Class Warfare Blog

April 21, 2017

Stick a Fork in It

Filed under: History,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:49 am
Tags: , ,

I commented recently that the three pillars of Christianity are the scriptures, the prophecies, and the miracles. Without all three, you have a two-legged stool at best, but still one that falls over. There is no miracle greater than the resurrection of Jesus and many think that without it alone, there is no Christianity. Well a recent comment started me thinking. The comment was about the last line in the Gospel of Mark.

Most scholars consider Mark to be the first gospel written, sometime around 70 CE. This means that it was written almost forty years after the events it purports to describe. Prior to this, it is claimed that Christianity was supported by various oral accounts and the letters of Paul, etc.

The Creationists are going to apoplexy but these gospels serve somewhat the same purpose as scientific theories do for science. They provide a coherent narrative, binding together many “facts” that separately might not appear to be conjoined. (It’s just a theory, Creationists. Were you there?)

So, “Mark” was written to provide an overarching narrative that binds together many oral and supposedly written tidbits into a message. So, every gospel has a point (or more), and everything in a gospel has a point, a reason for being there.

The original Mark had no virgin birth story or any childhood stories and had the shortest resurrection narrative. Here that latter story is, full length (thanks to the NET Bible):

The Resurrection
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought aromatic spices so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, at sunrise, they went to the tomb. They had been asking each other, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled back. Then as they went into the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has been raised! He is not here. Look, there is the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples, even Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.” Then they went out and ran from the tomb, for terror and bewilderment had seized them. And they said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

Obviously this is a translation. But the last sentence is clear: “And they said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”

Why would Mark make this statement? This is clearly fiction because if the women “said nothing to anyone” how did Mark hear the story to relay it? Mark made this story up, so why did he make this last statement up? The only reason that makes sense is: it was there to explain why there was no resurrection in the oral tradition!

Now before you start quoting other writings, please realize that they were written later than Mark. And Mark was “quoted” (aka lifted) heavily in Matthew and Luke. The resurrection stories in those gospels are even more detailed, more involved. These were “new, improved” gospels. I suggest that once the impact of the resurrection story was seen, people piled on that bandwagon.

If there were no Jesus resurrection stories prior to Mark, there had to be an explanation, and Mark supplies one “because they were afraid.” But, think about it. “A young man dressed in a white robe” how rare was white in a land with no laundries, detergents, etc. Clearly an ignorant woman of the time would consider this person to be a holy messenger. Consider the message! This is “Good News.” (The word gospel means “good news.”) Did not Jesus just raise Lazarus from the dead, proving he could do such a thing? (Oh, that didn’t happen until John wrote about it.) Shouldn’t they not run to tell all of the Jesus people the good news. Should this not spread like wild fire? Doesn’t Jesus hang around for 40 days to see and be seen? Oh, that doesn’t happen until Acts of the Apostles is written 50+ years after Mark. The other gospels have him around for less than a handful of days.

Can you imagine the uproar? What would the Romans do? Crucify him again? People would flock by the thousands to see the resurrected Jesus, but no. None of that happened (until Acts “filled in the blanks”).

Mark is clearly trying to explain why there was no oral tradition of Jesus being resurrected. Can you imagine a secret that well kept? In a society in which gossip is a major source of social control?

So, if the resurrection happened, it didn’t happen out in the open for anyone to see. And if no one saw it, and it is the critical pillar supporting a new religion, one has to ask why?

And can you imagine the early Christians preaching to Jews, telling them Jesus was resurrected. Would not their response be “So produce this man. Where is he?” Oh, well, he isn’t here now, he left to join his father in Heaven. Right. Having Jesus make guest appearances would have been very, very good for his mission. Consider the meeting with Thomas, magnified a thousandfold. But, that didn’t happen.

One has to ask why?

April 20, 2017

Why Conservatives Used to Fear Big Government and Now Only Pretend To

I used to believe that Conservatives opposed government because government was the only social institution that had the standing to oppose anything they wanted to do. I thought the Party of Big Business was just taking care of business.

But I was wrong and I have to apologize to those previous Conservatives. It is not as simple as I made it out to. So, if there are any Conservatives out there reading this, I apologize for underestimating you.

Here’s what I think the situation is now.

You Know Who

Back in the late 1800’s, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in Democracy in America:
I seek to trace the novel features under which despotism may appear in the world. The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest — his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind ; as for the rest of his fellow-citizens, he is close to them, but he sees them not — he touches them, but he feels them not ; he exists but in himself and for himself alone ; and if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country. Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications, and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent, if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood ; but it seeks on the contrary to keep them in perpetual childhood : it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness: it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances — what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living? Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent ; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range, and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things : it has predisposed men to endure them, and oftentimes to look on them as benefits.

After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp, and fashioned them at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided: men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting : such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence ; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to be nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.

Sorry for the length of that quote but I think the vision is important, and obviously it was had a long time ago and probably before de Tocqueville. In the 1800’s the American experiment was still quite an odd affair. People governing themselves with no king or emperor? Preposterous. It took World War I to break the pattern of the divine rights of kings. But while Americans were afraid of despots taking over then as now, that is true fascism, de Tocqueville observed that it is quite possible that The Government Itself could become a substitute despot. And de Tocqueville was not alone.

Many Conservatives feared “Big Government” back in those days for that very reason, a good reason. And compared to the size of “government” now, it was puny back then. This anti-Big Government trope became a cornerstone of Conservative ideology that has lasted to this day—Do not let government grow to the point that our lives are ruled by it. So, the insistence that the Founders of the Constitution were small government advocates (most were not) came from there and a lot of other stuff.

But the New Deal, combined with the expansion of the federal government as a response to World War II drove the Conservatives a bit over the edge. A number of them decided that “if you can’t beat them, join them.” Instead of actually opposing big government, they decided that while the posturing would continue, the goal was the capture of the government and the running of the government for their ends into the future.

“So, while it looks like Conservatives fear Big Government,
they do not really fear it any more.
They have accepted that it is despotic,
that they couldn’t defeat it, but they could co-opt it.”

So, while it appears that Conservatives oppose “Big Government” only because it is the only social institution left that can oppose the will of Big Business, that is only a scrim, a stage setting. The monied interests (rich individuals and corporations) have already purchased our governments (sufficient of them in number to constitute a majority). They own the GOP. They have purchased most of the Democrats. They own the Courts. Now “shrinking of the government” is only a guise for the rubes. The drive to “reduce the amount of government regulation” (cue the voice of Foghorn Leghorn) is not to “reduce the size of government,” it is to get government out of business pockets. The drive to have tax reform is not to “reduce the size of government” but to cut taxes on the rich, so they will have even more money to buy governmental interests.

They are now officially, but not openly, okay with big government. (Most people didn’t notice that under the last six presidents, the government grew more under Republicans than Democrats.) Now with regard to government, it is the more the merrier, as long as it address their needs. Can you imaging the howling if the federal government picked out one business, say FedEx, to “defund” and to pull support from as they have done with Planned Parenthood? The howls could be heard on the Moon. But Planned Parenthood? It is okay for the federal government to attack it … now. You will see more of this.

So, while it looks like Conservatives fear Big Government, they do not really fear it any more. They have accepted that it is despotic, that they couldn’t defeat it, but they could co-opt it.

Until we, The People, deal with the oligarchs and roll back despotic government, it will continue to hang like ripe fruit in front of the eyes of rich men and corporations who know what to do with it. And it is for sale, no matter what we might wish.

April 18, 2017

I Am Completely Gobsmacked (An Easter Special!)

I do not understand why the major Churches are not protesting the Finding Jesus series on CNN. The only reasons I could come up with is they do not know it exists or they are corrupt to their core. I can’t imagine they believe the things being said on that show.

In the latest episode of this travesty of a series we are treated to the story of Lazarus. This is described as “the ultimate miracle of Jesus’ mission” by one of the usual talking heads. There are relics in the episode, of course, to submit to testing. In this case, we are told that a church in Cyprus has in its possession some of the very bones of said Lazarus. To utilize the “latest scientific techniques” these relics are to be tested. Since you, by now, know that the pattern of this show is to use any scientific results as a tease to keep you watching, they do not announce the results until minute 58 of the one-hour show. The test was a C-14 determination of the age of some wooden shards that were found in the sarcophagus along with what they believe are Lazarus’s bones. The relics, of course, were not made available for testing. We are told that the wood, shown being handled by naked skin over and over (an absolute no-no for things to be dated by C-14 as this will add modern carbon to the sample), is juniper wood, native to Cyprus and known to be used for coffins and the like. So, blah, blah, blah, tease, tease, tease and the date? The wood was harvested in the last 200-300 years, so it is “modern.”

Jesus was a stud, don’t you know. Lazarus was, too. They were best bros!

Every episode I have seen so far has a similar pattern. And if you compare this pattern with how scientists communicate, you will find a complete contrast. First of all a scientist will not report negative findings, unless it is part of a larger investigation. First they will tell you what their findings were, they will tell you how they obtained them (in enough detail you could verify their work), and then they would go on to discussing what they might mean once everyone is in possession of the facts. In this series, the discussion takes place ad nauseum and the facts are dropped in when you aren’t paying attention, usually at the very end.

So, where to start? The revivification of Lazarus is “the ultimate miracle of Jesus’ mission”? Well, that is interesting because there was no mention of it in the Gospel of Mark. No mention in it in the Gospel of Matthew. No mention of it in the Gospel of Luke. Only in the Gospel of John are we treated to this powerful story. (To their credit, they mention this.) The Gospel of John is put anywhere from roughly 100 CE to 125 CE by most scholars. This puts it almost 100 years after the events being described and at least 25-50 years after Mark was in circulation and 10-35 years after Matthew and Luke. Some argue John came first; others much later; I don’t want to get into that. While there is a great deal in common between the other three gospels (some of it because of direct copying) there is little in John that is common with the other three. This is explained away by many as “The Johannine narrative is indebted to oral and possibly written traditions that were transmitted from earlier decades.” The person who wrote that sentence had no idea, he was only speculating, wishfully speculating at that.

So, resurrecting Lazarus was “the ultimate miracle of Jesus’ mission” but failed to even be mentioned until two to three generations have passed from this most impactful of events. One wonders how such a story survives in the oral tradition and is neglected by the written tradition.

Please also consider that there are three pillars of Christianity: one is the scriptures, the other is prophecies, and the third is the miracles. It is said that were any of these three to fail, the whole edifice would crumble. So, this is a big fucking deal. But was the Lazarus miracle all made up? Was it a forgery? Good question. Don’t look at this for answers.

Throughout this debacle of a TV show, the talking heads make the most astounding claims and statements. When Jesus is told that Lazarus, his “best friend” according to the story (they basically declared them to be He-bros.), Jesus dawdles and doesn’t come running. The talking heads ask “Why was Jesus delaying?” “Was it hesitation …?” Hello? All of the Christian religions believe that Jesus was God (and declared it a heresy that he received the holy spirit when he was baptized so he has been god for a long time). many claim Jesus was 100% man and 1005 god. If he was God, would he not know all that had happened and what would happen? One of the talking heads jumps in and offers “I think Jesus had mixed emotions. He seems to be waiting for word from on high.” From “on high”? From himself? My incredulous meter just cracked. No one seemed to mention the obvious: Jesus can’t do a big resurrection miracle if somebody isn’t dead.

So, as the story goes, Jesus finally winds his way to Lazarus’s place and is confronted by Lazarus’s sisters Mary and Martha. Jesus takes center stage and tells Martha the now famous speech “ I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live even though they died and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” The talking heads gush about what all this means! I would like to point out that this show is, in part, about Lazarus’s bones. You see … he lived and then died and then he lived … and then he died for good. And according to John, nobody loved Lazarus more than Jesus. So, if that is how he treats his friends …

In the re-enactment Jesus cries when he approaches the tomb of Lazarus. And then … and then … the Announcer, using his best “voice of god voice” says “ Jesus has shown his humanity, now he will show his divinity.” WTF? Where in scripture does it say that? This is stated as a fact, pure and simple! The re-enactors then re-animate Lazarus, but that was a fairly easy task as they did not kill the actor playing Lazarus.

And they are not done. After Jesus raises Lazarus, the announcer or one of the talking heads says that this action “would identify Jesus as the Messiah.” Nowhere in Jewish scripture is the Messiah identified as a miracle worker; the messiah is a military man, a political leader, a deliverer of the people from oppression by outsiders. This is why the Roman occupation produced so many messiahs. They were needed for the Israelites to be saved from the Romans. To prove that Jesus was the messiah, all he had to do is point his finger to the sky and curse all of the Roman soldiers living in that region and have them fall dead. Those are the credentials that will convince every Jew that Jesus was the Messiah. (If you are nor a fan of death and destruction and would want Jesus to earn his title as the Prince of Peace, he could cause all of them to lose their memories, to forget they were Roman soldiers. That would do the trick.) Get caught and being executed as a petty criminal is not how one establishes oneself as a messiah.

Of course, they have to whip through the rest of the Jesus story in short order to complete the context for the Lazarus story. And in doing that they make the statement “Jesus is betrayed by Judas …” Hello? Jesus wasn’t betrayed by Judas, Judas was proving himself to be at least Jesus’ second best friend (after Lazarus, I am sure now). If Jesus isn’t taken by the Romans and crucified so he can be resurrected, there is no Christianity. (Can you imagine Jesus wheezing his last breath as an old man say “But I am the Son of God, I tell you …”?) Judas is doing this task at the behest of Jesus, knowing he will incur the wrath of the ignorant fisher-folk who are the core of Jesus’ followers.

Of course, there is no such thing as an ultimate absurdity in these shows. We are treated to a talking head who says “I think it is wrong to only find value in a story if we can trace it back to some historical events … this story (of Lazarus) tells us about the willingness to lay down your life for a friend.” WTF? My incredulous meter just healed itself and then cracked even worse. Since it is a good story, nothing else matters? What? <sputter, sputter> … not when you are using that story as evidence for the existence of your god; it is not good enough and never will be. Plus who laid down his life for a friend? I wonder if she read the story?

Why, oh, why is this word hash of a Christian abomination not being protested by the major churches? Blasphemy right and left. Idiocy right and left. Over and over these people make the mistake historians are taught never to make: the introduction of present-day ideas and perspectives into depictions or interpretations of the past (presentism). They are taking conclusions from far after the period and applying them to first century Judea and Israel. At this point, stoning, which I suggested in my last post, is too good for these people. They need to be condemned to some vile and hideous torture. Maybe being forced to get all of their news through Fox, something awful like that.

The series is “Finding Jesus,” the subtitle is “Faith, Fact, Forgery” but they never seem to use the word forgery.

April 10, 2017

Running on Fumes

If you were expecting another Finding Jesus review this morning, I confess to running out of gas … but don’t worry, I recorded last night’s episode. The reason I ran out of gas is I binged on two History Channel programs, one called “God vs. Satan” and the other “Jesus: The Last 40 Days.” Apparently CNN and the History Channel are in a competition as to which channel can make Christians feel the best about their religious choice. This seems to be the early rounds of the world championships of religious pandering. (The History Channel has long since transformed itself into The Fake History Channel, so its place in this contest is earned.)

In “God vs. Satan” we are treated to a long, very long actually, diatribe on the epic battle that is shaping up between God and Satan. WTF? I must say straight off, that there are more than a few problems involved here … and they, of course, add many more. God is described as “all-powerful” or “omnipotent,” no? Can two supernatural entities share this title? Could there be another entity that was also all-powerful? In a word, no. If there is a tie in the World’s Strongest Man contest, then each is one of the world’s strongest men, but not the WSM. To be the WSM you must be stronger than all of the other competitors. To be all-powerful, you must be Number 1, not Number 1A. If there were another all-powerful entity, then there would be more than one god and there would be no monotheism, so this is not a trivial point.

So, how does one then handicap a contest between God and Satan. This one is simple, this is a little like predicting the outcome of a boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Rodney Allen Rippy. We are talking no contest here. Let me take just one instance: the “serpent” in the Garden of Eden is identified in this show and by others as being Satan. There is, of course, no evidence for this; it is just wishful thinking, not at all unusual for these shows. Now in the Genesis story the “serpent” royally screws up God’s plans (we are guessing here, the serpent could have been doing exactly what God wanted, we do not know) and because of that God strips his legs off, with a thought, and requires him to slither along the ground for the rest of all time. So, if this is Satan, he seems not to be able to lay a glove on God.

Also, uh, who created Satan? God did. Could God uncreate Satan? Yes, he is “all-powerful” which means there is nothing He cannot do. Then why will there be a final battle on a field outside Jerusalem between armies to determine the who will rule going forward God or Satan? If I were God, I would wait for Satan and his army to show up and detonate a thermonuclear device on his head, end of war.

Here are some of the breathless comments made during this “show:”
“The battle between good and evil has long intrigued scholars.”
“The epic battle between light and dark is upon us.”
“The cataclysmic end of the battle is just over the horizon.”
“Who will emerge the winner and what will it mean for the world?”
There’s more but, sheesh, these guys could give lessons in fear mongering to Republicans. Of course, they hired an narrator who has a voice of god in his repertoire, Avery Brooks (from Deep Space 9 to Armageddon!).

To their credit, they spilled the beans fairly early (they didn’t want a contradiction late in the program that could cancel out all of that expensive fear mongering). They pointed out what few people know, that the Hebrews were not monotheists at the beginning of the Bible accounts. The establishment of Yahweh as the sole and only God takes some time and quite a few books. (If this is news to you, go read the First Commandment. That commandment would be entirely unnecessary were there no other gods being worshiped. And to list something first is kind of a statement as to its importance, no?) But, as the show points out, if there is only One God, then He is responsible for all of the good in world and all of the bad. They state that “most people were a little uncomfortable with that.” God is supposed to be “all good,” so how can He even imagine something bad or … <drum roll> evil. So, Satan was invented and because any angel, fallen or otherwise, would be squashed like a bug in a confrontation with God, they had to pump up his resume. Over time, he just gets more and more powerful, until they reach a point that there will be a final battle between the two gods and the outcome is in doubt! (Pant, pant, pant….)

Now, if you, like me, find this quite silly, please realize that there are people taking political actions today that are based on this scenario being true. Much of the interest of American Protestants, say, in Jerusalem has less to do with the past than with what its role in the future will be. These people are investing time, effort, and a great deal of money trying to make this battle happen.

Of course, they also bring up the Book of Job, the book in which God and Satan are co-conspirators to ruin Job’s life. According to this show, “Satan is portrayed as an increasingly bold player in human affairs.” Right. Hello? Satan is a messenger boy, coming and going at God’s will in this book. Satan has to get God’s permission to do anything to Job and God proves himself a total asshat for not simply stating “I am all-knowing and I know Job’s heart and there is no doubt in Job, so Satan, go and take out the garbage, do something useful.”

They also do not point out that The Book of Job is last book in the Hebrew Bible (the OT books are re-ordered in Christian Bibles to create the illusion that the OT leads to the NT). The Book of Job being the last book of the Hebrew Bible basically tells Jews, they are on their own now, don’t expect any “hands on” help from God any more. Not a message that Christians want to hear.

Of course, they couldn’t address the End of Days without bringing in the Book of Revelations. This is the book written by John the Divine, consumer of hallucinogens/magic mushrooms/ergotamine, whatever. They get comments from: a Professor of Christian Bible, an Associate Professor of Religious Studies, the author of “Antichrist Rising,” a Professor of Religion, and an Imam from the Islamic Center of America along the way. These learned people talk about how the forty days in the wilderness so weakened Jesus that Satan could tempt him. So, Jesus was weakened by hunger? Not much of a god, being apparently the only one who needs to eat. And all Satan could do was “tempt” him? (Want some candy, little girl?) How about sticking a knife between his ribs, Satan? Be a mensch. But according to the narrative of this show “By taking on Jesus and therefore God, Satan had intensified their fight.” Really, Satan “took on” Jesus? with some high school taunting? And Jesus and God are not one? They are separate entities, is that what their narrative preaches? I think they had better watch out.

They wrap up this diatribe with comments like “Humanity prays for an end to evil.” Of course, believing in “good and evil” in the first place leads down silly paths like this, futile ones. But they end on a hopeful note with “For the true believer, there is comfort that it is all God’s plan.” WTF? Jesus riding a horse to battle at Har-Mageddon (aka Armageddon, yes, it is a place not an event), a battle with an uncertain outcome between good and evil, light and dark? One in which if Satan wins may result in demons eating the flesh off of our bones while we are still alive?  Sounds like the authors of the Bible got a little too close to Zoroastrianism and the mystery religions before they picked up their pens. If I were Jesus, I would ask for an F-16 at least.

The Pentagon has better plans than this one. And if these shows prove anything is that all of these “stories” including all of the “characters” in them, are creations of men. Any modern person expecting a final battle to involve gods riding horses … on the ground, for Pete’s sake, is more than a little deluded.

Oh, the show “Jesus: The Last 40 Days” was worse, far worse.

March 31, 2017

Finding Jesus … Holy Shit: Follow-up

CNN blurb for the series: Finding Jesus discovers fascinating new insights into the historical Jesus, utilizing the latest scientific techniques and archaeological research.

I recently posted regarding watching an episode of a CNN series called “Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, Forgery.” In this episode (S1, E9) the title of which is “The Childhood Home of Jesus” we were led to consider whether said home had actually been found. The sole line of evidence for this “discovery” was a reference in a 7th C. document about Nazareth which referred to two churches, one of which was still in existence, the other was lost. The other was reputedly built upon the ruins of Jesus’ family home!

An archeologist, Ken Dark, had been invited to view the ruins beneath the Sisters of Nazareth Convent which was in a building “said to be built upon the ruins of a church.” The examination of the catacombs under that building did indicate a former church being there but also there were “walls” within the walls indicating that the church might have been built upon the ruins of a house!

So the question got asked for the first time: “Was this the childhood home of Jesus of Nazareth?”

The motivation for the asking of this question is clear right off of the bat as a Jesuit cleric admits that if it were that house, then Jesus was not a fictional character, that “He led a real life.”

Whoa, quite a bit of validation there, I would say.

Let’s stop to consider if such an identification is possible. What they managed to prove so far is that a 7th C. document about Nazareth claimed a church was built upon what were claimed to be the ruins of Jesus’ family home. The authenticity of that document wasn’t claimed to have been corroborated, nor was any other documentation provided. But, what if a chain of documents leading back to the appropriate time were found, that could be authenticated, identified the site as that home, the home of an artisan named Joseph. Since that name was quite common, how could one verify one had the right one? Documents would not have included the names of spouses and children surely. There could have been two people with the same name, ten years apart, or twenty, or thirty that occupied the house. How would you know which was which?

If they found a message carved into the stone of the house’s original foundation that said : “This is the home of Yahushua bar Joseph.” Would that prove anything? The answer is always “no” because of the perfidy of human beings. If someone built a church on the foundation left of a house and that church got into financial trouble, could you not imagine someone carving that message into the stone, weathering it a bit, and then announcing the miracle of miracles, the discovery of Jesus’ childhood home, and reap a large number of new members to support that church.

Could you honestly say that a chain of documents could not be forged? (Such a chain is useless in any case as such documents were not made, let alone kept.)

My point is that the entire question is dishonest.

There is no possibility of identifying any common building from that long ago. Large, ornate public buildings might be identified from written descriptions. Other buildings might be identified from their structures as being a forge or a stable for horses or barracks for soldiers, but the home of a fairly ordinary person? Zero chance.

So, you have to ask yourself what the purpose of such a TV show is. What possible “new insights into the historical Jesus, utilizing the latest scientific techniques and archaeological research” could be had from such a bogus search? Apparently the purpose of the show is to make money off of gullible consumers of such shows. There is no scientific purpose, nor is there an historical, or archaeological, purpose for such a speculation.

It is the equivalent of going to the possible site of Goliath and David’s epic possible individual combat and picking up a stone asking: “Is this the stone that David used to slay the warrior Goliath?” Or could it have been ancient aliens?

March 8, 2017

As a Nation of Free Men?

Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never!—All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.

“At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”

Abraham Lincoln

Is this it? Are we in the throes of a national suicide, our suicide as a democracy? We have let the rich run the country for their own benefit and thereby set us one against the other. We elect a buffoon in an attempt to throw off the yoke of the rich, but he is also rich and only knows the way of the rich … which is not democratic.

Should we leave a note for those who follow so they will not make the same mistakes?

March 3, 2017

The Utter Failure of Economics and Politics to Prevent the Ravaging of the Rich

I ran across this rather incredible graph recently:

20-year-annualized-productivty-growth-in-the-uk

The data are from the UK so I looked to see if I could find any similarities to data from the US, and yes, they are there.

The graph shows the growth of worker productivity from the years 1800 to 2010. Since all of the values are positive, productivity has trended upward in general. But you can see four distinct trends on this graph: first there is a strong increase in productivity from 1800 to about 1870, then a general decline in the rate from 1870 to about 1900 (while still being positive, the amount of increase dropped period by period). Then there is another long period of productivity increase improvements from roughly 1900 to the mid 1970’s, followed by another decline in the rate of increase from 1970’s to the present.

What do these periods in which productivity changes steadily decline in magnitude correlate with? Ah, the period 1870-1900 is often referred to as the “Gilded Age.” And the mid-1970’s to the present started with Reganism/Thatcherism and is the second great period of wealth transference to the few in this entire time period.

We have been told over and over that the accumulation of wealth by the few in our society is a good thing. The wealthy are the “job creators,” the movers and shakers who get things done. But the reality is exactly the opposite. The people who have been telling us that wealth inequality is a standard feature of capitalism and a “good thing” are just the PR men for the wealthy, trying to avoid pitchforks and torches showing up in the gated communities of their rich paymasters. That so many of these flacks are economists should be appalling to the intellectual community. (Maybe we should disbar them and transfer academic economic departments to become part of the marketing programs of schools of business.)

All of the data show that periods of extreme wealth accumulation by the few devastate economies instead of facilitating them. The steepest upward portion of this graph takes place between the end of World War 2 and the arrival of Reganism/Thatcherism and anti-unionism. Productivity grows the fastest when the wealth is shared more fairly.

Please note that there were rich people during this post-war period. There were many people getting rich for the first time. They weren’t, however, getting filthy rich by distorting the political systems in their favor. Becoming rich through your own skills is one thing. Becoming obscenely rich by hook or crook, though, hurts all of us.

Neoliberal Roots

I was reading a very good piece on the privatization of public education posted by the wonderful Yves Smith (Dismantling Public Education: Turning Ideology into Gold by Alex Molnar)—which I highly recommend—when a particular section struck me. Here it is in full:

“The major education reforms of the past 35 years — education vouchers, charter schools, tuition tax credits, and education savings accounts — all seek to remove public schools from the control of elected bodies; to subject them to the ‘laws’ of the ‘market’; and to put them at the service of the economic elite. The world being called into existence is based on the belief that anyone, but not everyone, can succeed—a world of winners and losers, each of whom has earned his or her fate. Thus, as British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, one of neoliberalism’s foremost champions, proclaimed: “’There is no such thing as society. There is living tapestry of men and women and people and the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and each of us prepared to turn round and help by our own efforts those who are unfortunate.

“This is a world in which the poor must be judged by the rich to be ‘deserving’ of private charity rather than one that allows collective action through the democratic political process to secure the common welfare.”

That final sentence rang a bell for me. It connected in my mind the current neoliberal disdain for the poor with the efforts of Franklin Roosevelt’s administration to address the ravages of the Great Depression. At that time (the 1930’s) the Roosevelt’s New Deal administration wanted to get money back in people’s hands by the shortest possible route. Many Americans were reluctant to admit they need the help but finally, driven by desperation, they applied for “relief.” But the rate at which the funds allocated to this were being disbursed was impossibly slow and Roosevelt ordered his right-hand man, Harry Hopkins, to look into it. It turned out that the people hired to distribute the funds were spending most of their time ensuring that the poor felt shame for their current state. So, before you could get a little money (it was a pittance), you first needed a heap of humiliation and shame just for asking. Hopkins put an end to then standard practice of shaming the poor and the money soon flowed much faster and people felt positive effects sooner.

So, what could be the source of this need on the part of large swaths of the American people to make sure that poor people feel shame associated with their economic state? Are Americans uncharitable? No, quite the contrary. So, what is it? A clue may be in the phrase quoted above “the poor must be judged by the rich to be ‘deserving’ of private charity rather than one that allows collective action through the democratic political process to secure the common welfare.” Americans tend to honor wealth as a sign of hard work and industry and business smarts. That honor conveys a certain rectitude as well as high social position. So, rather than Americans striving to be pigs at the public trough as they are oft portrayed by Neoliberals, they are just the opposite.

There is one more strain woven into this attitude and I think it is the Protestant Work Ethic which emphasizes that hard work, discipline, and frugality are a result of a person’s salvation in the Protestant faith. Taken to an extreme, the people wedded to this ideology condemn the poor because they obviously lack “hard work, discipline and frugality” otherwise they wouldn’t be in need of assistance.

This is yet another example of religion tainting otherwise worthy collective attempts to assist those less fortunate, especially in an age when the rich have transferred so much wealth out of middle class and poor pockets into their own.

January 31, 2017

A Pop Quiz That is Telling

Quickly: Which U.S. President presided over the creation of:
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
The Consumer Product Safety Commission
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
The Mining Enforcement Safety Administration
and expanded the powers of the Federal Communications Commission
as well as launched the Employee Retirement Income Security Act?

Got it?

Times up.

That would be Richard Milhous Nixon, a self-proclaimed conservative Republican.

Did Mr. Nixon actually give a rat’s ass about any of these things from an ideological standpoint? Apparently not; he was an almost pure political animal. He appointed William Ruckelshaus, a safe Republican, as the first administrator of the EPA with the warning that he was “not to be captured by that bureaucracy.” Ruckelshaus reported that Nixon was neither knowledgeable of or even curious about environment issues. “He never asked me the whole time I was at the EPA: ‘Is the air really dirty? Is there something wrong with the water? What are we worried about here?’” said Ruckelshaus.

Nixon did not give a rat’s ass about the environment but he did care about votes. He was much more conservative when an election wasn’t on the horizon.

Fast forward to today. Unlike in Nixon’s America, the GOP no longer has ultra-conservative and liberal “wings” attached to a stolid conservative center. All of the liberal Republicans as well as the stolid centrist Republicans have been purged or morphed (for survival purposes) into what then would have been called ultra-conservatives. A similar process has occurred in the Democratic Party, except there the liberals weren’t purged they were just told to sit down and shut up.

So, if you combine all of this with GOP voter suppression (Democratic voters anyway) and gerrymandering of the Congressional districts, the only barrier to election for most Republicans is now getting nominated, which means the votes of any but the now wholly right-wing Republican Party do not count. And voila. The fear of the voters has been eliminated. Behavior like Nixon’s has been eliminated. Compromise has been eliminated.

And we allowed this to happen through our apathy and clinging to myths. (I do not exclude myself in this condemnation.)

So, when are things going to improve?

Guess, just guess.

January 28, 2017

Want a Democratic Party That Wins … For the People?

All over the mediasphere, articles are popping up proving that Democrats cannot find their own asses with even one hand let alone two. Most of these articles are suggesting approaches to opposing Trump but there is a deeper problem here: before trying to cut down a tree, check to make sure the saw is sharp first.

It was Will Rogers who said “I am not a member of an organized political party. I am a Democrat.” (He said this one so often, I couldn’t find when he first said it.)

But the Democrats did decide to get organized sometime near the late 1970s but that lead them to the New Democrat/Neoliberal disaster, the gutting of the middle class, full-time war making, the conservative counterattack and ascendancy, etc. and which recently culminated in the presidential election of Donald J. Trump. (Anything that leads your candidate to losing to the likes of Donald J. Trump has to be considered a total failure and a signal that it is time to reboot.)

But the Dems don’t need a reorganization, they need a savior. I wonder if they have noticed that the most approved of federal elected official is Bernie Sanders. They should slap a Democrat sticker on him and place themselves in Bernie’s hands, asking him to show them the way. There are a lot more approaches, but none that offer a better chance of success.

PS We should have paid more attention to Will Rogers (1875-1935). Here is some of his political wisdom:

  • What does the farmer need? Obvious: “He needs a punch in the jaw if he believes that either of the parties cares a damn about him after the election.”
  • What about a candidate’s image? Ballyhoo: “I hope there is some sane people who will appreciate dignity and not showmanship in their choice for the presidency.”
  • Our foreign policy is an open book – a checkbook.

Apparently our foreign policy model has been expanded to include domestic politics. And do you think he saw into the future to this election with his “dignity and not showmanship” quip?

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