Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Year

 
One of life’s many oddities is the every-four-year event we call Leap Year. I mean, what is this business of needing an additional day added to the month of February every four years? Why is this necessary? And why is February short-changed on the number of days in the first place?

The first thing to understand is the length of a solar year. A solar year is 8,766 hours in length. That equals 365 days PLUS almost 6 hours. The “almost six hours” must be accounted for. Multiply those almost six hours by four and you have an almost 24 hour time period.

Within a Leap Year you have a Leap Day which is added on the end of February. What about the person born on February 29th? Well, there are lots of smart-aleck remarks, and jokes about having a birthday every four years. But typically a person born on Leap Day will celebrate their birthday on February 28th or March 1st. Such a person is called a “leapling” or a “leaper.” And they normally celebrate their birthday in the off years on March 1st since this is the day following February 28th.

“In Gilbert and Sullivan's 1879 comic opera The Pirates of Penzance, Frederic the pirate apprentice (his birthday was February 29th) discovers that he is bound to serve the pirates until his 21st birthday rather than until his 21st year.” Ouch! Big difference!

Does the rest of the world operate on this calendar system? No. The calendar system most of the world uses is the Gregorian calendar. To work, Leap Year will be those years that are evenly divided by four. Since the time frame is almost six hours in a year, that time period must also be accounted for. So you multiply the 6 hours times 4 years and you have 24 hours – or 1 day. Stay with me here. Years that are evenly divisible by 100 are not Leap Years, unless they are also divisible by 400. Are you with me? Years in the past that are divisible by 100 and were Leap Years? 1600 and 2000. Years that were divisible by 100 but not 400 are 1700, 1800 and 1900. On the other hand, those years in the future (a matter which few of us will need to concern ourselves with) are 2100, 2200, 2300, 2500, 2600, 2700, 2900, and 3000. Hang in there – it gets better!

“The Gregorian calendar was designed to keep the vernal equinox on or close to March 21, so that the date of Easter (celebrated on the Sunday after the 14th day of the Moon—i.e. a full moon—that falls on or after March 21) remains correct with respect to the vernal equinox. The vernal equinox year is about 365.242374 days long (and increasing).” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leap_year). Isn’t that perfectly clear now?

The Gregorian calendar is a modification from the ancient Romans known as the Julian calendar. The Julian calendar is based upon a lunisolar calendar, meaning it is coordinated through the phases of the moon. Many of the days are named after the syzygies of the moon. Did I lose you there? Syzygy comes from the Greek word which means being yoked together. Syzygy is pronounced: siz-uh-gee. For those who were fans of the TV show, The X-Files, there was an episode entitled, Syzygy. In astronomy a syzygy is the straight line of three celestial bodies, such as the sun, moon and earth. That’s when we experience lunar and solar eclipses.

“A leap year (or intercalary or bissextile year) is a year containing one additional day (or, in the case of lunarsolar calendars, a month) in order to keep the calendar year synchronized with the astronomical or seasonal year. Because seasons and astronomical events do not repeat in a whole number of days, a calendar that had the same number of days in each year would, over time, drift with respect to the event it was supposed to track. By occasionally inserting (or intercalating) an additional day or month into the year, the drift can be corrected. A year that is not a leap year is called a common year.” Now see? That’s not so hard to understand, is it?

All of this wild calculating occurs because the earth does not cooperate by orbiting the sun precisely in 24 hours.

And why is February short-changed on days? This occurred because of special holy days established by the Catholic Church. I’ve read it over a number of times and still don’t understand their calculations!

I find it interesting that in the first book of the Bible there’s a hint of what was to happen when God created everything. On the fourth day of creation God made the sun, moon and stars: “God said, ‘I command lights to appear in the sky and to separate day from night and to show the time for seasons, special days, and years. I command them to shine on the earth.’ And that's what happened. God made two powerful lights, the brighter one to rule the day and the other to rule the night. He also made the stars. Then God put these lights in the sky to shine on the earth, to rule day and night, and to separate light from darkness. God looked at what he had done, and it was good. Evening came and then morning--that was the fourth day.”

Notice in the Bible verses that it says God made the lights in the sky “to show the time for seasons, special days, and years.” And we still recognize these special days!

So enjoy this Leap Day today, February 29th. After all, it was God ordained! And Happy Birthday to all you “Leaplings” out there!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Food Fight

 
Remember food fights in the school cafeteria? It was harmless enough, but always created a mess. Janitors were always on hand to clean up following these childish displays.

But when the government gets involved in food fights, who cleans up the mess?

In North Carolina, a West Hoke Elementary preschooler (Yup – 4 years old) had her lunch taken away by a visiting state agent who arbitrarily determined that the lunch she brought from home did not meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines regarding proper nutritional value. I wish I could say that I’m shocked by this outrageous overreach of governmental authority, but I am not. This is one of any number of such incidents that are taking place all across the nation.

The mother of this little girl provided her daughter with what seems to be a perfectly reasonable lunch. It consisted of a turkey and cheese sandwich on wheat bread, a small bag of potato chips (no doubt the culprit!), a banana, and a container of apple juice. The mother, who preferred to remain anonymous, was incensed that the lunch she made for her daughter was taken away. On top of that, the little girl was forced to eat the school lunch. And just what did this school lunch consist of? Chicken nuggets! That’s right. I’ve heard that chicken nuggets are made of some interesting stuff – most of which you’d rather not know about. On top of that, they are deep fried. Now that’s a real good alternative to a turkey and cheese sandwich on wheat bread! (For a companion article, “Do you know what you’re eating?” Go to: http://faceless39.hubpages.com/hub/Advanced-Meat-Recovery-Do-You-Know-What-Youre-Eating).

Now are you ready for this? The child was told to take her mommy-prepared lunch home which now included a note informing the mother that she is being charged $1.25 for the school lunch. The school policy states, “When home-packed lunches do not include all of the required items, child care providers must supplement them with the missing ones.” So now we have food police!

I remember the lunches my mother used to make for me. They were great! There was always a sandwich, frequently PB&J on white bread, or tuna fish on white bread (Wonder Bread – Helps build strong bodies 12 ways!), an apple, a pint of milk, celery or carrot sticks, and my favorite – Marshmallow Fluff on Graham Crackers! Yum! Man, the food police of today would be apoplectic over that!

Now follow me here. This child was no doubt frightened when this state agent took from her the lunch her mother made. Then she was told she had to eat the school lunch, of which she ate only three of the chicken nuggets. What must her little mind be thinking? What’s wrong with the lunch my mom made?

The subtlety here is the doubt that is planted in the child’s mind about her mother. When the state (or whatever authorities) begin to dictate what we can and can’t do on so basic a level as food consumption, where will this end?

I have no issue with the schools attempting to provide healthier lunches for the kids who choose to buy school lunches. Making healthy lunches tasty and appealing to kids who typically are not interested in eating fruits and vegetables is a daunting task. But if the family opts to provide the child with a lunch prepared at home then that’s their choice. It is not the place of the school or government to determine what is acceptable.

We are gradually becoming a “Nanny State.” Our government at all levels is intruding into all areas of our lives. It is none of their business what a person chooses to eat, regardless of how well intentioned they may be.

The United States is a republic. Some will quickly counter that we are a democracy. This is not true. A democracy operates by majority rule. We use democratic principles but we are not a democracy. A republic, on the other hand, is based upon the populace electing leaders who are then empowered to establish laws in governing the nation. Think back to the days when you recited the Pledge of Allegiance in school. “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands…”

Laws are always intended to serve the greater good. However, when lawmakers fail to curtail their own power to make and enact laws, we find ourselves burdened with more and more laws which become burdensome, ridiculous, and eventually all-controlling.

Under such conditions people grow distrustful of their neighbors. We become fearful that someone might be breaking a law. So instead of sitting down and reasoning with each other, we contact the authorities. Laws are, by their very nature, unforgiving and punitive. So when those holding some level of authority choose to enforce laws that infringe on our freedoms, we all lose. Too much government, and too much government control.

Okay, I’m done. It’s noon and time for lunch. I’ll have my obligatory salad and glass of water. But I sure wish I had some of my mother’s Graham Crackers and Marshmallow Fluff!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Rule by Fiat

Personal freedoms are under assault. Pastor Rick Warren of Saddle Back Church in Southern California took to Twitter to voice his displeasure with the administration's contraception decision. "I'm not a Catholic, but I stand in 100% solidarity with my brothers & sisters to practice their belief against government pressure," Warren wrote. That sort of government pressure is an attempt to rule by fiat. To rule by fiat is "an arbitrary decree or pronouncement, especially by a person or group of persons having absolute authority to enforce it."

The Obama administration has launched yet another power grab in its never ending Chicago-style assault on the rights and freedoms of the American people. Other such power grabs and bullying tactics, to mention a few, are the take-over of the auto industry, General Motors in particular; the vilification of Wall Street and the banking/investment industry; and the now infamous Obamacare, which will go into full effect in 2014 unless we have a new occupant in the White House next January.

Penny Young Nance is President and CEO of Concerned Women for America. She had this to say in an article chastising the president for his attempt to muscle church organizations to accept tenets of the health care bill that violate church and personal beliefs. President Obama violated Americans’ fundamental right to religious freedom when he signed into law a mandate forcing religious organizations (using their donor/member dues) to pay for health insurance that covers sterilization, controversial abortifacients, and contraceptives.”

The over-reach by this administration is stunningly breath-taking. Those who have fought for those freedoms must surely be rolling over in their graves. Let me point out that this is not an issue of forcing the Catholic Church to offer contraception to its employees in its hospitals and schools as a part of a health care package. It is much bigger than that.

When any government or administration exceeds the powers they were entrusted with by God and the people governed, then the people must rise up in solidarity against such tyranny. In the First Amendment to the Constitution – the Bill of Rights – it says, “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; . . .” There’s good reason for this amendment being the first one listed: The folks who came to America from England were escaping a tyrannical monarchy that forced religion and its practices on the people. This was not unique to England. Germany, France and others were under state-run religion as well. The Authors of our Constitution understood the fearsome power of an intoxicated, power-hungry government, a government that saw in itself the right to rule because it held the people in disdain, believing itself to be the repository of knowledge and wisdom in ruling the “great unwashed masses.”

President Obama said last week, "What has frustrated people is that I have not been able to force Congress to implement every aspect of what I said in 2008. Well, you know it turns out that our founders designed a system that makes it more difficult to bring about change than I would like sometimes." This comment by the president should send a chill down your spine. He can’t force Congress to implement every aspect of what he wants; our founders designed a system that makes it more difficult to bring about change than he would like! The implication is that the Constitution creates inefficient government that can't cover all your needs. Hand him power and all will be well.

          A commentator I have great respect for is Charles Krauthammer, who was recently interviewed on Fox News’ program, Special Report with Bret Baier. Here’s what Mr. Krauthammer had to say about the administration’s efforts to force its brand of health care on the church. "And the reason [pending rules requiring mandatory employer insurance coverage for contraception, sterilization and the "morning after pill"] is so damaging for Obama and the Democrats is it augments two stereotypes. One is that Obama is antireligious, the seeds of which were planted when we had the tape and he thought he wasn't being heard about how the peasantry clings to guns and to God because of its frustrations. And second, I think the larger issue is the idea of intrusive, large government. That was an issue that created and propelled the rebellion in 2010 that caused the shellacking in the election."

          There will be many arguments over this issue in the weeks to follow. But be sure to blow away the smoke and mirrors that is so much a part of the political forays within the Washington DC beltway, and recognize this for what it is – a government power-grab. It seeks to remove yet one more liberty from “We the People.”

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Honor Killing? Part 2

 Picking up from last week’s article, allow me to continue on this topic of Honor Killing.

There is a story that came out in the news in the past week of an Afghan family living in Canada that was tried in the Canadian court system for the murder of their three daughters and the father’s first wife. Their crime? The teenage girls, ages 19, 17, and 13 were, killed because they dishonored the family by defying Islamic rules on dress, dating, and socializing.” The other woman, the first wife, allegedly was killed because she was unable to bear him any children.

The homicides were committed by the parents and their 21-year-old son in 2009. According to the UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund), the conservative estimate of the number of women and children killed each year in honor killings across the Muslim world is 5,000. This number is disputed by others who suggest the number is more likely four times as many! That’s the equivalent of wiping out a town the size of my town, Ripon, plus a few thousand more, every year just to satisfy some perverted and distorted sense of honor.

There is an ongoing argument within the Muslim world as to whether honor killing is part of their belief system, and whether it is substantiated in the Koran. There are any number of opinions on the topic, but one thing is clear: It is a contagion within Islam. And there does not seem to be any way of reversing this despicable activity against women and children.

How is it that any parent could bring themselves to the point where they can justify murdering their own flesh and blood for any cause short of the offspring being a pathological killer. Even then, there must certainly be a check in the spirit in committing the child to death.

So what is honor? One of the many definitions is “somebody’s good name or good reputation.” I think most of us understand this definition for what it is. The individual’s actions are what determine their reputation, and thus their honor. So, a man who has held a worthy reputation within his community then acts out of character, or commits some act that cast a negative light on his life, he has sacrificed his reputation. Something that is nearly impossible to regain.

In the case of this story of the Afghan family in Canada, the father who sanctioned the murder of his first wife and three daughters had this to say after the verdict convicting him, his second wife and son, of murder: "Even if they hoist me up onto the gallows ... nothing is more dear to me than my honor." This is where I am at a loss. Does this man truly believe he has somehow purged his family name and reputation by killing the offenders? Sadly, the answer is “Yes.” In this twisted, perverse way of thinking that literally goes back more than a thousand years, honor killing has staked its place in the warp and woof of the Islamic belief system and culture. Those of us in Western cultures are appalled by such barbarity. And to think that with the influx of Muslims into North America there is a concerted effort to introduce Sharia law, making it acceptable along with our Constitutional law. Such a possibility flies in the face of rational thinking.

In the book, The Arab Mind, by Raphael Patai, he addresses honor in a section of the book that at least helps understand why Arabs in general, and Muslims in particular, have such a view on honor. Mr. Patai has not written this book to defend Arab thought or behavior, but to give us an insight in the way these folks think. He says, “Much has been written on the subject of honor (sharaf) among the Arabs. What has not been emphasized . . . is that there is a strong correlation between honor and group survival, that which strengthens the group and serves its interests; while shameful behavior is that which tends to disrupt, endanger, impair, or weaken the social aggregate.”

The man, as head of the home in the Muslim household, feels compelled to protect and preserve his honor within the family and within the tribe. “Asabiyya implies boundless and unconditional loyalty to fellow tribesmen. ‘Be loyal to thy tribe,’ sang a bard; ‘its claim upon its members is strong enough to make a husband give up his wife.’” This expresses the essence of the belief system among Muslims that is so deeply imbedded in their ethos. It is an irrevocable code.

Honor must be maintained or regained. “Cost what it may, one must defend one’s public image. Any injury done to a man’s honor must be revenged, or else he becomes permanently dishonored.”

Patai gives this hypothetical example of the loss of honor. "If a woman loses her honor, this causes her menfolk to lose theirs, which causes them to lose their dignity, which, in turn, causes them to lose their dignity, which in turn, causes them to lose their self-respect. What then can a man do? . . . The folk mores had their traditional remedy: her menfolk (brothers and father) must kill her. By killing her they demonstrated for everybody to see that they had cut off the offending limb from the body of the family, thus enabling the body to recover and survive.”

It remains to be seen whether we in America will allow such a belief system to become part of our laws. If we do, willingly or unwillingly, America will be no more.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Honor Killing?

         One of the more disturbing aspects of the belief system of Islam is what is known as Honor Killing. At first blush the term honor killing looks like a classic case for defining an oxymoron. Where is the honor in one human killing another? Honor killings are acts of vengeance, usually death, committed by male family members against female family members, who are held to have brought dishonor upon the family. A woman can be targeted by (individuals within) her family for a variety of reasons, including: refusing to enter into an arranged marriage, being the victim of a sexual assault, seeking a divorce—even from an abusive husband—or (allegedly) committing adultery. The mere perception that a woman has behaved in a way that "dishonors" her family is sufficient to trigger an attack on her life.

Professor of anthropology, Sharif Kanaana, says that honor killing is: “A complicated issue that cuts deep into the history of Arab society.... What the men of the family, clan, or tribe seek control of in a patrilineal society is reproductive power. Women for the tribe were considered a factory for making men. The honor killing is not a means to control sexual power or behavior. What's behind it is the issue of fertility, or reproductive power.”

In the news today is a story about an Afghan woman who was killed because she gave birth to a girl, and not a boy. “An Afghan woman has been strangled to death, apparently by her husband, who was upset that she gave birth to a second daughter rather than the son he had hoped for.” Such stories of abuse and murder continue, “It was the latest in a series of grisly examples of subjugation of women that have made headlines in Afghanistan in the past few months – including a 15-year-old tortured and forced into prostitution by in-laws; and a female rape victim who was imprisoned for adultery.”

My thoughts turned to what the holy book of Islam, the Koran, says about honor killing. I could not find a passage in the Koran that addresses this topic. One verse was suggested as what can only be considered a half-hearted attempt to speak to this horrendous act. Tahira Shaid Khan, a professor of women’s issues at Aga Khan University, notes that there is nothing in the Koran that permits or sanctions honor killings. The first and most basic right in the Koran that every Muslim is expected to follow is, in fact, the right to life. As written in the Koran, “that if anyone slays a human being – unless it be [in punishment] for murder or for spreading corruption on earth – it shall be as though he had slain all mankind; whereas, if anyone saves a life, it shall be as though he had saved the lives of all mankind.” (5:32)

Mrs. Al Skudsi bin Hookah, roving reporter and foreign correspondent for The Gaza Gajeera, wrote this in a column Jan 20, 2003, vehemently defending honor killing. I am very unhappy. Our way of life is under attack. And we are not fighting back. Deep down, we know that when a woman has disgraced her family, nothing will restore honor except by killing her. This is understood in Jordan, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Egypt, the Gaza strip and the West Bank. So why are we Arabs telling the Western press that honor killing is cultural, that it is not really part of Islam? Our way of life is based on maintaining our honor. And make no mistake about it: a woman does tarnish her family's honor by engaging in pre-marital sex, or by getting herself raped, when she seeks divorce and when she marries against her family's wishes.

Why are we pussyfooting? Are we ashamed of what we do? Why are some of us trying to play it down? Like the people who say it's the same as battering women in America. Come on, now. Sometimes, when we correct a wife's behavior by a well-deserved beating, we can maybe go a little too far. But that's different. Or there's this guy, Mohammed Haz Yahya at the Hebrew University (wouldn't you know it), who makes believe killing to protect our honor is like the western world's crime of passion. Come on now.

It's not just religious leaders who know it's the right thing to do. Many of the most progressive political leaders are the ones who defend the practice. To maintain the integrity of our society and our traditions, we must maintain our honor by any and every means. And keeping our women pure is a big part of our honor. So there's no point saying honor killing isn't really part of our religion. Our religion isn't just what's in the Koran. Honor killings fit into the cultural context of today's Islamic teachings. Honor and Islam are inextricably bound; they are what give our life meaning. A strong religion demands we choose to maintain our honor.”

This is a troubling issue that is gradually creeping into the legal establishments of Canada and the United States. I will address this in next week’s article.

Psalm for the Day