We’re back from the Feast! Sort of. Physically, you get back, but (1) your mind still wanders to the amazing things you heard and experienced, and (2) there is a lot to do to get back up to speed with real life again. 🙂 So, today my family and I jump into doing the second thing. I know the boys are looking forward to getting back into their math classes today. (OK, I am pretending that my boys are looking forward to getting back into their math classes, today.)
And there is lots that could be blogged about, today — Ebola! Houston pastors & subpoenas! Our Feast! — let me blog on something random. Consider it a palette cleanser.
Of all the “conspiracy ideas” that I have encountered over the years (and there have been several), one of the most fun has been the one claiming that the American’s manned moon landings, beginning in 1969, were a hoax and deliberately faked by the U.S. government.
I have never found the idea believable, and after looking at a large amount of “evidence” that initial impression has not been reasonably challenged. And it has been tackled by a large number of people, including — in one of their many enjoyable episodes — by the Mythbusters team.
Well, while doing some unrelated research this Feast, I came across a neat website completely devoted to busting various “moon landing hoax” theories: Moon Base Clavius.
It doesn’t seem to be updated frequently, and, of course, doesn’t need to be. Once something is debunked, it doesn’t need to be constantly re-debunked, and there isn’t much left for “moon landing hoax” to come up with. Still, they do keep up with the news apparently. The current Clavius homepage has a link to a fairly recent (September 18, 2014) item about a new computer gaming process (specifically, an advanced one for modeling secondary lighting from reflective surfaces) that proves the lighting of Buzz Aldrin’s ladder descent in a famous photograph is exactly what one would expect in the moon environment given their surroundings at the time. Designed to consider the terrain, materials present, etc., the computer model recreated the photograph nearly perfectly — and in contradiction to conspiracists, who claim that the photo should be impossible due to the lack of air on the moon. In fact, the modeling effort was a 2-for-1 effort, because it also demonstrated the falsehood of another conspiracist claim: That if the shots were actually on the moon, the stars should be visible. The model demonstrates why this is not the case.
These things have been debunked before, but the use of the computer model to do so was novel and a neat article (IMHO). The YouTube video at the referenced site was brief and interesting to watch, as well. Of course, the point of the video was to promote the software, not just to demonstrate how the hoax theorists were wrong, but it’s still educational.
So, if it’s something up your alley, check out Moon Base Clavius. I know that those whose alley includes “moon landing hoax busting” represent a pretty small population, but, hey, it’s my blog, so, there you go. 🙂
It is great to be back, and it’s nice to roll up my sleeves and work to return to normalcy — or, at least, what passes for that in the Smith household! I pray that all of us will be able to put to work in our lives all the things God blessed us with at this past Feast of Tabernacles. That will be my focus for some time to come, to be sure. Meanwhile, I’m working on faking a Mars landing in my basement. Anyone know where I can purchase eighteen tons of red dust for a good price?
Last night my family and I arrived home after a long drive, and early this morning I had to drive my son to work. As we were driving through town it was eerie and calm. The “school zone” light was blinking, but there were no children and no cars on the road, and I said, “Wow, it’s creepy! Like some sort of ghost town.” He responded, “Yeah, I wonder why it’s like this?” We half-jokingly speculated that everyone knew something we didn’t, considering biohazard accidents and the rest.
Then it hit us: Oh, yeah! It’s Christmas!
Actually, the whole reason I was even taking him to work is because his employer is in our Church and he, too, was working. Today Boy #1 was apparently going to be helping to clean up after a little local flooding from some rains this weekend.
It aided our ignorance that we were on the road for ten hours last night, coming in a bit late. The fact that it was Christmas Eve meant that many of our potential stops for dinner were closed, but other than that the normal things associated with the evening (comments on TV, etc.) weren’t there, allowing us to wake up in our little bubble of no-Christmas reality.
Every year (or, perhaps, almost every year) I try to write a bit about why I don’t keep Christmas. I’ll try to keep it quick and simple this year: It is because of the fact of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, that I don’t keep Christmas.
I wholeheartedly do believe that more than 2000 years ago a child was born of a virgin in the “little town of Bethlehem.” That child was God Incarnate–He was the Living Word who had existed with the One we now call God the Father for all Eternity Past. The Word was with God and the Word was God. And then, all of a sudden, here He was, in mortal, vulnerable, human flesh: One of us. I believe that He lived a life in perfect obedience to God, that He taught of the coming Kingdom of God and that God commands repentance to be a part of that Kingdom, that He was executed unjustly, that His blood was shed for humanity’s sins, that He was raised from the grave, and that He is in Heaven now, at His Father’s right hand, interceding for the saints, living within converted Christians through His Spirit, and awaiting the moment when He will return to complete the work of destroying the works of the devil and bringing to complete fullness the Kingdom of God in the Creation.
I am a Christian, and I believe with my whole heart that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, my Lord and Savior, my High Priest, and my soon coming King.
Consequently, I do not celebrate Christmas.
The reason is simple: The Scriptures make it clear that Jesus Christ would not want me to do so. And if I seek to follow Him, I will not keep a tradition He would find displeasing.
That Christmas is a celebration of pagan origins is an undisputed fact of history. Even mainstream Christianity agrees. I’ve seen Dr. James Dobson agree. I’ve seen Dr. R. C. Sproul agree. What we now call “Christmas” was introduced into Christianity from pagan sources, well after the time when Christians were being warned to “contend earnestly for the faith once delivered” (Jude 3) due to the corrupting influences coming into that faith. From Christmas Trees to the gifts beneath them, from the wreath of holly on the door to the mistletoeabove it, from the burning Yule logs in the hearth to the ornaments that reflect its light–all of them are customs originating in pagan observances and worship traditions. Even some of the most conservative of mainstream Christian scholars agree on these facts.
The relevant question is whether or not Jesus Christ cares.
That really is the question: whether or not we keep such customs — whether or not we accept a day bearing His name that represents an observance born of the heathen worship days and customs of Saturnalia, Bruma, Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, and the rest — really comes down to whether or not our Lord and Savior wants us to do so.
And our means for knowing whether He would want us to is the Word He has left us with, the Bible, and how His Spirit confirms that word.
From the Bible’s perspective, the facts are simple. Jesus Christ condemned violating God’s laws and commandments in favor of our traditions, regardless of how “religious” those traditions might be (e.g., Mark 7:6-9). God clearly does not want us to adopt pagan customs to worship Him (e.g., Deut. 12:29-31, Jer. 10:1-2).
In the Scriptures we find clear condemnation of adopting the practices of heathen cultures and worship traditions for the sake of worshiping God. It doesn’t make a difference if we claim to be worshiping God instead of the false gods for which those practices were originally designed. Consider Deut. 12:31a, “You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way…” and Aaron’s comment in Exodus 32:5b, where Aaron declared time set aside to worship the golden calf idol a “feast to the LORD (YHVH).” Attaching God’s name to something He forbade and choosing to worship Him with those practices did not make them acceptable in God’s eyes.
Such commands stand between us and the Christmas celebration. And what did our living Lord and Savior tell us? Does He give us permission to set aside those commands so that they are no obstacle between us and the traditions we want? No, He did quite the opposite. He condemned such choices: “For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men…” (Mark 7:8). Jesus loved God’s commands, and He taught His followers not to lay those commands aside in order to keep traditions we think are better.
God commands not to worship Him through the practices of the pagans. Jesus condemns laying aside those commands for the sake of our traditions, however well-loved they may be.
Consequently, as a follower of Jesus Christ and a believer in the fact of His birth to a virgin so long ago, I cannot observe Christmas.
I know many who do, to be sure. My mother, until she died, kept Christmas. She didn’t understand what I and those who worship God in my Church have mercifully been shown. I know that she will have an opportunity in the future to learn, and I am thankful for that. I do not judge the sincerity of those who do keep these days — many of them do so with a passion and a zeal that I look at as an example to me, personally. But good intention does not excuse those who know better. And–through no wisdom or intelligence of my own, to be sure!–I know better.
I choose to worship Jesus Christ. I want Him to see in me, however imperfectly, someone He would see as a disciple–as a Christian. So I do not keep the day the world has attached His name to. I do not observe Christmas.
And I’m happy that way. Even if He had not provided other, biblical Holy Days to observe (and thankfully He has), I would still be happy. For although Christmas is generally understood and experienced as a day of joy for those who keep it, there is a profound joy I never would have accessed had I not learned the blessing of stepping away from Christmas and toward Christ. And in His mercy, He helped me to do that.
I know some who come across this post will find it offensive. It isn’t meant to be, and, yet, at the same time I would simply challenge you to make it a profitable offense and begin studying the matter. You might be surprised by what you find, but not all surprises are a bad thing. And it will be a more life changing surprise than anything you found under the tree this morning.
If you’ve got the courage, check out these magazine articles and explanatory booklets:
I know that it might be unwise to bring this up, given the crank comments that the topic tends to generate, but I thought it might be a good example of the fact that I really am not ignorant of various claims.
My kids and I were poking around Netflix last night and came across a pro-conspiracy flick about the September 11 attacks titled 911: In Plane Sight — not a misspelling, by the way, but apparently a play on words. It was created by a particular radio host for a program I won’t honor with free advertising (though I mention the movie title because I want It to be clear it was a real “documentary”).
I selected it (it was free), and two of the boys and I watched it with the other two joining in later. And I have to say that watching it with the boys was interesting.
And it was rewarding. The boys began to pick through what was said and to take apart the host’s “analysis” just as easily as I could. The leaps of “logic” were many, and the unjustified conclusions were legion. To my delight, the boys saw through much of what was said without my help at all, and — perhaps, needless to say at this point — we finished the documentary absolutely unconvinced that anything the host said was true in any way. I think we all believed he was sincere, but not a single conclusion he drew was credible to any of us sitting there. And it was a great opportunity to explain to the boys how such ill-formed theories can arise and how a chaotic mess of data can often be assembled in a number of different ways, especially when cherry-picked and pieced together by someone with an ideological motive.
It was a lesson, too, in how all of us — me and the kids, too — can become horrible interpreters of facts when our desires and human will begin to cloud our judgment. At one point, Boy #3 exclaimed, “How can he say that?!? Is he watching the same video footage we are?” Indeed, what was obvious to us was not even a possibility to the narrator. But, again, we didn’t doubt the guy’s sincerity — just his good judgment.
Jeremiah 17:9 works on all of us, without exception. And while it is easy (frankly, was easy) to sit back and be snarky after a while when you see how oblivious someone can be, the lesson shouldn’t be lost on us that all of us are capable of the same obliviousness — all of us are very capable of failing to see the obvious in favor of our own preferred view or conclusion. Perhaps it doesn’t involve an unreasonable conspiracy theory, but it may involve our opinion about a difficulty with our spouse, or about an argument we had with a friend, or even larger issues. Fill in the blank yourself. And be imaginative.
I know our politicians are capable of lying (like we all are). I know they can make cold, heartless decisions in pursuit of purposes they deem significant that would seem horrific to others. No doubt. And I know that truly abominable decisions have been made throughout time by people in power to gain more power — whether in the form of money or influence or land or whatever. Certainly so.
But last night my kids and I we unified in the same point I have tried to make before: When it comes to certain conspiracy theories, the reason I don’t think them credible is not because of the high regard I have for human government or mankind in general — rather, it is because the “evidence” and arguments presented for the theories, in light of all the evidence and reasonable explanations available, is simply not credible.
(And BTW: Including “all the evidence and reasonable explanations available” is important. As has been demonstrated, programs like Jesse Ventura’s “Conspiracy Theory” show sometimes edit out information that would make one reasonably doubt their conclusions. Check out their misleading editing concerning “super thermite paint” as an example. Part of what sustains some conspiracy theories — not all, but part — is the self-filtering of information, only accepting “evidence” that fits the theory. Anyone who thinks such programs as those represent real investigative work as opposed to entertainment with an investigative-ish flavor show a severe lack of discernment.)
So, to those who disagree with my stands on most of those matters, feel free. (Please don’t clog the comments on this post with more theory junk, though. I will likely not approve such comments.) but please don’t say it’s because I am too trusting of the government, or because I haven’t seen the “evidence,” or because I won’t give such arguments a fair consideration. I really have looked at many claims. I — and, I am happy to report, my sons — simply find them not credible: merely less credible than more reasonable theories in the kindest of circumstances, and completely ludicrous in the worst.
Today, I had the chance to introduce Boy #1 to the glory of the conic sections. And there was much rejoicing. Well, now he’s stuck solving systems of equations with one nonlinear equation, so there may not be too much rejoicing, but I’m rejoicing. 🙂
And as is fitting when discussing conic sections, orbits of planetary bodies was discussed, as were hypothetical situations where comets pass the sun in pure, infinite, two-body systems, versus the messier world we actually have in which there is more stuff and a quantum-ly limited world in which Planck-scale distances potentially fuzz the prettiness of asymptotically approaching but never reaching a line over infinity. It was sweet.
So, here’s to you, today, Apollonius! And here’s a quote from Apollonius that I would have loved to include in the recent mathematics-themed “Works of His Hands” article, but which, in the end, was a bit too far afield. He said in his treatise on conic sections back in the 3rd Century BC, like the pure mathematician he was, that although he was doing work that would be helpful in certain applications, “the subject is one of those which seem worthy of study for their own sake.” Looking forward to seeing you in the second resurrection, Apollonius!
What a treat! My thanks to DC for sending me the link to this, and a big hat tip to Watts Up With That? for posting a link to it.
The website firstmenonthemoon.com has assembled an “experience it as it happened” opportunity as you watch video footage from the first orbital lander synced with the dialog going on at Mission Control and the dialog with the astronauts themselves, along with graphics indicating who is talking at each point, an indicator of the landing’s pitch at each moment, and even a reading of Neil Armstrong’s heartrate as it fluctuated throughout the experience.
Almost brought me to tears watching the whole thing with Boy #2. Click on the graphic below to watch it for yourself, and thanks, again, to DC for passing it along!
Feel free and skip today’s post. The recent one about the spirit in man and artificial intelligence is more interesting, and the last one about being hacked and having an old e-mail address of mine used for evil is more functional. But today’s is about the Dresden Codex, the Venus Transit, and a bit more information than what I gave in the related section of my “Adiós 2012” post (actually titled “A 2012 Non-pocalypse Post-mortem: Lessons I Learned”).
In that post I discussed the “Every Connection I Can Make is a Good Connection!” Mistake–how just because one can draw some sort of imaginative connection to “support” your point doesn’t mean that it is a good connection to make. It can actually be completely unrelated and can even contradict your point. After pointing out the odd and baseless Jesus Christ/Bolon Yokte connection I saw a few try to make, I mentioned the Venus Transit:
“However, I saw worse. For instance, in trying to claim a connection between the Dresden Codex and 2012, I saw a claim made that the Venus Transit in 2012 establishes such a connection. Does it really? No, not in any way whatsoever, and the assertion is ridiculous on its face. Yes, the Dresden Codex apparently has astronomical Venus tables, so it is plausible that the transit that occurred in 2012 would be indicated in one of the many positions noted in the table (though I would like to see someone show that table entry to me—something I’ve never seen displayed). But this simply does not indicate that the Dresden Codex, let alone its decorative last page, is related to 2012-goofiness at all! It would be like saying that the last page of the Farmer’s Almanac is all about my birthday because, after all, my birthday is in the Almanac! Of course, so is yours, and your mother’s, your dog’s, your parakeet’s, Steven Spielberg’s, etc.”
The point is still a good one: The fact that your anniversary is one of the dates on the Cow Calendar you can buy at Chick-fil-A, for instance, does not mean that they made the calendar just for you. All 365 days are on that calendar.
However, the point can be made even more strongly. You’ll notice some margin I added to my comment, to wit: “…it is plausible that the transit that occurred in 2012 would be indicated in one of the many positions noted in the table.” However, the reason I phrased that as I did is that I have never actually seen the transit indicated in the Dresden Codex. I was simply recognizing that any hobbyist who mentioned it in a sad effort to tie the Dresden Codex to 2012 (and some did) might at least be right in saying that the transit is on the Codex in the Venus tables. But I also noted that I have never seen such a notation in my characteristically parenthetical insert: “though I would like to see someone show that table entry to me—something I’ve never seen displayed.”
Come to find out, apparently 2012’s Venus Transit is mentioned nowhere in the Dresden Codex, even in the Venus tables.
I (re)discovered this after spending a few moments cleaning out some of my iPhone’s bookmarks (I apparently bookmark webpages that I never plan to visit ever again), which included this reference to the Wikipedia page on the Venus Transit. There can be found (as of this typing, at least) a plain statement (bolding mine): “Venus was important to ancient American civilizations, in particular for the Maya, who called it Noh Ek, ‘the Great Star’ or Xux Ek, ‘the Wasp Star’; they embodied Venus in the form of the god Kukulkán (also known as or related to Gukumatz and Quetzalcoatl in other parts of Mexico). In the Dresden Codex, the Maya charted Venus’ full cycle, but despite their precise knowledge of its course, there is no mention of a transit.”
Their views certainly have garnered real credibility, including being published in the prestigious German astronomical journal Astronomische Nachrichten in 2008 (abstract here).
So, if this work is credible, then the conclusions are certainly damaging to those who think 2012 was special to the Maya:
2012’s Venus Transit is not mentioned in the Dresden Codex.
If Venus is associated with Kukulkán or Quetzalcoatl and the most significant Venus event of 2012 is not mentioned, given the weird and unsubstantiated claims that 2012 was supposed to be the return of Kukulkán or Quetzalcoatl, it is doubly goofy that 2012 was something significant to the Maya and that the Dresden Codex ties to 2012.
And if the GMT correlation is off, then a “Mayan 2012” is all the more delusional.
There really is no significant tie between the Dresden Codex and 2012.
Now, who cares about this anymore? Well, hopefully virtually no one. 🙂 But when I came across this old bookmark, I couldn’t help adding a little more detail in a follow up to that post a couple of weeks ago, so now I have. The obsession with 2012-ology out there was anything but Christian, and many who consider themselves “scholars” compromised themselves mightily in the service of their personal pet ideas. But now that it is past, what obsessions will 2012ers fixate upon next? Regardless, I don’t expect the facts to get in their way.
Note: As I mentioned earlier at the beginning of the year, this is the post I had been working on when the telecast came calling (along with the Charlotte weekend) in late December–about the time that my final commentary on the subject was posted (“After the Non-pocalypse” on tomorrowsworld.org). It has sat in my drafts folder like a poor, neglected child, so I thought I would wrap it up the final bits and post it. It concerns the lessons I learned while dealing with 2012-related matters for the Church, mostly about academic integrity, how easily that integrity can be lost or prostituted in the service of one’s own ideas, and how I want to be sure to never cross those lines in the future. A lot of shameful tactics were practiced by many of the various 2012-ologists I encountered over the past several years, and it was a real reminder to me how easily one can deceive himself into finding “evidence” to believe whatever he wants to believe. Jeremiah 17:9 is alive and well…
Well, December 21, 2012 went by with the whimper every rational person expected instead of the bang others feared/hoped for. But that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been profitable! It certainly has been for me.
I am really thankful that I’ve had the chance to serve by looking into the crazy matter of 2012ness and writing about it for the Church. It has been both fun and frustrating… “Fun” in that debunking stupid thinking is fun and preaching the truth is fun. Why talk about 2012-related goofiness at all? Because other people are talking about it and those people need to hear the truth like anyone else–and I enjoy every opportunity to turn someone from fables to the truth. Who wouldn’t? Yet, it has been frustrating, too. For one, the 2012-hysteria truly is junk, and it can be disheartening to see individuals so caught up in such stupidity. Also, it isn’t just the hippies and the drug users one has to wrestle against who perpetuate the nonsense, but even those who should truly know better. Some of the worst “scholarship” I have ever seen publicly displayed has been done in 2012-related work, by those who seem to be under the delusion that their methods are good, strong, and of high levels of academic integrity, when it is, instead, bad, weak, and an example of some truly shameful practices.
For one such as me, this can too easily tap into one of my weaknesses: the old “Someone’s wrong on the Internet” trap.
I’ve overcome this weakness to a great degree (though my wife would likely disagree…), and I’m thankful for God’s help in that. Having a public face of some sort has made me a desirable target for some (though not nearly to the degree that, say, Mr. Meredith, Mr. Ames, Dr. Winnail do, and admire their ability to show such Christian restraint!), and recognizing that you truly can waste an incredible amount of time countering all the sincerely-believed-yet-still-mind-bogglingly-stupid things someone might say about you is a helpful way to just get used to fact that there is and will always be falsehoods and stupidity on the Internet. Mr. Meredith told me his uncle, C. Paul Meredith, used to tell him that if respond to every attack the devil throws out at you then you will never have time to do God’s Work—an outcome that, of course, the devil would be quite pleased with. But while I have learned that to a good degree, there are things that still get to me, and when it comes to 2012-quackery, some of the shoddy “scholarship” I have seen has really pushed some of those buttons on occasion.
At the same time, dredging through countless 2012-related books for this stuff has provided a way to be exposed to a myriad of various forms of shoddy “scholarship” in a concentrated way, and in this I have learned some helpful things that I hope will make any future work I do that much more solid and well-grounded. In short, I hope I can avoid the mistakes in the many horrid examples I have seen. Here are some of those mistakes:
[EDIT: Actually, before you continue reading, I have to warn you that now that I am done making this post I see that my example listing gets pretty long! After all, shoddy scholarship is an awful lot easier to come up with than good scholarship, and 2012-ology was full of shoddy-though-(mostly)-sincere scholarship. And, since this is the last post I anticipate writing on the 2012 phenomenon, I apparently wanted it to be thorough. If you get bored half-way through and just scroll down to the end, don’t worry, I won’t blame you! – WGS]
• The “Any Support Will Do” Mistake. For example, I’ve seen some try to claim that Bolon Yokte, the “god” referred to on Tortuguero Monument 6, which does refer to 2012 (though not in the way it is often assumed to, discussed below), is also depicted in the last page of the Dresden Codex, perhaps trying to establish some sort of connection between the Monument and the Codex. “Hey, fascinating!” I thought. “Maybe there is a connection I missed!” But when I followed the link provided to the “source” of this insight, it was nothing but a weird, rambling comment on someone’s blog (note: not even a post on the blog, just a comment) made by some conspiracy-orientated individual who clearly wasn’t concerned about good scholarship. The comment was rubbish, and the Bolon Yokte/Dresden Codex “connection” was an illusion.
(I saw something similar in a “connection” I saw a presumably Protestant, evangelical pastor tried to force on his blog between Bolon Yokte and Jesus Christ, perhaps trying (but failing) to add a 2012 context to the Chilam Balam, which has no real connection to the 2012-phenomenon, at all. The “connection” is not only nonsensical, but also the attempt to make it does nothing but illustrate a deep ignorance of how the Maya expressed themselves in their monuments, writings, and “prophecies” over the centuries—a different sort of mistake that I will mention later.)
However, when a person gets too sold on a bad idea they can become too eager for any support they can find—any “outside” confirmation that their idea is a good one, even if the “confirmation” comes from a thoroughly disreputable source. In the end, giving in to that temptation to reference such a source does nothing but hurt your credibility, and understandably so. (And, no, there is no credible “2012” connection between Bolon Yokte and the Dresden Codex. My apologies to any Bolon Yokte fans out there.)
An analogy might be this: Let’s say I really believe that NASA should go back to the moon—that we should send new manned missions and even build a base there—as a matter of national pride (motivating, unifying), national advancement (new science or a stepping stone to Mars), or even national security (doing so before other nations do)… All of which are not uncommon arguments. However, let’s say that most everyone else thinks it’s a crazy idea, a waste of money, etc. Well, if I really wanted to bolster the position, I might be tempted to say, “Many people think that going back to the moon is a good idea (http://linktosomeplace.html).” Those who don’t follow the link might be fooled. However, those who follow the link to see an example of these “Many people” would then find out that it is a link to the “The Moon is Made of Cheese” branch of the Flat Earth Society where someone made a serious comment on their forum that “We have to go to the moon again for a new harvest in this decade before we run out of Gouda or Munster!”… well, suffice it to say that those who followed the link would understandably wonder why I thought this opinion was noteworthy support for my idea….
[By the way: My apologies to the real Flat Earth Society for suggesting in my hypothetical example that some of their members might believe the Moon is made of cheese, as I know of no such individual in your organization. I hope you don’t mind, as I suspect that your members are of good humor…]
It’s a worthwhile lesson. I believe in some things that most mainstream scientists and historians certainly do not (e.g., that neo-Darwinian evolution is false, the identity of modern Israel, etc.). I am willing to differ from such academic authorities for a variety of reasons, including the fact that biblical revelation is real data which must be considered in order to establish the truth. (A consideration I will mention again, later.) And when making one’s case, it is nice to reference evidence on occasion that others of reasonable mind have drawn similar conclusions. However, it has the opposite effect when referencing discreditable sources, and, while I already knew this, my experience wading around in 2012-ology has helped emphasize this to me.
• The “Hide My Position’s Inadequacies With Vagueness” Mistake. I saw a good bit of this, too, in the 2012 stuff out there, though I’m happy to assume it was accidental. For instance, the Dresden Codex/Bolon Yokte non-connection was hinted by saying, “Some say…” when, in reality, virtually no one was saying that. The same thing is sometimes done by newspaper reporters, who will say “some say that the Republicans/Democrats blah blah blah” when it really seems as though they are expressing their own opinion. Regrettably, though, as I saw it used at times in 2012-ology, it was a way to hide the inadequacies of the position by allowing the reader to think many more people held the position than actually do and by hiding the complete lack of relevance of those who do hold that position (think “The Moon is Made of Cheese” folks, above). Even if the use of a vague “some” is not intended to be misleading, the net effect is that it can be misleading, and I don’t want to be misleading even on accident. Truth is too important to handle it carelessly.
This mistake was evident, as well, in expressions like “Some scholars say…” In truth, when you look into it, the “some scholars” being referenced were sometimes simply the author, himself/herself! “After all, I’m a ‘scholar’ and I think these things, so I can claim, ‘Some scholars say this,’ because I do!” That is, truly, vagueness in the service of deception and bearing false witness. (Christ pointed out that God looks on the heart and the intent: a “technical” truth does not cover for a desire to mislead or exaggerate, even if it is subconscious.) Similarly, the “scholars” to which one might refer might be either (1) “scholars” in a completely different field (e.g., a fellow may have earned an MD in medicine or a PhD in dentistry or international affairs, but that doesn’t make his thoughts on the Maya any more relevant than your neighbor’s) or (2) dead scholars whose ideas have long been discredited. (E.g., Dr. Förstermann’s opinion about the last page of the Dresden Codex is a good example here; one might as well quote Samuel Birley Rowbotham on whether the earth is round or flat, or Erik Sandberg-Diment in the 80s on the viability of MS Windows and laptops—and, yes, I enjoyed finding that obscure reference, thank you for asking!) If I have a PhD in Sports Injury Rehabilitation and I believe that the earth is the center of the solar system, just as Ptolemy and Anaximander used to believe, am I justified in saying, “Some scholars believe that earth is the center of the solar system”?
No. No, I am not.
Now if I found some real, current scholars (other than yours truly, of course) who, based on modern research in the field, do think so, it might be justified. And if I found some scholars who used to think so (again, other than myself) and whose research hasn’t been completely discredited over the decades, I could say, “Some scholars used to believe…” But I can’t find, say, one guy, and think, “Well, I’m a scholar (in other topics) and he’s a scholar (even if he’s dead and his ideas are completely discredited), so that makes two! So I’ll write ‘Some scholars think…’” That’s bordering academic dishonesty. Better simply to say, “I believe such-and-such is so.” If I find someone who used to think so, as well, then I can say, “This view was once held by so-and-so.” But to make my position seem stronger than it is by a vague reference to “scholars”? Hard to justify. [For a related mistake, see the “Wow, I’m a Scholar on This Topic!” Mistake, below.]
May I not fall prey to that temptation. If I believe what I am writing will stand up to scrutiny, I should be brave enough to present a good picture of the facts and to avoid slight-of-hand.
• The “They’re Ancient and Primitive So They MUST Be Right!” Mistake. This was one of the single most irritating facets of working with the 2012 hype. Even though the Maya really did not predict virtually anything AT ALL concerning 2012, the simple impression that they did was enough to help sell the hoax to millions. As I have commented before, there seems to be a tendency among those of us in the developed world to look on ancient, indigenous peoples of the past as though they had some sort of “special wisdom” about all things that we simply don’t have today. And, to be sure, many of them did understand things we don’t; the passage of time is not enough to make a people wiser and closer to God and truth. But the instant “credibility” with which any old loopy idea can be adorned simply by associating it with an ancient people is ludicrous. “The Mayans thought the world would end in 2012? Oh, well, I guess it might be so!” Yet, do we ever hear, also, “The Mayans thought that child sacrifice was pretty awesome? Oh, well, I guess it might be so!” The ways of the Gentiles have always had a special sheen in the eyes of Israelites, it seems, and this thankfully-now-past 2012-phenomenon may have been fueled by that to a certain extent.
While I don’t see this as too much of a temptation for me, at the same time I do hate it when people assume that ancient peoples were somehow so primitive that they were virtually children compared to us “moderns” as opposed to being adult, thinking people more similar to us than we give them credit for. In that irritation, I suppose I could find a temptation to over-glamorize an ancient people. However, other than the false assertion that the ancient Maya had no sufficiently sophisticated writing system until the arrival of the Spanish with their Latin alphabet—which is silly to anyone who has bothered to look into the complexity of the Mayan syllabic glyphs and logograms—most of what I’ve seen written of the ancient Maya seems to over-glorify them.
Ancient peoples should not be put down as lesser humans than we are, yet they should not be seen as somehow superior, either. Though they did not, even if the Mayan’s had said something significant about 2012AD, what difference would it make in any way at all? No more than if the local Kiwanis Club said something about the year 3012AD.
• The “I Think I Can Hide This with an Ellipsis (…)” Mistake. This one is a tempting one, as well. Sometimes someone says something in some literature or in an article and the words seem to be just what you need to support your point. Yet, the context makes it clear that what they mean by what they say is not what you mean. So, how can one grab the words while hiding the difference? The strategic ellipsis, or “…”
There are, to be sure, legitimate uses for a well-placed “…” in a quotation. For instance, perhaps one wants to keep the quotation shorter and less relevant material could be removed without impacting the meaning of the statement. I could even see using a “…” to remove a part of the quotation that would distract the reader from the point at hand. That might take a judgment call, but one that needs to be made with integrity and proper purpose.
However, to use ellipses to essentially alter the meaning of text–that usage would be inappropriate and could border on (if not cross over into) bearing false witness.
And in 2012-ology, I have seen a good bit of that. I’ve seen scientists “quoted” out of magazine articles or newspaper columns as if they agree with 2012 End of Days/New Age scenarios through the use of strategic “…” placement. However, when one looks up the source of the quote and sees it in context, one finds that the scientist actually believes quite the opposite! The ellipses were placed, intentionally or not, in such a way as to change the meaning of his actual words or to make it seem he supported something he does not. Those examples were academically sloppy at best and academically dishonest at worst.
As I did before, let me create an analogous example. Let’s say I’m an atheist who believes that many of the writers of the Bible didn’t believe in God and I believe David was such a writer. Well, I could write that Psalm 53 says, “A contemplation of David… ‘There is no God.’” That would be, of course, dishonest, since the “…” hides something important: “A contemplation of David. ‘The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”’”
(For the record, I have seen this used in more than 2012-related work. I’ve seen some quote our literature, for instance, for their own purposes and use the “…” to make the quote seem more supportive of their own opinion than it truly is. In fact, I have seen entire Tomorrow’s World articles and commentaries plagiarized by individuals online while using a strategic “…” to remove a sentence or two they don’t agree with. The plagiarism is carnal and bad enough with or without the ellipses (simply citing the source, however well or poorly, is not enough to make something not plagiarism, by the way), but the strategic “…” is all the more worthy of disapprobation. Such practices are shameful, they blatantly violate at least one commandment if not two or more, and I do hope that those individuals repent of such behavior. Time will tell.)
I can see this mistake as one that is easy to make relatively innocently, but it is still a mistake, and I want to be careful to avoid it. Also, I want to avoid quoting someone to such an extent that either I risk plagiarizing them (again, listing them as the source is insufficient to prevent this) or I risk stealing internet traffic that is rightfully theirs as the originators of the content (and providing a link to their content is not enough if I quote them too heavily).
I think this would be a matter of loving my neighbor as myself—a commandment held in high esteem by the Lord (Mark 12:31) and, thus, by those who follow Him—and I would want my own words handled carefully by both those who agree with me and those who don’t.
• The “Wow, I’m a Scholar on This Topic!” Mistake. 2012-ology was chock-full of self-appointed “scholars” who, in reality, were no more than hobbyists (or, in some cases, obsessive fanatics). “A little knowledge is dangerous,” as they say, and the abundance of 2012 “research” proved that to be true. Somehow, the fact that someone can piece together Chilam Balam quotes, references to Quetzalcoatl, Dresden Codex pictures, and various inscriptions in personally exciting ways does not make them a scholar. Rather, it simply makes them someone who can piece together Chilam Balam quotes, references to Quetzalcoatl, Dresden Codex pictures, and various inscriptions in personally exciting ways. Using original source materials does not make one a scholar or expert on how those source materials should be used. Really, the ways I have seen disparate works, such as the Codex and the Chilam Balam, combined in complete ignorance (or, in some cases, in unjustified denial) of legitimate scholars’ work on those materials was disheartening. I believe the work I saw was innocent in the sense that it was sincere, but it was still shoddy and represented both poor academic thinking and a startling presumption of unearned expertise.
I tried to avoid this mistake in my 2012 writing, not allowing myself to believe I had become an expert on matters for which, in truth, I was simply a well-informed hobbyist. I hope I succeeded. And being a well-informed hobbyist was, indeed, more than enough to enable one to see through the wrong conclusions of the many who considered themselves to be “scholars.”
And all of this said, two additional things probably should be said, as well. One, I don’t have a problem with one who is “simply a well-informed hobbyist” standing his ground and disagreeing with established scholars. Sometimes there are reasonable grounds for doing so—a case I think Thomas Nagel makes in his anti-neo-Darwinist book, to which I referred earlier. We can’t fault some for doubting us if that’s the case, and we should be brave enough to admit the disagreement with established scholarship as opposed to pretending that we somehow represent the “mainstream” thought versus a radical or divergent view, but we don’t have to let others do our thinking for us, either. And, two, as Christians, we understand that the Bible is relevant, trustworthy information in addition to what scholars study on such issues. So, for instance, those who research history who ignore what the Bible has to say about it, in both its historical writings and its prophetic writings, are not including all relevant data, and I have no qualms with coming to different conclusions than they do. Of course, when it comes to Mayan’s supposed-beliefs about 2012, the Bible is silent: It does not say that they predicted an End of the World Event in 2012, nor does it say that they didn’t. Consequently, we have every reason in the world to defer to actual Mayan scholarship. (And, no, sifting Mayan writings for the stuff that fits our idea does not count as scholarship.)
• The “Every Connection I Can Make is a Good Connection!” Mistake. This can be a very tempting mistake, as well. In its most tempting form, it involves seeing “connections” that seem so reasonable to us that they simply “must” be true and then failing to do the “hard yards” to see of those connections really are justified. The example I alluded to parenthetically above about connecting Bolon Yokte on Monument 6 and Jesus Christ is a good example—the hobbyist might connect them, yet if one digs deeper one sees that such a connection is completely unjustified.
However, I saw worse. For instance, in trying to claim a connection between the Dresden Codex and 2012, I saw a claim made that the Venus Transit in 2012 establishes such a connection. Does it really? No, not in any way whatsoever, and the assertion is ridiculous on its face. Yes, the Dresden Codex apparently has astronomical Venus tables, so it is plausible that the transit that occurred in 2012 would be indicated in one of the many positions noted in the table (though I would like to see someone show that table entry to me—something I’ve never seen displayed). But this simply does not indicate that the Dresden Codex, let alone its decorative last page, is related to 2012-goofiness at all! It would be like saying that the last page of the Farmer’s Almanac is all about my birthday because, after all, my birthday is in the Almanac! Of course, so is yours, and your mother’s, your dog’s, your parakeet’s, Steven Spielberg’s, etc.
When we want to see a connection between two things desperately enough, we will see such “connections” even where they don’t exist, and they will seem reasonable to us (Jer. 17:9). Academic integrity, as well as simple honesty, will help to hold us back from banking on such “connections” if they are ultimately ungrounded—however tempting they may be. (Unless you’re Russell Crowe’s John Nash. Then…)
• The “I Think I Can Interpret This However I’d Like” Mistake. This happens in just about any endeavor which requires interpretation—which means virtually any endeavor in which humans are trying to understand anything. It certainly happens in Bible interpretation, and it also most certainly happened in 2012-tomfoolery.
In fact, hobbyists’ poorly interpreting Mayan writings through the filter of modern Christian apocalyptic thinking is one of the things that real Mayan scholars complained about most. I saw it myself in many, many examples: Trying to treat the Chilam Balam as if it were fairly linear like the book of Revelation or some other sort of Christian “end of days” work, as if the cultural mindset and context behind its writing weren’t completely different; trying to tie together the Dresden Codex and the Chilam Balam in manners that violate basic research into the progression of Mayan culture through the centuries; trying to interpret Monument 6 at Tortuguero or the Comalcalco Brick apart from understanding the Mayan culture that would motivate and generate such carvings, inserting, instead, Christian or modern Western ideas completely foreign to the objects’ creators; et al.
When one bothers to look at the products of the Mayan culture through even a modicum of understanding of that culture, most of the horrible misinterpretations of those Mayan writings and carvings vanish like a vapor.
This is a mistake—interpreting things in the manner I like most—that I have made before, and I know I can be tempted to do.
And when it comes to the stack of 2012-related books I had to slog through which chose to interpret the Maya however they liked, that temptation claimed a lot of victims over the last decade. It’s a warning I appreciate: That even the best of minds can be so married to a subject that academic integrity slides in the service of, what someone once called, an “idea baby.” But trustworthy interpretive methodology should be adhered to, lest I become unmoored. And the examples 2012-ology has given me of unmoored individuals will serve as reminders in my memory banks for, hopefully, a long, long time.
I’ve learned a lot more, to be sure, but this list is getting big as it is! Given that this is the last 2012-related post I ever plan to write (though I assume we should never say “never”!), I wanted to be thorough. And I wanted to have a more positive slant than previous posts: Again, though it has been an irritating pursuit in one sense, it really has been really fun in another sense and ultimately very educational. Whether I did it well or not, I got the opportunity to use a popular “fad” to point people to God’s beautiful truth, and I got to learn many lessons, as well, about academic integrity and about making sure our stance in our writings is the most credible one to take (and, thankfully, in this case it clearly was).
And I should add that I will be forever grateful for being allowed to utter the phrases “jeweled, self-dribbling basketballs” and “self-transforming machine elves” on television. Really—a dream come true.
So, to that lone church member who first suggested to me, long ago, that I create a telecast about the 2012-hysteria: Thank you for that e-mail. I really do appreciate it, and I believe it has been a profitable effort for God’s Work—and a fun one, too.
Howdy, everyone! My apologies–wow, it’s been the better part of a month! I did not mean to abandon my blog for so long, but December was crazy busy, so my time was better spent elsewhere. I was able to tape two new Tomorrow’s World programs during that time, though, as well as attend the wonderful Charlotte weekend with my family.
Among the things I’ve been itching to post about is, believe it or not, 2012. Charlotte published my last commentary on the subject–“After the Non-pocalypse”–on December 20, and I wanted to write something here about the lessons I have learned in being, for what it’s worth, the Church’s “2012 guy” (as Mrs. Ogwyn once called me, I believe). I actually began writing something about those lessons learned over the week I was working on telecasts and during the Charlotte weekend, but it grew so large that I have not finished it and now wonder if it is worth the effort!
I did learn a great deal, though–mostly about academic integrity and how lost some can get if they don’t maintain it. Literally every modern work I saw which claimed the Maya really did predict the end of the world in 2012 did, in some way, lack academic integrity or honesty. In this matter, I am glad that God’s Church and Work avoided shabby “research” and hewed to the most credible position: That by all appearances the ancient Maya never did predict the 2012 event that New Agers and hobbyists claimed they did (or, for that matter, what the sensationalist profit-seekers at the History Channel may have claimed they did).
And, of course, I am even more pleased that we didn’t get lost in the woods, so to speak. The thing to say about 2012 is not, “Oooooo, look at what some pagans and hippies think”–rather, it is that such stuff is junk and that the Bible, alone, should be our guide concerning prophecy. In this sense, what the Mayans said or didn’t say is irrelevant.
So, now that 2012 stuff is going the way of the dodo, I can say that I am pleased the Church stood for the truth as completely as possible: Both biblical truth and academic truth. It made our position the most credible it could be and, hopefully, added power to the message we were trying to deliver (which is, of course, God’s and not ours!).
My thanks to the Church member who sent me that e-mail some years ago, now, encouraging me to do a telecast on 2012 because of the confusion he saw in his acquaintances on the matter! Now that it is over, I can say that it has been a wonderful mixture of fun and frustration and a real learning opportunity, and I am thankful to have been able to serve in this way.
But if the Inca said anything about 2014, please don’t tell me about it…
As my family and I settle in for the night here in our hotel in Texas before preceding tomorrow morning toward Oklahoma, I note that today being the 24th of September (probably the 25th before this is posted) we are now–officially–less than three months before the 2012 Non-pocalypse. Oh, the non-horror! 🙂
Actually, I am delighted that 2012 is passing, as the non-Mayan, virtually-all-Gringo, 100% Non-pocalypse associated with it is a tiring and over-sold topic that, in the end, will do nothing but ruin many people on real prophecy. Like so many fake, new-age doomsdays/golden-dawn-dates before it, it will come and go, and scoffers will increase (cf. 2 Peter 3:3). Will some proclaim the beginning of a “new age of peace”–yes, probably the same hippies and druggies that always say something like that when their special day comes and goes. How many planetary alignments have come and gone in which the spaced-out leader of the meditative classes has declared that–although you couldn’t see it–massive changes have happened on the astral plane, and, indeed, the dawn of a new age has come? Too many, I am sure. But will those who do so with regard to 2012 be any more impactful than those who’ve done so before? Not likely at all.
The idea that some have been truly troubled by what they have heard connected with 2012 and have spent life savings, considered suicide, etc., is sad, and the countless books lining the shelves of Barnes & Noble, Borders (except they went bankrupt, right?), etc. probably haven’t helped, giving the fake-prophecy a credence it doesn’t deserve. In fact, I suppose some could claim that our DVD has done the same, though anyone actually watching it would hopefully conclude otherwise, as our goal has been to debunk the junk and turn the focus on to true prophecy. We are offering the DVD in, I believe, a couple more telecasts as the date approaches–if requests are low because interest in the topic has waned, that’s actually not the worst of news. If requests are high due to interest in the topic, that’s good news, too, as the DVD provides viewers with the truth about the new age, mostly-profit-driven, baseless 2012 hysteria and connects them with real sources that discuss true, biblical prophecy.
Also, we should have one more article, at least, discussing not only the fact that the Bible makes it clear that neither the end of the world nor a new age of peace will dawn in 2012 but also the fact that scientists and credible researchers are virtually unanimous that the 2012 hysteria has no basis whatsoever in anything at all but new age fantasy. The since-discredited speculations of early Mayanists aside, credentialed and credible modern researchers are clear: there is no basis in Mayan writings whatsoever to conclude that they saw 2012 as a pivotal date for either the end of the world or the beginning of a new age of peace. Really. None.
The Dresden Codex? Nope. Yes, there seems to be a flood pictured on its last page, but, no, there is no reason at all to connect that to 2012. The Venus and Lunar tables in the book do not do this either, and no one who has any idea of what the Dresden Codex is about would make this connection, since the Codex does not single out any Venus or Moon configuration as connected to the image. (Might some New Agers try to make such a connection as the date approaches? I would not be surprised. When there is no evidence, we humans are great at inventing it.)
The Chilam Balam? Nope. This collection–written after the Spanish conquest and reflecting a good deal of Catholic corruption–does, indeed, contain what the unlearned might think of as “prophecies” of the same style, purpose, or nature as Biblical prophecies. But such a conclusion only shows that one is cherry-picking Mayan writings and not considering the entirety of Mayan culture behind them and the mentality involved in such Mayan writings. Regardless, in terms of understanding what the Maya actually thought, experts warn us to consider that (1) the writings of the Chilam Balam should not be considered as connected with the writings of centuries earlier (such as the previously mentioned Dresden Codex), as they truly are not, (2) we should not read the “prophecy-like” writings in the Chilam Balam like we do the prophecies of the Bible, since the mindset in such writings is completely different and foreign to the biblical mindset or the Western mindset, and (3) the so-called “2012 end date” is not tied to anything at all in the Chilam Balam–absolutely nothing. For a book that is mistreated by Maya hobbyists and 2012-ologists as if it were a “Mesoamerican Revelation,” the much-ballyhooed 2012 date is remarkably absent. (This is probably partially due to the hobbyists lack of research and the 2012-ologists bias. The calendar system that is the focus in the Chilam Balam is not the Long Count, at all, which did not have that sort of “prophetic” significance to the Maya, but rather, their katun cycles. Any attempt to tie the Chilam Balam‘s comments about the “law of the katun” to the end of the current baktun are simply rooted in ignorance of how the different calendars were used by the Maya, or, perhaps, in the sincere hope of making a connection where there is none.
Monument 6 at Tortuguero? Nope. The Comalcalco Brick? Nope. There simply is no evidence. Only those looking for a 2012 “end date” in Mayan culture “find” it, like psychiatric patients who see the same imaginary thing in every ink blot test.
In fact, even the very idea that the end of the current baktun was seen as the end of a major cycle is highly dubious. Many researchers, such as Mark Van Stone of FAMSI, who have pointed out that though 18.104.22.168.0 may arrive this December (or it may not, as the correlation, itself, is disputed), many Mayan inscriptions discuss times that are, essentially, 22.214.171.124.0 and 126.96.36.199.0 and more–thousands of years into our future, demonstrating that it is foolhardy to assume that the Maya thought the calendar would sort of “roll over” like the odometer on a car. And those future dates–again, thousands and even tens of thousands of years and more into the future–they are not discussed as though there will have been dramatic changes. They are, rather, seen as future dates along a continual stream of same-old, same-old. As van Stone has written concerning some particular stela (stone monuments):
“At the very least, this implies that the ancient Maya expected the status quo to continue at least 4000 years into the future. That’s 2760 years after 2012. They expected no interruption.”
Still, whether the motivation is “profit” or “prophet”, don’t expect New Age 2012-ologists to allow the facts to get in the way.
So, what should we expect three months from now? I would expect that for those who want to claim their predictions were right, they will find the evidence they need. For those who will want to claim that the end of the world has begun come December 21, 2012, they will point to something. For those who will want to claim that a new age of peace and prosperity has come, they will point to something (even if it’s only to their “astral experiences” and the information they receive from their “spirit guides”). It will be a grand time of self-declared prophets finding whatever evidence they need to say that their “predictions” were accurate. The world is certainly in a messy state right now, so that prophet wanna-be’s (and, oh, how many there are!) will likely be able to find whatever evidence they need.
If you’re curious about how in the world such a hysteria could be built on, essentially, nothing, consider requesting our free DVD. Please don’t waste another dollar–hard enough to come by in this economy–on one of the many, many, many 2012 “resources” sitting on shelves in the “New Age” section of your local bookstores when you can order a free hour-long DVD that explains the whole matter and that will point you to biblical prophecy, instead. You can order it here from the Living Church of God and Tomorrow’s World. Like everything else we make, it doesn’t cost a dime, and it will make more sense than most of what you would actually be expected to pay for.
However, since the clock is ticking and these posts may never see the light of someone’s LCD laptop screen again after the next three months, maybe it would be good to list most all of what I’ve posted. This should be a fairly thorough list in (what I believe to be) a chronological order, oldest to newest:
Howdy! Finally back to the blog after my annual pre-teen camp-related self-imposed exile (additional exiles probably coming in connection with teen camp and the Feast), and it is good to type, again. Though, as usual, I have a lot on my brain and not much time to delve into it all, so I thought I would simply focus on getting something off of my chest.
Or, actually, my desktop. My computer’s desktop has been horribly cluttered for the better part of a year (or two) and I have finally cleaned it off. Over the course of doing so, though, I came across several links I had “saved” there in the hopes of perhaps blogging about them or keeping them for future reference (for which the desktop is not the ideal place). In order to ease my conscience at their passing, I thought it would be great to put up this Desktop Debris Potpourri! If the link looks interesting, feel free to click and read. If not, feel free to skip it. It just feels good to get these things off of my desktop…
Here’s a link to a Wall Street Journal article about FDR’s radio address to the nation on June 6, 1944. (Subscription required, though you may be able to look up the transcript elsewhere.) It was a prayer, and reading it made me wonder if our presidents, today, could get away with such a blatant appeal to God’s mercy and aid without being sued.
Here’s a link to a CNET article, with video, about Apple’s planned iOS mapping software, intended to replace Google maps once the divorce is settled. (Watch the video–if they pull it off, it will be pretty neat.)
Here’s agreat Kay Hymowitz WSJ article (no subscription needed!) on “Why Women Make Less Than Men” — which would have been a great resource to quote at our recent Akron Spokesman Club Ladies Event table topics session.
Wow! I feel purged! Thanks for letting me get all that off my chest. The sky is clear again! My clean desktop is staring at me from my laptop screen, suggesting that a whole new world of wonder is out there waiting for me to explore! Thanks for your help. And, as always, if you go clicking around any of those: caveat navita stans.
[By the way: Pre-teen camp in Missouri was incredible! Really, the best one ever in my experience, and I am thankful to all of you who may have prayed for it. Thanks much!]