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The Curmudgeon’s Progress Is Moving

Wednesday, February 21st, 2024

In March, this site will be closed down because the Curmudgeon’s Progress is becoming a Substack at Subscribing is free and carries minimal risk of spam. Content from here will be migrated over a period of months (or years). Eventually, all posts will be archived somewhere on the Web. That will be announced on the Substack.

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European Union’s Embrace of the USSR

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

The European Union celebrates the USSR and, presumably, its slaughter of 30 million people over three generations of hideous evil. One can only assume that the swastika is missing from this poster only because Hitler failed to show proper respect for Stalin and Soviet communism. This is the Euro-socialism Obama and his progressive cronies in Congress and the courts so admire.

EUposterFrom Daniel Hannan’s blog at the Telegraph (U.K.): 

For three generations, the badge of the Soviet revolution meant poverty, slavery, torture and death. It adorned the caps of the chekas who came in the night. It opened and closed the propaganda films which hid the famines. It advertised the people’s courts where victims of purges and show-trials were condemned. It fluttered over the re-education camps and the gulags. For hundreds of millions of Europeans, it was a symbol of foreign occupation. Hungary, Lithuania and Moldova have banned its use, and various  former communist countries want it to be treated in the same way as Nazi insignia.

According to religion and culture webzine “People of Shambala”, the image first appeared in a textbook published by the EU:

This image also appeared in Arts and Visual Communications by Sladjana Zunic, Sladjana Bajic, Anke Gardasevic and Helichrysum Vukicevic, an EU textbook published in 2010. However, while the communist hammer and sickle appears alongside religious emblems, in this version the Islamic crescent and star is at the pinnacle of the main image. This has subsequently been replaced by the communist sign.

Their cover blown, the EU removed the offending poster from its headquarters after the Lithuanian ambassador complained.  Why would the Lithuanian ambassador complain?  I’m sure EU bureaucrats wondered the same thing.  Maybe because “In Lithuania, which fought a bitter guerilla war against Soviet invaders from 1944 to 1952, it is illegal to display the hammer and sickle or to deny Soviet atrocities.”

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A last-minute email to Joe Donnelly

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

Having looked at my junk-mail this morning, I had to take a moment to explain the effect yours had on me. 

I always vote; for the most part, I can only vote for career politicians; therefore, I usually have to vote for liars. But only up to a certain size.

You and your Marxist bosses have spent and taxed us into a hole our grandchildren may never dig out of. To claim (as you do in your propaganda) that your opponent will do more damage than you already have is a lie that should shame even a member of the elite political class. I don’t know much about her, but I know she isn’t you and she isn’t beholden to Commissar-in-Chief Obama. That alone is sufficient reason to vote for her.

Your mailings reek of fear and desperation – with good reason, I hope. If the voters decide to give America a future again, I will hope that you and your failed fellow travelers won’t ignore the voters and do too much more to destroy our country before you’re excused from the positions you have so consistently and blatantly abused. And I will hope that the Republicans who replace you will operate on an appreciation of what America actually is rather than on a vision of the workers’ paradise you would like it to be.

Don’t console yourself with the thought that I’m a nasty Republican. I’m not. I trust them only slightly more than I do Democrats. But if the devil himself were running against a Democrat, I would have to give his candidacy serious consideration.

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Tech: How thieves drove Sony into the spyware business

Monday, November 14th, 2005

Not intentionally, of course, but Sony has made the purchase of their CDs too dangerous for customers who might play them on a PC. In a well-deserved twist, it would be much safer for listeners to forego the purchase of a CD and find a pirated copy instead. Is this what Sony had in mind? The Recording Industry Association of America and its members have made a lot of stupid choices in their battle with those who steal recorded music. One of the stupidest was Sony’s decision to use the most dangerous virus-writing technology to limit copying of some of its music CDs.

Stealing music

Napster had two effects on American culture. The first was to make wholesale theft of music easy and downright cool. The second was to expose the moral bankruptcy of millions of Americans. Spoiled brats of all ages decided that they were entitled to own the recorded music they coveted and to decide what – if anything – they would pay for it. In millions of cases, the decision was to pay nothing.

Raised on liberal Democrat social theories, these delinquents believed that they were entitled to determine – with no knowledge of the business – what profit was “fair” for music publishers. They decided that by stealing the products they wanted, they would tell the evil music publishers that they weren’t necessarily entitled to either cost recovery or profits. If you stop to think about it, it’s a short leap from setting an arbitrary minimum wage that eliminates low-value jobs to setting an arbitrary maximum price for CDs that eliminates low-margin artists

Spoon-fed public-school economic theories, they decided that the proper response to prices that they considered too high was to simply steal what they wanted. They were unable to grasp two simple facts:

  1. Prices are driven by cost and profit; everyone in the business of music has to recover their costs and make whatever profit they consider sufficient to make the business attractive.
  2. When massive theft reduces the number of CDs that are actually sold, the publisher will do something – either raise the price to cover both costs and profits or resort to other measures to make stealing less palatable.

(Ok, I’m being too kind to the thieves. Most of the millions of miscreants didn’t actually think about it all. They just saw something they could steal with little chance of getting caught and they stole it. The few who turned down the volume on their stolen music long enough to permit thought – mostly mature adults who should have known better – generally presented rationalizations along these lines.)

Sony’s spyware solution

Sony responded to the theft with a copy-protection scheme born in one of the sleaziest corners of the Internet, the lair of the virus writer. These folks (who, in terms of moral fiber, have something in common with people who steal music) have a new tool in their kit – root kits. Root kits allow the creation of software that hides from virtually everything – simple directory listings, registry editors, anti-virus and anti-spyware tools, you name it. Imagine the danger of a program running under Windows that Windows itself doesn’t even know is there.

On October 31, Mark Russinovich reported his discovery of root kit software on his PC and posted this blog entry spelling out (in great technical detail) his investigations. He traced the cloaked software to a CD from Sony.

Caught red-handed, Sony confessed that it had been installing a nasty copy-protection tool called XPC on customers’ PCs since early this year. Reaction to Sony’s confession has included a request to Italian police to investigate Sony for possible criminal activity and the decision by a major security software vendor to declare XPC spyware and announce that its tool will identify and remove XPC starting November 12.

In an effort to defend and continue its use of virus technology, Sony posted a patch on its web site that would leave the software in place but un-cloak it. Unfortunately, the patch can cause Windows to crash. Worse, Russinovich has reported that the spyware communicates with Sony’s web site. These two behaviors – avoiding detection and undisclosed communication with another computer over the Internet – are exactly the sort of thing we expect of the most malicious spyware.

Sony gives up for now

As Russinovich warned, viruses have been identified that exploit the cloaked environment created by XCP. With a PR nightmare on its hands, confronted by European rights groups demanding that honest consumers not be treated like criminals, and facing at least one class-action lawsuit, Sony threw in the towel – sort of.

According to this Reuters story, Sony said “as a precautionary measure, Sony BMG is temporarily suspending the manufacture of CDs containing XCP technology,” and added that content protectin is “an important tool to protect our intellectual property rights and those of our artists.” They’ll be back. There is little doubt that Sony (and perhaps others) will continue to ignore honest customers’ legal and ethical rights and will continue to victimize them with harmful technology.

There’s not much consumers can do about this kind of abuse. If Sony and other publishers were required to disclose the limitations imposed on PC users (Mac and Linux users were never at risk), shoppers could at least vote with their pocketbooks and simply decline to buy spyware masquerading as “protection of intellectual property rights”. Perhaps there’s another class-action suit there….

Who’s to blame?

There’s plenty to go around

The only hero in this story is Russinovich. The thieves, the virus-writers at First 4 Internet Ltd, and the spyware distributors at Sony have all contributed to making music less accessible and PCs less reliable. They should all go crawl back under their rocks.

Did Sony install spyware on your PC?

Here are two lists of CDs reported to have been infected with spyware by Sony:

If you own one of these CDs and tried to play it on a Windows PC, your computer may be infected. Keep your spyware removal software updated. Microsoft and others have announced plans to include Sony’s XPC in the list of spyware they will remove.

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PCUSA: The poor are not our problem!

Saturday, July 2nd, 2005

It’s disturbing what you might uncover when you turn over a few denominational rocks. My reading on the Presbyterian PAC led me to a creepy-crawly that should not live in a Christian denomination. Looking through a 2004 lobbying handbook published by the PCUSA Washington Office (“Christian and Citizen“), I found this astonishing statement on page 16:

… General Assembly policy has consistently and clearly stated that government has the primary responsibility for caring for the poor, along with the private sector: The 1997 General Assembly stated (and the 1999 General Assembly reaffirmed), “that while the church, voluntary organizations, business and government must work cooperatively to address the needs of poor persons and communities, the government must assume the primary role for providing direct assistance for the poor” (Minutes, 1997, p. 553)

The General Assembly has noted that the private sector is incapable of caring for the needy on its own. The 1996 General Assembly asserted that “churches and charities, including many Presbyterian congregations and related organizations, have responded generously to growing hunger but do not have the capacity to replace public programs (Minutes, 1996, p.784)

(Note: I have been unable to locate the General Assembly minutes for either 1996 or 1997 and so have not verified that this “policy” actually exists. The Washington Office has shown a willingness to ignore or distort policies of the General Assembly in order to promote its private political objectives; this could be another example. However, the citations of the relevant Minutes complete with page numbers lead me to believe that, in this instance, the Washington Office is telling the truth.)

What Bible are these folks reading? Perhaps there is a new translation that portrays Jesus himself as a lobbyist rather than a high priest. Here are some passages we might expect to see in such a Bible:

No, there is no translation or paraphrase of the Bible that says such things. God calls Presbyterians to compassion. We are to feed the hungry, give the thirsty something to drink, invite the stranger in, clothe the needy, and visit the sick and the prisoner (Matthew 25:34-40). We are to aid the bleeding man by the side of the road (Luke 10:29-37). We are to be devout and God-fearing, giving generously (Acts 10:1-2). These are acts of compassion.

Throwing in the towel, giving up, turning it over to the government and demanding government programs are not acts of compassion, they are acts of surrender and convenience. The PCUSA has given up and said that there are some jobs to big for the Body of Christ to undertake, that God is unable or unwilling to equip his Church to do what He has clearly called it to do. Besides, getting the government to do the dirty work leaves more time and resources for lobbying, protesting, organizing boycotts, schmoozing with like-minded secular leaders, and spouting pious excuses.

It is difficult to imagine a policy more rooted in left-wing political ideology and less rooted in the teachings of the Bible than “the government has the primary responsibility for caring for the poor.” Publicly stating such drivel is a measure of how far – and how willfully – the PCUSA has wandered from its calling.

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Culture: Stupid Judge Tricks

Friday, July 1st, 2005

The Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States must believe they are paid by the nuance. How else can we explain the silly and contradictory recent rulings concerning the display of the Ten Commandments on government property?

The First Amendment to the Constitution is neither complex nor difficult to understand. The so-called “Establishment Clause” consists of 16 words, only seven with two or more syllables: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. The Fourteenth Amendment, ratified in 1868, extended these restrictions to the states. We might safely read these words as “Neither Congress nor any State shall make any law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. The provision is still simple enough that even a federal judge or an ACLU lawyer should be able to understand it.

Accommodation is not establishment

George Will has briefly explained the history and original context of this clause. Will cites numerous examples of the facilities and institutions of the national government accommodating the free exercise of religion.

The [House of Representatives] Speaker’s chair served as a pulpit for Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist and Quaker clergy. In 1813, a Massachusetts congressman reported that “two very Christian discourses” were “preached in the hall introductory to a contribution for the purpose of spreading a knowledge of the gospel in Asia.” Services were conducted in the old House, now Statuary Hall, until 1857.

Will notes that “The generation that wrote and ratified the First Amendment obviously thought that none of these practices … violated the Establishment Clause.” He then describes the increasingly foolish rulings that led the Court into the morass from which it failed to escape with these two rulings. But there is a tragic irony in this trail of bad decisions consistently made worse.

A self-imposed limit on the Supreme Court’s power

The Supreme Court is a massive contradiction. It has taken unto itself power that its creators never imagined. Through its own decisions and the lower-court rulings it has let stand, the Supreme Court has usurped the legislative power of both the national and the states’ governments. It has declared itself free to create new “rights” and to use them in overriding the clearly expressed will of the people and their legislatures. It has made itself the supreme law of the land, negating by its own arrogation of power the provisions of Article IV: “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land”

Yet this court, which has freed itself from the fetters of the Constitution, nonetheless often declares itself to be enslaved to a doctrine not found anywhere in the Constitution, the doctrine of stare decisis. This doctrine of blind obedience to previous decisions has produced a Court that usually considers itself helplessly entangled in decisions – good or bad – made by Justices long retired or dead. The Court found its way to these silly and contradictory rulings via the trail of stare decisis, of tinkering, replacing the Constitutional word “establishment” with its own word “endorsement”, and wandering, as they did in these cases, into the murky waters of “intent”.

Of course, self-imposed limits are no limits at all. The Court occasionally reverses itself. It seems that in these cases, at least five Justices found stare decisis a more appealing master than the Constitution.

Which religion is established?

Along the way, the Court (in Lemon v. Kurtzman – summary here) created the “Lemon test”. According to this “test”, three simple questions would lead the Court to a correct assessment of legislation under review. (1) The law must have a “a secular legislative purpose”; (2) its “primary effect must be one that neither advances or inhibits religion”; and (3) it must not “foster and excessive government entanglement with religion.” According to Chief Justice Burger’s opinion, the Lemon test is the product of “consideration of the cumulative criteria developed by the Court over many years” – stare decisis.

Unfortunately, it seems that over those many years, the Court never thought to ask “what religion is being established?” If it had, Burger might have added a fourth provision to the Lemon test: Does the law in question endorse, promote, or establish any particular religious sect, denomination, belief, or organization? We might ask, how can a law possibly encroach on the First Amendment if it doesn’t?

For example, the slogan “In God we trust” is far too generic to “establish” a religion. It is that generic “God” that the republic is “under” in the Pledge of Allegiance. Which religion do those two uses “establish”? Which religion does a display of the Ten Commandments “establish”? Judaism? Christianity? Islam? The Ten Commandments are foundational to all three, yet their beliefs – even about the God in whom we trust – are widely divergent. How could any act of government have the effect of simultaneously “establishing” both Judaism and Islam?

The answer, of course, is simple. It is only the bigots who wish to drive religion out of public life altogether – and the activist judges who find their misreading of the Constitution personally agreeable – who can believe such a thing possible.

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PCUSA: "Gentlemen, that iceberg was a wake-up call"

Sunday, June 26th, 2005

As a member and observer of the PCUSA, it is easy for me to imagine Capt. Edward John Smith turning to the other officers on the bridge as the Titanic’s fate became clear and saying, “Gentlemen, that iceberg was a wake-up call.” Why so easy to imagine? Because, as the old joke goes, the difference between the Titanic and the PCUSA is the Titanic had a band.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) is a dying denomination. It has been dying since 1965. In that year, the two mainline Presbyterian denominations that would become the PCUSA had a combined total of 4,254,597* members. They included the northern branch, the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, and the southern branch, the Presbyterian Church in the United States.

Since that high-water mark, the PCUSA and its predecessor denominations have lost members every single year. The northern and southern branches experienced a combined loss of 1,088,547 members leading up to the 1983 merger, leaving the PCUSA to start with 3,166,050 members. Since the merger, the PCUSA itself has managed to drive off another 803,914, leaving 2,362,136 members for a total loss of 1,892,461 (44.5%) since 1965. Membership loss is nothing new to the PCUSA.


It is interesting to note two events that coincided with the periods of greatest loss. First, the northern branch adopted the Confession of 1967. This confession contained the first official endorsement of the idea that the Scriptures, although inspired, “are nevertheless the words of men, conditioned by the language, thought forms, and literary fashions of the places and times at which they were written.” In the six years following the adoption of this worldly view of the Bible, the combined membership loss was over a half-million (501,836), with each year’s loss higher than the one before:

Membership Losses 1968-1973

1968 – 38,093
1969 – 61,220
1970 – 76,543
1971 – 82,948
1972 – 103,150
1973 – 139,882

In 1973, the Presbyterian Church in America split from the southern branch in response to the encroachment of the same liberal, non-Biblical theology that was infecting their northern brethren. In the ten years following the establishment of the more orthodox PCA, the combined denominations lost another 592,183 members:

Membership Losses 1974-1983

1974 – 100,762
1975 – 78,550
1976 – 50,773
1977 – 54,196
1978 – 56,347
1979 – 52,708
1980 – 57,557
1981 – 61,493
1982 – 44,975
1983 – 34,822

It must be said that membership decline following an event does not prove that the event caused the decline. But, taken together, the steady drift from Biblical orthodoxy and the steady exodus of members certainly suggest the presence of a cause and an effect.

The Titanic

The PCUSA has continued to lose members every year since the merger, ranging from 21,517 in 1998 to a high of 46,658 in 2003. In 2004, 43,175 more decided to move on. What is remarkable about all this is the response from PCUSA leadership. In June 2004, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly Clifton Kirkpatrick, the denomination’s highest official, explained that the 2003 loss of 46,658 was “to the secular world”, an assertion that was not backed by any facts.

Indeed, more than 1,000 of the departed were members of Rivermont Presbyterian Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, which withdrew en masse from the PCUSA and joined a more orthodox Presbyterian denomination (the Evangelical Presbyterian Church) – not exactly “the world”.

Still, the Stated Clerk may have been onto something. As the denomination continues its course of cultural accommodation, it is easy to imagine that some people, seeing little difference between their PCUSA church and the secular world, would simply leave the broader church altogether. After all, the world doesn’t ask for a tithe.

This year, the Stated Clerk declared the most recent loss a “wake-up call.” A wake-up call? What made the 2004 losses a wake-up call? Didn’t anybody at the PCUSA helm notice that membership has trended relentlessly downward for almost four decades? It is as if, with almost half his ship under water, Capt. Smith of the Titanic had declared “Gentlemen, that iceberg was a wake-up call. We need to figure out how to avoid icebergs, maybe by steering a different course. Oh, and we’d better figure out a way to keep this ship afloat too.”

While I can forgive our leadership, I cannot excuse their inattention to the dangerous waters they have chosen to sail. As long as I have been a member (15 years), renewal groups have sounded the alarm and tried to call the PCUSA back to its mission. The words of Jesus’ letter to the Ephesian church echo down the centuries, warning our church as well: “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance…. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” (Revelation 2:2, 3-5)

Now that’s a wake-up call!

* Note: All figures are from PCUSA statistics reported by The Layman Online.

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