To the Republican Platform Committee

In a fit of pique, I submitted the following to the Republican Platform Committee. I don’t expect a great return for the effort, unless …many others express the same ideas as emphatically as they are able:

“My family has always voted Republican. The Party has changed in recent years.

“The important issue: the Republican Party must stand for strict separation of church and state.

“But the Party has now allied itself with the religious right, with such pet issues as anti-stem-cell research, anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage.

“I will not vote Republican under such terms. Protection of individual rights is the most important political issue. Citizens have the right to indulge in their religion, but only privately. There is no right to force one’s religious views on others, as the religious right hopes to do through the Republican Party.

“My hope is for the Party to get back to issues of individual rights, national defense, and free markets. Leave the “social” issues to Americans’ free choice. Until then, the Party will not have my vote.”

–Ken

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Harry Reid and the “Voluntary” Income Tax

One Jan Helfeld interviewed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada). The interview can be seen here: http://tinyurl.com/5az366

Mr. Helfeld argues that the U.S. income tax is not voluntary, because it is backed up by the threat of governmental force. Reid insists that it is voluntary.

In trying to sort out Reid’s reasons, I find three arguments.

1) In many other countries you would never file taxes. Especially in European countries, your government makes the employer deduct all taxes before you get paid.

2) Here, we have lots of — oops; not loopholes — ways that people can get deductions, such as on mortgage payments, health, etc. Reid calls these, “incentives for people to do business.”

3 ) In resposnse to Helfeld’s assertion that there is force involved since if you don’t pay you go to jail, Reid responded, “You don’t go to jail. Some people go to jail…” but we have civil penalty alternatives.

When I come upon someone who uses words equivocally — as Sen. Reid does — and who does not change when this is pointed out to him, as Mr. Helfeld did several times, I consider that person to be either stupid or dishonest. I include Reid in the dishonest category.

Words have meanings. When pinned to the wall, Reid acknowledges that government force is used in tax collection by saying that “ultimately, you can’t cheat on your taxes.” So he (barely) recognizes what “voluntary” means. But immediately thereafter he continues to insist that our income tax system is voluntary because it’s different from those of some European countries.

The concept “voluntary” refers to the distinguishing characteristic of an action, in this case the action of handing over money. Throughout history, governments have forcibly taken wealth from those who produced it, and that’s what is called taxation, of course. It is the opposite of what’s meant by “voluntary”, which denotes action one takes willingly, of one’s own accord.
Now, it is taken as a truism that all politicians are dishonest. Usually, that means that they all make campaign promises that don’t subsequently get fulfilled. But Harry Reid’s dishonesty is more blatant. He wants to make us believe that words don’t have meanings, really, that they can mean whatever the speaker wants them to mean. Thus, by destroying our language, do our leaders try to destroy our minds.

–Ken

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Dr. Geeta Shroff

Imagine having a paralyzing spinal cord injury. Imagine being unable to move your arms or legs, or even to breathe on your own. Then imagine that a physician has developed a treatment using injected embryonic stem cells which can actually improve your condition, allow you to, say, breathe again without mechanical aid. Or begin to regain some use of your limbs, and find yourself on the road to recovery.

Such treatment now appears to be on the horizon for sufferers of heretofore incurable conditions such as SCI, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease.

Every now and then, I run into a new candidate for the title, “a hero of mine.” It’s too early to tell, but I may have found another.

A medical researcher in New Delhi, India, Dr. Geeta Shroff, is reportedly doing wondrous things with embryonic stem cells. She has been called a “maverick,” already an attractive description in an age of regulated conformity. The reason for the appellation: her fierce determination to do her work under her own terms and in her own way.

This means that Dr. Shroff did her research without any government financial assistance. As with the early Bill Gates, she at first worked out of her garage, where she set up her own small lab.

She first became famous in the early 90’s for developing a technique for determining the sex of a fetus in the womb, without taking a scan. After regulators curtailed that practice, she worked at treating couples for infertility problems.

She began her controversial work on stem cells in the late 90’s. At present, she has two hospitals in New Delhi, where she treats people who have terminal conditions or incurable diseases. Her patients have mostly been countrymen, but lately she has been approached by many international patients from Britain, Australia, America, and other countries which tightly control the use of embryonic stem cells.

Dr. Shroff gets criticism from the conventional medical establishment because she doesn’t publish on her research and technique. Instead of publishing, she has applied for a patent in order to stop competitors from copying and profiting from her work.

Dr. Shroff is to be commended for steadfastly being her own person in an era when such independence is frowned upon. She will have huge forces aligned against her: the medical profession’s disapproval and consequent ostracism, condemnation by religious “pro life” groups, castigation by self-styled “ethicists”, censure for insisting on making her own use of her discoveries rather than giving them away — the list goes on.

It’s too early for me to tell whether this remarkable woman and her breakthrough methods are for real, or a flash in the pan, but I have to say, I like her style.
–Ken

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Intelligent Design Yet Again

A cynical curmudgeon named Ben Stein has been making the rounds of talk shows, promoting a soon-to-be-released movie.
(http://expelledthemovie.com/)

Judging from the trailer for the movie, it will be yet another rehash of Intelligent Design. The trailer shows a teacher at a chalkboard, talking to his class about evolution. Stein, at the rear of the class, interrupts to ask how life could arise from inanimate matter.

The teacher acts caught out. He mumbles and stutters. He says they have gone over this time and again. Stein responds that the teacher never answers the question. He brings up the possibility of ID, and the other students all nod approvingly.

Leave aside for the moment the fact that several hypotheses about the origin of life are presently being scientifically explored. (See, e.g., http://tinyurl.com/z2ylv.) Stein’s notion of ID demonstrates once again a fallacy that constantly shows up in ID claims. In fact, this fallacy has been pointed out so frequently that it has acquired a title: God of the Gaps.

Religion loves a mystery, meaning anything currently unexplainable. Theistic people can then “explain” the unknown by positing a god or gods who make it all happen.

An excellent article, “The Last Gasp for the God of the Gaps” by Greg Perkins is still available: (http://tinyurl.com/5ox38o)

When you already “know” — throughRevelaton — that God exists and created everything, you can safely ridicule any scientific teaching that contradicts your “knowledge.”

Stein, and ID proponents generally, already “know” how life got started; how the universe itself got started. God did it, and they “don’ need no steenking” scientific theories.

The focus of the ID movement is to ridicule the theory of evolution, which, they are correct in fearing, gives the lie to the notion of “creation ex nihilo.” The deeper purpose of ID is to more firmly embed religion into politics so that education and legislation will reflect the religionists’ views of the world and morality.

Of course, Stein’s movie is bent on deriding any idea of a universe with no God to make it go, so the focus (in the trailer) is the humiliation of the teacher who can’t answer it.

–Ken

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CSS Catastrophe

Ad Hoc has been out of commission for awhile. While trying to categorize my former posts, I managed to lose a bunch of them. Server owner Prodos worked heroically to recover some (most?) of them from Google’s cache.

Prodos is also trying to find out what caused the loss in the first place. We have determined that it has something to do with CSS settings. Ad Hoc does not display properly in my browser. This apparently caused a misalignment of buttons and labels in the editiing page, so that when I hit “edit” I instead got “delete.”

In fact, I have two browsers and the blog does not look the way it should in either. I suspect some conflict with another program. I’ve been trying, sporadically, to be systematic in trying to track down which it might be.
In any case, Prodos found me a way to work around the problem while he applies his magnificent mind to its solution, so the blog is (sort of) back in business.

–Ken

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Sticks and Stones

Cartoon drawings of Mohammad are back in the news lately. True to form, Muslims are rioting and making dire threats.

Have Muslims no choice but to be offended by cartoons depicting Mohammad? No choice but violence in their response? The answers to these two questions need not be the same.

If we understand “taking offense” to be emotional reaction, then the Muslims who take offense — who feel offended by the cartoons — probably have no immediate choice. One feels what one feels.

The answer to the second question: choice is the name of the game. To assert that no choice of actions is available to them would be to deny free will. It’s of the essence of humanithy to have the capacity to choose actions on the basis of thought.

Muslims, or anybody, who disdain thinking in favor of faith, have only whim to guide their actions. And so they whimsically riot against all who do not share their thoughtless respect of their “Prophet.”

–Ken

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ABH

It was not long ago that, if someone had asked which of the declared candidates I wanted for President, I would have said, “ABH”. Anybody But Hillary.

Lately, though, all the tiresome hype coming out of my TV has broken through my political ennui. At any rate, it has broken through to the extent that I’ve become aware of the “qualifications” of Mike Huckabee.

This politician, with his strong evangelical credentials, is worse even than Hillary Clinton. Worse in the sense of, dangerous to our country.

Should it eventually come to a choice between the two of them, I would have to close my eyes, hold my nose, and vote for Hillary.

The only — very minor — positive here, is that I can still make the same answer to the hypothetical question I opened with.

Only now, “ABH” means “Anybody But Huckabee.”

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Vicissitudes of the Heart

No postings to Ad Hoc in a long time. It’s probably time for an explanatiion.

Back before Thanksgiving, while I was out for my customary walk/run, …I fainted. One moment I was walking along, listening to Tara Smith on my iPod; the next moment I was on my back looking up at the trees and clouds.

I was only out for a maximum of two seconds. I know this, because I later determined that I had only missed a couple of words of the lecture.

Although my heart has always been declared strong and healthy at physical exam time, a closer look with high powered (and expensive) equipment showed some blockage in a coronary artery and a tendency for my heart’s timeing to be off when it gets above a certain rate.

The upshot is, I’ve had a stent installed and then a pacemaker implanted. I’m still dealing with the latter, and the former requires taking blood thinning drugs which complicates healing.

So, boys and girls, now you know why you’ve had to wait — breathlessly, I’m sure — for Ad Hoc to return.

Merry Saturnalia!

–Ken

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Morality Laws

In Iran, there are religious courts. Their decisions are enforced, brutally and sometimes publically, by the police. There have been many reports of the harsh punishment dealt out to those who break Islamic law. I saw another such report the other day.

“His face covered by a balaclava, an official brandishing a cane repeatedly lashes the back of a man found guilty of breaking Iran’s morality laws.

“Two police officers hold the legs of 25-year-old Saeed Ghanbari and another his arms to ensure there is no escape from the punishment of 80 lashes handed down by a religious court.

“Traffic was brought to a halt in Qazvin, 90 miles west of the capital Tehran, as more than 1,000 men gathered behind barricades to watch the public flogging…”

Pictures are inserted showing a hefty, masked official obviously putting all his weight and strength behind the blows as he lashes the man.

“…Both men then lashed Ghanbari, taking the cane back behind their heads to guarantee maximum impact, each stroke leaving a distinctive red mark and bruising on his back.

“Several wounds began to bleed.

“It was unclear exactly what his offense had been as the country’s strict morality laws cover many areas, but it was reported he had been convicted of abusing alcohol and having sex outside of marriage.”

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=477088&in_page_id=1770
Fundamentalist Christians have no problem with the idea of criminalizing immoral conduct. After all, they say, God made the rules, and those are the rules men should be obeying. Man’s rights have little bearing where God’s wishes are concerned. Today’s Christians might not be willing to go so far as public flogging, but give tomorrow’s Christians the chance to be truly in power and I fail to see how they would be any different from the Muslims.

As brief evidence, there were some comments from readers in England and Wales following the above report, to the effect that this is the kind of punishment needed in the West. The lawbreakers know the law so they deserve the punishment, “unlike this country (Wales) where the victims pay the price and the guilty walk free.”

–Ken

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Iran’s Threats

Reuters reports that Iran’s deputy Interior Minister for security affairs has threatened the United States. “In case of American attack against Iran, the interests of this country around the world and in the region will be endangered.”

And, “Today, if the slightest disorder in the region’s security and in the security of the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf is created, oil prices will reach $250 a barrel and this will lead to the death of European countries and America in terms of economy and security.”

And, “Maybe the start of an evil act (could) be in America’s hand but its continuation and end won’t be (in its hands).”

And, Reuters reminisced about Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Hamenei, threatening that the Islamic Republic would target US Interests around the world

I hate blowhard threats. The only thing that makes these Iranian threats credible is the insipid, appeasing response America can be counted on to make to any Iranian viciousness. If only President Bush had meant what he said about going after states that sponsor terrorism, America would not now be in the position of trying to appease a bully.

Any attack the U.S. might make against Iran would be justified. The threats quoted above are, all by themselves and regardless of Iran’s preparations for nuclear war, sufficient provocation to justify preemptive attack. How I wish my country would return to the attitude that prompted our response to the outrage that occurred at Pearl Harbor in 1941.

–Ken

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