faith is the denial of observation so that Belief can be preserved.
If you show me
That, say, homeopathy works,
Then I will change my mind
I’ll spin on a fucking dime
I’ll be embarrassed as hell,
But I will run through the streets yelling
It’s a miracle! Take physics and bin it!
Water has memory!
And while it’s memory of a long lost drop of onion juice is Infinite
It somehow forgets all the poo it’s had in it!”

Excerpted from “Storm”, by Tim Minchin.

22 April, 2012

Ohio executes cult leader for 5 Killings


The above headline, from an Associated Press article, is a couple of years old now.  I do not normally read such stories because I am opposed to the Death Penalty for a number of reasons.  But that is not the point today.  The story continued:
“LUCASVILLE, Ohio - Ohio executed a religious cult leader Tuesday for murdering a family of five followers who were taken one at a time to a barn, bound and shot to death. The youngest was a girl just 7 years old.
Jeffrey Lundgren, 56, died by injection at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility. ‘I profess my love for God, my family, for my children, for Kathy (his wife). I am because you are,’ Lundgren said in his final statement.
The evidence against him in the deaths of the Avery family — Dennis, 49, Cheryl, 46, Trina, 15, Rebecca, 13, and 7-year-old Karen — was compelling.
Upset by what he saw as a lack of faith, Lundgren arranged a dinner hosted by cult members. Afterward, he and his followers led the family members one by one — the father first, young Karen last — to their deaths while the others unknowingly cleaned up after dinner.
Lundgren shot each victim two or three times while a running chain saw muffled the sound of the gunfire.
Lundgren argued at his trial in 1990 that he was prophet of God and therefore not deserving of the death penalty.
‘It's not a figment of my imagination that I can in fact talk to God, that I can hear his voice,’ he had told the jurors. ‘I am a prophet of God. I am even more than a prophet.’”
Lundgren formed the cult with about 20 members in the northeast Ohio town of Kirtland after he was dismissed in 1987 as a lay minister of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, an offshoot of the Latter Day Saints church.
He said God commanded him, through interpretation of Scriptures, to kill the Avery family, who had moved from Missouri in 1987 to follow his teachings.
I found the following three passages riveting:
  • Lundgren argued at his trial in 1990 that he was prophet of God and therefore not deserving of the death penalty.
  • "It's not a figment of my imagination that I can in fact talk to God, that I can hear his voice," he had told the jurors. "I am a prophet of God. I am even more than a prophet."
  • He said God commanded him, through interpretation of Scriptures, to kill the Avery family, who had moved from Missouri in 1987 to follow his teachings.

Upon reflection on those three passages, I believe we can all agree that one of the following statements must be true.  Either
  1. Jeffery Lundgren was stark-raving mad;
  2. Jeffrey Lundgren was lying about his communications with God and his status as a "prophet"; or
  3. Jeffrey Lundgren was telling the truth; that is, he was in intimate communication with the Almighty, he was HIS ordained prophet, and he killed the Averys on God's command.

Those are the only choices.  One must be true.
But which is it?
Frankly, unless you are a devoted member of Mr. Lundgren's cult, I am absolutely certain that you have not chosen #3.
Every reader in general, and especially those who profess Christianity in particular, has opted for either explanation #1 or #2.
# 3 is out of the question.  Dismissed.  Impossible.
But why?
Atheists and like-minded secularists have an excellent reason for their choice:  If there is no God, then #3 is not even a remote possibility.  Their response needs no further explanation.
What about those of you who are Christians, Mormons, Jews, or Muslims however?  Why do you reject the third option?  Indeed, how can you?
Your entire belief system is based on the conviction that one or more times in the past, a Deity communicated His wishes and instructions directly to a human or group of humans.  You are certain of this.  There is no question in your mind.
But if God did communicate with man in the past, how can you be so sure that He was not in communication with Mr. Lundgren?  Jerry Falwell claimed that God spoke to him every day, so why not to Mr. Lundgren?
And God has, according to the Bible, often ordered His followers to kill others, including little children.  The God of the Old Testament several times displayed an extremely bloodthirsty and vengeful persona, so how can you know He did not instruct Mr. Lundgren to off the Averys?
You believe that if we all do not accept, worship, and fear this God, He will cast us into Hell and torture us for eternity.  That's pretty serious, even vicious, stuff.  Why then is it impossible to believe Mr. Lundgren was telling the truth?
The fact is I have a clear, concise, and rational reason for rejecting option #3.
No adherent of any "revealed religion", including Christianity, can make the same claim. 

20 April, 2012

Open Mouth, Insert...President?

Politicians sometimes say the damnedest things.  Take the Democratic governor of Montana for instance.  Obviously sent forth by the Obama campaign as an attack dog now that Mitt Romney is the presumed GOP candidate, the governor went for every negative angle he could find, including pointing out the Mitt's father was born in a polygamous Mormon settlement in Mexico.  That would certainly hurt Mitt, he opined, because polls show American women by a large majority detest polygamy.

True enough.  The history is that polygamy was illegal by the US, and was thus eschewed by the Latter-Day-Saints in order to gain statehood for Utah in the late 1800s.  Some Mormons who considered the practice to be an important part of their faith demurred, emigrating to Mexico, where they peacefully continued to adhere to the original doctrine.

However Mitt's father was not polygamous, nor was his grandfather.  In fact one has to go back to his great-grandfather to find an ancestor who engaged in polygamy.

As unlikely as that connection is to cause a problem for Romney, there is however another candidate for president whose father was polygamous before, when, and after that candidate was born.

That candidate?  Barrack Obama.

So much for zingers.

19 April, 2012

They are not to be trusted...


Yesterday I watched a hearing of the Senate Budget Committee.  Member after member took turns making statements, other than that not a damned bit of work was attempted.
Many of those speaking though referenced a single, and to my mind dangerous, theme:  We need to simplify the tax code, and we can do that by eliminating or reducing deductions and then lowering and flattening rates.
Sounds simple.  Sounds clean. Unfortunately this is Congress of which we are speaking, and they are not to be trusted.  Ever.
In 1986, under conservative icon Ronald Reagan, taxpayers were convinced to give up a series of deductions for what was essentially a two-bracket (15% & 28%) tax code.  (There was also a clawback provision whereby the extremely rich paid and even 28% on all income, but that effected very few.)
It took Congress only four years to demonstrate that they couldn’t be trusted.  In 1990, a new top bracket of 31% was added, and then under Clinton brackets were adjusted and a fourth one tacked on with a 39% tax rate.  In essentially a single decade Congress took back everything granted when we gave up our deductions in 1986.
If you believe that it won’t happen again, you are precisely the damned fool that the vultures in Congress want you to be, indeed expect that you are.  There can be no tax reform that allows Congress to give voters the bird whenever the mood strikes them.  The only effective tax reform must include the repeal of the 16th Amendment, the abolition of the IRS, the institution of a consumption tax with a requirement of a super-majority to increase rates, and the passage of a balanced-budget amendment.  Anything short of all four would be a willfull and deliberate fraud on the people.  Again.

18 April, 2012

A "Heads Up":


From the 12th through the 16th centuries, monks laboring in monasteries would routinely scrap the ink off the ancient manuscripts in their libraries in order to reuse the parchment to copy scripture.  Thusly, untold ancient texts were lost to mankind.
It was an act then of incredible serendipity that in 1417 one Poggio Bracciolini, rummaging through the library of a monastery in Italy, opened and recognized an extraordinary work by the ancient Greek poet Lucretius, a contemporary of Cicero.  In its 1700 plus lines De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things) summarized the atomic theory of Democritus and the atheism of Epicurus, as well as laying out an ancient theory of evolution.  Bracciolini obtained permission to copy the text and over the following couple of decades distributed it to other scholars across Europe, giving birth to the Renaissance and its natural offspring, The Enlightenment.  Among thinkers who were influenced by De Rerum Natura were Giordano Bruno, Galileo Galilei, Thomas More, Niccolò Machiavelli, Montaigne, and Thomas Jefferson.  Oh, and lest I forget, Christopher Hitchens (He included a passage as the very first piece in his book The Portable Atheist.). Quite a fan club.
I mention all this because of a book I recently discovered, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern.  In its pages, recently the recipient of a 2012 Pulitzer Prize, Stephan Greenblatt tells the story of the manuscript’s rediscovery and its influence, as well as highlighting some of the work’s more compelling contributions to modern thought and perhaps even the "sexual revolution".
I am loving it, and I highly recommend it.  Get it and read it before the Religious Right hears about it and tries to have it banned.

17 April, 2012

Incredibly...

Reports out of Afghanistan today indicate that Muslim extremists poisoned the water at a school for girls in order to prevent the girls from being properly educated, causing outrage to erupt among American Christians.

In other news, American Christians today rallied against the teaching of the theories of evolution and the Big Bang in public schools.

Yeah. No shit.

Why I am supporting Gary Johnson


Gary Johnson is NOT the most libertarian candidate seeking the LP presidential nomination.  Lee Wrights, whom I genuinely like and admire, probably fills that bill.  That is not to say that I agree with Lee on every issue, but I can guarantee that whatever the question posited, Mr. Wrights will give the Libertarian answer 100% of the time, and mean it.
Bill Still may have been the most erudite of the candidates.  I say may have been because he appeared to withdraw during the TX LP debates.  The problem with Mr. Still, as with Carl Peterson, another accomplished and dedicated libertarian, is that he was a one-trick pony seeking to lead a nation with more than one problem and thus desperate for more than one answer.
R.J. Harris likewise has withdrawn, which is too bad because he along with Wrights and Johnson was a capable candidate.
That given, of the candidates above why did I choose to support Governor Johnson? 
To be brief I will cite what for me were two overriding factors:
  • Though perhaps not the “purest” Libertarian (though I am not sure what that really means and truly do not like so differentiating among Libertarians), Governor Johnson is decidedly and happily a classical liberal. He believes the government which governs least is the government that governs best, a fact he has clearly demonstrated.  I personally gravitate toward constitutional Libertarianism, desiring the smallest government necessary to guarantee my rights to life, liberty, and property, but also recognizing that only a government of political equals can effectuate those ideals.  Therefore calls to eradicate the income tax and replace it with nothing, for instance, while crowd pleasers ring hollow without an accompanying vision for what is to follow.  Governor Johnson supports marriage equality, an end to the war on drugs, ending foreign aid as well as our support of the UN and World Bank, and  an end to the income tax and IRS (But by replacing at least some of that revenue with a consumption tax while we responsibly wind down many of the programs that have brought us to the real possibility of economic implosion.)
  • Gravitas.  Governor Johnson is the only of our candidates who can look the American people in the eye and say regarding the downsizing of government, “I have done that successfully, and it is not difficult if it is really what you want to do.”  The authority and authenticity arising out of having left a state government smaller and a state better off economically when he left office than when he first entered government, is something that not only can no other LP candidate say, but that none of the candidates of the two “major” parties can say either.  It could be a game changer.

I understand why some of my friends would choose to support Lee Wrights because it grieves me that I cannot.  For me it comes down to a long-range plan spanning more than one election cycle, and the conviction that our candidates must not appear “radical” to a basically centrist American electorate.  They must identify us with what is best about the American system, and not as a party anxious to throw out the baby with the bathwater. 
Please note:  I am speaking of perception here, not reality. Jan Carlzon, the former CEO of Scandinavian Airlines, once famously said that if a customer found a soiled tray top on one of their planes, they were likely to assume that the airline was also sloppy with its engine maintenance.  Likewise, we also need to be aware of such consumer tendencies.
That said, I urge your support for Governor Gary Johnson. Visit his website and see for yourself.

13 April, 2012

Time to leave the GOP tent?


In the mid-1990s, the Republican Party left me.
I know that sounds trite, but I had been originally attracted to the GOP by Barry Goldwater and a handful of other small-government, classical-liberal politicians.  Of course Senator Goldwater got clobbered in his presidential run, but just twenty years later Ronald Reagan swept to victory on the wings of his proclaimed (small-l) libertarianism.
Unfortunately President Reagan failed to govern as a libertarian, with ever-more bloated government and exploding deficits as well as clandestine wars.  The final straw came with the Gingrich/DeLay betrayal of the Contract with America, an episode which left me no doubt that the Republican Party never had any intention, nor ever would, of returning our nation to real constitutional government.
Luckily for me I found the Libertarian Party.  I am under no delusions the LP will enjoy massive electoral success anytime soon, it is too weighted down with an anarchical wing that is simply not reality-based, along with archaic rules that make it impossible to effectively build a party capable of actually winning majority support.  But still we soldier on, if for no other reason than the LP is the only political party in the U.S. that still stands for government confined by constitutional limits and the individual as supreme per the classical-liberal philosophy of our Founders.
What is intriguing to me is the number of liberty-leaning folks, some of them friends, who doggedly stick with the Republican Party.  One only has to review the history of state legislatures and Congresses when they have been controlled by the GOP over the past twenty years.  The drumbeat is always the same, the people’s business, not to mention the Constitution, is a distant second to an undeniably anti-science, theocratic, misogynous, interventionist, and militaristic agenda.  It is as if the Islamic Parties of God occupied the very soul of this once-proud party.
The time has come, it seems to me, to permit the GOP to collapse under the weight of its own self-righteous arrogance. Rick Santorum?  Michelle Bachman?  Newt Gingrich?  Twenty-first century America does not need a flat-earth political party any more than, I would say even less than, a fascist-corporatist party under the guise of liberal-socialism.  No real lover of liberty can, in good conscience, remain any longer within their bronze-age tent.

10 April, 2012

A Question for Mr. Romney:

Rick Santorum is kaput, leaving open the possibility, however minute, that there is a just god.

So now our attention turns to Mitt Romney.  It would be interesting of course to corner Mr. Romney with a question or two about magic undies, or the baptism of long-deceased folks of other-than-Mormon persuasion.  The hell with the minor weirdness of the religion he espouses however, I say let's cut to the core of Mormon Moronic silliness.  Let's ask Mitt "Where in the hell is the steel mill?"

The following will explain in detail what I mean, and why it is a question every Mormon, and particularly every Mormon who would be president, should have to answer.  It was written several years ago by Frank Zindler.  Mr. Zindler is a linguist, and a member of the Board of Directors of American Atheists.


HOW DO YOU LOSE A STEEL MILL?
 By Frank R. Zindler
The next time Mormon missionaries come calling at your door, invite them in.  You have an obligation to educate them. But before you can bring them to understand the error of their ways, it is necessary to get their attention - I mean really get their attention. This you can do by asking them, as you help them remove their coats, if they are wearing their magic underwear - their so-called "temple endowments." Ask them to explain the theory behind their magic unmentionables; especially ask for the reason why up until 1923 they were made with open crotches - and then ask them if their long johns can protect them against logic and science.
The missionaries will probably be a bit surprised to hear that they need protection against logic and science, so you will have to show them some of the ways in which Mormonism is falsified by science. For example, the Book of Mormon implies that Jews fleeing from Jerusalem shortly before and after 600 B.C.E. (Before the Common Era) made their way to South or Central America and turned into Indians. Of course, the magical aspects of this story lie outside the scope of science. Nevertheless, if Jews were transformed into Amerindians just a few millennia ago, there are ways in which scientific methods could be used to falsify or verify the fact.
Recently it has been possible to work out the genetic relations of all the major human populations in the world by comparing the DNA molecules carried in the mitochondria of human cells. Mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cell, and they are inherited only along the maternal line. In a seminal paper published in the British journal Nature, Rebecca Cann and her coworkers analyzed the mitochondrial DNA from all major groups of humans on the planet and found that all human mitochondrial DNAs could be derived from just a single woman living in Africa approximately 200,000 years ago. (Of course, this does not mean that all humans living today had only one ancestor alive at that time; it simply means that all mitochondria, as a result of hazards of transmission, are derived from just one female of that prehistoric generation.) Although it is difficult to identify all the twigs on the genealogical tree in the article cited, it is clear that the authors did not find any surprising link between American Indians and Jews. They refer to "Asians or American Indians," and Jews aren't even mentioned - presumably because they do not differ significantly from other Caucasians. Mormon apologists are invited to do their own DNA comparisons. Until they do, we may consider the transmogrification of Jews into Amerindians mere fantasy.
Archaeology is another science that has much to say about the Mormon idea that Mesopotamians and Israelites came to America around 3000 and 600 B.C.E., respectively, and originated the cultures and populations of the New World. When Joseph Smith saw how easy it was to pull people's legs, he made up an incredible story about Jaredites escaping from the Tower of Babel in Mesopotamia, building barrels which were more barrels than boats, and floating to America in these sealed vessels - after "the Lord caused stones to shine in darkness, to give light unto men, women, and children, that they might not cross the great waters in darkness" (Ether 6:3).
When Smith's disciples swallowed this story without a smile, Smith stretched their legs further. The kingdom founded by the Jaredites - I'm not making this up - was known as "the land of Moron."
In addition to the Jaredites, Smith created Nephites and Mulekites to help populate ancient America and take part in a drama so taut and exciting that Mark Twain referred to their history as "chloroform in print." (Twain seems to be confused in the area of anesthesiology. Readers will note from the Book of Mormon quote above that Smith's book contains Ether in print, not chloroform.) The Nephites are supposed to have escaped Jerusalem shortly before the destruction of the city in 587 B.C.E., the Mulekites shortly thereafter. The Nephites sailed east from Palestine and came ashore in South or Central America. The Mulekites are inferred to have crossed the Atlantic and landed on the Caribbean coast of Central America. Just what it was about the American environment that caused all these Caucasians to turn into Amerindians is unclear, but most Mormons will tell you it was "sin" that did it.

The Fauna Of The Book Of Mormon
When Smith published his "golden bible " in 1830, he gave elephants to his Jaredite actors, along with asses, cows, oxen, and horses. While this may seem startling to readers today, in upstate New York in the 1930s there was nothing odd about this. Thomas Jefferson had discovered the remains of an extinct mammoth, and it was probably widely assumed that ancient Amerindians had domesticated elephants in the way that modern Indians have done. I doubt that many rural New Yorkers then knew that the Amerindians had had no horses or cows until they got them from the Spaniards.
Although horses originated in North America, they - along with the various American species of "elephants" - went extinct many thousands of years before anything that could be called civilization had evolved in Central or South America. At no time were cows present before the advent of Hispanic culture. No certain remains of pre-Columbian horses, asses, or cows have ever been found in the Americas. Even in the improbable event that rare, relict populations of wild horses in the remote regions of South America or elsewhere managed to survive the mass extinction of the American mega-fauna that occurred at the end of the Pleistocene epoch, it is an archaeological certainty that no horses ever pulled the chariots of Jewish Aztecs or Babylonian Mayas - or should it be Babylonian Aztecs and Jewish Mayas?
No animal-drawn wheeled vehicles were ever used in pre-Columbian America. No chariots. The reason is that there were no suitable draft animals to pull them. Despite Joseph Smith's claim that his ancient American Christians had cows and oxen, none existed in America before the Spaniards brought them. With only the exception of the bison and the reindeer - notably scarce in Mexico where the major Book of Mormon civilizations are alleged to have existed - no animals existed in America suitable for pulling chariots or wagons. The closest thing to an American draft animal is the llama, but during the entire domestication history of this Andean animal it was used to carry packs, not to pull vehicles.
It goes without saying that this problem worries Mormon apologists a great deal. Arguments both ingenious and specious have been constructed to deal with it. In his book An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, John Sorenson, one of the most imaginative of the apologists to deal with this problem, argues that it is very difficult to know exactly what the ancients actually meant by such words as horse, cow, or chariot. Typical of his modus operandi is his attempt to explain away the fact that no pre-Columbian cows have ever been discovered in America:  But isn't it obvious that the "cow" of the Book of Mormon was our familiar bovine, straight out without all this hedging?
No, it is not at all obvious. First, we are trying to find out what the Book of Mormon really means by the words we have in English translation; we are not trying either to simplify or to complicate the matter, but only to be correct. In the effort to learn the truth, nothing can be assumed obvious. Second, there is a lack of reliable evidence - historical, archaeological, zoological, or linguistic - that Old World cows were present in the Americas in pre-Columbian times. The same is true of some of the other creatures mentioned in the Nephite record, where modern readers may feel they are already familiar with the animals on the basis of the translated names. In these cases we have to find another way to read the text in order to make sense of it.
So what might the Nephite term translated by Joseph Smith as cow actually have signified?
Sorenson goes on to suggest that the "cows" to which his prophet referred might actually have been deer, bison, alpacas, or llamas. Stretched out over the space of many pages, this type of argument is effectively seductive. But it suffers from a most serious defect. If we were dealing with ordinary translations done by ordinary scholars, his point would be very important. But we are not dealing with an ordinary translation done by someone with nothing more than a doctorate from Oxford. We are told on the title page itself that the Book of Mormon is "an account written by the hand of Mormon upon plates taken from the plates of Nephi ... To come forth by the gift and power of God unto the interpretation thereof Sealed by the hand of Moroni, and hid up unto the Lord, to come forth in due time by way of the Gentile - The interpretation thereof by the gift of God,"
Several pages later, in the "Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith," we are told: There were two stones in silver bows - and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim deposited with the plates; and the possession and use of these stones were what Constituted Seers in ancient or former times; and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book.
If Sorenson is correct in his suggestion that the cows and horses referred to in the Book of Mormon aren't really cows and horses - even though the book not only was translated with the aid of Urim and Thummim, but interpreted "by the gift and power of God" - Mormons are on the horns of a terrible dilemma. If god told Joseph Smith to translate deer or llama as cow, he is either incompetent or a liar. If god lies about llamas, why wouldn't he fib about faith? Of course, the Thummim may have blown a transistor, or the angel Moroni may have forgotten to provide the batteries for the Urim. On the other hand, it might all be the fault of the typesetter!
Returning to the subject of chariots, we may observe that chariots tend to be possessed of wheels. Contrary to the divine revelation claimed by Joseph Smith, the Amerindians never made any practical use of the wheel. The only native wheels known to archaeology are the great stone wheels used for calendars and the wheels found in children's toys. If delicate wheeled toys have survived the centuries, should not full-fledged chariots and carts have survived also? If the societies in question had wheeled vehicles for a period of more than three millennia, would we not expect to find wall paintings of them in Mexican temples and tombs? Wouldn't we find proud murals of Aztec kings driving their chariots in triumphal parades? Would we not see pictures of humble farmer-serfs tilling the king's fields with horse-drawn ploughs and hauling produce to the king in oxcarts? Once again, we see the falseness of the Mormon prophet's "inspiration."
When one reads works of fiction such as the Bible or the Book of Mormon, it is absolutely necessary to play the what-if / then / what game. One should ask questions like, "What if Caesar Augustus really did proclaim a census where everyone had to return to an ancestral home to be counted? What would have happened then?"
In the case of the Book of Mormon, we may ask "What if the ancient Amerindians did have horses and chariots? What are the implications?" For one thing, we would expect to find the remains of stone bridges and highways - not footpaths - all over the continents of North and South America (or at least all over Central America, if the Mormon revisionist geographers are to be considered). To be sure, we do know of the great highways that the Incas built. But alas for the Book of Mormon, the Inca highways were built a thousand years after the close of the Mormon story. Moreover, we know that it was runners and llamas carrying packs that traveled these highways, not horses with chariots or oxen with carts.
If horses and chariots were a common part of Amerindian life in ancient times, we should find words for horses and chariots in all the native languages - especially if they are all corrupt forms of Hebrew and Sumerian, as implied by the Book of Mormon! We should find words for bit, bridle, harness, wagon, headstall, snaffle, martingale, etc. If the Amerindians had plows to go with their horses and oxen, as Smith's novel clearly implies, we should find some - including steel ones (see discussion of steel in last section of this article). We need to know, moreover, why the only tilling tools we have ever found in the Maya territory are fire-hardened digging sticks and stone axes. Why would people so on making stone tools if they had access to iron and steel ones? As we shall see, all archaeological evidence of pre-Columbian agriculture paints a picture which is totally incompatible with the European-style agriculture implied by the Mormon stories.
Mormon Agriculture
When Joseph Smith concocted the Book of Mormon, he just assumed that the ancient Amerindians had the same kind of agriculture as that which he knew in upstate New York. Consequently, he had his ancient characters growing wheat, barley, corn, and flax, and planting vineyards for wine, and being able to understand the symbolism of the olive and trees. Now, of course, Smith was right about the corn - that is, maize. But is there anyone of Smith's day who had not heard of "Indian corn," or did not know that corn had come from the Indians? What Smith did not know, however, was that corn was but one of three staple crops raised by the Indians of Central America - the region in which the discovery of ruined civilizations had triggered enormous amounts of speculation in the time of Smith's youth. The other two major crops were squash and beans. These were supplemented by such things as avocados, amaranth, etc. You can search all you want in the Book of Mormon, but you won't find any mention, apart from corn, of the crops actually raised in ancient America. Incidentally, we have numerous cases where these crops have been preserved in archaeological sites and are easily identifiable.
What does archaeology tell us of the presence or absence of the crops Smith claimed were the staples of ancient America? No remains of wheat or domesticated barley have ever been found. In fact, the one possible pre-Columbian specimen of barley discovered at a site in Arizona is of a species different from the species of domesticated barley allegedly brought from the Near East. And what of flax? No dice, again. Fortunately for lovers of truth, the Mormon apologists cannot simply say we haven't been looking in the right place, or that the remains of these plants have all perished with the passage of time. The reason for our good fortune is the fact that these domestic plants are all flowering plants. As such, they produce pollen - in great abundance. If the so-called Mormonic civilizations had been growing these crops for even a few decades - let alone the thousands of years allegedly chronicled by the Book of Mormon - every soil coring taken in Central America should show traces of wheat, barley, and flax pollen. Pollen is one of the most indestructible natural objects known.
An example of the type of research that shows Book of Mormon agriculture to be nineteenth century fantasy is David J. Rue's 1987 paper in Nature titled "Early Agriculture and Early Postclassic Maya Occupation in Western Honduras." By studying soil corings from Lake Yojoa and Petapida Swamp, both in western Honduras, Rue was able to reconstruct the agricultural history of the area from a time 4770 years before the present up to modem times. He could tell from pollen when the region was forested, when the forest was cut and burned for agriculture, what crops were grown and for how long. Although he found clear records of pollen from corn (maize) and amaranth - two Amerindian staples - he makes no mention of wheat, barley, or flax pollen. Perhaps the Mormon Church would like to pay him to go through his cores again, looking more carefully for the mythical motes that should be in them if the Book of Mormon be true!
"Silks And Linens"
When Smith created the costuming for the characters in his unhistorical novel (that was quite a while before god told him he should be sleeping with more than one woman), he had no knowledge of the types of cloth known to the ancient Amerindians. So he saw no problem in having his ancient Mexicans wearing linens and silks. Now linen is made from the fibers of the flax plant, specifically the species known as Linum usitatissimum. This species is native to the Old World and was unknown in America before the coming of the Spaniards. It is quite certain that this species of plant did not grow in America during the three-thousand-year period allegedly chronicled by the Book of Mormon. The reason we can be so certain is that flax pollen of this species has never been found in any soil corings. It is unthinkable that flax for linen could have been grown commercially and not have contributed its pollen to the spore library yearly accumulating at the bottoms of lakes, swamps, and ponds. Ordinary soils unearthed by archaeologists should contain it, along with the pollens of wheat and barley, as we have already noted.
Instead of weaving flax fibers into linen, the ancient Americans wove cotton into cloth. In fact, the ancient Mexicans were weaving cotton fabrics by the year 5000 B.C.E. - at least two millennia before the time of the Jaredites, the mythical escapees from the Tower of Babel, who Smith claimed had floated to America in a barrel! Will readers be surprised to learn that the Book of Mormon makes no mention at all of cotton? Neither god nor Joseph Smith seems to have known what the Mexicans were substituting for fig leaves.
Smith's imposture in the Book of Mormon goes even further, however. He has many of his characters wearing silk - some as early as 600 B.C.E.! Now this is funnier than is immediately apparent. The manufacture of silk began in China and was kept as a trade secret for several thousand years. Although silk fabrics had found their way from China to the Mediterranean world by the time of Aristotle, no one in the West knew how silk was made. It was not until the year 552 C.E. that two Nestorian monks, who had lived in China, smuggled a small number of silkworm eggs out of China and brought them, together with the method for making silk, to Constantinople. This means that the Mormon prophet Lehi, who allegedly escaped from Jerusalem more than a thousand years before this date, before the Exile, could not have brought a knowledge of sericulture to the New World. Although remains of ancient fabrics have been found all over the Americas, no one has ever found remains of pre-Columbian silk. The closest thing to silks made by the Amerindians were fabrics spun from rabbit hair or the fibers of ceiba pods. Although moths of the silkworm family (Saturnidae) do exist in the Americas, it is all but impossible to unwind the agglutinated and tangled silk fibers from their cocoons. Smith could not have been more off base if he had written that the Jaredites were selling nylons on the black market.
Nephite Money
The Book of Mormon assumes a money economy existed in ancient America and gives names and values for a variety of gold and silver coins:   Now these are the names of the different pieces of their gold, and of their silver, according to their value ...
Leaving the Mormons to worry about how to make change for a "limnah," we note simply that although the ancient Americans had gold and silver in abundance, they never made coins or evolved a money economy. They used jade beads, obsidian blades, and even cacao beans as media of exchange. Never did they mint coins or create a standardized system of metal money.
Any single one of the archaeological impossibilities we have pointed out thus far should be enough to convince an unbiased scientist that the Book of Mormon is a fiction. All the more so, if we combine all the individually convincing evidences together, we must see that the fraudulence of the Book of Mormon is proven beyond any shadow of a doubt. Remember this the next time youthful "elders" knock on your front door.
Moronic And Mormonic Metallurgy
According to the Book of Ether, the Jaredites knew how to make steel: And it came to pass that Shule was angry with his brother ... Wherefore, he came to the hill Ephraim, and he did molten out of the hill, and made swords out of steel for those whom he had drawn away with him; and after he had armed them with swords he returned to the city Nehor, and gave battle unto his brother Corihor ... (Ether 7:8-9)
According to Mormon apologist David A. Palmer, this steel making occurred around the year 2500 B.C.E.!  This precedes by more than a millennium the time at which ironworking (let alone steel making!) came to Mesopotamia, the region whence the Jaredites allegedly had come!  Despite the fact that the "Morons" possessed weapons of steel, they didn't do too well. According to Paimer, in the year 2430 B.C.E. the "Moron population (was] reduced to 30 by wars." (There is no evidence that Palmer snickered when he penned the quoted line.)
But Morons were not the only ancient Americans alleged to have worked in steel. Nephites also, before they were transformed from Jews into Indians, worked in steel and other metals around the year 575 B.C.E.:  And I [Nephi] did teach my people to build buildings, and to work in all manner of wood, and of iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores, which were in great abundance. (2 Nephi 5:15)
As we have seen, the Book of Mormon story covers a period of time stretching from 3000 B.C.E. to 400 C.E. During that period, many millions of people possessed of steel and brass technology are alleged to have lived and died somewhere in the Americas. It is strange, therefore, to note that no one has ever found any steel artifact datable to Pre-Columbian times. Although a few ancient objects made of meteoric iron have been discovered in America as well as in Eurasia, no objects made of smelted iron have ever been found in America - even though billions of such things should have been made if the Book of Mormon story were true.
Now, of course, the defenders of the Mormon kingdom might say we just haven't been looking in the right place. Alas for the apologists, the Book of Mormon tells us precisely where to look for such artifacts. It claims that between one-half and one million steel-owning people died all  at once, in one spot, around the year 400 C.E., in a climactic battle at "Hill Cumorah." According to Mormon tradition, Hill Cumorah is a glacial drumlin situated near the upstate New York town of Palmyra. It is the site of an annual "Mormon Pageant." Mormon revisionist geographers, however, place the hill in the Tuxtla Mountains, in the Mexican state of Veracruz.
If the Book of Mormon were true, either the hill in New York or the hill in Mexico should be one enormous pile of rusted iron (from the swords and other steel objects) and phosphate (from the bones of all the people slain). It would be a valuable source of scrap iron and phosphate fertilizer!
As crazy as all this may seem, there's more to the Mormon story which is even crazier. According to the Book of Ether, there was an earlier battle in which even more people were slain at one spot:
And it came to pass when Coriantumr had recovered of his wounds - . . He saw that there had been slain by the sword [more steel!] already nearly two millions of his people, and he began to sorrow in his heart; yea, there had been slain two millions of mighty men, and also their wives and their children ... (Ether 15: 1-2)
Assuming that "mighty men" would comprise from one-third to one-fifth of a population, we must conclude that six to ten million Jaredites deposited their steel and their bones at the site of the battle in question. If the Mormon writer David Palmer is correct in his belief that Hill Ramah (where the Jaredites died) and Hill Cumorah (where most everyone else died) are the same hill, and that both are to be identified with Cerro El Vigia in the Tuxtla Mountains, it would seem that satellites equipped with magnetometers should be able to verify the fact easily.
But neither iron nor phosphate is found at Hill Cumorah in New York, nor will it be found - I am prophesying - in the volcanic Tuxtla Mountains in Veracruz. Not surprisingly, the Mormon Church conducts no mining operations at the Palmyra site. The only thing of importance occurring there is the annual falsification of American history.
In concluding our discussion of how Mormon mythology has fallen on its own (steel) sword, we must make one final observation. If millions and millions of people made and used weapons and tools of steel for a period spanning more than three millennia, not only should archaeologists find plentiful remains of swords, chariot axles, anvils, sickles, and many other iron-based artifacts, they should be finding the remains of steel mills all over the territory covered by Smith's cast of characters!  It is perfectly conceivable that one might lose a steel sword.
But how in hell can you lose a steel mill?
Ask the missionaries the next time they call.