Thursday, April 17, 2014

Book Rant - Divergent Series

I just finished reading the Divergent trilogy. This entry isn't so much a review of the series as a rant. This is one of the only series I've ever read where I'm going to actively discourage others from reading it, and I've read Dan Brown and parts of the Left Behind series (LB 1, LB 2, and TF) , so that's saying something. In fact, the only reason I'm including the Amazon link to the right is so that readers here can go see reviews on Amazon, not to encourage anyone to buy the book.

Warning: Spoilers ahead

Of course, if you've read the books yourself, or read any articles about the books, you'll probably know that the ending was not very popular with fans. And I'll admit, I wasn't particularly happy with it myself (there's enough sad news in reality, I don't need it in the book equivalent of an action movie). But it's not just the final few chapters that made the series a disappointment. The entire last book seemed out of character with the first two. My daughter had to struggle to get through the final book, and my wife just eventually gave up and let my daughter and me tell her how it ended. The big reveal on why people were living in the faction systems was a bit of a let down, and not very plausible scientifically. Tobias ceased to be the badass he'd been all along. The resolution of the war between the Allegiant and factionless was anticlimatic. And then the controversial ending itself seemed contrived and forced, without really seeming to add much to the story. I could go on with the shortcomings, but instead I'll just recommend a review on Amazon by someone named Penny, Why Allegiant is one of the worst books I've ever read (I just found a link to a longer review by Penny on Blogger, Breaking down the ending to Allegiant).

After doing a little looking around online, I came across an interview with Roth herself, on the site SugarScape, Author Veronica Roth on the Allegiant shock twist: 'It was always part of the plan, but it was hard to do'. Despite the headline of the article, the ending wasn't always part of Roth's plan. Just read this portion of the interview.

Well, I wrote Divergent totally blind without any planning so I didn't plan it from the very first page that it would even be a trilogy because I didn't know what the book would be. But after I wrote the first draft of Divergent and when the book sold I do remember talking to my editor about how I wanted the rest of them to go because the publisher said, 'You know, do you have other books planned?" I said, 'This is how I'm thinking of ending it," and she said 'Don't tell anyone about that!'

That was her reaction. So it was definitely a part of the plan although I wasn't sure if I would stick to it because I try not to stick so closely to my outlines that I have sacrifice the story. But then I was inching closer and closer to the end I was like this is the right option, this is the only option.

And a bit later in the interview, regarding a question on the meaning of 'divergent', she again revealed her lack of planning.

I just fell on it really. I was writing the Outside World and it just kind of appeared out of nowhere. What I really found appealing was throughout the whole series I was trying to figure out what Divergence really is, just like everybody else. By the time I got to the 3rd book I didn't really like that I had elevated Tris as being like this special one so I was like, 'Wouldn't it be cool if Divergence really isn't anything?' Like, if it was just what people believe it is and people put this importance into this thing that doesn't really exist, because I think people would do that.

Two books in, and she still didn't know what one of the central themes of the books was about!

This lack of planning is very apparent in hindsight. So much of the third book just doesn't seem to fit with the first two, but that now makes sense. Roth never knew where she wanted to take the stories, and had to fit an ending into a trilogy format, even if it meant abandoning the earlier plot and instituting a multitude of 'retcons'.

I know different authors have different levels of planning when it comes to writing stories. J.R.R. Tolkien created new languages and an entire mythology. J.K. Rowling had backstories and the entire plot planned out enough to guide moviemakers for Harry Potter. At the very least, you expect authors to have an idea of the overall plot and major themes of their books. To find out that Roth had been winging it the entire time leaves me feeling cheated. It certainly doesn't seem like a very professional way of writing.

Oh well, at least I learned one lesson - don't read any more series written by Veronica Roth.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Pet Peeve - Articles Aren't Blogs

Angry Penguin, Source: WikimediaI only have a short entry for today, to complain about a pet peeve. It's something I've seen many places, but it was prompted by an e-mail from my Congressman which began with:

Dear Friend:

I want to share with you a blog that I wrote about Tax Day.

The body of the e-mail you shared with me isn't 'a blog'. To quote Wikipedia, "A blog (a truncation of the expression web log) is a discussion or informational site published on the World Wide Web and consisting of discrete entries ("posts") typically displayed in reverse chronological order (the most recent post appears first)." What you shared is one entry or post, or maybe even an article if you want to sound more formal. It was not 'a blog'.

I don't know why it irritates me so much, but it just bothers the hell out of me to see people refer to single blog entries as blogs themselves. Maybe it's because of the word's origin from log, and the silliness of thinking that one entry could constitute a log.

Oh well, his misuse of Internet vocabulary is probably the least irritating thing about this Congressman - far less irritating than the actual content of the message (Do away with income taxes? Really?). I suppose I should just chalk this instance up to an ignorant out of touch politician, but I wish more people would try to understand what words mean before using them.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Friday, April 4, 2014

Website Update - Top 10 Page List for March 2014

Top 10 ListNow that March is over, it's once again time to look at the server logs and see which pages were most popular on this site. In fact, it was very similar to February. Only two pages made the list this month that hadn't the month prior, Review of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed and Friday Bible Blogging - 2 Chronicles 31 to 2 Chronicles 36. But even both of those had made the top 10 list before.

My Autogyro History & Theory page missed the list again this month, which is a little disappointing. For years and years, it was the most popular page on my site.

Traffic was similar to February - a bit higher overall because of the extra days, but very similar when averaged per day. That puts it in line with where I was at the end of last year, and a bit lower than the spike I had at the beginning of this year (a spike I'd guess was mostly due to spammers, not real visitors).

Anyway, here's the top 10 list for last month.

Top 10 for March 2014

  1. Blog - A Skeptical Look at MBT Shoes
  2. Blog - Obamacare Lives (A Discussion of the Individual Mandate)
  3. Blog - Email Debunking - 1895 8th Grade Final Exam
  4. Blog - Gamera II Human Powered Helicopter Sets New Record
  5. Blog - Review of Ray Comfort's New Movie - Evolution vs. God, Part I
  6. Blog - Origin of Arabic Numerals - Was It Really for Counting Angles?
  7. Blog - Review of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed
  8. Blog - The Universe Is Big
  9. Blog - Running AutoCAD R14 in XP Pro 64
  10. Blog - Friday Bible Blogging - 2 Chronicles 31 to 2 Chronicles 36

Friday, March 28, 2014

Friday Bible Blogging - Hiatus

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.

BibleI missed last week's entry, and now I'm going to miss posting something again this week. And to be honest, I suspect I won't post anything next week, either. I've just been really busy at work, keeping my lunchbreaks short, and really busy at home, breaking up my routine of what had been a normal schedule reading the Bible. So, I'm going to take a brief hiatus on this series. I should be back to posting again on April 11th, or maybe the 18th.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Response to 'I'm Tired' E-mail

PoliticsI've gotten another e-mail forward that I couldn't resist replying to. The subject line was 'Bill Cosby...Tired at 83'. It's a list of all the supposed ills in our society, and how the writer is tired of them. And surprise, surprise, the writer's opinions just happen to coincide with a typical right wing stance (see my older entry, Right Wing E-mails).

The easiest thing to check is whether or not Bill Cosby actually wrote this. In fact, the e-mail is so prevalent that Cosby decided to respond on his own personal website in a post he titled If you got the BOGUS email, it's time to hit DELETE!. As you can probably guess from the title, Cosby didn't write this article, and he certainly doesn't agree with it. Here's what he wrote in that post.

There's an email floating around - entitled "I'm 76 and tired" - purportedly sent by me. I did not write the email, I did not send the email, I'm not 76, and I don't subscribe to the ugly views expressed in the email. We are coming up to an important anniversary on Sunday, which is a day when we should all come together. Whoever wrote this email is not thinking about our country, or what is important. If you get the email, it's time to hit DELETE.

Even if Cosby didn't write the e-mail, somebody did. According to Snopes, it was written by a former Massachusetts senator named Robert A. Hall.

With that simple bit of fact checking out of the way, it's time to address the actual claims of the article itself. I'll use my standard method of indenting a passage from the article, following it up with my response. And since this entry is a little long, I'll put a little index up here at the top so that you can jump ahead to different sections, if you want.

And now, on to the e-mail.


Life isn't tied with a bow, but it's still a gift.

And life isn't fair, but it's good!!

No comment so far.


"I'm 83 and I'm Tired"

I'm 83. Except for brief period in the 50s when I was doing my National Service, I've worked hard since I was 17. Except for some serious health challenges, I put in 50-hour weeks, and didn't call in sick in nearly 40 years. I made a reasonable salary, but I didn't inherit my job or my income, and I worked to get where I am. Given the economy, it looks as though retirement was a bad idea, and I'm tired. Very tired.

This strikes me as a rather self-centered view. 'I' did this, and 'I' did that. Has he never heard of the phrase, 'standing on the shoulders of giants', or 'It takes a village to raise a child'? I'm glad he's been able to turn his hard work into success, but he does nothing to recognize the culture, background, or infrastructure that's allowed him to be successful.

I'll use myself as an example. I'm reasonably successful in life, and I've worked to get where I am, but I'm not going to pretend that I'm solely responsible for my own success. My wife and I have taken a few trips down to Guatemala to help the people down there. And I've asked myself, what if I'd been born there instead of here. No matter how much talent I had, or how hard I would have worked, I know my life wouldn't have been as good as it has been here in the U.S.

That's a big jump, but you can look at smaller differences depending on your background in this country. If I expand my example to my whole family, both of my brothers have also been reasonably successful, all of us earning college degrees, and all of us having good jobs as adults. But we all grew up in a household that emphasized education, provided a good environment to nurture our education, and where it was understood that we would all go to college because it was in my parents' means to provide that for us. If I look to my wife's family, none of that was the case. Not only was college not really thought about, it was expected that the older siblings would drop out of high school to get jobs to help support the family. So, if I compare myself to my in-laws, and note that I have a better job than them, I'm not going to pretend that it was solely or even mainly my own hard work and initiative that's responsible for that outcome. Had they been given the same opportunities I've been given, assuming that they put in the same effort that I have, I'm pretty sure the outcomes would have been similar.

And it's not just my personal anecdotes that support this. In a recent interview on NPR, Tom Harkin brought up a sobering statistic, "Right now, if you are a high-income, low performance student, you have an 80 percent chance of going to college. If you are a low-income student, but high-performing with a B or better average, you only have a 20 percent chance of going to college." If hard work were enough, the good students from low-income families would be just as well represented in colleges as their wealthier counterparts.


I'm tired of being told that I have to "spread the wealth" to people who don't have my work ethic. I'm tired of being told the government will take the money I earned, by force if necessary, and give it to people too lazy to earn it.

I'm a little tired of this fake 'spread the wealth' complaining. First off, let's look at income inequality. Here's a graph from the Economic Policy Institute (The Increasingly Unequal States of America).

The share of all income held by the top 1%, United States and by region, 1917-2011
Income Inequality by Region
(Source: Economic Policy Institute)

Since the '70s, the top 1% have significantly increased their share of the total income. Granted, income is not the same as wealth, but if more of the income is going to the wealthy, that means less of the income is going to poor people, so it's going to be even harder for them to improve their lot.

But since this writer was specifically talking about 'spreading the wealth', or taking money away from those who have earned it and giving it to people who haven't, let's take a look at wealth distribution instead. If there really was 'spreading the wealth', with the government acting as a bureaucratic Robin Hood, you'd expect to see the wealthy's share of the wealth decreasing, while the poor's share of the wealth would increase. But that's not what's happening. Here's one way of looking at it - total net worth, from another article by the Economic Policy Institute (Confirming the further redistribution of wealth upward). The table below is from the article, while I made the graph by plotting that data.

Share of Total Net Worth by Percentile of Wealth Owners, 1989-2010
(Source: Economic Policy Institute)

Graph of Share of Total Net Worth by Percentile of Wealth Owners, 1989-2010

Just look at those numbers for a minute. The top 10% have seen a growth in their share of the wealth, while the bottom 90% have seen their share decrease. The bottom half of the population went from having 3% of the wealth in 1989 to only 1.1% in 2010. In other words, if you combine everything that that half of the country owns, it comes out to just 1.1% of the total wealth of the nation. By contrast, the share of the top 1% has increased from 30.1% to 34.5%. Or to put that another way, the top 1% of the nation owns over 1/3 of all of the nation's wealth. Add in the stat that the next 9% own 40% of the wealth, and you end up with the fact that the richest 10% of Americans own 74.5% of the nation's wealth.

Whether or not you think that wealth distribution is fair, it certainly doesn't show a redistribution from wealthy to poor. There is no 'spreading the wealth' going on right now. It's a 'consolidating the wealth', putting more and more of our nation's money into the hands of a select few.

Here's another way of looking at it, from yet another Economic Policy Institute article (Occupy Wall Streeters are right about skewed economic rewards in the United States). This is similar, comparing the ratio of the wealth of the top 1% to the median wealth. This one goes back further into the '60s, showing that this is a long term trend.

Raio of the wealthiest 1% of households to median household wealth, 1962-2009
(Source: Economic Policy Institute)

So, what about welfare payments? That would be a direct measure of any type of 'spreading the wealth'. Here's a graph from USGovernmentSpending.com. If you follow that link, you can play around with graph settings to see this plotted any way you like. Starting around the Great Depression, welfare payments started gradually increasing until around the mid '70s. From that point all the way until 2000, welfare spending actually decreased, until the dot com bubble burst, and then a big spike with the Great Recession. But even since that spike in 2010, Welfare spending has decreased back to almost pre-recession levels. (And of course, since the graph goes out to 2019, those future years are projections.)

Welfare Spending as Percent GDP, 1900-2019
(Source: USGovernmentSpending.com)

What about taxes? That would be another measure of how much people are contributing. The Center for Tax Justice analyzed the taxes paid by different income groups in 2013 (Who Pays Taxes in America in 2013? ). They looked beyond just federal income tax to all taxes people pay, including federal payroll taxes, federal excise taxes, state and local taxes, etc. When you look at the total tax burden, it's only slightly progressive, with people paying taxes roughly proportional to their income.

Shares of Total Taxes Paid by Each Income Group Will be Similar to their Shares of Income in 2013
(Source: Center for Tax Justice)


I'm tired of being told that Islam is a "Religion of Peace," when every day I can read dozens of stories of Muslim men killing their sisters, wives and daughters for their family "honour"; of Muslims rioting over some slight offence; of Muslims murdering Christian and Jews because they aren't "believers"; of Muslims burning schools for girls; of Muslims stoning teenage rape victims to death for "adultery"; of Muslims mutilating the genitals of little girls; all in the name of Allah, because the Qur'an and Shari'a law tells them to.

I admit to being a bit torn on this one. I don't particularly like religion in general, including Islam. But religion is only one characteristic of people, so disliking the religion doesn't mean disliking the people who believe that religion, as long as they're otherwise good. Plus, I've seen far too many people demonize all Muslims because of the actions of extremists.

Looking at another religion, it's not too hard to find examples of Christians behaving badly - bombing clinics, assassinating doctors, mass shootings in non-Christian holy places, killing children accused of witchcraft, etc. (for links documenting these and other examples, see one of my older blog entries, Why Do I Spend So Much Time on Religion). Thankfully, not all Christians act so horribly. But, just like I won't tar all Christians because of the actions of their worst members, I shouldn't tar all Muslims because of the actions of their worst members.


I'm tired of being told that out of "tolerance for other cultures" we must let Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries use our oil money to fund mosques and madrassa Islamic schools to preach hate in Australia, New Zealand, UK, America and Canada, while no one from these countries are allowed to fund a church, synagogue or religious school in Saudi Arabia or any other Arab country to teach love and tolerance.

I'm not sure I understand the reasoning here. If the argument is that it's bad that Arab countries don't allow religious freedom, I would agree. Religious freedom is a cornerstone of this nation, and essential for a free and open society. What I don't get is when he seems to suggest that we shouldn't allow religious freedom in this country. Just because some nations restrict freedom doesn't mean we should restrict freedom here.


I'm tired of being told I must lower my living standard to fight global warming, which no one is allowed to debate.

More selfishness. This guy doesn't want to hurt his standard of living, even if that standard comes at the cost of others and future generations.

I've written about global warming several times before:

From the entry in the third link, here's a graph I copied from another site showing measured temperature change, the predictions from climate models, and the forcings due to different phenomena. While measurements don't track the predictions exactly, they're pretty close, and definitely show a trend of increasing temperature.

Climate Change Attribution
(Source: Global Warming Art)

As an example of the effects of global warming, here's a graph I made for the entry in that second link, showing arctic sea ice extent over the years. You can see a pretty clear trend that the ice extent is decreasing.

Sea Ice Extent

Sea Ice Extent

That's just stuff I've put together. There are better sources of information out there, such as this recently published page from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, The Reality, Risks and Response to Climate Change. Fully 97% of climate scientists agree that climate change is real and being caused by humans. I know it's possible for experts to be wrong, but it's hard to imagine so many people who devote their whole lives to studying something getting it completely wrong, especially considering the near unanimous agreement among those people. It's not that debate on climate change isn't allowed - it's that we're already past the point where there's any real debate about whether or not it's happening, and the debate now should be what to do about it.


I'm tired of being told that drug addicts have a disease, and I must help support and treat them, and pay for the damage they do. Did a giant germ rush out of a dark alley, grab them, and stuff white powder up their noses or stick a needle in their arm while they tried to fight It off?

Drug addiction, including alcoholism, is characterized by changes to the actual structure of the brain. It is a physical dependence, and is no longer a simple matter of choice like deciding what color shirt to wear. (more info: NIH - The Science of Drug Abuse and Addiction)

Trying a drug once does not make somebody an addict. Many people are able to experiment with drugs or use them socially without becoming addicts, and don't suspect that they will be the ones to develop addiction. Just look at how many people drink alcohol without problems. True, nobody may have forced addicts to drink that first bottle of beer or sip that first glass of wine or puff that first cigarette or take that first hit, but can you really say it's not a disease because the person made a mistake that led to it? That would be like saying STDs aren't diseases because nobody forced them to have sex. It's still a disease.

Ignoring compassion, what would you rather do with addicts - provide them an opportunity for treatment so that they can be cured and become functioning members of society able to contribute something back, or let them stay stuck as addicts, unable to hold steady jobs, forced to either live off of the charity of others, or turning to whatever means they can to make a buck, even if it means becoming criminals to steal the money? Personally, I'd rather chip in a little of my taxes if it means there will be less criminals trying to break into my house.


I'm tired of hearing wealthy athletes, entertainers and politicians of all parties talking about innocent mistakes, stupid mistakes or youthful mistakes, when we all know they think their only mistake was getting caught. I'm tired of people with a sense of entitlement, rich or poor.

I don't think anybody would argue with this, but I don't think it's anything new, either. Just look back to Babe Ruth and the example he set.


I'm really tired of people who don't take responsibility for their lives and actions. I'm tired of hearing them blame the government, or discrimination or big-whatever for their problems.

I agree that people as individuals should take responsibility for their lives. Though I'll be honest, I don't personally know too many people who don't.

But I'll turn this around. I'm really tired of people who don't accept their ethical responsibility to the rest of society. Look at it this way. If I broke down on the side of the highway, I'm not going to try to flag somebody down to help me. I'm going take care of things myself. But if I see somebody else broken down, I'm going to stop and help them. I feel a social responsibility to help others.

Helping other people shouldn't just be limited to people acting privately. Right there in the preamble to the Constitution, it lists "promote the general welfare" as one of the responsibilities of government. It's not just something government can do, but something government is supposed to do. If you have a problem with government promoting the general welfare, take it up with the Founding Fathers.


I'm also tired and fed up with seeing young men and women in their teens and early 20s be-deck themselves in tattoos and face studs, thereby making themselves un-employable and claiming money from the Government.

I've used this line before, but I'll use it again now. In this era of Wikipedia - citation needed.

Why are those people unemployable? Even in service industries, where image to the customer is important, I've had waiters, waitresses, and cashiers with tattoos, piercings, gages, etc. I'd guess it's even more common in areas of business where they don't have to interact with customers (manufacturing, office jobs). But I'll be honest, I'm getting a little tired of researching this guy's claims, and this is one of his lesser ones, so I'm not going to bother trying to find statistics on the percentage of welfare recipients who have either tattoos or face studs compared to the general population. My guess is that having tattoos or piercings has little correlation to being on welfare.


Yes, I'm damn tired. But I'm also glad to be 83. Because, mostly, I'm not going to have to see the world these people are making. I'm just sorry for my granddaughter and their children. Thank God I'm on the way out and not on the way in.

Again with the self-centered attitude. I find it hard to imagine the type of selfishness it takes to say 'oh well, not my problem', if you really think the problems are as bad as this guy thinks.


There is no way this will be widely publicized, unless each of us sends it on! This is your chance to make a difference.

"I'm 83 and I'm tired. If you don't forward this you are part of the problem".

I think I have a different idea from this guy as to of who's part of the problem facing society right now.


If there's one theme I noticed throughout this guy's article, it's his selfishness and self-centered attitude. So much of what he wrote about was how it affected him, with never a thought to the well-being of other people or any sense of social responsibility. Coupled with his mis-informed views and misleading statements, there's not much about this e-mail that I agreed with.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Car Ride

Here's a stop motion animation my daughter made today. She calls it, The Car Ride.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Friday Bible Blogging - Psalms 71 to Psalms 80

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.

BibleAt 150 chapters long, I'm now halfway through the book of Psalms. I'm not sure if I want to look at that as a glass half full or half empty sort of thing. Like I wrote last week, I'm starting to get burnt out on this book. So, halfway there's a big milestone, but it means I still have to get through the same amount that I've already read. Oh well, I'll never finish if I don't just keep on plodding ahead.


Psalms, Chapter 71

As noted in the New Oxford Annotated Bible, much of the material in this chapter is recycled from Psalms 22 and 31. The most blatant example comes from the first three verses of this psalm.

In you, O Lord, I seek refuge;
   do not let me ever be put to shame;
   in your righteousness deliver me.
Incline your ear to me;
   rescue me speedily.
Be a rock of refuge for me,
   a strong fortress to save me.

Compare that to the first two verses from Psalm 31.

In you, O Lord, I seek refuge;
   do not let me ever be put to shame;
   in your righteousness deliver me.
Incline your ear to me;
   rescue me speedily.
Be a rock of refuge for me,
   a strong fortress to save me.


Psalms, Chapter 72

This psalm asks God to provide guidance and support to the king. According to the NOAB, it's possible that this psalm was read at coronation ceremonies.

This chapter closes with the verse, "The prayers of David son of Jesse are ended," bringing to a close Book II of Psalms. However, there are additional psalms coming later in the book attributed to David, so this note must have been made before this book had developed into what we have now.


Psalms, Chapter 73

Psalm 73 kicks of Book III with a psalm attributed to Asaph. While a previous psalm was also attributed to him (Psalm 50), this is the start of the major collection of his psalms, going on through Psalm 83.

This psalm began by wondering why the wicked seem to go unpunished, but finished with the psalmist's realization that they will be punished in the end.


Psalms, Chapter 74

This psalm must have come during the exile, wondering when God would remember his covenant and restore the Temple and the Israelites.

I noticed a theme that I've noticed many times now in Psalms, the idea of God's primordial battle to tame the world.

Yet God my King is from of old,
   working salvation in the earth.
You divided the sea by your might;
   you broke the heads of the dragons in the waters.
You crushed the heads of Leviathan;
   you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.
You cut openings for springs and torrents;
   you dried up ever-flowing streams.
Yours is the day, yours also the night;
   you established the luminaries and the sun.
You have fixed all the bounds of the earth;
   you made summer and winter.


Psalms, Chapter 75

This was a fairly typical psalm, praising god and acknowledging his justice. One particular verse caught my eye.

For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup
   with foaming wine, well mixed;

What is foaming wine? I have this image in my mind of a bubbling potion with steam coming off of it, but I'm pretty sure that's not what the psalmist meant.


Psalms, Chapter 76

This was another psalm praising god, this time using battle imagery, e.g. "There he broke the flashing arrows, / the shield, the sword, and the weapons of war."

The NOAB had an interesting footnote in this chapter:

7-10: This psalm presumes that the cosmic battle was fought at the base of Mount Zion; comparable religious texts also tell how the storm god defeated his enemies at the base of his holy mountain. After the battle, God established the rules or justice to which the universe must conform...

Now I'm curious as to what those other religious texts might be, and just how similar they are to the Bible.


Psalms, Chapter 77

This psalm began with wondering if God had abandoned the psalmist. It's one of the more direct accusations I've yet read, though phrased as questions to avoid being too confrontational.

Will the Lord spurn for ever,
   and never again be favourable?
Has his steadfast love ceased for ever?
   Are his promises at an end for all time?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
   Has he in anger shut up his compassion?'

The end of the chapter finished up with more battle imagery similar to the previous psalm. This imagery is very much in line with Yahweh being a storm god.

When the waters saw you, O God,
   when the waters saw you, they were afraid;
   the very deep trembled.
The clouds poured out water;
   the skies thundered;
   your arrows flashed on every side.
The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind;
   your lightnings lit up the world;
   the earth trembled and shook.
Your way was through the sea,
   your path, through the mighty waters;
   yet your footprints were unseen.


Psalms, Chapter 78

This is actually one of my favorite psalms so far. It's a condensed version of select stories from the Pentateuch, mentioning Jacob, the Exodus, wandering the desert, and choosing David as king, among others. It even included one of the stories that stands out most in my mind from Numbers 11 - the one where some of the Israelites complained about having to eat manna all the time, so "a wind went out from the Lord" and brought back quails to dump on the Israelite camp, enough to bury them in three feet of dead birds. But even that wasn't enough punishment, apparently, so God struck the people with a plague to kill a large number of them.

Verses 43 through 51 list the plagues of Egypt from the Exodus story. The plagues are presented in a slightly different order here, and perhaps more interestingly, include two additional plagues, caterpillars and thunderbolts.

In fact, there are numerous little discrepancies between this condensed history and the Pentateuch, indicating a slightly different tradition behind it.

There was another hint in this chapter of Yahweh having battled with other gods:

And he brought them to his holy hill,
   to the mountain that his right hand had won.

As one last comment on this chapter, the NOAB has a note that "the psalmist's attempt to persuade the northern kingdom of Israel ("the Ephraimite," v. 9) to accept the Davidic king suggests a time of composition in the eighth or seventh century BCE when the northern and Southern kingdoms were separated."

Psalms, Chapter 79

Like many of the psalms attributed to Asaph, this one wondered when God would restore the Israelites. One verse caught my attention.

Do not remember against us the iniquities of our ancestors;
   let your compassion come speedily to meet us,
   for we are brought very low.

This seems to fit with a theme common from earlier Biblical books, where God would punish people collectively, even if it meant punishing descendants who hadn't been born when their ancestors had committed the sins they were being punished for (though the NOAB indicates a better translation of that first line is "our past iniquities", in which case in might be referring to the people's own past sins, not just those of their forefathers).

Another verse caught my eye, but for its pop culture implications.

Return sevenfold into the bosom of our neighbours
   the taunts with which they taunted you, O Lord!

It made me think of the band, Avenged Sevenfold, who my daughter and some of her friends really like (to be honest, I'm not even sure what they sing - I just recognize the name). However, the band has said the inspiration for the name came from Genesis 4:24.

Psalms, Chapter 80

This is yet another psalm asking God to restore Israel.

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Chapter 78 was pretty good, I think mainly because it was a narrative, and not just the supplications and platitudes that are so typical of other psalms. But, like I've implied already, I'm looking forward to when this book is behind me.


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, March 11, 2014

National Essential Tremor Awareness Month 2014

March is National Essential Tremor Awareness Month

March is National Essential Tremor Awareness Month. Essential tremor is also referred to as familial tremor, benign essential tremor, or hereditary tremor. If you are unaware of this disorder, here is a description from a recent press release from the International Essential Tremor Foundation (IETF).

Essential tremor is a neurological condition that causes shaking of the head, hands and voice. An estimated 10 million people in the United States have essential tremor (ET). While not life threatening, ET is a serious and progressive condition that can significantly affect a person's quality of life - socially, professionally and emotionally. People with ET often have difficulty with everyday activities such as getting dressed, eating, drinking, speaking or writing. And despite the large number of people directly affected by ET there is still very little awareness of the disorder.

While ET is most prevalent in people in their 60s and older, it can occur at any age, even in newborns. And despite being the most common movement disorder, existing medications are only effective in about 60% of people who suffer from the disorder.

If you would like to help or learn more about essential tremor, below are several links to more information on the IETF website.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Friday Bible Blogging - Psalms 61 to Psalms 70

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

BibleThis week's entry covers Psalms 61 through 70. There were a few interesting passages, but none of the particularly well known psalms like I've covered in weeks past.

Psalms, Chapter 61

Psalm 61 was fairly typical - praising God and asking for fairly generic blessings.


Psalms, Chapter 62

This was another psalm of praise, but there were a few parts that caught my attention. First was this passage from verse 9.

Those of low estate are but a breath,
   those of high estate are a delusion;
in the balances they go up;
   they are together lighter than a breath.

I know I haven't gotten to Ecclesiastes, yet, in this series, but I have read it some, and this passage reminds me of something you'd read in that book. Whether you're weak or powerful, rich or poor, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't really matter - we're all inconsequential. However, reading the footnotes in the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB), it appears there's a different interpretation of this verse. To quote that note, "The good deeds of the evildoers are so unsubstantial, they are weightless." Hmm. I just don't get that from the passage.

I haven't really focused on the poetry itself much, but the NOAB did point out an interesting structure in this chapter.

Once God has spoken;
   twice have I heard this:

This illustrates a very strong parallelism between the introduction and the follow up line.


Psalms, Chapter 63

This psalm started off with an interesting line that I wouldn't have gotten without the NOAB footnotes.

O God, you are my God, I seek you,
   my soul thirsts for you;

Apparently, in Hebrew, the same word can mean 'soul' and 'throat', so this was a pun. Otherwise, this was a typical psalm - praise of God, thanksgiving for his blessings, and curses on the psalmist's enemies.


Psalms, Chapter 64

Yet another typical psalm, asking for God's protection against enemies, and that God will punish those enemies.


Psalms, Chapter 65

There was an interesting footnote in the NOAB concerning verses 6 and 7. To me, it seems like it could be a bit of a stretch, but considering it's a theme that's appeared before, it could be legitimate. So, I'll quote both and let the reader decide. The NOAB described the verses as, "The divine victory associated with creation: the mountains are placed in their bases (see Pss 89.12; 90.2) and the chaotic primeval waters are defeated (see Ps 89.9-13)." And here are the verses.

By your strength you established the mountains;
   you are girded with might.
You silence the roaring of the seas,
   the roaring of their waves,
   the tumult of the peoples.


Psalms, Chapter 66

I've mentioned numerous times throughout Psalms that there appears to be a shift away from animal sacrifice and towards actual changes of heart. But, lest you thought the Bible was abandoning animal sacrifice, this psalm made sure to discuss it.

I will come into your house with burnt-offerings;
   I will pay you my vows,
those that my lips uttered
   and my mouth promised when I was in trouble.
I will offer to you burnt-offerings of fatlings,
   with the smoke of the sacrifice of rams;
I will make an offering of bulls and goats.


Psalms, Chapter 67

Psalm 67 is a short hymn of praise. The opening was familiar, being similar to Numbers 6:24.

May God be gracious to us and bless us
   and make his face to shine upon us...


Psalms, Chapter 68

This psalm is rather interesting. According to the NOAB, "Psalm 68 is the most difficult psalm in the book, and scholars do not agree on what kind of poem Psalm 68 is, as well as what many of its words and phrases mean. It is perhaps best taken as a communal thanksgiving for defending the people against infertility and attack."

Verse 4 talks about "him who rides upon the clouds", hinting at Yahweh's past as a storm god.

Bearing in mind the note in the NOAB about the difficulty in translating this chapter, this is still some particularly violent imagery.

But God will shatter the heads of his enemies,
   the hairy crown of those who walk in their guilty ways.
The Lord said,
   'I will bring them back from Bashan,
I will bring them back from the depths of the sea,
so that you may bathe your feet in blood,
   so that the tongues of your dogs may have their share from the foe.'


Psalms, Chapter 69

Verses 19 to 21 should certainly seem familiar to Christians. It's not quoted directly in the New Testament, but it's certainly reminiscent of Jesus, including the episode from the crucifixion where he was given vinegar to drink.

You know the insults I receive,
   and my shame and dishonour;
   my foes are all known to you.
Insults have broken my heart,
   so that I am in despair.
I looked for pity, but there was none;
   and for comforters, but I found none.
They gave me poison for food,
   and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.

Actually, after googling "psalm 69 jesus", I found an interesting page, Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible - Psalms 69. It discusses just how many times verses from this psalm are quoted in the New Testament. I know Christians take that as a sign of continuity, but I think it can also been seen as a rather earthly source for New Testament material, especially when you read this psalm in full - the context of the passages here don't seem to square with their uses in the New Testament.

In seeking out vengeance against his enemies, the psalmist has asked that they "be blotted out of the book of the living". According to the NOAB, this 'book of the living' was apparently a "scroll containing the fates of individuals".


Psalms, Chapter 70

Psalm 70 was nearly a verbatim copy of verses 13 to 17 of Psalm 40, again illustrating the manner in which the Bible was put together as a collection of collections. Otherwise, I didn't have much to say about this passage back in chapter 40, and I don't have anything new to add now.

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To be honest, it was a little hard getting through this week's reading. It's just getting so repetitious. I wonder if the psalms would seem better read in isolation, rather than reading them straight through and getting burnt out on the poetry.

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, March 4, 2014

Happy Fastnach Day 2014

Happy Fastnacht Day! My daughter and I woke up before dawn this morning to make our fastnachts this year, and you can see the results below.

Our 2017 Fastnachts - A Double Batch

I usually try to put these posts up before Fastnacht Day to remind people to make them this morning, but I forgot this year. Still, if you stop by the grocery store on your way home today to pick up buttermilk and maybe a few other ingredients you might not have, you can still make them tonight in time for the holiday. If you don't know what fastnachts are, read on. (As a quick note, since there's not much to change in these entries from year to year, this entry is just a slightly reworked version from years past.)

Depending on where you are in the world, you may call today something else, like Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, or Pancake Day. But from where I'm from in Pennsylvania, it's called Fastnacht Day (here's a link to the Wikipedia article). Traditionally, you make potato based donuts, called fastnachts, on the morning of Fastnacht Day, supposedly as a way to empty your larder of all the fatty, sugary foods in preparation for the Lenten fast. My elementary school even used to give out donuts with the lunches on this day. In celebration of Fastnacht Day, and so others can join in, here's my family's recipe for making them:

You're supposed to wake up early to make the fastnachts on Tuesday morning (they're freshest that way), but a few times I've made them the night before, and they're still okay. They keep pretty well in a brown paper lunch bag. I also like to put a little bit of powdered sugar into a ziploc bag, and a mix of granulated sugar and cinnamon into another one, to coat the fastnachts just before eating them.

To see just how popular fastnachts are back up in Pennsylvania, go have a look at this article, Fastnacht reminder -- order yours before Tuesday, with a photo showing some of the 2800 fastnachts that a local church made, or this article, Frying fastnachts for pre-Lenten splurge, about a fire company that made 42,000 of them for a rundraiser. Here's an article from this year, Fastnacht day is here!, with a few more pictures showing different ways of making fastnachts, including a church with a rolling fastnacht cutter to cut dozens at once (we use pint glasses and shot glasses).

I took a few pictures last year while we were making the fastnachts (the only picture I got this year is the one up above after they were done). The first one below is my daughter rolling out the dough to cut more fastnachts. The second is the first batch frying up in the pan. The scene this morning was pretty much the same. Like last year, we doubled the recipe again this year, so the picture up top is twice as much as what you'd normally get from my family's recipe. But all three of us (my wife, daughter, and I) take them in with us to work/school to share them, so the double batch still goes quickly.

Alex Rolling Out the Fastnacht Dough Frying the Fastnachts

A guy I worked with from Chicago mentioned a similar tradition up there - paczkis, from the Polish immigrants. But instead of a hole in the middle like my family's fastnachts (not all fastnachts have the hole), they have a filling, usually jelly or creme. I guess lots of groups have invented traditions to allow indulgence before a 40 day fast.

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