Christian Equivalent of the Taliban? A Somewhat Expanded Blast from the Past

I am not a Christian. I describe as an “Asatru leaning agnostic” or maybe “a practitioner, if not a believer, in Asatru”. (A friend of mind has coined the term “Agnostipagan” which I like.)

Still, I’d I have to say that Christians make far better neighbors than many another group. Yeah, they have their bad apples but the comparison between Christians as a group, at least in the Western world, and Isis or the Taliban is beyond ridiculous. Part of that is simply a matter of civilization. People simply behave better in the civilized world than they do in the more barbaric regions. However Christians in the civilized world try to spread civilization. Groups like Isis and the Taliban try to spread barbarism. Apples and dark matter they have so little in common.

Some people will point to groups like the Westboro Baptist Church and say that they are The equivalent of ISIS or the Taliban.  Excuse me?  people who stand around with signs saying mean things are the equivalent of those who cut off heads and burn people alive?  May I ask what you’re smoking so that I can make sure to stay well away from it?  Or another claim was a guy who videoed burning a copy of the Koran. “He’s just like the Taliban” some folk claimed.  And apparently they were serious.  Burning bound pieces of paper with ink on them on one hand, shooting girls in the face for trying to get an education or throwing acid on them for “immodesty.”  Gee, can’t see any difference whatsoever there.

That’s sarcasm, in case there’s any doubt.

When I point this out, some people try to respond by saying “they would if they could” (do all the horrid things we see from folk like Isis or the Taliban). First off, it’s ridiculously easy to claim what someone “would do”.  No connection to reality is even required, only one’s own prejudices.  But even if we stipulate that for sake of argument, the fact that they can’t while ISIS and the Taliban can (or could back before they got their butts kicked) is pretty telling.  A strong majority of Americans are some flavor of Christian.  The fact that anyone who might be so inclined to actually act like the Taliban or Isis, in the name of Christianity can’t without being slapped down hard by the rest is exactly what you expect when they’re a “tiny minority.”

I have yet to meet a Christian who believes I must die for being asatruar (well, leaning that way anyway). They may try to convince me of their belief. They may be concerned for my immortal soul. But they do not say I should be killed for not believing in “the god of the book.” How have ISIS and the Taliban weighed in on that? Is, perhaps, the choice they offer Islam, Dhimmitude (for Christians and Jews–“people of the book”), or death?

The Crusades you say? Well, leave aside that the Crusades were quite a few centuries ago, you might want to look more deeply into the history behind them. It was a lot more complicated than simply wanting to kill the infidel in the name of Christianity.

As for folk like the abortion clinic murderers and the like that are often paraded about as examples of how “Christians are just as bad”, you might want to consider the religious leanings of the people who investigated those crimes, the people who caught the culprits, the people who tried them, the people who convicted them, and the people who punished them. Simple statistics suggests that the majority of them were some flavor of Christian.  Christians policing their own, not giving their co-religionists a pass or making excuses for them simply because they apply the same name to the deity they believe in and agree on who brought said deity’s word to them.

The simple truth is, they are not the same.  So, would people stop with the false comparisons?

Advertisements

Feeding the Active Writer: Ginger Garlic Chicken

It’s been a while since I’ve done a recipe.  Here’s one I came up with recently.  I’ve lately started to track my “macros” so for this one I’ve calculated the protein, fat, and carbs content.

Ingredients

  • 4 1/2 lbs skinless boneless chicken breast
  • 1/4 cup finely minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup grated ginger
  • 2 8 oz cans sliced water chestnuts
  • 2 8 oz cans sliced bamboo shoots
  • t tbsp xantham gum
  • 1 cup Splenda or equivalent
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup white cooking wine. (Sake might also be used and I probably would have if i’d had any.)

Add the chicken, garlic, ginger, water chestnuts, and bamboo shoots a little at a time to a 4 quart slow cooker, sprinking the xantham gum over other ingredients until all of the first six ingredients are added.  Add the Splenda, soy sauce, and cooking wine.

Cover and cook on low about 8 hours.  Stir together.  The chicken will easily break up into small pieces.

Goes well with riced cauliflower (or rice, if you’re not on a limited carb diet).

A one cup serving has about 220 calories.  55 grams of protein, 5.5 grams of fat and 5.2 grams net carbs.

Let the Sun Shine In

Solar scientists are predicting the next Solar Minimum, the one we’re entering now, to be long and deep. (Yes, I see the entendres in that wording.  Go ahead and get it out of your system.  Done?  Okay, let us proceed.)

However, I want to note this particular image from the article:

sunspot_numbers

Notice that we had a really low period pretty much over the seventeenth century to the middle eighteenth century.  Then we had a dip during the early part of the 19th century, not as low as that Maunder Minimum, but still pretty low.  Then things came up from there, and then we had another upswing during the 20th century and we’re finally starting to see a fall off in the 21st.

Note that the end of the Dalton Minimum coincides pretty closely with the end of the Little Ice Age.  Yes, solar activity, as measured by sunspot activity, went up before then but climate will tend to lag solar changes because it takes time for the world to warm up once you “turn up the fire” so to speak.  Just like if you turn up the heat on your stove, it takes time for the pan to reach full temperature and heavy pans like cast iron skillets take longer than thin, stamped steel or copper.

Now, “Climate change” is getting a lot of press lately.  There are a series of questions that need to be asked on the subject of “climate change.”

First:  Is the Earth warmer now than it was in times past?

That one’s easy.  Of course it is.  There have been times where the city I’m writing this in have been under a mile thick sheet of ice.  There have also been times when it has been warmer than it is now.  There is nothing the least bit controversial about this.

When it comes to more recent times it’s almost as certain.  As just one example, the Green Mountain Boys were able to drag captured cannon across the frozen Hudson river on the way to break the siege of Boston.  Try doing that now.  Yes, it is warmer these days than at the tail end of the Little Ice Age.  Few people dispute that.

Second: How much warmer?

This one’s a little harder.  For one thing, any measurement has a certain level of uncertainty.   Measurement instruments may be off. (Old saying:  a man with a watch knows what time it is. A man with two is never sure.) My fever thermometer never agrees with the one at the doctor’s office.  And even with the “professional” instrument, they can measure my temperature three times and get three different readings.  My blood pressure cuff recognizes this.  It measures my blood pressure five times and produces an average.

That’s a complication with even a simple, single measurement of one value taken at one particular location.  Now take the entire world, all sorts of different locations from the coldest Antarctic plain to the hottest Libyan desert. Each measurement having some uncertainty.  What the “real” average of the “real” temperatures compared to the values you measured, with all their uncertainty, becomes more open to question.

Then add in how much of the Earth you don’t have measurements for.  Walk around your neighborhood.  How many thermometers do you see whose measurements end up being included in these studies?  Any?  If there aren’t any then your neighborhood’s temperatures are not being included in the measurements.  Given the size of the world there are vast areas that are simply not included in any given set of measurements.  IF the unsampled areas are, on average, hotter or colder than the sampled areas, that will be a source of error in the final reult.

This is not to say that measurement is valueless, but one has to remember that a reported value is only an approximation of the “real” value.  The “real” value will generally be some value close to the reported value.  How close depends on how accurate the individual measurement are, how well the sampling matches the distribution of actual temperatures, and so on.  And any reported change in temperature that falls within that error margin is meaningless.  It could be no more than that your error fell on one side of “real” this time and fell on the other side the other time.

Third:  What is the cause of the temperature rise.

And things get still fuzzier here.  The conventional answer is that the rise of industrialization, with the burning of fossil fuels, releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere traps more heat causing temperatures to rise.

That’s the claim any way.  And people can show a correlation, certainly. (Although if you want to look at correlations, go look at that first picture up above.) The problem is that correlation does not, in and of itself, mean causation.  If you keep looking, there are all sorts of spurious correlations out there. I especially like this one:

chart

Stop Nick Cage before more people drown!

How do you tell the difference between a spurious correlation and a real causation?  Well, the late Richard Feynman gave the answer to that in his lectures, in this case in how to discover a new law of nature.  It’s a three step process:

  • You guess at what the actual relationship is so that you can express it mathematically. (For instance building a computer model of what you think is happening.)
  • You calculate what must happen if your guess is correct. (Running your computer model does this)
  • You then compare the results of your calculation to experiment/observation. (Say, you generated a computer model using 20th century temperature and CO2 level numbers, see if what it predicts for the 21st matches what has happened so far.  Oh, and just to be safe, run it backwards and see if it retroactively “predicts” what happened in the 19th century.  In any case, you must run it against new data, not data that was used to create the model in the first place–that would simply be an exercise in how good your curve fitting was.)

And in the end, if the results of your calculations do not match experiment/observation within measurement error then your guess was wrong.  It doesn’t matter how smart you are.  It doesn’t matter how “qualified” you are.  It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, or how much “sense” it makes, or how “intuitive” it is.  It’s wrong.

Fourth, what are the consequences of the temperature rise?

This, I think, is where it breaks down.  It seems that “global warming”/”Climate change” has become an excuse for every alarmist to point to every dire thing they can predict.

And it’s always dire things.  Nobody ever suggests that, say, longer growing seasons could lead to improved food production or expanded range for tropical and semitropical species–many of which are threatened or endangered because of other reasons.

And they don’t seem to have any restraint.  They also don’t seem to let the fact that they’ve been fairly consistently wrong (“ice free arctic by 2013” being one example).  If you throw out enough “predictions” of enough different things some will happen by sheer chance.

And if you ignore the cases where you’re wrong?  Well, see that bit where Feynman explained how to find a new law of nature.

What mostly happens, though is that something unpleasant happens–a destructive storm, colder than normal weather, hotter than normal weather, excessive rain, drought, pretty much anything “Unusual” (and there’s always something unusual somewhere–the world is a big place)–people point and say “see? Climate change.”

This, my friends, is a classic example of the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy, where the guy shoots at a wall, then draws the target around where the bullet hit with the bullet hole right in the center then calls everyone over to show them what a great shot he is.

In the end, the “climate change” thing looks a lot like every other set of “environmental doom” predictions dating back to Malthus that have consistently failed to materialize.  They remained nothing but the occasional oddity until folk learned that they could use the predictions for political gain, that they could use them to evoke fear sufficient to stampede people into given the doomsayer’s cause greater political power.

It’s a modern day witch hunt, the rousing of the masses in pursuit of heretics, with a new clergy calling themselves “scientists” (while missing that key element of science:  if your theory doesn’t match reality, then it’s the theory that’s wrong, not reality).  Which, I suppose, makes me a modern day heretic.

Are those torches I smell?

 

Value

People talk about “value” and what something is “worth” all the time.  It’s a deceptively simple concept and yet one that is so often misunderstood.

The first thing that one needs to understand about value is that it is subjective.  It’s different for everyone.  Let me give an example.

Once upon a time, when I was able to eat fruits freely (Can’t now.  Diabeted, dontcha know.) if I had an apple and someone offered me a grape in trade I’d think they were joking.  After all, an apple is worth much more than a grape, right?  Offer two grapes?  Same thing.  Three?  Same.  However at some point, at some number of grapes, I would be willing to make the trade.  That collection of grapes would be worth more than the one apple.  Presumably, there would be some number of grapes, possibly including a fractional grape, where I would be utterly indifferent about making the trade.  I would be equally pleased whether I had the one apple, or the handful of grapes.

That would be the case where the grapes and the apple had equal value.

If someone else liked grapes less than I do, or liked apples more, he would only be willing to trade his apple for more grapes.  In that case, for him, the apple was “worth” more grapes than it would be for me.

One might ask, which of us is right?  Who’s “value” of the grapes is the correct value?  The answer is “both of us”. His value is right for him.  Mine is right for me.  Now, this doesn’t mean that the person with grapes to offer will get fewer from me than from him.  We’ll get to that in a bit.

So, we’ve established that different people can have different “values”.  In this case, using grapes as a measure of value, I value the apples more highly than the other guy.  But there’s another factor.  How much I’ll value an apple will depend on how many apples I have.  If I have a hundred apples, I would be willing to trade that hundredth one for fewer grapes.  After all, I’ve still got 99 apples after the trade.  That hundredth apple has less value to me than if I only had one.

The other side, of course, is the guy with the grapes also has a value assessment.  If I, for instance, would be willing to trade one apple for ten grapes and the other guy would be willing to trade one apple for sixteen grapes (he really loves grapes) and the guy with the grapes wants one apple for 14 grapes (he likes grapes more than me, but not as much as the other guy) the grape guy and me could make a trade for, say, 12 grapes for one apple.

So what’s the result of that.  The other apple guy doesn’t make the trade.  He’s not going to give up 16 grapes worth (as he sees it) of apple for 14 grapes.  He would lose value.  The grape guy an me, however?  I get 12 grapes for an apple which I value at 10 grapes.  I come out two grapes ahead in the transaction.  The grape guy?  He gets an apple he values at 14 grapes only for two grapes.  He comes out two grapes of value ahead as well.

This is that happens in voluntary transactions:  the transaction only happens if both parties, by their own values, see themselves as gaining value.  It’s the very definition of a “win-win” transaction.

Of course there are more than just two people with apples and one person with grapes.  There are lots of people with grapes to sell and lots of people with apples who want grapes.  This is where “market price” comes in.  A person may assign a particular value to something–like I assigned 10 grapes to an apple. But they’d be more than willing to accept more if offered–like that deal of 12 grapes for the apple.

So, if you take all the people who have grapes and sort them in increasing order of how many grapes they’d be willing to trade for an apple (and note how many grapes each has to trade).  And you take all the people who would trade apples for grapes and how many grapes they would accept for apples (again noting how many apples they have to trade) then look at what happens as the grapes to apple price changes.

At a high value of grapes (few grapes for one apple), anyone who would accept an apple at that price or higher will want to make the trade.  Thus, almost all the people with grapes would be willing to trade.  On the apple side only those willing to make the trade at that price or lower will be willing.  Thus very few people with apples would be willing to trade at that price.  The amount of grapes supplied at that price is far outstripped by the number demanded.  On the flip side, the number of apples supplied at that price far is far outstripped by the number demanded.  That’s what economists call a surplus of grapes (or a shortage of apples).

The result of this is that the apple guys can insist on more grapes per apple.  Fewer people with grapes will be willing to trade at this new value, but more people with apples will be willing to make the trade.  Fewer grapes supplied.  More apples demanded.

At some value of grapes to the apple the number of grapes supplied equals the number demanded, and likewise for apples.  This is the “market price.”  It is not some arbitrary decision made by a third party.  It has only secondary relationship with the amount of time and effort that goes into producing a good or service.  It is the result of every individuals decisions through a system of voluntary exchanges.  And it automatically changes as people’s values change.  If people decide they like grapes more and applies less, the grape guys won’t be able to sell some of their grapes at the current price.  The leftover (a surplus in economic terms) serves as in indicator that prices need to come down (or something needs to be done to raise the demand for grapes, or maybe grapes can be diverted to alternate uses–more jams, jellies, and wines perhaps?)

It is the operation of individual voluntary exchanges as part of a society that sets “value”.  No more.  And no less.

When the State Corrupts Rule of Law: A Blast from the Past

Our nation was founded on certain principles.  One of those principles was that the fundamental purpose of government is to secure fundamental, unalienable rights.  Yet, as so often happens, government is the largest threat to those rights.  I wrote the following after a particularly egregious example of that.


The Washington Post recently had an article about a State drug chemist (responsible for various drug tests) was not only a user of the drugs but had been falsifying drug test results which were instrumental in many peoples convictions and incarceration.

The article asks the question about whether the cases for which she provided evidence should be thrown out.

This shouldn’t even be a question.

(Bear with me for a minute, I’m going somewhere with this.) Some years back there was a column in one of the magazines for fans of comics “The Law is a Ass” by Bob Ingersoll, an attorney and public defender. In that column he dissected use of law in comics and along the way gave introductions to the history and reasons behind many of the things we take for granted in law now.
One of those things was exclusionary rules for evidence. This is actually of far more recent vintage than many people realize. AsBob Ingersoll wrote:

For well over one hundred years, the Fourth Amendment existed without the Exclusionary Rule, the rule which makes evidence taken during an unreasonable search and seizure inadmissible at trial. Basically, the amendment depended on the good faith of the government not to violate it for its enforcement. In much the same way–and with much of the same success–that Blanche DuBois depended on the kindness of strangers. Then, in 1914, the Supreme Court of the United States realized that not everyone scrupulously adhered to the Fourth Amendment. Abuses actually occurred. So did sunsets, but not as often.

The Supreme Court ruled that a right without a means to enforce it is no right at all. To remedy this, it enacted by judicial fiat the Exclusionary Rule, as a means of enforcing the Fourth Amendment.

The Exclusionary Rule says the government cannot be allowed to profit, when it breaks the rules with an unreasonable search, so any evidence seized can not be admitted. To use a somewhat simplistic analogy (I like simplistic analogies. If more law school professors used simplistic analogies, I might have passed a few more courses.), the Exclusionary Rule is like calling back a touchdown pass for a holding penalty. The scoring team would not have achieved its goal, but for the fact that it broke the rules. So, rather than allow it to prosper from cheating, the team is penalized by having the play nullified. The Exclusionary Rule was established to enforce compliance with the Fourth Amendment.

In 1961 the Supreme Court ruled that the Exclusionary Rule was applicable on the states through the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. Now, when state or local police conduct unreasonable searches and seizures, the evidence is not admissible at trial.

And that’s where we are here. These cases need to be thrown out to send a loud and clear message of “don’t do that” to prosecutors. And, yes, prohibition against double jeopardy should fully apply.  they cannot be allowed to succeed, to “benefit” from using such poisonous tactics.
The thing many people forget is that the most important aspect of “rule of law” is not punishing the guilty, but protecting the innocent. When people stop believing that their innocence will protect them from the law, that’s when rule of law collapses. That’s why “proof beyond a reasonable doubt”. That’s why prohibition against double jeopardy. That’s why we have trial by jury in the first place, why we have rules on discovery (where the defense gets to see the prosecution’s evidence), why we have all the procedures in place to protect the accused against the vastly greater might of the State.
And that’s why things like this are so very troubling. What it does to society dwarfs even the horrible injustice to the individual falsely convicted on falsified evidence.  It undermines the very concept of rule of law.

On This Day: Lee Surrenders

I have in the past expressed some mixed feelings on the American Civil War.  While I consider slavery deplorable, I do think the issue was handled poorly.  On the one hand, it would seem from a strict reading of the Constitution, particularly the Tenth Amendment, would seem to indicate that secession was within the States’ rights.   As the Tenth says:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Without language expressly permitting the Federal Government to retain a State against its will or prohibiting States from leaving the union it would seem that leaving the Union would be a power “reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”  Generally speaking, when people make arguments that there was no right to secede, the arguments focus on why they think it should be the case and not on where the Constitution gives the Federal government the power to hold a State against its will or prohibiting a State from leaving.

On the other hand, the actual start of hostilities was when the South fired on the Union held Fort Sumter.  The usual argument by folk arguing the South’s side is that the Federal government should have left Fort Sumter to South Carolina since it was “their land.”

Well, perhaps.  But it was Federally owned as a fort well before the secession.  South Carolina individually, or the Confederate States as a group deciding to just confiscate it is no more morally valid than confiscating private property simply because you don’t like who the owners are.  If you complain about third world countries “nationalizing” businesses after foreigners brought in the resources and experience to develop them then apply that same logic to Fort Sumter.  They basically used force of arms to take it from its legal owners.

With that, then, the war was inevitable.  I would have preferred a recognition that secession was a valid States’ Right but that the attack on Fort Sumter amounted to a declaration of war and the “Civil War” then being a war of conquest. (Such wars were still quite fashionable at the time, whatever we may think of them today.) But, that isn’t the way it played out.  And the result is the assumption that States do not have the right to secede.

From April 12, 1861 to April 9, 1865, four bloody years almost to the day, forces of the Union and the Confederacy fought.  Lee, hoping to recover supplies at Appomatix Courthouse and continue the fight but Grant managed to get ahead of him and he found himself surrounded. After an unsuccessful attempt to break out, Lee requested a meeting with Grant at which he surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia.

This did not mean the fighting was over.  Other battles would be fought over the next few months (with the CSS Shenandoah finally surrendering on November 6) and it would not be until August 20, 1866 before President Andrew Johnson signed a proclamation declaring the war over.

Thus ended the bloodiest war in American history, leaving 620,000 Americans dead in its wake, almost as many as all other of America’s conflicts combined.