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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Updated Blogroll

Blogroll may be an outdated term by this point, but I'm keeping mine just for the hell of it. Looking over mine, I noticed that a lot of the blogs/websites that I read have moved to new locations, some of them I've quit following regularly, some of the inactive blogs have gone completely defunct, and some of my current favorites aren't on there. So, it's time to fix that. Of course, I've updated the blogroll in the right-hand column of the blogs main page. Below is a summary, along with a description of each site. If you're not familiar with these sites, go check them out.


  • Bad Astronomy Blog - Phil Plait's site dedicated mostly to astronomy, but with a dash of general skepticism and science, including global warming and the anti-vax movement
  • The Digital Cuttlefish - A skeptic & atheist who puts almost all of his/her posts (I think his) into verse
  • Dinosaur Dracula - An entertaining blend of nostalgia, candy, toys, and Halloween
  • IFL Science - I Fucking Love Science, with a focus on, obviously, science, kind of aggregating and offering commentary on science headlines
  • Mark Witton's Blog (Paleoart) _ Mark Witton's blog with a heavy focus on paleoart and pterosaurs, but also general commentary on paleontology (he does have a PhD after all)
  • The Panda's Thumb - A group blog dedicated to the science side of the evolution/creation culture war, especially on keeping sound science education
  • Pharyngula - A blog on evolution, atheism, liberalism, & politics (not for the faint of heart or easily offended)
  • Phenomena - Nat Geo Science Salon - National Geographic's blog collective, focusing mostly on biology and evolution
  • Sandwich Monday - Reviews of different sandwiches every Monday (my favorite was 'The Hypocrite' - a bacon cheese veggie burger)
  • Wait But Why - A little hard to explain, but entertaining essays on a variety of topics on a weekly basis, with crude to informative graphics
  • What If? - The XKCD guy (Randall Munroe) gives entertaining but realistic answers to strange questions
  • Why Evolution Is True - Jerry Coyne's excellent website on evolution and atheism

Inactive / Marginally Active:

  • The Ant Hunter - Scott only seems to post an entry every year or so, but they're still worth the read
  • New Minority - Eric's not been very active, either, but what he has is still good
  • Confessions of an Anonymous Coward - An ex-mormon turned atheist - no longer active at all, but very interesting for the archives


  • TerrapinTables - Defunct entirely, but this used to be for my college buddies
  • Greg Richter's Idea Dumpster - Greg seems to post occasionally, but I just basically quit going back to check
  • Pooflingers Anonymous - Defunct entirely, but used to focus on atheism and evolution
  • Sandwalk - A good blog on evolution and science, but I just quit going back to check on it regularly
  • Respectful Insolence - A very good blog on applying skepticism to medicine - I still read it occasionally, but not regularly

Not Exactly Removed, but Replaced with a Blog Network:

  • The Loom - Carl Zimmer's blog is now on Nat Geo's Phenomena (BTW, Zimmer is my favorite science writer)
  • Dinosaur Tracking Blog - Dinosaur Tracking Blog went defunct, but another of Brian Switek's blogs, Laelaps, is now also a part of Nat Geo's Phenomena

And these are a little too frivolous to go into the blogroll, but here are the webcomics I keep up with:


Monday, October 13, 2014

Happy Exploration Day 2014

This is a verbatim reprint of last year's entry, but it's still all relevant. I guess I'll add here that if you don't like the idea of Exploration Day or Bartolomé Day, you can always call today Indigenous People's Day. Just whatever you do, don't celebrate that horrible excuse for a human being, Christopher Columbus.

Moon PrintToday is traditionally celebrated as Columbus Day, but Columbus really was a horrible excuse for a human being. It's not just the myth about him proving the world was round, or lucking into finding a continent that nobody knew existed, but his horrible, horrible treatment of the natives and even the Spaniards in the first Spanish colony in the Americas.

The Oatmeal has a new webcomic explaining just how bad of a person Columbus was, in more detail than I've done and in a more entertaining way than I could do. I highly recommend going to read it:

The Oatmeal - Christopher Columbus was awful (but this other guy was not) Modified Portion of The Oatmeal's Christopher Columbus Comic

While the Oatmeal proposes changing the holiday to Bartolome Day, I prefer a proposal I read before, changing it to Exploration Day. I could simply link to that old entry, but if you're here already reading this, I'll save you the click. Below is an excerpt of the main portion of that old entry, Happy Exploration Day:

I've written briefly about Columbus a couple times before, Debunking a Columbus Myth and Columbus Day. There are a lot of misconceptions about Columbus and his role in history - misconceptions that are still being taught to my middle school daughter, by the way. In reality, he was a bit of a crank. The concept of the Earth being a globe had been known for thousands of years prior to Columbus. In fact, Eratosthenes had calculated the size of the earth to a very accurate degree back around 240 BC (or BCE). Why Columbus had such a hard time securing funding for his trip was that he was so far off in his estimate of the size of the Earth - 15,700 miles in circumference vs the true 25,000 miles. Educated people knew that in theory, you'd eventually end up in Asia by sailing west, but they didn't think any of the ships of the time would allow someone to carry enough supplies to complete the journey. And they were right. Had there not been two unknown continents, Columbus and his men would have starved to death. And Columbus never did figure out that he'd discovered a new continent. He went to his dying day thinking he'd found islands off the coast of Asia.

And if his technical incompetence weren't enough, Columbus was a pretty ruthless governor. To quote an article from The Guardian:

As governor and viceroy of the Indies, Columbus imposed iron discipline on the first Spanish colony in the Americas, in what is now the Caribbean country of Dominican Republic. Punishments included cutting off people's ears and noses, parading women naked through the streets and selling them into slavery.

His actions were so bad that he was arrested and taken back to Spain in shackles. He later received a pardon from the crown, but only after a new governor was put in charge of the colony.

Granted, Columbus was important historically. His unintended discovery of the New World set off a wave of European exploration that changed the course of history. But why do we have a holiday celebrating this tyrant who only lucked his way into the history books instead of starving at sea?

If what we truly want to celebrate on this day is the spirit of exploration, then why not just come out and make that the focus of the holiday? Make a day that honors those like Magellan, Lewis and Clark, Lindbergh, Armstrong and Aldrin, the Wrights, Amundsen, Hillary, Cousteau, the engineers behind the Mars rover. Make a day that honors all those that push the frontiers of our knowledge.

More Info:

I'll note that after I shared some of that information with my wife and daughter, we began using 'Christopher Columbus' as a profanity in place of a certain orifice that everybody has. e.g. Bill O'Reilly can be a bit of a Christopher Columbus when he starts yelling at his guests. I think that's the most appropriate way to remember his legacy.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Friday Bible Blogging - Psalms 141 to Psalms 150

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.

BibleFinally. I'm done with the book of Psalms. This week's entry covers the last ten psalms of the book - 141 through 150.

Psalms, Chapter 141

As I mentioned last week, this is part of a short collection of psalms attributed to David, which began with Psalm 138 and runs through Psalm 145. This particular one is a petition to God to keep the petitioner away from wicked ways.

One thing I've been noticing more (not that it wasn't there in previous books and psalms, just that I'm now noticing it more) is the selfishness of many of these passages. There's little regard for having others turn away from wicked ways and becoming good people or being redeemed. Instead, the writers only ask for punishment for them. Just consider this passage:

Like a rock that one breaks apart and shatters on the land,
   so shall their bones be strewn at the mouth of Sheol.

and especially this one:

Let the wicked fall into their own nets,
   while I alone escape.

Psalms, Chapter 142

Psalm 142 is "A Maskil of David. When he was in the cave." This is fairly typical of this type of Psalm, looking to God for strength and deliverance from enemies.

Psalms, Chapter 143

This is another psalm asking for the Lord to deliver the psalmist from his enemies. There were a few references to Sheol reminding us how different the ancient Hebrew conception of the afterlife was to the modern Christian view. There was also a brief mention of how worthless people are, which definitely is in line with the modern Christian view ("Do not enter into judgement with your servant, / for no one living is righteous before you.") But the most absurd passage came at the very end.

In your steadfast love cut off my enemies,
   and destroy all my adversaries,
   for I am your servant.

Yes, with your 'steadfast love', destroy people. I know, it's steadfast love for the psalmist, not humanity, but it still struck me as a rather odd thing to say. It just gets back to that selfishness I mentioned up above.

Psalms, Chapter 144

Psalm 144 starts off with military language, and one particularly unpleasant image ("my shield, in whom I take refuge, / who subdues the peoples under me"), before moving on to language now familiar by the end of this book characterizing Yahweh as a storm god ("Make the lightning flash and scatter them), then moving on to general praise, before finishing up with a petition for general blessings. Reading the footnotes in the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB), it appears that this psalm quotes pretty heavily from other psalms and even other books of the Bible.

Psalms, Chapter 145

This is the last of the psalms attributed to David, and is basically one long poem praising God. According to the NOAB, this is another acrostic psalm (where the start of each line follows the Hebrew alphabet), but the 14th letter is missing.

Psalms, Chapter 146

These final five psalms form, to quote the NOAB, "the concluding doxology to the entire book of Psalms." Again relying on the NOAB, since I don't have access to nor could I read the ancient manuscripts, each of the psalms begins and ends with "Hallelujah", which is traditionally translated, as it was in the NRSV, as "Praise the Lord". And since I'm on a roll in referencing the NOAB, their heading to this psalm is "Praise of the Lord, savior of the downtrodden," which is a pretty good summary of the content of this psalm. In fact, this passage sounds remarkably like something you'd expect to hear attributed to Jesus.

The Lord sets the prisoners free;
   the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
   the Lord loves the righteous.

Psalms, Chapter 147

This psalm continues on with the praise for God and listing the reasons for that praise. It's divided into three sections, with the first focusing on Jerusalem, the second on fertility of fields and livestock, and the third on God's "word" as a blessing to Israel, reinforcing their status as God's chosen people.

He has not dealt thus with any other nation;
   they do not know his ordinances.

There was one passage that caught my eye for the weird imagery it invoked.

He hurls down hail like crumbs--
   who can stand before his cold?

Psalms, Chapter 148

Psalm 148 extols all of creation to "Praise the Lord!", listing practically every aspect of creation. Verses 3 and 4 stuck out to me for the cosmology they implied.

Praise him, sun and moon;
   praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
   and you waters above the heavens!

I guess it's no surprise given the accepted cosmology of the time, but this passage just seems to take for granted the idea of a rigid firmament, with celestial bodies being in the firmament, and there being a literal body of water above that firmament. Further, the NOAB notes that the verse about the sun, moon, and stars "may recall other ancient cultures, in which astral bodies were deities."

Psalms, Chapter 149

Whereas the previous psalm extolled all of creation to praise the Lord, this one was directed at the people of Israel. The end, though, is rather disturbing.

Let the high praises of God be in their throats
   and two-edged swords in their hands,
to execute vengeance on the nations
   and punishment on the peoples,
to bind their kings with fetters
   and their nobles with chains of iron,
to execute on them the judgement decreed.
   This is glory for all his faithful ones.

Psalms, Chapter 150

This is it - the last psalm in the whole book. The NOAB rightly refers to it as a "final outburst of praise". Every line in this psalm except one begins with the verb, 'Praise', and the lone exception still includes it in the middle of the line, "Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!" And the very final line is a fitting, "Praise the Lord!"


I'm very glad to be done with this book. It started off okay, and there are some very good parts (Psalm 23 was my favorite), but it's just so much of the same chapter after chapter after chapter. It might not have been so bad just reading a few isolated psalms, but reading the book from start to finish got very repetitive. It didn't help that some of the psalms were nearly verbatim copies of previous psalms or other sections of the Bible (e.g. Psalm 18 and Psalm 70).

This book was full of little reminders that Judaism had evolved from prior religions and traditions, such as the multiple references to other gods and sections where Yahweh was himself described as a storm god, as well as contradictions with other books of the Bible on stories like the creation or the Exodus. There were also numerous reminders that the book of Psalms itself was a collection of several previous collections, such as the repeated chapters I mentioned above. This last point isn't really anything against the book itself, but does speak against some modern literalist interpretations.

Thinking about it, I guess the book of Psalms is almost like a hymnal - a good collection of worthwhile songs, but not the type of thing that's intended to be read straight through.

With this book behind me, next week will be on to a new book, Proverbs.

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.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Friday Bible Blogging - Psalms 131 to Psalms 140

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.

BibleThis week's entry covers Psalms are 131 through 140. It finishes up the Songs of Ascents, and begins a short collection of psalms attributed to David. There are a few passages in this week's entry that are pretty familiar.

Psalms, Chapter 131

Psalm 31 is rather short, about taking comfort in the Lord.

Psalms, Chapter 132

This is one of the longest Songs of Ascents, and deals with David, the Ark, and Jerusalem. As the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB) points out, verses 11 through 14 are a paraphrase of 1 Samuel 7:5-17. But where the promise here is conditional on David's descendants keeping the covenant, no such condition was stated in Samuel. You get the feeling comparing sections like these that the earlier passage was written in Jerusalem's hey day, when the peole thought it was going to go on forever, and that the later passage was written as a rationalization after the fall of Jerusalem.

Psalms, Chapter 133

This is another Song of Ascent, and back to their usual brevity. The first line is actually very nice, "How very good and pleasant it is / when kindred live together in unity!"

The next verse gives imagery that's a bit odd, though apparently just describing an ordination ceremony.

It is like the precious oil on the head,
   running down upon the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
   running down over the collar of his robes.

Ordination ceremony or not, that's still an unpleasant image.

The final vrese referenced "the dew of Hermon", which according to the NOAB was very important to the Israelites' agriculture.

Psalms, Chapter 134

Psalm 134 is the last of the Songs of Ascents, ending the collection with a short blessing.

Psalms, Chapter 135

Psalm 135 got back to a little bit longer length for a Psalm, now that the Songs of Ascents are done with. It was mostly praising God, but with some of the examples not seeming so praiseworthy depending on your point of view - killing all the "firstborn of Egypt, / both human beings and animals" (what'd the poor puppies do to God?), striking down "many nations", killing "many kings", etc. There were also some references to creation, including a mention of "storehouses" for the wind, reminding me of Job, and criticizing other gods as being mere idols. According to the NOAB, "These borrowings, late linguistic features, and the attack on images (vv. 15-18) were characteristic of postexilic times when the concept of authoritative scripture was developing." Also according to the NOAB, this psalm forms a pair with the next one.

Psalms, Chapter 136

This psalm covered similar themes to the preceding one, including the Passover and the Exodus. Interestingly, this psalm included the response, "for his steadfast love endures for ever", after every single verse. Having grown up in a Catholic church with lots of examples where the priest or a minister would lead the congregation in a similar manner, I could almost hear this psalm in my head being spoken aloud in a group.

Psalms, Chapter 137

This is a particularly bitter psalm, with the psalmist upset over the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem. The first two thirds of the psalm were about the shame and embarrassment of Jerusalem having fallen (using good imagery of their captors taunting them to sing their previous victory songs). The final third was asking God for vengeance on the Babylonians. The final verse is especially gruesome, and one you'll see brought out often as an example of how bad the Bible can be.

Happy shall they be who take your little ones
   and dash them against the rock!

This was another of the rare times that the NOAB practiced apologetics, reminding readers that it is "the cry of one singer".

Psalms, Chapter 138

This is another of the many psalms attributed to David. In fact, this begins a short collection of such Psalms, running through Psalm 145. This one is part thanksgiving and part praise. The final few verses reminded me a bit of Psalm 23, though not nearly of the same quality as that previous psalm.

Psalms, Chapter 139

The opening of this psalm feels rather constricting - with God's omnipotence and omniscience, there's nowhere you can go to get away. Just consider the word choice in this verse.

You hem me in, behind and before,
   and lay your hand upon me.

And this passage seemed especially desperate to me.

Where can I go from your spirit?
   Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
   if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
   and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
   and your right hand shall hold me fast.

The psalmist however then transitioned to accepting God, and seeing the divine presence as a net positive, for all the protection and positive aspects that go along with it. I have to say, though, that after I'd already become an atheist (not as a reason for it), I had a thought exercise that agreed almost exactly with the sentiment in the beginning of the psalm. It's not very comforting to think that you have no privacy, at all, ever, even in your most intimate moments with loved ones.

There were also a couple passages notable for being used extensively in modern day religious discussions. One of these is, "I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made." I see this quite often in creationist circles (example).

And the larger passage that that verse came from is all about God creating the person, "you knit me together in my mother's womb." This larger passage is used very often by the anti-choice crowd, as a type of evidence that humans have souls from the moment God begins forming them in the womb.

Psalms, Chapter 140

This is a fairly typical petition, asking God to punish the psalmist's enemies.


So, this week's entry was more of the same, but at least a few of the passages were more familiar. And on the big plus side - I only have one week left to go before I'm done with this book.

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.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Website Update - Chile Relleno Recipe

I've added a new recipe to my How To page, Chiles Rellenos. It's a recipe from one of my sisters-in-law. Even though it's an easy recipe, it is time consuming. Plan on a solid 3 hours from start to finish if you plan to try making them. They're really very good, though, and worth the effort.

Chile Relleno

Image Credit: Me

Website Update - Top 10 Page List for September 2014

Top 10 ListAnother month come and gone, and time once again to review the server logs for the site's activity. The list is actually very similar to last month. I'm not sure exactly what's going on with why some of these pages are popular right now. I suspect it might have to do with spammers, but I'll stay optimistic and assume it's mostly real live people reading the entries. A new page made the list for the first time, Where's My Flying Car?. It is related to an entry that just made the list for the first time last month, When Will There Be an Aircraft in Every Garage?, so maybe there is a real link in some discussion forum sending people here.

Overall traffic is up just a bit from last month, but almost the same.

Top 10 for September 2014

  1. Where's My Flying Car?
  2. Debunking a Columbus Myth
  3. Aviation Books
  4. When Will There Be an Aircraft in Every Garage?
  5. More on Origin of Species
  6. A Skeptical Look at MBT Shoes
  7. Review of the Lucy's Legacy Exhibit at the Houston Museum of Natural Science
  8. Obamacare Lives (A Discussion of the Individual Mandate)
  9. A Skeptical Look at Bio-Identical Hormone Replacement Therapy
  10. Email Debunking - Tips on Pumping Gas

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