George Frideric Handel's oratorio Messiah is a series of vocal settings of excerpts from the Bible, words that were chosen by librettist Charles Jennens. Part III of Messiah, which deals with the resurrection, opens with a soprano aria:
Where did Jennens find this Christian affirmation? According to the notes to the text, it comes from Job 19:25-26.
Well, that's a surprise. The book of Job is part of the Old Testament. It was written several hundred years B.C. Remarkably, even at that early date the writer knew enough science to understand the water cycle of evaporation and precipitation, for Job 36:27-28 says of God,
But this book was written before Christians developed their doctrine of a dying and rising Redeemer who would bring eternal life. The people of the Bible hadn't yet begun to entertain the possibility of spiritual life after death, let alone the resurrection of the body. Job 14:7-12, in fact, tells us:
I looked up the verses that Jennens used in his libretto and compared them to a modern translation. I found differences.
After all, they helpfully provided Christian chapter headings in an attempt to give an allegorical meaning to the Hebrew erotic poem The Song of Solomon. In chapter 4, the poet praises his love's eyes, hair, teeth, lips, neck, and breasts, and she responds, Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits. King James' translators piously remark, Christ setteth forth the graces of the church. He sheweth his love to her. The church prayeth to be made fit for his presence.
APRIL 19, 2017 WEEKEND WARRIORS
The baseball season is still young, but two teams have the folks around here talking.
One is winless, having been swept by Cincinnati at home and by Boston and St. Louis on the road. They have a 4.25 earned run average and a .190 batting average. With runners in scoring position, they're only 5 for 57 (.088) after going 0 for 3 in today's loss, which was their third straight 2-1 defeat.
The other team is having much more success. They're undefeated, boasting sweeps of the Atlanta Braves at home and the world champion Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. They have a 2.95 ERA and a .289 BA .300 with RISP.
You may wonder why this disparity. There is no why.
Popular radio personality: It's 2:30 PM. Let's check the weather forecast for this afternoon, which was issued several hours ago. There's a 20% chance of rain well, thats obviously wrong! It's raining right now! We'd better make that a 100% chance.
Nerdy radio personality: This morning, meteorologists predicted a 20% chance of rain for this afternoon. In other words, it probably wouldn't rain, but there was a possibility that it might. Afternoon has arrived, and rain is falling, so this morning's forecast was correct; the slight possibility did turn out to be the fact. The forecast would also have been correct if rain were not falling.
The forecast is correct whether or not it rains? That sounds strange. We prefer our prognostications to be precise and unequivocal. Will it rain, or won't it?
In the December 2006 Skeptical Briefs, Benjamin Radford tells of the alleged feats of a teenaged Canadian psychic named Adam Dreamhealer. One woman, identified as Debbie, believes that Dreamhealer saved her fiancé's life. Her fiancé Trevor was severely wounded in Afghanistan, and Debbie was told that Trevor probably would not recover from his comatose state.
Note the word probably. The doctors said that he might come out of the coma, but he probably would not. They did not say that he was brain dead and that recovery was totally impossible, but rather held out a slight hope.
However, Debbie imagined that they simply told her, He's never going to wake up. And she didn't want to believe that. Radford continues, Debbie says she was convinced the doctors were wrong, and when she heard about Dreamhealer's self-proclaimed powers, she asked him to heal Trevor from a distance. Over the next few weeks, Trevor did indeed begin to gain consciousness, an improvement that Debbie took as proof of Dreamhealer's powers. The doctors said that he wouldn't recover, so to me, that's a miracle, Debbie said.
Sorry, Debbie, but the doctors did not say that Trevor definitely wouldn't recover. And Radford notes that his emergence from the coma is hardly a miracle. Although Dreamhealer claims (and Debbie believes) that he healed Trevor, it seems the healing has been far less than miraculous. Instead of a full recovery, Trevor remains gravely ill.
This case illustrates a common logical error in thinking, one that even has a Latin name: post hoc ergo propter hoc (after this, therefore because of this). Debbie assumed that because Trevor regained consciousness after Dreamhealer said he healed him, Dreamhealer caused Trevor to come out of his coma. But it is likely that Trevor would have emerged from the coma with or without Dreamhealer's efforts.
Such awakenings happen all the time, among the seriously injured and even sometimes among those who had been hoping to delude themselves.
Characters in TV shows often flash back to earlier events in their lives, and sometimes the actors have to use elaborate makeup to appear years younger for those scenes.
But in many cases, footage of the actors exists from years before. I've wondered why the old scenes couldn't sometimes be used as flashbacks.
Well, last week Boston Legal employed this technique in spectacular fashion, taking us all the way back to the Golden Age of Television.
William Shatner's character, attorney Denny Crane, recalled an intense conversation about the ethics of courtroom tactics, a conversation with his attorney father fifty years before. Suddenly the image morphed, and there was Shatner from fifty years before!
The footage was from the kinescope of a two-part drama that aired live on the CBS series Studio One on February 25 and March 4, 1957. I might have been watching, though I was only ten years old. Ralph Bellamy played Shatner's father, although he was not credited in the April 3, 2007, Boston Legal episode that included four segments of their dialogue totalling two minutes.
(The 1957 drama was called "The Defender." Later the concept became a filmed series called The Defenders, which I do remember watching in the early 1960s. E.G. Marshall and Robert Reed played the father and son.)
APRIL 6, 2017 SHOEMAKER'S GARAGE
This now-faded sign for Motor Car Sales & Service probably greeted Vernon M. Thomas in 1929 when he reported to his first job out of business college, as an accountant at a Chevrolet dealership on Main Street in the town of Falmouth, Kentucky.
Not until this spring did I pinpoint the location with some confidence. Now, in the first four panels of my gallery illustrating my fathers 44-year career in the automobile business, Ive integrated modern street views with his old black-and-white photos from Falmouth.
APRIL 4, 2017 NOT TOO CROWDED
Pittsburgh's Growth Hampered, according to the headline in an article in yesterdays Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Gary Rotstein gives us the bad news. Population estimates for July 2016 released by the U.S. Census Bureau last month showed a fourth consecutive year of decline for the seven-county metropolitan area a loss of 8,972 most recently.
Thats a small loss, less than 0.4 percent for the year, but a loss nonetheless. Pittsburghers are often puzzled that a seemingly vibrant city drawing national buzz isnt gaining population like most large cities.
But is that bad news? Is growth always desirable?
A 50-pound six-year-old boy will weigh 150 pounds by the time he turns 18. Thats good. But if he keeps putting on pounds at the same rate, hell weigh 550 when he reaches retirement age. Thats not good. There need to be limits on growth.
For years an organization called Zero Population Growth has advocated limits, but to no avail. In 2003 I endorsed a steady state. In 2011 I noted that the earth now held three times as many humans as when I was born. When I checked the latest estimate yesterday, the total had reached 7,382,023,913.
Yet there are those who want even faster procreation by people of their own ethnic group, of course, lest they find themselves outnumbered. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who is white, spoke last month against immigration and in favor of more babies that look like him. You cannot rebuild your civilization with somebody else's babies. You've got to keep your birth rate up.... In doing so, you can grow your population, you can strengthen your culture, and you can strengthen your way of life.
Personally, I dont want more short people round here! As an only child, I never had to share my living space with hyperactive little ones demanding attention, and I liked the peace and quiet.
Many Pittsburghers tend to agree with me. Data from the article show that Pittsburgh-region women of child-bearing age give birth less often than is the case elsewhere 48 per 1,000 women in a year compared to 53 nationally.
However, theres another factor. The natural population decline is an inevitable result of so many working-age people having left during southwestern Pennsylvanias 1970s-1980s manufacturing collapse. Not only did those people leave, but the kids they had who would in many cases be in their child-bearing years now arent here either.
With fewer young folks, 18.7 percent of the metropolitan areas population is 65 or older, compared to 14.9 percent nationally. As a senior citizen myself, its like Im living in Florida.
Pittsburghs population isnt growing, but is that really a problem? As I wrote eight years ago, A larger population may be good news for businesses and construction workers and politicians. But should the rest of us want to see more traffic jams, more pollution, more overcrowded schools, and all the other consequences of the fact that there are already too many of us?
A year ago Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald told Rotstein, The bigger thing to me is to make sure we have a good quality of life and good economic opportunities for people, and I think we do. I would put this place up against anybody.
APRIL 2, 2017 READ THE WHOLE REPORT
Ten years ago I remarked on a misleadingly optimistic news report that there have been fewer divorces lately. Good news, right? A reader would assume the rate of divorce is down. But no. Towards the end of the article we discovered why there are fewer divorces: there are fewer marriages. The rate remains about the same, with half of all marriages failing.
On the other hand, another story recently gave misleadingly pessimistic figures, in this case concerning the ACT college entrance exam. The latest scores suggest many of this years high school graduates arent ready for college-level course work. In its annual score report, the testing company said only 38% of graduating seniors who took the exam hit the college-prepared benchmark in at least three of the four core subjects tested. That compares with 40% last year. I wonder whether a slight decrease of two percentage points is all that newsworthy.
The final paragraph of the article probably included merely to pad it out to the necessary length with additional statistics reveals the rest of the story: 64% of the 2016 graduates took the ACT, meaning nearly 2.1 million students, compared with 59% the year before.
So an extra 164,000 seniors took it in 2016. Who were they? They probably included many marginal students who hoped they were college material but fell short.
Contrary to the suggestion in the reporters first sentence, the number of ACT college-ready graduates is essentially unchanged.