Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The other day I was watching some “Jaywalking” segments on YouTube. In case you’re unfamiliar, these are where Jay Leno talks to “the man/woman on the street”, asks them a question or two that they probably should know the answer to (if they are reasonably well-informed), and then we laugh at how many people give wrong (sometimes very funny) answers.

In the clip below, Jay is at Universal Studios and stops people to ask them some basic questions about America’s War of Independence — like, “Who did the U.S. get its independence from?”. (It is an Independence Day segment, after all.) The only one to get them right was “Grandpa” at the end of the segment. Yay for Grandpa! The rest?… Clueless! Very sad.

I’m generally the type to give people the benefit of the doubt and, in this case, try to come up with reasons why they might not have been able to give the correct answer(s). Like, they were camera shy or starstruck. (The ones in the clip didn’t seem to be bothered, though.) Or, they were on vacation at an amusement park, so their minds were not on American history or academic concerns. (But, then, Grandpa had no problem. And the college instructor definitely should have known!) But, these were very basic facts about the American Revolution that I remember learning in grade school, for cryin’ out loud!

Now, you may think that these people were rarities, that Jay had to search far & wide for. Or, maybe that it was all a set-up to have something funny to show. Well,… you may be right. But, maybe not. It seems that Marist recently conducted a poll that, if accurate, demonstrates this lack of basic knowledge by Americans about our heritage may not be so far-fetched.

British Red Ensign

"Queen Anne's Flag" (aka British Red Ensign or 'Meteor' Flag) under which General Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown

Of the 1004 U.S. residents (18+ years old) that were polled, 20% were “unsure” what country the colonies fought for their independence, and another 6% named a country other than England/Great Britain. So, overall, only 74% — roughly 3 out of 4 — got it right. When broken down, the worst scores came from the South (68% got it right), those with household income under $50K/yr (63%), non-White (56%), ages 18-29 (60%), and women (67%).

I see no reason to assume the poll was invalid. As I recall, a sampling of 1000 is generally considered “statistically significant”, with a 3% margin of error one way or the other. Plus, Marist says it took measures “to ensure that each region [throughout the nation] was represented in proportion to its population.” Of course, a similar poll of several thousand people would be preferable. But, frankly, even if such a survey pushed the ranks of the “clueless” down to 10%, that’s still way too much.

What do we make of this? I hesitate to blame it all on one group or the other. True, many kids are apathetic to learning, especially about stuff that happened before they were born (let alone 200+ years). Some teachers and administrators are more concerned with making sure kids graduate than whether or not they actually learn important things. One could also point to a public educational system that, at least in recent decades, has put too much emphasis on things like sensitivity and students’ self-esteem. Perhaps the cause is a combination of these factors and some others? I just don’t know.

It’s sad. It’s alarming! (Don’t have any kids of my own, yet, but it’s definitely a concern.) And, it’s a good argument for private- or home-schooling.

What can we do? Any ideas?

Oh! How many of Jay’s questions did YOU get right? (And, yes, I know it’s debatable what Paul Revere actually said, as is the Betsy Ross legend, but they’re still in the school history books. I think.)

If you’ve been reading AVftR for awhile, you may recall a post I did back in February about a controversy over whether it was legal to put Mother Teresa on the face of a U.S. postage stamp. Sounded reasonable, given the decades of humanitarian work and self-sacrifice given by the woman. But, those who objected had the law on their side.

Now, a similar issue has made it into the news, at least in the New York City metro area, but this time there’s no law to justify the apparent discrimination.

Empire_State_Building_1_Oct_2009

As residents and others familiar with NYC know, every sunset to midnight the uppermost floors of the Empire State Building are illuminated by an elaborate system of colored, external lights. The colors & pattern vary, depending on what (if anything) is being honored. It’s a tradition since 1964, and anyone can submit a request to have something or someone celebrated or honored in this way — from a Yankees win to a favored charity to Frank Sinatra’s 80th birthday (in blue, of course). (Last year they even lit up the ESB in red & yellow in honor of the 60th anniversary of the communist take over of China! (see image to left)) Such lightings are, of course, a privilege rather than a right, and decisions are made “at the sole discretion of the ownership and management.”

A few months ago, the lay advocacy group Catholic League submitted an application to have Mother Teresa’s life & legacy honored in blue and white this August 26 — what would be the beatified nun’s 100th birthday. They have even submitted a supporting petition with 40,000 signatures. But, for some reason, the request has been rejected. According to the ESB’s owner, real estate mogul Anthony E. Malkin,

The Empire State Building celebrates many cultures and causes in the world community with iconic lightings, and has a tradition of lightings for the religious holidays of Easter, Eid al Fitr (marking the end of Ramadan), Hanukkah, and Christmas, [but it] has a specific policy against any other lighting for religious figures or requests by religions and religious organizations.”

“Wait a second!,” protests the Catholic League. MLK, Pope John Paul II, and Cardinal John O’Connor have all been posthumously honored by the ESB. So, what gives? Why not Mother Teresa? The NYC Council just this week announced their official disagreement with the “boneheaded” decision (as per City Councilman Vallone), too. But, no response has been forthcoming by Malkin or his spokesman, Daniel Hernandez Lyon.

I am not Roman Catholic nor a devotee of Mother Teresa’s work, so this isn’t a sectarian matter for me. But, I do appreciate what the woman did. So, I am trying to figure out the inconsistency here. True, these other religious figures were not your average priest or pastor down the street, their influence was certainly much more than local and not limited to religious circles or purely religious concerns. But, all of these attributes apply to Mother Teresa, as well. The issue can’t be exclusivity to Americans, either, because the Pope was Polish by birth. (Mother Teresa was Albanian.) And there have arguably been much less-deserving people & causes that have been celebrated by the ESB lights.

Mother TeresaI know, some of you are thinking that Mother Teresa would not want the attention or adulation, and that the Bible teaches that God’s servants are to give the credit to Jesus, etc. And, you’re correct on both accounts. But, that isn’t really the point. The point, rather, is about what appears to be a frivolous decision that smacks of religious and/or some other type of undue discrimination.

There are no federal regulations to point to, in this case. Just a private owner with “a specific policy against,” which can apparently be disregarded at the whim and “sole discretion of the ownership and management.” They do have the right, true. (The American Atheists and the New York Atheists groups have, of course, voiced their support of the decision. On the other hand, some atheist individuals think it’s stupid.) And, maybe there’s a valid and reasonable explanation. But, if so, why hasn’t it been given? Not surprisingly, protests are already being organized. Whatever personal or business(?) reasons Mr. Malkin may have for upholding the rejection of this application, I think he needs to, at the very least, look at this from a PR perspective, issue an apology, and order a top-notch lighting celebration on August 26th.

Amen?

As a follow-up of sorts to my last post, I have a guest post from my friend, Jamie Davis, of “Durable Faith” blog.

=======

Was Jesus a Sword Toting Conspiracy Theorist?

Replica of ancient Roman sword (gladius)

Replica of ancient Roman sword (gladius)

Jesus was actually pretty clear on self-defense, telling his disciples: “If you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one…” Many Christians wonder, why would he say that? Doesn’t he know that a child could get ahold of that sword and hurt him or herself? Shouldn’t Christians and well-informed citizens want to control dangerous weapons so that our society stays civil?

Short answer, no! Christians should advocate the moral responsibility of civil citizens to arm themselves and to teach proper gun (or sword) handling to their children. Consider that the states with the least restrictive gun laws in the US, North Dakota, Vermont, also have the lowest crime rates. Consider the drop in violent crime in Florida when gun laws were loosened.

Florida adopted a right-to-carry law in 1987. Between 1987 and 1996, these changes occurred:

Florida United States
homicide rate -36% -0.4%
firearm homicide rate -37% +15%
handgun homicide rate -41% +24%

http://www.justfacts.com/guncontrol.asp

Consider that Switzerland mandates arms training for its adult male citizens and has them keep their assault weapons at home. Not only do they have a low crime rate, they have managed to avoid significant impact during the past two world wars, even though the wars were fought on their very doorstep.

How, then, can anyone with intellectual honesty even suggest that gun control makes anyone but criminals or governments with criminal intent safer?

Take a moment to consider the Historical Human Cost of “Gun Control”:

Historical Human Cost of Gun Control

The Genocide Chart (abbreviated)

(For full version of “The Genocide Chart”, go here.)

In closing, I’ll just mention Jesus clearly taught that people are evil. In fact, Jesus was a conspiracy theorist, as is clear in this passage from Mt 22:18 → ”But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?”

I think we should reject the feel good label “Gun control”, so that the debate is more clear and more honest; instead, let’s just call it victim disarmament, because that is what it is.

Cat in the Hat

Dr. Seuss's Cat in the Hat

But would you, could you, like them with a tax?

Would you, could you, with Goldman Sachs?

Would you like it with Al Gore?

Or with Pelosi? (She’s such a bore!)

Or would you, could you, in a mob?

Since most people have no job.

Oh that’s right, the money’s tight.

So to the press and print some more!

Then just wait to see what’s next in store!

While you wait and look for hope,

And while you say “nope, nope, nope”,

I’ll take your money and spend, spend, spend.

I’ll give it to you in the end!

I’ll take your home, then your bank;

I’ll take your cars (you’ll have me to thank).

I’ll take over your health care and make you pay.

I do not care what you say.

‘Cuz in the end, I am the Boss,

And my dumb win is your dumb loss.

– Ron Sorensen (Thanks, Ron!)

P.S.  For more Dr. Seuss humor, go here.

I wasn’t really going to get into this, but… what the heck!

I have to admit, every time one of these discoveries hits the news, I (figuratively) roll my eyes and shake my head. “Here we go again,” I tell myself.

It’s not that I don’t believe in the veracity and accuracy of the Biblical story of the Flood. I do. (Although, I think the best date for it is well before the 4000-5000 years ago that most ark-hunters and their followers place it.) But, I really doubt it would be on Mt. Ararat itself, even if it is the same peak as the one called that in Scripture. Genesis 8:4 says that “the ark rested upon the mountains of Ararat.” No specific peak was identified, so it could have been anywhere in the area. In fact, the complex of mountain ranges where Ararat is located covers more than 100,000 square miles, from northeast of Mount Ararat itself to the foothills skirting the Mesopotamian plain. (Read this article for more.) So, why do these “arkeology” groups put so much focus on that one mountain?

Mount Ararat from east of Dogubeyazit, Turkey

Mount Ararat from east of Dogubeyazit, Turkey

Another problem I have with the idea of finding Noah’s Ark — intact, that is — is that I doubt Noah and his family would have left all that great, pre-treated lumber up there. I think it’s reasonable to postulate, at least, that they would have made many trips up & back to bring wood down to their new home site. (It might not have been that difficult if the ark actually rested in the foothills.) They could have used it to build cabins/shelters, wagons, bridges, animal pens, etc. Maybe just burned some as firewood. After all, the local tree population would have been pretty devastated for some time, even if they managed to get some seeds or saplings to (re)plant from a nearby region. (This last speculation assumes that the Flood was local/regional, as I do, though I believe it was “universal” in terms of wiping out all of humanity (save eight).)

So, when this latest “discovery” was announced — and in the MSM, yet — I couldn’t help but groan (inwardly, of course). The hopeful and the uncritical just ate it up. A filmmaker accompanying the evangelists/explorers from Noah’s Ark Ministries International (NAMI) said, “we think it is 99.9 percent that this is it.” So, many of “the faithful” assumed it must be so. The rest of us were a bit more careful and held a wait-and-see pattern.

Nothing in the Fox News report seemed particularly suspicious, although it’s a little unclear exactly what was found. (A wooden structure on an icy mountainside with some rooms/compartments with wooden beams, apparently.) But, frankly, nothing I saw in the pictures and video or read in the news articles were proof of anything on their own, either. (For example, how do we know where the images/videos were really taken?) And, upon further consideration, there were a couple things that seemed a little suspect. (For example, loose, dry straw that hadn’t disintegrated after 4800 years?) I also found it amusing that they supposedly used carbon-14 dating to determine the wood was 4800 years old — i.e., right in the allowable range for the Flood as calculated by many young-Earth creationists and those who hold to “flood geology”. Yet, that is the group that typically pooh-poohs the accuracy and validity of radiometric dating, especially carbon-14 dating!

Wooden beam in "ark" remains (NAMI)

Wooden beam in "ark" remains (NAMI)

I prefer some more scientifically tested evidence and confirmation by disinterested, or even hostile, third parties. Plus, I know nothing of NAMI or any of the people involved, so I have no idea whether they are an honest ministry with good reputation or a fly-by-night sham organization pulling off a stunt for fame & fortune. Some skeptics’ objections I did not feel were necessary (especially if one does not feel an historical ark & flood are inextricably linked to “flood geology”), but others were quite legitimate. A few more questions I and others wanted to have answered were:

1) How carefully was the excavation performed and documented?

2) Where were the samples tested for radiocarbon dating (i.e., what lab)?

3) Have all the data been released for peer-review by other scientists?

4) Are there enough remains — and of the Biblically-stated dimensions, composition, etc. — that rule out any other hypothesis? Could the remains be from some mountainside shelter built by ancient travelers?

5) Are there any apparent anachronisms present? And what to make of other things that appear out of place (e.g., straw and cobwebs)?

6) Any evidence for a catastrophic Flood in that time period?

NEWSFLASH! Now, the latest news seems to indicate that this “discovery” is indeed a fraud. Randall Price, a REAL archaeologist and professor at Liberty University, recounts — in a leaked letter, citing first-hand knowledge and other sources — the origins of the expedition and the supposedly ancient wood remains.

In the late summer of 2008 ten Kurdish workers hired by Parasut, the guide used by the Chinese, are said to have planted large wood beams taken from an old structure in the Black Sea area (where the photos were originally taken) at the Mt. Ararat site…. During the summer of 2009 more wood was planted inside a cave at the site. The Chinese team went in the late summer of 2009 (I was there at the time and knew about the hoax) and was shown the cave with the wood and made their film.”

Price says he knows one of the Kurdish locals who “has all of the facts about the location, the men who planted the wood, and even the truck that transported it.”

To my knowledge, the Chinese took no professional archaeologist or geologist who could verify or document the wood or the structure in situ (in its place of discovery). They were duped in 2006-2007 by Parasut when they were shown a similar cave with something they thought was wood. [It turned out to be volcanic rock, called ‘tuff’.]”

Those who organized the expedition have ignored requests by Price to return the $100,000 he and his partners invested for the expedition but was not used.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m afraid we have another “Bogus Ark” — an elaborate hoax based on deception and naivete. Was the Chinese group from NAMI in on it, or was it just the Kurdish guide and his partners scheming to bilk the Chinese evangelical explorers? Not sure, yet.

Anybody learn any lessons from this? I certainly hope so. This wasn’t the first attempt to scam believers, Christian or otherwise, and it won’t be the last. We need to be less gullible and better critical thinkers. Agreed?

(Tip of the hat to Krista Bontrager, Todd Bolen, Michael S. Heiser, and Santi Tafarella for helping me think about the issue/questions and — in the cases of Michael & Todd — for reproducing Dr. Price’s letter.)

Noah's Ark (real design, not storybook)

Painting of Noah's Ark (based on design in Bible, not storybook pics)

Here are some more fascinating articles on Noah, the Ark, and the Flood, and NOT from the usual perspectives you hear about in the news or at church:

The Unsinkable Search for Noah’s Ark

Noah’s Flood: A Bird’s-Eye View

Noah’s Floating Zoo

Rapid Post-Flood Speciation: A Critique of the Young-Earth Model

Pitching Noah’s Ark–and its implications

Sculpture of The Thinker

Sculpture of The Thinker

Heavy Thinking
===========

Are You a Problem Thinker?

It started out innocently enough. I began to think at parties now and then to loosen up. Inevitably though, one thought led to another and soon I was more than just a social thinker.

I began to think alone – “to relax,” I told myself – but I knew it wasn’t true. Thinking became more and more important to me and finally, I was thinking all the time.

I began to think on the job. I knew that thinking and employment don’t mix, but I couldn’t stop myself.

I began to avoid friends at lunchtime so I could read Thomas Sowell and Charles Krauthammer. I would return to the office dizzied and confused asking, “What is it exactly we are doing here?”

Things weren’t going so great at home either. One evening I had turned off the TV and asked my wife about the meaning of life. She spent that night at her mother’s.

I soon had a reputation as a heavy thinker. One day the boss called me in. He said, “Skippy, I like you, and it hurts me to say this, but your thinking has become a real problem. If you don’t stop thinking on the job, you’ll have to find another job.” This gave me a lot to think about.

I came home early after my conversation with the boss. “Honey,” I confessed, “I’ve been thinking…”

“I know you’ve been thinking,” she burst, “and I want a divorce!”

“But Honey, surely it’s not that serious.”

“It is serious,” she said, lower lip aquiver. “You think as much as college professors and college professors don’t make any money, so if you keep on thinking we won’t have any money!”

“That’s a faulty syllogism,” I said impatiently, and she began to cry. I’d had enough. “I’m going to the library,” I snarled as I stomped out the door.

I headed for the library, in the mood for some William F. Buckley, Jr., with Dennis Prager on the radio. I roared into the parking lot and ran up to the big glass door… they didn’t open. The library was closed.

To this day, I believe that a Higher Power was looking out for me that night.

As I sank to the ground clawing at the unfeeling glass, yearning for a few lines from Edmund Burke, a poster caught my eye. “Friend, is heavy thinking ruining your life?” it asked. You probably recognize that line. It comes from the standard Thinker’s Anonymous poster.

Which is why I am what I am today: a recovering thinker. I never miss a TA meeting. At each meeting we watch a non-educational video; last week it was “Idiocracy”. Then we share experiences about how we avoided thinking since the last meeting.

I still have my job and things are a lot better at home. Life just seemed… easier, somehow, as soon as I stopped thinking.

* My true confession is that I can’t take credit for this, but I don’t remember where I got the original version.

Have you ever been a member of a group (e.g., Boy Scouts, Democratic Party, teachers’ union), or do you self-identify with some group (e.g., skeptics/ agnostics, Christians, political conservatives)? I suspect the answer is, “Yes, several.”

diverse group of people

Multi-ethnic, possibly mult- other stuff, group of people

Now, have you ever seen or heard someone from your group — or, at least, whom outsiders associate as part of your group — saying/doing something stupid, repugnant, or otherwise embarrassing? Yeah, me too.

Sometimes the offending party is someone who holds to the same ideas & principles as you and the rest of your group and who is normally a “fine, upstanding member.” But, something just sets them off on this particular occasion and you wish they would just shut up and go home. Or, maybe, it turns out the individual has a particular vice or, er, shortcoming that suddenly gets some attention. Once in awhile, though, there is some far-xxxxx radical or idiot or nutjob who is singled out by the media and gives your whole group a bad name. I hate when that happens. (OK, ok, I “strongly dislike” when that happens. Don’t want to be labeled a “hater”.)

For me, as far as the first type goes, it might be someone like Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter. I don’t follow either of them closely, but I’ve read at least one book by each, and when I hear/read them or about something they’ve said, I generally agree. Their styles occasionally grate on me, but we’re basically on the same page on most things. But, once in awhile, they will say or do something that will make me cringe that was, shall we say, tactically unwise, at best. (At least in the way it was phrased.) For example, Limbaugh’s addiction to prescription drugs or Coulter’s remarks about the 9/11 widows “enjoying” their husbands’ deaths. Groan!

As for the second, more radical type, I think of people like the “Christian” militia group who are currently in the news, or the Westboro Baptist Church whose members are always showing up & getting on camera with their signs & placards that says stuff like “God Hates Fags!” (I’m not Baptist, but I’ve known quite a few, and none of them were hatemongers like this crowd.) Now, I may actually agree on a couple very basic points with both of these two groups — uh oh, I’m in trouble now — but their rather extremist views (especially on certain topics) and activities are not something I can agree with or, in good conscience, condone. I’m sure other examples come to your mind, as well.

But, of course, the media love to jump on it, the bloggers eat it up, and those who hold opposing positions to yours will paint your whole group with the same broad brush. It’s frustrating and sometimes makes you want to scream, “I’m not one of them! I don’t hold that view, so don’t lump me in with those morons!”

I was trying to think of what an equivalent example might be for someone who is “on the other side of the aisle” from me politically, theologically, philosophically, etc. It’s not easy, especially when there are so many far-Lefties in both federal government and the news & entertainment industries embracing, literally and figuratively, Communist dictators like Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro. Is the “average” Democrat or liberal as disturbed by this as I am?

One possible example is those more “reserved” homosexuals who are exasperated by some of the antics of the “flamers” and more in-your-face activists. Another possibility is when one of the “New Atheists” (e.g., Christopher Hitchens or Sam Harris) makes some incredibly scathing comment about the evils of religion or mocks & impugns some revered religious person. (On politics, I actually agree with Hitchens on a lot, while we are diametrically opposed on many (most?) theological/philosophical issues.) I know some atheists and agnostics that just shake their heads or roll their eyes at such provocative and, yes, judgmental comments. Any other examples you all can think of?

I guess what I’m getting at, here, is that we all need to be careful. Next time you are tempted to latch onto some wingnut’s comments or actions and accuse his/her broader ideological “community”, if you will, of being totally likeminded, take a step back. (Unless, of course, there is plenty of other evidence indicating that’s the case.) Remember how you have felt in a similar case and refrain, or at least temper or qualify your own remarks and conclusions. Or, to put it another way, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I’ll try to do the same.