Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Turin Shroud: Real or Fake? Answer: Likely a Fake

shroud of turin photo: shroud of turin shroud-neg.jpgOnce more controversy has erupted regarding a religious artifact, in this case the Shroud Of Turin. Six months ago readers may recall a similar furore over a 4th century Coptic manuscript fragment in which Jesus explicitly refers to a wife, see e.g.

Four words, evidently originally in Greek, and translated into "Jesus said to them, my wife" appeared to provide evidence that Yeshua had been married. This, despite the fact that orthodox Christian tradition has long held Yeshua to be unmarried (‘Saviors’ can’t have marital sex!) No sooner had the news been released than the Vatican’s fossils erupted in indignation. They insisted it was “blasphemy” to even make such an insinuation and over weeks the kerfuffle died down.

The latest news of a re-dating of the Turin Shroud, and the claim it’s likely genuine, has again re-ignited controversy and debate between skeptics and believers. The new test, by scientists at the University of Padua in northern Italy, used the same fibers from the 1988 radiocarbon dating tests but disputes the findings. Their claim – somewhat incredible – is that the 1988 scientists actually tested more recent fragments that came from a section repaired during the Middle Ages. Meanwhile, they insist their fragments came distinctly from the original Shroud. (The latest findings are contained in a new Italian-language book: Il Mistero Della Sindone or The Mystery of the Shroud, by Giulio Fanti, a professor of mechanical and thermal measurement at Padua University, and Saverio Gaeta, a journalist)

The new examination dates the shroud to between 300 BC and 400 AD, which would put it in the era of Christ. The 1988 tests dated the cloth to between 1260 and 1390, but noted that this does not necessarily mean the image itself also dated to 1390. The date only proved that is the earliest the shroud cloth was woven. Readers who wish to learn more on the basics of radiocarbon dating can refer to my earlier basic physics blogs:


Meanwhile, the original dating experts have stood by a 1988 carbon-14 dating of scraps of the cloth carried out by labs in Oxford, Zurich and Arizona, which, rules out its use during the time of Christ. Interestingly too – given how the Vatican screamed after the Coptic fragment incident – they’ve tiptoed carefully, never claiming that the 14-foot linen cloth was used to cover Christ after he was taken from the cross 2,000 years ago.

Indeed, Pope Francis, reflecting that careful Vatican position, yesterday referred to the cloth, which is kept in a climate-controlled case, as an "icon" -- not a relic. In other words, unlike assorted Vatican ‘Saint’ relics, the Shroud’s validity cannot be confirmed or accepted. It is instead an “icon” of faith – an echo or image to recall the Master, but not necessarily an actual cloth in which he was wrapped.

How should one then proceed? Cautiously! One would be advised to use the probability rubric created by the great cosmologist E.A. Milne. He created the concept of a bead sliding on a string, with its ends defined as 1 and 0, as shown below:

0 )-------------------------------o------------------------( 1

Milne argued that this was a useful device by which to gauge one’s acceptance of assorted claims, from unicorns, to Martians to God. The 1 end thus defined absolute certainty, or a probability of 1, meaning there could be no doubt at all. The 0 end meant absolute impossibility or an associated probability of zero of occurrence. For example, for me to suddenly grow to the size of a galaxy in 1 second would easily fit at the 0 end. It is impossible.

Meanwhile, a race of extraterrestrials with green hair, seven feet in height and bearing skin marked by large red spots, might well be possible. People may not readily conceive such, but Milne warned that in any plausible or even semi-plausible context it was never wise to allocate one’s bead to either extreme. Don’t let your bead go to 1 (absolute certainty) or to 0 (absolute impossibility). In the case of the aforementioned alien then, perhaps a bead position midway between 0 and 1 is reasonable, given the billions of galaxies out there, and the likely presence of as many planets.

In line with this, I will let my 'bead' sit very close to '0' on the legitimacy of the Shroud. Here are some reasons why:

1) The weave of the Shroud material: No examples of complex herringbone weave are known from the time of Jesus when, in any case, burial cloths tended to be of plain weave. In addition, Jewish burial practice utilized—and the Gospel of John specifically describes for Jesus—multiple burial wrappings with a separate cloth over the face, e.g. John 20:6, King James version:

"Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself...."

2) Aberration in the wrap dimensions: For a shroud that was supposedly wrapped around the body of Christ, the lack of wraparound distortions across the torso, thighs, and legs is striking - the figure does not satisfy the geometric conditions of contact formation.

3) Legacy of fake shrouds in the Middle Ages: The practice of faking 'holy relics' was widespread during the Middle Ages. It would be incomprehensible if multiple fake Shroud attempts were also not made.

4) Disparity in ages from fragments: The current researchers insist their samples are from the correct period, and the 1988 researchers somehow mistakenly selected samples not part of the original shroud but repairs following fire damage in 1532. This claim holds no water- since the original workers were always well aware of what parts of the cloth were repaired and which were older!

5) Erratic or conflicting history: At the very least any real relic ought to have a trackable history! However, little reliable information is known of the shroud before the 15th century, beyond it being present in France in the 14th century. In 1453 Margaret de Charny deeded it to the House of Savoy, and in 1578 the then-Duke transferred it to Turin. The description of the Turin cloth at this point differs from that of the original cloth first presented in the 14th century

6) Blood stains would render it more icon than relic: There are claims of "bloodstains" on the cloth, but Hebrew law dictated cleansing of the corpse before wrapping and bodies don't bleed after death. Chemist Walter McCrone identified the substance as a "combination of red ochre and vermilion tempera paint." However only fibrils lifted from the shroud on sticky tape were tested for blood

7) Image proportions are wrong: As for the image on the Shroud, some basic elements: the image is muscular and 1.70 to 1.88 meters, or about 5'7" to 6'2", tall, with wound points as though they could have been caused by the process of crucifixion, but there is no generally accepted theory to explain how the image was impressed onto the cloth. However, it is accepted that the image is not anatomically correct — the head is 5% too large for its body, the nose is disproportionate, and the arms are too long. In many ways then, it bears similarity or at least image analogy to the fake Oswald photos (holding a rifle) reproduced in LIFE magazine, which were later shown to be fake since while Oswald's head was the same scale in each photo, the bodies were almost always  larger. And by about 5-10%.

Another little known aspect is the height of the Shroud Man (from the image)  appears way too large for a Jew living at the time 100 B.C. E. - 100 C.E. At that period, the tallest Jewish males were roughly 5'4" and perhaps 5'5" at most. To therefore have a person as much as 6'2" would be absurd. The 5'7" is more in the spectrum of probable heights but still out by at least two Gaussian standard deviations.

Given all this, one would be sensible to withhold investing belief in a real Shroud, at least until a confirmation is forthcoming from an independent team.

Meanwhile, there are other theories, such as postulated by the German authors of The Jesus Conspiracy. Their (convoluted) claim is that the Shroud is indeed real (dated from before 330 C.E.) but that it shows Christ was spirited from the tomb by disciples to try to fake the appearance of a resurrection. To make it appear so. Hence, the Church - knowing this - was complicit in the radio-carbon tests done in 1988, to ensure the dating disclosed a Middle Ages forgery effort - nothing more.

My own take is the Shroud is most probably a Middle Ages fake. But if Pope Francis is to be believed it doesn't matter one way or the other. The faithful can still use it to mobilize their faith!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Up to $6 Trillion of the Long Term Deficit- Created by “WARS!”

The news released yesterday that a Harvard group has shown the U.S. “wars” in Afghanistan and Iraq (actually more unpaid for occupations) will cost taxpayers $4 trillion to $6 trillion, taking into account the medical care of wounded veterans- ought to surprise no one who’s been paying attention. The real question the citizen needs to ask is: Why are we looking to cut domestic needs to pay for a deficit that has been rung up by wars of choice??  Oh, and tax cuts at the same time!

Let me now clarify before going on to the Harvard study. After 9/11 many of us could see the enormous future deficits that would be created without the need for a crystal ball. The first indicator? The $1.7 trillion Bush tax cuts passed in 2001. Then, as we heard ‘war on terror’ screamed over and over in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, we feared the U.S. would react by over reacting. Much like an enraged rich man with enormous mansion – just stung by several wasps – who gets out a blowtorch to take down the wasp’s nest under his eaves, and burns his place down in the process.

Exaggerated? Uh,….no! Rachel Maddow, indeed, was perhaps one of the first to do the ex post facto analysis of the unreal costs of mounting a full scale war and making the point it was exactly what Osama bin Laden wanted! E.g.

According to Maddow, in her introductory remarks:

"When we think about Bin Laden we think about murder, mayhem and perverted, pseudo-theology. But Osama Bin Laden himself always thought about money. Money was always how he explained what he was doing, and what al Qaeda was up to. One month after the September 11 attacks he gave an interview to Al Jazeera in which he said, quote

'The losses on Wall Street amounted to 16 percent, and they have said this was a record loss that had never happened in the market's history in 230 years. The capital in circulation in this market amounted to $4 trillion. If we multiply 16 percent by $4 trillion to find out the losses their shares suffered, that is $640 billion. This is what they lost in one hour. The national income in the U.S. is $20 billion'

Bin Laden, in Maddow's quote (from Al Jazeera), then went on to brag about the hidden economic costs latent in the "psychological shock" after the attacks on the Twin Towers and Pentagon, and how many people weren't able to work for a week. He also mentioned layoffs in the airline and hotel industry and the impact these had on the economy.

In the further expatiation of a 2002 interview, Bin Laden didn't brag about the death toll or buildings destroyed but rather that his "great victory in the 9-11 attacks is that they cost the U.S. more than $1 trillion."

As Rachel went on to say:

For us, what looked like nihilism was to Osama Bin Laden economic and economically rational

Bin Laden's own words gave his primary purpose away at the end of his 2004 video, as played by Maddow:

"We are continuing the ploy of bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy"

Well, now we know it’s a lot more than $1 trillion!

Instead of playing into Bin Laden’s hands with a precipitous over-reaction, the saner and more rational move would have been to mount a lower order police action to take out al Qaeda in a measured fashion, but without squandering trillions. Worse, compounding the original blunder by adding another “war” (occupation) on a nation (Iraq) that had nothing to do with 9/11! Why? Because Bush Jr. had to get back at Saddam for dissing his daddy.

 In the case of the aftermath of 9/11 we, the supposed super power, elevated a gaggle of robed lunatics in al Qaeda to the same level of competing super power, since we mounted so many military resources against them and which may take years to pull out of Afghanistan! Like a big brute human stung by a hornet, we used a blow torch when a rolled up newspaper would have sufficed. It had been as if the surprise and intensity of the attacks dislodged all reason and proportion from our leaders' minds.

We played into Bin Laden’s hands like dummies, even compounding it by launching an unrelated war in 2003, and now can’t even pay the disability benefits for tens of thousands of returned vets still waiting for the VA to make good. The waiting times now are up to 894 days! If we now add another war, say with Iran or Syria, how much longer will that waiting time reach? 894 months? The way the deficit is being ramped up, don’t laugh!

Back to the Harvard study: Linda J. Bilmes, a public policy professor, wrote in the report that was released Thursday-

“As a consequence of these wartime spending choices, the United States will face constraints in funding investments in personnel and diplomacy, research and development and new military initiatives,”

The report says

"The legacy of decisions taken during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will dominate future federal budgets for decades to come.”

Bilmes said the United States has spent almost $2 trillion already for the military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. Those costs, she said, are only a fraction of the ultimate price tag. The biggest ongoing expense will be providing medical care and disability benefits to veterans of the two conflicts.

Well, we already can see that the government can barely cope, what with waiting times for VA disability benefits up to 894 days. Again, this also speaks to the problem of not providing the revenue in the first place. Instead, what did the Bush administration do? It extended tax cuts along with mounting more “wars”! Insanity, as Einstein noted, is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. In this case, the Bushies didn’t learn a damned thing since the Reagan era- when tax cuts coupled with extravagant defense spending (think $400 hammers and $4,000 toilet seats for the Pentagon) also nearly drove the nation into a ditch!

And then we wonder WHY we have such a massive deficit, and have the chutzpah to even consider reducing it on the backs of seniors, the disabled and returned maimed vets? We are truly insane! Or perhaps, dishonorable and insane!

Bilmes goes on to say:

“Historically, the bill for these costs has come due many decades later. Payments to Vietnam and first Gulf War veterans are still climbing ”

This references that the peak disbursement of disability payments for American vets in the last century came decades after the conflicts ended. Spending borrowed money to pay for the wars has also made them more expensive, the study noted. The conflicts have added $2 trillion to America’s debt, representing roughly 20 percent of the debt incurred between 2001 and 2012. Add to that the deficits from the Bush tax cuts, and we’re already looking at more than a 45% fraction of our current debt created by purely insane policies.

All of which points to the fact that the nation is in prolonged decline. As documented in the book, ‘Arrogant Capital’ by Kevin Phillips, the first ominous signs of an empire in decline include: 1) military overstretch and the inability or lack of will to pay for it, and 2) the domination of the financial system by speculators and speculative capital, as well as the proliferation of financial instruments. (In the latter case, the financial industry subsumes the place of earlier manufacturing and the production of solid, practical products.)

We had our chance as a nation, but a series of wrong, reckless choices has clearly put us on the same downward path as Rome, Spain and Great Britain. Plausibly, when the history texts are finally accurately written, the turning point for the nation will be the insertion of the Bush II regime. They will then be blamed for turning the U.S. into a third world backwater....with skyscrapers.

Look at the artificial DOW rising....then think of the fact we have a crumbling infrastructure that needs $2.2 trillion merely to bring it to adequate serviceability.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Easter Story – And Why The Need for Exegesis is Greater Than Ever

As 15 million odd Americans remain glued to their tubes for Mark Burnett’s ‘The Bible’ one wonders if any of them are exercising even rudimentary critical thinking skills. Or, are they apt to buy into everything shown as the absolute truth? Well, especially as we’re now into Easter weekend, it’s a good time to be more critical and maybe parse that narrative of the death and resurrection with a colder, more critical eye!

One of the first passages they might question is Matthew 28:2, which takes up the story after the crucifixion and after two women arrived at the tomb:

"And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it."

The story relates that the stone was rolled away after the women arrived, in their presence. However, Mark's Gospel says it happened before the women arrived:

"And they said among themselves, Who shall roll away the stone from the door of the sepulchre? And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great."

Meanwhile, Luke writes:

"And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre."

Can't these guys agree on anything? But wait!  Maybe we can arrive at a supermajority for truth! John concurs with Luke: No earthquake, no rolling stone. It is a three-to-one vote: Matthew loses. Else the other three are wrong.  Never mind fundies’ insistence of biblical inerrancy, logic rules! An event cannot happen both before and after the key subjects arrived.

Now, some bible defenders may assert that Matthew 28:2 was intended to be understood in the past perfect, showing what had happened before the women arrived. But the entire passage is in the aorist or past tense, and it reads, in context, like a simple chronological account. Matthew 28:2 begins, "And, behold," not "For, behold."

If tenses of assorted verses can be so easily shuffled around, and believers can be so gullible as to rationalize them all, then what is to keep them from putting the flood before the ark, or the crucifixion before the nativity? Heck, they can do anything they want!

Consider an additional  problem: the fact that in Matthew the first post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to the disciples happened on a mountain in Galilee and not in Jerusalem as most Christians believe. Note the prediction by the angel sitting on the newly moved rock:

"And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him."

Assuming the angel was delivering the message of God this had to have been of supreme importance. Jesus had even predicted this himself sixty hours earlier, during the Last Supper (cf. Matthew 26:32). Later, according to(Matthew 28:16-17:

"Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted."

Reading this at face value, and in context (something many fundies often avoid, i.e. they insist on "interpreting" a troublesome passage when at other times they demand it be taken literally), it’s clear that Matthew intends this to have been the first appearance. Otherwise, if Jesus had been seen before this time, why did some doubt?

Then also, we find that Mark agrees with Matthew's account of the angel's Galilee message, but delivers a different account of the first appearance. Meanwhile, Luke and John give different angelic messages and then radically contradict Matthew. Luke relates the first appearance is on the road to Emmaus and then in a room in Jerusalem. John, however, says it happened later than evening in a room, minus Thomas. These angel messages, locations, and travels during the day are impossible to reconcile. But who’s looking, or asking? Clearly not most fundies!

Such contradictions don’t prove that the resurrection didn’t happen, but they do throw considerable doubt on the reliability of the supposed witnesses. Some of them were wrong. Maybe they were all wrong. And let us not forget Thomas Paine’s famous words (in The Age of Reason ):

"I lay it down as a position which cannot be controverted. First, that the agreement of all the parts of a story does not prove that story to be true, because the parts may agree and the whole may be false; secondly, that the disagreement of the parts of a story proves the whole cannot be true."

All of which points up the need for judicious use of  biblical exegesis to scrutinize ancient words as opposed to blindly accepting them. (Or worse, accepting cartoon TV accounts- especially on how 'Satan' looks!)

An ongoing problem that consistently emerges is that many who purport to have mastered exegesis have often omitted textual analysis as part of it, which also requires familiarity with one or more languages, in particular Latin, and Greek. Thus, a person versed and educated in these languages will be able to at least parse the Latin Vulgate form of early biblical texts, and also make forays into the Greek Septuagint. By using such language skills to examine then compare earlier and earlier texts, one is then in a position to identify errors and obvious mistranslations without having to have the original texts as reference. Hence, one can deduce errors have been made and also have been propagated on the basis of simple deduction, once inconsistencies are exposed.

As an illustrative example: Half the oldest manuscript witness texts, including a Bodmer papyrus, the Vaticanus and Beza’s Codex omit the sentence in Luke 23: 34 which purportedly contains the "last" words of Jesus. This level of uncertainty in the textual tradition means the interpretation of the passage was a subject of serious debate. Put briefly: half the witnesses insisted Jesus begged God’s forgiveness for “them” – the other half pretended to know nothing of the “Eloi, eloi lama sabacthani” prayer. What gives? How can the divergences be reconciled? The conclusion of textual analysts is that the passage is probably bogus and a later addition. Why say so? Because the earliest Greek witness papyrus (called P 75 - which dates back to 200 AD) has no such content. However, the prayer can be found in Codex Sinaiticus and a large range of mss. produced in the Middle Ages. Again, the comparison of earlier mss. with much later ones (in the Middle Ages) shows prima facie evidence for alteration of text in the later epoch. We don't need any Divine Being to inform us of this, we arrive at it using simple logical inference, i.e. deduction!

Another example is the verse from Matthew 25:46:“And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal". This verse (which I've commented on before)  is critical because it's the only one in the whole good book that has the two words "everlasting" and "punishment" in the same sentence. Thus, the entire concept or claim of "everlasting punishment" rests on the validity of this single verse. But is it valid? Not when one applies the Greek translation (from the Greek Septuagint), emerging as:"kolasin aionion” or punishment for an aeon. Now as anyone even without Greek language skills knows, an aeon never has been nor will it ever mean "eternal". Thus, one can legitimately conclude that later scribes and copyists deliberately inserted their own version to bend the scriptures to their own agenda

What is the optimum way to take the Bible’s assorted books, and especially the Gospels? Catholic Scriptural Historian, the Rev. Thomas Bokenkotter, in his monograph,  A Concise History of the Catholic Church put it thusly (page 17):

"The Gospels were not meant to be a historical or biographical account of Jesus. They were written to convert unbelievers to faith in Jesus as the Messiah, or God.”

In other words, they were intended as a propaganda pressure ploy! Further, what we have from Rev. Bokenkotter is a de facto admission that no historical support exists for any of the accounts in the New Testament. Indeed, if they "were not meant to be historical" (or accurate), then we cannot be sure if any are! Quite possibly, none of the accounts should be taken seriously. This is also a good reason to interject once more that interested readers ought to avail themselves of the easily accesible online course, Introduction to New Testament History and Literature by Prof. Dale B. Martin of Yale University. (Roughly on a par with my 'Introduction to the New Testament' course taken at Loyola in 1964-65. ) The compilation of course sessions, all on video, can be accessed via this link:

And the one I recommend most for those short on time is No.13, dealing with the "Historical Jesus" (link below):

Textual criticism and analysis not only exposes the inadequacies in distinct texts of the NT, but through the whole bible via the propagation of errors concept. Consider: from the earliest OT scribblings (12 th century BC) to the final establishment of the NT corpus at the Council of Trent (16th century) more than 28 centuries elapsed! That is, twenty- eight centuries for copyist errors to propagate through millennia and not be caught and for enormous mistranslations to emerge because of said errors. Even worse, the Trent corpus was not even the final word or revision, the good Book was then bastardized compliments of Henry VIII of England who enjoined the fabrication of the King James Bible which is even less trustworthy than any of the Catholic versions! Trustworthiness itself was often determined by consensus in the earliest writings and codices. Most present day fundamentalists aren’t even remotely aware that the content they are claiming today as “literal or inerrant words” were in fact originally “passed by committee” !

While it is natural for fundamentalist critics to gloss over all this, as they claim some "inerrant original text inspired by God" still exists, the bottom line is that the ball is still in their court, and with it the burden of proof. So far, they've produced or proven no pure original text and have only, for some reason, placed all their faith in the King James version as the authentic descendent of that original. Which is pure poppycock. We know, for example, it was transcribed from an entire corrupted 12th century mistranslated text substituted for the Latin Vulgate (by Erasmus) then reconstructed and issued long after the mismatch could be easily tracked. Subsequent exegetical experts were able to do this by comparing the language in the original mss. but even a novice can ascertain the monumental deficiencies just by ferreting out all the glaring contradictions, many of which are not minor by any means! (Though objecting fundies often claim they are).

As an example, consider just the question (at the core of most orthodox Christian doctrine): 'Will everyone get saved?'  Simple, eh? One would certainly think any extant, "divinely inspired" and "inerrant" Bible would uniformly get its answers right (no contradiction), but the KJV fails on all counts! One finds (on excavating the relevant answers from the gospels and other sources) that a 'YES!' answer is located in: John 12:32; Rom. 5:18, 11:32; 1Col 15:22; Col 1:20; 1Tim 2:4,6; 1John 2:2, but the 'NAY!' also exists and is found in Matt. 7:13-14; Luke 13:23-24.

My point here? IF the KJV (or any other version of the Bible) was truly an authentic carryover version of the "original original word of God" there'd be no ambiguity whatever. Nor can the argument be made that faulty "humans" were responsible, since if that happens then the de facto admission is made that the Bible is a human invention. Surely, if the divine word was so critical, then an inspired work ought to have ensured no disparity or deviations in such a critical message! As for the resort to "hermeneutics" to try to explain it away, this is a non-starter.

Recall that hermeneutics asks what the writer (in that vernacular) actually meant in the idiom of his day (NOT our day!) and what losses in meaning that idiom encountered as it was transcribed to other languages in succession. Thus the primary objective of exegesis is interpreting what the passage in the original language meant in terms of its OWN CONTEXT not simply putting it into the new one. THIS is why so many biblical literalists foul up and end up in a ditch.

As I noted in an earlier blog, the process for the literalist is basically 1:1 onto:

[Text x] -> [Text x]

Thus, [text x] undergoes no modification from what their eyes detect or parse in the passage.

In fact, there are three primary phases of the hermeneutics process so that at least three stages have to be covered, so:

[text x] -> [1] ->[2] –[3] -> [Text Z]

Even this is oversimplified, since technically each step also needs to be checked and parsed from one language to the other. For example, what did the author mean in Aramaic? What did he mean when this was transferred to GREEK? What did he mean when this Greek was transferred to Latin? What did he mean when the Latin went to English? Then step [2] – repeating the same sequence. When we did exegesis at Loyola we used columns for the four main languages and parsed each passage for EACH step before arriving at the final meaning. (As anyone who's ever studied foreign languages knows- and I've studied Latin, Russian, German and Spanish- it is essentially impossible to get a perfect translation from one to another!)

What we acknowledge in doing this procedure is the fact that we have NO ORIGINALS of any scriptures, only error-ridden copies (as the evidence I presented earlier shows). But, if we can take the passages through the above sequence, then let the light of the historical research shine upon the effort, we can at least approach the truth. We are not so naïve as to claim or expect we HAVE the truth, since hermeneutics itself – its very use- is a tacit admission one can’t take passages literally.

The many logia in the Gospels would, if they could convincingly be shown derived from a single personality or source, be strong evidence that a historical Jesus existed. But such is not the case. In tandem textual analysis and historical research (see the Yale lecture)discloses we are left with an artifact created or invented by eager followers.

People need to remember this, especially those currently going ga-ga over Burnett’s puerile ‘Bible’ retelling on the (pseudo-) History Channel!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Sanders Amendment Passes.....In a Manner of Speaking!

If anyone needs to know why I ceased being a Democrat, you need look no further than how the Senate Dems dealt with the Sanders-Harkin-Hirono Amendment which opposed the Social Security cut and tax increase known as the "chained CPI".

The amendment, simplified to the "Sanders Amendment" was introduced to put Senators, especially the weasly, pussified Dems, on record as either supporting or opposing this egregious and unpopular idea.

Well, while those into superficial politics might have guessed how the vote would turn out,  those of us in deep politics knew. We knew that the Neoliberally -compromised Democrats (the other side of the two-sided corporate coin party) would find some way to punk out. This they did in truth by expediently resorting to a "voice vote" - which leaves the back door open to a later deal including the chained CPI. So yes, the Dems' paper rejection was a victory of sorts for common sense, but on the other hand exposed them as weasels: they don't want to be on record as supporting the chained CPI but they don't wish to be on record against it either! In other words, they want to straddle the fence, clearly more terrified of losing their seats to the Repukes, or earning the ire of the Neoliberal media, than doing the right thing.

In a way, this feckless treatment of the Sanders' amendment makes sense, since so many Democratic Senators have been trying to help the White House get this policy into a "Grand Bargain". That group of traitors includes members of the so-called Gang of Six, a corporate- and billionaire-friendly “centrist” group whose members currently include Max Baucus of Montana and Mark Warner of Virginia.  But the dirty little secret is that cutting Social Security is not something the political center wants. Poll after poll has shown, in fact, that a majority of voters across the political spectrum rejects the chained CPI or any other form of benefit cut. In fact, a recent poll showed that voters would prefer to increase Social Security benefits – and would be willing to pay more in taxed to do it.

The Democratic Party has already paid a huge price just for talking about Social Security cuts. A Social Security Works poll  showed that the party suffered a stunning 25-point plunge in public confidence between 2005 and 2010 on its ability to do a better job than its opposition to protect the program.

I mean, don't these weasels get it? Don't they get that if they ACT like Repukes, the people will treat them as such? No wonder these Senators wanted to vote in secret! If they’re keeping their powder dry for a Social Security betrayal, apparently they don’t want to have to add hypocrisy to their list of sins. But how can we best explain this basic lack of cojones, or courage? The clear giveaway that Dems had become populist turncoats was mentioned by Robert McChesney in his excellent book, The Problem of the Media, Monthly Review Press, 2004, p. 49:

"With the election of Ronald Reagan, the neoliberal movement had commenced. Neoliberal ideology became hegemonic not only among Republicans but also in the Democratic Party of Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and Joseph Liebermann. Differences remained on timing and specifics, but on core issues both parties agreed that business was the rightful ruler over society."

Business the "rightful ruler of society"? In other words, the rest of us are mere cogs, or peons, not much better than the wretched drones stuffed into 2' b 2' cubicles to do the bidding of their corporate overseers!

But even worse, it discloses the virus of Neoliberalism is at the root of the rot in the current Democratic party - and why they have long since ceased fighting for the poor working man, and now can barely lift their voices to defend the interests of the besieged Middle Class - even as they prepare to cut the floor out from under us using a grand screw job......errrrr..."bargain"!

Now, it is a sad and sorry state that many of our populace have no grasp of Neoliberalism and appear to confuse it with traditional Liberalism. Liberalism in the traditional sense has always been about defending and expanding citizens' personal rights and liberties, whether for speech, property protections, or in the venue of economics in terms of social justice and fairness. The Liberal in the latter sense demands a LIVING WAGE for the working population, which is defined as a wage that would accommodate basic needs in any community, without having to work more than one 8 hr/day job.

Meanwhile, his Neoliberal counterpart says "Oh NO!" He argues the "free market" must decide wage scales and how many are hired and where hired. Never mind the "free market" has long since become coercive, as Charles Reich has noted ('Opposing the System', 1996). Because of centralization of many corporations and application of the same hierarchical managerial structure to all, the same rules generally apply. Workers therefore have no choice in setting their terms and conditions of employment. It is 'take it or leave it'. Hardly a free market!

The Neoliberal then, is all about worship of the free market and free market forces as basic empirical definers to how much an individual or society can attain. In his skewed universe, all would be well if the "market" would just be permitted free rein, laissez faire to the googolplex power, and devil take the hindmost! Deus ex machina anyone? This is why the Neoliberal pundit, wag or political hack now seeks to retrench benefits and entitlements, since he's invested in the basic thesis is each manjack ought to be able to make or earn his own way. If the government assists, then this "reduces personal initiative" to get ahead or so the Neolib argument goes! He doesn't seem to reckon that in times of insecurity most people will be driven be their most basic fears, not by some economic abstraction that doesn't exist.

Neoliberalism also extols the hegemony of the corporation as the fundamental unit of society, over flesh and blood humans. Oh, the Neoliberal will spout empty bromides and rhetoric proclaiming human worth and the need to contain or control corporate greed, but these are simple mechanical mouthings. For Neoliberal politicians, it's simple: it is those corporations that pay the bulk of his campaign expenses, via their contributions, and make his election runs possible. He dare not move beyond rhetoric to undercut their agendas.

How or where the Neoliberal toxin took hold in the Dem Party is a matter of conjecture, but most believe it started with pseudo-liberal Wuss Michael Kinsley, in an article in The Atlantic in the 80s. (Older readers may recall Kinsley sat opposite Pat Buchanan in the old CNN Crossfire series, and always got his butt handed to him by the Patster because of his meek bearing, weak, squeaky voice and weaker arguments). The piece defined market empirical measures as the optimum way to share benefits from taxes, etc. as opposed to merely giving money out to the needy and poor, a la Johnson's "Great society" in the 1960s.If a market measure didn't justify a support basis, say for unemployment benefits, or child health care, it wasn't to be done.

Why adopt this strategy? Kinsley and the honchos who were later to become the "DLC" (Democratic Leadership Council, aka "Republicans Lite") believed this was the best way to counter the Republican pro-business obsession. In other words, they were too goddamend lazy to develop a real narrative to counteract the re-punks so chose the easy path! Hence, DLC strategy in this regard enabled Bill Clinton to out maneuver the Repukes on welfare in 1996, by actually supporting a welfare to work reform bill. (Of course, this earned Bill the undying contempt of many Liberals).

If the Dems could beat the Repugs at their own game, via Neoliberalism, why not use it? Well, because ultimately, it would make consolidating an activist base (reared as such from the time of JFK) reluctant to consistently ally itself with them. This is why many old line Dems have simply stopped voting, period. They couldn't stomach how the D-party sold itself out for political expediency, and how it's lost the will to fight for the common man.

How far were the Dems prepared to go in their new Neolib conversion? Well as far or further than newly minted Evangelicals, all full of piss, vinegar, fire and brimstone. Oh, and calling the REAL Liberals all kinds of names like 'fifth columnists', and even 'commies', when we're the ones who used to give heart and soul to the party ....from the Kennedy era!

John Farrell, writing 7 years ago in his (then) Sunday Denver Post column ('Lost liberals ponder path back to power'), observed that:

"these new Dems have no intentions of ever going back to any kind of economic populism" (read: join the struggle for the working man, woman) again. He quotes in his piece author Thomas Frank ('What's the Matter with Kansas?') and the degree of the Dems' capitulation to the corporate overseers (ibid.):

"the Democratic establishment is absolutely determined to not let that old-school economic populism back in the door, they would rather lose elections. And they do. They lose and they lose and they lose."

As they will surely lose the upcoming 2014 mid-term elections, because by then - and with a "grand bargain' likely in place, the main supporters will be too disheartened to show up at the polls. So ...look for the pukes to take the Senate. But do not blame the voters!  Of course, having jettisoned the old school populism of FDR, JFK etc. they have lost other elections - lots, like in '80, '84, '88, and more recently 2000, 2004 and 2010. (Though many rightly argue Bush had the 2000 election handed to him by 5 Supremes). The Dems may also lose again, White House, in '16 - if they don 't get their act together and finally organize around a credible economic populism. But how can they when their paymasters, the corporate elites and power brokers, are the ones underpinning the Neoliberal thrust?

Unsettling as it may be, the Neoliberal germ is also what would explain, account for Obama's  Simpson-Bowles "Deficit commission" which set the stage for the current travesty, the  'Fix the Debt' bunch, driven by big corporatists and helped by mutts like Peter G. Peterson, see e.g. )

Is Obama himself a Neoliberal? Well, he betrayed his Neolib DNA at his (2010)  post-midterm/ post-mortem press conference by saluting Big Business and the "free market". He said:

 "The reason we've got an unparalled standard of living in the history of the world is because we've got a free market that is dynamic and entrepeneurial and that free market has to be nurtured and cultivated."

Yes, but not at the expense of the people, citizens! Also, it is wise to understand that we really have now is not a true free market, but a coercive  market. Charles Reich spelled out the difference: (Opposing the System, Crown Books, 1995, p. 22: )

A free market produces results that favor the health of society as a whole, because an essential balance is maintained. But in a coercive market, the balance is destroyed, the earning power of work and the standard of living of workers declines, and society as a whole is devastated while those with economic power gain an ever more unbalanced share of the nation's economic wealth.


Quite clearly, what we have is a coercive market which also explains many of the downscale indicators in our society - from the lack of decent paying jobs to the fact corporations can sit on $1.7 trillion while they send capital overseas, to the crumbling infrastructure. It also accounts for why the highest number ever is now reported receiving food stamps even as the artificial DOW climbs toward 15,000. Meanwhile, as Sen. Bernie Sanders noted in his article- guest blog:

"the wealthiest 400 individuals in this country own more wealth than the bottom half of America — 150 million Americans. The top 1 percent owns 38 percent of all financial wealth, while the bottom 60 percent owns just 2.3 percent"

Reality check anyone? Seems to me the Neoliberal coercive market is dictating terms, not any "free market"!

At one time the Dems stood for core principles and they constituted more than strategizing a temporary ensemble brought together every 4 years by dodgy rhetoric to win elections. Now, having sold out to the money changers, bankers and business assholes - not to mention the pseudo-free market, they are barely discernible from the Repugs. Two sides of one corporate party coin. Meanwhile what I and others want to know is:  Who’s defending Social Security and protecting middle -class expenses (especially medical)  and who isn’t?

The good news about this Sanders amendment vote is that it tells us that the Senate leadership understands that the “chained CPI” is politically toxic. The bad news is that they’re not willing to stand up for what they know is right and may actually  later vote it in, destroying their party finally and utterly.....because of the Neoliberal suicide imperative! Are any of these bozos listening to any of us, or anything other than $$$$$?

Solutions to Branched Complex Functions (2)

1) We're given that  ray: Q = 2 p, is a branch cut along the positive Re-axis. Also that a multiple –valued function is discontinuous at every point of a branch cut for the function. Also, we're informed that:

Log z = ln r + iQ (r > 0, - pQ < p)

Is called the principal branch.

So ordinarily this would also suffice to answer the problem but not so fast. The problem is the branch cut designating a ray:  Q = 2 p,  yields a multiple-valued function, which we prefer not to have for the Principal branch. To see this, consider multiple rotations, yielding Q = 2 p4 p, 6 p, etc. so that each of these yields an additional value. Therefore, to obtain a single-valued Principal branch we need to restrict Q,  i.e. so that the answer is instead: 

Log z = ln r + iQ (r > 0, 0 £ Q < 2p)

2) The sort of diagram - as from a previous blog - is shown in Fig. 2. This was originally for a radius r of 5, with incremental values along the vertical axis. But disregarding those, it can also serve to satisfy the answer for problem 2 of the problem set. Thus, the value a = 1 can be considered to be at the radius indicated by the dark orange circle. The value a = 0.5 is just before it, and the value a = 2 would be the last green (inner) circle near the periphery.  

The rays to satisfy the conditon: q =  a

in the diagram, these can be for any of the angles shown, for example, q = 30 degrees or p/6, and maybe use p/3 (60 degrees) and p/2 (90 degrees) too.

3)  We are given: Q1(a1,t1)  = 6 p/5  and Q2(a2,t2)  = 7 p/5

Let z1 be the configuration at (a1, t1) and z2 be the configuration at (a2, t2).  Then, to express the proper motion undergone by the minor spot we may write:

D Q1Q2 = ln z2 – ln z1

where ln z1 = ln r1 + i6 p/5    and ln z2 = ln r2  + i7 p/5 

D Q1Q2  =

[ln r2 + i7 p/5 ] – [ln r1 +  i6 p/5] =

ln r2 – ln r1 + i[arg z2 – arg z1] = ln r2 - ln r1 + i[7 p/5 - 6 p/5 ]

= ln r2 - ln r1 + i(p/5)

The task of further simplification (hint: using the form exp iQ) is left to industrious math mavens!