Friday, December 15, 2006

A Million Years in One Afternoon

With the hype-up to Christmas in full swing, I've posted a few religious-oriented entries in the last week or two, so I'll leave the subject alone for a bit now with this parting shot. Anyone who still believes that the world is billions of years old (or perhaps its trillions or millions now, the figures in popular science journals change every 3 or 4 years), I would suggest a visit to Now I know what you're thinking, but the fact is that if you truly believe in science, then that includes the belief that any rational theorum which explains things more accurately than your current model, is a more scientific approach. For me, Creation explains what I see in the world a lot more accurately than Evolution. Consider this example, from creationwiki:

Perhaps the most remarkable catastrophic events to have occurred at Mt St Helens was the rapid erosion that was accomplished by mudflows, landslides, and waves of water. On March 19, 1982 a small eruption melted the snow that had accumulated in the crater over the winter, and a resulting hot mud flow carved a system of canyons up to 140 feet deep and 17 miles long in a single day. The deepest of the canyons has affectionately been called the little Grand Canyon of the Toutle River, and is 1/40th the size of its namesake. The small creek that now flows through the bottom would appear to have carved this canyon over a great length of time, but this unique event has demonstrated that rapid catastrophic processes were instead responsible. The Grand Canyon in Arizona has also been claimed for some time to have been carved gradually by the Colorado River, but it is now becoming clear this American icon is as well the result of catastrophic erosion.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Depressed Yet?

In case you missed this story in the News, a US Food and Drug Administration advisory panel recommended Wednesday that warnings on anti-depressants be changed. It seems that anti-depressants cause an increased risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors in children and adolescents, and the debate is whether that extends to young adults or older patients as well, and whether the warning labels should be changed to reflect the fact. Now forgive me for exclaiming "WTF!?", but surely anti-depressants are to stop this kind of thought/behaviour pattern? I can just picture a man walking into the Doctor and saying "I'm so depressed, Doc, I think I want to kill myself", and the Doctor says, "Here, take these pills, then you'll be sure!"

It shouldn't come as any surprise, though. Scan through old newspapers sometime and find any article that says something is good for you, then scan ahead a year of two and find the corresponding "No it isn't" article. We've been told to eat more chocolate, don't eat chocolate, drink more tea and coffee, drink less tea and coffee, no red meat, lots of red meat, minimal dairy, as much dairy as you can, more sugar, less sugar, no sugar, more sugar, take an aspirin every day for your heart's sake, don't take aspirin ever. What a world.

The only thing you can discern for sure out of the whole thing is that anybody claiming to be an expert is best not listened to, and the best way to live life is to use your own common sense. As my Dad used to say, "The whole world is mad except me and thee, and I'm not so sure about thee."

FDA Panels Urges Changes to Antidepressant Labeling

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

What Did Jesus Really Look Like?

Which of the images above is the real Jesus? Well, most people would say number 4, or perhaps 1 or 5. And they'd be wrong. In fact, number 6 is probably the most accurate picture of Jesus, although even that's just guesswork. The simple fact is that we've all been conditioned by Hollywood and Sunday School to accept an image of Jesus as tall, lean, with flowing blonde hair, fair skin and light-coloured eyes, but that doesn't fit with any of the evidence.

We only have two hints from the Bible about his looks, and both are fairly uncomplimentary. Isaiah says that he has "no comeliness" and that "there is no beauty that we should desire him". And that His face was "marred more than any other man". And in the 3rd century, Tertullian said that Jesus' body "did not reach even to human beauty, to say nothing of heavenly glory".

Apart from these direct references to his appearance, a lot can be assumed from other evidence. First, Jesus looked ordinary - when a mob was out to get Him, He hid from them simply by melting into the crowd. And at His betrayal, Judas had to point Him out to the soldiers, even though there were only 12 people in the garden, with a pre-arranged signal. These incidents show us that Jesus looked like any other Jew of His day. Archeological evidence shows the average semetic male of the era was around 5'1" and 110 pounds. Since Jesus worked outdoors as a carpenter until He was about 30 years old, it's reasonable to assume He was more muscular and physically fit than our portraits suggest, although He did a lot of walking when He began His ministry, so it's fair to assume He would have become leaner.

How did Jesus wear His hair? Well, the apostle Paul saw Jesus and knew exactly what He looked like. In the time of Christ most men wore short hair, and in 1 Corinthians Paul wrote, "Doesn't even nature itself teach you, that if a man have long hair, it is shameful?" Would Paul have made such a statement if Jesus had long hair?

The simple fact is, although there were no pictures of the real Jesus, or accurate descriptions, that hasn't stopped people through the ages inventing them. From the static yet profound icons of Eastern Orthodoxy to the punishing bruiser of Michelangelo's "Last Judgment", Jesus served the needs of the day. Slave-era blacks painted an African Jesus, Jesus took on almond eyes in Asia and blonde hair in Scandinavia. The consistent trend has been to make him more human, to make a Jesus that His followers could easily identify with. Caravaggio did it for Italians in the 17th century with a suffering, peasant Jesus, and the filmmaker Kevin Smith reflected the modern "Jesus is my best friend" mentality by introducing a smiling "Buddy Christ" in his movie "Dogma."

Ultimately, then, the answer to the question, "What did Jesus really look like?" is: Whatever you want Him to.

Further Reading

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A Safe & Healthy Workplace

These days every organisation seems to have a Political-Correctness-Police approved mission statement, most of which are simply copied and pasted from someone else's, all the way back to the original model statement which originated in some disabled vegan lesbian aboriginal's poetry book. Take, for example, this excerpt from the Tasmania Fire Service website, and let's stop for a moment to think on what it really means, and if the principles stated really would provide for a better workplace.

The TFS works hard to have a safe work place where people are able to fulfil their potential and contribute to the achievement of our goals. We want a workforce where diversity in all areas is valued, particularly in the areas of gender and ethnicity. It is our view that the way we deliver our services will be improved if we have people from a wide range of backgrounds and social groups working in our organisation.

Fighting fires isn't a safe activity, by its very nature, so that part is just drivel. It's nice to give humans the opportunity to reach their potential, find Nirvana, and be one with the universe, but in most cases, fulfilling your potential means stopping someone else from reaching theirs. It's on this very point that most Political Correctness falls down - the simple fact that giving a Right to one person automatically implies you are taking it away from everyone else. And the chances that what I need to do, to fulfill my own personal potential, will coincide with the goals of the Tasmania Fire Service are very remote indeed. Having a job is all about giving up personal freedom in exchange for the pay cheque, no matter what the PC Police say.

As for a workplace where diversity is valued, nothing could be further from desirable for any organisation, which needs all its staff to work toward it's goal with one mind, one purpose, and one set of actions - the complete opposite of diversity, in fact. And although there are certainly businesses where it might be an advantage to have a German, for example, on staff, they are a small percentage. In most businesses it doesn't make one iota of difference if your staff are of varied ethnic backgrounds, or a mix of male and female, yet the TFS, like so many other PC-correct groups, says it wants this, even needs it, so that it's "delivery of services" will be improved by the most diversity it can squeeze in.

The sad thing about all this, is that everyone knows statements like the above are just so much legally-required garbage, from the people who draft them to the people in the government who tick off the box that says the organisation's mission statement is acceptable. And day-to-day, despite the stated desires for ethnic variety, culturally sensitivity, male and female interaction and spiritual closeness, people are still being employed based solely on their ability to do the job they were hired for. Shame, shame, shame.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The True Origin of Christmas

There are a lot of Christians running around these days chanting "Put Christ back into Christmas". Well, I am a Christian, but I've got some bad news for you guys. Christ was never a part of Christmas in the first place!

The Shepherds and the Wise Men
Jesus wasn't born on December 25th or anywhere near it. Shepherds don't sleep out in the fields watching their flocks by night in the middle of the Middle East winter, so the best guess for Christ's birth is somewhere in September, but the date isn't recorded. A lot of people get confused because they've heard the Wise Men may have taken years to get there, but the shepherds were on the scene pretty much straight away. The Wise Men were almost certainly Astronomers from China or Persia. They came from the East, and took up to 3 years to get there, because Herod ordered all children under 3 killed. There weren't 3 of them, either, this is a common assumption based on the fact that 3 different types of gift were given. Considering the length of the journey and their importance, there may have been a caravan of hundreds of people in their retinue.

December 25th
December 25th was the Roman Festival of Saturnalia, where lawlessness, intoxication, debauchery, rape and human sacrifice reigned, all without punishment. Human-shaped biscuits were eaten, and singing naked in the streets was common (the precursor to modern carol singing). In the 4th century, the Catholic Church, hoping to convert the heathen, adopted the Festival by promising they could continue to celebrate it after conversion, and in 1466 Pope Paul II revived many of the old customs to persecute Jews.

Christmas Trees and Mistletoe
Worshippers of the pagan Asheira cult worshipped trees in the forest and brought them into their homes to decorate. Their practices also were adopted by the Church, giving us the modern Christmas tree. In Norse mythology, Hoder killed Balder while fighting for the female Nanna, using a mistletoe-poisoned arrow. Druid rituals used mistletoe to poison their human sacrifices. The custom of kissing under the mistletoe is a mixing of the sexual nature of the Saturnalia Festival and Druidic sacrifice.

In pre-Christian Rome, the Emperors forced citizens to bring them offerings and gifts during Saturnalia. The Catholic Church simply invented Saint Nicholas and adopted the gift-giving practice.

Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus
Nicholas was Bishop of Myra around 300, and was named a saint in the 19th century. In 1087 a cult worshipping him developed, and in Turkey he supplanted a female deity called The Grandmother in the role of giving gifts to children. The Nicholas cult spread north and was adopted by German and Celtic pagans. These groups worshipped many gods but their leader was Woden, father of Thor, who had a long white beard and rode a horse through the sky every August. The legends of Saint Nicholas and Woden merged, and his schedule was changed to December 6th, Nick's birthday. In an attempt to convert pagans in Northern Europe, the Catholic Church adopted the Nicholas cult and moved the date to December 25th. In 1809 novelist Washington Irving wrote a satire of Dutch culture which referred to Saint Nicholas using his Dutch name, Santa Claus.

Santa Becomes Famous
In 1822, Professor Dr Clement Moore published a poem, "The Night Before Christmas", based on the character of Saint Nicholas after reading Irving's book. The modern image of Santa is largely the work of illustrator Thomas Nast, who from 1862 to 1886 drew more than 2,200 cartoon images of Santa for Harper's Weekly. Nast also invented the North Pole address, the workshop filled with elves, and the list of good and bad children. The only thing missing was Santa's red outfit, and for that we can thank the Coca Cola company, who contracted Haddon Sundblom to create an advertisement featuring Santa drinking Coke - and insisted that his suit be Coca-Cola red.

Disastrous News!

Bushfires burned out of control on the island state of Tasmania yesterday, with up to 600,000 people killed and many others missing from their homes. The devastation was total in some areas as entire populations lost their homes. Experts say most of these victims will never build a house again. Thick black smoke turned day into night in various locations, and firefighters worked desperately to save anyone they could, despite being inches from deadly fires themselves. Possibly 4,000 homes were destroyed in Hobart alone, and police were on the lookout for looters throughout the night. One witness, a World War 2 veteran, described the scene at his former home as "the worst thing he'd ever seen in his life."

Bushfires wiped out the entire state in 1967, at least according to a Time Magazine article. I lost all faith in that magazine when I found an old issue as a teenager, and read how devastated the entire island was in 1967, how Tasmanian industry was wiped out and would never recover, and how bare the island now was. But in fact, horrific though the 60's bushfires were, they only covered an area of 2,642 sq km, or about 3% of the state. And it's with this paragon of reporting style as my model that I wrote for you the above account of what the bushfires did in Tasmania yesterday. The amazing thing about my story above is… every word is true. But not necessarily in the way you think.

Some parts of the bushfires yesterday weren't being controlled, while firemen worked on other parts of the fire instead. No people were killed - zero is certainly in the range of numbers up to 600,000. Across the state, people were missing from home because they were at work, school, etc as normal. Where the fires had burned down trees, the devastation was total, and the animal populations which lived in those trees lost their homes. They will never rebuild, because animals don't build houses. At the base of any of those fires, a few inches from the ground, smoke made it very dark, and also inside trees, etc. Firefighters always work to save whoever they can in any fire situation. Fire is deadly if you're caught in it, and every firefighter is somewhere within a million inches of a fire. No homes were destroyed in Hobart, though there is always a possibility that could happen. And police keep a watch out for burglars, looters, etc 24/7 every day of the year, fires or not. The World War 2 veteran, who never went overseas and served in a recruiting office in Melbourne for the whole war, went for a drive to where his home used to be 30 years ago, it had nothing to do with the fires, he just sold it back then. When he got there he saw two dogs engaging in… well, anyway, he said it was the worst thing he'd seen in his life.

And there you have it, a prime example of how the News can be true and untrue at the same time. Thanks, Time Magazine, for teaching me this important skill, and keep up the crappy work.

The 1967 Tasmanian Bushfires
Bushfires in General

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Smoke if You've Got 'Em

I just thought a second blog entry for the day might be appropriate, since I'm pretty much shut inside for the day. The sky for 360° around is filled with smoke from the 22 separate bushfires currently burning around Tasmania, making the day fairly dark and ominous. As a sort of false evening approaches, the sky can be seen glowing and flickering here and there where some of the fires are. Earlier today we heard repeated, regular blasts of a fog-horn, which I've never heard before in my whole life, from the Port of Devonport, some 10 km away, presumably guiding the Spirit of Tasmania, or smaller vessels without satellite navigation, into port. Checking the Tasmania Fire Service's website, I found something else I've never seen before in my life - an Asthmatics Warning. That's right, they're officially telling people to stay inside, where the air is better. The feeling in my chest (a sort of magical weather bureau) tells me we're in for a dramatic downward change in weather over the next few days. The weather widget says its 30°C today (terribly hot to us Tasmanians, we consider 18° a hot day) with the next 3 days going down to 16°, 15° and 18°, so I guess my chest is correct. I bet those firefighters out there are looking forward to it even more than the rest of us!

Eddie's Etymology Lesson

FORMER TV star Eddie McGuire is so unhappy he's considering quitting as Channel 9 chief executive. He's on record as saying he wants to "bone" TV personality Jessica Rowe, but it's not what you think - "bone" is his term for dismissing someone, according to Eddie. That's really convenient, because no-one I have ever met uses the term for sacking someone from their job. Nor anyone you've ever met, either, I'll bet. The slang term "bone" means to have sex with, and Eddie's attempts to pretend that he personally has a different meaning are just so much bullshit. Oh, please don't get offended at that expression - my personal meaning for the term "bullshit" is "a promise to put money in the collection plate next Sunday".

Assigning a personal meaning to the term "bone" avoids a great many problems as far as Channel 9, and Eddie, are concerned. After all, in his capacity as chief executive, he has every right to talk about sacking someone, whereas the alternative - the meaning everyone else in the world assigns to the term - would make him guilty of sexual harassment and would cost 9 and Eddie a hell of a lot of money in court.

Years ago, the policy of Education Department's in Australia was that if a child spelled a word wrong three times, then the teachers shouldn't correct him or her, because it was obviously "the right spelling, for that child". This is taking political correctness and citizen's rights to a ridiculous extreme. Just imagine if I smash windows as I walk down the street, and when the police stop me, I point out that I smashed more than 3, therefore it is correct and legal behaviour, for me.

Eddie is a bonehead, and as far as I'm concerned, he can bend over and bone himself. And I don't mean give himself the sack.

News Article