The Occasional Joke

Nurse: Patient's name?

Centurion: Marcus Licinius Crassus

Nurse: And his date of birth?

Centurion: 115 BC.

Nurse: All right. And what is he here for?

Centurion: Cataphract surgery.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Happy Holidays!

Hasn't been the greatest year, globally, nationally, or locally.
  • Things we frown at: In the world, the Egyptians and Syrians are still shooting each other in an attempt to determine which flavor of zealotry is most conducive to accuracy with small arms. The Israelis and whoever is still alive in Palestine are shooting each other for much the same reasons, plus a few others. In India, the government is cracking down on rape -- no, sorry, I got that wrong. They're cracking down on protests against rape. Easy to get those two mixed up. And Africa is still screwed, much as it has been since the first Europeans set foot on the continent.
  • Here in the US, although the GOP took a spanking in the election, they actually deserved an ass-kicking or a good old-fashioned whuppin', which they manifestly did not get. We're going to spend another twelve months or so snapping at each other about gun control, with most of the snapping being done by people on both sides who know nothing about the issues but know what they like or don't like. And our economic policy is proving to be on a par with our foreign policy, namely speak softly and carry, um, a large skim latte'.
  • And locally, well, we did manage to force our Governor to drop the clown nose and false whiskers he's been wearing and reveal himself as (gasp!) a Republican. Who would have guessed? We failed to pass a constitutional amendment that would have prohibited right-to-work legislation, and amazingly, the state houses then instantly passed -- right-to-work legislation. And a coalition of confused and misinformed residents of our larger cities were able to repeal the emergency manager act.
  • On the good side? Well, Japan returned its conservative party (confusingly named the Liberal Democratic Party) to power, and they're committing themselves to rearming, not to confront us but China. This of course provides us with another place to sell planes, tanks, missiles, and warships.
  • Nationally, Ron Paul is (apparently) out of politics now, demonstrating that even a country crazy enough to elect two different George Bushs isn't crazy enough to hand over the reins to him. And the GOP further endeared itself to its own lunatic fringe by ousting a bunch of their elected representatives from important committee positions.
  • And here in our beloved southeastern Michigan, well, Matty Maroun lost his attempt to hijack the constitution; the legislature immediately passed a new, referendum-proof emergency manager law; and ... they finally got that damn bridge done.
So anyway ... here's hoping 2013 is better for everybody concerned.
Update 2012 12 26: In an incredibly Ron Paul moment, the man himself stepped up to the Gun Control plate and rejected both the NRA guards-in-schools concept and stricter controls on guns. Amazing!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Is it OK to believe rubbish?

Obviously, since you're reading this, the world didn't end a couple of days ago. No one with any claim to common sense or even the ability to read English or any of the world's other commonly-used languages thought it would. And yet, people did believe it. Schools closed, on the grounds that "something might happen." Somewhere out there, I'm sure somebody cashed in all thirty-seven dollars of their IRA money and headed for the woods.

This sort of thing isn't new. Apocalyptic visions are a dime a dozen in human culture, viz. that pathetic specimen of unorthodoxy, Harold Camping. You remember him? The guy who at least twice convinced quite startlingly large numbers of people that the end was coming, on one of several specific dates? Lots of them, at least reportedly, did themselves economic damage by buying into the notion.

There were also the Heaven's Gate people, who formed the ultimate "away team" by committing suicide. (Whether they were all wearing red shirts is not known.) And some people who really should have known better thought that Y2K would spell the end of western civilization.

You can find lots of lists and compilations of this sort of thing, none of which -- read that carefully -- none of which turned out to be correct. Unless you descend into truly fringe-mentality arguments, the observable universe remains in place, as does (like it or not) human culture. That's not a good track record for the doom-sayers.

What you don't find, though, is much talk about consequences for asserting this sort of thing. There is little or no legal basis, that I know of, for having to hold your acolytes harmless for inaccurate predictions on your part. And maybe we ought to look into that. It would go a long way toward putting teeth into the separation of church and state. And since, as Jefferson put it, religion is a matter between a man and his God, it wouldn't open the gates to a flood of post-mortem lawsuits against ministers and mullahs, since there would be no admissible evidence regarding heaven, hell, some integer less than fifty virgins, and so on. Only clearly demonstrable inaccuracies would be acceptable as evidence of breach of contract.

Ah, you say, but what contract? I would argue that if a man can be held to the terms of a lengthy and incomprehensible software license agreement, simply by reason of having checked a box on a computer screen, then a preacher can be held to an implied guarantee that his or her utterances are correct, accurate, and entire. That is, if said preacher wants tax-free status.