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Monday, December 5, 2011

Get Rich with the RV of the Dinar! (or Not)


I had an illuminating conversation the other day that forcefully reminded me to never underestimate the depths of human stupidity.  This one makes me very angry, because I know a few people buying into it, but the person in question is literally betting the farm on it.  He’s unemployed, and instead of looking for work, he’s convinced that he has the gold ticket and his ship is about to come in.  Meanwhile his family's on food stamps and his kids can’t afford new clothes for school.  And no matter how I try to explain it to him, he just doesn’t understand that he’s chasing a will-o-the-wisp.

There’s a scam circulating that involves the impending “RV” of the Iraqi dinar.  For those of you not in the know (I wasn’t), “RV” stands for “revaluing” the dinar.  The Iraqi dinar currently trades at about 1170 dinar to the US dollar.  Unscrupulous currency brokers have convinced an astonishing number of people that they should invest in the dinar in preparation that the dinar will soon be revalued, making them overnight millionaires.

What does it mean to revalue a currency?  Well, it could mean several things.  One is just the normal floating exchange rate of the currency on the international market.  This exchange rate reflects the demand for the currency internationally, which is influenced by trade and fiscal policy.  If a government prints a bunch of fiat money and dumps it on the international market, the demand goes down and the rate drops.  Buying and selling into and out of a country involves using that country’s currency, and the amount of trade in and out causes the currency demand to fluctuate.  This is normal.  You can speculate in this market, and even make money, but it’s just gambling, and no one is going to get rich from a sudden, predictable move in this way.  In fact, the Iraqi dinar has been remarkably stable for the last four years, indicating that the exchange rate is being artificially supported by outside agents (Can you say U.S. Federal Reserve?).  Should the US reserve remove its exchange rate controls from the dinar, in all likelihood the value of the dinar will drop like a rock, further wrecking the Iraqi economy.  If you have foolishly invested in the dinar, this is definitely NOT what you’re looking for.

Another way the dinar could be revaluated is for the Iraqi government to place severe controls on currency availability.  The idea would be to reduce the number of dinar in circulation, increasing their value.  The government would absorb (and literally burn) excess dinar being held in bank reserves, thus restricting the money supply.  The problem with this scenario is that it would have a very deflationary effect, causing prices to rise in an economy that’s struggling to get back on its feet as it is.  People would hoard their money, waiting for it to be more valuable, stalling an economy that’s barely moving right now as it is.  No, the Iraqi government has a vested interest in promoting spending, not savings.  Again, for the speculator, this process would be slow, and probably not profitable, as the world exchange rate would probably not notice a shortage of dinar in Iraq.  After all, that paper money needs to be supported by real material wealth and productivity, right?

The third way is the one all the speculators are counting on to make them rich overnight.  The hope is that the Iraqi government will lop a few zeros off the end of the currency, making the dinar worth $1.17 on the world market at the stroke of a pen.  So our savvy speculator buys a thousand  dollars worth of dinar – 1,170,000 dinar to be exact.  Then the Iraqi government removes three zeros, and viola! Like magic, our happy speculator’s 1,170,000 dinar is now worth a cool million!

Hold on, Sparky.  Not so fast.  No one is going to stand for that. That money has to be represented by real wealth somehow, and the world currency exchange will just laugh at Iraq and want to cash their dinar in for the real wealth that Iraq insists it’s now worth, causing the dinar to crash back to its original level almost instantly, because Iraq certainly doesn’t have that wealth.

No, there’s an intermediate step that for some strange reason the dupes in this scam aren’t willing to admit to.  Iraq certainly can remove as many zeros as it wants from its currency – many countries have done so in the past.  But the only way it can do that is to print “new” dinar and exchange them for old dinar – at a 1000:1 exchange rate.  That way no new wealth is demanded, and the available dinars in circulation is reduced by a factor of 1000.  The books balance, no one gets rich, and our happy speculator finds that his old dinar are worthless, except to buy new dinar, which can be traded for pretty much what he originally paid, minus a brokerage commission, of course.

Looking through message boards, this scam has been around for at least 5 years, ever since the post-war dinar sort of stabilized, at a much lower level than pre-war.  This is an understandable devaluation, when you consider how much wealth was literally blown up during the war, how much productivity was ruined, and how the Saddam Hussein regime artificially set the exchange rate by controlling international trade through their oil monopoly.

The average person can’t just go into a bank and ask for dinar.  This scam is perpetrated by currency brokers who are sitting on mountains of nearly worthless dinar that they can’t move, because nobody wants them, not even the Iraqi government.  They find a sucker, and convince him about the impending RV, and tell them how their investment will get a thousand-fold boost when it happens (conveniently neglecting to tell them that they will have to exchange their old dinar for new dinar when it happens).  At the very worst they create a market for their dinar, offloading them to a sucker who thinks he's sitting on a gusher about to blow.  If they’re real slick, they can even sell their dinar above market rate, because of the aforementioned difficulty in the average person getting dinar (Because, realistically, who the hell really wants them?).  A quick look through internet message boards shows that the true believers have been anticipating the RV of the dinar to happen “any day now!” for at least the last five years.  Meanwhile the currency broker takes your dollars and starts investing in a real currency market.

Anyone who's had a basic accounting class will tell you, the books must ALWAYS balance!  You can't just invent a thousand times more wealth out of thin air by fiat.

The amazing thing, is that when I tried to explain this to my colleague who was all jacked up about how much money he’s soon going to be worth, he refused to listen to the facts, and waved me off with an airy “You just don’t understand.”  I patiently admitted that I didn’t understand, and invited him to please explain it to me.  He couldn’t, of course.  His most coherent response was “You’ll see!”

Be very careful.  They’re out there, walking among us.  And they vote.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Proud to be an American

About ten years ago, in an international forum right after 9/11, a European colleague of mine expressed some puzzlement over why Americans are proud of being American. He stated that he was French, but wasn’t particularly proud or ashamed of the fact. He just was.

This opened my eyes to one of the biggest differences between Americans and other nationalities. This difference leads to a much different world view, and consequently is a stumbling block to non-Americans who are trying to understand the motivations and mindset of Americans.

You see, unlike virtually every other nation in the world, America is not a place. America is an idea! America is a loose collection of people who share this idea and embrace it and understand that this idea is the source of America’s incredible prosperity.

Now, not all “Americans” understand, or embrace these ideas, which leads to considerable confusion within our country, as well as for those who are trying to make sense of it from outside. You can easily identify these people, because they are not proud to be Americans, they downplay their national identity when overseas, they speak poorly of America to non-Americans, and they feel they have to apologize for things that America has done in history. Real Americans pretty much wish these faux Americans would find someplace more to their liking and go live there, because they’re not helping here.

When someone proudly and unashamedly proclaims “I am an American!” you can make some pretty safe assumptions about that person (yes, I'm being politically incorrect, I'm using the ancient "He" to refer to the generic human, in which the female gender is implicitly included. If you ladies feel left out, maybe it's time to dial down the sensitivity a few decibels) :

  • He believes in personal responsibility, that he is responsible to feed and shelter himself and those who depend on him.
  • He believes in a good day’s work for a fair days pay.
  • He believes in the rule of law, and will typically observe the reasonable application of the law even when no one is looking.
  • He believes in the inviolate right to private property. You have the right to keep what you have earned.
  • He believes that the rights of government derive from the governed, that government is a necessary evil that should be kept small and poorly fed, lest it grow too large and become uncontrollable.
  • He believes that no one owes you anything because you have a body temperature. You want something bad enough, you’re free to try to attain it, but you shouldn’t expect it to be handed to you.
  • He understands that there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
  • He believes that liberty is a fundamental human right.
  • He believes that you have the responsibility – but not the obligation – to help your neighbor when they’re in need.
  • He understands that people are more important than things.
  • He has a sense of justice, and a natural inclination to object to and oppose injustices. He recognizes that justice must apply to everybody, or it’s meaningless.
  • He understands that one man’s prosperity doesn’t automatically imply another man’s poverty.
As a people, Americans are very tolerant. We have a long history for putting up with a lot of abuse. But there’s a limit, and when you cross that limit, woe to you. A number of nations have discovered this the hard way. Remember that the United States is the only nation in history to have used nuclear weapons in anger, and we don’t apologize for it. Remember also that the target of that retaliation is today one of our fastest friends, staunchest allies and most prosperous trading partners.

These are some of the characteristics of an American. This is the culture in which we were born, and which has allowed America to become the most prosperous nation in the history of the world. We are proud to be Americans, not because we hail from a particular place, but because when we make the statement we are telling you who we are as a people, what our values are and what you can expect from us. If you hold these ideals, if you embrace this ethic, then you are welcome to come to our shores and join us for our mutual prosperity.

Do not come to our country to escape the failed political and economic model of your home country, and then seek to alter America to duplicate the failed system of your home. Do not try to reshape America to your liking. America works just the way it is, and works better than anything else you can find today. Yes, there may be ways of making it better, but not by copying demonstrable failures from other countries. If you prefer another nation’s system to that of America’s, then by all means, go live there, and let us alone. There’s a reason for our incredible prosperity. If you want to partake of that prosperity, then learn what that reason is and reshape yourself to embrace it. If you think you have a right to come here and accept charity in the form of entitlements without having participated economically, then you are not welcome here. We want and encourage people who think like us to come to our shores and help us be prosperous. If that’s not acceptable, or if that’s not working for you, then you’re free to leave. No one is stopping you, and quite frankly, we wish you would go.

Two short tales of my personal experience to highlight what it is to be an American:

It was once observed to me by a man who had never been to America - and indeed had even met very few Americans – that the world was circled by the graves of Americans who died to bring freedom to other people.

One foggy morning in England, during rush hour about ten miles from a major American military base, I witnessed a one-car accident where a local woman missed a turn and collided with a barrier, doing severe damage to her car. At least thirty cars witnessed this accident. Only three cars stopped to render assistance. We were all Americans. I commented on this to one of the police officers who responded, and he replied “Oh, yeah, without you Yanks, we’d get no help at all in these situations.”

I am proud to be an American.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Did Anwar al-Awlaki Deserve Due Process?


Today we killed Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen by birth. Even as the news flashes around the globe, liberal hand-wringers are agonizing over the idea that the US Government sanctioned and executed a targeted assassination of an American citizen without due process. One such example of this kind of fuzzy thinking can be found here. Even presidential-hopeful foreign policy nutbag Ron Paul is weighing in against this. The case of the hand-wringers is based on the fact that he was not indicted, that his fifth amendment rights were violated ("No person shall be deprived of life without due process of law"), that there was no due process.

Where the hand-wringers on the left don’t get it is that this animal was only technically an American citizen, by accident of birth. He had de facto rejected allegiance to America, scorned American law, and had engaged in an active campaign against the United States. The fact that he hadn’t filed the correct paperwork with the State Department renouncing his American citizenship spoke more for his disdain for the American rule of law than it did for any technicalities of his loyalties.

Anwar al-Awlaki was in fact an enemy combatant. On October 27, 2008, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon ruled that an enemy combatant is anyone who directly supports al Qaeda, the Taliban or an associated group involved in hostile acts against the United States or its allies. This certainly applies to al-Awlaki, inasmuch as he was involved with the planning of the 9/11 attack, and was a mentor and spiritual advisor to Nidal Malik Hasan. He frequently published incendiary sermons on the internet, and espoused armed jihad against America. The FBI considered him one of Al Qaida’s top recruiters.

Is it the position of the hand-wringers that the US justice department obtain an indictment against every member of Al Qaida before allowing the military to strike? Or only the members of Al Qaida who are high ranking and have the media spotlight? Is it the position of the hand-wringers that US soldiers request ID and confirm the legal case for detaining and/or executing members of Al Qaida on the battlefield? Are we living in a Victorian age where commanders refrain from engaging their counterparts in decapitation operations because it isn’t honorable? How do the hand-wringers feel about the fact that the enemy will operate under no such restrictions?

What would the net effect be of having provided al-Awlaki the due process of law? Do the hand-wringers have any doubt that he was a major figure in the global jihadist network of which Al Qaida is a part? Do the hand-wringers have any doubt about al-Awakis very public exhortations to Muslims to take up arms and wage violent war against the United States? Does anybody think for a second that this guy would turn himself in if there was a warrant for his arrest, or that he would be extradited? Yemen is nominally an ally in the War on Terror, albeit not one I would turn my back on, so our forces are limited to playing by their rules in their country. This means we have no military presence there and operate in the grey area of unmanned drones that characterizes 21st century warfare.

This war is not your grandfather’s war, with neatly drawn divisions of Us and Them. It’s not confined to a location or specific battlefield or even a recognizable theater of operations. With modern communications and technology, one man in a mountain redoubt in a backwater country like Yemen could command a worldwide network for jihadists. It’s only fitting that he met his demise at the hands of a pilot sitting in Missouri or New Jersey, playing the World’s Greatest Video Game. The battles of the 21st century come in two flavors, the short meeting actions that are decisively over in minutes or hours, and the slow dance of counter-terrorist operations, where armies move at a seeming glacial pace in the dark, in cyberspace and on the airwaves, in a techno-dance of hide and seek, waiting for the moment to strike. This is the battlefield where al-Awlaki was acting as a commander, and in the heat of battle was located and terminated, as we would do to any high ranking enemy commander.

Does the rule of law, the rights conferred by that law, and the due process safeguards built into that law apply to people who actively seek to abolish that law? The law was designed to protect the individual from government abuse. By what twisted logic do we pervert the intent of that law to protect the enemies of that law?

The hand-wringers make the assertion that the law must apply to everyone equally (although I find that these same people are the first to propose to limit the constitutional rights of their political opponents). I contend that this is only true and possible when everyone accepts the rule of that law, and has pledged to abide by it. Those that scorn the law, reject the law, and indeed seek to replace that law with a theocratic tyranny have no business being afforded the protections of that law. The laws upon which Western Civilization are based should not become a suicide pact that prevent us from defending Western Civilization against the well armed and fanatic forces of ignorance and chaos.

This doesn’t mean that the US government has shredded the constitution and that the black helicopters will come and fast roping commandos will start assassinating normal law-abiding citizens with impunity. Although, to listen to the rhetoric, I can’t help but wonder if the hand-wringers would happily endorse this action if it were taken against elements of the TEA party, who have done nothing unconstitutional; but have the temerity to disagree with the liberal policies of the left.

Al-Awlaki stepped out from under the protection of the law of his land of birth, and proceeded to wage war on that land and the laws for which it stands. He got what was coming to him. Good job and good riddance.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Christian Values - 10 years after 9/11

Last Sunday was the tenth anniversary of the tragic events of September 11, 2001.  At Mass that morning we were called both by the scripture and from the homily to forgiveness and called to live by our Christian standards. Unfortunately, I feel our parish priest is not a student of Islam or Islamic history

Let’s reflect on a few things here before we go rushing off to embrace our Muslim brethren in a spirit of unrestrained forgiveness.

Throughout scripture there’s a general theme regarding forgiveness – that forgiveness must be sought before it’s granted.  The offender must acknowledge his sin and seek reconciliation in a spirit of penitence. We have been repeatedly taught by Jesus that faith saves the sinner from his sins, and this theme was reinforced in Paul’s letters. Even on the cross, Jesus did not explicitly forgive his tormentors, but interceded on their behalf for God to forgive them due to their ignorance. 

Where are the penitent Muslims?  Who has sought reconciliation with Western Civilization to atone for the grievous sin that has been committed against us?  As Christians, our hearts are open to forgiveness and reconciliation, but we wait – seemingly in vain – for someone to step forward and seek that forgiveness that we so desperately want to give.  Instead, we are informed by the enemies of Western Civilization that we are hated.  The rank and file Muslim in Islamic nations hates Americans.  This is what they’re taught from birth, and they are quite frank and honest about it when the question comes up.  This is not a result of American interventionism, this sentiment was dominant in 2001.  Throughout the 20th century, the leaders of the Islamic world have been impoverishing their people under totalitarian regimes and laying the blame on Israel, the USA and Western Civilization for their own sins.  The result are whole nations made up of credulous conspiracy theorists. And these people are more than willing to act on their hatred, as evidenced in thousands of terrorist attacks worldwide since 9/11 (17744 such attacks at the time of this writing).

Yes, Father, we can and will forgive these people.  When they seek it.  For now, all I see is enmity and hatred and the desire to kill us.

We were also informed that as Christians who espouse the uniquely American concept of freedom of religion, we should not be protesting the construction of mosques in our communities.

I’m sorry, Father, but you’re dead wrong on this point.  The mistake you make is assuming that Islam is a religion in the pattern of all others, and should therefore be accorded the respect for its tenets and beliefs that we accord to other non-Christian religions.  Islam is not a religion.  It’s a fascist, totalitarian political construct wrapped in a veneer of sanctity by justifying its actions on the satanic utterances of its founder.

Islam is a belief system that is diametrically opposed to the values we hold dear as Judeo-Christians living in the Western Civilization.  It’s irresponsible to tolerate the presence of Islam, when Islam explicitly refuses to tolerate other beliefs. Islam’s tolerance of other belief systems is inversely proportional to the percentage of population that are Muslim in any group.  Tolerance and accommodation of a small group of Muslims inevitably leads to larger groups of Muslims, who use our Western values of free speech and freedom of religion to protect them in an ongoing campaign to extinguish free speech and free religion and replace them with Islamic sharia law.  If you think this is overly alarmist, then look at the problems that are being faced by the UK and France and other European countries as their Muslim population grows.  This is happening today, exactly as I project.

Moreover, as a Christian I have no problem tolerating the existence of other beliefs systems who do not acknowledge my faith in Christ.  Islam however, does acknowledge it, and roundly condemns it!  Islam specifically denies the crucifixion, states unequivocally that it never happened ( Quran 4:157).  It denies the holy trinity and the divinity of Christ (Quran 4:171).  And it brands me a heretic or infidel for believing these things and instructs its followers to persecute me on that basis (Quran 9:29). As a Christian, I can tolerate even this intolerance, but that does not mean I have to accommodate these beliefs and make room for them in my community.  Having read the Quran, I am aware of its Satanic origin, and as a responsible Christian, it’s my duty to repudiate this belief system.

Let’s suppose that Adolf Hitler justified his actions on the basis that he was in direct communication with the One God, Creator of the Universe, and that he was only doing what God told him was right and proper.  And he explicitly stated that God instructed him to assassinate his detractors, drive the Jews out of his land and murder them and wage war throughout the world to subject the entire planet to his authority. Would we provide a place for such Nazi believers to build their sanctuaries in our country?  Especially when those sanctuaries have been repeatedly proven to be headquarters, fund raisers and recruiting grounds in an ongoing battle to conquer Western Civilization?  Would we make a place for them and accommodate their peculiar Nazi requirements in our society?  In the interest of tolerance and religious diversity would we include Nazi studies in our universities, and invite Nazis to speak in our churches and synagogues so that we can better understand their beliefs?

Of course not, because we understand Nazism and what it stands for.  The problem is that no one has bothered to take the time to learn and understand Islam and what it stands for. Islam has in fact done all of the things I accuse the Nazis of doing, right from its inception. The parallels between Hitler and Muhammad are astonishing. They both established cult-like followers. They both believed their race was the superior race. Neither one tolerated dissension, and had dissenters killed.  Both assassinated their political opponents.  Both exterminated Jews and other undesirables. Both were ascetics. The difference is that Hitler never claimed to be speaking on behalf of God Almighty.

If I would not tolerate fascism and Nazi party beliefs to be accepted in this country, why would I accept those same practices and beliefs merely because the founder of the cult claimed to be talking to God?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Name of God is Not "Allah"

There are some Christian churches in the Middle east that use the word Allah instead of God.  This is an egregious error.  Allah is the name of the pagan moon god of the Kaaba that was worshiped by the Meccans before Muhammad.  Muhammad's own family name was Abdallah, meaning "slave of Allah".  He was the chief deity of the Meccan pantheon.  When Muhammad first started hearing the voices and attributed it to divine message, he referred to his new God as Al-Rahman.  Nowhere in the Surahs revealed in Mecca do we see his god referred to as Allah, because he knew the Meccans would not accept their Kaaba God as the sole God.  Al-Rahaman was the term used by a different temple further south towards Yemen (The Kaaba was not unique; every town had their own kaaba that they circumambulated as a form of worship.  This practice came from India).  Only after Muhammad fled to Medina did he start calling his God Allah, since no one in Medina knew much about the Allah of the Kaaba.

The use of Allah by Christian communities is a bow towards the Muslim majority in the countries where this is practiced, and attempt to placate the Muslims and keep them from burning their churches and killing their people, because of the Muslim intolerance for all things non-Muslim.  Muslims find this acceptable, because it allows them to promote the fiction that Allah is the same as the Judeo-Christian God. God has a name, though, and it most certainly isn't Allah: 

    Then Moses said to God, “Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I shall say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?”
    And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” And God, furthermore, said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is My name forever, and this is My memorial-name to all generations.

-Exodus 3:13-15

"I Am"  That's deep, no matter how long you think about the implications of that, it's deep.  The Hebrew word was  הָיָה, directly translated to YHWH (written Hebrew had no vowels), pronounced Yah-weh, which later got mangled into Yehova, and in Latin the Y sound was written as a J, which we barbarian English actually pronounce as a J, thus Jehovah.  The literal definition is "To exist" or "to Be or Become".  This is God's name for all generations.  Not "Allah".

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Islam's New Role in American Politics


Presidential hopeful talk show commentator Herman Cain recently stated that he wouldn’t appoint a Muslim to a cabinet position. This created a minor fire storm of political correctness, and he subsequently recanted his position, effectively placing himself in the back of the pack for 2012. Not so much because of the position, but his lack of resolve demonstrates that he’s capable of being swayed by perceived public opinion.

This is a real problem for a presidential candidate, because once you snatch the brass ring and find yourself in the oval office; you become separated from the people who put you there. There are two types of politicians: Those who operate and lead from core principles (The Leader) and those who are adept at reading the public and reflecting the public’s desire in their actions and words (The Chameleon).

The Leader does well when his principles reflect those of the majority of the people. He will be able to function in times of difficulty by consulting the foundations of his principles and making sound decisions on that basis. If his principles are true, his decisions will be supported by his constituency without having to consult them. These sorts make very good Presidents, but they're rare.

The Chameleon stakes his career on being able to read the mood of the public, and this propels him quickly through politics, until he reaches the Oval office; at which point he’s suddenly cut off from direct contact with the public that provides him his direction, and he becomes one of the most isolated people in the nation. Stripped of his litmus test of crowd reaction, his decision making process develops a fatal lag filter, and he cannot lead effectively, deprived of his primary source of political acumen.

Herman Cain proves by his flip-flop that he’s characteristically a Chameleon. Surely we can do better.

The discussion has introduced a new weapon into the Democrat arsenal of political dirty tricks. The question of the role of Muslims in the American political landscape will have a prominent position from now on. Having smelled blood in the water, the Democrats will continue to hammer this question at all Republican candidates, fully aware that the core republican constituency has a visceral negative reaction to the idea of Muslims in political power. This question will serve only to weaken a Republican candidate, either from their base or from the independent voters, and has no downside for the Democrats.

The Chameleons will stammer and waffle, unsure how to respond because of the political crosswinds pulling them in opposite directions.

Only the Leaders will be able to step forward and use this question to take the offensive, and use their bully pulpit to educate the American public. Allen West is currently the only person I see who seems willing to do this.

The premise behind the Democrat position is that the government should reflect the diversity of the American public. In the name of Diversity the Muslim American population should be represented in American government.

This is a noble sentiment if you don’t understand what it is you’re talking about. If you think this is a morally justified way of selecting our government, then I have to ask this question: In the name of diversity, should the White supremacists of America be properly represented by installing card-carrying Nazis into government positions?

Well, why not? Because Nazis are intolerant? Look at the plight of non-Muslims in Muslims dominated countries around the world. They have second class status in judicial proceedings; they have no chance of winning a legal claim against a Muslim in a Muslim dominated court. They operate at an economic disadvantage, since no contract made with a Muslim is enforceable in a Muslim court for a non-Muslim. They cannot build new places of worship, and frequently cannot repair their existing places of worship. They live in constant fear of a Muslim mob becoming inflamed at some slight and burning their houses and places of worship.

Or maybe it’s because the Nazis are racist, genocidal maniacs? Look at the Muslim sentiment regarding Jews around the world. Anti-Semitism is a hallmark of Islam, and Muslim leaders are not shy about expressing their desire to finish what Hitler started.

Diversity proponents will argue that Muslims in America should not be judged by the actions of radicals overseas. This argument needs to be dispelled. In the first place Intolerance and anti-Semitism are not traits of radical Muslims around the world; this is the normal attitude of the rank and file Muslim population. The average overseas Muslim firmly believes that Israel is a force of evil which should be eradicated, and that Islam is destined to eventually rule the world. The majority of the population in such countries as Egypt, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, all across North Africa, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf view Osama Bin Laden as a folk hero and support Jihad against Western Civilization in principle if not in action.

Part of the Muslims faith is that Islam demands more loyalty than does one’s nationality. An American Muslim must consider himself a Muslim first, and an American second. If he does not, then one must question his devotion to Islam.

To be a Nazi essentially means that you endorse the fascist political economic model. This political economic structure has advantages and disadvantages, and is no less a viable economic model for discussion as is communism or capitalism. Evaluating fascism as an economic model is outside the scope of this discussion, the point is that we don’t evaluate Nazism on the basic of its primary economic model; we evaluate it based on the demonstrable record it carries with regard to civil and human rights. We refuse to acknowledge or tolerate Nazis is any position of power in our society, and we only tacitly tolerate their presence as long as they don’t break any laws, and we watch them very, very closely. We do this because we’ve seen what the Nazis have done in the past, and we have solemnly vowed “never again.”

Yet for some reason we tolerate an ideology that at the core has very little difference from Nazi ideology. Because it is self-labeled a “religion,” we give it a pass, even though it openly endorses a fascist hierarchical structure in which the minutest details of individual life are scrutinized to ensure compliance with party (religious) ideology. We look the other way when history and current events repeatedly insist that “never again” has somehow transformed into “right now”. Muslims leaders are openly and brazenly calling for the destruction of Israel and the extermination of the remaining Jews. Christians are being martyred in Muslim countries at a rate never before seen in history, even the darkest early days of Christianity. Muslims Americans do not repudiate these actions; they spend their time instead condemning governments of the West for not being sensitive of the sensibilities of the individual Muslim.

Perhaps if the Germans had declared Hitler a Prophet, and Nazism a religion, they could have sued the USA for violating their right to religious liberty.  

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Jesus is God


It’s a common Muslim argument that Jesus is not God.  It’s a fundamental tenet of their faith, because if Jesus was God, then everything Muhammad said was a lie, since Muhammad elevated himself to the status of a prophet above Jesus.

First of all, Jesus was not a prophet. In all of our accounts of prophets, even Islamic accounts of Muhammad, it’s clearly recorded that God spoke to the prophet in question. The prophet heard and responded to the voice of God, or in Muhammad’s case an angel that he identified as Gabriel (Note that Muhammad is the only case of a prophet being spoken to through an intermediary. All of the Hebrew prophets heard God directly). There is no record in any of the Gospels that Jesus heard the voice of God or was instructed by God in what to do or how to act. There are references in the New Testament that may suggest he was a prophet if taken out of context. These cases fall into two categories: either someone has identified him as a prophet (John 4:19, 6:14, 7:39, 9:17, Luke 7:16, Matt 21:10, 21:46), or Jesus has made an observation about prophets that are also applicable to him (John 4:44, Luke 4:24, Mark 6:4, Matt 13:56 ). Indeed, Jesus can not be a prophet, because “out of Galilee arises no prophet.” (John 7:52).

Four hundred years before Christ, Isaiah foretold the coming of God as Man: Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. “But,” Muslims cry out with glee, “His name was Jesus, not Immanuel!” Hold on just a second, Matthew teaches us non-speakers of Hebrew that Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel," which translated means, "God with us." (Matt 1:23)  It’s not a proper name, but a title. Matthew is very clear that Jesus represents “God with us.”

John is even more direct in the opening of his Gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. (John 1:1-4)

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.   John1:14

I know that Muslims are kind of weak in drawing logical connections, so to spell it out:  The “Word was God” is followed by “ the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us”.  Now if A=B and B=C, then A=C .  The Word is God.  The word walked among us.  God walked among us.  It’s quite simple, really.

Now Muslims will trot out ad nauseum scriptural references that Jesus is the Christ (true), and that his followers referred to him by a variety of titles: Rabbi, Messiah, Christ, Lord.  And they point out that he never says he is God. 

Well, no, he doesn’t say it, but more than once he’s called God, and he doesn’t rebuke the speaker.  You see, God is not like Allah, he doesn’t have this narcissistic need to blow his own horn.  Allah insists that he is God over and over again, to the point that it becomes tiresome.  As Joseph Goebbels said, if you tell a lie often enough and loudly enough, people will believe it.  It serves God’s purposes better if people come to the correct conclusion on their own.  The God of Abraham is a thinking man’s God.  He’s not going to take you by the nose and lead you to every tiresome article of faith.  He gives you the information you need and then lets you figure it out.  The lesson is learned by the ones who understand much more effectively than by the ones who follow because they don’t know any better.

But the apostles who lived with Christ were too close to the event, entrenched in their own prejudices and beliefs, and couldn’t see the forest for the trees.  Jesus got a little frustrated and gently chided them for not seeing what was in front of their faces:

Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”
Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how do you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me; otherwise believe on account of the works themselves. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go to the Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.  If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.(John 14:8-15)

Here Jesus makes it very clear that he and the father are one.  “Whatever you ask in my name, I shall do.”  Who can answer prayers but God?  Jesus equates himself with God.  “…Keep My commandments.”  Whose commandments?  Only God gave commandments.  Jesus again equates himself with God.

In a definitive scene after the resurrection, Jesus is identified by the scientist of the group, Thomas, who is reluctant to believe anything that he can’t feel, see, hear, touch and measure.  Note that when Thomas identifies him, Jesus is not angry, does not rebuke or correct him, but indeed seems pleased, satisfied that the truth is sinking in.

Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand, and put it into My side; and be not unbelieving, but believing.
Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.(John 20:27-29)

Does Jesus rebuke Thomas?  No, he instructs him, and acknowledges his belief.

Throughout Christian history, it has been acknowledged that Christ was God in the form of man.  This is a fundamental article of faith stated in the Nicene creed: “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in being with the Father. Through Him all things were made. For us men and our salvation He came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit, He was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.”  This belief is not disputed by any Christian community that maintains a tradition of apostolic succession from the original twelve disciples.  This is what they believed, and this is what they taught.  Throughout the letters they refer to Christ as "Lord" (in the Greek, "Kurios", Master, Authority -- a title also given frequently to God.).

 John unabashedly states that Jesus is God. John was one of the twelve, often described as the “most beloved” apostle of Christ. Who would know better than John? An illiterate seventh century poet from a thousand miles away who converts from polytheistic paganism says Jesus could not be God. The man who was closest to him throughout his ministry, who took his mother as his own and cared for her for the rest of her life, says Jesus was God. This is not even a close call.

This is very difficult for Muslims to grasp, since from the cradle they are trained to think linearly and uncritically.  They are immersed in a faith that is at time contradictory and makes little sense.  This faith controls every aspect of their lives, right down to toilet habits.  It does not allow for questions or independent thought, but blind, unthinking obedience.  The penalty for not observing this obedience includes death.  But Jesus was an intelligent man.  He played word games to amuse himself, and spoke in riddles and metaphor to make his followers think.  The Muslim response to a metaphor from Muhammad’s time is to take a sword and cleave it in two.  Muhammad was too one-dimensional to think in symbolic terms, too controlling to let people figure the truth out for themselves, because it would be bad for him if the truth they found didn’t involve him as the center and spokesperson of God.  Muslims today are faced with a dilemma of relating to a world where Western values dominate, and logic is required to function, yet they must maintain an intellectual blind spot with regard to faith, because one dare not peek behind the curtain.  As a result, their arguments consist of ad hominem attacks, derision, often foul language and threats, and yet seem completely incapable of disassembling a logical argument.  In the marketplace of ideas, they are bankrupt.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Intolerance of Islam

Why is it so impossible for Muslims to coexist peacefully with Christians?  Because Islam is threatened by Christianity.  Muslims know that the only reason Islam continues to exist is because it holds its slaves in fear, fear that to leave Islam is to invite the death penalty.  Islam keeps its slaves ignorant, feeding them from birth a diet of lies and twisted truths, teaching them to hate others- people who have little animosity towards Muslims.  Islam prevents its slaves from accessing the beliefs of Christianity, banning and disparaging the study of Bibles, for fear that the truth would expose the lie of Islam.  Islam hates non-Muslims and seeks to persecute them, to demonstrate to the Muslim masses that you cannot be a non-Muslim and be happy, lest the vast multitude of lip-service Muslims simply leave Islam.

If Islam adopted a more tolerant attitude, allowed people to worship their God as their conscience dictated without interference, promoted peace and recognized the brotherhood of man, acknowledged that a man's relationship with God is a personal matter between him and God alone, practiced that no person should be coerced to worship in a particular fashion. . . why inside of generation, Islam would virtually disappear from the face of the Earth!

Even with all of the totalitarian guards that Islam has erected to defend its ignorant theology, it is doomed, because you cannot keep the truth from so many people forever.  As more people see the truth and turn away from Islam, it will scream louder, become more strident, its lies will become more outrageous, and it will lash out in frustration at the enemy that seduces its faithful away with truth.  Instead of melting quietly away as it should, it will self-destruct in a paroxysm of violence, as Satan seeks to harvest his crop of souls before they return to the path of truth. We see that starting today.

How can the truth be defeated?  If the Muslim believes that Islam is the truth, they should put down their weapons and embrace the non-Muslim, the Jew.  Their truth will protect them and their beliefs.  They should be able to persuade the infidel to become a Muslim without fighting them or subduing them.  They should be able to prevent the apostate from leaving Islam by simply stating the truth to them.   Since Islam must constantly attack the infidel, since it must kill those who leave Islam, this demonstrates that their ideology is bankrupt, their truth is a sham, and that they must gain through violence and force what they cannot possibly do through reason.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Death Penalty - a Proposed Alternative.


On Wednesday, March 9, 2011, at 1 p.m. Eastern Time, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed the Death Penalty Repeal bill into law, joining fifteen other states and the district of Columbia in not having the legal ability to execute heinous criminals.

This is one issue in which I have traditionally been squarely on the fence for most of my life, but I’m finally leaning towards abolishment.

The down side of the death penalty is the issue of innocence. Our criminal justice system is good, but not perfect. Not every defendant has the resources of OJ Simpson. Prosecutors have a political vested interest in securing convictions. A conviction means a case is closed, a crime is solved, the community is safer, justice is served, and most importantly the prosecutor is doing a good job and should be retained. This political environment has the potential to foster a climate where results count more than real justice, and an innocent man is sent to prison. Exoneration of convicts based on forensic DNA evidence demonstrates that this happens. That it happens even once is far too much. The cases in which a prisoner is released and cleared of charges get a lot of press. But you cannot release an innocent man who has been executed in accordance with the law!

Then there’s the issue of the cost. A death penalty conviction starts a process which is sufficiently drawn out that the convict stands a very good chance of dying of old age in prison before being executed. Appeals are expensive, time consuming and the justice system (i.e. John Q. Public) pays for the endless appeals and legal maneuverings of a convict who’s willing to grasp at every legal straw available to prolong his life.

On the flip side are the crimes in which the guilt of the accused is in no question, such as Jared Lee Loughner. There are crimes committed where the crime is so heinous, and the guilt of the accused is so well established, that one’s natural reaction is to kill the perp as quickly as possible. I don’t have a problem with this.

Many Christians base their objection on Biblical moral grounds, from the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus20:13, KJV). This is a misapprehension, based on a loose translation. The original Hebrew word used was רָצַח (ratsach), which more closely translates to “murder”. Indeed, the death penalty was a central tenet of ancient Hebrew justice. To say that the state cannot execute criminals based on biblical teachings is hypocrisy.

But from a purely philosophical standpoint, the idea that the State has the right -even the obligation -to execute its own citizens should disturb anyone, no matter what the crime of the citizen is.

Let’s think about the purpose of execution. From an emotional standpoint, execution is the ultimate revenge. You have harmed me beyond recompense and for that act you will pay with your life. Is it the role of the state to extract revenge? And what sort of revenge is it when it’s carried out sometimes decades after the crime, when the crime has become a distant memory and the general public doesn’t even remember the details of the crime? If it’s revenge we’re after, locking the condemned in a room with the victim’s family and a ready supply of baseball bats for 20 or 30 minutes seems more appropriate.

The death penalty isn’t an effective deterrent. People committing crimes do not consider the scope of punishments they may face for the crimes. The logical argument in favor of the death penalty is that the condemned is guilty of a crime so heinous that no punishment is adequate, that no rehabilitation is possible, and that the death penalty is an economic alternative to maintaining the condemned for life in prison. In effect, the condemned is too dangerous to release into society, and therefore it’s a preventive measure. The problem with this logic is that the cost to the state of executing a prisoner is often more than maintaining their life in prison.

But, states the death penalty advocate with a certain amount of justification, life in prison is an inadequate punishment for some egregious crimes, and represents leniency on the part of the state. Victims families will never reach closure knowing that the person who committed a heinous crime is drawing breath, warm and safe behind prison walls, getting three meals and a bed to sleep in every night, medical care, exercise, TV and access to prison occupation programs and “quality of life” perks. Can’t say I disagree. Some would argue that prison is a thoroughly unpleasant, stressful place, and that life in the joint is no bed of roses. I would contend that humans are sufficiently adaptable that they can adjust to almost anything, and a person facing life in prison can come to terms with it over time. Surviving the first few years will place the prisoner in a position in the social order of the prison that can be tolerated, at times even enjoyed.

I think there’s a middle road. Short of death, I propose there be a special classification of life imprisonment. Let’s call it “living death”. Upon conviction, you are condemned to die in prison. There is no possibility of parole. From the moment you begin serving your sentence, you will be considered dead for all intents and purposes. You will be declared legally dead for the purposes of settling your estate. You will have no contact with your family or loved ones. They might as well hold your funeral when you enter prison. Once the appeals process has run its course, you will have no further contact with legal representation. You will be allowed to access a minister of the religious denomination of your choice, but the minister will be chosen and trained by the department of corrections. Said ministers will not convey messages to and from outside your prison. You will have no access to any sort of media outside the prison, nor will you have any contact outside the prison. You will be housed alone in a 20x20 cell. Your meals will be provided to your cell with a 2000 calorie per day diet. You will keep your cell as clean and functional as you like – it’s your place to live for the rest of your life. If you destroy property, it will not be replaced. The “death row” block will be subject to periodic inspection to ensure that prisoners are not subjected to abuse beyond the scope of their incarceration. Prisoners will receive necessary medications and annual health checks, but no major medical intervention in the event of serious illness or conditions. The state has no interest in prolonging your life by artificial means. No one will be notified when you have lived out your natural life and died. You will be cremated on site.

This should satisfy the death penalty opponents who abhor the idea of killing a man, no matter the crime, and should satisfy the death penalty advocates by removing the criminal from society as effectively as execution and not providing him with a comfortable living or any sort of social support so desperately important for humans.

This is the harshest punishment I can imagine without becoming inhumane. The state has no interest in spending resources in making the life of the criminal miserable. Neither does the stat have an interest in making the life of the “death row” prisoner comfortable. The prisoner must be satisfied with the fact that the only reason we don’t kill him is he’s not worth the expense. And in the very unlikely event that it’s discovered that a prisoner was found to be wrongly convicted, we can always retrieve them from the abyss of the “death row” prison system and return him to freedom.

Friday, April 1, 2011

How the Pacific Northwest Should Prepare for the Cascadia Tsunami

In the wake of last months Tsunami disaster in Japan, people in the Pacific Northwest have a renewed interest in the possibility of a similar disaster happening here.  I mis-speak.  It is not a possibility of happening in the Northwest, it’s a certainty.  The only question is, when?

Sitting 90 miles of the coast of Oregon and Washington is the Cascadia subduction zone, where the Juan de Fuca plate dives under the North American plate.  This fault has a geologic history of producing megathrust earthquakes like clockwork, every 300-600 years.  The last such earthquake took place on January 26, 1700.  We have just entered the window of danger.

When Cascadia cuts loose again, residents and visitors along the coast will have at most 15 minutes to seek high ground before the first tsunami waves arrive.

Unlike Japan, there are no major metropolitan centers located on the coast of Washington and Oregon.  In most places the coastal range plunges steeply into the sea, limiting the amount of damage that a tsunami can do.  But there are low lying sea side communities.  The one that gets the most attention is usually the community of Seaside, on Cannon Beach.  This popular weekend destination for Portland inhabitants is fully aware that it’s in the crosshairs of Cascadia, and tsunami evacuation routes are very plainly marked.  Fortunately, most of Cannon beach is within a mile of high ground, and any healthy person should be able to make it to safety on foot.

Unfortunately, there are other, more vulnerable communities than Seaside.  In Washington, Long Beach, Westport and Ocean Shores are three communities which will be erased from the map by a tsunami.  These communities have no high ground in easy walking distance, and very limited routes of access and evacuation.  The loss of life in these communities could easily be as high as 90%. 

Studies are underway to engineer vertical evacuation routes.  The idea is to literally build emergency buildings high enough and robust enough to withstand a tsunami.  This idea is a fallacy and would be a stupendous waste of money and resources for very little benefit.  For one thing, there is no way to know if such a structure could actually stand up to a tsunami after having weathered a severe earthquake.  There is only so much that modeling can do to predict how a building will behave in such an event.  The other problem with this plan is one of sheer logistics.  How can you get everyone to reach said building, and inside to a safe level, in the limited amount of time available? 

Let’s look at facts:  When this happens, people are going to do stupid things.  Many people are going to try to evacuate by car.  This will cause tremendous traffic jams, and traffic will not move.  Many people will not know what to do.  There will be injured people unable to move, buried in collapsed houses.  Streets will be filled with refugees heading for high ground, but there will always be some idiot who lost a family member going the wrong way.

If you have a vertical evacuation facility, how many people know where it’s at?  It’s easy to get to high ground when hills are available – you just pick a direction and go as fast as you can.  But with everyone attempting to converge on a single building, there will be mobs as people fight to get in first.  The entrances will be jammed.  People are going to be trampled, and many will die waiting to get in when the first wave comes.

Without such a facility, people in communities with no high ground handy should grab hold of a loved one and make their peace with God, because they’re going to die.  With such a facility, there’s still a high probability they won’t be able to reach it, or having reached it, they won’t be able to get in because of the crowd.

There is a better solution.  Tsunami pods.

I envision a tsunami pod as similar to the lifeboat on an oil rig.  These lifeboats are self-contained.  You get in them; you strap in and release them.  They ride down rails and literally plunge into the sea, submerging completely.  They’re shaped so that the plunge will carry them underwater quite a distance before they pop back to the surface.

Now we don’t need anything that fancy for a tsunami pod.  What we need is something that will float, stay more or less upright, is watertight, submersible, and built strongly enough that it can withstand crush pressures caused when it’s swept up in a debris flow and pushed and battered along the path of the Tsunami.  It could be as small as a single person, or maybe even as large as a rail car – in fact, rail tanker cars may make a good hull for such a pod.  There should be restraints for occupants, because it’s going to be a rough ride. 

Working on a basic, simple design, these tsunami pods could be mass produced and distributed throughout population centers and at-risk tourist areas.  In the event of a major earthquake – and when Cascadia cuts loose, people on the coast will have no doubt in their mind – you make your way to the nearest tsunami pod and get in.  Everyone gets in and straps themselves in, and the last guy closes the hatch either when the pod is full or when the water starts to rise.

Notices in the pods will clearly instruct occupants to stay in the pod for at least 6 hours.  There will be multiple waves, and the first one may not be the biggest.  After 6 hours, all pods will activate an emergency homing beacon, so that search and rescue teams can find them.  Some pods will be buried in debris.  Others will be washed out to sea and be floating off the coast.  But the beauty of this system is that most people in these pods will be bruised, battered, but alive!  You could build a huge number of these pods for the price of a single vertical evacuation facility. 

In terms of investment for life saved, this is a far better way to prepare for the coming tsunami.

The next Mega Earthquake

Living in the Pacific Northwest, it’s impossible for me not to witness the destruction wrought by the Indian Ocean Earthquake and the more recent Japanese Earthquake and not think about the monster lurking just off my own coast. 

Subduction zone earthquakes represent a tremendous threat.  They tend to be very powerful, and since all subduction zones are undersea, they almost invariably spawn tremendous tsunamis.  Most of the subduction zones are around the Pacific ring of fire, as the continental plates slowly press the Pacific Ocean into a smaller and smaller area. 

One of the geologically most violent subduction zone faults is the Cascadia fault, where the diminutive Juan de Fuca plate dives under the North American plate 90 miles off the shore of Oregon and Washington.  The geologic record of this fault shows that it ruptures every 300 to 600 years.  We know that the last time this fault ruptured was January 26, 1700.  East coast Japanese cities record a tsunami on that date, which was not accompanied by an earthquake.  Analysis of trees killed by coastal subsidence confirms that the last growing season they had was 1699.

Inhabitants of the Northwest are blithely complacent of this threat for the most part, because the earliest settlements by Europeans was a scant two hundred years ago, when Jacob Astor founded Astoria in 1811.

In the years since the Indian Ocean Mega thrust quake, the Discovery channel has generated some significant ratings by inflating the threat that such a quake poses to the Pacific Northwest.  The premise is that the Cascadia fault will generate a 9.0 quake and that the fault will rupture all along its thousand mile length.  They then extrapolate what a 9.0 Earthquake would do to the local cities in the Northwest, along what we locals recognize as the I-5 corridor.  The video footage was shocking, buildings flattened, people running for their lives, infrastructure destroyed.

Consequently, a lot of angst has built up as residents of Portland and the Seattle metro area all the way to Vancouver BC contemplate their beautiful cities ruined by a 9.0 earthquake. Sadly, none of it has anything to do with reality.

This always seemed to ring kind of hollow to me.  I was in the big Philippine earthquake in 1990, when an 7.8 near Cabanatuan cut loose and nearly destroyed Baguio City.  I was less than 100 miles from the epicenter, and what we experienced was about a 4.5 to a 5.0 – strong, but no real damage.  I’ve said for a long time that the 9.0 off the coast of Oregon would not trash Portland, and I’ve received a lot of derision for my position.  I guess people enjoy being scared.  So I did some research, and the numbers are on my side.

The formula that relates Earthquake magnitude to ground motion is a =1300*(e0.67*M)*(D+25)-1.6 where a is acceleration in cm/sec2, M is the earthquake magnitude and D is the distance in kilometers.  For those of you wanting to follow along with your own spreadsheets, in excel this is:

=1300*(EXP(0.67*B2))*((C2+25)^-1.6)  

Where B2 is the cell with Magnitude and C2 is the cell with distance.

We can then convert this acceleration to g units, so we can relate it to the Mercalli earthquake scale.  We do this by dividing the acceleration by 980.

Now, if we plot this in magnitude vs distance we get a graph that looks like this:


Note that the Y axis is plotted logarithmically.  This makes sense, because the intensity falls off exponentially as a function of distance.  I imposed the Mercalli definition points over this.  By the Mercalli scale, you don’t start seeing substantial damage until it reaches VII or VIII.  If we examine the 9.0 curve, we see that the maximum distance for any sort of substantial damage is about 120 km, which would be well short of the I-5 corridor.  At this distance, the effect would be the same as standing at the epicenter of a 5.0 scale earthquake.  Note, however, that this chart doesn’t take into consideration geologic conductivity or soil composition.  Liquefaction of loose soils may extend the radius of destruction beyond what is described here.

We’re so used to news stories that deal with the damage that can be done by a 6.0 Earthquake.  It is kind of scary, but we have to remember that in the news industry, bad news is good news.  A 6.0 earthquake plays well when you can get footage of houses collapsed and thrown off their foundations, bridges destroyed, etc.  What the news doesn’t show you is that 5 miles away, they put everything back on the shelves of the stores and life continued more or less as usual.

Standing in downtown Portland when the Cascadia fault ruptures will be about like being 10 miles away from the epicenter of a 5.0 Earthquake.  It will wake you up, but you won’t have to dodge falling buildings.

The real threat of Cascadia is the tsunami it will generate.  That will devastate the Coast, but fortunately there are no metropolitan centers in the extreme danger zone for such an event.  There are ways to prepare for disaster on the coast to save lives.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Why I Follow the Bible

In a recent conversation, a Muslim asked me why I follow the Bible, a collection of "historical books written by human beings." You see, since the Bible directly contradicts much of what the Quran says, the Muslim party line is that the Bible is corrupt, and the Quran is the only valid word of God ( I have addressed this elsewhere). I amply demonstrated that every criticism she made of the Bible was true tenfold for the Quran. I felt that her question was simply an attempt to draw attention away from the embarrassment that the Quran is to Islam, but she returned with, "Forget that I am Muslim. and give me your answer?"

 Ah, heck, might as well go on record. . . .so this was my answer to her.  Part of the reason I acquiesced and did this is that most Muslims are dismally ignorant of the Bible and what it contains.  They relate it to their Quran, which lacks a narrative or a cohesive theme.  The Quran is just a mishmash of disconnected stories, anecdotes, directives and sayings, and the Muslims are under the false assumption that the Bible is similar in format and content.  It is not.

The Bible is the historical account of the development of the relationship between man and God. It was written by eyewitnesses, prophets, Kings and scholars. It begins with the lessons of Genesis (God Created the universe and Man. Man sinned and through sin, separated himself from God), to the contract established with Abraham ( My covenant is with you, And you shall be the father of a multitude of nations). It tells of the tribes of Israel enslaved in Egypt, and God leading them out of enslavement to establish them in the promised land. It tells of how the descendants of Abraham lacked faith and turned to false idols, and so God kept them in the desert until all the adults who had fled Egypt were dead except the two whose faith never wavered. It tells of the conquest of the promised land, driving out those who worshiped false gods, and the establishment of a new Nation of Israel, with no government but faith in their God. It tells of the laws that God gave to that nation to prevent their faith in God from becoming contaminated by false beliefs. It tells of the people declaring that they want a king like other nations, and God warning them of the dangers that would entail, and then giving them their king, who went on to establish a great Israelite empire. It tells of the generations that followed, who prospered when they followed the ways of the Lord, and did poorly when they forgot the Lord and turned to false gods. It tells of a nation chastised by it's hubris and lack of faith, ten of the twelve tribes removed from history, and the remaining two led into bondage in a foreign land. It tells of their triumphant return and the rebuilding of the temple when they returned to God.

This and more is all contained in the books of the Old Testament. It's a history, and a repository of literary masterpieces of Jewish culture - songs and poetry and philosophy, all of which derives from God and faith in God. It's a recipe for success, and a cautionary tale told by those who failed to learn their lessons and suffered the consequences. It's also the reference book that establishes the context of the law, the faith, the culture and the beliefs of the people among whom Jesus walked.

When the time was ripe, God chose to demonstrate that his commitment to the contract with Abraham was as strong as was Abraham's. Abraham proved willing in act to sacrifice his only legitimate son - the heir he wanted all his life - to show that nothing was more important than God. How could God do less?

The New Testament is the accounts of eyewitnesses who walked with Jesus, ate with him, listened to him. They relate what they felt was important for posterity. Like Islam, their traditions were oral, until the second temple was destroyed in 70AD by the Romans, and they realized that they needed a permanent way to record their experiences so they could tell other generations what happened even from the grave. So they wrote what they remembered, told the stories of their experiences with Jesus, and as much of his actual words as they could remember. They included a detailed account of what they did after Jesus ascended to heaven, how they spread their "Good News" (Gospel, in Greek. Injeel in Arabic), beyond Jerusalem to communities throughout the known world. They included letters written to the various communities that address questions of faith that those communities had.

But the Bible is not the sole, unsupported point of reference to the Christian faithful. For John said "And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books which were written." (John 21:25) So we not only look to the Book, we look to the traditions, how the earliest followers of Jesus practiced their faith, handed down through generations by those that they taught and who emulated them. We have copious written records of these traditions which are not part of the Bible, but are part of the history of the Christian church, because the Early Christians were a chatty bunch, and prone to write frequently and exchange and compare notes. Indeed, they enjoyed quoting the Bible in their correspondence, and if we were to assemble fragments of scripture from all the letters written in the first two or three centuries, we would be able to paste together the complete New Testament except for about 11 verses.

Moreover we know how these people lived and acted, and frequently died. They converted whole nations without lifting a single sword. They frequently died for their faith, and did so without fighting back, for Jesus said "Love your neighbor," and "Those that live by the sword shall die by the sword."

I follow the Bible because that's the surviving account handed down for two thousand years by those who witnessed it of Jesus' sacrifice on the Cross. Muslims deny this. That sacrifice was a symbolic sin offering, which you would understand if you read the Old Testament and understood Jewish culture. It was a closing of the circle of the covenant with Abraham, demonstrating that God would actually sacrifice his son to show that nothing - no sin - is greater than his love for us. And it was an incontrovertible, public display of power, because it opened the door for Jesus to demonstrate that he had the power over even his own death: "“For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.” John 10:17-18. His resurrection is the greatest of all miracles. Everyone saw him die a public and humiliating death, so there was no question of what had happened when multitudes saw him and heard him teach later.

I follow the Bible, because it's truth spoken by honest men. They wrote what they saw, even when they didn't understand it. These men were terrified, beaten down, their faith shaken after the crucifixion. By any measure the Jesus cult should have died a quiet death after he was gone, as his followers were pushed to the fringe and the new generation scoffed at them for their ridiculous claims. What was it that put steel into them, convinced them so thoroughly that they cheerfully and frequently accepted death in Jesus' name? Something momentous convinced them of who Jesus was so effectively that they could no more deny it than they could stop breathing. The only thing that could have done this was encountering a man you incontrovertibly saw die - a man you buried - talk to you, walk with you, eat with you.

The Bible is a consistent story. It's an epic plot that spanned thousands of years. It's not a random collection of pithy sayings and self-serving anecdotes. It's living history, told by the people who were there.


Monday, March 7, 2011

Christians and the Old Testament Law


When discussing religion with a Muslim, one of the common tactics you will encounter is the Red Herring fallacy, wherein a Muslim will attack the Christian’s beliefs in order to demonstrate the validity of Islam.  What a Christian believes, or how he practices that belief is irrelevant to the question of whether Islam is the inspired word of God or the insane mumblings of a paranoid schizophrenic with a god complex.  Nevertheless, when debating a Muslim, you will be charged to defend your own beliefs and practices.  This does two things for the Muslim – It places you on the defensive, thus removing the requirement for them to not answer uncomfortable questions about Islam which they’re not prepared to answer, and it attempts to cast doubt upon your moral authority to cast judgment on Islam. 

The moral authority is a logical fallacy – any Muslim should be proud to use such a discussion as an opportunity to instruct the infidel in the ways of Islam and demonstrate why the infidel’s logic is in error.  But they do not do this, they shy away from such opportunities the way roaches run from the light.  This implies that they are afraid of what the harsh light of reason will do to their cult beliefs. 

As far as being on the defensive, no Christian should be afraid of this, and should be well-armed to easily defend the Christian faith and turn to use it to demonstrate the fallacies of Islam.  The advantage the Christian has here is that most Muslims have not read the Bible, and anything they know about the Bible is normally from Islamic apologetic websites, taken out of context and presented with editorializations that twist the meaning of the simple truth.  Twisting the truth to be something other than what it is, this is Satan’s strength.  Witnessing the truth in context is normally all that’s required to reveal such lies.

In a recent debate with a Muslim, A Muslim attempted to turn the discussion away from uncomfortable questions I was asking about Islam with the irrelevant question, “So who gave you right that don`t [sic] follow Old Testament??”  The following is my answer.

Christ is the embodiment of the law.  The Old Testament Law was written for the nation of Israel to follow in the way of the Lord.  It was also very very difficult to keep to that law, which demonstrated the need for Salvation through Christ.  In Paul's letter to the Galatians we see (Gal 3:23-29):

Now before faith came we were held in custody under the law, being kept as prisoners until the coming faith would be revealed. Thus the law had become our guardian until Christ, so that we could be declared righteous by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female – for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise.

Christ's law is simple.  The Law given unto Moses was very detailed, given as if to a small child of what one can do and what one cannot do.  Christ's law was a law for the thinking man, a law that discards the zero tolerance of the Old Testament and allows men to understand the concept behind the law, so they can apply it without having to know the specifics.  (Matthew 22:36-40):

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus said to him, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

Indeed, on more than one occasion, Jesus reminded us that the law is an ass, that the law was made for man, not man for the law (Mark 2:23-28):

 Jesus was going through the grain fields on a Sabbath, and his disciples began to pick some heads of wheat as they made their way. So the Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is against the law on the Sabbath?” He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions were hungry – how he entered the house of God when Abiathar was high priest and ate the sacred bread, which is against the law for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to his companions?” Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath. For this reason the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

And Mark 7:14-15 (This chapter has a very lengthy condemnation of people who live by the letter of the law and do not observe the spirit of the law, which I won't repeat here because of space.  I strongly encourage you to read it for yourself):

Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand. There is nothing outside of a person that can defile him by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles him.”

In the early church there was a serious question of whether Gentiles needed to become circumsized to become a Christian.  This was answered by the closest followers who knew Christ the best, and showed that the Law of the Old Testament had some common sense injected into it by Christ.  There are several examples of this to the Romans, Corinthians,  Galatians & Colossians.  I quote here from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, 7:18-19:

Was anyone called after he had been circumcised? He should not try to undo his circumcision. Was anyone called who is uncircumcised? He should not get circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Instead, keeping God’s commandments is what counts.

In Paul's letter to the Romans is a repeat of the answer to this question (Romans 10:4-9):

For Christ is the end of the law, with the result that there is righteousness for everyone who believes.  For Moses writes about the righteousness that is by the law: “The one who does these things will live by them.”  But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down)  or “Who will descend into the abyss?” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).  But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we preach),  because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Finally, in Ephesians, we see that the law of commandments in decrees was nullified by Christ's sacrifice on the cross: Ephesians 2:13-16.

But now in Christ Jesus you who used to be far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, the one who made both groups into one and who destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility, when he nullified in his flesh the law of commandments in decrees. He did this to create in himself one new man out of two, thus making peace, and to reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by which the hostility has been killed.

Christians are under the spirit of the Old Testament Law in principle, but have been given the grace through the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross to apply that law humanely, with common sense, in recognition that the law serves Man, not Man the law.