Thursday, January 29, 2015

Taxes, Taxes, Everywhere

The only guarantees in life are death and taxes. Death follows life and taxes follow you everywhere like an incurable disease.

Nobody woke up one day and said, let’s tax the heck out of people for their bad behavior, for existing, for traveling on roads, for smoking, for drinking, for trash disposal, for luxury goods, for pollution, for phone use, radio, TV, Internet, for buying goods and services, property, hunting, fishing, building, learning, farming, and other purposes.

Taxes were added slowly over centuries for the “common good,” to redistribute wealth, to subsidize politicians and their parties, for “climate change” and for not buying health insurance. It was a slow, one paper cut at a time until the tax-paying and hard-working citizens bled to death from the burden of taxation.

Taxation has become a very lucrative bottomless funding industry, easy revenue for the ever-spending politicians who keep squandering or giving away taxpayer dollars often to the enemy.

Taxes are so ancient, they are even mentioned in the Bible. Tax collectors during the time of Jesus could stop a person and tax them for what they were carrying.

Matthew 22: 15-22 talks about Caesar’s imperial tax levied on non-Roman citizens:

15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”

18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.

Ancient Egypt used scribes to tax cooking oil. The annual flooding cycle of the river Nile prompted the taxation of people based on the flood level; those whose land was never flooded paid lower taxes. Egyptians whose land was flooded annually paid the highest taxes.

Ancient Greece taxed its citizens during times of war and rescinded the tax once the war was over. How unheard of to rescind taxes, they certainly would not do it today! Foreigners had to pay a poll tax called metoikion for not having an Athenian Mother and Father.

The Romans were tax happy. They paid customs duties called portoria. An inheritance tax paid for the military retirement. The corrupt Roman tax collectors in the British Isles led to Queen Boadicea’s revolt in 60 A.D. with her army of 230,000 which killed 80,000 people before Emperor Nero crushed it.

Cato convinced the Senate in 181 B.C. to pass laws imposing high taxes on foreign goods such as carriages, perfume, silk clothing, and highly educated slaves.

Cemeteries were exempt from property taxes in Roman times, so the poet Virgil came up with an ingenious idea to avoid paying taxes on his home. He buried a fly in his yard with pomp and circumstance, speeches and food, in order to exempt his villa as a cemetery. We are not sure if his loophole worked.

Emperor Vespasian placed a tax on urine collected from public toilets. Those needing urine to launder (whiten) wool paid a tax when they bought it.

When Judea became a Roman protectorate following its conquest by Pompey in 63 B.C., the Jews had complete religious freedom as long as they made a daily contribution to the Roman emperor’s coffers. They were exempted from military service and were allowed to run their own businesses.

Assyria (mât Aššur) was the ancient empire located in the northeastern part of modern Iraq, on the east bank of the Tigris River. The Assyrians treated their neighbors so badly during their pillaging raids that the chieftains decided to pay tribute and swear allegiance to the Assyrian king in order to avoid the hordes descending on them from the desert. The system of taxation in the name of their god Ashur was so efficient that it supplied the empire with money and men.

The Chimu Empire which existed in northern Peru between the 13th and 15th centuries did not have a system of coinage. As master weavers, they used textile as payment for taxes and tribute.

The Incas used an elaborate system of one foot cords with other colored strings attached called quipu, “knot,” with which they were able to record “the tributes received from conquered tribes and taxes owed to the king by his subjects.” Those who kept up with the quipu were called quipucamayocs and were exempt from taxation and other duties.

The Anglo-Saxon Lady Godiva rode naked through the streets of town to persuade her husband Leofric, Earl of Mercia, to reduce taxes on the residents of Coventry in the 11th century England.

Poll taxes were levied in 1377-1380 by the Regency of Richard II in order to pay for the French war. The taxes were extremely painful to the poor since both rich and poor had to pay the same rate. In late spring 1381 a crowd of 20,000 peasants and laborers rebelled outside London against the aristocrats whom they blamed for the high taxes they had to pay in order to support the failed war with France.

Armed with axes, bows and arrows, the rebels refused to pay taxes and marched through town and burned buildings owned by aristocrats, destroying legal documents that implicated those who did not pay their taxes.

Excise taxes on goods such as meat, grain, tobacco, wine, lamp oil, silks, spices, and even luxuries were quite burdensome across the centuries.

In Cordoba, the capital of the Muslim Andalucía, the non-Muslim citizens had to pay a poll tax based on income and could be paid in installments. The source of revenue to Andalucía was so large, the Moors discouraged conversion to Islam.

The colonists paid import duties on sugar, wine, and molasses under the Molasses Act. The Stamp Act collected taxes from colonists on newspapers and commercial and legal documents.

There were English taxes on soap, a property tax based on the number of windows, on the number of bricks, scutage (opt out of war duties), candles, wig powder, salt, perfumes, printed wallpaper, TV (black v. color, even blind people must pay), a property tax based on exterior appearance (Italy), a tax on freedom (Rome), beards (Russia), furs, cooked v. raw food, stolen property, and many other strange taxes in various American states.

Some taxes are necessary for the running of a large empire but others are burdensome and unnecessary, often necessitating a licensed accountant to understand the ever-intricate code. The IRS code, famous for its complexity, comes to mind.

It will be interesting to see how much revenue will be generated from the Obamacare insurance non-compliance tax/penalty. A lot of health exchange beneficiaries who receive subsidies will be apoplectically surprised when the subsidy or part of it will be taxed.




Tuesday, January 27, 2015

"Climate Change" Hypocrites and Their Fossil Fuel Guzzling Jets

Vostok Ice Core Team in Antarctica
Photo: Wikipedia
While the northeast is preparing for Snowmaggedon, 2-3 feet of snow, as if we’ve never had a few feet of snow before, the global warming turned climate change crowd is preparing for the upcoming global climate negotiations in December in Paris.  Pharrell Williams tweeted “Let’s unite a billion voices to take #ClimateAction now” urging climate change awareness from his private jet in which he is pictured sitting alone.

A crowd of influential rich people, 40 heads of state, 2,500 business leaders, and former VP Al Gore has gathered in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum, Jan. 21-24, 2015, to discuss climate change and “how to make fabric from recycled plastic.” Other topics included the IMF’s forecasting of 3.5% economic growth, European Central Bank’s quantitative easing package, the decline in oil prices, Japan’s monetary easing, and technology.

Co-chaired by Oxfam’s executive director, Winnie Byanyima, the five day conference also highlighted inequality and the need to further spread the wealth, a “larger share of the economic pie,” to the rest of the impoverished world.  Oxfam is calling for “free universal public services by 2020, including education and health” and living wages for people who have no qualifications.

Felipe Calderon, former Mexican President, told USA Today, “Decision-makers meeting in Davos must focus on ways to reduce climate risk while building more efficient, cleaner, and lower-carbon economies.”

Keep in mind that, while the attendees discussed “income inequality,” how the globe’s rich do not pay their “fair share,” and gender inequality keeps women economically repressed, the conference tickets cost $40,000. Who decides what is a “fair share” and how? When is wealth redistribution through taxation and welfare to poor countries enough?

It does not matter that thousands of real scientists and the Vostock ice core samples have debunked the man-made global warming/climate change theory, what rich liberals care about is lining their pockets with more economic activity taxation based on the non-polluting CO2, the gas of life, which they call carbon.

Global warmists know we are not God and we cannot change the climate and climate change existed for millennia. The globe’s climate underwent major ice ages, small ice ages, and warmer periods even in times when humans did not roam the earth.  Solar activity, volcanic activity, and oceanic currents play a significant role in the ever-changing climate.

The prominent liberals in the media and Hollywood sure hate global warming but they love their private jets, yachts, multiple homes, cars, helicopters, and other gas guzzling toys while urging the rest of us to drive tin can, preferably bicycle everywhere, and live in jail cell-sized tiny homes.

No hypocrisy here in needing extra airport space in Switzerland to park the 550 or so extra jets that arrived for the conference in Davos. The military opened up their airport to accommodate them. Only the “climate change” hypocrites flying alone can burn more fossil fuels in a few hours than most of us burn in years and then have the gall to lecture us on protecting the earth.

Environmentalists worried over fossil fuels may be thrilled or disappointed depending on the outcome of the five-year plan, 2017-2022, that may allow drilling in the Atlantic Ocean. The Washington Examiner said that “the president is likely to permit exploration and drilling off the coast of Virginia and possibly the shorelines of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.”

The Washington Post announced that President Obama is proposing to block 12 million acres of Arctic refuge from oil and gas drilling by “designating the area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness, the highest level of federal protection that would ban oil and gas drilling.”

Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, new Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell during a phone call, “What’s coming is a stunning attack on our sovereignty and our ability to develop a strong economy that allows us, our children and our grandchildren to thrive.” She continued, “It’s clear this administration does not care about us, and sees us as nothing but a territory. . . . I cannot understand why this administration is willing to negotiate with Iran, but not Alaska. But we will not be run over like this. We will fight back with every resource at our disposal.”

And any Snowmageddon should be worrisome to Americans for a very good reason. EPA’s over-regulations have shut down almost 20 percent of the coal power plants which means that your electricity during severe cold spells could become unstable, unreliable, and a matter of survival. Natural gas can be used instead but the spot prices are expensive and delivery more difficult.

But don’t worry too much about your family’s finances and survivability as long as your carbon foot prints are very small. You’ll look environmentally-smug, unsafe, and duped behind the wheel of a Smart Car or something running on renewables such as solar, wind, or whatever unaffordable form of energy the “climate change” hucksters develop. Meanwhile, the U.S. oil futures have surged following the death of the Saudi King Abdullah.


Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Trip to the National Firearms Museum

Charlton Heston as "Will Penny"
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2015
The National Firearms Museum is located in one of the richest and more liberal places in the country, Fairfax, Virginia. The Freedom’s Doorway of the museum is graced by a quote from Charlton Heston, “The doorway to freedom is framed by the muskets that stood between a vision of liberty and absolute anarchy at a place called Concord Bridge.”

Among the 14 galleries, the Robert E. Peterson Gallery is the largest in the museum. The weapons donated to the NRA’s museum represent just a fraction of his vast collection. The Southern Californian represents the quintessential American who served in the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II and built a publishing empire of 32 monthly periodicals such as Motor Trend, Guns and Ammo, Petersen’s Hunting, Handguns and Rifle Shooter.

An avid hunter, Peterson tracked game on every continent. He “was credited with being the first person to ever take a polar bear with a .44 Magnum handgun.” He was Commissioner of Shooting Sports at the XXIII Olympiad in 1984, held in Los Angeles, California.

Peterson’s donated collection includes the Gatlin gun, British guns, personal firearms, Italian Masters, American classics, Colts, German arms, European arms, and a Jewel box. An experimental rifle, a Mauser action Falcon test rifle, formerly owned by Elmer Keith, a Montana cowboy who became famous as a big game hunter, is also part of the collection.

Big Game hunting rifles
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2015
The gunsmiths of Europe created functional arms as well as elaborately decorated firearms for the rich, indicating their social status through special metal and wood inlays, damascening, gold and silver encrustations, engraving and etching, chiseling, goldschmeltz, guilding, silvering, bluing, and browning.

German and Swiss immigrants who settled in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, brought with them a short rifle called the Jaeger (hunter) to use for sport and hunting in the heavy woods that resembled their homelands. It was the same octagon-barreled rifle used by Hawkeye, the hero of James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans.  This rifle was later lengthened to 40 inches and called either the Pennsylvania or Kentucky rifle even though it was manufactured in every colony from around 1700s to right before the Civil War.

Eli Whitney of New Haven, Connecticut, already famous for his invention of the cotton gin, received in 1798 a government contract for 10,000 muskets to supplement those made at national armories. Whitney’s ingenuity turned a rather complex manufacturing process into a series of simple operations, thus revolutionizing manufacturing in America.

Showcased are gun maker and inventor Ethan Allen of Bellington, Massachusetts, Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson (Smith & Wesson) of Massachusetts, who left a large list of arms-design and revolver patents in their long careers, John H. Hall of Portland, Maine, who patented the breechloading rifle in 1811 utilized in rifles and carbines between 1823-1853, and Eliphalet Remington, Jr., who created a handmade flintlock rifle in Ilion, New York. Although Remington the father was not an inventor, he utilized ideas and inventions developed by others and acquired them. His large scale government contract in 1845 of 5,000 Mississippi rifles established the Remington name as the arms-maker in America.

Sharpshooters like Annie Oakley from Ohio, her husband Frank E. Butler, whom she defeated by one point, are famous for accuracy with rifles, pistols, and shotguns.

Photo: Ileana Johnson 2015
Cinematography brought the American Western to the general public with the Rough Riders departing for Cuba in 1898, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, the Great Train Robbery, Cisco Kid, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Shane, and the Unforgiven.

A larger-than-life bronze statue of Charlton Heston in his beloved Western role of “Will Penny” (1968) pays homage to the National Rifle Association President Heston.

On display are small guns imported during the Civil War from England, Austria, Prussia, Saxony, Bavaria, France, and Belgium. Their quality varied from useless to excellent. A shortage of revolver and carbines was experienced by the Union Army despite Colt, Remington, and Smith & Wesson manufacturing them at record levels.  

The displayed ten-barreled .45-70 Colt Gatling gun from the Robert E. Petersen estate was used in John Wayne’s 1967 movie The War Wagon and in the 1976 Clint Eastwood film, The Outlaw Josey Wales.

Roosevelt's office
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2015
Rifles and other memorabilia are displayed celebrating our 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt, author of 40 books, 150,000 personal letters, thousands of magazine articles, New York assemblyman, rancher, Civil Service Commissioner, President of the NYC Police Commission, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Colonel of the 1st USV Cavalry, Vice President of the United States of America, recipient of the Medal of Honor and Nobel Peace Prize, father of six children, and an NRA Life Member. He sent the following note to the NRA:

“I am so heartily interested in the success of the National Rifle Association of America and its work done in cooperation with the National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice that I take pleasure in sending you herewith my check for $25 for life membership therein.”

According to the Museum Archives, “His firearm collection was perhaps the largest ever assembled by any president of the United States. He was known for insisting upon exacting standards for his guns, and favored Winchesters and Colts. He also treasured a pinfire shotgun that was a gift from his father.”

He inspired the famous Teddy Bear by refusing to shoot a motherless bear cub during a grizzly bear hunt. This gesture became a political symbol for his compassion and for his presidency. President Roosevelt advocated for a balance between conservation and sport even though he embarked on a year-long African safari in 1909.

President Roosevelt's personal effects
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2015
His Brooks Brothers khaki canvas tunic, his Stetson hat, and his cavalry officer sword are displayed in a case adjacent to his three valuable rifles and his office/library and other weapons. The National Firearm Museum was selected by the National Park Service to temporarily house Roosevelt priceless artifacts.

The home where they raised six children, Sagamore Hill, built in 1885, has undergone $16 million in renovations since 2011. Roosevelt told his wife Edith, “I wonder if you will ever know how I love Sagamore Hill.” It was the place where Roosevelt died in his sleep at the age of 60.

Four of his six children had distinguished military careers:  Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr. (1887-1944) who perished in Normandy, France on July 12, was an avid hunter who took expeditions in the Himalayas and Nepal with his brother Kermit; Major Kermit Roosevelt (1889-1943) who died at Ft. Richardson, Alaska; 1st Lt. Quentin Roosevelt (1897-1918), an accomplished pilot (his father was the first President to fly in an airplane) who was shot down over the Western front on July 14 and is buried at the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, next to this brother Ted; and Lt. Colonel Archibald B. Roosevelt (1894-1979) who served in the 1st Division of the U.S. Army during World War I and in the 41st Division in the Pacific during World War II and was severely wounded in both wars.

A memorial to the police officer, Walter Weaver, killed in the 9-11 Al Qaeda terrorist attack in New York includes his photo, pistol, and badges, Shield #2784, Emergency Service Squad 3.

Photo: Ileana Johnson 2015
A typical child’s room display includes toy pistols, pea shooters, cork poppers, and rifles which became popular in the 1850s and remained so until the 1960s. The Daisy air gun was selling 1.5 million a year in 1960.

The confiscated guns and wanted posters of various bank robbers and FBI suspects such as Dillinger and Lester M. Gillis, and posters of ten most wanted fugitives such as Juan Garcia-Abrego and Usama Bin Laden are displayed.

Guns for hunting small game and big game are also exhibited in large cases.

There are numerous cases of Hollywood posters, costumes, and guns used in famous movies that promoted violence, war, and killing. The famous and hypocritical actors who made millions from these movies speak against guns and against the right to bear arms while hiring armed bodyguards for personal protection.

In case you wonder why a museum would dedicate 14 galleries, 85 exhibit cases, and 2,000 guns to glorify the act of war, of aggression, of killing animals for sport or food, consider the fact that firearms have a unique place in American history.

As Charlton Heston said in a speech in September 1997, “There can be no free speech, no freedom of the press, no freedom to protest, no freedom to worship your god, no freedom to speak your mind, no freedom from fear, no freedom for your children and for theirs, for anybody, anywhere, without the Second Amendment freedom to fight for it.”
Copyright: Ileana Johnson 2015


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Paris, a Symbol of Our Western Civilization

Southern façade of Notre Dame
Photo: Wikipedia
On my third trip to Paris, it was ten days of drizzly and bone-chilling December. We stayed in a cozy but insufficiently heated hotel, just narrow and winding streets away from the magnificent Basilica of Sacré-Cœur in Montmartre. The stark white dome of Sacré-Cœur situated on top of the hill was visible on a sunny day from most points in Paris. Winding down the cozy village-like streets from the Basilica was Place Pigalle. When we walked down the Basilica’s steps on New Year’s Day, remnants of the fireworks and parties were scattered everywhere.

On our daily treks to the Metro, we passed by Cimetière de Montmartre with its lugubrious atmosphere. Located in the 18th arrondissement of Paris in “the Butte,” the nickname Parisians gave to the Montmartre hill, it is the third largest necropolis in Paris which opened in 1825. Located below street level in an abandoned gypsum quarry used during the French Revolution as a mass grave, the cemetery has only one entrance under Rue Caulaincourt and is the final resting place of many artists and writers who lived in Montmartre such as Edgar Degas (1834-1917), Alexandre Dumas the son (1824-1895), Theophile Gautier (1811-1872), Emile Zola (1840-1902), and Heinrich Heine (1797-1856).
Montmartre Cemetery
The tomb of Heinrich Heine

We watched our steps carefully to avoid the dog poop and the slippery streets that were seldom clean. Nobody walking their dog carried around a plastic bag for their animal’s necessities. The metro tunnel reeked strongly of urine and the loudspeakers informed us almost every day that, ladies and gentlemen, there are robbers on the train.

No matter how careful we were with pickpockets, a little boy, perhaps 7 years old, managed to open the zippered-pocket of my purse resting against my hip. I felt a feathery touch to my elbow and caught him. He winked at the laughing Arab vendors by the Eiffel Tower and ran away while shouting back in perfect English a four-letter word when my husband tried to grab him.

Eiffel Tower Photo: Wikipedia
The Parisians have a love-hate relationship with their expensive landmark that is so costly to maintain. Gustave Eiffel was highly criticized in 1889 for building such a gauche monstrosity for the World’s Fair but Le Tour Eiffel has become a cultural icon. Accessible by lift, the tower is 324 meters tall, the equivalent of an 81-story building, with 3 visitor-levels and restaurants on the first and second levels. We had a romantic dinner on the second level, followed by a very windy and spectacular 360 degree view of Paris.

Although the tower was to be dismantled twenty years later, the city decided that it was valuable for communications and meteorological experiments and let it stand. One of the most famous visitors, Thomas Edison, was invited by Gustave Eiffel to his private apartment at the top of the tower and signed the guest book. I was excited when we took photographs that are now catalogued into the permanent visitor database. The tower boasted its 250th millionth visitor in 2010.

Place Pigalle with its 19th century cabarets and the infamous Moulin Rouge, which I am ashamed to admit that I was talked into going to watch a very expensive and debauched show with elbow-room only, was a cacophony of neon lights, falafel stands, rotating hunks of shaved lamb, decadence, wine, irreverence, and a Sex Museum, in sharp contrast with the quiet and charming houses just streets away.

Parisians call Montmartre “the Butte,” a former village incorporated into Paris in 1860 as the 18th arrondissement. It has a storied reputation for depravity on account of its many brothels, cabarets, illegal activities, and Bohemian life that has attracted many artists, writers, and a bourgeois following from Paris.

Churches such as the Royal Abbey of St.-Denis, built in 1133 A.D. by Louis VI, St.-Pierre de Montmartre, and Basilica de Sacré-Cœur  bear witness to the area’s earliest places of worship. The Roman-Byzantine Sacré-Cœur, dating to 1876, is a parish of pilgrimage where around the clock vigil has been held for over a century. The Savoyarde Bell, one of the largest in the world, resonating a high C note, was pulled to the top of the hill by twenty-eight horses.

The “Butte” escaped modern development because the gypsum and limestone quarries left throughout their existence numerous tunnels, crisscrossing the Montmartre underground.  

I walked through Montmartre, looking for the feel of that bohemian village of long-ago and I only found the restaurant Moulin de la Galette, where one of the two windmills painted by Renoir still exists.

From the garish Place Pigalle, past Boulevard de Clichy, there was Rue de Martyrs where famous Christian pilgrims walked on their way up to Sacré-Cœur. On rue Yvonne Le Tac, at number 9, it is alleged that St. Denis was beheaded in the 3rd century and Ignatius de Loyola founded the Jesuits in 1534.

St. Denis at Notre Dame
Photo: Wikipedia
St. Denis, the patron saint of France, was the first bishop of Lutetia (today’s Ile de la Cité) where the Celtic tribe Parisii first settled. St. Denis was tolerated by the Romans for a while until they decided that Christianity was taking hold and they needed to suppress it.

According to legend, St. Denis was arrested, thrown to the lions, and crucified. Unwilling to give up his faith, he was dragged up the Mont des Martyrs (Montmartre), and finally beheaded. He rose from the dead and picked up his head and carried it to a northern village. In the never-ending churning rain, I searched the cobble stones for evidence of blood stains soaked by the dirt or washed by the rains of time.

I can spend days in the Louvre and in Musée d'Orsay.  Opened in 1793 with 537 paintings, the Louvre is located on the right bank of the Seine in the former 12th century fortress turned palace. In 1682, the Louvre Palace became a repository for royal arts collections when King Luis XIV chose Palace of Versailles as his residence. The world’s most visited museum, the Louvre houses 35,000 pieces of art in many interconnected buildings covering 652,000 square feet.

Situated on the left bank of the Seine, the former Gare d’Orsay, a railway station built in 1898-1900, the Musée d'Orsay houses the largest collection of French art (1848-1905), paintings, sculptures, photography, and furniture, with the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist works by Monet, Manet, Renoir, Seurat, Sisley, Gaugain, and Van Gogh.

Palace of Versailles
Photo: Wikipedia
I loved the Palace of Versailles with its fabulous fountains and gardens. Château de Versailles is located in the Ile-de-France region, 20 km southwest of Paris. The court was located here in 1682 by King Louis XIV and then relocated to Paris in 1789 after the beginning of the French Revolution. Versailles is now a wealthy suburb of Paris. A symbol of absolute monarchy, Versailles is surrounded by gardens, fountains, and other quarters. Political functions are still held at Versailles today including exhibits. The dormant gardens were still magnificent and carefully manicured. The famous Hall of Mirrors appeared somewhat tarnished but it was understandable, Galerie des Glaces dates back to 1678.

The famous Hall of Mirrors
Photo: Wikipedia
But the most fascinating places for me were the Cathedral de Notre Dame, Musée de l'Armée, and Napoleon’s Tomb.

The construction of Notre Dame began with the cornerstone in 1163 and ended in 1345, a labor of love that lasted almost two centuries. One legend describes the recasting of the great bell, Emmanuel, which weighs 13 tons, in the 17th century. As the metal was melting, ladies threw their gold and silver jewelry into the mixture perhaps contributing to the bell’s F-sharp tone. Although there are ten bells, all but one had been taken out of use due to their excessive vibration causing damage to the structure.

Notre Dame de Paris is an example of French Gothic architecture with flying buttresses, rose stained glass windows, water spouts in the shape of phantasmagorical gargoyles and decorative gargoyles called grotesques. It is the Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Paris, with important reliquaries such as the alleged Crown of Thorns, a fragment of the True Cross, and one of the original Holy Nails of the crucifixion. These relics are brought out once a year during Good Friday.

We waited for an hour in the cold blustery wind and drizzly rain in order to climb the narrow stairs up to the south tower platform overlooking the spire, the flying buttresses, and the magnificent river Seine and Paris below. I imagined Victor Hugo’s character, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, carrying Esmeralda up to safety. Perhaps Hugo’s book inspired Parisians to raise money to save their Lady from demolition. Desecrated by radicals during the French Revolution, much of the religious artifacts and icons were damaged or destroyed. It has been restored continuously since 1845.

During Napoleon’s self-coronation in December 1804, Notre Dame was so damaged that tapestries had to be hung to cover the dilapidated interior. The Revolutionaries had robbed the treasury, pillaged the church, and smashed the 28 statues of the Kings of Judea thinking that they were statues of the kings of France. Twenty-one of the heads were found and are now housed in the Musée de Cluny. The head of King David is exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Notre Dame has great historical significance because it was built over the ruins of a Roman temple in Gaul dedicated to Jupiter, a fourth century church, and a sixth century basilica. Twelve stones originally used in the Roman temple were found in the foundation of the basilica.  The Huguenots (French Protestants) damaged parts of the cathedral in 1548, having considered the interior statues, paintings, and stained glass windows idolatry. During the French Revolution, Notre Dame was rededicated to the Cult of Reason in 1793 and then to the Cult of the Supreme Being. Damaged by stray bullets in WWII, Biblical stained glass windows were replaced by geometric patterns. To me Notre Dame is a symbol of survival, in spite of numerous assaults from those attempting to destroy the house of God because it contradicted their beliefs.

Les Invalides Hotel Photo: Wikipedia
Within the grounds of Les Invalides,  there are three museums,  Musée de l'Armée,  Musée de l’Ordre de la Liberation, and  Musée des Plans-Reliefs.  Napoleon’s Tomb is located behind Les Invalides massive courtyard.

Musée de l'Armée, one of the most complete military museums in the world, was established in 1905 and contains Napoleonic memorabilia, his personal effects, antique armor and weaponry through modern times, artillery, uniforms, paintings, and anything imaginable of military history.    

Musée des Plans-Reliefs contains collections dating back to 1668 of three-dimensional models of fortified towns. The newer Musée de l’Ordre de la Liberation was established to honor all who fought for France during WWII. General de Gaulle created the Order of Liberation in 1940.

Les Invalides was a hospital commissioned by Luis XIV in 1670 for 1,500 invalids among his veterans of war.  Its success prompted other monarchs to model their military hospitals after Les Invalides. During WWII German troops set up headquarters in Les Invalides with its huge interior courtyard.

The church of Les Invalides is the final resting place of Napoleon Bonaparte and several of his family members, military officers who served under him, and French military heroes.  Designed as a royal chapel and completed in 1706, it became a mausoleum for Napoleon’s body when it was returned from Saint Helena in 1840.  His ashes were incased in a porphyry crypt in 1861.

In the middle of the church dome, Napoleon’s remains are encased in six coffins, iron, mahogany, lead (2), ebony, and oak.  The exterior is a huge red quartzite sarcophagus, resting on a green granite base. In the recessed opulent marble walls encircling Napoleon I massive sarcophagus are the resting places of his family, his officers, and other French military heroes.

Napoleon’s elder and younger brothers are buried here, Joseph and Jérôme-Napoléon Bonaparte, and his son, Napoleon II (1811-1832). The bodies of many generals, marshals, vice-admirals, and admirals are interred here as well as the hearts of some military men of note. My friend Harriet would be pleased to know that a Gen. Henri Putz was buried here in 1925.

Not far from Notre Dame, the national French pastime of drinking wine and dining with friends late at night is visible everywhere. King Louis XVI believed that persons not drinking wine are fanatics. He blamed the French Revolution on the fact that its leader, Robespierre, drank only water. (David Hoffman, Little Known Facts about Paris, 2008)

The poetic Parisian moniker, the City of Lights (La Ville Lumière), of the Age of Enlightenment, has perhaps little to do with the electricity from the 276 monuments, thousands of hotels, 70 churches, fountains, bridges, and canals that illuminate the romantic city every night, even though Paris was one of the first European cities to be lit by gas street lights.  It refers more to the light of knowledge borne by philosophers, poets, writers, artists, sculptors, painters, and musicians when Paris became the cultural center of Europe and of the world.

Parisians have never been frugal, leaving behind a legacy of unmatched beauty, with the exception perhaps of Etienne de Silhouette, King Louis XV’s finance minister, who attempted to balance the nation’s budget by melting down all items made of gold and silver. Thankfully, reasonable minds prevailed. He was so cheap that he became the symbol of frugality gone awry and of “silhouettes,” shadow profile portraits cut from black paper that were cheaper than real portraits.

So much history, so much art, so much heroism, so much beautiful architecture, music, and so many firsts in our western civilization can be found in Paris alone. What will happen to all the art, to church icons, sculptures, outdoor statues, monuments, obelisks, old Basilicas, stained glass works of art, archeological ruins, and ornate fountains when Muslims become the majority in Paris and elsewhere in Europe? Would all evidence of our civilization be wiped out as idolatry? Would they suffer the fate of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan that were blown up by the Taliban in spite of protests coming from around the civilized world?

What would happen to the priceless works of art at the Vatican, the very Vatican that is now embracing with ardor the violent religionists of peace who put fatwas on snowmen because they are overtly sexual?

Would all symbols of our advanced culture meet the fate of the Madonna in Perugia, Italy, which was shattered and urinated upon? What would happen to our western civilization that fundamentally clashes with the cult of death and destruction?

Friday, January 16, 2015

Food Lines Coming?

Food line in Venezuela
Photo: Wikipedia
Americans willingly stand in line for hours waiting for a store to open during Black Friday or to purchase tickets to a sought-after football game or concert.  They don’t mind freezing in the cold, sleeping in a tent on the side-walk hours and days before the store opens – they want to save $50 for a television set, find a toy that everybody else wants for Christmas, a popular electronic gadget, first issues of geek gear, or tickets to a favorite concert.

What if Americans had to get up early in the morning every day and run around numerous stores in town in order to find food, basic staples, and gas? Ask anybody this question and they will roll their eyes because, in their lifetime they’ve never had to suffer shortages of anything, they only remember abundance in the land of plenty.

Could that ever change? Of course not, most Americans would say. I and my fellow survivors of communism know better because we stood in such lines, I call them the lines of survival. We suffered the indignity of having to do without food, even after standing in lines with thousands of other people, only to find out that the supply ran out, or eating spoiled food that had to be boiled again in order to destroy the bacteria and make it edible.

This is what happens when a previously successful free market society is turned upside down by the socialist ideology utopia -- the free market collapses and is replaced by an inadequate and inept government control of the economy which results in serious disruptions to planning, production, and delivery of goods and services. The economy is no longer driven by supply and demand but by the central planning of government socialist bureaucrats who fill their coffers first and ignore the needs of the population at large while making grandiose speeches about how much they are helping the poor.

Most recent case in point is Venezuela. Hugo Chavez destroyed a formerly prosperous nation with his social justice drivel. He brought the Castro-style clinics to Venezuela and destroyed the country’s healthcare.  He disrupted the food production and supply. Now that the oil revenues are down due to collapsing oil prices, the country is really suffering. Foreign currency is in short supply, inflation was 64 percent in November, and imports caused shortages of toilet paper, detergent, and car batteries.

According to Andrew Rosati and Noris Soto, the food shortages are so serious that the food distribution was placed under military protection. Thousands of people lined up for blocks, trying to find chicken, toilet paper, and detergent. Price controls imposed by government will guarantee that the lines and shortages will continue.

Americans have had their experience with price controls at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, and it did not end so well. Washington’s army almost starved to death. Farmers sold their produce to the British for gold instead of feeding the continental army for a measly price that did not cover their costs and survival of their families.

Dealing with a serious economic crisis in a socialist manner, the Interior Minister, Carmen Melendez, sent “security forces to food stores and distribution centers to protect shoppers.” While stores after stores show empty shelves and security does not allow photographs, rationing forces citizens to fight over whatever is available for sale, jumping the line and starting fist fights, shoving, and hair pulling incidents. Bloomberg reports that one shopper looked for diapers for 15 days. “People are so desperate they’re sleeping in the lines,” a shopper was quoted.

Because President Nicolas Maduro promised to tweak by decree the government-controlled exchange rate system set at 6.3 bolivars per U.S. dollar, companies fear devaluation and are not sure if they’ll have enough resources to restock inventories or even find inputs needed.  Meanwhile the black market is booming with an exchange rate of 187 bolivars per dollar.

The country was in bad economic shape previously due to years of Chavez’s mismanagement of the economy but at least they had good oil revenues which accounted for 95 percent of Venezuela’s exports. With oil prices dropping so low in recent months, revenues from oil exports were cut drastically.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Throw More Money into Government-Controlled Education

The Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, wants to have “equity” in education and to replace the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) with a new law that would include government-funded preschool. The sooner the collectivist indoctrination starts, the better. NCLB already cost taxpayers $25 billion in 2014.

Government failed miserably with Head Start but the taxpayers’ memories are short. Sec. Duncan wants to throw $1 billion more to the Title I program to low-income school districts with no guarantee that it will make a bit of difference in the education outcomes of those students, particularly since curricula is dictated by the wicked Common Core standards with the nonsensical and unnecessarily complex math, collectivist indoctrination, and proselytizing for Islam.

No wonder teachers with a conscience are retiring early after 22 years of teaching—nobody wants to jump through political correctness hoops, they want to teach traditional curriculum that made Americans successful before the Department of Education came into being and before Bill Gates decided to change it into “Conformity Core” Standards.

Government intrusion into education is not a formula for success. Parents, teachers, and even some administrators have no idea how the data mining of their children is going to be used by third parties who will purchase the information. The start-up company, Knewton, has gathered information on 4 million children.

Politico reports, “Students are tracked as they play online games, watch videos, read books, take quizzes and run laps in physical education. The monitoring continues as they work on assignments from home, with companies logging children’s locations, homework schedules, Web browsing habits and, of course, their academic progress.”

Knewton, according to parents, administrators, and teachers, collects more data on our children than the NSA. When parents protested against data-mining, Knewton’s CEO Jose Ferreira responded that “concerns are overblown,” he was helping them learn. He asked, “Is it simply that they don’t want a for-profit company to map their kids’ minds? If not, why not? They’d rather the NSA have it? What, you trust government?”

Knewton, which advertises, “The world's most innovative learning companies use Knewton technology to boost student achievement,” has the following partners:

-          Santillana (Spain and Latin America)

-          Wizard (Brazil)

-          Sesameworkshop (“The Electric Company”)

-          Elsevier (scientific, technological, and medical information)

-          Gyldendal (Norway)

-          Sanoma Learning (Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, Poland, and Sweden)

-          Malmberg (Netherlands)

-          Sebit (U.S., Europe, Turkey, Middle East, Asia)

-          Adaptive Curriculum

-          Microsoft

-          Cengage Learning (Management and Sociology)

-          Gutenberg Technology (My Ebook Factory)

- (French grammar, English grammar, math, geography, and history)

-          Cambridge University Press

-          MacMillan Education

-          Triumph Learning (Common Core standards)

-          Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

-          Wiley Global Education (Australia and New Zealand)

-          Pearson (Common Core standards and testing)

There is nothing wrong with helping children learn by traditional methods but there is no evidence that using technology to spy on children’s habits and their thought-pattern is actually helping them learn. Technology can be used nefariously to implant thoughts and ideas into impressionable minds, brainwashing them into the ideology of the government’s choice.

It is impossible to demand “equity” in schools because not all schools are created equal and not all children are created equal, some have stronger musical intelligence, some logical, some are naturalists, some are mathematically gifted, some learn best kinesthetically, and some have stronger linguistic intelligence. Howard Gardner identifies 8 types of different intelligences in children, some are weaker and some are stronger in each child.

 A student coming from a small and remote school in Alaska cannot pick up where he/she left off when moving to another state. In many places, one cannot find an entire class of students ready, willing, and able to take advanced chemistry nor the teacher qualified to offer such a course. Perhaps it can be offered through the web but students need hands-on experimentation in a lab.

Germany has “sorted out” information on children and their families in order to address allegiance problems to the state. “Children were used to control their parents by being encouraged to report what they did and said. Hitler realized that older people would be less enthusiastic about his ideas, so he made every effort to win the minds of the next generation.” The control of people’s ideas was introduced in the form of a gradual change. The brainwashing/education included:

-          Nursery rhymes and songs were “about bloodshed, violence, and anti-Semitism

-          No foreign languages for girls and only math related to cooking and childcare

-          Textbooks were revisionist versions of Nazi propaganda

-          Lesson included only Nazi ideals and ideology

-          Girls were taught about church, 4 children, and cooking, no makeup, no expensive clothes, long hair worn in a bun

-          Propaganda lessons about the ideal German family

-          Boys studied math and science and outdoor activities/sports

-          Membership in Youth Organizations was compulsory

Then there is the Virginia Goochland County Board of Education that was swamped by angry parents who wanted the repeal of a policy that would have forced 14-year-old home-schooled children to be interrogated by the school board about their religious beliefs. Virginia’s religious exemption statute gives parents the right to control the upbringing and education of their children.

What are some of these 600 plus data points collected on each child? When religion and political affiliation of your parents, or whether they voted or not in the last election are included in the data-mining, it is worrisome.

Suppose you know this information and your next onscreen lesson is about the non-existence of God, or that Republicans are mean and hateful people who stand in the way of progress and success of the downtrodden, conservatives are enemies because they object to redistribution of wealth, government control, and high government taxation, then your child’s obstacles will be overcome by training them to accept government control of their lives through subliminal messages included in their on screen lessons. Government curricula can thus make children believe whatever they want them to believe through subtle and subliminal brainwashing.