Sean King

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San Juan, Puerto Rico, United States

Friday, July 31, 2009

Space Tourism Space tourism is coming to the Middle East, as Abu Dhabi-based Aabar investments announced today it has taken a $280 million, 32 percent stake in Virgin Galactic. As part of the deal, which is still pending regulatory approval, Aabar plans to build a spaceport in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, and will have rights to all Virgin Galactic traffic in that region. Aabar is also setting aside $100 million to build a small satellite launching facility, suggesting that the team plans to use the spaceport as a base for scientific research as well as space tourism.


I Wonder if Gore and Hansen will Call for his Arrest?

MIT Professor of Atmospheric Sciences, Richard S. Lindzen, is a "denier":

Supporting the notion that man has not been the cause of this unexceptional change in temperature is the fact that there is a distinct signature to greenhouse warming: surface warming should be accompanied by warming in the tropics around an altitude of about 9km that is about 2.5 times greater than at the surface. Measurements show that warming at these levels is only about 3/4 of what is seen at the surface, implying that only about a third of the surface warming is associated with the greenhouse effect, and, quite possibly, not all of even this really small warming is due to man (Lindzen, 2007, Douglass et al, 2007). This further implies that all models predicting significant warming are greatly overestimating warming. This should not be surprising (though inevitably in climate science, when data conflicts with models, a small coterie of scientists can be counted upon to modify the data. Thus, Santer, et al (2008), argue that stretching uncertainties in observations and models might marginally eliminate the inconsistency. That the data should always need correcting to agree with models is totally implausible and indicative of a certain corruption within the climate science community).

It turns out that there is a much more fundamental and unambiguous check of the role of feedbacks in enhancing greenhouse warming that also shows that all models are greatly exaggerating climate sensitivity. Here, it must be noted that the greenhouse effect operates by inhibiting the cooling of the climate by reducing net outgoing radiation. However, the contribution of increasing CO2 alone does not, in fact, lead to much warming (approximately 1 deg. C for each doubling of CO2). The larger predictions from climate models are due to the fact that, within these models, the more important greenhouse substances, water vapor and clouds, act to greatly amplify whatever CO2 does. This is referred to as a positive feedback. It means that increases in surface temperature are accompanied by reductions in the net outgoing radiation – thus enhancing the greenhouse warming. All climate models show such changes when forced by observed surface temperatures. Satellite observations of the earth’s radiation budget allow us to determine whether such a reduction does, in fact, accompany increases in surface temperature in nature. As it turns out, the satellite data from the ERBE instrument (Barkstrom, 1984, Wong et al, 2006) shows that the feedback in nature is strongly negative -- strongly reducing the direct effect of CO2 (Lindzen and Choi, 2009) in profound contrast to the model behavior. This analysis makes clear that even when all models agree, they can all be wrong, and that this is the situation for the all important question of climate sensitivity.

Read the whole thing.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Japan Makes More Progress on Robots:

Related information here.

And here's one that can play soccer.

Some of us in the West find Japan's fascination with robots a little peculiar, but there is a very practical reason for it.

Well, Since You're ASKING, the Answer is "No"

NYT: House Democrats will ask the wealthiest Americans to help pay for overhauling the health care system with a $550 billion income tax increase, the chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee said Friday.

A Preview of Things to Come? Indeed, with unemployment approaching 20 percent, the highest in Europe, and the overall economy expected to shrink by 4.2 percent this year, bank robberies in 2009 are running 20 percent ahead of 2007’s pace, according to the Spanish Banking Association.

“In recent months, it has become apparent that Spain is suffering from an increase in bank robberies,” said Francisco Pérez Abellán, head of the criminology department at the University of Camilo José Cela in Madrid. “We are seeing people committing offenses through necessity, first-time offenders who can no longer continue to maintain their lifestyle and so turn to crime.”

Daniel Gross Whistles Through The Graveyard: In May, the Wall Street Journal op-ed page argued that millionaires fled Maryland after the state legislature boosted the top marginal state income tax rate to 6.25 percent on the top 0.3 percent of filers. "In 2008 roughly 3,000 million-dollar income tax returns were filed by the end of April," the Journal notes. "This year there were 2,000, which the state comptroller's office concedes is a 'substantial decline.' " The Journal uses this small sample to warn the federal government and states with progressive tax structures and lots of rich people—New York, New Jersey, California—to heed the lesson. Tax the wealthy too much, and they'll leave.

Such logic makes sense to the Journal's op-ed page staffers, who inhabit an alternative universe in which people wake up in the morning and decide whether to go to work, innovate, or buy a bagel based on marginal tax rates.

Uh, yes they do.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Secret Science

Why does it require a mole for the public to get its hands on the raw temperature record that feeds global warming models?

More here.

Fixing Healthcare is Easy

Just put a significant surtax on food, particularly on processed food.

WSJ: New research shows medical spending averages $1,400 more a year for an obese person than for someone who's normal weight.

Overall obesity-related health spending reaches $147 billion, double what it was nearly a decade ago, says the study published Monday by the journal Health Affairs.

Obesity-related conditions now account for 9.1% of all medical spending, up from 6.5% in 1998, the study concluded.

So, taxing food raises revenue needed to insure the uninsured. And, if the tax is high enough, it will also discourage overconsumption, which will in turn reduce obesity and, more importantly, obesity-related healthcare costs.

But, this just makes too much sense. So, instead of taxing food to reduce consumption, we subsidize its production to insure more of it.


Maybe this is Why So Many Older Men Prefer the Younger Generation of Women?

Evolution makes women more attractive.

Organic Food No Better?

Research Report: "Our review indicates that there is currently no evidence to support the selection of organically over conventionally produced foods on the basis of nutritional superiority."

Fair enough, but most arguments I've heard in favor of organic foods don't emphasize "nutritional superiority" but rather an absence of pesticides and hormones as well as use of "sustainable" growing methods.


Ireland outlaws blasphemy.

These attacks on free speech are really getting old.

Ben Stein has Barack Obama Figured Out

American Spectator: Now, the American people are starting to wake up to the truth. Barack Obama is a super likeable super leftist, not a fan of this country, way, way too cozy with the terrorist leaders in the Middle East, way beyond naïveté, all the way into active destruction of our interests and our allies and our future.

The American people have already awakened to the truth that the stimulus bill -- a great idea in theory -- was really an immense bribe to Democrat interest groups, and in no way an effort to help all Americans.

The Significance of Sotomayor Manuel Miranda, chairman of the Third Branch Conference, a conservative judicial advocacy group, told the New York Times last week that the goalposts have now shifted significantly: Because the nominee portrayed "herself as someone who is bound by the rules that conservatives have been articulating for so many years," if Obama's next judicial picks hold even slightly less mainstream views, Republicans "now can say, 'You don't meet the Sotomayor test.' "

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Japan's Problem Japan's population peaked in 2004 at about 127.8 million and is projected to fall to 89.9 million by 2055. The ratio of working-age to elderly Japanese fell from 8-to-1 in 1975 to 3.3-to-1 in 2005 and may shrivel to 1.3-to-1 in 2055. "In 2055, people will come to work when they have time off from long-term care," said Kiyoaki Fujiwara, director of economic policy at the Japan Business Federation.

Such a decline is cataclysmic for an indebted country that values infrastructure and personal service. (Who is going to maintain the trains, pay for social benefits, slice sushi at the Tsukiji fish market?) The obvious answers—encourage immigration and a higher birthrate—have proved difficult, even impossible, for this conservative society.

It's Like Deja Vu All Over Again

Dr. Mark W. Hendrickson: While another 12-year depression still isn’t inevitable, the post-financial-crisis policy blunders of Presidents Hoover and Roosevelt are being re-enacted with eerie similitude by the current president.

China Relaxes "One Child" Policy


Monday, July 27, 2009

The 100 Best Movie Lines in 200 Seconds:

The War on Drugs Has Failed...


Radley Balko says...

"You're Probably a Federal Criminal, Too".

No doubt!

"He's a Magic Man, Mamma"

Robert J. Samuelson: If you listen to President Obama, his "reform" will satisfy almost everyone. It will insure the uninsured, control runaway health spending, subdue future budget deficits, preserve choice for patients and improve quality of care.

Such a feat would be difficult for mere mortals, but not for the "O".

Should it be Legal to Sell Your Body Parts?

I think so. So apparently does Megan McArdle, who issues this challenge:

[E]plain why we should prevent people from voluntarily donating a kidney when living kidney donors do not appear to have an elevated risk of kidney failure without resorting to any of the following

Huffy declarations that anyone who disagrees with you must be amoral
Appeals to the fact that many other people are also against organ donation
Invoking the infamous "ick" factor involved in selling a body part

Extra credit: do all of the above, to someone on longterm dialysis who is legally prevented from buying an organ, or having the government buy one for her.

Double extra credit: prove that we don't need no stinkin' market by voluntarily donating your own kidney for the sheer joy of helping others.

Sorry Megan, but I can't explain it.

The good news is that there is an outside chance of these foolish rules changing over the next decade or so. After all, governments are desperate for revenue, and if they legalize the trade of organs, they can tax the resulting sales.

On the other hand, the amazing progress of stem cell research might make such sales obsolete by then. There's no need to buy someone else's organ when you can easily grow your own from modified skin cells.

The Glowing Body

Laura Bower reviews Knoxville's The Glowing Body favorably.

My dear friend, Ellen, is a big fan too.

UPDATE:> On a (kinda) related note, scientists show that the human body really does glow!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Gov. Perry to Obama: Don't Mess With Texas Gov. Rick Perry, raising the specter of a showdown with the Obama administration, suggested Thursday that he would consider invoking states’ rights protections under the 10th Amendment to resist the president’s healthcare plan, which he said would be "disastrous" for Texas.

The 10th Amendment has been ignored for far, far to long. I can't remember the last time the Supreme Court was asked to interpret it.

The Latest on Gatesgate

I know from experience that police officers are not always reasonable actors motivated by public interest, so I have to say that I initially sympathized with Prof. Gates' reaction when confronted by a cop at his home. But, the more I learn, the more I've grown skeptical of Gates.

Now it seems that Gates may have had a reason for fearing law enforcement.

Ronald Reagan Makes a Principled Argument Against Socialized Medicine:

Damn, I miss him. We apparently don't make such straight shooters anymore.

The State as Mother

Robin Phillips: The maternal state is a government that assumes the function of Mother. The maternal state is there to nurture us, to train us, to instruct us, to keep our toys safe, to be guardian of our possessions, to be our tutor in the way of virtue and, like a good mother, to make sure we share our belongings with our brothers and sisters.

The confusion between statecraft and motherhood is an ancient one. When Diocletian (pictured left) published his Edict of 301, mandating the persecution of Christians and destroying the few remaining liberties of the old Roman republic, he justified it by referring to himself and his associates as “the watchful parents of the whole human race.” Contemporary governments are increasingly following the pattern of Diocletian by acting, not simply as the guardians of law and order, but as mother to their citizens. I would like consider five overlapping areas where this is the case.

Read the whole thing.

Concern Over the Age of Machines

John Markoff: Impressed and alarmed by advances in artificial intelligence, a group of computer scientists is debating whether there should be limits on research that might lead to loss of human control over computer-based systems that carry a growing share of society’s workload, from waging war to chatting with customers on the phone.

Obama's Press Conference Didn't Work

It may have even made things worse. Rasmussen:

The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Sunday shows that 29% of the nation's voters now Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. Forty percent (40%) Strongly Disapprove giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -11. That’s the first time his ratings have reached double digits in negative territory (see trends).

Saturday, July 25, 2009

It Pays to be Tall

Tall people are happier, wealthier and better educated.

Mayor Bloomberg:

Do as I mandate, not as I do.

Steve McIntyre discusses...

the secret science of global warming.

But, as Anthony Watts suggests, anything secret doesn't meet the definition of science.

Study Finds Correlation Between Health Ins and Obesity

Apparently, those of us who have health insurance are fatter on average than those of us who don't.

This is a curious finding since obesity is positively correlated with poverty while health insurance is negatively correlated with poverty. In other words, the poor are more likely to be fat and are less likely to have health insurance.

So, how do we explain the study's finding that the insured are generally fatter?

Well, we know that the uninsured are often younger and healthier than their insured counterparts (which is one reason why they choose not to buy insurance). Thus, any study that simply takes a random sample from the population without controlling for age is likely to find less obesity among the younger, healthier folks who don't have health insurance. That is hardly surprising.

In short, I'm betting that the study simply failed to control for age.

Carter Ditches the Baptists

President Carter: [M]y decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention's leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be "subservient" to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service. This was in conflict with my belief - confirmed in the holy scriptures - that we are all equal in the eyes of God.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

DC Firearms

After one year, none of DC's newly registered firearms have been used in a crime or in self-defense.

Needless to say, this is not what we were told would happen if handguns were legalized.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Latest on the Silent Sun

Courtesy of the NYT.

Fuel Cells in Planes?

GoodCleanTech: The Antares DLR-H2 is the world's first manned plane fully-powered by fuel cell technology.

I'm impressed.


Bet my state’s tax rate will be higher than your state’s tax rate!

High tax rates are a double-edged sword for me: They increase demand for my business (which involves helping people reduce taxes), but then they tax any resulting profits at significantly higher rates.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The ACLU weighs in...

on the House and Senate thoughtcrime hate speech bills.

How the Second Amendment Was Restored

The inside story of how a gang of libertarian lawyers made constitutional history

Moral Hazard Made Worse

Megan McArdle: [B]anks like JP Morgan and Goldman have gotten a great deal out of the government interventions. For starters, they were the first and biggest beneficiaries of having the financial markets not collapse. And now they enjoy an implicit guarantee that Uncle Sam will not let them fail because they are simply too important. That is a very valuable and profitable guarantee to have.

So, why not take more risks, right? After all, shareholders gain virtually all the upside if the risks pay off, and yet they get bailed out by taxpayers if they don't. But banks wouldn't be so brazen as to exploit this fact, would they?

Of course they would:

While other firms have curtailed risk and preserved cash to protect against further losses, Goldman has returned to what made it so profitable in the past — high-risk trading and investing in everything from mortgages to commodities and underwriting of stock and debt offers.


Someone's trying to silence the "girl in short shorts"? Why?

Probably because some self-righteous leftist fascist is offended that she exists. Here's a portion of her bio:

Mom, recovering attorney, post-modern neo-feminist, disrespectful dyke, unlikely punk, nice Catholic girl, passionate freedom-loving libertarian, thinking conservative, sappy romantic, spiritual redneck, softball enthusiast, shopaholic and unrepentant flirt. My other passion is mountain climbing. On July 4, 2007 I started the next phase of my life as a femme desert tomboy in Arizona, where the chick , once called "trailer trash with a brain" by an Intertard wit, will be able to wear unfashionable daisy dyke short shorts year round.

I am a fan of girls in short shorts, especially this one. I hope things work out.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

UT Moves "The Rock"

The University of Tennessee moves "the rock" across the street from its original location to make way for new student health center.

Thankfully, moving a rock in Knoxville doesn't stir the same kind of controversy as removing oak trees at Berkley.

Too Heavy or Too Then

jwagnermd explains why BMI is BS when it comes to measuring fitness.

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

Amazon remotely and unilaterally delete's a certain version of George Orwell's 1984 from everyone's Kindle.

It's almost like the eBook never existed.

UPDATE: Amazon CEO Bezos apologizes:

This is an apology for the way we previously handled illegally sold copies of 1984 and other novels on Kindle. Our "solution" to the problem was stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles. It is wholly self-inflicted, and we deserve the criticism we've received. We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission.

With deep apology to our customers,

Jeff Bezos
Founder & CEO

If only politicians could be so frank when they f&^*k up.

Boycotting the Protests

Lots of people in lots of places have been protesting proposed Obama administration policies over the last several months. Of course, the media is largely ignoring them since the protests target the Dems rather than the Reps.

Fortunately, we have the likes of Instapundit to get the word out.

Oak Ridge Supercomputers Used to Model Climate

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., July 16, 2009 -- At the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), the world's fastest supercomputer for unclassified research is simulating abrupt climate change and shedding light on an enigmatic period of natural global warming in Earth's relatively recent history. The work, led by scientists at the University of Wisconsin and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), is featured in the July 17 issue of the journal Science and provides valuable new data about the causes and effects of global climate change.

This research is funded by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research within DOE's Office of Science and by the National Science Foundation through its paleoclimate program and support of NCAR.

In Earth's 4.5-billion-year history, its climate has oscillated between hot and cold. Today our world is relatively cool, resting between ice ages. Variations in planetary orbit, solar output, and volcanic eruptions all change Earth's temperature. Since the Industrial Revolution, however, humans have probably warmed the world faster than nature has. The greenhouse gases we generate by burning fossil fuels and forests will raise the average global temperature 2 to 12 degrees Fahrenheit (1 to 6 degrees Celsius) this century, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates.

Most natural climate change has taken place over thousands or even millions of years. But an episode of abrupt climate change occurred over centuries-possibly decades-during Earth's most recent period of natural global warming, called the Bolling-Allerod warming. Approximately 19,000 years ago, ice sheets started melting in North America and Eurasia. By 17,000 years ago, the melting glaciers had dumped so much freshwater into the North Atlantic that it stopped the overturning ocean circulation, which is driven by density gradients caused by influxes of freshwater and surface heat. This occurrence led to a cooling in Greenland called the Heinrich event 1. The freshwater flux continued on and off until about 14,500 years ago, when it virtually stopped.
Greenland's temperature then rose by 27 degrees Fahrenheit (15 degrees
Celsius) in several centuries, and the sea level rose about 16 feet (5 meters). The cause of this dramatic Bolling-Allerod warming has remained a mystery and source of intense debate.

"Now we are able to simulate these transient events for the first time,"
says Zhengyu Liu, a University of Wisconsin professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences and environmental studies whose team simulated the abrupt climate changes using DOE supercomputers at ORNL. The Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility allocated supercomputing time through DOE's Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment
(INCITE) program. "It represents so far the most serious validation test of our model capability for simulating large, abrupt climate changes, and this validation is critical for us to assess the model's projection of abrupt changes in the future," according to Liu.

The Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility is funded by the Office of Advanced Scientific Computing Research in DOE's Office of Science.

Liu, director of the University of Wisconsin's Center for Climatic Research, and his collaborator Bette Otto-Bliesner, an atmospheric scientist and climate modeler at NCAR, lead an interdisciplinary, multi-institution research group attempting the world's first continuous simulation of 21,000 years of Earth's climate history, from the last glacial maximum to the present, in a state-of-the-art climate model. The group will also extend the simulation 200 years into the future to forecast climate. The findings could provide great insight into the fate of ocean circulation in light of continued glacial melting in Greenland and Antarctica.

Three parts to abrupt change

Most climate simulations in comprehensive climate models so far are discontinuous, amounting to snapshots of century-sized time slices taken every 1,000 years or so. Such simulations are incapable of simulating abrupt transitions occurring on centennial or millennial timescales. Liu and Otto-Bliesner employ petascale supercomputers, capable of a quadrillion calculations each second, to stitch together a continuous stream of global climate snapshots and recover the virtual history of global climate in a motion picture. They use the Community Climate System Model (CCSM), a global climate model that includes coupled interactions between atmosphere, oceans, lands, and sea ice developed with primary funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and DOE.

Based on insights gleaned from their continuous simulation, Liu and his colleagues propose a novel mechanism to explain the Bolling-Allerod warming observed in Greenland ice cores. The three-part mechanism they suggest matches the climate record.

First, one-third of the warming, or 9 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius), resulted from a 45 parts-per-million increase in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, the scientists posit. The cause of the carbon dioxide increase, however, is still a topic of active research, Liu says.

Second, another one-third of the warming was due to recovery of oceanic heat transport. When fresh meltwater flowed off the ice sheet, it stopped the overturning ocean current and in turn the warm surface current from low latitudes, leading to a cooling in the North Atlantic and nearby region. When the melting ice sheet was no longer dumping freshwater into the North Atlantic, the region began to heat up.

The last one-third of the temperature rise resulted from an overshoot of the overturning circulation. "Once the glacial melt stopped, the enormous subsurface heat that had accumulated for 3,000 years erupted like a volcano and popped out over decades," Liu hypothesizes. "This huge heat flux melted the sea ice and warmed up Greenland."

Liu and Otto-Bliesner's collaborators include Feng He, a doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who is mainly responsible for the deglaciation modeling, as well as ocean modeler Esther Brady (NCAR), atmospheric scientist Robert Tomas (NCAR), glaciologists Peter Clark (Oregon State University) and Anders Carlson (University of Wisconsin-Madison), paleoceanographers Jean Lynch-Stieglitz (Georgia Institute of Technology) and William Curry (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution), geochemist Edward Brook (Oregon State University), atmospheric modeler David Erickson (ORNL), computing expert Robert Jacob (Argonne National Laboratory), and climate modelers John Kutzbach (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and Jun Cheng (Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology). "This interdisciplinary team, each member contributing to a different aspect of the project, ranging from a proxy data interpretation to supercomputing coding, has been essential for the success of this project," says Liu.

The 2008 simulations ran on a Cray X1E supercomputer named Phoenix and an even faster Cray XT system called Jaguar. The scientists used nearly a million processor hours in 2008 to run one-third of their simulation, from 21,000 years ago-the most recent glacial maximum-to 14,000 years ago-the planet's most recent major period of natural global warming.
With 4 million INCITE processor hours allocated on Jaguar for 2009, 2010, and 2011, they will complete the simulation, capturing climate from 14,000 years ago to the present and projecting it 200 years into the future.

"This has been a dream run of both of ours for a long time," says Otto-Bliesner. "This was an opportunity to take advantage of the CCSM, the computing facility at Oak Ridge, and the INCITE call for proposals."
No other research group has successfully simulated such a long period in a comprehensive climate model.

Science-based forecasts

More accurately depicting the past means clearer insights into climate's outlook. "The current forecast predicts the ocean overturning current is likely to weaken but not stop over the next century," Liu says.
"However, it remains highly uncertain whether abrupt changes will occur in the next century because of our lack of confidence in the model's capability in simulating abrupt changes. Our simulation is an important step in assessing the likelihood of predicted abrupt climate changes in the future because it provides a rigorous test of our model against the major abrupt changes observed in the recent past."

In 2004 and 2005, climate simulations on DOE supercomputers contributed data to a repository that scientists worldwide accessed to write approximately 300 journal articles. The published articles were cited in the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC, which concluded that global warming is unequivocal and humans have had a substantial role since the mid-20th century.

Liu and Otto-Bliesner's simulations may soon find their way into IPCC's data repository and reports as other groups succeed in continuous simulation of past abrupt climate changes and demonstrate the results are reproducible. The simulations would thus be a resource for the paleo community at large. Meanwhile, Earth's climate continues to prove that change is an eternal constant. Understanding how we affect the rate of change is a grand challenge of our generation. Petascale computing may accelerate answers that in turn inform our policies and guide our actions.

Fatter, or Just Older?

Charles Sizemore: We’ve all seen the headlines. America is facing an “obesity epidemic,” we are told. But are Americans really getting fatter? Or are they simply getting older?

Well, clearly they are getting older on average. But my experience suggest that they are also getting fatter. When I look at my children's middle school class photos and compare them to my own at the same grade, there is definitely a size difference.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Making Free Illegal?

Maybe so. After all, if the government can make companies like Google charge for their services, it can tax them.

Interesting Study Concludes:

Honest people don't have to work at not cheating. They're not even tempted.

Textbooks Are History

Or soon will be, at least.

There's No Such Thing as a Free Lunch [P]otential changes coming from Washington have some companies in limbo. Many might not restore 401(k) matches until they find out how much healthcare will cost them, said Mark Ritter, an executive director at business consultant Grant Thornton L.L.P.

"Right now there’s a lot of fear about what the rules will be and what’s the cost," he said. "The thought is, we may have to rob Peter to pay Paul and, depending on how the healthcare initiative impacts our company, we might have to get the money from the 401(k) match."

Uh, I think that's more like robbing Peter to pay Peter.

Stories like this perfectly illustrate why Obama's promise not to tax the middle class to pay for health care reform is totally meaningless. Everyone will bear the cost of health care reform, even if it is not via a direct tax. TINSTAAFL.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Perplexing Problem of Japanese Demographics...

and what the US should do about it.

Scary Stuff More than half of the time, test results revealing abnormalities in the aorta were not included in patients' electronic medical records within three months, new research has found.

Nearly a third of the time, still no record was found three years later.

I have some personal experience with this type of thing, so I've taken to using Google Health to help organize my records, and I'm considering using (which conveniently syncs with Google Health).

An Obesity Pill Coming Soon?

Very likely. This sounds promising. Keeping my fingers crossed.

Microsoft Seems to be Getting its Act Together

Window 7 is getting positive press, as is Bing.

And now they've decided to put the Office suite in the cloud.

How not to measure temperature...

part 90.

Facebook's Challenge

Too many old farts like me.

Catastrophic Epilepsy

It's in the genes.

Bing is Booming

But has a long way to go.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


we watched Titanic again tonight. I remembered that it was good, but I had forgotten just how good.

It's definitely one of my all time favorite flics--right up there with Jerry Maguire, People vs. Larry Flynt, and Private Parts.

I know, I'm weird. But I love movies that inspire gratitude, and all of these do that for me.

New insights...

on how turtles evolved shells.

Part II, Chapter 6: How Literalism Won

As noted at the top of this page in the right margin, I've decided to serialize and publish on this blog a book that I've been writing for some time. Below is the seventh installment. Consult the Table of Contents at the right of this page for a chronological chapter listing.

History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.
-Thomas Jefferson to Alexander von Humboldt, Dec. 6, 1813.

In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.
-Thomas Jefferson, letter to Horatio G. Spafford, March 17, 1814

If we look back into history for the character of the present sects in Christianity, we shall find few that have not in their turns been persecutors, and complainers of persecution. The primitive Christians thought persecution extremely wrong in the Pagans, but practiced it on one another. The first Protestants of the Church of England blamed persecution in the Romish church, but practiced it upon the Puritans. These found it wrong in the Bishops, but fell into the same practice themselves both here [England] and in New England.
-Benjamin Franklin

When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not care to support it, so that its professors are obliged to call for the help of the civil power, 'tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.
-Benjamin Franklin

As best as we can tell, the earliest Christian churches were mostly self-governing bodies that exhibited some form of Presbyterian polity or perhaps Congregationalist polity. We know this from examining the authentic letters of Paul (as opposed to later letters forged in his name, especially the Pastorals, which were apparently intended to, among other things, legitimize the Episcopal polity favored by proto-orthodox Literalists). As previously noted, the decentralized structure of the early church was repugnant to the proto-orthodox who sought to impose uniformity and hierarchical governance on Christendom.

We have also previously noted how the decentralized governance during the second and third centuries contributed to a great diversity of belief among the earliest Christians. In truth, the vast majority of these early followers of Jesus held beliefs that most of us today would not even recognize as Christian or at least would consider heretical.

But early in the fourth century, things began to change. As Walter Bauer (1877-1960) noted in his much praised book Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity (1934), the orthodox, Literalist Christians of Rome began to dominate other churches. The reasons for this are too many to chronicle, and some are merely accidents of history, but I shall note a few of the more important ones.

Reasons for the Ascendance of the Roman Church

First, Christianity was uniquely appealing to the disenfranchised in Roman culture. Most religions of the time were, in one form or another, either arms of the state or were at least officially endorsed by it and, as such, they implicitly endorsed the Roman caste system and were an integral part of Roman culture. Not surprisingly, such religions were typically run by, and for the benefit of, the Roman aristocracy and Roman citizens in each city, which represented a minority almost everywhere. Consequently, while these religions had their fair share of followers among the lowly masses, they had no unique appeal to them.

Christianity in its earliest years, however, was very different. Because it was not officially recognized by Rome until much later, it stood outside the official, accepted social order. This fact, combined with its message of forgiveness, its acceptance of converts regardless of class, and its promise of a better life in the world to come, made Christianity particularly appealing to the lowly masses, especially those who resented the Roman social order. Celsus, an early pagan critic of Christianity, makes this fact clear:

[The Christians’] injunctions are like this. “Let no one educated, no one wise, no one sensible draw near. For these abilities are thought by us to be evils. But as for any ignorant, anyone stupid, anyone uneducated, anyone who is a child, let him come boldly.” (Against Celsus 3.44)

Moreover, we see that those who display their secret lore in the market-places and go about begging would never enter a gathering of intelligent men, nor would they dare to reveal their noble beliefs in their presence; but whenever they see adolescent boys and a crowd of slaves and a company of fools, they push themselves in a show off. (Against Celsus 3.50)

In private houses also we see wool-workers, cobblers, laundry-workers, and the most illiterate and bucolic yokels, who would not dare to say anything at all in front of their elders and more intelligent masters. But whenever they get hold of children in private and some stupid women with them, they let out some astonishing statements, as, for example, that they must not pay any attention to their father and school teachers…; they say that these talk nonsense and have no understanding…. But, if they like, they should leave father and their schoolmaster, and go along with the women and little children who are their playfellows to the wooldresser’s shop, or to the cobbler’s or the washwoman’s shop, that they may learn perfection. And by saying this they persuade them.
(Against Celsus 3.56)

As Celsus was a pagan opponent of Christianity, we must take his criticism on this subject with a very large grain of salt. But importantly, his testimony in this respect is confirmed by many early Church Fathers! That Celus' rhetorical attacks against Christians were effective is evidenced by the fact that the Christian apologist Origen, who lived some seventy years later, nonetheless felt compelled to respond to such criticisms by authoring a work titled Against Celsus. Tellingly though, when it comes time to refute Celsus' claims about the ignorance and lowliness of most Christians, Origen does not deny these claims. Rather, in his writings Origen simply responds that a few Christians are indeed educated, and that the rest are at least wise in Godly things, even if they are ignorant as to everything else.

Thus, unlike most every other religion of the time Christianity was uniquely positioned to grow among the Roman underclass, and grow it did!

Second, being based in the most populous city in the western world, the Christians of Rome had access to far more people than most rival Christian churches of the time. This numerical advantage in proselytizing eventually translated into a comparative wealth advantage, and the Roman church employed this relative wealth to expand its influence. It did so by aiding the poor and purchasing the freedom of untold numbers of slaves and prisoners, many of whom became grateful converts, further increasing its wealth advantage over rival churches. In time it employed this comparative wealth advantage to gain direct influence over other Christian churches throughout the empire, many of whom simply couldn't sustain themselves financially without support from Rome. In time, the vast majority of Christian churches in the empire were beholden to Rome, their sponsor.

Not surprisingly, Rome didn't give financial aid to just any church calling itself "Christian", but only to those who submitted to its authority. Eventually, this authority included the right to appoint Bishops to "oversee" (the term "Bishop" means "overseer") satellite churches throughout the Roman empire. Thus, Rome pioneered the episcopalian form of church governance that would dominate Christianity until the Protestant Reformation. Episcopalian government, where Bishops are appointed by higher ups rather than "elected" by their followers, ran directly counter to the Presbyterian and Congregationalist forms of church governance so clearly favored by Paul in his authentic writings.

Constantine's Role: Religion as a Political Tool

These wealth and organizational advantages gave the Literalist Roman Church an edge over its Gnostic rivals, who by comparison shunned hierarchy and institutionalism. By 300 AD, Roman Literalist Christianity was poised to dominate Christianity.

Shortly thereafter, in 312 CE to be precise, the Roman Emperor Constantine is said to have “converted” to Christianity. The mythological accounts of his conversion are well-known and won’t be recounted here. Instead, I will demonstrate why Literalist Christianity appealed to Constantine, and vice versa.

For centuries despots of all types have struggled with the problem of religion and its subversive effect on the populace. Monotheistic religions have proven particularly challenging for tyrants to control—people who are loyal to the "one true God" do not always defer to the authority of the dictator.

Different dictators have responded in these challenges in different ways. During the last century, communist dictators simply labeled all religion an “opiate of the people”, a phrase coined by Karl Marx himself, and they sought to suppress it entirely. Though they went to great lengths to deny the proletariat this powerful drug, offering them instead the unsatisfying methadone of secular communist orthodoxy, the masses would not be denied the real thing, and history shows the communists’ attempt to suppress the religious impulse of their people to be a failure. In fact, Christianity, particularly in satellite countries like Poland, played a significant role in communism’s demise.

By contrast, Germany's National Socialists (Nazis) took a different and ultimately more successful approach. Rather than prohibiting religion, the Nazis embraced it, intentionally blurring the lines between church and state and corrupting the Christian faith for political purposes. Rather than treating it as a threat and suppressing it, the Nazis saw religion, particularly Christianity, as a means of unifying their followers and legitimizing their power. For instance, with regard to Christianity, Hitler said:

What can we do? Just what the Catholic Church did when it forced its beliefs on the heathen: preserve what can be preserved, and change its meaning. We shall take the road back: Easter is no longer resurrection but the eternal renewal of our people. Christmas is the birth of our savior…Do you think these liberal priests, who have no longer a belief, only an office, will refuse to preach our God in their churches? [emphasis in original] (Quoted in The Messianic Legacy at 157)

And just who was this savior of the German people whose birth was to be celebrated at Christmas? Hitler, of course. To quote Baldur von Schirach, the head of the Hitler Youth:

…the service of Germany appears to us to be genuine and sincere service of God; the banner of the Third Reich appears to us to be his banner; and the Fuhrer of the people is the savior whom he sent to rescue us. (Quoted in The Messianic Legacy at 156)

In short, the cultivation and exploitation of religion was essential to the success of Nazism. As Baigent, Leigh, and Lincoln have noted:

[T]he most crucial element in any understanding of Nazism is the extent to which it deliberately activated the religious impulse in the German people. It elicited an emotional as well as a cerebral response, uniting in its own depraved fashion, both hearts and minds.
The notorious Nuremberg rallies were not political rallies of the kind that occur in the West today but cummingly stage-managed theatre of the kind, for example, that formed an integral component of Greek religious festivals. Everything—the colours of the uniform and flags, the placement of the spectators, the nocturnal hour, the use of spotlights and floodlights, the sense of timing—was precisely calculated. The film-clips depict people intoxicating themselves, chanting themselves into a state of rapture and ecstasy….
(The Messianic Legacy at 152-153)

Like the Communist and Nazis centuries later, Constantine the Great, who was Emperor in one form or another from 306 to 337 CE, also struggled with the problem of religion. Like the communists, he understood feared its subversive and divisive potential, but like the Nazis, he also understood its potential to unite.

Early in Constantine’s reign religion--namely, disputes among Christians--divided what Constantine hoped to join, the Eastern Empire and the Western Empire. However, by the end of his reign, and thanks to his ingenious corruption of Christianity, religion was a largely unifying influence rather than a divisive one in the empire.

How did Constantine successfully turn religion into something that united rather than divided? He did so by artfully combining suppression (like the Communists) and corruption (like the Nazis) to achieve his desired result—-an amalgamated, unifying religion under the emperor’s absolute control.

Constantine’s first step on the path toward religious unification was his issuance of the Edict of Milan in 313. This edict banned persecution of any monotheistic religion. Although it didn’t mention Christianity explicitly, it indirectly made Christianity an officially approved, or at least officially tolerated, religion in the empire for the first time. Contrary to legend, Constantine never made Christianity the official religion of the empire, though as we shall see he did make the Roman, Literalist form of Christianity the official form of Christianity in the empire. After Constantine, Roman Literalist Christianity would be subsidized by the state, while all other forms would be brutally suppressed.

Also, contrary to the myth perpetuated by the church and blindly adopted by some history books, Constantine was not a Christian in any modernly understandable sense of the word. Not only did he continue to tolerate pagan religions throughout his reign, but he personally continued to serve as the chief priest of a prominent pagan religion, the sun cult of Sol Invictus (i.e.., the “invincible sun”), until his death in 337. Constantine’s continuing dedication to the sun god is evident: The imperial standards and money printed under Constantine bore the symbols of Sol Invictus, not Jesus or Jehovah. The famous Arch of Constantine, which was built by the Roman Senate to memorialize Constantine’s victory over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge (making Constantine sole emperor), and which still stands in Rome today, attributes his victory not to intervention by the Christian God (as Christian history holds), but to the divine favor of the sun god, Sol Invictus. The famous Chi Rho emblem that marked Constantine’s reign, traditionally held to be a symbol for Christ (consisting of the first two letters in “Christ”), is now known to have been a pagan symbol in use for hundreds of years before Constantine.

Furthermore, shortly after hosting the council of Nicaea, which as we shall see was designed to end the bitter disputes within Christianity and unify it under Constantine’s leadership, Constantine had both his wife and son murdered. In a rather cynical attempt to "cover all bases", Constantine was not baptized until the last possible moment, when he lay helpless on his deathbed.

In short, Constantine was no Christian emperor, whether measured by today’s or the fourth century’s standards. Whatever charity he showed Christianity was motivated by self-interest and practical considerations and almost certainly not authentic faith. That's not to say that Constantine didn't "believe", only that whatever belief he had was a rationalization designed to forward very practical earthly (as opposed to heavenly) objectives.

After issuing the edict of Milan, Constantine (and certain emperors who succeeded him) next began to execute a brilliant strategy designed to unify all the important religions of the time, especially Christianity which had never before been officially recognized, under the emperor’s control. This strategy consisted of three parts: (1) squelching divisions within the important religions of the empire through suppression; (2) intentionally blurring the lines between various important religions of the empire by emphasizing their similarities and obfuscating their differences; and (3) corrupting all of them through a combination of persecution for those who resisted imperial control, and state subsidies to those who acquiesced. Let’s consider each of these three techniques individually.

Squelching Division

Internal religious disputes among members of a given sect are often more vitriolic and divisive than those among the various religions themselves. “Heresy” from within is always more frightening than a failure to convert those who are without, as anyone who has experienced intra-church conflict can attest. And, during Constantine’s time, intra-sect squabbles, primarily among Eastern and Western Christians, threatened the very survival of his empire. Constantine's reign was preoccupied with settling these disputes once and for all, while establishing his ultimate authority in doing so.

His first step, at least with respect to Christianity, was to "invite" all Christian bishops from across the empire, many but not all of who were under the Roman churches control by this point, to attend Christianity’s first world-wide (i.e., “ecumenical”) council to be held in Nicaea (now Iznik, Turkey) in 325 CE. In May of that year, between 250 and 320 (the numbers vary depending upon whose account one accepts) bishops from around the world received an all-expense-paid trip to Nicaea, complete with an imperial military “escort” to insure their “safety”, all compliments of Constantine. Constantine personally presided over the assembly, the purpose of which was to settle once and for all, by vote, many of the most disputed issues of Christianity. The meeting, or council, lasted more than two months.

Interestingly Constantine does not appear to have been particularly interested in most of the issues debated by the council, but he did make it perfectly clear that he expected any divisive issues to be resolved by the bishops one way or the other, and unanimously. Once the council voted on a matter, all present were expected to abide by it from that point forward.

Perhaps for this reason the debates at Nicaea were intense and, as previously stated, continued for two months. Debated matters ranged from mundane issues--such as when members of the church should sit or stand during the church services and whether men who had castrated themselves should be permitted to become priests (the Council decided against it)--to far more important ones, such as the proper date of Easter and whether Jesus was human or divine and, if divine, how so. All matters were settled by vote and, in accordance with Constantine’s command, the votes were ultimately almost unanimous (Secundus of Ptolemais and Teonas of Marmarica, two bishops who refused to join the majority in condemning the so-called Aryan heresy, were banished from the empire along with Arius, the priest after whom the heresy was named). By vote, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity was created, and by vote the Creed of Nicaea, which eventually became the Nicene Creed, was promulgated.

Despite the finality of these decisions, the passionate debate that preceded them makes clear that the voting did not reflect the actual beliefs of many of the voters. In short, the votes often represented a compromise, and a coerced one at that. Thus, unless we are willing to believe that, despite all that we have covered so far, the bishops at Nicaea were guided in their voting by God, and that their votes perfectly expressed God’s will (if not their own conscience), then we can only conclude that, at Nicaea, the quest for truth was sacrificed upon alter of political expediency.

Once all the world’s Christian bishops voted en masse on key doctrinal issues at Nicaea, the hardest part of Constantine’s battle was over. Under his direction, the world’s Christian leaders had assembled at one location and, by voting on the record, determined precisely what would be Christian doctrine and what would be heresy throughout the empire going forward. Prior to Nicaea:

heresy had been an accusation readily but imprecisely thrown by one Christian group against another, but after Constantine took control, its meaning became crystal clear. In essence, the truth became what the Emperor said it was; the rest was heresy, the work of the devil. Many scriptures were outlawed, and application of the label “Gnostic” to them effectively removed them from the now narrowly defined creed of Christianity. (The Hiram Key at 65)

Having voted on the record at Nicaea in the presence of Constantine, any bishops who may have been so inclined would have found it very difficult, and risky, to recant upon returning home. It should come as no surprise that almost none of them did. As a result, from Constantine’s time forward, Literalist Christianity controlled all important Christian Churches of the empire, and the development of official Christian doctrine. Those who resisted or dissented were branded heretics and were actively and brutally suppressed. Unlike some emperors before him, Constantine would tolerate Christianity, even support it, but he would not countenance division within it. Elaine Pagels notes:

[W]hen Christianity became an officially approved religion in the fourth century, [Literalist] Christian bishops, previously victimized by the police, now commanded them. Possession of books denounced as heretical was made a criminal offense. Copies of such books were burned and destroyed. (Elaine Pagels quoted in Secrets of the Code at 92)

And, as Freke and Gandy have noted:

Constantine … gave Literalist Christianity the power it needed to begin the final eradication of Paganism and Gnosticism. Constantine wanted “one God, one religion” to consolidate his claim of “one Empire, one Emperor.” He oversaw the creation of the Nicene creed, the article of faith repeated in churches to this day, and Christians who refused to assent to this creed were banished from the Empire or otherwise silenced.

Blurring Lines Among Religions

While squashing intra-religious squabbles using techniques like those above, Constantine and certain emperors who succeeded him also sought to eliminate inter-religious arguments by blurring the lines between them. With rare exception, they employed the power of the state to emphasize the similarities among the approved religions of the empire and obfuscate their differences. These emperors took particular care to blend the traditions and themes of the monotheistic religions—-those that had historically proven the most dogmatic and least cooperative with imperial rule. For example, Constantine declared that the law courts would be closed on the sun’s day (i.e., Sunday), which had obvious importance to sun-based cults like those of Sol Invictus and Mithras (a Persian god closely associated with the sun). However Sunday was also meaningful to Christians as the day of Jesus’ resurrection and many Christians had previously adopted it as their holy day to distinguish themselves from more orthodox Jews. Thus, to the extent that Christianity was still seen at the time as a sect of Judaism, and the largest one at that, Constantine’s proclamation set in motion a process designed to eventually harmonize the holy days of four important religions in the empire—Christianity, Judaism, Mithraism and the cult of Sol Invictus, not to mention numerous other sun-worshiping pagan cults. Among these, only more orthodox varieties of Judaism appear to have resisted the assimilation.

In a similar manner, Jesus’ birthday, traditionally celebrated by many Christians on January 6th before Constantine, was changed to December 25th . This date was not chosen by accident, for it was the date of the annual pagan celebration of Natalis Invictus, or rebirth of the invincible sun, favored by sun cults of most every variety for centuries. It was also the date on which the birth of the pagan godman Mithras was celebrated. Once again, the Christian holiday was synchronized with the pagan one and the practical distinction between Jesus, Mithras, and Sol Invictus was further blurred.

Constantine also consolidated his position as leader of the various religions, and further blurred the lines between them, by assuming their chief offices. For example, as evidenced by none other than Eusebius, the Father of Church History, Constantine was venerated as the new Christian/Jewish Messiah, or the Logos incarnate. It was Constantine, rather than any bishop in Christendom, who presided over the Council of Nicea in 325 CE. And yet, at the same time he held this Christian office, he also served as the chief priest of the sun-worshiping cult of Sol Invictus! Thus, in some sense, the various important religions of his empire were united in the very person of Constantine.

After centuries, barriers between the various religions weren’t just blurred, they began to crumble completely. It proved remarkably easy for the pagan gods, who unlike the Jewish and Christian one had never been particularly jealous and who frequently changed or shared identities, to be absorbed into the Christian one, taking their symbols with them. The sacred sun disk of the various sun-god cults eventually became the halo surrounding Jesus and the saints in Christian iconography. Christian Cathedrals, many of which survive to this day, were built on traditional pagan holy sites using the pagan principles of sacred geometry and overtly pagan symbolism (with a heavy emphasis on astrology in some cases). The bishop of Rome, who would later come to be known as the Pope, would assume almost all the titles and trappings of the pagan hierophant—such as the title Pontificus Maximus, and the use of the pagan mitre.

Likewise, pagan goddess worship was systematically transferred from the great goddesses to Mary the Mother who eventually took on many of the traditional goddess’ titles including Mother of God, Stella Maris, and even Queen of Heaven. Statues of the goddess Isis with her son Horus came to be understood as depicting instead Mary and Jesus and the two are often indistinguishable to modern scholars. As we shall see in much more detail later, the Christian Eucharist and the pagan God-eating rituals were ingeniously fused, and Jesus’ nativity stories were amalgamated with those of the pagan godmen Mithras, Osiris, Adonis and Dionysus, among others. The fixed signs of the pagan zodiac--Bull or Ox (Taurus), Lion (Leo), Human (Aquarius, the water bearer), and Eagle (Scorpio)--came instead to symbolize the four evangelists of Christianity. And, the sacred roles of the various gods were transferred instead to the various Christian patron saints--for example, the protection of the vine was transferred from the pagan god Dionysus (aka, Bacchus) to the likes of the Christian Saint Vincent, patron of winegrowers.)

Corruption of Religion to Serve State Purposes

As the traditions of the various religions of the empire were blending under Constantine and his successors, there remained the task of allying the amalgamated religions permanently with the state. This was accomplished primarily through a corrupting carrot-and-stick approach, blending money and privilege with punishment and banishment. In other words, those religious leaders who collaborated with the emperor received a salary and political office through which they could expand their religious influence. Those who did not found themselves ostracized, banished, tortured or even murdered, making it difficult to compete with collaborators for converts. For example, Constantine gave the Lateran Palace, which served as the Popes residence for nearly a thousand years, to the cooperative orthodox Bishop of Rome, providing the Roman Church with a great psychological and practical advantage over rival Christian churches of historical importance like Alexandria and Antioch. At the same time, Constantine banished the uncooperative (such as Arian "heretics") from the empire altogether.

After centuries of repression and persecution, the leaders of the orthodox Roman church during Constantine’s time appear to have been all too willing to accept the benefits and privileges that came with official Roman sanction. The Literalist Roman Church deluded itself into believing that God was finally delivering on his promise of establishing his earthly kingdom on the throne of St. Peter in Rome, with the orthodox in charge of it no less! How convenient, as Church Lady might say.

Constantine Play Favorites

While Constantine was deferential to other religions that cooperated with his plans, including pagan ones, Roman Christianity undoubtedly received a heaping share of imperial favors. There is no single reason why this was the case. Rather, there were multiple factors at play.

First, the Literalist Christians of Rome were clearly willing to cooperate with Constantine and defer to his leadership, going so far as to revere him as the new Messiah. Constantine’s most valuable and helpful Literalist ally in this respect was a man named Eusebius, known today as the Father of Church History. Eusebius functioned as Constantine’s chief propagandist, and was the first to write a complete history of the church, in ten volumes, from the time of Jesus to the time of Constantine. Not surprisingly, though it is often short on sources, it proffers a history that supported Constantine and Rome and bolstered the orthodox claim to authority. Eusebius even went so far as to claim that Constantine was the logos incarnate, a position that modern Christians would reserve for Christ.

Given Eusebius' fawning over Constantine, critical scholars have grown increasingly skeptical of his historical accuracy:

It is striking that, for centuries, virtually everyone who studied the history of early Christianity simply accepted the version of the early conflicts written by the orthodox victors. This all began to change in a significant way in the nineteenth century as some scholars began to question the “objectivity” of such early Christian writers as the fourth-century orthodox author Eusebius, the so-called Father of Church History, who reproduced for us the earliest account of the conflict. This initial query into Eusebius’s accuracy eventually became, in some circles, a virtual onslaught on his character, as twentieth-century scholars began to subject his work to an ideological critique that exposed his biases and their role in his presentation. The reevaluation of Eusebius was prompted, in part, by the discovery of additional ancient books, uncovered both by trained archaeologists looking for them and by bedouin who came across them by chance, other Gospels, for example, that also claimed to be written in the names of apostles. (Lost Christianities at 5)

In other words, the findings of the last century or two have demonstrated that in many cases Eusebius’ accounts of church history were fabricated to advance the interest of Rome and the orthodox Christian collaborators centered there. In many important respects, his account does not agree with other historical evidence and records, some of which only came to light in the last century. There can no longer be any doubt that important leaders of the Roman Church, such as Eusebius, were willing collaborators in Constantine’s and his successors schemes (no doubt convinced in their own mind that they were right), making them the natural objects of each emperors' bounty. This ultimately insured the Literalists success over their less organized and less subsidized rivals.

But second, and perhaps most importantly, Constantine favored Literalist Christianity because it offered him something that other religions didn’t—-namely, a religion based on history, fixed dogma, and intolerance of diversity. While other religions of the time had myths that were framed in an historical context, their initiated followers, contrary to the derogatory claims of the Literalists orthodox Christians, almost never understood their myths as actual history but rather as spiritual, mystical allegory—an attempt to communicate the incommunicable via analogy. By way of contrast, as we have already discussed, Literalist Christianity’s claims to authority rested upon a closed historical record that, if accepted, cut off all rival claims of authority. Thus, to the extent one accepted its view of history, the authority of its leaders (i.e., the “New Messiah” Constantine and his delegates) was theologically unchallengeable.

For instance, the other religions of the time, including Gnosticism, required no creeds. In the pagan religions,

worship almost never involved accepting or making doctrinally acceptable claims about a god. There were no creeds devised to proclaim the nature of the gods and their interaction with the worlds, no doctrinally precise professions of faith to be recited during services of worship, no such thing as “orthodoxy” (right beliefs) or “heresy” (false beliefs). What mattered were traditionally sanctioned acts of worship, not beliefs. (Lost Christianities at 92)

On the other hand, Literalist Christianity insisted that maintaining the proper beliefs was the only way to be saved from an eternity in hell and that the orthodox church, now controlled by Constantine, was the sole determiner of the necessary beliefs. By controlling its members’ beliefs about heaven and hell, the church also influenced their worldly behavior, such as loyalty to the empire and it’s Messiah (Constantine), which was seen as God’s Kingdom on Earth.

Also, Literalist Christianity’s insistence on proper beliefs caused it, like Constantine, to abhor diversity and dissent:

The proto-orthodox strategy involved stressing the notion of “unity” on all levels. The proto-orthodox stressed the unity of God with his creation: There is one God, and he created the world. They stressed the unity of God and Jesus: Jesus is the one son of the one God. They stressed the unity of Jesus and Christ: He is “one and the same.” They stressed the unity of the church: Divisions are caused by heretics. And they stressed the unity of truth: Truth is not contradictory or at odds with itself. (Lost Christianities at 189)

Thus, all of these characteristics, unique to Literalist Christianity, would have had great appeal to a dictator like Constantine, for whom reuniting the empire was his chief obsession. The Literalist cry for unity--“one God, one religion”, meshed enormously well with Constantine’s own cry for unity--“one Empire, one Emperor.”

Third, because the primary pagan religions of the day were not based upon historical events, but rather spiritual insight, they were more malleable than Literalist Christianity. So long as their symbolic rituals were largely preserved, their gods could be absorbed into the Christian god and pantheon of saints without much resistance. However, the reverse was not true--followers of the "one true God" generally resisted the blending of that god with any other. Thus, to use an analogy, Literalist Christianity became the Christmas tree upon which the emperors were able to hang the ornaments of the other religions. It was the vine upon which the other religions, and their symbols, could be grafted. Orthodox Christianity proved remarkably willing to accept the accoutrements, symbols and rites of the pagan religions so long as all deferred to the authority of its leaders. More than symbols, more than perhaps even doctrine, the most important thing to orthodox Christians was preservation of the Roman Church’s hierarchical organizational structure, for it was by this means that it retained its power.

A Summary of Constantine's Method

Thus, through a well-orchestrated combination of religious suppression and corruption, Constantine and his successors formed a confederation of religions united under imperial rule. Over time these religions eventually became one, a universal one, a catholic one, with emperor and then eventually the bishop of Rome at its head—one God, one religion, one empire and one emperor/Pope. Constantine was ultimately successful beyond his wildest imagination, though not completely during his lifetime.

Theodosius Makes it Official

Nearly sixty years after Constantine’s death, the amalgamated religion we call Literalist Christianity became the official, and only tolerated, religion of the empire:

As a result of the favors Constantine poured out upon the church, conversion to the Christian faith soon became “popular.” At the beginning of the fourth century, Christians may have comprised something like 5 to 7 percent of the population; but with the conversion of Constantine the church grew in leaps and bounds. By the end of the century it appears to have been the religion of choice of fully half the empire. After Constantine, every emperor except one was Christian. Theodosius I (emperor 379-95 CE) made Christianity (specifically Roman Christianity, with the bishop of Rome having ultimate religious authority) the official religion of the state. He opposed the surviving pagan religions and eventually banned pagan sacrificial practices. More conversions naturally flowed, until Christianity became the religion to be handed down to the Middle Ages and onwards. (Lost Christianities at 250-251).

Even though the Theodosius I made the bishop of Rome head of the state religion late in the 4th Century, this title was largely an honorary one. Until the ultimate collapse of the Roman Empire about 100 years later, the emperor more or less retained control of all apparatuses of the state, including its official religion. After the fall of Rome, when the emperor was no more, the bishop of Rome, later to be called the Pope, became the de facto leader of Roman Christianity in both title and practice.

Brutal Suppression

Thus, after Constantine, Gnostic Christianity was all but annihilated, along with its various pagan versions. Its books were burned, and its proponents were prosecuted, banished or murdered:

In the fifth and sixth centuries bands of black-robed Christian monks roamed unchecked throughout the disintegrating empire, laying waste to the wonders of Pagan civilization. A pagan wrier of the time described them as “monks who resemble men but live like pigs” and laments that ”anyone who had a black robe had despotic power.”

Like the Taliban, who dynamited ancient statues of the Buddha in Afghanistan, Christian monks destroyed ancient Pagan temples that had stood for thousands of years. Their priests and priestesses were exiled, murdered or simply chained in their sanctuaries and left to starve. The wealth of the temples was shared out between the emperor and the bishops. Philosophers and heretics were murdered or exiled. Great libraries were torched.

[L]iteralist Christians believed that by revering the Bible as the infallible Word of God they would usher in a new age of Christian enlightenment. But they were completely wrong. In fact the lights went out over Europe and the West reverted to a brutish life of ignorance and superstition. Literalist Christians hoped to bring about the Kingdom of God, but they actually created the thousand years of misery that we call the “Dark Ages.”
(Laughing Jesus at 79)

Even so, Gnosticism never died. Despite suppression, its basic tenants continued to resurface in various secretive, heretical movements throughout the Dark Ages and even into the present century. Each time it has appeared, the Roman Church in particular has gone to extraordinary lengths to destroy it (and any other “heresies” for that matter). With brutal efficiency, the Roman Church eventually forced Gnosticism and other heresies completely underground. It teachings were preserved in various esoteric traditions like alchemy, tarot, cabala, the grail romances and freemasonry, all of which, not surprisingly, were shunned by the Roman Church as the “work of the devil.”

To provide the unfamiliar reader with some sense of the extensiveness and brutality of the centuries-long suppression of Gnosticism that eventually drove it underground, some examples are necessary. One of the more famous examples was the Albigensian Crusade, which lasted nearly fifty years. It was launched in 1209 CE, when an army of knights invaded the Languedoc region of France at the behest of Pope Innocent III. The purpose of the crusade was to exterminate the Cathars, a Christian group with unabashedly Gnostic beliefs that was responsible for a growing heresy. In fact, the Cathars were so popular in the Languedoc region of France that their beliefs threatened to replace Roman Literalism as the dominant religion of the region.

Like the original Gnostics of nearly a thousand years before, the Cathars were dualists, included females among their preachers and teachers, taught that God could be experienced personally and directly through gnosis, and had little use for institutionalized religion or the authority of bishops, priests or popes. Naturally, it was the last of these characteristics that proved most offensive to Rome and ultimately ended them.

In contrast to their notoriously corrupt counterparts in the Roman Literalist Church, the Cathar leaders were among the most highly respected members of a culture that was at the time among most sophisticated in all of Christendom. The Languedoc region of the Cathars was one of the few bright lights in Western Europe during the Dark Ages. Nearly 50 years before the crusade was launched, St. Bernard commented of the Cathars that, “No sermons are more Christian than theirs,” and “their morals are pure.”(quoted in Holy Blood, Holy Grail at 54).

The Albigensian Crusade was named after the Cathar stronghold of Albi, which ultimately fell to the invading crusaders. The devastations these crusaders wrought on the Cathars and the entire Languedoc region cannot be overstated:

[T]he whole territory was ravaged, crops were destroyed, town and cities were razed, a whole population was put the sword. This extermination occurred on so vast, so terrible a scale that it may well constitute the first case of “genocide” in modern European history. In the town of Beziers alone, for example, at least fifteen thousand men, women, and children were slaughtered wholesale—many of them in the sanctuary of the church itself. When an officer inquired of the Pope’s representative how he might distinguish heretics from true believers, the reply was, “Kill them all. God will recognize His own.” This quotation, though widely reported, may well be apocryphal. Nevertheless, it typifies the fanatical zeal and bloodlust with which the atrocities were perpetuated. The same papal representative, writing to [Pope] Innocent III in Rome, announced proudly that “neither age nor sex nor status was spared.” (Holy Blood, Holy Grail at _____)

The length of the crusade is a testament to the strength of faith of the Cathars. The Cathars repeatedly refused to compromise their beliefs or submit to the authority of the Pope, fighting to the death in some instances, and accepting martyrdom without resistance in others. In one instance, at the town of Montsegur, nearly two hundred Cathar leaders chose to be burned alive en masse in an open field rather than recant their beliefs. In all, over one hundred thousand people were massacred in southern France during this one crusade alone.

The knights who participated in the crusades against the Cathars received the customary reward from the Pope for their service--forgiveness of sins, a guaranteed place in Heaven, all the loot they could plunder, and title to the conquered lands. To this day the Languedoc has not completely recovered from the devastation the church wrought upon it over eight hundred years ago. Though once wealthy and comparatively advanced, it is today one of the poorest and most backward regions of France.

A second historical example of suppression of Gnostic ideas by Literalist is the horrid treatment of women. The cause of the early Literalists hatred of women is unknown: New Testament Bible verses supporting female inferiority are relatively scarce, and some of those that do exist are now known to be forgeries or spurious additions passed off by Literalists. So why are Literalist so often misogynists?

Some suggest that the Literalists dislike of the female gender stems from a hatred of, and attempts to discredit, the Gnostics:

The Gnostics were famous, or infamous if you were a Literalists, for the equality they afforded women. Not only did Gnostic women preach, baptize, and celebrate the Eucharist, many Gnostic groups were even named after women, as were many Gnostic gospels. (Laughing Jesus at 74)

The Literalist Tertullian writes about Gnostic women:

The very women of these heretics, how wanton they are! For they are bold enough to teach, to dispute, to enact exorcisms, to undertake cures—it may be even to baptize.

Perhaps then it was for this reason that hatred of women ran deep among Literalists. For instance, Turtullian writes of women in general, “The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in the age” and “[t]he guilt must of necessity live too.” He continues, “You are the devil’s gateway” and calls women defectively formed deceivers who caused Jesus’ death (as a result of Eve’s failure). Many prominent Literalists considered women to be subhuman, having been formed only from Adams’ rib rather than fully in the image of God (as was Adam).

Centuries later, in 1486, this distrust and hatred toward women resulted in the publication of Malleus Maleficarum (The Witch’s Hammer) by two monks in Germany. This text lays out a procedure, which was subsequently adopted widely in the Church, for discovering and brutally punishing witchcraft or sorcery. This text is very possibly responsible for more death and human suffering than any other publication in human history, with the possible exceptions of Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Conservative estimates place the number of women who died because of it and the related witch hunts and Inquisitions at forty thousand, while extreme estimates go as high as nine million. The sad truth probably lies somewhere in between, but even this doesn’t count the hundreds of thousands, or more likely millions more, who were brutally and hideously tortured or maimed but ultimately survived their "interrogation". It is a sad fact that the art and instruments of torture achieved a previously unknown degree of perfection at the hands of the Church who used it as a means of coercing confessions from suspected witches or other heretics.

Nearly all [victims of the witch hunts], scholars tell us, were women, old, young, midwives, Jews, poets, and gypsies—anyone who didn’t fit the contemporary view of what it took to be a pious Christian. (Secrets of the Code at 157)

Other famous examples of Church persecution of “heresy” include the destruction of the Knights Templar, the Spanish Inquisition, the burning alive of Joan of Arc, church sponsored Antisemitism, and the Crusades.

Revisionist History

Century after century of suppression ultimately had its intended effect. As Elaine Pagels notes:

The efforts of the majority to destroy every trace of heretical “blasphemy” proved so successful that, until the discoveries at Nag Hammadi, nearly all our information concerning alternative forms of early Christianity came from the massive Orthodox attacks upon them. (quoted in Secrets of the Code at 96).

And as Bart Ehrman notes, Literalists were able to :

rewr[i]te the history of the controversy, making it appear that there had not been much of a conflict at all, claiming that its own views had always been those of the majority of Christians at all times, back to the time of Jesus and his apostles, that its perspective, in effect, had always been “orthodox” (i.e., the “right belief”) and that its opponents in the conflict, with their other scriptural texts, had always represented small splinter groups invested in deceiving people into “heresy” (literally meaning “choice”, a heretic is someone who willfully chooses not to believe the right things). (Lost Christianities at 4)

Despite that the diversity of early Christianity, and the subsequent suppression of all but Literalist ideas, are well-known to New Testament scholars of all persuasions, most ordinary Literalist Christians remain unaware that there was ever a competing form of Christianity, much less a commonly accepted one. Christian laypersons continue to view the early years of the church as a golden age of cooperation and agreement, free from troubling heresies and conflicts that arose much later. But the simple fact remains that, as Jorge Luis Borges wrote “[h]ad [the Gnostic capital of] Alexandria triumphed and not Rome, the extravagant and muddled stories [of the Gnostics] would be coherent, majestic, and perfectly ordinary [to us today]”.

With this in mind, what confidence can we have that our received version of Christianity is indeed the "true" one? In other words, given its coercive history, how can we be certain that the Literalist interpretation is the correct one, or that there even is a "correct" one?


Oldest Bible Now Online

The Codex Sinaiticus, the oldest surviving "complete" copy of the New Testament, is now available online.

If only I could read ancient Greek (well, or any Greek really).

Big Progress on Aging

WSJ: A study published Wednesday found that rapamycin, a drug used in organ transplants, increased the life span of mice by 9% to 14%, the first definitive case in which a chemical has been shown to extend the life span of normal mammals.
"It's time to break out of our denial about aging," said Aubrey de Grey, a British gerontologist who has drawn controversy for his suggestions on how to forestall death. "Aging is, unequivocally, the major cause of death in the industrialized world and a perfectly legitimate target of medical intervention."

Read the whole thing.

UPDATE:> More from webmd.