Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday Bible Blogging - Proverbs 11 to 20

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 continues on with Proverbs, covering chapters 11 through 20. The introductory materials from the first several chapters are now well behind me, and I'm now smack in the middle of actual proverbs.

There's not really much structure to the proverbs. Sometimes you may get three or four verses in a row dealing with the same issue, but it's mostly just unconnected sayings. The chapter divisions seem to be based simply on length, with no overall themes uniting the proverbs in each chapter. In fact, the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB) treats the footnotes for these chapters of proverbs differently from any other footnotes I've read so far. In every previous book I've read, the footnotes are divided up by chapter, with a short overview of the chapter before getting into specific verses. Here in Proverbs, however, the NOAB dropped the chapter divisions, and just has all the footnotes run together.

Most of these sayings are good - be honest, be hardworking, don't gossip, etc. But with as much general advice as is given, I'm not going to try to summarize all of it. I'm just going to focus on a few of the verses that caught my eye. And instead of calling it out every time I see it, since it occurs quite often, I'll note up here that there's too much language about God being the only source of knowledge, and indicating that those that don't believe in God are fools. Of course, this is to be expected in a book of the Bible, but it's still irritating, nonetheless. Any book that would classify Einstein, Gandhi, and the Dalai Lama as fools is probably a little extreme in its definition of a fool.


Proverbs, Chapter 11

I thought this following verse was pretty funny. I just really like the imagery.

Like a gold ring in a pig's snout
   is a beautiful woman without good sense.

This next one jumped out because of the movie about the Scopes Monkey Trial. It's always a bit interesting to come across these types of passages that are a part of pop culture.

Those who trouble their households will inherit wind,
   and the fool will be servant to the wise.


Proverbs, Chapter 12

I already mentioned this last week, but there's definitely an overriding sense of sexism in this book. Just consider this passage.

A good wife is the crown of her husband,
   but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones.

It's all about how the utility of the woman to the man.


Proverbs, Chapter 13

I always enjoy sayings like this one. I've heard quite a few modern variations, but this is obviously one of the older versions.

Those who guard their mouths preserve their lives;
   those who open wide their lips come to ruin.

My favorite variation on this theme is a Spanish saying, "En boca cerrada, no entran moscas", sometimes appended with "ni salen estupideces". The main part loosely translates to "A shut mouth gathers no flies", with the addition meaning "nor says stupid things".

I also rather liked this saying.

Wealth hastily gained will dwindle,
   but those who gather little by little will increase it.

That certainly seems to be the case even today. Look how many lottery winners or professional athletes end up squandering their fortunes.


Proverbs, Chapter 14

The verse that caught my eye in this chapter was this one.

The simple believe everything,
   but the clever consider their steps.

Granted, there are other parts of the Bible (particularly the New Testament) that have teachings somewhat counter to this, but it's certainly nice to see a proverb that cautions against gullibility and promoting skepticism.


Proverbs, Chapter 15

This verse mentions a part of the afterlife that isn't discussed much in the Bible, with the focus usually being on Sheol.

Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the Lord,
   how much more human hearts!

The NOAB had this to say about that verse, "Sheol, the underworld; Abaddon (lit. "Destruction") is an alternative abode for the place and state of the dead..."


Proverbs, Chapter 16

Consider this verse.

Inspired decisions are on the lips of a king;
   his mouth does not sin in judgement.

But just two verses later was this proverb.

It is an abomination to kings to do evil,
   for the throne is established by righteousness.

Taken in isolation, that first proverb would be very troubling, almost like a blanket endorsement of monarchs (understandably if monarchs funded the compilation of this book). That second proverb at least helps to temper it somewhat, instructing kings to behave righteously.


Proverbs, Chapter 17

I liked the imagery in this verse. It's a rather graphic warning.

One who loves transgression loves strife;
   one who builds a high threshold invites broken bones.

This next proverb is similar to the one I already quoted from chapter 13, but I still like it.

Even fools who keep silent are considered wise;

   when they close their lips, they are deemed intelligent.

Proverbs, Chapter 18

Here's another skeptic-themed proverb. It's nice to see passages like this.

The one who first states a case seems right,
   until the other comes and cross-examines.


Proverbs, Chapter 19

This proverb is actually kind of sad. And I think it's meant that way, since there are many proverbs instructing the reader to be kind to the poor.

Wealth brings many friends,
   but the poor are left friendless.

While I've mentioned the problems in the society that wrote Proverbs relating to sexism, this verse reveals another one.

It is not fitting for a fool to live in luxury,
   much less for a slave to rule over princes.

Obviously, the writers didn't have the modern American idea of every man being created equal. It's rather jarring to see it so starkly stated that slaves don't deserve the same as others, or the implication that princes have a right to rule, and weren't just lucky to be born into it.

But lest you forget about the sexism, just a few verses later came this.

A stupid child is ruin to a father,
   and a wife's quarrelling is a continual dripping of rain.
House and wealth are inherited from parents,
   but a prudent wife is from the Lord.

It really is strange (and disturbing from a modern viewpoint) to see everything put into terms of how it affects the man of the family, as if that's the only important part. It's especially disturbing to see a wife included as part of the man's property.

Anyway, enough of the bad verses for a bit. Here's another good one.

What is desirable in a person is loyalty,
   and it is better to be poor than a liar.

I especially like the second line, since I put such a high value on honesty.


Proverbs, Chapter 20

It was the last verse of this chapter that caught my attention, but not in a good way.

Blows that wound cleanse away evil;
   beatings make clean the innermost parts.

This is pretty vicious, and doesn't even make sense. Why would beating a person so hard that it wounded them 'cleanse away evil'? It might instill a bit of fear in them, or maybe instill bitterness to where they'd want vengeance, but I certainly don't see how the act of beating someone would make them a better person.

---

I know I called out a lot of the bad proverbs, but most of them range from neutral to good (neutral would be all the stuff about God, since from an atheist perspective, they're focusing on a make-believe being). And I did try to include proverbs that caught my eye for positive reasons. This is a decent book of the Bible to read.


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.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Critical Examination of Ben Carson, Part 1 - Evolution

Ben CarsonPrompted by a recent political discussion with someone I know who's a big fan of Ben Carson, I've decided to take a closer look at this potential politician. I've written about him a few times before on this blog, for his opposition to marriage equality, his anti-science position in denying evolution (both covered here - Local University Invites Creationist to Give Commencement Address), and his mangled interpretation of the Establishment Clause and the separation of church and state in response to a minor controversy over Bibles in Navy hotel rooms (A Response to Ben Carson's Comments on Navy Bible Kerfuffle). With those three strikes against him, I wasn't all that interested in digging into his positions on other issues, but that discussion prompted me to do so. I figured that maybe by basing my impression of him on only three issues, I'd been being overly critical.

I went to his official website, RealBenCarson.com, where he puts links to articles he's written and had published elsewhere. To get a decent sampling of his opinions, I read each of the articles featured on the home page (at least the articles when I first went there - it's taken me a little while to put together this response, so he's put up more articles since then). While there were some points he made that I agreed with, I found myself in disagreement with him over many issues. I'd started to write up responses to the articles that I was going to send as an e-mail to my friend, but my responses were getting too long for an e-mail. So instead, I sent a shorter reply and decided to turn my responses into blog entries. In the coming weeks, I plan to post those entries as I complete them.

For today, I'll focus on just one issue, one of the first issues I'd ever heard about him and one that I've already discussed before - his rejection of evolution. This is a huge red flag to me. First, there're the obvious reasons - evolution is one of the most well supported concepts in science, and it's been known of for over 150 years, so for a reasonably intelligent person to reject evolution must mean they're either ignorant of science, and/or willing to put ideology ahead of evidence. Ignorance can be cured with education, but putting ideology ahead of evidence is a huge problem for a political figure.

A perhaps less obvious problem, but which seems to be the case given Carson's answers, is arrogance. This comes in two ways - first, thinking that he knows more than the countless scientists and researchers who have devoted their careers to this topic (see the related entry, The Economy & Expertise ). The second is that he spoke so confidently about a subject about which he obviously knows so very little. In fact, this is my main issue with his rejection of evolution - not that he's merely ignorant of the science, but rather that he's so sure of himself when he's so obviously wrong. Elected officials don't need to know everything, but they do need to recognize the limits of their knowledge, and know when to defer to the experts in various fields.

(The full portion of the interview regarding Carson's views on evolution is available here, Adventist Review - Evolution? No. And if you're interested, here's a degreed biologist's response to Carson's comments on evolution, showing just how misinformed those comments were - Afarensis - Stupid Creationist Quote of the Week: Ben Carson on Evolution.)

Anyway, from his articles and what I'd heard of Carson before, although I agree with him on some things, I find myself in disagreement with him over many, many other issues, and have seen a few red flags to make me question his credibility. I have no doubt he's a very talented surgeon, but his political views leave something to be desired.

In the coming weeks, I will post responses to his articles, and maybe a few other things if I get particularly ambitious.

Image Source: Christian Post, Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Monday, November 17, 2014

Website Update - Top 10 Page List for October 2014

Top 10 ListIt's over halfway through November, so I'm a little late in getting to this this month, but here's the list of the ten most popular pages on this site last month. Mostly, they're very similar to last month, including some pages that have only very recently surged in popularity. There were two pages making first time appearances in the list - Book Review - Tribulation Force and Creationist Dishonesty and a Follow Up to Previous Entries. That second page was the last in a series where I'd posted about my interactions with a creationist in the comments section of his blog. In that last entry, I wrote about how I discovered he'd plagiarized nearly the entirety of the blog entry that got me visiting his site in the first place. I do wish, however, that a related entry, Response to Kent Hovind Video - Bird Evolution would make the list one of these days. Hovind's video was the source material for the plagiarized page, and that entry of mine actually dealt in detail with many of the claims. And as long as I'm talking about bird evolution, I'll mention that the page that came in 11th place and just missed out on the top 10 list was Book Review - Archaeopteryx: The Icon of Evolution, a book that I quite liked.

Overall traffic is similar to previous months, up just a bit by most measures including unique visitors, numbers of visits, and bandwidth. However, page views and hits were both the highest they've ever been. I'm going to keep on pretending that these are all real visitors and not spammers (though if assuming that most spammers are trying to leave comments, and judging by the amount of hits the blog commenting script received, spam is only about 1/4 of the traffic).

Anyway, here's the list of the ten most popular pages on this site in October.

Top 10 for October 2014

  1. Where's My Flying Car?
  2. Aviation Books
  3. A Skeptical Look at MBT Shoes
  4. When Will There Be an Aircraft in Every Garage?
  5. Debunking a Columbus Myth
  6. More on Origin of Species
  7. Origin of Arabic Numerals - Was It Really for Counting Angles?
  8. Book Review - Tribulation Force
  9. Creationist Dishonesty and a Follow Up to Previous Entries
  10. Blog - Golden Compass - A Surprise at the Bookstore

Friday, November 14, 2014

Friday Bible Blogging - Proverbs 1 to 10

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.

BibleOkay, so I fell behind again in this series. Part of it was that I got a little busy at work and cut my lunchbreaks short. But for the main reason, I have to admit that the title of this blog isn't entirely accurate. While I try to do most of the writing during my lunch breaks, for this series, I'd been doing a lot of catching up on my laptop at home on weekends. Unfortunately, my laptop crashed a few weeks ago and I haven't fixed it yet, so I haven't been able to catch up like normal. Oh well, I'll do my best to keep up to date in the future, or this project will end up dragging on for way to long.

Today's entry marks the start of a new book - Proverbs. While the book is traditionally credited to Solomon, this almost certainly isn't the case (not least of which for the reason that Solomon might not have even existed). As the New Oxford Annotated Bible puts it, "The book of Proverbs is a composite, consisting of several different collections dating from different periods and most likely with different authors." This week's entry covers the first ten chapters, which are mostly introduction without many actual of the book's namesake proverbs.

Proverbs, Chapter 1

The first seven verses are an overall introduction, talking about all the wisdom and knowledge the reader will get from this collection. The seventh verse caught my.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
   fools despise wisdom and instruction.

It's a theme I've read in previous books, but it still rubs me the wrong way. The juxtaposition certainly implies that people who don't believe in god are the 'fools' who 'despise wisdom and instruction'.

The next several verses were a petition for the reader to pay attention to these lessons. Actually, it was mostly a warning against following sinners and their sinful ways. There was very little nuance, implying that all sinners 'run to evil' and 'hurry to shed blood'.

Verse 12 was interesting in the fact that it appears to be borrowing from another mythology. Here's the verse from the Bible.

like Sheol let us swallow them alive
   and whole, like those who go down to the Pit.

The footnotes of New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB) described the passage this way, "Sheol...the Pit, the abode of the dead (see also...). Cf. the depiction in Ugaritic mythology of Mot, the god of death, with a vast throat stretching from earth to heaven into which he swallows his victims whole and alive."

The rest of the chapter personified Wisdom as a woman. The NOAB also pointed out how much of the language used to describe Wisdom is similar to that used to describe prophets (e.g. "Wisdom cries out in the street; / in the squares she raises her voice. / At the busiest corner she cries out; / at the entrance of the city gates she speaks").


Proverbs, Chapter 2

This chapter consists of 22 verses. The NOAB notes that that's the same as the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet, but doesn't say whether or not it's acrostic (each verse starting with the next letter of the alphabet).

This chapter carried on with the introduction, extolling the virtues of wisdom and warning against going against these lessons. One verse caught my eye in much the same way as the verse I quoted from chapter 1.

For the Lord gives wisdom;
   from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;

This again seems to be saying that knowledge is only possible through God, implying that those who reject God don't get that knowledge. This is certainly an effective way of insulating the faithful against any criticisms of their religion - you don't even need to pay attention to those critics because obviously, they're not getting their wisdom from Yahweh.

This chapter also introduced a few images/themes that will come up a few more times in Proverbs. One was comparing wisdom to valuable earthly treasures.

if you seek it like silver,
   and search for it as for hidden treasures--

The other was a warning against following a 'loose woman' who will lead you to your doom.

You will be saved from the loose woman,
   from the adulteress with her smooth words,
who forsakes the partner of her youth
   and forgets her sacred covenant;
for her way* leads down to death,
   and her paths to the shades;
those who go to her never come back,
   nor do they regain the paths of life.

The NOAB notes that 'adulteress' might also be translated as 'alien' or 'foreign woman', going back to a theme from earlier books where Hebrews were to be especially careful of marrying foreign women and being tempted to follow their gods.


Proverbs, Chapter 3

The first part of this chapter was more of the same - telling the reader to heed these lessons, promising of the benefits they'll bring, and warning of the dangers of not following them. There was even more 'treasure' imagery.

One verse caught my eye in a negative light.

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
   'fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.

The NOAB claims this isn't anti-intellectualism, but rather a warning against arrogance. But it certainly seems to me that it's ripe for the anti-intellectual interpretation.

Verse 13 begins with 'Happy are those who...' The NOAB noted that this is a "characteristic wisdom formula... often called a beatitude", and pointed out numerous other places where this formula appears in Proverbs. It certainly makes Jesus's beatitudes seem a little less revolutionary, knowing that they're just using a formula common to already existing literature.

This chapter contained another verse that appears to be borrowing from other mythology.

Long life is in her right hand;
   in her left hand are riches and honour.

According to the NOAB, "The imagery echoes that of the Egyptian goddess Ma'at, who represents right order. She was portrayed with the symbols of life in one hand and wealth and prestige in the other." The NOAB also noted how the 'tree of life' from verse 18 "is also an Egyptian motif, associated with the sycamore tree."

Starting with verse 27, the chapter began to give some actual beneficial advice, mostly on being helpful and avoiding violence.


Proverbs, Chapter 4

This chapter is more of the same.

I'll also add, like I hinted at when writing about Chapter 1, that proverbs presents a very black and white view of the world. Even the NOAB stated (in reference to verses 18 & 19), "In keeping with the binary way of understanding reality common in Proverbs, the ways of righteous and wicked are compared to light and dark." There's very little nuance or shades of grey in this book.


Proverbs, Chapter 5

And more of the same, bringing back the loose woman imagery. I found one of the footnotes in the NOAB a bit humorous (in reference to verse 10), "Probably a reference to loos of earnings; prostitutes are expensive!" It's the exclamation point that really does it for me.

There was one passage that stuck out. It's not exactly salacious, but it is more explicit than most parts of the Bible.

Let your fountain be blessed,
   and rejoice in the wife of your youth,
   a lovely deer, a graceful doe.
May her breasts satisfy you at all times;
   may you be intoxicated always by her love.

Of course, there are still euphemisms in there, coming from a whole series of water/sex euphemisms leading up to those verses. 'Fountain', at least according the NOAB, is supposed to represent the woman's "sexual organs, seen as the property of her husband, and possibly to the offspring that will ensue."

And just pausing to reflect on this for a minute, the sexism in the Bible is so pervasive that I almost missed how sexist this whole chapter is (and actually, much of this book so far). It's all directed at men, not as advice for women.


Proverbs, Chapter 6

Chapter 6 is mostly practical advice - money issues with neighbors, laziness, lying, adultery, etc. It's mostly good advice.


Proverbs, Chapter 7

Chapter 7 is back to the imagery with the loose woman.


Proverbs, Chapter 8

Chapter 8 returns to describing Wisdom as a woman, contrasting with the loose woman from the previous chapter. And Wisdom really is personified here, speaking in the first person, being "created me at the beginning of his work, / the first of his acts of long ago", being present during acts of creation, "When he established the heavens, I was there...", and even reacting to the Lord. In fact, this last example is worth quoting on its own.

when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
   then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
   rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
   and delighting in the human race.

Once again, this appears like part of Proverbs that might have been borrowed from other mythology. According to the NOAB, "Comparisons have been made with the Egyptian goddess Ma'at, daughter of the creator god Amun Re, who is sometimes depicted as a little child playing on his lap."

It's also worth noting that some of the rewards for following Wisdom were rather worldly, "endowing with wealth those who love me, / and filling their treasuries."


Proverbs, Chapter 9

Chapter 9 continued on with the two women. They're each throwing a banquet, and it's shown to be much better to be invited to Wisdom's banquet. The first couple verses stood out to me.

Wisdom has built her house,
   she has hewn her seven pillars.
She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine,
   she has also set her table.


Proverbs, Chapter 10

Chapter 10 finally moves past the introduction into actual proverbs and advice. These are all presented as two-line sayings, and use many of the same parallel structures that were used in Psalms.

These proverbs cover a variety of topics - divine reward and punishment, laziness, power of speech, wealth, poverty, etc.

It's worth noting the contradictory messages on reward and punishment. As the NOAB states, and which I can certainly agree with having read Job not too long ago, "Affirmation of the doctrine of divine retribution whereby the righteous are rewarded and the wicked punished... Other proverbs complicate this doctrine of divine reward and punishment (e.g. 15.16; 16.8), and the books of Job and Ecclesiastes challenge it profoundly."


---

I'm glad to be into a new book and past the book of Psalms. The personification of Wisdom as a woman was especially interesting. I was also struck by how much these chapters borrowed from other mythologies. Now that I'm through with the sort of introductory chapters, I suspect the remainder of this book will be mostly the namesake proverbs. I just hope that they don't get too repetitive like Psalms did. But even if they do, this book is only 31 chapters long.


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.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Election Results 2014

Sad Uncle SamUgh. I'm not terribly surprised, given then way the polls were going, but this is still dispiriting, and especially disappointing that the polls appeared to have a slight Democratic bias this year that gave the Republicans a few more races than predicted (this bias goes back and forth, sometimes favoring one party, sometimes the other - more info: FiveThirtyEight Blog).

As far as the Texas SBOE elections, the best news is that reasonable candidates held their ground and didn't lose to new ideologues. The bad news is that incumbent ideologues held their seats, too, so there's not going to be any change in how the board conducts itself anytime soon. For results, the Texas Tribune has a good page, but I can't link directly to the SBOE results. You'll have to click on the SBOE tab:
2014 Elections Scoreboard

Anyway, I'm not up to writing a whole lot about this, so I'll just provide links to what other people have written.

About the only consolation is that voting trends can change rapidly every two years, so I can only hope that 2016 will reverse the current state, and get Democrats back into the majority. Like I've mentioned before, I'm not a huge supporter of Democrats, but Republican policies are just so horrible that Democrats get my support by default. Anyway, here's a graph I stole from an article on FiveThirtyEight Blog, Is 2014 A Republican Wave?.

Trends on Popular Vote for U.S. House of Representatives

So, two more years of nothing getting done. Two more years to wait until hopefully better results.

Uncle Sam Image Source: FairEconomy.org

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Get Out and Vote, 2014

I Voted Today

I voted today. If you haven't already, go do it.

Like I've said many times, and almost verbatim two years ago, I hardly ever vote a straight ticket, and this year was no exception. Of course, if you read this blog, it's no surprise that I voted mostly for Democrats, but I judge each candidate individually, so a few Republicans and Green Party candidates also got my vote.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Midterm Election 2014 - Fix the Texas Board of Education

TEA LogoThe midterm elections are tomorrow. Seven seats on the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) board are up for grabs (sort of - one candidate is running uncontested). With all the shenanigans and controversy associated with the board, this is a chance to replace some of the extremists responsible for those problems, and of course, keep the members who are doing a good job. And of course, you should also be voting just out of general principle on all the races - that's how a representative democracy works.

For general election information, Texas has a pretty good website to inform you about what's going to be on the ballot, where you can vote, etc.:
Texas Voter Information Website

One particularly helpful section that's buried in that site allows you to enter your address to see who represents you at all the various levels of government:
Who Represents Me?

I've found two good resources for assessing the candidates' positions - the Texas Freedom Network, and the iVoterGuide. Both sent out questionnaires to candidates and have listed the responses of those that responded. TFN put them all in one place. iVoterGuide, who also covered much more than just the SBOE election, have it broken down by district. The iVoterGuide links appear to be a little glitchy, so you may just need to go through their main site, iVoterGuide.com.

TFV SBOE Voter Guide
iVoterGuide - SBOE Dist. 3
iVoterGuide - SBOE Dist. 4
iVoterGuide - SBOE Dist. 7
iVoterGuide - SBOE Dist. 11
iVoterGuide - SBOE Dist. 12
iVoterGuide - SBOE Dist. 13

Here's a summary of the candidates for each district. The ones marked with an asterisk are the incumbents.


District 2: Ruben Cortez* (D) - uncontested

Not much to comment on here.


District 3: Marisa B. Perez* (D), Dave Mundy (R), Josh Morales (L)
Perez gets my endorsement. Mundy appears to be exactly the type of ideologue that caused so much trouble in the Board's past.


District 4: Lawrence A. Allen, Jr.* (D), Dorothy Olmos (R)
Allen gets my endorsement. Olmos also appears to be the type of ideologue that caused so much trouble before.


District 7: Kathy King (D), David Bradley* (R), Megan DaGata (L)
From their responses, King and DaGata both look like they'd be reasonable. Bradley is simply horrible, with a proven track record of divisiveness.

Megan DaGata's answers to iVoterGuide questions
TFN Summary of David Bradley


District 11: Nancy Bean (D), Patricia "Pat" Hardy* (R), Craig Sanders (L)

Take your pick on this one. I don't agree with all of Hardy's responses to the iVoterGuide survey, but she's done a good job with her time on the board and hasn't been part of the extremist contingent (during the primaries, it was her Republican challenger, Eric Mahroum, who got the endorsement from the extremists - more info).


District 12: Lois Parrott (D), Geraldine "Tincy" Miller* (R), Mark Wester (L)
Parrott gets my endorsement on this one. Wester's responses to the TFN surveys seem mostly reasonable, except that he doesn't want climate change taught to students. Miller has done some good things in her time on the board, but she's also sided with the extremists too many times, and her answers to the iVoterGuide questions are horrendous.


District 13: Erika Beltran (D), Junart Sodoy (L)

Beltran gets my endorsement. Sodoy isn't as bad as some of the other candidates, but he's against having qualified experts review curriculum standards and textbooks, is against teaching about climate chage, wouldn't take a position on denouncing creationism as not science, and didn't think schools should protect students from bullying and harassment.


So that's my take. I won't lie and say I'm particularly optimistic, but this is a chance to improve the school board responsible for our children's education, and take some of the culture wars out of that organization.


I've written about the board a few times over the years, so for some background on this issue, here are my previous entries, in chronological order, with the newest at the top.

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.

Active

  • 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

Removed:

  • 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:

Webcomics

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.

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