Friday, May 15, 2015

Website Update - Top 10 Page List for April 2015

Top 10 ListWith April behind me, it's time again to take a look at the server logs and make the list of the most popular pages on this site. There were no newcomers this time. Every page on the list had made it previously. I was happy to see one blog entry, 22 Responses to 22 Creationist Misconceptions, make the list again. The previous month was the first time it had ever made it, and I do rather like that entry.

Overall traffic in line with what it's been for a while now.

Anyway, here's the list for last month.

Top 10 for April 2015

  1. A Skeptical Look at MBT Shoes
  2. Origin of Arabic Numerals - Was It Really for Counting Angles?
  3. Autogyro History & Theory
  4. Creationist Dishonesty and a Follow Up to Previous Entries
  5. Aviation Books
  6. Email Debunking - 1895 8th Grade Final Exam
  7. Blog - Friday Bible Blogging - Joshua 1 to Joshua 10
  8. Golden Compass - A Surprise at the Bookstore
  9. Response to an Editorial by Ken Huber
  10. 22 Responses to 22 Creationist Misconceptions

Friday, May 8, 2015

Traveling Bad Luck Trifecta

Bad Luck TrifectaI had a trifecta of bad luck traveling back from a conference yesterday (at least they were all minor instances of bad luck, and nothing horrible).

First, the flight was full, so I had to check my carry on bag instead of putting it in the overhead bin. It wouldn't have been a huge deal, but my flight wasn't scheduled to get into DFW airport until 10:00 pm, and I had a 2 hour drive to get back to Wichita Falls. I was hoping for as few delays as possible to getting on the road.

Second, once our plane was getting close to DFW, we had to go into a holding pattern. There had been a lot of thunderstorms in the area, shutting down the airport for a time, so there were a lot of delayed planes trying to make it in, and we were at the end of the line. Eventually the plane landed, when the flight attendant came on over the speaker system and said that it looked an awful lot like Houston out there. I think most people thought he was joking about the hazy weather, but I jumped right on my phone to pull up the maps, and sure enough, we were in Houston. Eventually the pilots came on to explain the situation - we'd been in the holding pattern too long and ran low on fuel. We had to divert to Houston to refuel, and to wait on the situation in DFW for the pilots to decide what to do. After an hour or so sitting in Houston, they refueled the plane and we flew on to Dallas.

After waiting longer than I wanted to at the baggage claim, I got my suit case and went off to the parking garage to get into my car, when this happened. I'd noticed a lot of traffic on the way to my car, but I chalked it up to all the construction going on at that terminal, and was even thinking to myself that I was glad the exit from the garage would bypass most of that traffic. I had no idea that the one road leading out of the terminal was flooded under two feet of water. Traffic was backed up all the way into the parking garage, and I think I sat for nearly an hour just in the garage before the water receded enough to where cars could start making their way through. After that, it was probably another good 20 minutes feeding into the main road to get out, and I didn't actually leave the airport till around 3:00 am. By the time I got to where the flooding had been the worst, it looked just about like this:

DFW Flooding
Image Source: CBS

Luckily for me, I have family down in the area, so I crashed at my brother-in-law's place (brother's-in-law?), and drove back this morning in daylight. It was a bit more eventful of a trip than I'd have liked, but in the big picture, I suppose it wasn't really all that bad. Even with the delays, it took less time than it would have taken to drive it.

Horseshoe Image Source: Wikimedia Commons, edited by me

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

How Big Is the National Debt?

Dollar SignI've talked with a few people who think the national debt is a huge, huge problem that's just growing exponentially and uncontrollably. And while it's true that it is a major issue, and that the debt is currently growing, I think that many people look at the issue a little too simply, exaggerating the true nature and magnitude of the problem.

For reference and due credit, all the graphs in this entry are from the site, USGovernmentRevenue.com/, with many of them from the specific page, US National Debt and Deficit History. And I guess that as a disclaimer, I should note that economics certainly isn't my specialty, but much of this seems pretty straight forward.

The following graph shows the way many people think of the national debt, where it looks like the debt is just growing uncontrollably:

Federal Debt History

But that's a simple plot, looking just at raw debt numbers. To account for inflation and the growth of the economy, it makes more sense to look at debt as a fraction of GDP:

Federal Debt History as a Percentage of GDP

And while debt is certainly high right now, it paints a different picture than the simpler graph above. For one, it hasn't been just non-stop growing and growing, but different periods of growth and reduction. For another, the growth is currently slowing down, and is projected to start decreasing in the next few years. (I'll be honest - I'm not sure exactly where this source got their projections for the future, but even just taking that graph up through 2015, it's clear that debt growth is slowing.) Thirdly, it shows that the current debt isn't unprecedented. While it's nearing historical highs, the debt was actually higher during WWII.

You'd expect the debt to have grown in recent years due to the two recent wars and the Great Recession. The problem is the debt was so high already before that, thanks mainly to the governments during the Reagan and Bush Sr. years. Prior to that, the debt had been steadily reducing since the WWII peak. After them, under Clinton, the government had actually gotten debt back under control and it was on its way back down again before Bush Jr. took office. Under Bush Jr., the debt began increasing even before 9/11 or the 2007 financial meltdown, and those events just exacerbated the growth. If the projections in the graph hold true, it looks like under Obama, the debt might begin decreasing again.

Moving past the debt to the deficit, here's a graph of that:

Federal Deficit History as a Percentage of GDP

The current levels are a little high, but not too unreasonable when you consider the wars and the recession. Further, the deficit has been decreasing since the peak in 2009. And in even starker contrast than overall debt, that peak deficit was much less than what it was during WWII.

Related to deficit, here are charts of spending and revenue:

Federal Spending History as a Percentage of GDP

Federal Revenue History as a Percentage of GDP

Current rates are in line with what they've been since the '40s (other than the huge spending spike for WWII). Recent spending peaked in 2009 and has generally decreased since then. Recent revenue was almost a mirror image, reaching a minimum in 2010, and steadily increasing since. Those responses are exactly what you expect for a recession - the government invests in the economy through deficit spending when tax revenues will be at their lowest, but slowly recoups the cost when tax revenues begin increasing as the economy picks back up.

I'm not saying the debt's not an issue, nor that we shouldn't try to balance the budget. I'm just saying that certain alarmists that only point to the raw numbers without considering them as a percentage of GDP are presenting a misleading image of the issue and exaggerating the problem, often times advocating 'solutions' that are more extreme than what's really called for.

Image Sources: I actually made that 3D dollar sign myself. As noted above, all graphs are from USGovernmentRevenue.com/.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Response to Harold Faulkner's Global Warming Denialism

Global Warming IconReviewing through the comments of the blog to clean out spam, I came across a comment that I'd accidentally left held up in moderation, a comment to the entry, Response to Global Warming Denialist E-mail - Volcanoes and Global Cooling. When I Googled certain phrases from the comment, I got back hundreds of returns from Google. The commenter, Harold Faulkner, is plastering blog comment threads and Internet discussion forums with this article of his.

I also realized that I'd read Faulkner's comment before. He'd e-mailed it to me right about the same time he left the comment on this blog. In good faith, I sent him a reply addressing portions of what he'd written, but I never heard back. Of course, at the time, I didn't realize that he was simply spamming hundreds of people with this article. Now that I've come across all this again, I decided that I'd adapt and expand that original response into a blog entry all its own. Since there are probably many variations of this article (I'm not going to click on each Google return to compare them), I'm going to focus just on the one he e-mailed to me.

Faulkner began his article with the following question:

People in the USA, are being told by the U.S. government and media that global warming is man-made. If that is true, how can the government and media explain the high temperatures the earth has experienced in past years when there were far fewer people?

He followed that up with the following graph to support his case:

Bogus Global Temperature History
Click on image to view full size


The first red flag for that graph should be that there's no scale given for the y-axis. Further, the relative heights of the different peaks and valleys don't match with what I've seen from reputable sources. Practically every graph I've seen of reconstructed historical temperatures looks about like this:

2000 Year Temperature Comparison
Click on image to view full size
"2000 Year Temperature Comparison". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons


Here's another graph, but going back much further in time:

All palaeotemps by Glen Fergus
Click on image to view full size
"All palaeotemps" by Glen Fergus - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons


Since both of those graphs were made a few years ago, here's a more recent graph that goes right up to almost the present day, though with a shorter overall timeframe than either of the two other graphs:

Annual Global Temperature (Combined Land & Ocean)
Click on image to view full size
Source: USA Today - Record! 2014 was Earth's warmest year


Note that in all those graphs, unlike in the graph Faulkner provided, the warming continues right up to the present day. In fact, 2014 is the warmest year on record.

Of course, there are many factors affecting the Earth's climate, and as the climate was varying long before humans were around, human activities aren't the only cause. It should go without saying that climatologists are already well aware of those causes and include them in their studies. I mean, you'd have to have a very, very low opinion of climatologists to think that they ignored those natural causes or were so ignorant that they didn't even think to study them.

If you look at the second of the reputable graphs above, the main thing you notice about modern day global warming is how rapid it is. It's unprecedented as far back as the temperatures have been reconstructed. No natural variations have created a temperature change as rapid as the one we're experiencing right now.

Faulkner also tried to downplay the effect of CO2 and instead say that climate change is natural variation due to other factors. Here Faulkner basically describes the Milankovitch Cycles, but seems to be saying these are the primary driver of current climate change.

The above points out that the universe is too huge and the earth is too small for the earth's population to have any effect on the earth's temperature. The earth's temperature is a function of the sun's temperature and the effects from the many massive planets in the universe, i.e., "The gravity of the Moon and (to a lesser extent) of the Sun makes the Earth's axis swivel around like a tilted spinning top. Other planets of the Solar System especially Jupiter, Mars and Venus, influence the Earth's tilt and the shape of its orbit, in a more-or-less cyclic fashion, with significant effects on the intensity of sunshine falling on different regions of the Earth during the various seasons."

As I said above, you'd have to have a very low opinion of climate scientists to assume that they don't understand actual climate science. The issue is that current CO2 levels are dwarfing effects such as the Milankovitch cycles, causing the current warming.

To further his attempt to downplay the effects of CO2, in one of his 'fun facts', he pointed out what a small fraction of the atmosphere CO2 constitutes.

At 380 parts per million CO2 is a minor constituent of earth's atmosphere--less than 4/100ths of 1% of all gases present. Compared to former geologic times, earth's current atmosphere is CO2- impoverished.

Well, that is true, but it doesn't change the fact that CO2 is a greenhouse gas that does significantly affect global temperatures. This isn't controversial among scientists. It's why Venus is so hot. The greenhouse effect is also why Earth isn't a giant snowball, so it's a good thing. But just like poisons, it's the 'dose', so to speak, that's important. The past 10,000 years have had a relatively stable climate, and civilization has sprung up and flourished in that time. But this stability is important. If climate and weather patterns change, current 'bread bowls' may end up as dust bowls. And with rising sea levels, some current ocean front property may quickly become a whole lot less valuable. If this change was occurring over thousands of years, it wouldn't be much of a problem. People would slowly adapt. The fact that it's occurring over 100 years or so is what makes it such a big problem. The adaptation will have to be very rapid, which in turns means it will be costly, and there will likely be a good bit of suffering involved.

I'm not going to point out the problems with all of Faulkner's stats, but I'll tackle the first one from his list of Fun Facts about CO2:

Of the 186 billion tons of carbon from CO2 that enter earth's atmosphere each year from all sources, only 6 billion tons are from human activity. Approximately 90 billion tons come from biologic activity in earth's oceans and another 90 billion tons from such sources as volcanoes and decaying land plants.

I'm actually not going to fact check his numbers*, but instead point out how this is a very misleading way of looking at the issue. There are short term and long term carbon cycles. In the short term, biological activity does release a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere (both marine and land based). But in that same timeframe, other biological activity (plants & algae), is absorbing that CO2 for photosynthesis. For the most part, that cycle is pretty balanced, with emissions matching absorption. In other words, if there were no other inputs to the cycle, atmospheric CO2 levels would stay at equilibrium. There's also a long term cycle. Some biological and geological factors absorb CO2 and trap it, such as fossil fuels. Other geological factors emit small amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, like volcanoes. The natural inputs to this long term cycle are also more or less in equilibrium. But what's happened recently, is that humans started digging up all these fossil fuels and burning them. We've thrown off the equilibrium. All this carbon that had been sequestered and was destined to only be released to the atmosphere slowly at some point in the distant future is now being put into the atmosphere over the course of decades. The normal sinks that would absorb this CO2 and sequester it just can't keep up. So, even though human CO2 emissions from fossil fuels make up only a small percentage of total CO2 emissions each year, it's a cumulative process. Each year, more and more carbon builds up in the atmosphere, leading to more global warming.

To use an overly simplistic way of looking at it - just assume for the sake of argument that natural CO2 emissions are balanced by natural CO2 sinks, but that any man-made emissions just build-up in the atmosphere. Using Faulkner's numbers*, if human activity accounts for 6 billion tons annually, in 30 years that excess would match the yearly carbon cycle. So, using these overly simplistic assumptions, that would represent a doubling of atmospheric CO2 in 30 years, or a tripling in 60 years. Luckily, the real world isn't that simplistic, and natural carbon sinks can absorb more than just the natural carbon emissions, but this shows how this imbalance is a cumulative effect that builds over the years. In reality, current CO2 levels around about 43% higher than pre-industrial levels (Wikipedia).

I'll give another example, using myself as an analogy. Like many people at the start of the year, I started a diet. I didn't changed my eating patterns much, just a few hundred calories per day. That calorie deficit is pretty small on a daily basis, and only slightly less than the calories I burn in a day, but it builds up over time. In two weeks, I'd lost a few pounds, and over the course of a few months, the effect was a sizeable percentage of my body weight. That's how it is with anthropogenic CO2. It's a shift in the balance of the carbon cycle that builds up over decades.

Anyway, this is just one more example of a climate change denialist spreading misinformation, but since he tried it on my site, I felt a bit of an obligation to reply.

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Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

*Actually, if you go and check out the blog entry where Faulkner originally left his comment, Response to Global Warming Denialist E-mail - Volcanoes and Global Cooling, you'll see that his numbers are off. He's claiming 6 billion tons of CO2 from human activity, while the USGS estimated it at closer to 35 billion metric tons in 2010 (38 billion short tons). He was off by over a factor of 6.

For the sake of people who might google phrases from Faulkner's article, or for anyone who's interested in reading it, I've put his full article below the fold.

Continue reading "Response to Harold Faulkner's Global Warming Denialism" »

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Official Commenting Policy, Updated

No SpamI posted an Official Commenting Policy a few years ago, but I figure it's time for an update. Additionally, this policy will now get a link in the sidebar so that it's available for everyone to see.

This policy is an attempt to foster constructive discussions, as well eliminating spam.

  1. As usual for any blog, I reserve the right to do anything I want. This is my blog, not a completely open public forum. If you disagree with my reasons for deleting a comment, write about it on your own blog.
  2. Threats or extremely vile comments will be deleted (not that I've yet had any problems with that).
  3. No one line insults, please. I've been fairly liberal in the past about leaving these up, but it really adds nothing to the discussion if your only contribution is to call me an ass (example). If you disagree with me, please take the time to point out where and why you think I'm wrong.
  4. Do not simply copy-and-paste comments from other sites. This isn't a problem if you're only leaving the comment on a couple sites, but it is irksome if I do a Google search and find your comment repeated on a few dozen sites. If you're using the same comment on so many sites, it probably means the comment isn't targeted to my post or any possible discussion in the comments.
  5. Do not copy-and-paste articles to post as a comment, even if it's something you wrote yourself. You can leave links and a brief summary of the article, or short, relevant excerpts from other sources, but not entire articles. Also, if you're only copying excerpts, be sure to reference what you're quoting, preferably with a link, and not presenting it as your own original material.
  6. This is more of a request than a rule, but please, please, please provide references for any factual claims you make. Anybody can claim anything they want in a comment, but you'll give your claim some credibility if you back it up. However, keep in mind...
  7. There is a limit of two links per comment before the comment will be tagged as possible spam. If you want to include more links, simply e-mail me right after leaving your comment, and I'll approve it.
  8. Spam and pure advertising comments will be deleted. I've had such a problem with this that I tend to err on the side of caution. Links to commercial sites are allowed, but if it seems like nothing more than an advertisement, the comment will be deleted. If the comment linking to a commercial site doesn't add anything constructive, it will be deleted. If the comment is nothing but a short compliment about how great my writing is, with a link to a commercial site, it will be deleted. I've noticed a trend of spammers parroting part of my original entry, and then giving links to commercial sites with no relevance at all to the entry. Deleted.

All that being said, I try to remain fairly open. I don't usually delete comments, even if they're not particularly constructive (for example, the first comment on the entry where I acknowledged my atheism, or the numerous comments disagreeing with my stance on MBT shoes or politics). In short, comments are welcome, even (especially) comments disagreeing with me. Just please, leave comments that further the discussion at hand. Spam will be deleted, as will any comments in the grey area between spam and legitimate comments.


On a side note, let me just add that I love the canned meat product, Spam. So, don't confuse the image in this entry as being in any way against that delicacy.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Another Look at Ben Carson's Views on Evolution

Ben CarsonI know it wasn't that long ago that I said I was done writing about Ben Carson (see Ben Carson Wrap Up), but I got into another discussion the other day where he came up, and the person I was talking with was pretty sure that Carson really did accept evolution. So, for due diligence, I took another look to see if I could find Carson's views on evolution in a source more recent than the Adventist Review interview from a few years ago that I'd been assuming was his current position. I found an interview from September of 2014 where he talked about evolution again, and it looks like his views haven't changed. You can listen to just the evolution portion by going to Right Wing Watch. The full interview is available on the Faith & Liberty podcast.

I did my best to transcribe his response below (though I did take the liberty of not writing all his 'um's, 'uh's, or stutters).

I don't know how old the Earth is, because the Bible says in the beginning God created heaven and the Earth. It doesn't say how long a time went by before he started creation. So no one has that knowledge based on the Bible. What I do know is that I believe that God is all powerful. He can do anything. So if he can create a man who is fully mature, he could also create an Earth that was mature. So, you know, carbon dating, all these things, you know, really don't mean anything to a god who has the ability to create anything at any point in time. And the problem with man is that they believe that they're so smart that if they can't explain how God did something, then it didn't happen. Which of course means that they're God. You don't need a god if you consider yourself capable of explaining everything.

After this, the interviewer momentarily interrupted, "Those are good points. What about being a surgeon? Any of that lead you to some of those conclusions, too?" To which Carson replied as below.

Well, certainly being a neurosurgeon and dealing with the complexity of the human brain - billions and billions of neurons, hundreds of billions of interconnections. And they all have to be connected the right way. And somebody says that came from a slime pit full of promiscuous biochemicals? I don't think so. And, you know, even if you look at something like natural selection, which I totally believe in, by the way. But, with natural selection it says that, you know, things that are useful tend to be passed on. Things that are not useful don't get passed on. And this is how, you know, the whole genetic display occurs. But, how, on the basis of that, do you ever develop a kidney? Or how do you develop an eyeball, which has multiple parts, none of which have any function without the others. So did a rod cell just appear one day, and just decide, let me sit around for a few million years until a cone cell develops? And then, a retinal network can develop? And then, you know, posterior and an anterior chamber and a lens and a cornea and short ciliary nerves? Gimme a break. You know, according to their scheme - boom! It had to just occur overnight. Had to be there.

So, I instead say, if you have an intelligent creator, what he does is give his creatures the ability to adapt to the environment so he doesn't have to start over every 50 years, so he can [unintelligible] all over again. And that's why you see the changes that occur within species, with environment and with time that makes perfectly good sense for a created universe and a created Earth.

So, he does say that he accepts 'natural selection', but qualifies it as 'within species'. He also says that carbon dating can't be trusted, implies that there really was a historical Adam, implies the human brain couldn't be the product of billions of years of evolution starting with single celled organisms, and flat out denies that kidneys or eyes could have evolved. In that last sentence, he even said 'a created Earth', and in the opening paragraph he implied that it could have been created 'mature' (shades of Last Thursdayism). His position seems to be fairly straight-forward old earth creationism. Perhaps Carson does say different things in different venues, but that would be a problem in and of itself. If he was willing to make such contradictory statements to different audiences, he wouldn't have much credibility.

Assuming what Carson's saying here is what he actually thinks, then it's back to what I've said before about his extreme arrogance - pontificating about a subject about which he's so extremely ignorant. Just read that part about the eye. He seems to think that if an eye evolved, it must have appeared fully formed, and he seems to think this is what evolutionary biologists actually believe. Has he ever even read a biology book? He's an extremely talented surgeon, so he had to take biology classes, but how can he make such ignorant statements if he actually paid attention in class? It's not like this is a new topic. Darwin himself addressed eye evolution in the Origin of Species (Chapter 6). And with just a bit of googling, you can find explanations of how the vertebrate eye evolved in a stepwise fashion (e.g. Wikipedia). Here's one of my favorite diagrams on eye evolution (which I've shown before), showing actual existing eyes in molluscs that are far from the complex human eye, lacking many of the features Carson said must have been present for the eye to function properly, but which obviously provide benefit to those molluscs.

Evolution of Complex Eyes

I don't want to dwell on this last point because it's not part of the main theme of evolution this post is about, but that whole section on people coming up with secular explanations and thinking they're now gods is completely ridiculous. I wonder how many evolutionary biologists or atheists Carson has talked with, and where he gets this absurd characterization.

I know you don't need to understand evolutionary biology perfectly to be a politician. But given Carson's background as a surgeon, it's unsettling that he is so ignorant when it comes to the foundational concept of biology (particularly concepts that he should have learned in high school biology). Further, as I've said before, the worst part is that he's so sure of himself in an area where he's so ignorant. Nobody knows everything, politicians included (or maybe especially). But what good politicians must be able to do is recognize the limits of their knowledge so that they can ask for input and advice from appropriate experts. I wouldn't trust a politician who didn't know their own limits.

Image Source for Ben Carson: Christian Post, Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Image Source for Eye Evolution: Random Internet source, but probably originally from Douglas J. Futuyma's Evolutionary Biology

Friday, April 10, 2015

Friday Bible Blogging - Song of Songs 1 to 8

This entry is part of a series. For a listing of all entries in the series, go to the Index. Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). All headings are links to those Bible chapters.

BibleToday's entry will cover the entire book of The Song of Songs, also known as The Song of Solomon. The New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB), in its introduction to the book, noted that despite historical religious interpretations by Jews and Christians, the current scholarly consensus is that this really is a love poem, with no divine meaning. It makes no reference to the Law or even Yahweh himself. It's a bit puzzling why such a poem would be included in the canon of Jewish religious scriptures, but that's the strange nature of the Bible. The NOAB also notes that the book bears many similarities to contemporary Mesopotamian and Egyptian love poetry, and that "the poet drew upon a rich cultural tradition of love poetry", a poet who, by the way almost certainly wasn't Solomon.

This marks the last of the Wisdom books, but I'm still not quite halfway through with the whole Bible.

I wasn't particularly fond of this book. But then again, I'm not particularly fond of modern day love poetry, so I can't really comment on whether or not this is a good example of the genre. Since there wasn't much that really jumped out at me about this book, I'm going to channel my inner middle schooler and focus mainly on the scandalous sections, just to have something somewhat interesting to write about.


Song of Songs, Chapter 1

The poem jumps right into a physical relationship in the opening lines.

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!
For your love is better than wine

And according to the NOAB, it's "Love, a plural form referring to physical lovemaking". So maybe 'love' should be in scare quotes.

Or consider this passage:

   they made me keeper of the vineyards,
   but my own vineyard I have not kept!

Is being the keeper of your own vineyard anything like being the master of your own domain? Even according to the NOAB, "My own vineyard refers to he woman herself, probably with a sexual meaning".

As long as your mind's in the gutter, this next passage sounds reasonably bad, but it sounds even worse with the proper translation.

Tell me, you whom my soul loves,
   where you pasture your flock,
   where you make it lie down at noon;

According to the NOAB, that second line should read simply, 'Where do you graze?'.


Song of Songs, Chapter 2

Here are the last two lines from this chapter.

turn, my beloved, be like a gazelle
   or a young stag on the cleft mountains.

According to the NRSV and NOAB footnotes, 'cleft mountains' might be better translated as 'mountains of spices', but either way, you know what 'mountains' it's referring to. As the NOAB puts it, this "alludes to the woman herself and the various pleasures her body offers, perhaps her breasts".


Song of Songs, Chapter 3

I've got nothing from this chapter. None of it jumped out at me.


Song of Songs, Chapter 4

Romantic imagery was a bit different in that culture:

Your hair is like a flock of goats,
   moving down the slopes of Gilead.
Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes
   that have come up from the washing,
all of which bear twins,
   and not one among them is bereaved.

I don't think I'd set much of a romantic mood with my wife if I started comparing her to goats and sheep.

Here's one of the more explicit references to anatomy:

Your two breasts are like two fawns,
   twins of a gazelle,
   that feed among the lilies.

And like the NOAB says, "Elsewhere the man is described as feeding among the lilies, an erotically suggestive image in which the lilies signify the woman".

The very next passage is this:

Until the day breathes
   and the shadows flee,
I will hasten to the mountain of myrrh
   and the hill of frankincense.

And you know what 'mountain' this is referring to.


Song of Songs, Chapter 5

I thought maybe I was being a bit too juvenile reading this chapter, but according to the NOAB, it's "replete with sexual allusions." So when you read this passage:

My beloved thrust his hand into the opening,
   and my inmost being yearned for him.

I guess it really is just as bad as it seems.

And this is almost enough to make me blush:

I arose to open to my beloved,
   and my hands dripped with myrrh,
my fingers with liquid myrrh,
   upon the handles of the bolt.
I opened to my beloved,

Or when she's describing her lover:

His appearance is like Lebanon,
   choice as the cedars.

How salacious.


Song of Songs, Chapter 6

There's nothing that really jumps out from this chapter, but just wait for the next one.


Song of Songs, Chapter 7

Oh my. This is another rather explicit chapter. Even if, as the NOAB puts it, the body parts are "described in metaphors that are not transparent", you can certainly get the gist of enough to know that this isn't G-rated.

Your rounded thighs are like jewels,
   the work of a master hand.
Your navel is a rounded bowl
   that never lacks mixed wine.

And navel might even be more explicit than just the belly button. According to the NOAB, it might be "a euphemism for 'vulva.' "

And just consider this:

I say I will climb the palm tree
   and lay hold of its branches.
O may your breasts be like clusters of the vine,
   and the scent of your breath like apples,
and your kisses like the best wine
   that goes down smoothly,
   gliding over lips and teeth.

And again, I'm sure you can guess what the branches are that the man lays a hold of.


Song of Songs, Chapter 8

This passage gets just a bit too kinky for me.

I would lead you and bring you
   into the house of my mother,
   and into the chamber of the one who bore me.

There's no way I would 'make love' in my parents' bed. That's just wrong, but I guess it turned on the lovers in this poem.

The poem ends with these verses.

O you who dwell in the gardens,
   my companions are listening for your voice;
   let me hear it.

Make haste, my beloved,
   and be like a gazelle
or a young stag
   upon the mountains of spices!

If that seems abrupt, apparently that was on purpose. As the NOAB puts it, "The poet does not bring the Song to a proper close, so that the love it celebrates can remain unending."


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So, this wasn't the best book of the Bible, but it wasn't the worst, either. And I apologize if this review was a bit juvenile compared to some of my other reviews, but that's about the only way I could think of to keep it somewhat interesting. Other than that, it's just a sappy love poem that's not really my cup of tea.

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Pysanky Easter Eggs

For a while now, I'd been wanting to try to make Pysanky eggs for Easter, but every year I'd thought about it too late to get anything delivered in time, and none of the local hobby stores sold the right supplies. Well this year, I finally remembered to order a Traditional Ukrainian Egg Decorating Kit
from Amazon a few weeks before Easter, and my daughter and I decorated a few eggs. I only had enough time to do one, and the result isn't worth showing here. But my daughter does pretty good at these types of things, and she had enough time to decorate three eggs. Here are the results:

Pysanky Easter Eggs

We'd originally figured that our first attempts wouldn't be worth saving, so we started off on hard boiled eggs that we'd turn into the traditional Easter deviled eggs. And while that prediction was true enough for me, it was a bit off for my daughter. Still, she ended up decorating two hard boiled eggs before she went the more traditional route of blowing out the yolk and white of a raw egg to decorate an empty shell.

In case you've ever wanted to try this and wondered about the cheaper more traditional styluses vs. the electric ones, the cheap ones worked just fine for us after a few minutes of figuring out how to get them to work properly. You'll need a candle, but once you melt the wax in the reservoir, you can 'write' for a decent amount of time before having to re-heat the stylus. It wasn't really a pain at all to keep putting the stylus back into the flame.

Anyway, it was fun, and I think the results turned out pretty good (for my daughter at least). I'm pretty sure we'll try the same thing again next year.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Jesus Saves! Jelly Beans

While doing some shopping over the weekend, I came across these jelly beans at Hobby Lobby:

Jesus Saves! Jelly Beans

They're just so over the top absurd that I couldn't resist buying them for my daughter for Easter. (Just so you know, she's old enough to think these are funny and not take them seriously.)

The big package contained 17 individual smaller packets, and each of those smaller packets had the following jelly bean prayer on the back:

Jelly Bean Prayer

I think it's funny that they made the black jelly beans 'sin'. Apparently, not even God likes licorice flavored candy*.

I was a little disappointed to discover that the jelly beans inside weren't stamped with the words they're supposed to represent. If you dump these jelly beans out into a serving tray you'll just end up with plain old jelly beans, but think what a conversation starter it would be to have a bowl full of Jesus' blood and sin flavored candy. They do have Jesus themed rip-offs of Sweethearts, but I think one bag of Jesus candy is enough for me.


*Full disclosure: I actually do like black licorice. Sin never tasted so good.

Update 2015-04-07: Replaced images with slightly better ones that I took last night (original ones were here and here, where that second one I borrowed from Amazon).

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Happy Easter!

I don't normally just post webcomics, but this one fits in perfectly with the normal themes of this website and the upcoming holiday. Click on the comic to go to the source.

Jesus n Mo Comic

Oh well, I guess since I've already started this post, I might as well link to a few Easter-themed pages on this site.

  • No More Easter Bunny - an entry I wrote shortly after my daughter figured out the Easter Bunny wasn't real, pondering why we trick our kids with holiday myths
  • Random Thoughts After a Night at Mass - just some musings I had after one of my first times back in church after becoming an atheist (which just happened to be over Easter weekend)
  • Easter Bread Recipe - nothing skeptical or atheism related about this, just a traditional recipe for Easter bread that my mom always made when I was growing up, and that I now make with my daughter every year

And here's an article in The Guardian, The pagan roots of Easter, which describes just what the title says it does (though I'll be honest and admit I'm not sure of all the claims in that article).

Happy Eostre everyone!

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