Monday, May 29, 2006

My Take on the Da Vinci Code

I caught the Sunday Matinee yesterday and I thought it was pretty good. I’m not sure what the critics are complaining about. Just because there wasn’t an explosion per minute, the murder and mayhem were limited and Tautou and Hanks weren’t jumping each other’s bones every ten minutes doesn’t make it a bad movie.

As far as the underlying history, I had the same basic left eyebrow arched reaction that I had when I read the book. There is just enough history and plausibility mixed in with the rampant speculation to make you go “Huh?” Then you think about it for a minute or two and realize that it’s the speculation holding the whole thing together. Once you loosen that, it falls apart.

Here’s a review of the points made in the movie in support of the theory.

Constantine – Presented pretty accurately. After securing the throne in a civil war, the Emperor needed peace and quiet to solidify his position and religious strife was definitely one of the things he wanted to get under control especially the squabbling between the various Christian sects. The Council of Nicea was organized to establish the definition of Christian Orthodoxy. Constantine himself remained a pagan until being baptized on his deathbed. The Roman senate even deified him after his death.

The Council of Nicea – The primary focus of the council was the definition of Christian Orthodoxy and, in particular, the problem of Arianism, a position being taught by Arius, a priest in Alexandria. Arianism held that the Son was distinct from the Father, of different substance from the Father and created by the Father. Orthodox Christianity holds that the Son is consubstantial, of one and the same substance or being, and coeternal with the Father. Arianism was condemned at the council, some say after Constantine indicated that he favored the opposing view, and Arius excommunicated. Arianism had a revival a while later and Arius was reinstated. It's rumored that an Arian Bishop baptized Constantine just befre he died. Constantius, Constantine's son, was a supporter of Arianism and the position prospered while he was on the throne, but with his death, Arianism fractured and ultimately was decreed again to be heretical.

So, the claim that Constantine decreed the divinity of Jesus isn't quite true. He merely sided with the faction that held that the Son was as divine as the Father. One wonders however what Christianity would look like today if Constantine had supported Arius' view?

The Gospel of Philip – One of the Nag Hammadi documents and pretty much as quoted in the movie. Mary Magdalene is described as the “companion” of Jesus, someone Jesus loved more than all the other disciples and it’s said that he “used to kiss her often on her mouth.”

The Paintings of Da Vinci – Da Vinci was a strange duck and I wouldn’t put anything past him. He was probably the single most intelligent and talented human being ever to walk the planet. He was a true genetic fluke, comparable to Michelangelo in art, and Einstein in scientific intelligence. But as for a secret message in his painting "The Last Supper," two points. First, the reclining female like figure is almost universally considered to be John, the youngest of the apostles, who is often represented by a feminine looking long haired individual. Second, if Da Vinci was the keeper of such a secret, it would have been pretty stupid of him to risk that someone might figure it out from the clues in the painting and Da Vince was far from stupid.

The Priory of Scion – There was such an order in the Middle Ages, but it was short lived, a fairly typical Monk’s order and not at all related to the Holy Grail.

The Holy Grail – Traditionally the cup used by Jesus at the last supper and the objective of the Knights of King Arthur. Galahad, Percival and Bors are the Grail Knights who are ultimately allowed to view the grail after which Galahad, the perfect knight, requests death and the request is granted. The Avatar in the upper right hand corner of this web page is Galahad.

The bottom line is that despite what Dan Brown and the authors of “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” might say, there is no credible evidence for the underlying plot of the movie. Is it possible that Mary Magdalene and Jesus were husband and wife and had a child? Yes it’s possible. Is there any evidence to that effect? Nope, not one iota, but it’s a good movie, and an even better book. They're not high philosophy nor rocket science, but entertaining enough and I highly recommend both.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Judge Roy Moore Trails

Thank God is all I can say about that! Actually he’s not a judge anymore so he doesn’t really deserve the title. Roy Moore is the wacko who, as Alabama Chief Justice, erected a 5,300 pound monument of the 10 Commandments inside Alabama’s judicial building and then refused to remove it when a Federal Court ordered him to do so. That led to his removal as Chief Justice so Moore decided to run for Governor.

Moore believes that God is the sovereign source of America’s laws and government and, after his defiance of the Federal Court Order, became even more a darling of the Christian Right than George Bush. However, his bid to unseat Republican Governor Bob Riley appears to have run into some problems. MSNBC reports the latest poll taken by the Mobile Press-Register shows the ex-judge trailing by a whopping 69-20. Moore is unfazed and claims that his true support doesn’t show up in polls.

Well here’s hoping the Press-Register is right and Moore is wrong. Alabama may not be the center of sophistication for the western world but I find it hard to believe that a majority of people there are stupid enough to elect this fool governor. Then again, there are the new “Educational Standards” in Kansas that say supernatural explanations are “science,” so I guess you never know.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Texas and the Death Penalty

Of the 1,023 executions that have occurred in the U.S. since Capital Punishment resumed in 1976, 364, 35% of the total, have been in the state of Texas. Texas has executed more than twice as many people as the next two states, Virginia with 95 and Oklahoma with 80, combined!

To further put things in perspective, Texas has executed FIFTEEN TIMES as many people as California (13), Illinois (12) and New York (0) combined! That being the case, one would hope that Texas could at least say it has the most reliable and fail safe justice system in the country.

Yet stories continue to come out of Texas indicating that not only is the justice system there bordering upon totally incompetent, but it’s corrupt as well. The latest nightmares come from two stories reported by the Death Penalty Information Center. The first relates to the infamous Houston Crime Lab in the capital murder case of Derrick Lee Jackson as highlighted in a report issued by independent investigator Michael Bromwich.

“The report states that initial DNA testing in Jackson's case was performed by DNA lab chief James Bolding, who found the evidence was ‘inconclusive.’ When Jackson became a suspect, Bolding's interpretation of the evidence changed. ‘Without performing any additional testing, Mr. Bolding altered his worksheets . . . and issued a new report stating that (blood evidence) consistent with Mr. Jackson's (blood) type was found in two blood stain samples recovered from the crime scene.’”

Good God is that possible? You change your mind based upon what? Nothing other than the police think he might have done it? But wait, the next one is worse. Here at least it’s just Bromwich’s interpretation. He could be wrong, but in the next one we have a Federal Court decision reported by the DPIC!

“U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt overturned the capital conviction of Carl Wayne Buntion, noting that the Texas trial judge who sentenced him to death had a ‘deep-seated and vocal bias’ against Buntion.”

The judge for crying out loud! The neutral party and guardian of the law!

“Hoyt stated that state District Judge Bill Harmon deprived Buntion of his constitutional right to a fair trial by bullying his attorneys, meeting privately with prosecutors and deferring to their wishes, and making remarks in court such as he was ‘doing God's work’ by seeing that Buntion was executed.”

Another religious fruitcake that can’t tell the difference between his own prejudices and God’s will. I can see God now, leaning back with a cold compress on his head and moaning, “where did I go wrong?”

I read somewhere that one time Hillel and Shammai argued long into the night about the law, morality and God. As dawn appeared the two sages ended their discussions and wearily headed for their waiting bed chambers. One of Hillel’s students asked the great sage whether the two elders had come to any conclusion. Hillel shook his head sadly and replied “Yes, we have concluded that it would have been better if God had never created man.”

“Hoyt also found that Harmon had placed a Judge Roy Bean postcard on his bench during jury selection for the trial, an act that gave the impression that he was a ‘hangin' judge.’”

This would be comical if it wasn't so pathetic.

I’m flabbergasted. Every time I think Texas has done something that can’t be topped in terms of incompetence or corruption, it surprises me again! What I don’t understand is how a state with such nice people can have such a screwed up justice system?

Friday, May 19, 2006

Deal, or No Deal

Ok, ok, I really like this show. Twenty-six cases with dollar amounts between $.01 and $1,000,000. The contestant picks one and then begins a process of elimination by opening up the non-selected cases in groups of 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and then 1. Clearly what is opened in the non-selected cases cannot be in the selected case. As each amount is revealed, the potential value of the selected case changes, going up when low values are revealed, and down when high values are revealed. After each group is opened, a shadowy figure in a skybox, called the banker, telephones down an offer to buy the selected case. The name of the show comes from the question asked the contestant after each offer. Deal, take the money, or No Deal, open the next group of cases.

That’s the basics, but it’s the surrounding atmosphere that whips things into a frenzy. There is the company of 26 young ladies in matching (usually short and low cut) dresses that possess the cases, open the cases and then leave the stage after their case is opened. The show wouldn’t be the same without them. Not only are they very easy on the eyes, but they add a human touch, being happy when the contestant opens a small number and sympathetic when a big number is revealed.

The contestant gets to bring moral support. Usually the support consists of three family members or friends that hang out in a separate area of the stage and give advice as to whether or not the deal should be accepted. One lady brought an opera singer friend that sang to the banker and another a dozen or so kids from her class that the show decked out in "Deal, or No Deal" tee shirts.

The show throws in a twist occasionally just to keep you off balance. On one show, rather than offering money, the contestant, an unrepentant Cowboy fan, was offered a Cowboy season ticket dream package complete with limousine service to and from the game. On another show the marching band of the contestant’s Alma Mater showed up to give support, on another, one deal included a pony for the contestant's little girl and on another, one of the models holding the cases was actually the contestant’s sister which neither the contestant, nor her mother in the support section, noticed despite blatant hints.

Then there’s the audience, a collection of pit vipers in stadium seating that remind me of the spectators at a gladiatorial contest! Talk about wanting blood! No deal is ever good enough for them!

Keeping this circus under control is Howie Mandel as the MC and Howie does a masterful job. For the rest of his life Howie will be hearing “Deal, or No Deal.” Mandel’s timing has never been better. He even uses the commercial breaks to crank up the tension by delaying opening a case, or letting the contestant in on the size of the latest offer, until “right after this.” Mandel also does a pretty good “keep your chin up” job when things go wrong such as telling one guy “hey, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity so don’t feel bad about taking your shot.”

As for the offers, I don’t think there’s a precise formula. The banker seems to have some leeway but in general the offers seem to be a percentage of the mean value of the board with the percentage growing the deeper into the game things are. For example, after the first round, the offers seem to be about 10% to 15% of the mean. Later in the game, the offers approach the mean.

I doubt that anyone will ever win the $1,000,000. That would take picking the right case, a 1 in 26 chance, and then either taking an enormous risk late in the game or managing to keep several of the big numbers in play in order to keep the risk under control late in the game. Still, we’re talking serious money here and serious risk. The other night a young woman had a four case board with $300,000 the high value and the next highest value down around $300. Despite EVERYONE (except the vipers in the audience of course) telling her to take the deal of $71,000 (which was pretty darn close to the mean of about $75,000) she turned it down. She opened the case with $300,000 and eventually left with only $50.

The board starts with a mean of around $131,000. The largest amount I’ve seen won was $340,000 and the smallest the $50 from the example above. I’ve heard that the record is over $400,000 on the high end and $5 on the low end. People do get greedy. Another woman managed to go from $299,000, to about $140,000, to about $60,000 to $25,000 by opening up the three largest remaining values in a row.

I’m seen some people bemoan the premise of the show because it requires no knowledge or talent to participate and win. That’s what I like most about the show. It’s totally random. EVERYBODY is equal. Who could ask for a more democratic environment? In the world of Deal or No Deal, the klutz is equal to the world class athlete and the high school dropout equal to the guy with multiple PhDs. One lady, who claimed to have an advantage because she was psychic, walked away with a lot less than the initial mean of $131,000 so, technically, she lost. So much for her advantage (although I think she managed about $91,000 which ain’t bad).

I probably could be doing much more important things than watching this show, but I wouldn’t be having as much fun.

The Da Vinci Code is Here!

And it sounds like it's a whopping dud. The critics seem to be averaging giving it about two stars. Not a complete bomb, but something of a clunker. That's a disappointment. I figured with Tom Hanks and Ron Howard it was a sure thing.

Ahh well, no great rush to see it then.

Monday, May 15, 2006

122 Officers Down

According to the FBI 122 Police Officers were killed in the line of duty last year. 67 of the deaths were accidental and 55 the results of hostile criminal action.

Of the 55 intentional killings, 10 were in the West, 10 in the Midwest, 5 in the Northeast and 28 in the South! Yes that’s right, 28 of the 55 police officers killed in the line of duty last year through hostile action were killed in the South! Two officers were killed in Puerto Rico.

So much for “Moral Values” and “Loving Christians.” The South, with only 36% of the population accounts for 42% of the violent crime, 43% of the murders and 51% of the murdered police officers in this country.

Not only are they fat (the South has, by far, the highest obesity rate) and dumb (the South is the only region of the country where a majority of people reject evolution for creationism) down there but violent too! Explain to me again, since 50 of theses deaths were from guns, WHY tougher gun laws aren’t a good idea?

And the Da Vinci Code Gets Closer

Several articles and op-eds, with a fairly wide range of opinion, have popped up around the country now that the premiere of the movie is looming on the horizon this Friday

Amy Welbor, the author of “De-Coding Mary Magdalene: Truth, Legends and Lies” and “De-Coding Da Vinci: The Facts Behind the Fiction of The Da Vinci Code,” writing in USA Today wants to know where’s the concern for biblical accuracy that accompanied Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” and says that “The book is bothersome because it not only doesn't tell the truth about Jesus, it also doesn't tell the truth about what Christians say about Jesus.”

I’m not all that sure the concern was for biblical accuracy as much as it was a concern about throwing fuel on the always smoldering fire of anti-Semitism by highlighting Matthew’s unfortunate quote in Matthew 27:25, “Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children.”

If the media got into general accuracy, it was as a side issue.

As for not telling the truth about what Christians say about Jesus, I guess I missed that one and Ms. Welbor doesn’t explain how the book doesn't tell the truth about what Christians say about Jesus. You know what's bothersome to me? Editorial writers that don't justify their allegations. Besides, since when have Christians themselves agreed about what to say about Jesus?

Welbor goes on to lament that some folks are being misled.

“Sure, there's a slight difference in genre, but the fact is, The Da Vinci Code presents its theories authoritatively, and a startling number of readers embrace them as such.

Does this not bother anyone who cares about an intelligent approach to art and history?”

Sure, in the same way it bothers me that children are being misled when they’re taught that evolution is just a theory. I do think the media has the obligation to make it clear that the ideas presented in “The Da Vinci Code” are not accepted by the overwhelming majority of credible scholars just as it has the obligation to inform the public that evolution IS accepted by the overwhelming majority of credible scholars.

One has to wonder however if Ms. Welbor would also support the media making it clear to the public what the consensus among scholars is relating to the Documentary Hypothesis, the historical accuracy of Genesis, the authorship of the gospels and the authenticity of the Pauline Epistles.

Dennis P. McCann, Professor of Bible and Religion at Agnes Scott College, also writing in USA Today, is concerned about what he calls the spiritual decadence underlying the acceptance of the Da Vinci code fantasy.

“Digging for stubborn facts, apprehending the truth about them and acting accordingly are inconvenient, but the failure to do so has resulted in the whirlwind we are reaping. Though our private fascination with all-too-easy fantasies such as those Brown offered is only one symptom of our spiritual disarray, it has the potential to corrupt all aspects of American life. “

LOL!! Whoa professor, you do realize that all of religion is predicated upon the fact that most people are too lazy to dig for the facts and are attracted to easy, comforting fantasies don’t you? You’re just asking them to exchange one fantasy for another. Rather than accept the fantasy of “The Da Vinci Code,” they should accept the fantasy of Christianity? I suspect that “The Da Vinci Code” fantasy would do less harm. At least Dan Brown isn’t likely to burn anyone at the stake for not agreeing with him.

In the meantime many evangelicals are using this as an opportunity to present what the bible really says to a mostly biblically illiterate society. Or at least, to be more accurate, what they claim the bible means when it says what it says. You can be sure that this will be rather selective and have the right “feel good” twist. In other words, another collection of fantasies that Christianity hopes people will accept without getting into stubborn or embarrassing facts.

Friday, May 12, 2006

The NSA and my Telephone

Now USA Today is reporting about another lie from the Bush administration! When the call monitoring program at the NSA was revealed last December, Bush the Unhinged swore up and down that it only involved calls made overseas. Now we find out that was a lot of bull and calls within the U.S. were being monitored as well.

To be quite honest with you, I could care less if the NSA wants to monitor, or even listen in on, my phone calls. I have nothing to hide and I’m smart enough not to talk about anything I might want to hide on the phone. Listening to my calls would probably just put people to sleep. However, I have a big problem with being lied to again, and again, and again, by the current occupant of the White House. Didn’t we blacken the reputation of Tricky Dick for lying? When are the American people going to get fed up with the bald faced lies?

On a different note, how freaking incompetent is the NSA that IT GOT CAUGHT??? Hats off to Qwest Communications, apparently the only telephone company that told the NSA to pound salt and refused to participate.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

More Flap over the DaVinci Code

Now, according to Reuters, an Archbishop and an executive secretary to the president in the Philippines have expressed the opinion that the movie should be banned in that country.

Once again the religious among us demonstrate the intolerance of religion for anything which might cause any members of the oft fleeced flock to reconsider. I guess I’m not really certain what the problem is nor why some folks are calling the film blasphemous.

Let’s think about this for a second. The Christian pitch is that Jesus of Nazareth was both God and man right? Well, I can’t say much about being God as it’s beyond my experience, but I do know something about being a man. Jesus was supposedly in his early thirties when he was crucified which means he was, and had been for about 18 years or so, a sexually mature male. That means that either (a) he engaged in sexual relations, (b) he masturbated or (c) he experienced wet dreams on a regular basis or else he would have been in such agony he wouldn’t have been able to walk. If somehow suppressing his sexuality was part of his being God, then I contend that he wasn’t truly man, and therefore the Christian claim is false by definition.

It also would have been highly unusual, possible, but highly unusual, for a Jewish male in his thirties in 1st century Palestine to be unmarried. Marrying, and fathering children, was considered something of a religious obligation.

Wouldn't it be a hoot if Jesus was sexually active and all those priests, through all those centuries, had to be celibate? Or at least claim to be celibate. I think that would be the greatest joke of all time.

What would be the big deal if Jesus was married and did father children? I can understand the evangelists not bothering to mention this in the gospels. I mean, I’m sure some of the disciples were married, but I don’t recall seeing any mention of that either. I’m going to use one of the Christian Apologists favorite arguments, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. All of the canonical gospels, with the interesting exception of John, make it plain that there were women in Jesus’ entourage that had come with him from Galilee (Mark 15:40-41, Matthew 27:55 and Luke 23:49). Some of these were probably wives or girlfriends yet Mark, Matthew and Luke are all silent about any such relationships. Just because wives aren’t identified, doesn’t mean they weren’t traveling around with Jesus and the disciples.

I am surprised that it’s the Catholic Church making all the noise and not the fundamentalist fruitcakes. I’m also surprised that all the complaints have come from someplace other than the U.S. Then again, I guess it’s still early. As for me, now I’m counting the days until this movie is out. I may go see it the first weekend.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Texas, Voodoo Science and Darlie Routier

The Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) reports that a group of five of the nation’s leading arson experts have dismissed the “evidence” which sent a Texas man to the execution gurney in 2004 as little more than folk lore which has been scientifically disproved.

The group, which reviewed the evidence pro bono at the request of the New York Innocence Project, stated that "Each and every one of the indicators,” listed as evidence of arson “means absolutely nothing" and was consistent with indicators "routinely created by accidental fires."

The report also indicated that many arson investigators are self-taught and "inept," and pointed out that there "is no crime other than homicide by arson for which a person can be sent to death row based on the unsupported opinion of someone who received all of his training on the job."

Well that really sucks doesn’t it? If you had ANY doubt that wrongly convicted people get executed in this country, listen very carefully. This poor bastard was convicted of murdering his three children, through arson, with evidence that was meaningless voodoo science. Yet, I guarantee you, that if you went back to the Deputy Fire Marshal that declared it to be arson in the first place, he’d still insist he was right. Well, I guess I can’t blame him for that though. How could he face himself once he accepted that he sent a man off to die based upon nonsense that he accepted as true? That would take a degree of courage beyond that possessed by most men.

If that report doesn’t put all of those Fire Marshals out of business, or at least send them off to be retrained, there ain’t no justice in Texas. Ok, ok, so the term “Texas Justice” is a Texas sized oxymoron so I shouldn’t really be surprised. Sort of reminds you of all those witch hunting priests who burned innocents based upon superstitious nonsense don’t it?

Which brings us to an update on Darlie Routier who I reported on last January (Alencon’s Place – The Case of Darlie Routier). I'm not certain that Darlie would agee with the arson experts that only due to arson can someone be sent to death row based upon the unsupported opinion of someone who learned his trade on the job. Darlie also appears to have been convicted by voodoo science and the so-called “expert opinion” of crime scene investigators along with the support of a little touch of character assassination by the prosecution.

Darlie is still waiting on DNA testing from the crime scene and the web site pushing her innocence wants to know what the state of Texas is so worried about? That’s a damn good question. The prosecution is supposed to see that justice is done and not simply to win convictions, so why not test the DNA? Is the entire justice system in the state of Texas as “inept” as its fire marshals? Well yeah, of course it is, I mean, it’s Texas, Incompetence Capital of the World!

Here’s hoping this report on voodoo science and “inept” opinion leading to an unjustified execution leads someone in Texas to look into other cases, like Darlie’s, where the conviction is also based more upon so-called expert opinion than hard forensic evidence. I honestly don’t know if Darlie is innocent as a lot of folks seem to think, but I think there are more than enough open holes in the case to warrant a new trial not the least of which is one lady from the jury saying that no one proved she was innocent! They DO understand in Texas that the burden of proof is on the prosecution don’t they?

Last American Titanic Survivor Passes Away

According to the AP, the last American survivor of the Titanic, Ms. Lillian Gertrud Asplund, passed away last Saturday, in Worcester Massachusetts, at the age of 99. Ms. Asplund was also the last survivor, at five years old, that was old enough at the time of the disaster to have any memories of the event. Two other survivors in the U.K. were, at 10 months and 2 months old, too young at the time.

Titanic just before her Maiden Voyage in 1912

Ms. Asplund lost her father and three brothers, including a twin brother, in the disaster. Her mother and one younger brother survived with her. The family was traveling as third class passengers on their way back from Sweden to Worcester.

Hmmm, that’s kind of interesting. For a while I was a Titanic buff and read everything that I could find on the subject. I’m a great fan of the movie made from Jack Lord’s book “A Night to Remember,” but only a lukewarm fan of Carpenter’s "Titanic."

The Titanic is the ultimate “hubris” story even though the White Star Line never actually said the ship was unsinkable. The Titanic was designed to survive the worst catastrophe that anyone could conceive of, a collision near the bow which flooded any three forward compartments. I’m sure if Thomas Andrews, the designer of the Titanic and her sister ships the Olympic and the Britannic, had conceived of a collision which ruptured five compartments as actually occurred, he would have tried to take that situation into account.

There are a lot of myths surrounding the Titanic, starting with the myth that if there had been enough lifeboats, things would have been different. I doubt it. The ship sank about two hours after impact and they barely had enough time to get the boats they had off the ship. They never did manage to get the collapsible lifeboats to the davits and had to try and float them off. A second myth relates to the idea that they were trying to establish some sort of speed record on the maiden voyage. Not terribly likely. Speed was the selling point of the Cunard Line with the fast Lusitania and Mauritania to back it up. The White Star Line pitched luxury and was happy with ships that could go at a modest 21 or 22 knots as opposed to the 25 or 26 knot pace of the Cunard steamers.

The Britannic as a hospital ship in 1915

Of the three sisters, Olympic, Titanic and Britannic (nee Gigantic) only the Olympic ever completed a transatlantic voyage. The Britannic was impounded by the British government prior to her maiden voyage and commissioned as a hospital ship during WW I. After serving less than a year, she struck a mine in the Aegean Sea and went down.

The Olympic decked out in "dazzle paint" camouflage in 1918

The Olympic, the oldest of the three, had a speckled career that started with a collision with the British warship the HMS Hawke in 1911. She served as a troop transport during WW I and earned the nickname "Old Reliable" from the American troops that she ferried to and from the war in Europe. On May 12, 1918, she rammed, and sank, the German U-Boat U-110. This is the only known sinking of a U-Boat by a merchant ship, and a passenger liner no less. After the war, the Olympic returned to the transatlantic service and in 1934 had another collision, this time with the Nantucket Lightship, killing seven of the lightship’s crew. She remained active as a passenger liner until 1935 when she was sold for scrap.

As a very weird side story, Ms. Violet Jessop survived the Titanic sinking and then was assigned as a nurse to the Britannic. Boarding Titanic’s sister ship must have given the lady shivers. Then imagine how she felt when the Britannic went down with her on board! Yup, this poor lady was a survivor of both the Ttitanic and the Britannic disasters.

Tsunami on May 25?

That’s the prediction by one Eric Julien. Apparently Eric, through a fortuitous combination of a deep understanding of extraterrestrials, crop circle interpretation and comet fragment tracking, has determined that a large chuck of the comet 73P Schwassmann-Wachmann is going to crash into the Atlantic Ocean on May 25th, 2006, with rather unfortunate consequences for the east coast of North America and the west coast of Europe.

Supposedly this is a pre-emptive strike by some unfriendly extraterrestrials (are there any other kind?) to insure that Bush the Unhinged doesn’t use nukes on Iran. Not that the ETs care about Iran, they don’t, but apparently the use of nuclear weapons on our planet would somehow endanger our extraterrestrial neighbors and THAT they care about.

One wonders how reducing the earth to radioactive ash would inconvenience anyone (or anything) across the vastness of interstellar space?

Most likely he’s a nut, but just in case he’s right, I think I’ll postpone my next dental appointment from May 22nd to May 26th. I mean, why suffer through a thorough under the gums cleaning if I’m going to be vaporized three days later?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

A New Lay's Potato Chip

USA Today reports that Frito-Lay will be releasing its new potato chips in the Northeast next week. The new chips are baked in sunflower oil rather than cottenseed oil and are expected to drop the amount of saturated fat in one serving (but who can eat just one?) by two thirds from 3 gm. to 1 gm. Not only that, but sunflower oil is a source of so-called “good fats,” the mono- and polyunsaturated kinds, which are supposed to help reduce that bad LDL cholesterol.

My question is what the heck took so long? I mean if it was that easy? Oh never mind. I give Frito-Lay credit for doing something good. I tend to eat lots of sunflower seeds in salads. My only problem with this is does it mean the end of Lay’s Baked Potato Chips? I was a big fan of their sour cream and onion baked chips which seem to have disappeared off of the shelves.

Luckily I have neither a cholesterol problem nor a weight problem and while, like everyone, I give in to a snack craving from time to time, this change probably isn’t going to affect me much. Still, I can only see positive things coming out of this. Anything that reduces the saturated fat consumption of the country by 60 million pounds a year can’t be bad.

I’m no health food nut but I haven’t eaten in McDonald’s or Burger King since seeing Morgan Spurlock’s film “Super Size Me.” I do admit that I enjoy a Wendy’s chicken sandwich, with no mayo, from time to time, and I think I ate in Pizza Hut once last year. I’m also proud to say that I have never super sized anything, anywhere, at any time.

Some of the stuff being offered out there for actual consumption by human beings is scary. I think Burger King is trying to establish itself as the fat person’s breakfast place. Its new “Enormous Omelet Sandwich” with one sausage patty, two eggs, two American cheese slices and three strips of bacon on a long roll delivers a whopping 730 calories and 47 grams of fat! Then there’s its “French Toast Sandwich” which features two slices of cinnamon and maple-flavored French toast bread, one folded omelet egg, melted American cheese and a choice of ham, sausage or bacon. Burger King doesn’t seem to have released any nutrition information for this puppy yet but I think my arteries just narrowed simply from writing the description!

Still, even Burger King can’t top the one I saw about a cheeseburger sandwich served between the halves of a sliced Crispy Crème donut. I get nauseous just thinking about that one!

Indulging yourself once in a while is ok but looking around tells me that a lot of folks are indulging themselves a lot more than that and I live in a relatively thin part of the country according to the Trust for American Health (see map).

Apparently Mississippi is the fattest state with an obesity rate of 28.1% and Colorado is the thinnest with a rate of 16.4% (which still ain’t that great). I live in New Jersey which ranked 40th at 20.1%.

What is with the South? Not only does it have the highest crime rate, the highest murder rate, the highest execution rate and is the only region of the country where a majority of people believe in Creationism and reject Evolution, it's also the fattest part of the country. Explain to me again WHY we didn't just let them secede?

Ok, enough South bashing for today, it's some brownie points for Frito-Lay and a big razzberry for Burger King.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Klitschko vs. Byrd

The fight was actually a week or two ago but I missed it. Ah, the miracle of not reading any news about it and having HBO on Demand is that yesterday the fight showed up on the sports list and, since I had no idea of the outcome, it was like having a championship fight staged at my convenience. So, rather than watching the Big Love episode I didn’t watch Sunday, I curled up yesterday evening with a heavyweight fight from Mannheim Germany.

Unfortunately I got sidetracked by what the heck Byrd had written on the back of his trunk waistband. Given that Chris Byrd seems to be a demonstrably religious Christian, I figured it was a biblical reference. After a round or two I finally figured out it was “Phil 4:13” which, I assume, stands for Philippians 4:13.

In the KJV Philippians 4:13 is translated as:

Phil 4:13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

Which is, to say the least, a bit of an awkward sentence. Assuming “strengtheneth” means the same thing as “strengthens,” the sentence actually says that it’s doing “all things through Christ” which strengthens. The NKJV changes it to:

Phil 4:13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Now it becomes not doing “all things,” but Christ who does the strengthening which seems to make a bit more sense. The NIV offers:

Phil 4:13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Now any mention of Cristos disappears. Clearly one of those passages that are slightly different in different manuscripts and that give translators fits. On the positive side, at least Philippians is generally agreed to be an epistle actually written by Paul as opposed to Ephesians, 2 Thessalonians and the Pastorals which are generally accepted by scholars not to have been written by Paul. Apparently pseudononimous writings, in which a famous person’s name is attached as author in order to give the writing acceptability, weren’t that unusual back in the 1st and 2nd century. Let’s see now, what would we call that today? Oh yeah, that’s right, we’d call it lying.

Considering that Wladimir cleaned Byrd’s clock and put him out in round 7, I guess it’s all sort of academic. Maybe you could try praying harder next time Chris? It won’t help, but you could try.

An (Illegal) Immigrant Protest

Just when I begin to figure the country has gone completely to the dogs, something like yesterday's immigrant demonstration occurs to remind what a strange, and often wonderful, country this is to live in.

Let's understand this, we had hundreds of thousands of immigrant workers, many of which were in this country ILLEGALLY, demonstrating for immigration reform and to show how important they are to the economy. So, were there massive roundups of these folks who were admittedly breaking the law? Nope, local police just helped keep things peaceful and directed traffic.

And I would say they made their point. I seriously doubt it would be very pleasant if all of the "illegals" packed up one day and went home. That doesn't mean I necessarilly buy Dubyah's "guest worker" approach. The idea of "guest workers" leaves me cold; it smacks of elitism and a statically tiered society without the potential for class mobility that has always been such a critical part of the American spectrum.