Version 24.1
Posted July 30, 2015, 12:28 p.m.

Although I have been (again) neglecting to publish posts regularly, there are things going on here on Off on a Tangent. I promise.

Part of why the posts have slowed down is because I have several long, in-depth articles and essays that I am working on and I got sort of ‘backed up’ with those. I am hoping that at least one or two of them will be finished and ready for publication soon. Also, I have been working behind the scenes on a number of other projects . . . including supporting No-Nonsense Weather and moving forward with development there, and some ‘continuing learning’ efforts.

But I did want to take a moment and describe some of the things that have been happening here on the site, though you might not have noticed. Read More…

Last Updated July 24, 2015, 4:57 p.m.

Greece has defaulted on a €1.5 billion (about $1.7 billion) loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It is the largest national default in history, and the first time a country with a ‘developed economy’ has ever defaulted on an IMF loan.

The Greek government, following decades of economic mismanagement and corruption, was hard-hit by the worldwide banking and economic collapse in 2008. It fell into a serious debt crisis in 2009, and subsequently received several bailouts and loans from the IMF and the European Union (E.U.). The Greek people, however, balked at stringent ‘austerity’ cuts in government spending imposed upon the nation by its creditors.

Greece’s refusal to accept any terms that would improve its long-term economic viability in return for additional bailout funding has made it unable to make its scheduled debt payments.

As its deadline loomed, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (Syriza) suddenly announced that he would put the most recent European bailout offer to a national referendum, and has encouraged his countrymen to vote against it. A ‘no’ vote is likely to result in Greece being expelled from the Eurozone currency union. As the Greek economy continues to destabilize, its government has closed all banks and limited cash withdrawals to €60 (about $67) per person per day.

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Posted in Briefly, Reports
Posted June 30, 2015, 1:40 p.m.
Four Horsemen of Apocalypse (Viktor Vasnetsov, 1887)

Four Horsemen of Apocalypse (Vasnetsov, 1887)

Every few years, there is a big hubbub about the end of the world. Many predicted the world would end in the year 2000, and others predicted it would happen with the beginning of the new millennium in 2001. The Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo, which carried out a deadly terrorist attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995, predicted that we would all die in a nuclear holocaust in 2003. Pat Robertson, an influential leader in Baptist Christianity, once predicted that the Earth’s destruction would occur in 2007.

More recently, Harold Camping, the evangelical Christian founder of the Family Radio network, memorably predicted that the Rapture would occur in May 2011 . . . and when it didn’t, he revised his prediction to October of the same year . . . and then he stopped trying to pick dates. The ancient Mayan calendar ran out on December 21, 2012, and many claimed that would be the day the world would end, because when you want to know about the future you should always ask the ancient Mayans.

Every time this comes up, I say the same thing: No, the world will end on April 15, 2033. Well, I’m not entirely certain . . . it could also be on April 17, April 22, or April 24 of the same year.

Of course this is all a bit tongue-in-cheek. I don’t have any inside knowledge, and I am cognizant of Jesus’s statement that, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36, RSV-CE), and the Holy Spirit’s admonition recorded by Saint John, warning that, ” . . . you will not know at what hour I will come upon you” (Revelation 3:3, RSV-CE). So, in reality, your guess is as good as mine. But I have an idle curiosity about it none-the-less.

Much of the apocalyptic thought in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s revolved around the two-thousandth anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, which would have been some time around the year 2000. We suspect that our calendar system is not exactly correct, and that Jesus was probably born some time between 6 B.C. and 1 B.C., so this would have put the two-thousandth anniversary between 1995 and 2000. But I think a more likely date would be two thousand years after Christ’s crucifixion, or perhaps his resurrection, as these were the most important moments in his earthly ministry.

Based on the available historical and scriptural evidence, it is most likely that Jesus was crucified by the Roman government on the Friday nearest to the Jewish Passover in A.D. 33, and then was resurrected on the Sunday following. So the two-thousandth anniversary of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection would be in the year 2033, and should be celebrated according to the Christian liturgical calendar. In 2033, Good Friday will be celebrated on April 15 and Easter will be celebrated on April 17. Of course, there is a well-known discrepancy between how the date of Easter is calculated in the western (i.e., Catholic) and eastern (i.e., Orthodox) churches, so if our Orthodox brethren have it ‘right,’ the dates may be April 22 and 24 instead. I personally incline toward the Catholic celebration of Good Friday as the most logical and likely possibility among these four dates.

But there’s no reason to assume that two-thousand is some magic number of years after which there should be a major religious event. It’s a nice, round number, which is probably why it appeals to people, but when God uses numbers symbolically in scripture they’re almost always in multiples of seven or twelve. And apocalyptic predictions, thus far, have all been wrong . . . including a widespread belief throughout Christendom that the world would end in A.D. 1033, the one-thousandth anniversary of Christ’s death and resurrection, which might have had more punch than the two-thousandth anniversary.

In other words, we should probably keep contributing to our 401k’s.

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Posted in Briefly, Religious
Last Updated June 26, 2015, 11:11 a.m.

The United States Supreme Court has ruled 5-4 that marriage is a fundamental human right, and that the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause requires states to confer civil marriage to same-sex couples, and that states must recognize same-sex marriages conferred by other states.

In its majority opinion, the court said that, “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. . . . [The petitioners'] hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.” With regard to interstate recognition, which was perhaps the simplest question before the court (due to the ‘full faith and credit’ clause), the court sidestepped the issue entirely and stated that the establishment of a national right to same-sex marriage removed any lawful basis for refusal to recognize such marriages conferred by other states.

In Chief Justice John Roberts’s dissent, he argues that the Supreme Court has overstepped its authority by legislating from the bench. This is a curious argument, as Roberts only yesterday released a majority opinion in which he rewrote a portion of the Affordable Care Act.

The majority opinion was issued by Justice Anthony Kennedy, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagen. The other four justices issued several overlapping dissents: one issued by Chief Justice Roberts and joined by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas; one issued by Justice Scalia and joined by Justice Thomas; one issued by Justice Thomas and joined by Justice Scalia; and finally one issued by Justice Samuel Alito and joined by Justices Scalia and Thomas.

Last Updated June 25, 2015, 11:07 a.m.

The United States Supreme Court has ruled 6-3 to uphold healthcare tax credits and subsidies through the Affordable Care Act’s federal insurance exchange, in direct contradiction of the law as-written. This is a major court victory for President Barack Obama’s (D) administration.

At issue in this case is the structure of the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law colloquially known as ObamaCare. Under the law, states have the option of setting up their own health insurance exchanges. If a state chooses not to create an exchange, the federal government will cover that state’s citizens via a federal exchange (the HealthCare.gov web site). Under ObamaCare, a number of tax credits and subsidies are made available to citizens—particularly those with low incomes—to make their health insurance more affordable. However, the law itself establishes these credits and subsidies only in “an Exchange established by the state . . . ,” quite clearly excluding the federal exchange.

In this ruling, the Supreme Court has claimed that the phrase, “an Exchange established by the state,” is ambiguous and should be properly understood as applying to both state and federal exchanges. The ruling appears to be based on an assumption that the intent of the authors of ObamaCare was to extend these credits and subsidies to all who qualify, regardless of what exchange they are in. This may be true, but runs directly counter to the clear text of the law. In its ruling, the court does acknowledge that the ObamaCare law contains “more than a few examples of inartful drafting,” but instead of taking the law at its word, the court has attempted to rewrite it in line with legislative intent.

A fiery minority opinion referred to the majority opinion as “quite absurd,” and points out that between this ruling and an earlier ruling where the court redefined a fine as a tax, perhaps ObamaCare should be known as SCOTUScare (SCOTUS being a common abbreviation for the Supreme Court of the United States). Indeed, we have now established court precedents at the highest level that arbitrarily redefine ‘fine’ to mean ‘tax’ and ‘state’ to mean ‘state and federal.’ This raises serious questions about whether any law can be presumed to mean exactly what it says, and about the level of authority the Supreme Court has asserted to modify duly passed and signed legislation.

The ruling was delivered by Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito filed a dissent.

About Scott Bradford

Scott Bradford has been building web sites and using them to say what he thinks since 1995, which tended to get him in trouble with power-tripping assistant principals at the time. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from George Mason University, but has spent most of his career (so far) working on public- and private-sector web sites. He is not a member of any political party, and brands himself an ‘independent constitutional conservative.’ In addition to holding down a day job and blogging about challenging subjects like politics, religion, and technology, Scott is also a devout Catholic, gun-owner, bike rider, and music lover with a wife, two cats, and a dog.