Friday, April 03, 2009

Copies of copies of copies

This is a fascinating article.

But almost immediately, Ehrman ran into a problem. It was an intellectual problem at first, but it soon became larger and harder to quarantine. In one of the first classes he took at Moody, he learned that none of the original texts of the New Testament exist. All we have are copies, made years later -- usually, many centuries later. In fact, the copies are copies of copies, and they’re filled with errors or intentional changes made over decades or centuries by scribes. Burning with fervor to discover the true word of God, the authentic divine voice that had been obscured or changed by all-too-human writers, Ehrman decided to begin a serious study of the New Testament. He completed his undergraduate studies at Wheaton College, where he began studying ancient Greek, the original language of the New Testament. But there was still no answer to his original question: How could we know what the word of God was if all we had were error-riddled copies?
So Ehrman decided to plunge all the way in and immerse himself in the academic study of the texts of the New Testament. He entered the Princeton Theological Seminary, home to the world’s leading authority in the field, Bruce Metzger. His literalist faith in and his devotional approach to the Bible were under increasing strain, but he managed to hold onto them for a while -- until a professor jotted a casual comment on one of Ehrman’s papers. Ehrman was attempting to explain a passage from the Gospel of Mark in which Jesus refers to an event that took place “when Abiathar was the high priest.” The problem is that the book in the Old Testament that Jesus is referring to states that not Abiathar but his father Ahimelech was the high priest. Ehrman came up with a convoluted argument to reconcile the contradiction, using Greek etymology to prove that Mark did not mean what he apparently said. Ehrman believed that his professor, a beloved and pious scholar named Cullen Story, would appreciate his argument as a fellow believer in biblical inerrancy.
Story’s response, Ehrman wrote in his best-selling 2005 book “Misquoting Jesus,” “went straight through me.” “Maybe,” Story scrawled at the end of Ehrman’s paper, “Mark just made a mistake.”

Greatest moments on TV

I am shamelessly swiping this idea from Donna. This is a list of my picks for the greatest TV moments. I am trying to stick to things that I saw when they happened and not re-runs
This is really a hard list to do because while I can think of lots of TV shows that I loved to watch, it is hard to come up with one memorable scene that stands out above all the rest as one that I found especially funny, inspiring or entertaining. But here it goes:

Mork and Mindy: Mork (Robin Williams) goes into the kitchen and finds some eggs. Spaceships on his planet are shaped like eggs. He takes an egg, tosses it into the air and says “Fly and be free!” The look of shock on his face when the egg splats on the table is priceless.

Carol Burnet Show: Tim Conway playing the old man who does everything slooooooowly. At the end of the sketch he accidently falls out of a high-rise window. You hear him fall and crash at the bottom. There is a momentary pause and then he screams “Aaaaahhhhhhhh!”

SNL: Steve Martin performing “King Tut” live for the first time.

1988 VP Debate: Lloyd Bentsen knew than Dan Quayle was going to try and compare himself to John F. Kennedy at some point and he was prepared with the knockout punch. There has never been a more devestating takedown in the history of political debates.

1988 Democratic National Convention: Michael Dukakis makes his grand entrance with lights flashing, crowd cheering to the thumping, invigorating music of Neil Diamond singing “Coming To America.” I knew at that moment that he was going to be out next president.

Speed Racer: The mysterious Racer X lets the audience know for the umpteenth time that he is Speed’s long-lost older brother and pulls him out of yet another scrape before slinking away without revealing his secret.

Sesame Street: Depending on the number of the day, a pastry chef would stand at the top of a long flight of stairs and announce “Six coconut creme pies!” before inevitably tripping and falling down the stairs and covering himself with icing and/or pie filling. It delighted me everytime he did it.

Wide World of Sports: Evel Knievel attempts to jump the Snake River Canyon. (Also, anytime the Harlem Globetrotters were on).

Happy Days: Richie Cunningham strutting off singing Fats Domino’s “I Found My Thrill...” everytime a girl would agree to go out on a date with him.

Laverne & Shirley: “Hallow!!” Lenny and Squiggy would always make their entrance at the most inappropriate or inopportune time.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: When Spike first realizes that he has fallen in love with Buffy and gets really upset about it but can’t do anything to change it.

Blame the Democrats!

Jonathan Gurwitz’ latest column is a textbook example of partisan hackery, diverting attention away from the chief culprits of our economic crisis and trying to cast the blame at the feet of Democrats in Congress who have been practically powerless until just two months ago.
Democrats may have gained a majority in Congress after the 2006 mid-term elections, but they have not had the power to actually change the direction of the government until just recently. Republicans still had the upperhand with a president who could veto legislation and a Senate that would filibuster everything else.
And Gurwitz is also disingenuous when he claims the problem began with “failed congressional oversight”, as if we elect our Congressmen to regulate and police the banking system and not the Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC, of course, was defanged over the past eight years by a Republican administration committed to its ideological deregulation agenda. The stage was set by the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 which was never debated in the House or Senate and was slipped into an omnibus budget bill at the last minute by Sen. Phil Gramm.
The bill contained a provision that has come to be known as the “Enron loophole,” which exempted most over-the-counter energy trades and trading on electronic energy commodity markets. The “loophole” was drafted by lobbyists for Enron working with senator Phil Gramm seeking a deregulated atmosphere for their new experiment, “Enron On-line.”
But rather than acknowledging this deregulatory boondoggle, Gurwitz wants to distract readers with the totally innocuous issue of congressional payraises. Every year it’s the same thing, conservative government haters criticize the cost-of-living adjustment for Congressional salaries. If it wasn’t for the bipartisan compromise that made the increases automatic, Congress would never get a pay increase because no Congressman would ever want to take all the criticism and abuse for voting for it. Then we would end up with a situation where only the very wealthy could afford to be in Congress, which is already the case for many public offices anyway. And just remember that these automatic COLAs were in place the whole time Republicans were running Congress, but conservatives never complained about it until Democrats retook control.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Obama still riding high

James Carville thinks Obama's having the best time of his presidency right now.

Obama's first foray onto the world stage since being elected cannot be dubbed anything but successful. Obama appeared to be quite comfortable and confident as president of the United States at the G-20 summit that produced an unprecedented global economic recovery package.

The president's polling numbers at home are coming in at an impressive rate. A Democracy Corps poll taken this week found that the percentage of likely voters saying the country is going in the right direction is up to 38 percent, the highest level recorded in more than three years.

His budget is sure to be passed by Congress. And the recent special election in New York's 20th Congressional District in which Democrat Scott Murphy initially trailed by more than 20 points -- but wound up slightly ahead before officials count absentee ballots -- shows that the GOP is making few, if any gains among voters.

To top it all off (at least for now), the financial markets are expressing confidence in the president's leadership as they are expected to close up for the fourth straight week.

I have to agree. It looks like the economy is poised to start making a recovery just as Obama is getting his budget through Congress with every Republican in opposition.
When the only thing Republicans can find to complain about is
the gift Obama gave the queen, then things must be going well.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Morally repugnant, Part II

Revisiting a topic discussed here more than a year ago, it seems that Ron Suskind’s groundbreaking reporting on the futility of the Bush administration’s torture policy has now been backed up and verified by reporting in the Washington Post.

When CIA officials subjected their first high-value captive, Abu Zubaida, to waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods, they were convinced that they had in their custody an al-Qaeda leader who knew details of operations yet to be unleashed, and they were facing increasing pressure from the White House to get those secrets out of him.
The methods succeeded in breaking him, and the stories he told of al-Qaeda terrorism plots sent CIA officers around the globe chasing leads.
In the end, though, not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaida’s tortured confessions, according to former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations. Nearly all of the leads attained through the harsh measures quickly evaporated, while most of the useful information from Abu Zubaida -- chiefly names of al-Qaeda members and associates -- was obtained before waterboarding was introduced, they said.
Moreover, within weeks of his capture, U.S. officials had gained evidence that made clear they had misjudged Abu Zubaida. President George W. Bush had publicly described him as “al-Qaeda’s chief of operations,” and other top officials called him a “trusted associate” of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and a major figure in the planning of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. None of that was accurate, the new evidence showed.
Abu Zubaida was not even an official member of al-Qaeda, according to a portrait of the man that emerges from court documents and interviews with current and former intelligence, law enforcement and military sources. Rather, he was a “fixer” for radical Muslim ideologues, and he ended up working directly with al-Qaeda only after Sept. 11 -- and that was because the United States stood ready to invade Afghanistan.

Dan Froomkin has more on this sad, sordid tale:

Abu Zubaida was the alpha and omega of the Bush administration’s argument for torture.
That’s why Sunday’s front-page Washington Post story by Peter Finn and Joby Warrick is such a blow to the last remaining torture apologists.
Finn and Warrick reported that “not a single significant plot was foiled” as a result of Zubaida’s brutal treatment -- and that, quite to the contrary, his false confessions “triggered a series of alerts and sent hundreds of CIA and FBI investigators scurrying in pursuit of phantoms.”
Zubaida was the first detainee to be tortured at the direct instruction of the White House. Then he was President George W. Bush’s Exhibit A in defense of the “enhanced interrogation” procedures that constituted torture. And he continues to be held up as a justification for torture by its most ardent defenders.
But as author Ron Suskind reported almost three years ago -- and as The Post now confirms -- almost all the key assertions the Bush administration made about Zubaida were wrong.
Zubaida wasn’t a major al Qaeda figure. He wasn’t holding back critical information. His torture didn’t produce valuable intelligence -- and it certainly didn’t save lives.

But we won’t ever hear a mea culpa from the denizens who used to haunt the defunct ATC blog. They grew bored with their warblogging and torture cheerleading and have moved on to other pursuits now, such as shrieking about “socialism” anytime someone does anything to try and clean up the huge mess that the Bush administration left behind.

Monday, March 30, 2009

John Cornyn hates democracy

Our U.S. Senator John Cornyn thinks democracy sucks. At least, that’s his opinion whenever things don’t go his way.
Take the Minnesota Senate election, for example, where Democrat Al Franken has come out ahead after a long recount process. Cornyn doesn’t like that result and he is threatening “World War III” if Democrats try to seat Al Franken in the Senate before Norm Coleman can pursue his case all the way through the federal courts.
Nevermind that it could take years to resolve. Cornyn has no problem hamstringing democracy with frivolous lawsuits whenever things don’t go his way. I can guarantee you that he would not be insisting on waiting for a years long court battle to resolve itself before allowing Minnesotans to have their full Senate representation if it was Al Franken doing the litigating. And furthermore, I believe that Democrats would never try and drag out the case that far anyway. That’s because Democrats, as their name says, actually believe in and respect “democracy.”
Not so with Sen. Cornyn. Just look at his response to the Brewing Battle Over Reconciliation in Congress.
Democrats are considering using the budget reconciliation process to resolve several contentious issues over budgetary matters involving healthcare, energy and education. That would mean that the legislation could actually be approved with a majority vote of the Senate. What a novel concept!!!!
But what does John Cornyn think about the idea of “majority rules” which is a keystone of democracy?
“It stinks,” he says.
Cornyn thinks every piece of legislation should have to pass with a 60-vote supermajority, allowing a minority of Senators to kill legislation that has the support of the majority of Americans. But, of course, he only thinks this is fair when Republicans are in the minority. He didn’t think that was such a hot idea when Republicans were in the majority, and he won’t in the future if and when Republicans are ever in the majority again.
But for now, majority rules is out the window as far as he is concerned and so are democratic elections whenever he doesn’t like the end results. Screw democracy.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

No more term limits

T.R. Fehrenbach, the conservative historian who writes a weekly column for the Express-News, is proposing limiting U.S. presidents to single terms.
He makes an interesting case based on history, however I am still completely opposed to the idea. I don't think it is true that every president's second term has been disasterous.
It is true that Lincoln may have had a tough time politically during a second term had he not been assassinated, but I think there can be little doubt that he would have still been much better than Andrew Johnson or Ulysseus Grant or any of the other corrupt, post-war presidents we ended up with.
FDR's second term was certainly not a disaster, as Fehrenbach implies, and his subsequent term was successful as well due to his leadership during WWII.
Eisenhower's second term wasn't much different from his first one. Kennedy had the potential to do very well had he had a chance at a second term.
Nixon, of course, was impeached during his second term, but the things that set Watergate into motion happened during his first term.
Reagan clearly had troubles during his second term with Iran-Contra, but it wasn't enough to sour his political support and he probably could have won a third term easily, but instead passed it on to George H.W. Bush.
Bill Clinton's second term was a huge success other than the distraction of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. But as far as things that actually impacted people's lives, he had great successes during his second term.
And George W. Bush obviously was awful during his second term, but I would argue that he was awful during his first term as well but managed to cover up his failures and incompetence in the aftermath of 9/11. Osama Bin Laden was responsible for Bush's second term more so than Karl Rove.
Now that we have Obama in there, Fehrenbach is suddenly raising the spectre of limiting presients to one term. Why wasn't he making that argument four years ago?