February 27, 2015

Leonard Nimoy, 1931-2015

When news broke a few days ago that actor Leonard Nimoy had been hospitalized, I feared the worst, and it has happened: he has passed away at the age of 83, of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which he attributed to his former smoking habit.

Like many people of a particular generation, I knew that Nimoy had had a long and varied career in the performing arts. However, I knew his work exclusively from one character: Star Trek's Spock, the role that defined his career for almost 50 years. (Nimoy wrote two autobiographies: I Am Not Spock [1975], in which he attempted to distance his own personality from the character's, and then I Am Spock [1995], in which he clarified that he was proud to have played Spock, and never meant to reject the role.) Nimoy also played guest roles on numerous television programs of the 1960s, including Bonanza, The Rebel, Get Smart, Perry Mason, The Twilight Zone (as did his Star Trek co-star William Shatner, arguably more famously), and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (in an episode where he and Shatner both appeared as enemies on either side of the Cold War, with Nimoy as the villain). After Star Trek, he had a recurring role on Mission: Impossible. Come to think of it, I may have seen the episode of the Outer Limits revival on which he was the guest, but apart from the various incarnations of Star Trek, that's it.

Three of Trek's seven stars have now passed on; Shatner, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, and Walter Koenig remain.

In addition to television and film acting, Nimoy also pursued other arts: directing, poetry, photography, and music—the last infamously including a novelty song titled "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins."

Leonard Nimoy's final tweet before his death was this:

Or, in the final words of Spock, in Star Trek II: "Remember."

'Nuff said

Technically since it's in the dark, it's ALL black.

January 03, 2015

And now . . . Science! - Jan. 3/15

We begin the 2015 blogging year with this note of brilliance from astrophysicist, Cosmos host, and popular spokesman for Science!, Neil DeGrasse Tyson:

While I'm sure Tyson is eminently qualified as an astrophysicist, it seems to me there are some people who are vocationally better suited to running the planetarium gift shop than opining. When your answer to the world's problems is something like, "Well, why don't they make it so you can't do that?" you may be one of those people.

December 25, 2014

Unto us a Son is given

Every Christmas, we commemorate the birth of Christ. Often this means that sentimental visions of nativity scenes, and songs about silent nights and the little Lord Jesus in his manger, dance in our heads. But the birth of Jesus was just the starting point in his earthly ministry. At Christmas, we celebrate not merely his birth, but his Incarnation: as the apostle John wrote, "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). The Incarnation—God becoming a man—is the basis of the theology of the New Testament.

The Incarnation brings God close to us

Matthew wrote that the virgin birth was to "fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 'Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel' (which means, God with us)" (Matt. 1:22-23). What the prophet Isaiah wrote symbolically, eight centuries earlier, actually happened at the dawn of the first century: Jesus Christ is, literally, "God with us."

God being made flesh in the person of Jesus means that he is not a disinterested spectator viewing human suffering from afar. The Creator actually entered into his own creation and participated in humanity along with the rest of us, along with our sufferings and temptations. The author of Hebrews writes, "Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things. . . . For because he himself has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted" (Heb. 2:14). Jesus was baptized by John, not because he needed ritual purification, as he was sinless, but to "fulfill all righteousness" (Matt. 3:15). He did it to identify with us, because we do need to be purified.

The Incarnation shows us God's character

In Jesus' teaching, we see God's teaching. In his miracles, we see God's power. Jesus said that he never did anything of his own initiative; it was his Father doing his own work through him. If you want to see God&'s compassion, see Jesus' healing miracles. If you want to see God's judgment, see Jesus' rebuke of the hypocritical Pharisees. If you want to see divine love, see the way Jesus loved sinners. To see what God is like, just look at Jesus.

The Incarnation shows Jesus' true humanity

As evangelical Christians, we do not compromise on the doctrine of the deity of Christ. He was no mere philosopher or great teacher; he was God in human form. The miracle of the virgin birth shows his divinity: he was not born of ordinary human parents.

Unfortunately, we often over-emphasize Jesus' divinity at the expense of his humanity. There is a surprising and unsettling tendency in some conservative churches to downplay or deny that Mary was the mother of Jesus in a meaningful sense. (I've actually heard some people claim that Mary was merely an "incubator" for his human body.) Likely, they are reacting against Roman Catholic claims concerning Mary as the "mother of God"—which, properly understood, is an affirmation of Christ's deity, not of Mary's exalted status. In rightly rejecting one extreme, some evangelicals have gone too far and embraced another.

The virgin birth shows Jesus' humanity as well as his deity. The New Testament gives us two genealogies of Jesus (Matt. 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38). It is generally assumed that one of them traces his line through Mary. If so, then Jesus is not merely an avatar of God come to earth in a human body. He is truly a Son of Adam, and a genuine member of the human race.

The Incarnation makes Jesus a perfect priest

A priest is a person who is appointed to mediate for his people in religious services. In the Mosaic covenant, the priestly functions were carried out by the descendants of Moses' brother Aaron. They carried out the animal sacrifices in the temple of Yahweh, which were intended to forgive the sins of the Israelites. The high priest alone was permitted to enter into the Holiest of Holies, the innermost sanctuary of the temple that originally housed the Ark of the Covenant, which was associated with the presence of God. The priest would sprinkle sacrificial blood on the mercy seat that covered the Ark once a year, on the Day of Atonement.

Jesus was not a Levite or a descendant of Aaron, so he was not qualified to be an Aaronic priest. The author of Hebrews describes him instead as a priest "after the order of Melchizedek." Melchizedek is a rather obscure figure from the Old Testament, described as the "king of Salem" and a "priest of God Most High" (Genesis 14:18). Following a battle in which Abraham rescued his nephew Lot who had been abducted, Melchizedek brought Abraham bread and wine and also received a tenth of the spoils as tribute.

The reasoning of Hebrews goes like this: Since Abraham paid tribute to Melchizedek and received a blessing from him, Melchizedek is superior to Abraham, and also Abraham's descendants, the Levitical priests (Heb. 7:4-10). The author also notes that Melchizedek has no recorded genealogy: "neither beginning of days nor end of life" (Heb. 7:3). He resembles Christ, who, being God, has existed from all eternity and lives forever.

Therefore, Christ is a far greater priest than Aaron and his children: not because of his family line, but because he has always been. And because he is tied to Melchizedek and not to Aaron, he is not a Jewish priest for the Jewish people, but one who can intercede before God for all of humanity. Unlike the Aaronic priests, he does not die and need to be replaced, and has no need to offer sacrifices for his own sins first. "Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them" (Heb. 7:25).

The Incarnation makes Jesus a perfect Saviour

The sacrificial system of the Mosaic law taught two important lessons. First, forgiveness was available for sin. Second, to receive forgiveness, something had to die. The flaw in the Mosaic system was that the blood shed by an animal could never take away sins completely, so the rituals had to be repeated, time after time, year after year.

But this flaw was by design. The sacrificial system was a foreshadowing of the coming of the Messiah. It was never meant to be an end in itself. As a true man, Jesus Christ is the substitute for humanity that no animal could ever be. As the sinless and perfectly obedient God-man, he had no guilt of his own to make him worthy of execution on the cross. The sin of guilty people was imputed to him, and his righteousness is imputed to them in return. As a perfect priest, he is able to approach God his Father with the perfect sacrifice of his own blood, and through his intercession obtains forgiveness for his people, the church. "For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified" (Heb. 10:14).

When we grasp the importance of the Incarnation, we can truly appreciate the full weight of the meaning of the words announced by angels to the shepherds on that first Christmas night: "Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11).

November 24, 2014

The Danielle delusion

American Atheists, the secular organization founded in 1963 by the late Madalyn Murray O'Hair, wants you to believe that God is a delusion.

They also want you to believe that their Public Relations Director is a woman.

David Muscato, AA's PR director, made an announcement via the Friendly Atheist blog that he is henceforth to be known as "Danielle": "I’m coming out publicly today as a transgender woman."

Not all at once, of course:

While I have identified internally as a woman for a long time, for now, I will be presenting more-or-less as a man; that is, I will continue to wear mostly traditional men’s clothing, speak in my natural lower voice, and so on.


The only real difference for now is that, going forward, I prefer to be called Danielle instead of Dave, and I prefer the use of feminine personal pronouns (she/her rather than he/him).

Behold "Danielle":

["Danielle" Muscato]

An adage from Abraham Lincoln comes to mind, about what happens when you call a calf's tail a leg.

The irony is especially thick when you consider that Muscato is an officer of a rationalist organization, and makes his announcement with the support of his superiors. American Atheists' statement of aims and purposes says:

Atheism may be defined as the mental attitude which unreservedly accepts the supremacy of reason and aims at establishing a life-style and ethical outlook verifiable by experience and scientific method, independent of all arbitrary assumptions of authority and creeds.

I can't speak for everyone, but my experience (viz. my observation of the above photograph) affirms that Muscato is, indeed, a dude. I wonder what the scientific method might tell me about Muscato's maleness or femaleness—say, by administering a a DNA test. Finally, the comments to his Friendly Atheist post consist almost entirely of well-wishers, apparently unreservedly accepting Muscato's pronouncement solely on his authority.

Atheists assert that belief in God is unwarranted given the lack of evidence for his existence. Then they turn around and assert that a woman named Danielle exists, denying all evidence to the contrary. Mark Twain's schoolboy said, "Faith is believing what you know ain't so." Well, thanks to David/Danielle, we now know who makes that leap of faith.

November 08, 2014

And now .. . this - Nov. 8/14

See? I warned you:

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed taking 72 hazardous chemicals off of its approved list of inert ingredients allowed for use in pesticides. . . .

But the inclusion of argon (AR)—a naturally occurring element and the third most abundant gas in the Earth’s atmosphere—has left some people scratching their heads.

[Full Story]

The hard truth is, we need to find ways to reduce our dependency on Big Air. In the meantime, make sure that any air you breathe is locally sourced, fair-trade, and free-range.

November 06, 2014

October 27, 2014

And now . . . this - Oct. 27/14

We are now officially stupider as a species for having to say this, but . . .

The U.S. Forest Service at Taylor Creek Visitor Center in South Lake Tahoe say visitors are risking their lives in the hunt for a unique profile picture by approaching the bears.

‘We've had mobs of people that are actually rushing toward the bears trying to get a “selfie” photo,’ Lisa Herron, spokesperson for the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit told Reno Gazette-Journal.

[Full Story]

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Why is it that you need a license to buy a gun or catch fish, but anyone with a smartphone and a double-digit IQ can go out in the bush and take a picture of himself with a bear?

October 23, 2014

The shocking truth about the basic necessities of life

I used to make a hobby out of reading and collecting examples of various kinds of crackpottery. At some point, though, I lost interest. I think I just became overwhelmed (and not a little bit discouraged) at the sheer volume of anti-intellectual nonsense that floats around on the Internet.

My latest thing to follow in that vein is Vani Hari, aka The Food Babe. Hari is a crusader against all kinds of foodborne injustice. She is arguably best known for her campaign that pressured Subway into removing the additive azodicarbonamide from their sandwich bread. However, this additive decomposes when baked into gases such as nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide—all of which are harmless when eaten—as well as a harmless amount of ammonia gas. Hari is not a food scientist, medical doctor, nutritionist, dietician, or any other sort of expert in the field, and it shows. Her recent tirade against Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte complained that it contained "[a]bsolutely no real pumpkin in ingredients." (Of course not: it is flavoured with pumpkin spice, the spice mixture used to flavour pumpkin pies: typically some combination of allspice, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg.) To date, however, her most hysterical raving has been against microwave ovens, in which she decries "unnecessary daily exposure to radiation": "Afer all, human cells are made of molecules and molecule bonds are broken and destroyed when exposed to radiation." She clearly does not understand the difference between ionizing (e.g. X-rays, gamma rays) and non-ionizing radiation (e.g. microwaves, radio waves, visible light).

Another site that similarly takes the cake is Realfarmacy.com, which exposed the "horrifying fact" that Big Macs contain, of all things, cellulose. You may never want to eat a vegetable again.

Health sites may very well raise legitimate concerns about the food we eat. Fresh food prepared yourself is probably better for you, and fast foods do contain a lot of salt, sugar, and fat that we can all probably do without, at least on a regular basis. But all too often, any legitimate concerns get buried in a sea of pseudoscience that takes a number of forms, including:

  • "Chemicals" are bad for you, and if you can't pronounce it, you probably shouldn't eat it. (Never mind that even a fresh, organic fruit will naturally contain as many, if not more, unpronounceable "chemicals" as part of its intrinsic makeup, as anything you buy at a McDonald's.)
  • This substance has been proven toxic to rats. (But usually in amounts that are orders of magnitude beyond what humans will come in contact with. Also, remember that substances that are toxic to animals might still be safe for humans: daylilies are harmful to cats, but edible for people; chocolate is awesome for humans, but very dangerous for dogs.)
  • A food substance or additive is also used in the manufacture of non-food items, e.g. azodicarbonamide used in commercial bread is also used in the manufacture of yoga mats. You don't want to eat something that someone's sweaty butt has rubbed all over, do you? (This particular argument commits the logical fallacy of division: that each component part of a whole shares the same properties as the whole. Just because eating a yoga mat is bad for you, doesn't mean everything used to make the yoga mat is bad for you. For example, the puffed corn starch used to make biodegradable packing peanuts is the same stuff used to make cheese puffs.)
  • A food substance or additive can also be found in other non-edible or unpleasant substances. (Cellulose is found in wood, therefore Big Macs are really bad for you. Cellulose is a structural component of plant cell walls; want to bet that a Big Mac's cellulose comes from the lettuce, onions, and pickles?)
  • A food substance or additive is derived from non-edible or unpleasant sources. For example, shellac (used to make candies or pharmaceuticals shiny) comes from bugs, and the musk glands of beavers have been used as a source for natural vanilla flavouring. (Here, at least, we have a somewhat legitimate concern: if you are squeamish about eating insect secretions or beaver butts, you would be wise to read the label. However, keep in mind that the source of something does not necessarily determine how safe it is to eat.)
  • This food is, or contains, a genetically modified organism (GMO). (Never mind that a comprehensive study of 100 billion animals has found no issues with a diet of genetically engineered feed.)

These fallacious arguments are often accompanied with (and made palatable by) attractive-looking graphics. I've wanted to try my hand at building infographics for some time—so, I thought, why shouldn't I get in on the scaremongering game? Behold the infographic that will completely change your life! You'll be shocked at what you put in your body over 20,000 times per day.

[The Air That You Breathe: And Why You Shouldn't Breathe It]

The worst thing about air, however, is this: It isn't even organic or vegan.

October 07, 2014

The Vegan Monologues, at a dinner theatre near you

And now, this: California-style, weapons-grade moonbattery courtesy of one Kelly Atlas, under the auspices of an animal-rights group calling itself "Direct Action Everywhere".

This utter loon walks into a restaurant, where coincidentally the PA system is playing "My Girl," and delivers a monologue about her girl: "I have a little girl. She was very abused for her entire life. She was terrified. . . . And she was hurt and abused her entire life because of this establishment and because of establishments like it." And so forth.

Of course, as the weepy, blonde monologue progresses, it is eventually revealed that her "little girl" is actually a chicken named "Snow" whom Kelly apparently "rescued" (read: stole) from a commercial farm or some such place. Kelly's lachrymose jeremiad continues, bemoaning the fate of Snow's "sisters": "And right now their eggs and their milk and their bodies are on plates inside this restaurant, and that is so unfair to them!" she wails.

Behold the certifiable delirium that is the modern animal-rights movement:

Direct Action Everywhere writes, on their Web site, explaining why they engage in "direct action":

The passion of the movement for animal liberation is unmatched. Many of us have cried countless tears of pain, as we have heard, seen, and even felt the oppression and violence imparted on our non-human sisters and brothers.

Of course, they don't really believe this, and they say so: the hashtag in the YouTube video title is #DisruptSpeciesism. If a chicken truly is my brother or sister, then eating him might be racism or sexism, but it isn't speciesism. Direct Action Everywhere doesn't want to stop animals from eating other animals. If they really believed humans and animals were brethren, they'd try to stop animals from eating meat, or they wouldn't try to make humans stop eating meat, against their nature. Their aims contradict their presuppositions, and so their message is incoherent as well as risible.

As I wrote a few months ago, "there is a significant categorical and moral difference between human beings and animals. One is made in the image of God, and the rest are a gift of God for our use (Genesis 9:3)." Snow isn't made in the image of God, and it's going to take a lot more than a crocodile-tear-jerking homily from a flaky Californian to convince me I can't turn her into delicious chicken tenders.