Monday, 29 December 2008

Summer holiday

For those of you in the Northern Hemisphere, spare a thought for us in the antipodes. While you have the retail bustle of Christmas before the short holiday, it is limited to that. Whereas we have the combination of end of school year, end of year celebrations, Christmas celebrations, New Year holiday and summer holidays all rolled into one season. Friends and colleagues of mine who hail from northern continents cannot believe how manic this time of year is; combining a significant holiday with end of year deadlines, kids out of school, and making plans for the major holiday period. Not to mention it is wedding season. So while we can potentially enjoy a Christmas barbeque, it comes at a cost.

This is predictable and thus one can attempt to opt out to an extent, but there are some limitations. One does not need to attend every end of year event, but it can be a little rude to attend none. One can limit gift buying, but some items should be purchased.

Anyway, I am away with my family for a couple of weeks. I have a few scheduled posts planned, though any replies to comments may be delayed.

Happy New Year.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

A theory that explains everything explains nothing

I have been a little ticked at the number of times global warming is mentioned in connection with particular events when there is no association even reasoned. I guess, instead, I should be amused at the foolishness of men, except their political aspirations are too great and intentioned policies too invasive.

The associations of events with (non-existent) global warming remind me of the evolutionists just-so stories, people passing off their fantasies as fact. The concept that completely-fictional-stories-that-people-imagine-could-have-possibly-happened is even remotely representative of proper scientific investigation is ridiculous.

The claim that global warming is causing any current crisis is also ridiculous. The concern is future warming (albeit the near future). There has been no significant warming effect that one can currently blame CO2 for, and it looks like there may have been some cooling over the last few years.

John Brignell has compiled a list of all the things attributed to global warming, from acne to yellow fever. His list includes contradictory examples such as more and less hurricanes, more and less coral growth, warming and cooling, more and less maple syrup. (Some of the links are not effects, rather actions that people have advocated to halt global warming).

Now a cause can have more than one effect and even opposite effects depending on the conditions, but when a cause is claimed to result in every possible event it cannot true—based on the Law of Non Contradiction. A theory that explains everything really explains nothing. It is not predictive and it is not falsifiable. If global warming is claimed to cause everything how can it possibly be disproved?

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Christmas thought

As we have a high old time this Christmas, may we who know Christ hear the cry of the damned as they hurtle headlong into the Christless night without ever a chance.

Nate Saint

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Was Jesus born in a house or a stable?

Kenneth Bailey wrote an article in 1979 titled, "The Manger and the Inn". Near the beginning of the article he writes,
For centuries, large sections of the Church have assumed that the manger was in an animal stable. Three overlapping questions arise here, which of necessity must be discussed together:

1. Was the birthplace a cave?
2. Was it a stable or a private home?
3. Was it inside or outside the village?

I will try to demonstrate that the place was likely a private home in the village, and may have been a cave.
I was somewhat doubtful of the claim that Jesus was born in a house, after all, the passage says:
And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2)
But the article was most interesting and convinced me otherwise.

First, Bailey shows that mangers were present in houses in Palestine,
What then of the manger? The text tells us, “She gave birth to her first son, wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger.” The traditional understanding of this verse in the Western world moves along the following path. Jesus was laid in a manger. Mangers are naturally found in animal stables. Ergo, Jesus was born in a stable. However, in the one-room peasant homes of Palestine and Lebanon, the manger is built into the floor of the house. The standard one-room village home consists of a living area for the family (Arabic mastaba), mangers built into the floor for feeding the animals (mostly at night), and a small area approximately four feet lower than the living area into which the family cow or donkey is brought at night (Arabic ka’al-bayt)
But what is most interesting is that he goes on to mention that the word translated "inn" (kataluma) can also be translated as "guest room". In fact, it is translated "guest room" elsewhere in the New Testament,
And he sent two of his disciples and said to them, "Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, 'The Teacher says, Where is my guest room (kataluma), where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?' And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us." (Mark 14)

He said to them, "Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters and tell the master of the house, 'The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room (kataluma), where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?' And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there." (Luke 22)
And the mention of the word "inn" in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10) is a different word.
He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn (pandocheion) and took care of him. (Luke 10)
This is not saying that kataluma does not ever mean inn, though some have argued thus. However note that it is the same author who relates the both the parable of the Good Samaritan and the lack of lodging at the nativity, suggesting that had Luke meant "inn" in the nativity story he likely would have used the word pandocheion.

The suggestion then is that the house in Bethlehem had a guest room which was otherwise full and so Joseph and Mary stayed in the main room. Bailey writes,
This translation gives new understanding to the story of Jesus’ birth. Joseph and Mary arrive in Bethlehem. They find shelter with a family whose separate guest room is full, and are accommodated among the family in acceptable village style. The birth takes place there on the raised terrace of the family home, and the baby is laid in a manger.
The article covers more including Palestine geography, objections to the theory, and cultural reasons why Joseph and Mary would not have stayed at an inn. I think he has demonstrated that Jesus was born in a house.

That the Magi visited Mary and Jesus in a house probably does not have any bearing on the argument as that episode was some time later—if Jesus was born in a stable, Joseph and Mary would not have stayed there particularly long.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Sex slavery

This is an article written by Justin Holcomb of the University of Virginia. It comprises a chapter in Mark Driscoll's Porn Again Christian.

A warning, this is extremely disturbing reading. Consider carefully whether you wish to know this information before you read the article.

Driscoll has further chapters on this issue titled,
This verse seems apt,
" 'Woe! Woe, O great city,
O Babylon, city of power!
In one hour your doom has come!'
"The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes any more—cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and bodies and souls of men." (Revelation 18 NIV)

Sex Slavery

Over the past three decades the world has witnessed four distinct waves of trafficking for sexual exploitation1. The first wave of trafficked women came from Southeast Asia in the 1970s and was composed mostly of Thai and Filipino women. The second wave arrived in the early 1980s and was made up of women from Africa, mainly Ghana and Nigeria. The third wave, from Latin America, followed right behind and was comprised of women mostly from Colombia, Brazil, and the Dominican Republic. The newest wave is from Eastern and Central Europe. Just a decade ago these women did not even register in the sex trafficking radar screen. Today they represent more than 25 percent of the trade.

There is a wall of complacency, complicity, and corruption that has allowed this trade to explode recently. Sex trafficking runs by the laws of supply and demand. Demand is generated by thousands of men. Economic, social, cultural, and gender factors make women and girls vulnerable to being exploited as an endless supply2.

The international political economy of sex not only includes the supply side—the women of the third world, the poor states, or exotic Asian women—but it cannot maintain itself without the demand from the organizers of the trade—the men from industrialized and developing countries. The patriarchal world system hungers for and sustains the international subculture of docile women from underdeveloped countries. These women are forced or lured into the trade of providing international sexual services. Men accept this world order as well, regardless of their background. The world that is so satisfying to too many men is the same world that is utterly devastating to too many women and girls.
How Are Women Procured?
The Trafficking in Person Report is an annual report that serves as the primary diplomatic tool through which the U.S. Government encourages partnership and increased determination in the fight against forced labor, sexual exploitation, and modern-day slavery. In the 2008 report, these true stories were documented:
Lila, a 19-year-old Romanian girl who had already endured physical and sexual abuse from her alcoholic father, was introduced by an “acquaintance” to a man who offered her a job as a housekeeper/ salesperson in the U.K. When she arrived in the U.K., the man sold her to a pimp and Lila was forced into prostitution. She was threatened that she would be sent home in pieces if she did not follow every order. After an attempted escape, her papers were confiscated and the beatings became more frequent and brutal. Months later, after being re-trafficked several times, Lila was freed in a police raid. She was eventually repatriated back to Romania where, after two months, she fled from a shelter where she had been staying. Her whereabouts are unknown.

Nineteen-year-old So-Young stands at less than five feet tall after being chronically malnourished in North Korea. A refugee, she crossed illegally into China with hopes of a better life, but found instead a nightmare of sexual exploitation. An “employer” offered her approximately $1.40 per day in exchange for work—money that So-Young planned on sending back to her family. Deceived by this empty promise, So-Young spent the next several months being passed between handlers. Just days before she was to be purchased by a forty-year-old Chinese man, So-Young managed to escape with the help of a local pastor. Three years later, she was forcibly repatriated to North Korea where she was imprisoned for six months before escaping once more to China. Traffickers kidnapped her once again, repeatedly raping her prior to her sale. Her new “husband” also raped her multiple times before she was able to escape. So-Young remains in hiding today: “There are many people coming out of North Korea, but they don’t have anywhere to go and no other choice but to go that route [into China].”

Samya lived with her mother, step-father and three brothers in a small Cairo apartment. When her step-father raped her, she ran away from home and started living on the streets at the age of 14. She met a group of street kids who, like her, had fled abuse at home. After two months on the streets begging for food and avoiding harassment from police, she met Shouq, an older lady who allowed some of the street girls to stay with her. The first night Samya stayed at Shouq’s apartment, Shouq told her she would have to earn her keep by having sex with male clients for the equivalent of $16. Samya, afraid to live on the streets and fearful of returning home, had sex with several men a day for nearly one year; Shouq kept all of the money.

Kunthy and Chanda were trafficked into prostitution at ages 13 and 14. Held captive in a dilapidated structure in Phnom Penh that locals called the “Anarchy Building,” the girls were raped nightly and routinely beaten, drugged, and threatened by the brothel-keeper and pimps. The girls were released thanks to police intervention and placed in safe aftercare homes. The brothel owner and pimp were prosecuted, tried, and sentenced to 15 and 10 years in prison, respectively, for trafficking and pimping children. Today, Chanda lives in a local aftercare home where she receives excellent care; she wants to become an English translator. Kunthy’s dream is to own an Internet cafĂ© and design Web sites for businesses. Right now, she works at a local NGO, attends a computer training school, and lives in a transitional housing facility that allows her both freedom and security.

Mary, a young Kenyan woman, met a German tourist in his late sixties at a beach resort and he impressed her with presents and pampering. After departing Kenya, he convinced her to visit him in Germany, but immediately upon her arrival he confiscated her passport and forced her into prostitution. “He raped me, as did the men I was forced to pick at the bar.” Lucy’s health then deteriorated. “I knew it was time to escape—or risk death trying.” Fortunately, Lucy was able to gain access to a telephone and seek help from German police who then rescued her from her trafficker.
Women do not sign up for sexual slavery. Most of girls were recruited or coerced into prostitution. Others were "traditional wives" without job skills who escaped from or were abandoned by abusive fathers or husbands and went into prostitution to support themselves and their children3. There are numerous ways that women are procured for the sex trade. Below are the most prevalent:4
  1. Bogus recruiters offer prospective job seekers a “complete package” for positions abroad. These offers don’t require prior work experience, and they almost always seek young, preferably single, women. These arrangements often include training, travel documents, and airfare, at no cost to the applicant. In 95 percent of these cases, the promised job does not exist.
  2. Ads are placed in seemingly legitimate employment agencies. Some set up “career day” booths at universities and offer “contracts.” These firms are nothing more than hunting grounds for criminal networks involved in the sex industry.
  3. Relatives, neighbors, or acquaintances can gain trust and approach a young woman or her family with an offer to help her land a job abroad. These culprits include teachers, orphanage workers, police officers and their wives, etc.
  4. Other trafficked women lure in new women. Sometimes this is the only way for the old ones to escape. Sometimes pimps give them the option of going home if they can reel in a certain number of other women.
  5. Sometimes family members (parents, siblings, spouses, etc.) sell women or girls into sex slavery.
  6. New boyfriends also lure women by promising a night out and then force them into waiting vehicles to sell them to pimps or traffickers.
  7. Outright abduction is one of the most terrifying. Women and girls are simply taken while walking home from school or work.
  8. The most horrible is the targeting of orphans. Many girls are at risk when they must leave the orphanage when they graduate at sixteen or seventeen. Most have no resources or funds for living expenses or any education or training to get a job. Traffickers often know when these girls are going to be turned out of the institution and are waiting for them with job offers. Sometimes girls are even purchased from orphanage workers.
  9. Drugs also play a role in procuring and keeping women. Some women are involved in sexual exploitation because they need money for their addiction. But many are forced drugs to make them compliant and to incapacitate them.
It is important to note that not every woman is an innocent dupe. In fact, police and government officials often go to great lengths to stress that some of these women willingly enter the trade. In their eyes, this so-called willingness justifies their apathy and indifference. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even the “willing” women have no idea of what really awaits. It’s true that many women know full well when they accept a job offer that they’ll be working in some aspect of the sex industry—massage parlors, strip clubs, peep shows, and escort agencies. The vast number of women are not aware of the nature or conditions of the work that awaits them. Women are told they will earn $5,000 a month, live in luxury, have three days off, and be able to pick their clients. Also, the “contracts” they sign are for three months, after which time, they are told they are free to leave.

Most women are put into debt bondage, unable to pay off the high interest rate their pimp charges them. They are sold in markets, raped, forced to service ten to thirty men a day, can’t refuse any paying customer, are given no sick days and no days off for their periods, get pregnant, acquire HIV and other STDs or medical and psychological problems, and experience constant abuse and frequent gang rapes.

Customers of these women are sex tourists, U.N. peacekeeper and international humanitarian aid workers, U.S. military men, and local men in the area. The presence of these “mongers” has provided a valuable, readymade market for local brothel keepers trading in trafficked women.
“Breaking” the Women
In secret training centers, thugs snap the spirit and will of their terrified hostages. Women are quickly raped, often a few times. Their travel documents are taken and their activities are tightly controlled and restricted. They are locked in their rooms where they “work” and are under constant guard. They are warned that if they attempt escape they will be severely punished. And they are told that if they do escape their families are targeted. Often, they are videotaped or photographed in embarrassing sexual encounters, and warned that if they escape, the pictures will be sent to their families and hometowns. One woman forced into sex slavery shares her story:
There were many women in this one apartment. Some were crying. Others looked terrified. We were told not to speak to each other. Not to tell each other our names or where we were from. All the time, very mean and ugly men came in and dragged girls into the rooms. Sometimes they would rape girls in front of us. They yelled at them, ordering them to move certain ways . . . to pretend excitement . . . to moan. . . . It was sickening. Those who resisted were beaten. If they did not cooperate, they were locked in dark cellars with rats with no food or water for three days. One girl refused to submit to anal sex, and that night the owner brought in five men. They held her on the floor and every one of them had anal sex on her in front of us all. She screamed and screamed, and we all cried. That girl killed herself the next day.5
After women are beaten and threatened, they are sold to brothel and bar owners that service the huge numbers of foreigners who make up sex tourists, international peacekeeping forces, and U.S. military men. The level of physical violence and psychological intimidation used to control these women is deliberate and extreme. It’s meant to instill fear—to crush them, destroy their will, and force them to comply. Some women have been mutilated and murdered as punishment for refusing to engage in the sex trade. Some are killed as examples to other women. In short, women are forced to do whatever it takes with whoever pays, and they are forced to do it with a smile on their face, a sparkle in their eye, and a moan on their lips. But all this is done because they will be killed and discarded if they do not.


1 Victor Malarek, The Natashas: Inside the New Global Sex Trade (New York: Arcade Publishing, 2003), pp. 1–7.
2 For a thorough explanation of these factors, see Kathryn Farr, Sex Trafficking: The Global Market in Women and Children (New York: Worth Publishers), pp. 132–162 (Chapter 5—“From Here to There: Sex Trafficking Flows and the Economic Conditions That Drive Them”).
3 Denise Gamache and Evelina Giobbe, Prostitution: Oppression Disguised as Liberation, National Coalition against Domestic Violence, 1990.
4 Victor Malarek, The Natashas: Inside the New Global Sex Trade (New York: Arcade Publishing, 2003), pp. 9–29 (Chapter 1—“Smuggler’s Prey”).
5 Victor Malarek, The Natashas: Inside the New Global Sex Trade (New York: Arcade Publishing, 2003), p. 33.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Should Christmas be in June?

The Daily Mail had an article last week claiming that Jesus was born on June 17.
Scientists claim the Christmas star was most likely a magnificent conjunction of the planets Venus and Jupiter, which were so close together they would have shone unusually brightly as a single 'beacon of light' which appeared suddenly.

Mr Reneke says the wise men probably interpreted it as the sign they had been waiting for, and they followed the 'star' to Christ's birthplace in a stable in Bethlehem, as described in the Bible.

Generally accepted research has placed the nativity to somewhere between 3BC and 1AD.

Using the St Matthew's Gospel as a reference point, Mr Reneke pinpointed the planetary conjunction, which appeared in the constellation of Leo, to the exact date of June 17 in the year 2BC.
Although it somewhat simplifies the matter, the article may be correct. It has long been debated when Jesus was born, and they are right in that it probably wasn't December 25. There is much that can be gained from a close reading of the nativity accounts in Matthew and Luke. Readers that have joined me this year may be interested in a post I wrote last Christmas titled "Getting the facts of Christmas sorted." The only thing I would change would be my comment about the stable.

The Mail article is incorrect about generally accepted research and the date of Jesus' birth though. While I agree with the timeframe suggested; many, and possibly most, date Herod's death in 4 BC and Jesus' birth, which antedates this, circa 5 or 6 BC. I think Jesus' birth was in 2 or 3 BC and that 1 BC is a more likely date for Herod's death.

The astronomical data (eclipses and catastrophic events aside) is very firm. We can be sure about the dates of various conjunctions. What is more difficult is knowing which astronomical events correspond to which terrestrial events. I think a reasonable argument can be made for Jesus' conception occurring 3 BC September 11, his birth 2 BC June 17 (281 days, 15 days longer than usual), and the visit by the Magi 2 BC December 25.

Here is a presentation of the conjunctions during 2 and 3 BC. The June 17 conjunction is the last one shown; that of Venus with Jupiter near the star Regulus.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Bethke on manuscript history

Bruce Bethke writes an interesting post titled Relevance. Expanding how a simple question can have so many underlying assumptions.
Some days you can ask what seems like a simple question, and find that instead of plucking off a loose thread, you've started unraveling the entire sweater. For example, this morning I asked my wife one simple question, and before I knew it, we were deeply into a wide-ranging discussion of Old Testament history, subtext, context, and translation issues.

...To begin comprehending her answer, then, we should first examine the embedded subtext of the question I didn't even know I'd asked: does a book written 2,000 years ago really have any relevance to our lives today?

...It was the Septuagint that was widely read and circulated in the early Christian Era and used as the basis for the Latin translation (the Vulgate) written by St. Jerome in the 4th century CE,... The King James version in turn became the basis for almost all subsequent English-language Protestant Bibles except the Lutheran version, which is based on Luther's German translation, and a careful reader will note many subtle differences between the English-language Catholic, Lutheran, and other Protestant versions of the Bible. (For example, even today the Catholic version of the Ten Commandments omits the prohibition against worshiping graven images, while the Episcopalian version has been shortened to the Nine Suggestions.)
It is worth reading for his conclusion, a modern application of an ancient biblical passage.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Atheist debater stuck for words

Apologist Joe Boot was asked about his favourite stories from his experiences. He describes one of the experiences saying, at a debate organised by
the humanist society and Campus for Christ at a Canadian University, I felt the grace of God helping and strengthening me. My closing remarks were met with pin-drop silence. The atheist was bewildered and concluded with an incoherent moral rant against the Bible! One atheist student filled in his reaction card suggesting the debate had been ‘fixed’ by Christians bringing in an atheist with no arguments! (emphasis added)

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

A biblical defence of standards

My recent posts on the need for standards and the government enforcement of such came from my thinking about weights and measures. This is a frequent biblical theme and I wish to mention several verses in defence of how important God sees honesty in trading.

The Lord commanded the Israelites that their measures were to be honest.
"You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measures of length or weight or quantity. You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. And you shall observe all my statutes and all my rules, and do them: I am the LORD." (Leviticus 19)

"You shall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, a large and a small. You shall not have in your house two kinds of measures, a large and a small. A full and fair weight you shall have, a full and fair measure you shall have, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. For all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are an abomination to the LORD your God." (Deuteronomy 25)
An ephah is a volume measure for solids and a hin is a volume measure for liquids. In Leviticus God points to length, weight, and volume as measures that should be standardised. Examples of relevant measures for the Israelites would have included
  • Length: land
  • Weight: precious metals
  • Dry volume: grain
  • Liquid volume: oil
Note that the Israelites had to ensure both the scales were accurate as well as the weights used on the scales. God commands them to do so:
  • based on the fact that he indeed is God;
  • that they may dwell in the land for a long time, either live to an old age or that as a people they may occupy Canaan for many generations; and
  • because to not do so is dishonest and thus an abomination to God.
There are also several proverbs that mention the importance of honest weights and measures.
Unequal weights and unequal measures/
are both alike an abomination to the LORD. (Proverbs 20)

Unequal weights are an abomination to the LORD,/
and false scales are not good. (Proverbs 20)
God reminded Judah not only to have just standards but what the standards were,
"You shall have just balances, a just ephah, and a just bath. The ephah and the bath shall be of the same measure, the bath containing 1/10 of a homer, and the ephah 1/10 of a homer; the homer shall be the standard measure. The shekel shall be 20 gerahs; 20 shekels plus 25 shekels plus 15 shekels shall be your mina." (Ezekiel 25)
Hosea (Hos 12:7), Micah (Mic 6:10-11), and Amos spoke against dishonesty in trading. Amos makes some interesting comments on the actions of the people,
Hear this, you who trample on the needy/
and bring the poor of the land to an end,/
saying, "When will the new moon be over,/
that we may sell grain?/
And the Sabbath,/
that we may offer wheat for sale,/
that we may make the ephah small and the shekel great/
and deal deceitfully with false balances,/
that we may buy the poor for silver/
and the needy for a pair of sandals/
and sell the chaff of the wheat?" (Amos 8)
There are several behaviours he condemns besides that which concerns us currently. They are:
  • Oppression of the poor or oppressed
  • Concern for business over things spiritual
  • Disregard for God's law
  • Possibly forcing the poor to become bondslaves
    • They do so just to get enough food to eat
    • They do so because they are cheated out of the money
    • The oppressors encourage this because they want their labour without cost
    • And the price of bondslavery is unjustly low
Specific transaction sins of the merchant identified here are:
  • Labelling merchandise as containing more than it really does
  • Charging more than the agreed amount (via deceit)
  • Including material/ refuse not desired by the purchaser
All these 3 actions the Lord considers abominations. We can conclude that merchants are to trade justly, and this includes:
  1. Accurate labelling
  2. Clear agreed price
  3. Not passing off refuse for merchandise

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Anyone for reindeer salami?

Retailer Ikea has been taken to task for selling reindeer meat, more specifically their treatment of the animals. The animals are not farmed, rather they are caught wild and trekked up to 1000 km to the slaughter houses. Viva! have stated,
We are calling on the company to withdraw sales of the meat, due to the cruel exploitation these wild animals suffer at the hands of hunters.
The reason this does not pass the smell test is that Viva! are an animal rights group: Vegetarians' International Voice for Animals. It does not matter how humanely the animals are treated, the fact that they are killed and eaten will likely be viewed as abuse. They even oppose dairy:
Cow’s milk is neither a natural or healthy drink for humans who are the only mammals to consume milk after weaning, not only that but the milk of another species!
And yet we still produce lactase to digest milk into adulthood. Seems like we are designed to consume milk.

While I am no fan of "animal rights," I do not support the abuse of animals. It is both unkind to the animals and detrimental to the human perpetrator. Many farmers who raise livestock oppose the mistreatment of animals. What I found amusing, was this complaint by Viva! about the practice,
More than 70 per cent of reindeer slaughtered for meat are calves that have grazed during the summer, which means they never even get to see snow.
No snow for the little reindeer children.

Good grief, they are deer!

It is either acceptable or unacceptable to eat animals. If it is acceptable then killing them before or after they have seen snow makes no difference. And if it is not acceptable to eat animals, then their slaughter is the issue, and killing snow exposed reindeer is just as problematic as killing snow unexposed ones.

Whatever the ethical status of carnivory, the whether or not they have seen snow is irrelevant. Further, as animals they negotiate their environment, snowy or not. They do not have subliminal moments as they gaze upon winter forests, crystal plains, and hoary mountain peaks.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Random quote

God will judge justly those who have mistreated me. If they have made some deal with God which means they are not punished, that is fine with me. I'll give up revenge for what God has offered me.

joel bethyada

Friday, 5 December 2008

Blog subscription recommendations

I was looking at Google Reader today. I am not really certain how it works, I presume it aggregates websites one is interested in and locates them on a personalised page.

It offers recommendations based on one's "web history", whatever that means. I don't generally use google as my search engine so presumably it is based on my blogger account, i.e. my posts. Interestingly I had previously heard of all bar one of these blogs or their authors and had visited the links. These are the suggestions for me. The number is the current number of subscriptions to the feed. My blog has 7 subscribers.
The one I had not heard of? Examining Calvinism, though I will pay it a visit.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Standards versus consumer affairs

Given the importance of standards it is reasonable to argue there should be a portfolio and minister assigned to this. New Zealand has a Ministry of Consumer Affairs which covers much of this. Unfortunately the structural organisation is such that different issues are at risk of being conflated. The hierarchy is
  1. Ministry of Economic Development
  2. The Ministry of Consumer Affairs
  3. Measurement and Product Safety Service
  4. Trade Measurement
Standards are not an issue of economic development, they are an issue of honesty. That it may lead to economic growth is a side issue. Consumer Affairs covers a variety of related and unrelated issues. Measurement and Product Safety is an umbrella group for both measurement (i.e definitional standards), and safety issues and minimum standards (possibly important but a separate issue). I would favour expanding trade measurement to cover all relevant measures and making it a separate portfolio.

Confusion in this area of ensuring standards is seen in the Briefing to Incoming Ministers.
The practical implications of this structure is that Consumer Affairs has a special identity as the Ministry with a focus on creating an environment in which consumers can transact with confidence, and also works within a broader sustainable economic development framework.
One can attempt to encourage confident transactions without being involved in economic development. One can ensure market transactions are honest without trying to manipulate the market.
One outcome was that the focus of consumer policy should be on creating the conditions in which consumers can "transact with confidence". In practice this means that consumers should get what they reasonably expect from a purchase and, if not, have access to redress.

Transacting with confidence is not just important for the individual, it is also essential to a thriving, innovative and sustainable economy. When consumers demand higher quality products and services, make effective choices among the offerings of competing suppliers and seek satisfaction when their purchasing expectations are not met, they can stimulate greater economic efficiency and innovation.
The first paragraph is reasonable, so long expectation is in line with what was offered. But we desire this not because it leads to a thriving economy, rather because the alternative is fraudulent transactions. The error is apparent in the further comment.
For example, information barriers are a significant reason why consumers do not get what they expect when making a purchase and this has led to an emphasis on information disclosure as a principal regulatory tool. However, consumers do not always respond as expected when better information is available to them. Behavioural economics may offer new insights into consumer behaviour.
Information is exactly what is needed. But there is not necessarily any state expectation concerning consumers. The government shouldn't care if the demand is for higher or lower quality, the quality margin may not exceed the monetary margin. I don't want the government telling me what I should and should not buy. And not recognising that there are different issues here may lead the ministry to focus on economic manipulation and growth rather than honesty. If fraudulent behaviour leads to economic growth, why forbid it?

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