31 October 2011

Commenting on the Obvious

As many of you know I troll the religious radio shows because I am always looking for good blog fodder, and have a curiousity about what is riling up, enraging or captivating Christians. Such radio is almost always evangelical, Baptist, anti-science, and anti-reason. I recently found a local Catholic radio station that managed to convince me that my earlier opinion of Catholics, that they were a more progressive sect of Christianity was wholly mistaken or, failing that, more mistaken than I had originally thought. This really shouldn't have come as a surprise to me, I did attend Catholic School as a kid, and nothing that happened there ever made me think of the Roman Catholic Church was any kind of bastion of free inquiry or rationalism. Oh well, at least I didn't get raped by the priest or beaten by nuns. Though the only nun I ever knew, Sister Annette (a Catholic cyborg I think whose emotion chips were set to off), lamented, and seriously, that she could no longer hit us with rulers. She was only a fixture at Seton Catholic School for one year when I was there. Which was too bad because she was such a class act.
But I digress......

While listening to Catholic radio, some kind of call in show, a caller wonders if the Pope has ever said that the Church's behavior, specifically the burning of heretics, witches and Protestants among others was wrong. The host hemmed and hawed about, didn't really offer a clear answer and then said that Pope John Paul II had apologized for any sin the Church had committed, and hoped people who had been offended and wronged by that sin would forgive the Church. The host, and apparently the Pope, had some trouble saying that burning people with whom you disagree is the wrong way to go.
Caller: So the Pope hasn't said that burning people was wrong, and hasn't apologized for trying to supress differing opinion? [paraphrase by me]
Host: The pope has apologized for any sin the Church has committed. [paraphrase by me]
Caller: So no it hasn't said those actions were wrong and hasn't apologized for them. Then I have to ask what has the Pope specifically said about the burning of Wycliffe? [more paraphrase by me]

A little backstory is probably in order. Wycliffe, who was strong opponent of Papal authority, translated the bible (or he and his acolytes did it together) into vernacular English, and for this and other crimes he was burned. Well his exhumed bones were burned. He had died 31 years before being branded a heretic by the Council of Constance. I think you will agree, they sure showed him. back to the call already in progress....

The host of the show didn't seem to know if the Pope has said anything specific about the bizarre case of Wycliffe's pointless rapid oxidation. And the caller never mentioned why it was a big deal to him that the Council had a dead man burned 31 years after his death. Wycliffe though is important to students of Protestant history so it makes sense to me now that I have done a bit more reading. Burning long dead people matters a lot less to me than burning living heretics. So to me in the annals of religiously inspired batshit crazy this is really pretty mild.

What really blew my mind though was the way the host attempted to get the Church off the hook for its tawdry and bizarre desecration of Wycliffe's remains. First he began to suggest that Wycliffe wasn't really all that great a scholar, and his translation was absolutely horrible. "So there is a lot you maybe don't know about Wycliffe that sheds light on why the Church did what it did." I'm not making this up. The logic of the host seemed to suggest Wycliffe published a shabby translation of the bible (according to later scholars) so whatever the Church did was probably okay. I've heard Catholic scholars make similar noises when you bring up the Church's behavior toward Galileo. Of Galileo these scholars and lay defenders of Rome will say that the science of the day was on the Pope's side so they were right to oppose Galileo's hypothesis, as if Galileo's interrogators were simply journal referees sending his paper back for revision and correction, and not presenting him with a false choice (torture or recantation).

This is an old dodge by the Roman Catholic Church. It is loath to state specifically which actions in the past it has done were wrong (at least in many of the halls of leadership), and simply attempts to diffuse the legitimate accusations, charges with this soft non-admission, non-apology:
The Church apologizes for any sins it has in the past committed, and hope that anyone who has been offended by them will kindly forgive the one true Church, sincerely yours
-The Vicar of Christ on Earth, Pope Benedict

I think this maneuver is performed because ultimately the Church fathers don't really think that the Roman Catholic Church has done much wrong and that it probably views any admission of wrong doing damaging to its claims of ultimate authority. The Pope after all is infallible.

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14 October 2011

Why I support sensible tax policy and reject The Tea Party/Fox/Reaganite narrative

I should get a few things out of the way first.
I am like everyone else. I hope one day that something I create, or do (some art, some character, some advance in human knowledge, my bumbling into a heretofore untapped vein of pure gold/oil/unobtainium) makes me filthy rich. How rich? How about rich enough that I could go to The Bunny Ranch every weekend and that my understanding and wonderful wife wouldn't even care rich. Not that I would go, but you have to admit, that is pretty goddamn rich. So I don't begrudge anyone getting rich in the US. I don't envy them, I kind of want to emulate the endeavor in some way (unless of course that wealth was ill-gotten, I'm looking at you predatory lendors, Enron etc). So I totally am behind acquiring wealth, and having the amenities and luxury that entails. I am down with wealth and having it.

However no one in this country acquired their wealth without the help of public support. I'm not the first person to note this. I won't be the last.

Consider my favorite NFL team The Indianapolis Colts. Or rather consider the cost of their new stadium Lucas Oil Field. The initial cost estimate of the stadium was 720 million dollars of which the Colts had committed to contribute 100 million. That left 620 million for the tax payers of Indianapolis and the counties that surround the 'Nap to come up with. The stadium of course ran over budget (cost covered by the taxpayer), and the operating cost of the stadium, around 27 million a year, also exceeds what was estimated (this creates huge yearly deficits to run the facility, much greater than the 7.7 million that the city expected to earn from revenues generated by having the facility around for the Colts). The Colts organization was required to come up with a whooping 13.1 % of the initial building costs of the stadium. This was for their own business! The tax payers covered the rest. I would certainly love to have that kind of deal from the state. One may ask why the Colts need state money at all, considering that the team isn't hurting for dough. The total players salaries for 2011 is $60,250,000 with a cap of ~96 million. That is just for the year 2011. Peyton Manning has a five year contract that will net him 90,000,000 dollars, which is 18,000,000 per year. Dwight Freeny isn't doing too badly for himself either, with 72,000,000 over 6 years, which 12,000,000 per year. Its hard to find numbers on what the organizations themselves actually earn, but if they can afford to pay these kinds of salaries to their teams they must be doing alright. One reason they are doing alright though is this. They have defrayed their operating costs with money provided by tax payers, who often didn't vote on the matter. The Indianapolis Colts are hardly unique in the industry for doing this. All professional sports teams utilize state support. Of course the NFL could do this in a real capitalist kind of way (go here see the teams worth, operating budget etc) For some reason though it won't. It prefers a socialism that supports and inflates their profits.

This may look like a tangent but it is not.
A question we have to ask is this. Given that the NFL generates, annually nearly 7 billion dollars, why is the NFL a tax exempt organization? Given that it makes billions, its teams are worth billions and tax payers help pay for the NFL costs of operation? The NFL is protected from market forces. Again why should it not be taxed, and why should its executives not pay taxes?

Some may argue that having a team like the Colts in the city of Indianapolis generates jobs, increases tax revenues so the concessions cities and states make to get them there are worth it. As we saw with the Colts the cost to the tax payers greatly overran the projected revenues Indianapolis and its surrounding counties expected to receive. Is it worth it? Well maybe there is a bump in the revenues for businesses around Lucas Oil Stadium when events are held? To which I say "fine". Maybe having the Colts in Indy is a great boost to the city and it justifies all the taxpayer cost. But I will point out, if you make that argument you are vulnerable to the same counter-argument Reaganites/Tea Party types use against helping the poor. Why should my tax dollars go to helping boost Applebee's bottom line through a convoluted and inefficient system of welfare called the NFL? I'm happy that for a few months a year the mall at Circle Center can hire a few extra people at minimum wage, and that the wait staff will have to work a little harder for a little longer and earn a little bit more money than normally do. I really am. But if I live in Indy, or the surrounding counties, why should I subsidize that? Why should I subsidize the NFL's massive profits? I must especially ask this since this corporation demands so much from tax payers. Why shouldn't it do this on its own?

The NFL is a microcosm of US business.
If you are scratching your head wondering how this can be the case. Its probably important to know that this is how a great deal of big US businesses, and little businesses operate. And you have to know right now that I don't think that is necessarily a wrong or evil thing. Good arguments can be made for governments helping businesses make a home for themselves, it can be good for communities. Just know that if you make that kind of argument, and many people seem to make that argument, it is another version of the argument for helping people on the other end of economic divide with tax payer funded programs. And it isn't an argument at all for allowing people no tax burden, or an unfairly minimal tax burden who accrue massive wealth with your help and my help. Of course I don't mean by buying or enjoying their products. When people pretend they have done it on their own, and should be allowed to keep all their hard earned, money that they earned, remember often we helped them make that. There are no bootstraps.

Just a thought. Now go come up with an idea that will make you rich with the help of fellow tax payers. Just remember your tax dollars are helping the next wave of your fellow countrymen do the same.

Its Avian Friday: Gavia immer

(Picture used http://www.alaska-in-pictures.com/gavia-immer-4841-pictures.htm)

Now that I live in the great North, and near the ocean, the Common Loon (Gavia immer) is a great deal more common to me. Of course on can see them on any body of water across the US, I see them more now that I did when my excursions into the field were in the Mid-West. It is one of the more evocative and elegant birds to be found in the US. Its haunting call in the evening can make any person's day (birder or not). It seems to encapsulate everything that humans find appealing about the wilderness.

The evolution of loons (Family Gaviidae) has resulted in a group of birds that are more at home in the water than they are either in the air, or on land. Their flight always appears somewhat labored, and on land they can have a great deal of trouble walking. The aspects of their anatomy that make them ooze through the water at great speed, that make them hydrodynamic I suppose, do not make them equally aerodynamic. Increased optimal design for life in the water means trade-offs in other areas. Their feet set back at the end of their heavy tube like bodies, mean great propulsion through water, but make walking on land difficult to say the very least. The costs of these trade-offs must be minimal, which is another way of saying the benefits of life spent almost entirely on the water outweigh the costs of not being able to move well on land, or as effectively through the air.

Right now the The Common Loon is not in its breeding plummage, but they are still elegant. And one can see them with ease at numerous sites around Casco Bay. A good pair of binoculars and they can be seen regularly around Mackworth Island.

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