Miscellaneous musings from the perspective of a lefty (both senses) atheist with a warped sense of humor.

My Photo
Location: Madison, WI, United States

I am a geek, but I do have some redeeming social skills. I love other people's dogs, cats, and kids. Snow sucks, but I'm willing to put up with it just to live in Madison.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

UW-Madison Day at the State Capitol

Do you support higher education in general, the University of Wisconsin System more particularly, and especially its flagship institution, UW-Madison? Then you might well want to express that attitude to your state senator and assembly representative. The Wisconsin Alumni Association is sponsoring UW-Madison Day at the State Capitol on Wed. April 11 from noon to 5:30 PM. You can register for the event by clicking here.

As that web page notes, "We’ll give you everything you need to be an effective advocate. Never spoken to your legislator? Don’t worry: you’ll always be with other alumni, and those who would like to brush up on their communication skills can attend our session on the basics of speaking with legislators.” That training session will occur at 11 AM at the Park Hotel, 22 S. Carroll St., right across from the Capitol.

"Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe."
— Herbert George Wells (1866-1946), British science-fiction writer

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Whatcha Got for Snacks?

Friday, February 09, 2018

Oprah or Donald?

Labels: , , , , , ,

Saturday, January 13, 2018

When It Changed

When It Changed
By Richard S. Russell

Written on the occasion of the Statue of Liberty’s 100th birthday

"Europe was created by history. America was created by philosophy."
—Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013), prime minister of the United Kingdom

A Village in Eastern Europe, 1886

You are 9 years old. Your life awaits you.

It has been a day much like every other day in your village. Papa and Stefan have been in the hills, working the farm that has been in the family for generations. Every year it is harder to bring in a full harvest, because the land is slowly playing out. Stefan, even tho he is the eldest, has been a bit sickly ever since he had a fever when he was just about your own age, and he sometimes grumbles that he wishes he had a mule to help with the work. But Papa says to be glad enuf that we have the cow that shares our house; many others in the village wish they were as lucky.

Dora is 15, and she is tending the house, as she has ever since Mama died giving birth to little Samuel. Shy Marie follows her everywhere, doing as she is told, for soon Dora will marry, and Marie must take over the house.

Just now Petros and Samuel are fidgeting over the family's tattered bukvar, which they must study for an hour each day, because the family has always taken great pride that all its boys know how to read and write.

But wait! Who's that coming up the road? It’s Teodor! Teodor, the family's 2nd son, who went off 2 years ago to join the king's army. There is much hugging and backslapping, and Petros is sent running to the fields to fetch the men.

After supper, everyone goes outside, for it's a fine summer evening, and visitors — let alone marriageable young men — are rare in the village. Everyone wants to hear all about life in the capital, but Teodor has seen little enuf of that from the barracks. Anyway, he wants to talk about something else. He waves a newspaper. "Listen to this." he says. "It's about America. You know, the land where streets are paved ..."

"With gold!" shouts Toyva.

"No, foolish one," laughs Teodor, "with real brick." There are murmurs among the small audience at this extravagance. If all the bricks in the village had been used to pave the street, there would be none left for the houses.

"This paper tells of a statue in America." says Teodor.

"Fauff!" snorts old Vanya. "What do we care about some American general or king?"

"Ah, but this is not a statue of any man, uncle. No, nor of some musty old Greek god, either. It's a statue to an idea. They call it the Statue of Liberty. And listen, there is a poem written about it. It's by Emma Lazarus."

And some were thinking "Emma. A woman's name. In America women can read and write — even poetry."

And some were thinking "Lazarus. The man raised from the dead, given a new life, a 2nd chance."

And some were thinking "Emma Lazarus. A Jewish name. In our country Jews live in ghettos and are reviled and persecuted. Whenever times are bad, there's a pogrom, and the king's men say everything will get better."

But you are 9 years old and know little of such things. You are listening to the poem. It is translated from the English, of course, and the translation isn't very good. But you listen, and you remember, as Teodor reads it:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

You are 9 years old. Your life awaits you.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Saturday, December 09, 2017

A Plea from the Good Geeks

A Plea from the Good Geeks

Zach Weiner (now Zach Weinersmith) is the writer/artist behind the excellent webcomic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal (which, fortunately, comes out more often than just on Saturday mornings). He’s very geeky and relentlessly rational and skeptical, which means his work is filled not just with wry humor but also insightful commentaries on modern life. He and his wife Kelly, a professional biochemist, are the co-authors of another excellent work, the non-fiction book Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve and/or Ruin Everything.

Zach and Kelly are also small-business owners (as opposed to small business owners, the hyphenless version which provided the source of amusement in one episode of The Jeffersons), and they have a sad tale to tell about health-care coverage in 21st Century America. (Please click on that link to see it.)

Notice that I refer to health-care “coverage”, not a health-care “system”. That’s because we don’t have a system in the United States. A system is something that’s been designed, something to serve an intended purpose, with all its parts properly constructed to fit together smoothly to produce the desired result. If that were the case here in the US, the desired result would be proper health care for everybody. But it’s not. It’s stupendously excellent, world-class, cutting-edge health care for the privileged few, occasionally adequate and fitful health care for the bulk of people in the middle of the economic spectrum, sincere wishes of good luck for the people between jobs, bad nutrition and emergency-room visits for the poor, and “suck it up or please die quickly” for the desperate.

No, health care in America is like our measurement system. Not neat, orderly, consistent, and easy to learn and use like the metric system used by 95% of the world’s population. Instead it’s a cobbled-together patchwork of disparate profit centers like hospitals, pharmacies, independent medical practices, X-ray and lab-test providers, insurance companies, employee-benefit plans, lawyers, accountants, marketers, lobbyists, claims deniers, and of course corporate CEOs whose only joy greater than their annual 8-digit bonuses is being able to piss all over their competitors. The sole purpose of each of those independent components is not health care or patient sympathy but the ability to make a buck. And if there’s no money to be made, there’s no service.

That’s why, for example, you can get mail delivered to your front door 6 days a week for any address in the United States, or flip a switch and be assured that the lights will go on anywhere in America, but good luck if you need an emergency appendectomy in the northwoods of Wisconsin. No money in it, you know. And that’s Wisconsin. Imagine what it’s like in Appalachia. Or Alaska. Or ranch country in Wyoming. Or Indian reservations in the Southwest. Or even inner-city Los Angeles, with no public transportation.

We can do better than this. Congress needs to buckle down and give us a serious health-care SYSTEM, like every other industrialized democracy on Earth! Sorry to say, they apparently have higher priorities. Instead of health care, they’re focusing on wealth care. But my rant on big money in politics is a topic for another day.

= = = = = =
Health tip: If you can’t afford a doctor, go to an airport. You’ll get a free X-ray and a breast exam. And, if you mention al-Qaeda, they’ll throw in a free colonoscopy.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Instant-Runoff Voting To Improve Democracy

As Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said in his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963, “We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote.”

Regrettably, it’s no longer merely black people who believe they have nothing for which (or nobody for whom) to vote. It’s vast swaths of the electorate, of all races, creeds, sexes, ages, etc., which is why the participation rate in the 2016 American presidential election hit a 2-decade low, with 45% of eligible voters staying away from the polls.

Recently a friend of mine, endeavoring to defend the American electoral system, wrote “If people didn't want to vote for ‘the lesser of two evils’ then they should have done what I did: voted for Jill Stein. You see, I think everyone has the right to vote the way they want, who they want, and why they want.”

The irony is that this same person sent along this link, apparently thinking that it supported his position, when in fact it did the exact opposite. It pointed out that the 324 million people in the USA fell into these categories:
  • 103 million children, non-citizens, or ineligible felons who don’t have the right to vote
  • 88 million eligible adults who don’t bother to vote
  • 73 million who didn’t vote in primary elections (but probably would in the general election)
  • 17 million who voted in the primaries for Hillary Clinton
  • 13 million who voted in the primaries for Donald Trump
  • 30 million who voted in the primaries for other candidates

The article concludes “Just 14% of eligible adults — 9% of the whole nation — voted for either Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton” in the primary elections that culled the field to the 2 major-party winners who were (let’s be frank here) the only viable choices for the presidency.

The primary process makes a mockery of the idea that “everyone has the right to vote the way they want”, because by the time the general election rolls around, most of the candidates who might be “wanted” have been eliminated. Let me illustrate this with 3 example citizens; they’re hypothetical, but perfectly realistic. They are:
  • Deb Davis, a Democrat
  • Rob Riley, a Republican
  • May Miller, a moderate

Deb is a pro-business feminist. She thinks it’s high time that the US elected a woman as president after 227 years when only men (43 of them) held the job. But, while she favors Hillary Clinton’s accommodation of the corporate world, the right-wing smear machine has made her uneasy about Clinton’s character. Deb would really like to vote for Carly Fiorina, but the Republican primary voters denied her that opportunity.

Deb ends up voting for Jill Stein, knowing that her vote won’t have any real effect because Stein doesn’t have a realistic chance, but thinking that at least she’s given a nod to the idea of a female president.

Rob is a working man, a Catholic blue-collar farmhand. He’s been screwed by the system for years and wants someone in the White House who’s sympathetic to regular guys like him. Donald Trump says all the right things, but he’s a billionaire with no personal understanding of getting his hands dirty, and he’s said rotten things about Hispanics. Rob himself works side by side with Mexican Americans every day, and his son is married to a Guatemalan girl. They’re all fearful about Trump, and Rob concedes that they’ve got a point. Besides, the left-wing smear machine has made him uneasy about all the contractors who did work for Trump’s properties and whom he subsequently stiffed when the bill came due; Rob knows who ends up with the short end of that stick! The guy who really speaks to Rob’s concerns, especially the part about affordable higher education for his grandchildren, is Bernie Sanders, but the Democratic primary voters denied him the opportunity to vote for Sanders.

Rob ends up just skipping the election altogether.

May is an engineer, a solidly results-oriented pragmatist. She has to work all the time with a variety of people like architects, interior designers, building contractors, website developers, and of course customers. It’s an intensely collegial process with a lot of give and take. She loathes the hard-line ideological posturing and gridlock of the nation’s capital. She might be inclined to vote for a “hands across the aisle” liberal Republican like Nelson Rockefeller or a conservative Democrat like Jimmy Carter, but those kind of political animals have gone from being “a vanishing breed” to outright extinct. What she’d really like to see is a sensible centrist with experience running a large organization, such as an Internet entrepreneur, big-city mayor, or university president, but under the current system none of those would even think of running, because they couldn’t get the backing of either the leftist-dominated Democrats or the rightist-dominated Republicans. The last presidential candidate she voted for was Independent H. Ross Perot back in 1992. After that, in disgust, she confined her voting to state and local elections. But the Supreme Court’s atrocious Citizens United decision in 2010 opened the floodgates to huge spending by outside interests, and that sordid fact was driven home to May when voucher-school advocates spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to buy seats on her local school board in 2012. After that she just said “to hell with it all”.

May not only doesn’t vote, she’s stopped paying attention to politics at all and advised all her family, friends, and colleagues to do the same.

For a mixture of reasons, Deb the disappointed, Rob the discontented, and May the disillusioned — and millions of people like them — couldn’t vote for a candidate they really wanted.

We could fix this with instant-runoff voting (IRV), as advocated by the FairVote organization (which also calls it rank-order balloting or preferential voting).

Why would we want to do this? Well, consider how the current plurality-winner setup works. Do a little mental exercise and imagine an election which came in at 14% for George Washington, 15% for Thomas Jefferson, 16% for Abraham Lincoln, 17% for Franklin Roosevelt, 18% for Ronald Reagan, and 20% for Josef Stalin.

Clearly 80% of the electorate favored a candidate dedicated to American principles of freedom and democracy, but their vote got split 5 ways, and the Communist dictator ended up winning. This hardly reflects the dominant will of the electorate.

But under IRV, voters would get ballots where they could fill in little circles to indicate whom they’d prefer for the office, in order, like this:

A voter would just blacken the preferred circle for each candidate, and the optical ballot reader would take it from there. As is the case right now with primary elections, where you can’t vote in more than one party, the machine would spit the ballot back if you had marked, say, both Lincoln and Roosevelt as your #2 choice, and you’d get a chance to fix it.

Under this method, Voter X could rank the candidates in order of preference — for example, Washington 1st, Lincoln 2nd, Roosevelt 3rd, Jefferson 4th, Reagan 5th, and Stalin not at all (as unworthy of office). X's ballot would initially be counted for Washington, but since none of the candidates got a majority on the 1st round of tallying, and because Washington had the lowest vote total, all Washington ballots would be reallocated to their 2nd choice (in X's case, to Lincoln) on the 2nd round. This would continue until somebody got a majority (almost certainly not Stalin, despite his early lead).

So how would our 3 hypothetical citizens fare under IRV? Each of them could cast their #1 vote for someone they actually wanted to vote for, but they wouldn’t have to stop there. They could keep on going, saying whom they’d like to see if their #1 choice were eliminated. I think it might look something like this:
  • Deb: Fiorina #1, Stein #2, Clinton #3, Booker #4, Webb #5
  • Rob: Sanders #1, Trump #2, Johnson #3, Rubio #4, Cruz #5
  • May: Hickenlooper #1, Hogan #2, Sandberg #3, Faust #4, Lessig #5

You’re probably wondering “Who are some of these people?” Well, they’re accomplished citizens who might well be qualified to be president but can’t get past the current primary-election roadblocks:
  • Cory Booker is a Democratic senator from New Jersey and former mayor of Newark
  • Jim Webb is a former Secretary of the Navy and Democratic senator from Virginia
  • Gary Johnson is a former Republican governor of New Mexico and Libertarian candidate for president
  • Marco Rubio is a Republican senator from Florida, of Cuban ancestry (Rob thinks he’s Catholic; he is)
  • Ted Cruz is a Republican senator from Texas, of Cuban ancestry (Rob thinks he’s Catholic; he isn’t)
  • John Hickenlooper is a Democratic governor of traditionally Republican Colorado
  • Larry Hogan is a Republican governor of traditionally Democratic Maryland
  • Sheryl Sandberg is chief operating officer of Facebook and author of Lean In
  • Catharine Drew Gilpin Faust, a historian, is the first female president of Harvard
  • Lawrence Lessig is a Harvard law professor opposed to big money in politics

You may be thinking “But they weren’t even on the ballot!”. And there was no realistic way for most of them to get there as things currently stand. But they could have been if the general-election ballot were an open door, as it would be under IRV, where we wouldn’t need primary elections. Any candidate who met a state’s requirements for getting sufficient signatures on a nominating petition would be on that state’s ballot, regardless of party affiliation. (This is exactly the way it currently works for primary elections.)

A candidate could list the party he or she most closely identifies with, of course, and state and national parties could still endorse their preferred candidates. In fact, they’d be even freer to do so. The national Republican Party could still endorse Donald Trump, but the Wisconsin GOP might throw its weight and support behind Ted Cruz. The national Dems might still back Hillary Clinton, but their Wisconsin counterparts could go with Bernie Sanders. And so on. The key thing to remember is that lack of a party endorsement wouldn’t deny anyone a place on the ballot.

IRV would have at least half a dozen virtues:
(1) Electing the president directly, without skewing by the Electoral College.
(2) Eliminating ideologically driven primary elections.
(3) Giving citizens a wide variety of candidates to choose from.
(4) Eliminating the “spoiler effect” of voting for a 3rd-party candidate.
(5) Substantially increasing citizen participation in elections.
(6) Halving the cost of conducting elections.
Let’s look at each of them individually.

(1) Electing the president directly, without skewing by the Electoral College.

First, a disclaimer. Eliminating the Electoral College could happen with or without IRV. But, as I hope to show below, it would be better with it.

My former state representative, Spencer Black, wrote a compelling essay in the local newspaper about his opposition to the Electoral College, and I refer you to it for his analysis of the problem.

For a quick example of it, however, let’s look at the presidential vote in Wisconsin, where there were 7 candidates on the ballot, nobody achieved a majority, and the state’s 10 electoral votes went to the candidate who got 47.9% of the human votes. Turning that into 100% of the electoral votes is, as Spencer notes, Not A Good Thing.

However, I differ with Spencer’s proposed “cure”: plurality victory. He writes approvingly: “For every office from county coroner to U.S. senator, the person who gets the most votes wins.” But 47.9% isn’t precisely "the most", only “more than anyone else”, that is, a plurality. As I noted above, plurality victory occasionally leads to the Stalin scenario and therefore should be avoided. Better to insist on a majority.

(2) Eliminating ideologically driven primary elections.

Partisan primaries mean that moderates, centrists, compromisers, pragmatists, and accommodationists are, for all practical purposes, excluded from the range of choices available to the electorate, driven out in favor of candidates who appeal to the parties’ activists, either extreme leftists or extreme rightists. This graphic shows the nature of the disconnect between the public and the parties:

This means that the more “pure” a candidate is with respect to rigid pandering to her or his party’s main constituency, the less flexible he or she is when it comes time to govern, with all of its messy compromising and actually trying to, you know, get things done. No elected official wants to be called a RINO or a DINO and “get primaried” by an even more extreme member of their own party.

(3) Giving citizens a wide variety of candidates to choose from.

Remember the dozen names above of highly competent people who weren’t even on the ballot? They could have been if it weren’t for primary elections allowing the 2 major political parties serve as gatekeepers. But under IRV, a whole new world of possibilities would open up for the average citizen. Democrats could vote for Republicans; Republicans could vote for Democrats; everybody could vote for moderates. Choice is good.

(4) Eliminating the “spoiler effect” of voting for a 3rd-party candidate.

The classic example of the “spoiler effect” of 3rd-party candidates happened in Florida in 2000. Liberals who really liked Ralph Nader but would have settled for Al Gore were faced with the quandary of whether to vote their consciences, knowing that not voting for Gore might lead to a victory for Republican George W. Bush, whom they didn’t like at all (thereby making them complicit in Nader’s “spoiler” role), or whether to abandon their principles and vote for Gore, thereby understating the extent of support for Nader’s clean-government agenda. Meanwhile, conservatives who really liked Pat Buchanan and kinda liked Bush were faced with a comparable dilemma. In the end, it came down to 537 votes out of nearly 6 million cast, and there’s no doubt that some kind of “spoiler effect” was in play, casting lingering doubt on whether the election truly represented the will of the people.

But under IRV, voters who preferred a 3rd-party candidate (either Nader or Buchanan) wouldn’t be wasting their votes, knowing that they’d still have a shot at their 2nd choice if their favorite failed to make the cut.

And, once the statistics were published on how that 1st round of voting went, we’d get a much better idea of how many Americans really weren’t happy with the so-called “mainstream” alternatives, since they wouldn’t have chickened out at the last minute in the voting booth.

Finally, it might be that a 3rd-party candidate would actually pull an upset because he or she proved to be almost everybody’s favorite 2nd or 3rd preference.

(5) Substantially increasing citizen participation in elections.

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see that citizens would have substantially increased interest in voting once their ballots actually listed people they wanted to vote for. People like May Miller would stop bad-mouthing the process and might even end up driving her friends and nabors to the polls. Broader citizen participation could only be good for a democracy.

(6) Halving the cost of conducting elections.

If states don’t have to conduct primary elections, they don’t have to pay for them. This is of special significance due to the typically low voter turnout for the primaries. They still require full staffing of polling places, which means that the cost per vote cast is dramatically higher than for general elections.

Granted, financial considerations are deservedly last in this list of virtues, but they’re not insignificant. For example, the 2012 general election in Wisconsin cost $10,000,000 to administer, and Wisconsin’s about an average state, so it’s reasonable to project that figure up to 50 times as much, or half a billion dollars, for the nation as a whole. We could save that much for every primary election we eliminate. I’m hard pressed to think of anyone who thinks it’s worth spending twice as much to get poorer results.


The main reason for transitioning to IRV is that it more fairly represents the will of the electorate. But, in addition, as I hope have shown above, it would offer many other advantages as well, not least of which is restoring some semblance of civility to the democratic process by reinvigorating the respectability of sensible, moderate compromising instead of extreme ideological “purity”.

Labels: , , , , ,

Friday, December 30, 2016

Where Was That Star?

Let’s assume that The Star of Bethlehem was a real event. Why is it that hardly anybody noticed it? It isn’t mentioned anywhere in the general historical record, and even in the Bible it appears in only 1 of the 4 gospels, that of Matthew, in Chapter 2:

1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying,
2 "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him."
3-6 [King Herod learns that prophecy predicted a “ruler” would be born in Bethlehem of Judea.]
7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star appeared;
8 and he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him bring me word, that I too may come and worship him."
9 When they had heard the king they went their way; and lo, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was.
10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; ...

Most people, without giving it much thot, probably think that the phrase “we have seen his star in the East” means that the sages were looking toward the east when they sighted the star. (This view has been reinforced by the lyrics of “The First Noel”: “They looked up and saw a star / Shining in the East beyond them far”.) But a little reflection will reveal that the phrase would have been more appropriately translated as “we in the East have seen his star”, and that the star itself was visible toward their west.

The “wise men” were probably astrologers from the Zoroastrian tradition of the Persian Empire. Here’s what that empire looked like in its heyday, half a millennium before the nativity story:

So what were they looking at? Let’s posit the confluence of 3 circumstances:
  • The Milky Way Galaxy experienced one of its periodic supernovas, in which a very large star, under gravitational collapse, burns off all of its remaining nuclear fuel over a period of about two weeks, causing a titanic explosion that results in its absolute magnitude (intrinsic brightness) being equal to an entire galaxy.
  • Not at all unreasonably, the supernova was considerably more distant than the one in 1054 CE (the remnants of which constitute the Crab Nebula, ~6500 light-years away), which was visible to Chinese astronomers in the daytime sky; in such a case, its relative magnitude (brightness as seen from Earth) would’ve been attenuated by distance.
  • It occurred in a part of the sky very close to the Sun, as seen from Earth, and appeared to be “trailing behind” the Sun in its daily trip across the sky.
Combine all these factors, and you have a transitory “new” star that didn’t glow particularly brightly in the Earth’s sky (so that by day its light would’ve been lost in the glare of the Sun) and in a direction that most people would normally avoid looking at, because bright sunshine hurts the eyes. The star would start becoming visible only late in the day, when the Sun dims as it reddens on the horizon. It would shine its brightest for only its few minutes of above-the-horizon visibility at dusk, when stars are coming out everywhere, and the one newbie would scarcely attract the attention of the common people. (“The First Noel” has it that “... to the earth it gave great light / And so it continued both day and night”, but it’s just a song.)
Sunrise, looking east

Daytime, looking up

Sunset, looking west

Dusk, looking west

But astrologers, constantly scanning the heavens for signs and portents, would’ve paid attention to anything unusual happening up there. Supernovas are rare events, occurring on average at a rate of only one every half-century, and most of those only visible thru telescopes, which they didn’t have. This particular supernova, appearing late in the day and heading straight down toward the western horizon, might have seemed to them to be saying “Here. Over here. This way. Come look and see. See where I’m pointing. Follow me.” And, if they did mount right up and head off toward the west (which is where all heavenly bodies appear to be heading as the Earth rotates toward the east), so that the star “went before them”, they’d see the same thing every night for a couple of weeks, before (a) the supernova finally faded away naturally, (b) they ran into the Mediterranean Sea and couldn’t follow it any farther, (c) something out of the ordinary satisfied their vague, ill defined conceptions of what constituted a portent, or (d) all of the above.

This has been an attempt to create a plausible naturalistic explanation for the Star of Bethlehem. Of course, by far the most plausible explanation is that the whole tale is a myth, completely fabricated (or stolen from other sources) to overawe the gullible.

Labels: , , ,