Friday, December 31, 2010

Of Decades, Centuries, and Millennia

Tomorrow begins a new decade.  This means that the new century and millennium began on January 1, 2001.

Folklore has it that it began on January 1, 2000.  Folklore is very stubborn.

Since there was no year “0” the first year of the first A.D. millennium (only known looking back, of course – but as far as dates are concerned) was A.D. 1.  The first decade of the first millennium was thus A.D. 1 – A.D. 10 inclusive.

From that you can figure out the rest.

The wikepidea comment that “The 2000s was the previous decade that started on January 1, 2000 and ended on December 31, 2009” is wrong.  If that were the case, then the very first decade of the first A.D. millennium would have had only nine years.

Thus, tomorrow, a new decade begins.  In the grand scheme of things this probably doesn’t matter much.  But I thought something trivial might be good on the last day of the first decade of the first century of the third A.D. millennium.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Should We Execute Michael Vick?

from:  The Daily Caller

Tucker Carlson, editor in chief of The Daily Caller, is making headlines after offering his opinion Tuesday night that Michael Vick should have been executed after being convicted of torturing and killing dogs.

Carlson made the comments while hosting Hannity on the FOX News Channel. “Michael Vick killed dogs, and he did in a heartless and cruel way, and I think personally he should have been executed for that.”

Read more:

Kent comments:

It is wonderful to love your pets.  It is also wrong to torture animals.  But Tucker Carlson must be crazy.

Many, many people in the world today, especially Christians (and I think Carlson claims to be one) often need to take a deep breath and repeat to themselves, “Animals are animals, and people are people.”  While that bit of truism is almost unworthy of statement, many people need it just for emphasis.

Animals do not bear the image of God.  So even if someone killed all the dogs in the world, he would not be worthy of death, to use a Biblical phrase.  It would be a tragedy, but it would not be murder.  It could not, in terms of Christian theology, be murder.

Again, just because so many seem so easily to forget:  animals are not people.  Write that down and post it on your refrigerator.  Contemplate the ramifications of that statement as you reach for some leftover pot roast.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

All I Want for Christmas is Liberty


“No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session. “ –Judge Gideon Tucker, 1866

Kent comments:

One does not have to be an anarchist to think this is generally the case.  This is especially so in our time and place.  There is so much ‘law’ that applies to us that it is impossible to begin to know it, let alone follow it – even if we so desired.  So when more law is made, it simply aggravates the now unavoidable problem of our necessary disregard for the law.  The mere practical problem of its sheer quantity makes this the case.

There is a principle of diminishing returns for law-making if the goal of law-making is the creation and maintenance of ordered liberty.  As the quantity of laws increase, the effect of law very quickly and necessarily moves from the protection of individual liberty to the destruction of individual liberty.  So when laws are being made, liberty is being decreased.

Unfortunately, the decrease of liberty is the stated goal of many today.  For these people, legislatures making laws is the best means to their ends.

Before he became somewhat nutty, Barry Goldwater said something about this that bears repeating:

I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel old ones that do violence to the Constitution, or that have failed their purpose, or that impose on the people an unwarranted financial burden. I will not attempt to discover whether legislation is "needed" before I have first determined whether it is constitutionally permissible. And if I should later be attacked for neglecting my constituents' "interests," I shall reply that I was informed that their main interest is liberty and that in that cause I am doing the very best I can.

  • The Conscience of A Conservative (1960), p. 1

Here’s what I’m wishing for this Christmas season:  more people who, loving liberty, think like this.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Pro Jennifer

December 3, 2010

A Hard Case---Are FIRE and NAS Wrong about Jennifer Keeton?

By KC Johnson

Hard cases make bad law. Nowhere is that legal maxim clearer than the case of former Augusta State counseling student Jennifer Keeton, who was removed from the counseling program because of her rather extreme anti-gay views. A lower-court judge upheld the university's actions.FIRE and NAS have filed a powerful amicus brief, penned by Eugene Volokh, spelling out the potentially damaging---extremely damaging---effects if this decision is upheld. At the same time, however, the evidence presented in the case strongly suggests that Keeton doesn't belong as a counselor.

Kent comments:

This article comes from Minding the Campus.  I highly recommend this group for those who want to keep up with the campus climate around our country.  FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) is a group that is often desperately needed on campuses around the country.  So much for introductions.

If you continue reading the article (well worth your time) you will see that KC Johnson generally supports what FIRE is doing in this case, but hopes that the student in question, Jennifer Keeton, never becomes a counselor.  The heart of why Johnson thinks Keeton should never be a counselor is this:

Keeton . . . stated that she would put her religious beliefs ahead of her clients' well-being. She told one student that in any counseling session with a gay or lesbian client, she would tell her client that "their behavior is morally wrong, and then help the client 'change' that behavior." If the prospective client didn't go along, Keeton said she would recommend "conversion" therapy.

I fail to see why this should be considered a banishable offense, assuming ‘conversion therapy’ does not involve electric shock or its equivalent.  Just why is it that a homosexual client should be shielded from the very relevant moral information that homosexual behavior is wrong?  My best guess is that this is because so many people are now unwilling to admit that it is wrong.  But it is wrong, and it is not unreasonable to think that anyone who makes a habit of practicing a serious moral evil might not suffer from that practice.  And it is not unreasonable even to expect a good counselor to point that out somewhere along the way.

Jennifer Keeton’s religious beliefs are in fact not something that could be ‘put ahead’ of the well-being of her homosexual clients.  Her religious beliefs, when applied to her clients, would be in the best interests of her clients!

I an thankful that people like Jennifer Keeton are willing to become counselors.  I am thankful that groups like FIRE are around to help people like Jennifer.  But knowing what I do about universities, I am not surprised that Jennifer is being, in essence, persecuted by a university.  It just what they now, regretfully, do.  (Read more about Keeton’s case here.)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

What the Rabbi Said

What Christmas Can Teach Us about Being Jewish

Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz
Thursday, December 16, 2010

Jews don’t celebrate Christmas, but it feels like everyone else does. And this “December Dilemma” forces us, as Jews living in a Christian country, to confront some difficult questions.

Kent comments:

This article is not long – you should have a look.  It is filled with interesting things.  I am going to quote some of these and comment.

“I can remember my own children at a young age asking me, in their own words, ‘why did the Jews reject Christianity?’”

The rabbi’s only answer to this intriguing question is that, while at one time “many rabbinic thinkers considered the Christian Trinity to be idol worship” during the middle ages Jewish teachers “eventually accepted Christianity as a monotheistic religion.”

I wish the rabbi had said more about this.  Jesus was, after all, Jewish.  I think that, in the end, the answer why the Jews rejected Christianity is that they rejected Jesus’ claims to be the Messiah, the Son of God.  But the children’s question is a bit loaded.  Not all of “the Jews” rejected Christianity, just some.  The gospels make this very clear.  I’m very thankful that some of the Jews – for example, the Apostles – did NOT reject Christianity.

“December Dilemma is not just about theology. Jews at Christmas feel like an uninvited guest at a party, the man stuck outside in the cold pressing his face against the window.”

In fact, rabbi, you are very much invited to Christmas in its very best sense.  We would all love for you to come into the Christ house.  It’s what He wanted and wants.  You are “stuck” outside only in the sense that you refuse to come in.  Are you just a bit embarrassed to admit that you have been invited to this party for many years, but have always refused to show up?  If you decide to come in, you are most welcome.  Feel free to bring Hanukkah with you, if you wish.  It sounds like fun.

“This is what Christmas can teach us about being Jewish. During the holiday season, Jews can dedicate themselves to helping others . . .”

In the end, it is amazing how much this sounds like what a lot of Christian preachers say.  Does it seem like no one is listening to you?  Then go do some good deeds.

Good deeds are, by definition, good.  But they will never solve what are basically theological issues.  Good deeds are to be done precisely because theological issues have been settled.

“How will Jews maintain their identity in the face of a seductive and embracing culture? Ironically, a religious tradition that has heroically triumphed over persecution and oppression is finding it ever more difficult to overcome acceptance and tolerance.”

Is it not intriguing that the rabbi sees our culture as “seducing” Jews with Christianity?  Is he really talking about our culture?!?

After my initial shock at that idea, on further reflection I will admit that he could have a point.  Yes, our culture and its version of Christmas the cultural holiday is diluted by many to the point of being barely Christian at all.  But it is also the case that the culture in which we live bears the after-shocks, faint as they have perhaps now become, of that earth-quaking event that was the birth of Jesus the Christ.  I suppose one could be influenced by such an event and its consequences, no matter how distant they have become.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Digital Damnation?

from The New York Times

November 21, 2010

Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction


REDWOOD CITY, Calif. — On the eve of a pivotal academic year in Vishal Singh’s life, he faces a stark choice on his bedroom desk: book or computer?

By all rights, Vishal, a bright 17-year-old, should already have finished the book, Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle,” his summer reading assignment. But he has managed 43 pages in two months.

He typically favors Facebook, YouTube and making digital videos. That is the case this August afternoon. Bypassing Vonnegut, he clicks over to YouTube, meaning that tomorrow he will enter his senior year of high school hoping to see an improvement in his grades, but without having completed his only summer homework.

On YouTube, “you can get a whole story in six minutes,” he explains. “A book takes so long. I prefer the immediate gratification.”

Students have always faced distractions and time-wasters. But computers and cellphones, and the constant stream of stimuli they offer, pose a profound new challenge to focusing and learning.

Researchers say the lure of these technologies, while it affects adults too, is particularly powerful for young people. The risk, they say, is that developing brains can become more easily habituated than adult brains to constantly switching tasks — and less able to sustain attention.

“Their brains are rewarded not for staying on task but for jumping to the next thing,” said Michael Rich, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and executive director of the Center on Media and Child Health in Boston. And the effects could linger: “The worry is we’re raising a generation of kids in front of screens whose brains are going to be wired differently.”

Kent comments:

This article goes on to detail the problems created by immersion in the world of digital devices.  I am not stupid enough to think that we can somehow retreat from the digital world – especially as I sit here composing this at my computer keyboard, preparing to publish it on my blog, Facebook, and Twitter!  But Christians need to give some serious thought to this, both as individuals who might be raising families we hope will influence Children toward the Christian faith, and as congregations of believers who gather together to teach and admonish one another in the Christian faith.

First, consider how much less likely one is to understand the Christian faith if one develops a ‘digital attention span.’  Christianity is not simple, as much as pop theology likes to say it is.  It is very deep.  It involves concepts, and disciplines, that require careful, sustained attention.  If your attention span is only 3-5 minutes, while I won’t say you will never be a Christian, it is almost certain that you will never understand the Christian faith at a meaningful level.  Those who never swim deeply in the faith are very likely to be left ‘high and dry’ at some point in their lives.  If the digital world tends to wire brains in a way that inhibits the understanding of the Christian faith (and many other important things, for that matter) then we Christians had better be wary of its unbridled use.

Next, consider how the church has often approached technology – like the school principle mentioned later in the article referred to above, we pander to it.  We think we can get people’s attention by immersing the church (no pun intended) in the digital world.  The problem is that the digital world tends to destroy people’s attention.

I one time attended a small, new, thought-they-were-hip church with about 25 people in attendance.  Before the sermon, the (very young) minister announced that if you had questions about the sermon, you should text those questions to his number (which he announced) and after the sermon he would spend some time in response.  I kept wondering why he couldn’t just allow the people in that very small group to ask the questions aloud!  We are all here, face-to-face, but we can’t just talk?  (‘Hip’ sometimes seems to mean ‘just stupid.’)

We – meaning most church people – tend to assume that it is always better to project everything during our church meetings.  Why is it better?  Do we think it makes church things easier?  Why do we think such things should be easy?

We project the words to the songs we sing, but never the musical score.  Do we lose anything important when people at churches never see musical notation?  Do we even think about things like that, or do we simply allow technology to dictate what we do at church?

Can you really ‘tweet’ the gospel?  Should we want to, even if we could?

There is probably no end to these kinds of questions, but I think we should at least be asking some of them, some of the time.  We should not just assume digital is better, just because it is hot and hip – or so our culture tells us.

This doesn’t mean we should never use technology.  But it appears that technology is not ‘neutral’ in regard to what it does to messages we convey with it.  So perhaps it is like this:  automobiles are wonderful things, but that does not mean we should never walk anywhere, even places to which we could drive.  Sometimes the walk can be good for us.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Rational Expectations

Yes, it’s Christmas time once again.  It’s the time when we turn our attention to . . . this year, government spending and tax rates.  (Bah, Humbug!)

Apart from all the political deal-making over all this, there are some are a few things everyone involved, and even those just thinking about it, should think about.  These are simple, unavoidable facts of the human condition.

First, if you want more of something, offer people money to do it or to keep doing it.  For example, if you want people to become or remain unemployed, pay them to do so.  If you do this, you can be sure to increase unemployment.  No matter how nice you think it is for the government to help people in this way, only the irrational (and I know there are plenty of those) will deny this.

For another example, if people agree to give the government more money, you must expect to get more government.  Perhaps you think that is a good thing, perhaps you think it is a bad thing, but don’t be so silly to expect otherwise.  As an aside, since government works by coercion, expect more coercion when you agree to give more money for government.

Here is another general principle in this regard:  if you want less of something, tax it.  (That is, penalize it fiscally.)  If you want less business, tax it more.  If you want more business, tax it less.  Whichever way you go, remember that business (in its most general sense) is the main place you get jobs.  So if you decide to tax business more, expect fewer employment opportunities for people.

Another example of this:  if you want people to have more income, tax income less.  If you want people to have less income, tax income more.  Obviously, if you take taxes out of income, it will be less by that amount.  But that is not what I am talking about here.  Far beyond that, if you tax income more, people will generally put out less effort to create income for themselves.  If you tax income less, people will be more fiscally motivated to create (in all sorts of ways) more income for themselves.

Now, this might seem obvious to most people, and it should be.  But keep this in mind when you hear politicians and pundits talking about government taxing and spending.  Don’t allow political talking heads to get away with (at least in your mind) statements like this:  “I am concerned about the rising unemployment rate, so I favor extending unemployment benefits.”  That is irrational.  If you truly favored less unemployment, you would not favor paying people to be unemployed.

Here is another “don’t let them get away with it” example:  “I am very concerned about our declining economy.  The government needs more money to deal with all the problems of a declining economy, so we need to tax businesses more to get that money.”  That, too, is irrational.  If you tax business activity more, expect less of it.

May all your expectations be rational!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Christmas Contentions

In one of the more annoying articles I have seen lately at Christianity Today, Ted Olson complains about the people he has seen insisting that everyone say, “Merry Christmas” rather than “Happy Holidays.”  Ted is upset by those who are on the defensive in the “war on Christmas.”

If you think about the origin of the word, the secularists should object to “Happy Holidays” too, since a “holiday” was once a “holy day.”  But perhaps sometimes what you don’t know can’t bother you quite as much.

Ted refers to a bumper sticker which reads “Merry Christmas! An American Tradition” and remarks snidely, “I don't remember the American part of the Christmas story, but I haven't re-read Luke 2 yet this year.”  I suppose there are those who get a bit too feisty about this Christmas business.  But there is something American about Christmas, or better, something Christmas about America.  The first immigration group to these shores was mostly Protestant, and the second was Roman Catholic.  When Christmas first started becoming the big deal it is today, it is easy to see why a country populated by these two groups might have a natural affinity for such a “holy day” – yes, even if none of this is mentioned in Luke 2, Ted.

But Ted tries to get his main anti-Christmas warrior punch from a couple of Bible-related points.  The first is that Hanukkah celebrates the Jews fighting off the attempts of Antiochus IV to force Greek culture on the Jews.

The second in that Jesus, in an incident near “Hanukkah time” in His day, had a dispute with the Jews, but then “escaped” (really?) rather than “forcing the issue.”  This is supposed to teach us that “To insist that non-Christians say ‘Merry Christmas’ instead of ‘Happy Holidays’ runs against the lessons of both Hanukkah stories.”

Even if some of the “Christmas warriors” are a bit over-zealous, they sometimes make a good point.  That point is not to force anyone not so inclined to say “Merry Christmas.”  It is, rather, to remind those that make a point of avoiding the Christ of Christmas that, without Him, there is no background or reason to have a “holy day” or in modern terms, a holiday.

That is, of course, unless you are Jewish and you are celebrating Hanukkah.  But even that is still “religious” and it should still bother the secularists.

If nothing else, Christmas might just remind even the most hardened secularist that long ago, something very significant happened, the echoes of which cause people to celebrate.  Even when that cause is vague or distorted in some people’s minds, it is present.  Even through much distortion, it retains the power to delight or annoy based on who and what you are.  It is this power, I think, which can make this seem like a war.