Thursday, February 28, 2008

Dinosaurs in the Bible?

The description of Behemoth in Job 40 is the “evidence” cited by Christian fundies to “prove” that dinosaurs co-existed with people.

Actually, the argument really comes down to one six word phrase.

Job 40:17 His tail sways like a cedar;

That’s it really. The remainder of the description could apply to any number of actual animals or easily could be relegated to some mythical beast. Based upon these six words Bible thumpers have decided that this must be the description of a sauropod dinosaur with a thick tail similar to the thickness of a cedar tree.

If that’s the case, then I would think the rest of the description would fit your run of the mill sauropod as well. Does it? Well, not really.

First let’s consider Job 40:15 which says the Behemoth “…feeds on grass like an ox.” Sauropods didn’t eat grass. They stripped leaves, fronds and probably thin branches off of trees. A sauropod feeding won’t look at all like an ox doing the same thing.

Then there’s Job 40:21 which says that Behemoth lies “Under the lotus plants” and is“…hidden among the reeds in the marsh.”

You will excuse me but there is no way a sauropod dinosaur is going to be hidden among marsh reeds when even the runts of the species were some 20 feet long. Hell, the flag ship of the species, Diplodocus, could be over a hundred feet long!

How do you suppose other civilizations in the area, such as the Egyptians, the Assyrians and the Phoenicians managed to miss these puppies running around and trampling everything under foot?

The fact is they didn’t. The word Behemoth is most likely simply a plural form of the Hebrew Bahemah which simply means beast or large animal and may simply be an example of pluralis excellentiae, a Hebrew expressive form which, by pluralizing, indicates the ultimate of something. In this case it would indicate the largest or most powerful beast.

Did the author of Job have a specific beast in mind or did he leave it up to the imagination of the reader to conjure up in his mind the largest, most powerful beastie he could come up with? The description of Behemoth is general enough that it could simply be a clever literary device.

Who knows? But certainly these six words, open to a wide range of interpretation, when stacked up against the mountains of scientific evidence that says the last dinosaur disappeared some 65 million years before the first primate that could be called human evolved, isn’t much of an argument. I find it frightening that there are people out there that actually believe it is. That they are pitching this nonsense to pre-schoolers that are still in the "accept everything from an authority figure as true" stage of development infuriates me.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Pew Survey on the U.S. Religious Landscape

The latest Pew Forum Religion and Public Life survey maps out what it calls the U.S. religious landscape. In general the findings aren’t terribly surprising but I’d like to focus on that segment of the population to which I find myself a member.

Pew identifies a segment of the population as “Unaffiliated.” That is they have no particular religious affiliation. Pew further breaks this down into what if calls “The Religious Unaffiliated,” people for whom religion is important but for whatever reason currently have no religious ties, and “Seculars,” people for whom either religion is unimportant or are openly atheist or agnostic.

Of the total U.S. population, Pew places the number of atheists at 2%, the number of agnostics at 2% and the total of other seculars at 6% for a total of 10% of the population. I think these numbers are way under because they don’t include atheists and agnostics which still maintain a religious affiliation. Ignoring that for the moment, we’ll just focus on that 10% of the population that is openly secular.

When education is taken into account, among those with at least a college degree this number jumps to 13% of the population. Among those with a post graduate degree the number is 16%.

Men are more likely to be secular than women. 13.4% of men claim to be secular while only 7.4% of women do.

The most secular region of the country is the West where seculars comprise 16% of the population followed by the Northeast where 12% are secular. In the Northeast, Atheists, Agnostics and Secular Unaffiliated individuals are almost as numerous as evangelical Christians who number only 13% in that region. The least secular region is the South with only 7% of the population claiming to be atheist, agnostic or secular unaffiliated.

16% of the population in the 18-29 year old age range are openly secular while only 5% of those over 70 are.

Like I said before, I find these numbers low. I’m pretty sure there are a large number of folks who will call themselves Catholic, Jewish, Methodist or whatever who are really firmly in the secular camp but are unwilling to shed their traditional label.

The bottom line is that the younger you are and the more educated you are, especially if you live in the West or the Northeast, the more likely you are to be religion free either de jure or de facto and I find that a very encouraging thing for the future.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Texas and Ohio and the California Shore

The title of the post is a line from an old Phil Ochs song called "Power and Glory" and I can't help having it run through my head as Hillary and Obama prepare for what may be the final showdown in Texas and Ohio.

If Clinton doesn't figure out a way to stop, in those two states, what appears to be developing into an Obama juggernaut over the last ten contests, I think she's toast. I find it hard to believe that the so-called Super Delegates are going to go counter to the apparent will of the Democrat rank and file and give her the nomination. I think that would be the kiss of death against McCain.

So then what? Obama vs McCain, youth and charisma vs age and experience? What's the old saying? Oh yeah, "Age and deviousness will overcome youth and talent every time."

While I don't necessarily hold to that in general, the Republican and Conservative strategists have demonstrated over and over again a talent for manufacturing phoney issues and selling those issues to enough of the American people to tilt national elections. I don't blame the strategists for doing this as much as I blame that segment of the American people who are dumb enough to repeatedly buy this. I guess Lincoln was right when he said that you can fool some of the people all of the time.

Would you like me to take a guess at the manufactured phoney issue this time around? Obama has said that he would, with no preconditions, enter into talks with nations with which the U.S. has been traditionally at odds including Syria, Iran and, just recently, Cuba. Even Hillary Clinton balked at this and criticized Obama for being naive.

I can hear the right wing demogogues already parlaying this into a "placing America at risk" theme as if somehow talking was the same thing as painting a big target on your chest.

The best thing that could happen for the prestige of this country is the election of Barack Obama. I think almost overnight this would repair some of the damage of the Bush years. Repairing the rest of the damage could take decades assuming it can ever be repaired.

Electing a Republican that continues the Bush policies, especially with respect to Iraq, will be an unmitigated foreign policy disaster and, if such an electee pushes forward on things like constitutional amendments banning abortion and gay marriage, the result could well be a domestic disaster as well. I'm not at all certain that this country can survive another Conservative Republican Administration.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Now I’m Really Depressed

Every once in a while just reading through the latest news sends me into a tailspin of depression. The funny part about it is that it’s not usually death and destruction that does it. As terrible as it sounds, I’m used to war, natural disaster and sudden tragedy. It’s usually the little things that get to me.

My philosophy is that it’s the undercurrent of the world that determines whether things are getting better or worse. It’s the little things that determine whether the zeitgeist is proceeding in the right direction or whether we’re rewinding back towards the dark ages.

So, what are the stories that have me in a funk? The first is that Iraq has a new national flag emblazoned with the words “God is Great” in Arabic. Oh yeah, that bodes well for the future.

The second is that the latest AP poll shows Barack Obama barely defeating John McCain and Hillary Clinton actually in what amounts to a dead heat with him. I don’t understand how, after the catastrophe of George Bush, anyone could consider voting Republican in the next election. At least part of the disaster of the Bush administration is the result of a Republican party that has allowed itself to be influenced by a far right philosophy that is incompatible with American Democracy. You elect another Republican before the party re-establishes its moderate roots and you’re just asking for another disaster.

The third is that I read the story on last night’s Emmy Awards and don’t have the faintest idea who these people are that won all of the awards. I must really be getting old.

Ignoring the getting old thing for a minute, civilization seems to be winning on all fronts but one. Religion continues to act like a millstone around our necks that, at the very least, retards progress, and in the worst case scenario threatens to drag us back down into barbarity. The vision of a moral dark age dominated by religions which have access to weapons of mass destruction rather than simply knives, swords, bows and torture devices is truly a depressing one.

Friday, February 08, 2008

What did he Say?

I don’t watch American Idol. My wife does on occasion while she’s marking papers and we were gabbing a bit as the show came on the other night. It was the last audition episode highlighting the failures along with the successes.

The first girl to audition had a fabulous chest and she wasn’t hiding much of it. This caught my undivided attention. I may be over the hill, but I’m not dead. Her voice was pretty good too and she got a ticket to Hollywood.

I mention this because it got me deeper into the show than I would normally get before retreating to my desk and computer. Deep enough to see the second girl to audition, a young black girl telling the camera that she sang in the church choir, that her voice was a gift from God and that God had inspired her to audition.

She repeated the gift from God pitch as she got up in front of Simon, Paula and the black dude whose name I don’t know. The reactions were condescending to say the least. Paula smiled and looked to the side, Simon smirked and the black dude said “Hallelujah sister” in a tone that told you he wasn’t precisely praising the Lord.

Then the girl started to sing a spiritual and I have to admit she wasn’t of the American Idol winner category but she wasn’t completely awful. Well, actually, she was pretty bad, but at least she sort of stayed in tune. When she finished Simon said something to the effect of “Does he have a return policy?”

When Paula asked him what he meant he explained that he wanted to know if God had a return policy because if he had gotten a gift like the girl got he’d want to return it or figure out some way to lose it.

To say the girl looked devastated would be an understatement. Now I don’t know if these things are staged, or the result of creative film editing, but assuming things happened as shown on the show, all I can say is that was an absolutely terrible thing to say to this poor girl.

Just looking at her one could see that she wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed but she was very sincere. I guess folks who knew better had let her keep her delusion that she had been blessed with a beautiful singing voice. I know Simon’s shtick is to be a nasty so and so, but to my mind there is a limit. They could have let the poor girl down a little easier than that. Does he have a return policy? That was an absolutely horrible thing to say.

I know it's supposed to be entertainment and all that but I don't find the total disregard for simple courtesy to be terribly amusing. This poor girl didn't do anything to deserve that kind of smack in the face. Shame on you Simon and shame on Fox for airing it.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Super Tuesday

I see a McCain-Huckabee ticket in our future. It looks like McCain has pulled ahead but Huckabee has firmly claimed the social conservative right wing of the Republican Party and McCain has no hope in the general election without those voters.

For the Democrats, it’s still neck and neck. Yahoo has Clinton with 630 pledged delegates and Obama with 625 pledged delegates. If you include the so-called Super Delegates, Party Leaders and Elected Officials (PLEO), Clinton’s lead expands to around 820-725. The last thing the Democrats, who are all clamoring for change, want is a candidate ultimately selected by Washington insiders.

I think the script changes for McCain from here on in. Rather than campaigning against Romney and Huckabee, he can attack the Democrats in general and work to repair what appears to be a badly fractured Republican coalition.

The Democrats have to keep on trucking. Their coalition is as badly fractured as the Republicans but they’re in no position to begin repairing it until after the nomination is settled. The danger of course is that a bitter primary campaign could render that fracture difficult to repair for the 2008 election.

Honestly though, I don’t think that’s likely to happen. The differences between Clinton and Obama aren’t all that big.

Personally, I voted for Obama and I have three reasons why I did so. The first, and most important reason, is that I honestly believe he would be a less polarizing influence. I honestly think he has a chance of smoothing out some of the divisions this country has in order to get some things done. I don’t think Hillary can do that or at least won’t be able to do it as often or as well.

My second reason is that her refusal to admit she made a mistake in giving Bush the authorization to use military force in Iraq sticks in my craw. She’s effectively admitted it in every possible way other than say it directly and this really bugs me. She has lots of excuses and rationalizations for why she didn’t screw up there but I’m not buying any of them. I knew it was a freaking BAD idea so why didn’t she?

My third reason is that, when I listen to her speak, and especially about health care, I get the message “I know what’s best, there’s nothing left to discuss, I know what needs to be done.”

My reaction is that’s a dangerous attitude on complex subjects. Under such conditions there is a thin line between certainty and stupidity. You can’t be so certain you’re right that you begin ignoring data that may contradict what you “know” to be correct. This kind of attitude was my major freaking problem with Bush so why should I vote for someone else with that attitude even if she’s a whole lot smarter than Bush (which of course isn’t saying all that much) and has a much better chance of being right?

Clearly if Obama wins the Democratic nomination I’ll vote for him in November. I might even campaign for him. If Clinton wins, I’ll vote for her also because I understand that I’m not simply electing a candidate, I’m electing a political philosophy and I find the Democrat’s political philosophy much more palatable than the Republican’s. The difference is that I would do the former enthusiastically and the latter with some trepidation.

Super Bowl XLII

You can’t make this stuff up. David slew Goliath, Cinderella went to the ball, light overcame darkness and virtue went to the mountaintop. The Perfect Season turned out to be not so perfect and all of us who lacked faith got shown up big time.

The Giants upset the Patriots 17-14. The phrase melts in your mouth like honey doesn’t it? If you had told me that the score at halftime was going to be 7-3, I would have said that you were out of your mind or just didn’t understand football. I would have told you the same thing if you had said the Giants would score only 17 points and win.

On the other hand, if you had offered me 14-10 Patriots with 2:39 left in the game and the Giants first and ten on their own 17 yard line, I would have taken it in a heartbeat. When you’re playing a team with the kind of talent the Pats have, all you can hope for is to be close at the end of the game and your guys have the ball.

That brings us to the final drive. It was one of those drives that make fans on the other side of the ball howl in frustration. It should have been stopped, it could have been stopped, but it wasn’t stopped. First Jacobs converts on 4th and one, then Samuels misses a chance at a game ending interception, then comes the miracle play with Eli somehow escaping the grip of the Patriots pass rush and heaving a hanger in the general direction of David Tyree. Exactly how Tyree caught that ball up against his helmet while falling to the ground should keep physicists busy for the next century or two. I’m certain several natural laws were fractured if not outright broken.

Then it was Steve Smith scooping in a 3rd and 11 pass from Eli and, knowing precisely where he needed to get for the first down, diving across the marker and out of bounds. And then, oh and then, it was the crowning glory, Eli to Plaxico on a slant and go pattern that left a badly beaten Ellis Hobbs wondering where everyone disappeared to.

All I could say at that point was “omigod, 35 seconds.” Tom Terrific had 35 seconds and three timeouts plus we had to cover the kickoff, something that hadn’t gone all that well in the first quarter.

This time however the Pats could only manage a return to the 25 yard line. Brady’s first pass fell incomplete and then, and then, wonder of wonders, the Giants’ 5th sack of the evening pushed the Pats back, took time off the clock and forced them to burn a timeout. All that was left was time for two desperation Hail Mary passes, both of which were scary as hell, especially the first one which could very well have been a TD to Moss if Brady could have gotten a little more on it, but the football gods had other ideas and both were swatted away harmlessly by Giant defenders.

Wow! Apparently this was the most watched Super Bowl ever with 107 million people watching the shootout in the 4th Quarter.

Now I have to listen to all the so-called experts analyze the thing to death. Let me tell you what I think.

I think that if the 2007 Pats aren’t the best NFL team of all time, they’re up there in the top five. One loss does not make them into a mediocre team. Personally I think they would have been better off losing to the Giants at the Meadowlands in game 16. I suspect that the pressure of being 18-0, going for 19-0, had almost as much to do with the loss as the pressure from the Giants’ pass rush. No one else can know how it felt because no one else has ever been in that position. I saw it in the Patriot defenders eyes on that last drive. You know they were thinking “Oh no, this can’t happen to us. We can’t go undefeated all season and then lose the Super Bowl.”

I also think Brady was hurting. He’ll never admit it, but he didn’t look like the Brady I saw at the Meadowlands.

Of course none of this takes anything away from my Giants and all the superlatives do apply simply because the stakes have never been this high before. This was the greatest Super Bowl game, this was the greatest Super Bowl upset, Eli to Tyree was the greatest Super Bowl play and the Giants’ winning drive was the greatest Super Bowl drive.

But do you know what the really good news is? Someday all of these “greatests” will be surpassed.