One giant leap for a man

Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon, has died.  Another  Lutheran with an interesting vocation.

UPDATE:  It appears he was NOT Lutheran, identifying himself at one point as a “Deist.”  Thanks to you factcheckers in the comments section.

Archaeology and the Bible’s big picture

Eric Metaxas summarizes some recent findings in Middle Eastern archaeology, ones that confirm not just isolated facts in the Bible but the “big picture” of the Biblical narrative:

Israeli archaeologists recently discovered a coin, dating from the 11th century before Christ. It depicted “a man with long hair fighting a large animal with a feline tail.” Ring any Old Testament bells?

The coin was found near the Sorek River, which was the border between the ancient Israelite and Philistine territories 3,100 years ago. Sound vaguely familiar?

The archaeologists thought so, too. While Shlomo Bunimovitz and Zvi Lederman of Tel Aviv University don’t claim that the figure depicted on the coin is proof that Samson actually existed, they do see the coin as proof that stories about a Samson-like man existed independently of the Bible.

Stated differently, the story of Samson was not the literary invention of a sixth-century B.C. scribe living in Babylon, as has commonly been assumed by mainstream biblical scholarship.

Bunimovitz and Lederman made another interesting discovery: the Philistine side of the river was littered with pig bones, while there were none on the Israelite side. . . .

The findings at Sorek are only the latest in a series of archaeological discoveries that are changing the way modern historians look at biblical narratives. It’s becoming more difficult for them to maintain that the narratives are pious fictions invented long after the era being depicted.

The most famous of these discoveries is the 1994 discovery of a stele in Tel Dan bearing an inscription that contained the words “House of David.” It was the first extra-biblical evidence of the Davidic dynasty. Prior to the discovery, many scholars doubted that David ever existed, much less founded a dynasty. The discovery was so out-of-line with expectations that more than a few insisted it must be a forgery.

Today, it is clear to even the most skeptical scholar that-surprise!-there really was a David who founded a ruling dynasty. That dynasty included his son, Solomon, and evidence of Solomon’s building projects described in Second Samuel have been found by archaeologists as well.

Some of the discoveries go beyond history and tell us about Israel’s sense of what it meant to be God’s chosen people. Sites dating to before the Exile are littered with Canaanite idols, evidence of the apostasy the prophets denounced and warned would lead to disaster.

Yet there has never been a single idol found in sites dating after the Exile. Clearly, the Jews who returned from the Exile had finally, truly learned that “the Lord our God is one.”

via Archaeology and the Bible.

An ancient brain

Manasseh was King of Judah; Athens got rid of its kings and started on the road to democracy; Rome had just been founded.  And a British criminal was executed (or maybe sacrificed), having been both hanged AND beheaded.   We now have his brain.

A human skull dated to about 2,684 years ago with an “exceptionally preserved” human brain still inside of it was recently discovered in a waterlogged U.K. pit, according to a new Journal of Archaeological Science study.

The brain is the oldest known intact human brain from Europe and Asia, according to the authors, who also believe it’s one of the best-preserved ancient brains in the world.

“The early Iron Age skull belonged to a man, probably in his thirties,” lead author Sonia O’Connor told Discovery News. “Cause of death is rarely possible to determine in archaeological remains, but in this case, damage to the neck vertebrae is consistent with a hanging.”

“The head was then carefully severed from the neck using a small blade, such as a knife,” added O’Connor, a post-doctoral research associate at the University of Bradford. “This was used to cut through the throat and between the vertebrae and has left a cluster of fine cut marks on the bone.” . .

She and her colleagues suggest that a fortuitous series of events — for the brain and science, not the victim — led to the organ’s preservation. Shortly after the man was killed, his head must have been placed, or fallen into, the waterlogged pit that was free of oxygen. While other soft human body parts may not preserve well under such conditions, the wet environment appears to be perfect for keeping brains “fresh,” “due to the very different chemistry of brain tissue,” O’Connor said.

via Prehistoric Human Brain Found Pickled in Bog : Discovery News.

And thanks to this timeline.

I don’t recommend putting this brain into a body and trying to animate it.  Bronze Age criminals were no doubt pretty formidable.  This would, however, make for a good superhero movie.

Still, this makes ancient history, from Biblical times no less, very tangible and fills us with wonder.

 

brain

William Tell and Chick-fil-A

An overwhelming number of chicken sandwiches were served on Wednesday as vast numbers of Americans from all over the country turned out to support Chick-fil-A, under fire for its CEO taking the highly controversial and shocking position that people of the same sex can’t marry each other.  Could that be a catalyst for a popular revolt against gay marriage?

Richard Fernandez observes that “Great fires start from small sparks, as often happens when there is enough dry tinder on the ground.”  He points out that the Arab Spring started with the harassment of a street vendor, that the public got behind the American revolution when the British raised the tax on tea.  He then brings up a great story about what precipitated the Swiss rising up to throw off the Hapsburg empire:

The legend as told by Tschudi (ca. 1570) goes as follows: “William Tell, who originally came from Bürglen, was known as a strong man and an expert shot with the crossbow. In his time, the Habsburg emperors of Austria were seeking to dominate Uri. Albrecht (or Hermann) Gessler, the newly appointed Austrian Vogt of Altdorf, raised a pole in the village’s central square, hung his hat on top of it, and demanded that all the townsfolk bow before the hat. On 18 November 1307, Tell visited Altdorf with his young son and passed by the hat, publicly refusing to bow to it, and so was arrested. Gessler — intrigued by Tell’s famed marksmanship, yet resentful of his defiance — devised a cruel punishment: Tell and his son would be executed, but he could redeem his life by shooting an apple off the head of his son, Walter, in a single attempt. Tell split the apple with a bolt from his crossbow.”

And the rest, as they say, is history. What is remarkable about Gessler’s Hat is that it was about anything except the hat. It’s very insignificance as an object of forced respect showed that it was all about arbitrary domination. Gessler had made his hat holy, as Caligula had made his horse a consul, and everyone was expected to acknowledge it. Thus it was above all about power, made all the more manifest by its exercise in the most capricious and petty ways, for most any king can command a respect for his person. But only a tyrant can demand the veneration of his underwear.

Rahm Emanuel’s insistence that Chick-fil-A bow to the icon of gay marriage had that effect, at least upon some. Chick-fil-A is not about gay marriage or Christianity at all, any more than the incident of William Tell was about a hat. It’s about power. It is morphing into an overt test of whether the cultural elite can have its way. The problem with National Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day is that it constitutes an act of open defiance by manifesting all too publicly the contempt that a fairly large segment of the population has for shibboleths of political correctness.

via Belmont Club » The Chicken Disses the Hat.

When Taft saved the Constitution from Teddy Roosevelt

In the course of a column on Tea Party candidate Ted Cruz’s victory in Texas for the Republican senate nomination, George Will recounts a time one hundred years ago this Sunday when Republicans purposefully lost an election to preserve the Constitution.  I did not know these things about Teddy Roosevelt:

After leaving the presidency in 1909, TR went haywire. He had always chafed under constitutional restraints, but he had remained a Hamiltonian, construing the Constitution expansively but respectfully. By 1912, however, he had become what the Democratic nominee, Woodrow Wilson, was — an anti-Madisonian. Both thought the Constitution, the enumeration and separation of powers, intolerably crippled government.

Espousing unconstrained majoritarianism, TR disdained James Madison’s belief that the ultimate danger is wherever ultimate power resides, which in a democracy is with the majority. He endorsed the recall of state judicial decisions and by September 1912 favored the power to recall all public officials, including the president.

TR’s anti-constitutional excesses moved two political heroes to subordinate personal affection to the public interest. New York Sen. Elihu Root had served TR as secretary of war and secretary of state, and he was Roosevelt’s first choice to succeed him in 1908. Massachusetts Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge had long been one of TR’s closest friends. Both sided with Taft.

As the Hudson Institute’s William Schambra says (in “The Saviors of the Constitution,” National Affairs, Winter 2012, and elsewhere), by their “lonely, principled” stand, Root and Lodge, along with Taft, “denied TR the powerful electoral machinery of the Republican Party, which would almost surely have elected him, and then been turned to securing sweeping alterations” of the Constitution.

Wilson won with 41.8 percent of the vote (to TR’s 27.4 percent). Taft won 23.2 percent, carrying only Vermont and Utah, but achieved something far grander than a second term: the preservation of the GOP as an intellectual counterbalance to the Democrats’ thorough embrace of progressivism and the “living” — actually, disappearing — Constitution.

via George Will: Texas’s Ted Cruz gives tea party a Madisonian flair – The Washington Post.

It’s the likability, stupid

The economy is in the toilet, unemployment is over 8%, our foreign policy is a mess, and President Obama’s approval ratings are dismal.  And yet, polls show him still running neck-and-neck with Mitt Romney, if not a little bit ahead.  How can that be?

You might recall my theory–articulated, for example,  here, in which I predict an Obama victory– that in our postmodern times the majority of the American people vote for a candidate not primarily because of ideology, policy ideas, nor issues of any kind.  Such appeals to objectivity and even to pragmatism are the stuff of modernism.  In a postmodern democracy, the main factor is which candidate voters “like” the best.   That is, the candidate voters consider to have the most pleasant personality.

Consider the winners over the last few decades:  Obama vs. McCain; Bush II vs. Kerry; Bush II vs. Gore; Clinton vs. Dole; Clinton vs. Bush I; Bush I vs. Dukakis; Reagan vs. Mondale; Reagan vs. Carter.  Doesn’t my theory hold?  Now before that, the theory doesn’t apply, since in those modernist days Carter could beat the more likeable Ford, and Nixon could beat the more likable McGovern and Humphrey.  Of course, not everyone agrees in whom they like, but this also explains the antipathies that also are factors in elections:  Lots of people just cannot stand George W. Bush, a visceral feeling that goes far beyond rational assessment, associated with feelings about privileged rich kids, frat-boys, and smug right-wing Texans.   Obama’s cerebral, detached, professorial personality makes some people dislike him while making others like him.

My theory in the past has been somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but now there is actually data to support it!  From Karen Tumulty, writing in the Washington Post:

If you believe the polls, it would appear there is one big factor standing in the way of Mitt Romney being elected president: Americans don’t like him as well as they do Barack Obama.

That was confirmed again in a new USA Today-Gallup survey in which respondents gave Romney higher marks on the economic issues, which voters say they care most about this year. But President Obama crushed Romney — 60 percent to 30 percent — on the question of which of the two was more likable.

In April, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found an even larger gap, with 64 percent of those surveyed describing Obama as the friendlier, more likable candidate, and only 26 percent saying that about Romney. . . .

In every presidential election for the past two decades, the candidate viewed as more likable was the one who won.

via Romney’s problem: Americans don’t like him as much as Obama, polls say – The Washington Post.

Romney is just hopeless when it comes to social graces.  He goes to England for the Olympics and instead of the glad-handing pleasantries that are called for on such an occasion insults his hosts by worrying about security and labor problems and wondering if the country is ready to put on the show.  Never mind that the British people have been expressing the same concerns, but this is just a social awkwardness that Romney keeps showing.

It has become campaign dogma that “It’s the economy, stupid,” and there is evidence that economic conditions are the major factor in the elections, above.  I hope that’s the case, that the American people will look to objective considerations of some kind, but I wonder if they will.  Then again, the likability of Obama as compared to Romney might be a close call.


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