Thursday, November 21, 2013

How the Bible May Hold Clues to Recent Discoveries of Human Lineage

"There were giants in those days . . ."

This cryptic phrase comes from Genesis 6, the chapter detailing why God decided to flood the earth.  According to the passage, not only did God intend to remove the wickedness of mankind, but also of others.

Two groups of sentient beings other than man receive mention in the chapter.  "Giants," translated from nephilim.  It also notes the existence of "the sons of God."

The Bible mentions nephilim in two places, Genesis and Numbers.  Numbers 13:30 also relates that Moses's spies in Canaan ran across "men of great stature."  The sons of God appear nowhere else.

Genesis describes how the sons of God took wives from the daughters of men, "the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown."

Biblical scholars speculate at great length on this puzzling passage.  Different experts concluded that they were descendants of Seth, another child of Adam and Eve.  Others guess that they were fallen angels or space aliens.

The answer, however, might come from science.

Researchers concluded several years ago that all humans can trace their mitochondrial DNA back to a single woman in East Africa.  Science calls her "mitochondrial Eve."  Her likely emergence in the Great Rift Valley parallels Biblical descriptions of Eden.  Now a desert, the valley once held many rivers and a rain forest environment.

As mankind spread through and eventually escaped Africa, scientists have determined that our species inevitably encountered closely related hominids.  Human DNA reveals intertwining with three other species.  One was identified long ago, traditionally called "Neanderthal Man," scientifically homo neandeerthalensis.

In the past couple of years, scientists found DNA and fossil traces of a Siberian based species called for now simply "Denisovans."  More study is needed to properly classify this group, but many see them as an offshoot of the Neanderthals.  Even more enticing is the discovery this year of "mystery species" traces in human DNA.  No fossil record at all exists of this group.

Science and the Bible may link here.  The mixture of DNA reveals that modern man (homo sapiens  and homo sapiens sapiens) must have interbred with these other species.  No other explanation exists for how the DNA could have intertwined.

Oral histories of some peoples are believed to extend back tens of thousands of years. Recorded history only extends back 5,000 years.  Cave paintings by either humans or Neanderthals date back over 40,000.  The recent Royal Society of London's presentations posit that the interspecies interactions could have taken place as early as 30,000 years ago.

Looking at the Bible as a possible record of these events not only fits this timeline, it also allows for a Great Flood related to massive meltoffs of glaciers at the end of one of the several ice ages.

The Bible is not the only source for these anecdotes.  Greeks also passed stories of powerful giants in prehistory, as well as a civilization drowned under the water.  Many other cultures from that period have similar tales to tell.

Strangely enough, most academics prefer to describe these tales as "myths."  Mythology implies almost an almost total fictional basis.  Legends may be a more apt description.  There is some truth at the foundation, although time and practice may have embellished it (definitely did in the case of the Greeks.)  That is not to suggest that titans roamed the earth with divine powers.  But so many cultures have descriptions of powerful hominids who didn't survive and floods that wiped out civilizations.

The Occam's razor principle demands that science at least consider that oral traditions that led to great civilizations like ancient Israel and Greece may have something to contribute to the conversation.  The Old Testament/Torah is more reliable than the Greek stories because it was not corrupted through enhancement of its entertainment value during written history.  The Bible comes from a much more sacred and important tradition.  If the ancient Israelites followed the mores of most oral societies, correct passage from one generation to the next was a high priority.

In any event, the very fact that the Bible's oldest accounts correlate with new discoveries should be news.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Turner Field or the Colosseum?

Turner Field was built in 1995 Anno Domini at a final cost of just over $200 million.  It originally seated 89,000, but capacity fell to nearly 50,000 after its reconstruction into a baseball park.

The stadium looks remarkably similar to other baseball parks built at the time, which feature asymmetrical outfields.  Designers incorporated spaces for food courts, but probably not much thought to aesthetic designs.

As it stands now, Turner Field will cease to be useful after 20 years of service.  It replaced Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium which served both the Atlanta Falcons and the Atlanta Braves.  It was demolished after 30 years.

Atlanta also features other sports stadiums, such as the Georgia Dome and Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Its projected replacement in Cobb County, Georgia, will likely cost at least $650 million.

The Colosseum opened in 80 Anno Domini.  Its final cost was measured in Roman specie, but some have estimated that it may cost nearly $1 billion in modern money.

That would be before union contracts depending on the state.

Roman designers used concentric circles of arches as the basis of its design.  This gave it unparalleled strength to seat 80,000 spectators over centuries.  It was constructed of concrete, stone, and marble seating.  Authorities staged a variety of events there including gladiatorial games, plays, the ruthless killing of social outcasts by animals, and even mock naval battles on water.

Rome constructed an even larger stadium, the Circus Maximus, for chariot races.  It seated 250,000.

The city used this stadium for centuries.  Despite earthquakes and the theft of materials for building over the past 2,000 years, two thirds of it remains standing.  Below is how it likely looked in its original form.

Rome may have spent over $1 billion for its signature stadium.  But how much will metropolitan Atlanta donors, businesses, and taxpayers shell out for Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, Turner Field, and the new Cobb County facility in a span of just about a half century?

We should take a lesson from the Romans.  Invest to last.  Build to last.  Stop sticking taxpayers with disposable stadiums.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

John F. Kennedy a Half Century Later: A Legacy of Effectiveness and Cheating

John F. Kennedy is an American paradox.  His smiling visage was what New Dealers and their protegees imagined themselves to be.  But Kennedy also reflected the corruption and dishonesty behind the attractive facade and earnestly stated intentions.  Like his successor Richard Nixon, Kennedy mixed idealism and pragmatism well.  Both were effective presidents. But neither could escape the temptations of shooting a few rounds of dirty pool.

Kennedy was the perfect convergence of image, style, and accomplishment.  He was a genuine war hero, served respectably in the US Senate, and seemingly outpaced the shadow surrounding his bootlegger, Nazi sympathizing father.

The campaign of 1960 should historically bury John F. Kennedy's legacy in the same grave as Richard Nixon.  Falsely campaigning in the general election on the missile gap perpetuated a serious fraud on the voters.  Kennedy knew, via national security estimate provided as a courtesy, that the US was comfortably ahead of the Soviet Union in weaponry.  Yet he played on fears stoked by the Soviets that they had reached parity.  Nixon could not refute the claims without breaking national security laws.  His silence on the issue cost him.

But if Kennedy had campaigned honestly, would he have even won nomination?

Justice Allen Loughry of the West Virginia State Supreme Court of Appeals, penned a dissertation at American University that covered political scandals from 1960 until the 1990s.  The book published from it, Don't Buy Another Vote, I Won't Pay For a Landslide comes from Kennedy's glib reaction to accusations of cheating during that year.

Loughry's work draws from sources such as former political boss Raymond Chafin's Just Good Politics, among others.  It describes in detail how Kennedy campaign money appeared in southern West Virginia counties.  Once this money appeared, bosses supporting Hubert Humphreys overnight switched to Kennedy.   In those days, the bosses and their slate always won the day.  They had many loaves and fishes on the State Road Commission and public school system to distribute among helpful supporters.

And Ted Kennedy himself was in charge of Southern West Virginia, although no one has ever directly accused him of malfeasance.

Kennedy beat Nixon by a whisker in 1960.

Conservatives like to argue that Kennedy was not an effective president.  Setting aside one of the most corrupt presidential campaigns ever for now, did Kennedy govern effectively?

He did.  Kennedy understood that a strong national economy dovetailed into higher levels of respect for America around the globe, enhancing national security.  He also understood 15 years before Laffer drew his famous curve that lower taxes spurred economic growth.

That being said, he combined lower taxes with increasing domestic spending.  Chaffin actually demands the credit for giving Kennedy the idea about food stamps, but this could be a reach.  Domestic spending on welfare and development programs expanded, along with defense.  Kennedy wanted flexible response options, so his administration ratcheted up spending on weapons systems.

In foreign policy Kennedy was aggressively, maybe even recklessly interventionist in his thinking.  In 1961, he tried to convince his military leadership of the wisdom in deploying troops into Laos to fight Communist rebels.  This belies the liberal fairy tale that Kennedy would have avoided Vietnam.

In honesty, he may have torpedoed our main chance at victory by approving the assassination of South Vietnamese president Diem.  Imperfect as Diem was, that was a truly Roman Empire-esque action against an allied head of state.

The Bay of Pigs invasion fiasco does lay at Kennedy's door.  He was misinformed and inexperienced, but that was his fault.  Kennedy gets blamed for the Berlin Wall going up, but short of war no one could have stopped that.  The "ich bin ein Berliner" speech may have been awkward Deutsch, but Germans understood and remain thankful.

Kennedy's signature move represented leadership at its best.  After the Bay of Pigs, Kennedy listened to advice from the president he abused through much of 1960, Dwight Eisenhower.  He listened to his advisers as a group rather than one on one, learning lessons from their disputes.  Kennedy preserved American respect and strength without firing a shot.  He deserves tremendous credit for that.

Kennedy did make powerful moves in the service of civil rights.  He helped to rekindle J. Edgar Hoover's old hatred of the terrorist Ku Klux Klan.  Attorney General Robert Kennedy allowed Hoover to open up a bag of tricks on the Klan reminiscent of the Czarist Okhrana, plus adding a few of his own.  Whether or not one agrees that the tactics were justified, they worked.  Under Kennedy's presidency, Hoover broke the Klan.

The Civil Rights Act, however, would not pass in its most effective form until the chief executive behind it spoke with a Texas accent.

Kennedy deserves credit for some notable achievements and blame for policy missteps.  Overall, he served as an active, dynamic, and effective president with vision and ability, same as Nixon.

Both men, on the other hand, had crimes committed on their behalf that struck at the heart of the American democratic system.  In Watergate, staff broke into a locked office to spirit away secret campaign files (this also happened to Republicans in Washington state in 2008.)  Kennedy's 1960 campaign suborned Democratic Party officials at the local level in West Virginia to steal primary support.

It wasn't "just good politics."  It was a crime.  And few people outside of West Virginia have any interets in adding this to Kennedy's legacy.

The passage of time mellows the most intense of hatreds and even some hero-worshiping.

We owe it to history to start getting the story straight on President Kennedy.

The Gettysburg Address

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

Is European Anti-Semitism Back?

One in three European Jews has felt at some time or another recently that Europe has grown so hostile that they considered moving.

This comes from an online survey conducted by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights.  The same survey revealed that one in four Jews had suffered either harassment or direct attacks due to their faith.

Reason magazine reported these findings in a broader piece underscoring the growing problem of anti-Jewish intolerance in Europe.

Anti-Semitism was blamed on left wing politics and Islamic extremism.  Only 19 percent blamed "right wing" individuals or groups.  It should be noted, of course, that some neo Nazi groups have come together in Central Europe.  They, presumably, cling to the traditionally irrational hatreds.  Many misidentify Nazis as "right" when their traditions and ideology speak to a leftist origin.

A Norwegian academic even resurrected the old czarist hoax "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion."  This was a tract concocted by the Russian secret police to discredit that country's Jews.  It distracted attention away from the tottering Czar and directed it toward the vulnerable Jewish community.  Treating it as legitimate reflects a horrifying tendency among European leftists to more brazenly unearth centuries old hatreds and stereotypes thought dead for decades.

This is no sign of the return of the nightmare of the Holocaust, but the dangers of prejudice and persecution are real.  European peoples do not enjoy the same constitutional protections taken for granted in the United States.  Rights and liberties are more easily infringed upon (for example, Britain is considering legislation that could seriously impact the right of the free press in that country.)

Americans in love with what they think is the superior European culture should look again at the dark underbelly of prejudice that lurks just beneath its urbane surface.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Thornsbury Scandal Should Provide New Impetus For Calls to Create Appeals Court In West Virginia

The Mingo scandals have been well-publicized around the nation.  But could they change the state constitution?

Currently, West Virginia's court system relies on courts of original jurisdiction and one appellate court.  That is, there are six courts where cases may originate.  Civil or criminal cases can be appealed to the State Supreme Court of Appeals, but that court has discretion over whether it accepts an appeal or not.  In recent years, the State Legislature has shot down proposals to create an intermediate court of appeals.

Now the corruption and abuse by former Circuit Court Judge Michael Thornsbury should force reconsideration.

An intermediate appeals court can rectify and even prevent the kinds of abuses that Thornsbury attempted.  It could uncover the ham handed frame ups.  More importantly, its very existence could make corrupt judges think twice about abusing the system.

Circuit court judges are elected.  Their re-election depends upon personal popularity more than observance of the law.  This could sway even honest minds.  Corporations have found some circuits unfairly biased against business defendants.  This has been cited as a major reason why West Virginia remains a "judicial hellhole" where business often cannot get an even shake.  Conversely, the support of business could sway some judges too fr he other way.

Our suggestion is to divide the state into three sections.  Judges will serve six year terms, staggered every two years.  Judges could be nominated by the governor from each section and confirmed by a statewide vote.  This ensures quality and respect for the law while preserving the voice of the people.  It also means that one governor will not in usual circumstances be able to appoint an entire court.

The Mingo scandals should refocus this debate.  What if the federal government had not been tracking these rogues?  Their brand of justice could have raged unchecked for years.  Many could have been unfairly jailed with no chance of appeal.

If for no other reason, the Thornsbury case gives an ironclad reason why West Virginia needs an interediate court of appeals.