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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.


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.

Here's is Faulkner's full article, as he put it in the comment section on this blog.


The information below came from either books or downloaded from the Internet

The article below is also attached as a PDF. Please pass this information around to friends. Take Care, Harold

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? Let us look back in the world's history: for example, between roughly 900AD and 1350AD the temperatures were much higher than now. And, back then there were fewer people, no cars, no electric utilities, and no factories, etc. So what caused the earth's heat? Could it be a natural occurrence? The temperature graph, shown below, shows the temperatures of the earth before Christ to 2040.

If the Earth's temperature graph is not shown above, you can see this temperature graph at the link:

In the book THE DISCOVERERS published in February 1985 by Daniel J. Boorstin, beginning in chapter 28, it goes into detail about Eric the Red, the father of Lief Ericsson, and how he discovered an island covered in green grass.

In approximately 983AD, Eric the Red committed murder, and was banished from Iceland for three years. Eric the Red sailed 500 miles west from Iceland and discovered an island covered in GREEN grass, which he named Greenland. Greenland reminded Eric the Red of his native Norway because of the grass, game animals, and a sea full of fish. Even the air provided a harvest of birds. Eric the Red and his crew started laying out sites for farms and homesteads, as there was no sign of earlier human habitation.

When his banishment expired, Eric the Red returned to congested Iceland to gather Viking settlers. In 986, Eric the Red set sail with an emigrant fleet of twenty-five ships carrying men, women, and domestic animals. Unfortunately, only fourteen ships survived the stormy passage, which carried about four-hundred-fifty immigrants plus the farm animals. The immigrants settled on the southern-west tip and up the western coast of Greenland.

After the year 1200AD, the Earth's and Greenland's climate grew colder; ice started building up on the southern tip of Greenland. Before the end of 1300AD, the Viking settlements were just a memory.

You can find the above by searching Google. One link is:


The following quote you can also read about why there is global warming. This is from the book EINSTEIN'S UNIVERSE, Page 63, written by Nigel Calder in 1972, and updated in 1982.

"The reckoning of planetary motions is a venerable science. Nowadays it tells us, for example, how gravity causes the ice to advance or retreat on the Earth during the ice ages. 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. Every so often a fortunate attitude and orbit of the Earth combine to drench the ice sheets in sunshine as at the end of the most recent ice age, about ten thousand years ago. But now our relatively benign interglacial is coming to an end, as gravity continues to toy with our planet."

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."

Read below about carbon dioxide, which we need in order to exist. You can find the article below at:


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.

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.

CO2 is odorless, colorless, and tasteless. Plants absorb CO2 and emit oxygen as a waste product. Humans and animals breathe oxygen and emit CO2 as a waste product. Carbon dioxide is a nutrient, not a pollutant, and all life-- plants and animals alike-- benefit from more of it. All life on earth is carbon-based and CO2 is an essential ingredient. When plant-growers want to stimulate plant growth, they introduce more carbon dioxide.

CO2 that goes into the atmosphere does not stay there, but continuously recycled by terrestrial plant life and earth's oceans-- the great retirement home for most terrestrial carbon dioxide.

If we are in a global warming crisis today, even the most aggressive and costly proposals for limiting industrial carbon dioxide emissions and all other government proposals and taxes would have a negligible effect on global climate!

The government is lying, trying to use global warming to limit carbon emissions, and tax its citizens through "cap and trade" and other tax schemes for the government's benefit. We, the people, cannot allow this to happen.

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."


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!

Chick-Fil-A Tastes a Little Less Like Bigotry

Chick-Fil-AIf you've followed this site, you might remember my entry from a few years ago, Chick-Fil-A, Bigotry, and Rights, where I partly described Chick-Fil-A's policy of donating to hate groups and other anti-gay groups (nearly $2 million in 2010). And I also went on to say how I was boycotting the restaurant in response, because I didn't want any of my money going to support such odious causes.

Well, I'm about a year late in describing this, but it looks like Chick-Fil-A has changed their ways. According to an article in Think Progress, Chick-fil-A's Foundations Dramatically Reduce Anti-LGBT Giving (Updated), the company has reduced its donations to anti-LGBT groups by 99.2%.

Now, I'm still not a fan of Dan Cathy, and don't think I would like him if I met him personally, but like I wrote in the original entry, "if we limited our patronage only to those businesses run by people that we agreed with on every issue, there wouldn't be many businesses we could go to," and my boycott of Chick-Fil-A was largely because of their financial contributions to hate groups. Now that those financial contributions have basically ended, I don't feel as bad eating their chicken sandwiches (even if I still think they're lazy for shutting down entirely for a full day every week).

Website Update - Top 10 Page List for March 2015

Top 10 ListWith another month come and gone, it's time once again to take a look at the server logs to see what pages were most popular on this site. There was one newcomer to the list, 22 Responses to 22 Creationist Misconceptions. I'm actually rather happy about that, because I rather like that entry. There was another entry making its first appearance on the list in over a year, Response to an Editorial by Ken Huber. It's also nice to see the Autogyro History & Theory page maintaining a spot on the list since it had been absent for a while.

Overall traffic is up a bit from the previous month, back to being in line with what it's been for a while now.

Anyway, here's the list for last month.

Top 10 for March 2015

  1. Origin of Arabic Numerals - Was It Really for Counting Angles?
  2. A Skeptical Look at MBT Shoes
  3. Response to Rabbi Steven Pruzansky - Why Romney Didn't Get Enough Votes to Win
  4. Golden Compass - A Surprise at the Bookstore
  5. Email Debunking - 1895 8th Grade Final Exam
  6. Aviation Books
  7. Response to an Editorial by Ken Huber
  8. 22 Responses to 22 Creationist Misconceptions
  9. Autogyro History & Theory
  10. Review of Ray Comfort's New Movie - Evolution vs. God, Part I

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A Little Political Humor

PoliticsI recently came across a political joke that doesn't really ring particularly true (probably because it was originally about engineers and management, where it made more sense).

A woman in a hot air balloon realized she was lost. She lowered altitude and spotted a man in a boat below. She shouted to him, "Excuse me, can you help me? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago, but I don't know where I am."

The man consulted his portable GPS and replied, "You're in a hot air balloon approximately 30 feet above a ground elevation of 2,346 feet above sea level. You are 31 degrees, 14.97 minutes north latitude and 100 degrees, 49.09 minutes west longitude."

She rolled her eyes and said, "You must be a Republican."

"I am," replied the man. "How did you know?"

"Well," answered the balloonist, "everything you told me is technically correct, but I have no idea what to make of your information, and I'm still lost. Frankly, you've not been much help to me."

The man smiled and responded, "You must be a Democrat."

"I am," replied the balloonist. "But how did you know?"

"Well," said the man, "You don't know where you are or where you're going. You've risen to where you are due to a large quantity of hot air. You've made a promise that you have no idea how to keep, and now you expect ME to solve your problem. You're in EXACTLY the same position you were in before we met, but somehow, now, it's MY fault.

Now, I don't particularly mind political jokes making fun of both sides of the aisle (for example, see the Halloween comics I posted a few years ago). The problem with this one is that with modern Republicans (or at least, the loudest voices), most of their positions aren't even 'technically correct'. Here are a few answers for the man that I think fit better with the modern Republican party:

"All your attempts to regulate the path of your balloon are over-burdening it. Just go back up and let the invisible hand of the atmosphere guide you."
"Go try to find my rich friend's aircraft. I've already helped him buy fancy navigation equipment which should trickle down to benefit you."
"Lost?! You're not lost. 'Lost' is a conspiracy by scientists to try to get more funding for their so-called navigation research. What you think is lost is just the natural variation of your balloon's path. Your balloon hasn't even moved for the past 15 hours. And even if you are lost, travel is good for you so extra travel will be even better."
And if the man in the boat happens to be startled by the balloon, he may just shoot it and claim it was his constitutional right and that he was just standing his ground.

For the record, I originally posted most of this in a comment to a friend's Facebook post, but figured I'd repost it here.

Image Source: Unknown - Comment if you know the original source.

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