Pixelblocks: Airplane  

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A friend of mine at work received these amazing blocks at work called Pixelblocks (as a gift from someone pretty amazing, I must say). He's been building a model from the book about once a week or so.

A few weeks ago I went by and all the pixelblocks were in their container, so I decided to start one. I opened the book and picked the first model to start on. Well, it was pretty ambitious. After about 10 blocks I gave up and went back to my desk to work, thinking I'd make it back over there later in the day. Work got hectic and I haven't been back there for a few weeks, but when I came into work on Monday, this was sitting on my desk.

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You made my day. Thanks, Keith

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Kickball!  

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


So, how many of you out there remember P.E. class in school? Yeah, that's probably a mix of groans and fond memories out there. I had my own mix. When I was pretty young and still in public school I remember there would be special times when the entire gym was set up with all sorts of equipment for climbing and swinging. That was pretty cool. But about middle school, when I was in a private religious school P.E. turned into something not really fun for me.

Due to class size we had a joint P.E. session, usually with about a 4-5 grade spread. I was in the second to lowest class. And, since we had to do an activity that everyone could participate in, we spent most of the time playing kickball. If it wasn't raining or below 40 degrees we were out in the church parking lot with that bright red ball.

And I hated it.

It wasn't so much that I wasn't a good kickball player, I wasn't good, but that wasn't why I didn't like it. I wasn't good at basketball either, but I played on the school team throughout middle school. I loved practice, but I dreaded playing in the games. Fortunately because I wasn't very good I sat on the bench a lot.

I grew to loathe playing kickball because day-in, day-out I was forced to participate in an activity that I didn't like. I guess if it was an occasional thing I might have endured it and forgotten about it.

But, that's not the end of the kickball story. Oh no. Tomorrow we have a team event at work. And you guessed what it is, I'm sure. We're going to play kickball!!1 Why kickball I have no idea, but I'm dreading it.

So, I've been hoping that it will rain. And right now the forecast is calling for, "Cloudy with a 50 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms." So maybe I shouldn't worry about it. But, if we do go forward with this lame (yes, I will say it because that's what I think of it) event, what should I do? Should I just endure it? Find a way to avoid it? Embrace it as an opportunity to get over a childhood trauma? Protest?

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Photo Assignment: Morning  

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

One of my assignments for my photography class is to take photos of the same spot at different times of the day. I love this photo, but unfortunately I took it as a jpg, before I started shooting completely in RAW (yes, Mamacita, it's so much better!).

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Anyway, I hope you enjoy it. More pictures are coming soon.

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Review: Misquoting Jesus - Bart D. Ehrman  

Monday, February 23, 2009



When I was young and I asked my parents questions about religion they encouraged me to study Biblical history. I've always been fascinated with it, even no when I no longer believe, maybe especially after I no longer believe.

My first doubts about religion stemmed from learning how the books of the Bible came to be the accepted text. I don't understand how the logic makes sense to so many, but basically the books of the Bible came to be the accepted text because they validated each other. Books that did not validate the selected books were discarded, sometimes completely destroyed.

You'll hear apologists that say otherwise:

The canon of Scripture was NOT formed by the declaration of a church council any more than Isaac Newton created the law of gravity. Rather, as written revelation came from God through God's chosen writers, the people of God recognized God's voice and affirmed that the writing was indeed the word of God.
Right, just as people hear conflicting words from that same source today.

But it was that exact circular reasoning that first caused me to doubt. And as I came to doubt the Bible I came to doubt the entire belief system. If Christianity was based on the Bible then the Bible had to be a solid text, otherwise how could I believe? It never lost faith on that one thought, but the crack persisted and no amount of shoring up could erase it.

Another myth I was told throughout my childhood that the Bible was 100% accurate. All translations had shown that the book was painstakingly translated, by miracle, from one text to another completely intact. The Dead Sea scrolls were a miracle in themselves, validating that the translations were inerrant.

And even though I had doubts about the selections and origins of the text, I had no problem swallowing the myth of a text copied over the millennium without one character changed.

And that's why, even now as a non-believer, I find Ehrman enlightening. I no longer believed the text was miraculously unchanged from ancient times, but I didn't know anything about textual criticism.

In Misquoting Jesus Ehrman outlines the ways in which the text was changed. Many scholars argue that the text was changed only in small, unimportant ways, but Ehrman shows how large changes to core beliefs of Christianity (change of text to support the trinity and additions of text to support a resurrection) can be inferred by examining differences in early editions.

He even goes so far to say that we will never know what the original authors wrote, because all of the original editions are lost.
Most of these differences are completely immaterial and insignificant. A good portion of them simply show us that the scribes in antiquity could spell no better than most people can today (and they didn't even have dictionaries, let alone spell check). Even so, what is one to make of all these differences? If one wants to insist that God inspired the very words of scripture, what would be the point if we don't have the very words of scripture? In some places, as we will see, we simply cannot be sure that we have reconstructed the original text accurately. It's a bit hard to know what the words of the Bible mean if we don't even know what the words are!

So if we don't know what the original text is and if we can only trust the text to validate itself, then what are we left with?
The Bible began to appear to me as a very human book. Just as human scribes had copied, and changed, the texts of the scripture, so too had human authors originally written the texts of scripture. This was a human book from beginning to end. It was written by different human authors at different times and in different places to address different needs. Many of these authors no doubt felt they were inspired by God to say what they did, but they had their own perspectives, their own beliefs, their own views, their own needs, their own desires, their own understandings, their own theologies; and these perspectives, beliefs, views, needs, desires, understandings, and theologies informed everything they said. In all these ways they differed from one another.

...

Many Christians, of course, have never held this literalistic view of the Bible in the first place, and for them such a view might seem completely one-sided and unnuanced (not to mention bizarre and unrelated to matters of faith). There are, however, plenty of people around who still see the Bible this way. Occasionally I see a bumper sticker that reads: "God said it, I believe it, and that settles it." My response is always, What if God didn't say it? What if they book you take as giving you god's words instead contains human words? What if the Bible doesn't give a foolproof answer to the questions of the modern age - abortion, women's rights, gay rights, religious supremacy, Western-style democracy, and the like? What if we have to figure out how to live and what to believe on our own, without setting up the Bible as a false idol - or an oracle that gives us reasons to for thinking that, in fact, the Bible is not the kind of inerrant guide to our lives: among other things, as I've been pointing out, in many places we (as scholars, or just regular readers) don't even know what the original words of the Bible actually were.

My dad called the other day and we were talking about school. For someone who's so big on education, it startles me how much little he knows about the origin and history of the Bible. And as we talked about the reasons why both of us enjoyed learning he said, "That's one thing they can never take away from you - knowledge." I felt like shouting a hearty Hallelujah!

And I have to say a thanks to Ehrman for sharing another piece of knowledge.

Vinny also has a good review of the book at You Call This Culture?

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Sunday Reader February 22, 2009  

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Astronomy
Satellites Collide in Low Earth Orbit



Games
Science gleans 60TB of behavior data from Everquest 2 logs
Researchers ranging from psychologists to epidemiologists have wondered for some time whether online, multiplayer games might provide some ways to test concepts that are otherwise difficult to track in the real world. A Saturday morning session at the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science described what might be the most likely way of finding out. With the cooperation of Sony, a collaborative group of academic researchers at a number of institutions have obtained the complete server logs from the company's Everquest 2 MMORPG.

Religion
Effectively non-existent
In the United States today, we have tens of thousands of priests, rabbis, mullahs, pastors, and preachers who are paid professionals, who claim to be active and functioning mediators between people and omnipotent invisible masters of the universe. They make specific claims about their god's nature, what he's made of and what he isn't, how he thinks and acts, what you should do to propitiate it…they somehow seem to have amazingly detailed information about this being. Yet, when a scientist approaches with a critical eye, suddenly it is a creature that not only has never been observed, but cannot observed, and its actions invisible, impalpible, and immaterial.

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Happy Birthday to Me!  

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Image courtesy of Clever Cupcakes


Yes, I'm a total ham. My birthday is today. It's tradition for me to take my birthday off from work, but this year I had a presentation and some meetings I couldn't miss and class tonight, so I'm here at work. I'm taking tomorrow off instead.

I know this week has been bare of posts and I'm still trying to get used to having no time at home. Tomorrow I hope to spend some time on a post I've been wanting to write for a couple of months and have something fresh for you to read. In lieu of having a real post to read though, have some cake.

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Sunday Reader February 15, 2009  

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Astronomy
Circle 'round the Moon



Civil Rights
Is Taking Life Endangering Risks Immoral?
And my reaction to young AIDS deaths is exactly as I react to the deaths of folks like Jeremy Lusk, Jim O’Brien, Steve Irwin, and Dale Earnhardt. It’s tragic. Folks do well to know of the risks they take or otherwise to minimize those risks. In a perfect world, people would always dot their i’s, cross their t’s, eat healthy, go for regular check ups to the doctor, exercise, wear seatbelts, don’t drive when you haven’t had enough sleep, never talk on your cell phone when driving, don’t smoke, always drink in no more than moderation, etc., etc. And, at the very least we need to educate ourselves and understand how to live such risk minimized lives. Until utopia or the millennium, we will never be able to avoid risks completely.

Left-Handers Threaten Nation's Moral Fiber: Same-Sex Marriage, Handedness, and the History of Bigotry
When I first read of the negative associations with left- handedness I was reminded of the kinds of intolerance and disgust expressed about people who are physically attracted to people like themselves, (which has also occurred in all cultures and throughout human history) and I hoped that as the scientific evidence of distinct brain differences between gay and straight people became more widely known that this prejudice too would abate. I was, therefore, saddened by the passage in Arizona, Arkansas and California of propositions to limit marriage to opposite sex couples. (Arkansas voters were especially heartless ordaining that "unmarried cohabiting couples" -- a phrase aimed at gay couples -- could not adopt children; every study done has shown they make just as good parents as mixed sex couples. Surely what is most important is children having secure and loving homes with two parents who are committed each other -- I'm with Judge Judy on this!).

Games
Utah bill targets game sales to minors, could backfire
Even though past legislation involving criminalizing the sales of certain games to underage consumers has consistently failed—while costing taxpayers a good amount of money—a Utah state congressman thinks he has found a way to get around the pesky First Amendment problems that struck down past attempts at legislation. This new bill would make it a crime to advertise that you don't sell violent or graphic content (games and movies) to children... and then do so. If you think that sounds silly, you'll understand why soon enough: the bill was drafted by none other than disbarred attorney Jack Thompson.

Government
Obama fails his first test on civil liberties and accountability -- resoundingly and disgracefully
What makes this particularly appalling and inexcusable is that Senate Democrats had long vehemently opposed the use of the "state secrets" privilege in exactly the way that the Bush administration used it in this case, even sponsoring legislation to limits its use and scope. Yet here is Obama, the very first chance he gets, invoking exactly this doctrine in its most expansive and abusive form to prevent torture victims even from having their day in court, on the ground that national security will be jeopardized if courts examine the Bush administration's rendition and torture programs -- even though (a) the rendition and torture programs have been written about extensively in the public record; (b) numerous other countries have investigated exactly these allegations; and (c) other countries have provided judicial forums in which these same victims could obtain relief.

International News
Eluana Englaro
Italy's top court awarded Englaro's father the right to stop her daughter from being fed The court's decision met with immediate criticism of the Roman Catholic Church. Ennio Cardinal Antonelli, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, stated: "Eluana is in a 'vegetative state,' but she is not a vegetable. She is a person who is sleeping. The person, also when she is sleeping or disabled, retains all of her dignity. The person is valuable in herself, not for what she produces or consumes, or for the pleasure or satisfaction she gives to others."

Religion
It Takes Effort
At this funeral, the first reading was from a passage from the Book of Wisdom (not found in most Bibles, other than the Douay Catholic version). The funeral officiant mentioned in his homily how this passage was the first biblical reference to the concept of life after death. He told us that originally the Jews, and even the early Christians, didn’t really believe in a life after death, but that only later did that concept arise among Christians. This is where I became a little befuddled, because I’m not sure exactly at what point in time people began to believe, with their particular religion, that they could look forward to immortal life. It really doesn’t matter for purposes of this post, as the point I want to emphasize is the same point he chose to emphasize - that Christians really have to work hard to maintain their beliefs, especially the Big One in the Afterlife, primarily because it flies in the face of all material knowledge.

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Happy Valentine's Day!  

Saturday, February 14, 2009



I hope you're spending today with someone you love.

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Happy Darwin Day!  

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Image by Colin Purrington via Flickr


Today is the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication and it's been 150 years (though not to the day) since On the Origin of Species was published. The day is used to highlight Darwin's contribution to science and to promote science in general.

So celebrate science and the pursuit of knowledge.

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Icelandic Last Supper  

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

I'm in the process of cleaning out my email Inbox. Gmail just implemented a feature allowing users to file email in folders instead of just tagging them. That's been one of the things I've always disliked about Gmail - the inability to have a clean Inbox. And, for those of you who don't know, I'm an email filing fanatic. I can't stand to have anything in my email Inbox that isn't something I'm needing to respond to. That's how I stay organized.

I came across a couple of emails I received through my blog last year about this time that I don't think I ever responded to. I confess, they probably got lost in the mix. Some weren't tagged, which meant I intended to respond to them, but they probably fell off the front page and I forgot.

Anyway, this is from Jörgen Sörensen.

I´m sending you a link to an Icelandic commercial that caused quite some disturbance here in Iceland and was even condemed as blasphamy by the bishop. Enjoy!




Sorry for taking so long to respond or post about this, Jörgen, and I'm hoping you're having a good year this year. Thanks for reading and emailing me!

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Dog Park January 31, 2009  

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

My first portfolio assignment for the photography class was "Spring Fever". There wasn't much instruction, just take pictures and use that as the theme. So, I bundled up the camera and the tripod and spent a morning at the dog park with my mother-in-law and her two dogs.

The tripod was ditched (and carried) after about 10 minutes. I just couldn't keep up with the action using it. I think it's going to require some getting used to to actually use it for something more than moon shots. A friend let me borrow her monopod, but I'm still finding that I can't get used to using it. I just have to do it and stick with it.

Most of these were taken with a 1/2000th of a second shutter speed, so camera shake wasn't much of an issue.



Original Source

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Carnival of the Godless #110  

Monday, February 09, 2009

The Carnival of the Godless #110 - Valentine's Day Edition is up at The Greenbelt. Thanks to Ridger for accepting my submission on The Devil Wore Condoms.

P.S. Happy birthday, sis! Even though you don't read this blog.

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Sunday Reader February 8, 2009: A Short One  

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Photography
Lenticular Clouds Above Washington



Science
The Backward Whale
As Gingerich and his colleagues were digging up one female, things got confusing. They started to find bones that seemed to belong to Maiacetus, but were much smaller than the rest of the female’s skeleton. Eventually they realized they were digging up a mother and her unborn calf. (In this drawing, the baby’s skeleton is painted blue.) It was pointing towards the birth canal so that it would be born head first–like land mammals and seals.

Origin Of Claws Seen In Fossil 390 Million Years Old
"With a head like the giant Cambrian aquatic predator Anomalocaris and a body like a modern arthropod, the specimen is the only known example of this unusual creature," said Derek Briggs, director of Yale's Peabody Museum of Natural History and an author of the paper appearing in the journal Science.

Scientists have puzzled over the origins of the paired grasping appendages found on the heads of scorpions and horseshoe crabs. The researchers suggest that Schinderhannes gives a hint. Their appendages may be an equivalent to those found in the ancient predatory ancestor, Anomalocaris — even though creatures with those head structures were thought to have become extinct by the middle of the Cambrian Period, 100 million years before Schinderhannes lived.

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The Devil Wore Condoms  

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

It's old news now that Rick Warren supports missions in Africa that are let's just say dubious. One of the most ridiculous stories to come out was about a preacher named Martin Ssempa, the head of the Makerere Community Church in Uganda.

Emboldened by U.S. support, Ssempa took his anti-condom crusade to Makerere University in Kampala, where senior residents of a men’s dormitory promoted safe sex by greeting incoming freshmen with a giant effigy wearing a condom. According to Helen Epstein, one day after she visited the school, Ssempa stormed on to campus, tore the condom from the effigy, grabbed a box of free condoms, and set them ablaze. “I burn these condoms in the name of Jesus!” Ssempa shouted as he prayed over the burning box.

I knew that the Catholic church had an issue with condoms. It's something about every sperm being sacred, or some such. However, I had no idea that Evangelicals were against contraception. Or maybe it's just the same old abstinence only educational values that are being promoted here in America. But in college? Aren't adults able to make decisions for themselves?

Why discourage contraception between adult couples, especially in a country suffering from the worst of the AIDS epidemic? Maybe it's just the concept that condoms are bad because they encourage promiscuity. But I'm not certain that's true. After all a recent study found that teenagers in abstinence-only programs were just as likely to engage in sex as those who weren't. And they were more likely to participate in risky behavior such as having sex without a condom.

Imagine that? Actually teach kids about the consequences of their actions and give them enough information to decide and some kids might make the right choice. Some kids won't. And it doesn't matter if you tell them that they shouldn't have sex until marriage. Many still will.

In Africa, where the ABC program in Uganda has been successful in curbing the rise of AIDS occurrences, the abstinence part of the program has been the least effective. Encouraging partner reduction and condom use have been responsible for most of the success.
Unfortunately, however, scientific evaluation and medical surveillance paint a different picture. Studies of Ugandan AIDS prevalence that try to assess the relative contributions of abstinence, multiple-partner reduction, and condom use in lowering infection rates have found that abstinence actually made the smallest contribution, while condoms and partner reduction had the largest impact. David Serwadda, a Ugandan physician who chairs the Global HIV Prevention Working Group, has stated, "As a physician who has been involved in Uganda's response to AIDS for 20 years, I fear that one small part of what led to Uganda's success -- promoting sexual abstinence -- is being overemphasized in policy debates."

So if abstinence is only effective as a policy if paired with education about sex. And yet any discussion about sex is instantly quelled by the ultra-religious. Because, I imagine, it makes them feel uncomfortable. And it's naughty and dirty and wrong.

Which I completely disagree with.

There's nothing dirty or naughty (except maybe in a good, exciting way) about sex and there's certainly nothing wrong about engaging in sex. It's something that we as a society should be more comfortable talking about. I'm not, but I attribute that to growing up in an Evangelical church. But what about all of the people who grew up in non-sexually repressed households? Why are we as a society so afraid of that one subject?

Now I'm not advocating that we tell kids to go at it with abandon. That's not responsible. But to say that sex isn't natural and that everyone should save themselves for marriage, to claim that you give up part of your soul when you have sex, is backwards-Victorian-age-thinking. (Funny isn't it, that it's always the women that are told they must be pure?) Haven't we progressed past this type of thinking?

I'd rather have an honest discussion about sex. About the facts. Not the continued spread of misinformation.

No wonder people have sexual hangups and unattainable expectations about sex. It took me years to get over my own hangups and simply enjoy sex. And I wouldn't wish that on anyone, not even Pat Robertson (who doesn't seem to have a hangup over the use of condoms in Africa, surprisingly enough).

So, please, when people are dying due to unprotected sex, don't tell them that condoms are the devil. Encourage them to do what they can to protect themselves. Tell them that condoms are essential* for safe sex.

*And sometimes social change is essential as well for all of you people who think that Africa is a black hole and there's no reason to help people when there's no noticeable change in their society. Maybe kicking out those backwards values that are encouraged by religion and promoting a culture change would help more than dumping a bunch of money into ineffective programs.

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January Night Sky 2009  

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Since I caught the first moon of the year in somewhat decent detail I decided to make it a project to take pictures of the moon during the month of January. Unfortunately I didn't realize how much of a challenge it would be.

For one, the moon is easily obscured by clouds. I had several days in a row where I was unable to get a single shot. Also, for a large part of the month the moon is not viewable during the evening (where detail is easier to photograph) except during the wee hours of the morning, when I'm usually sleeping.

But, I think I got some pretty cool pictures all the same. I learned a ton about taking pictures at night. And, from applying lessons from class and my own experimentation I had better results as the month went on. I'm especially proud of the full moon picture, which I think turned out very well. It was a total fluke that I was able to get it. I had no idea what I was doing, but it was when I first started experimenting with shutter priority and I hit on a decent aperture to balance it out purely by chance. (It's still blue though from having the wrong white balance selected, but it doesn't look unnatural.)

These pictures really need to be seen in a larger view to see any detail.



Original Source

Anyway, I hope to try this again. I may wait until it's warmer, but the moon is addicting. It may be hard to stop hauling my tripod out in the middle of the night.

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Reading List for January  

Monday, February 02, 2009


Yeah, okay, I didn't read much in January. My excuse? Well, there isn't one really. The Universe is kind of bogging me down. It's not an easy book to take out with me and it's well, really not as interesting as I hoped. The topics are great, but it seems like I'm reading stuff I already know. Maybe I know more about the universe in general than I knew about the planets of our solar system before I read The Planets. Or maybe it's also because it opens with 3-4 non-fiction sections that are pretty dry. I'll see what I think when I get to the first story. In the meantime I'm going to skip right to The Handmaid's Tale next.

Read in January
Misquoting Jesus - Bart D. Ehrman

Currently Reading
The Universe - Byron Preiss (Editor)

Coming Up Next
The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
The Welsh Girl - Peter Ho Davies (Nonbelieving Literati)

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Sunday Reader February 1, 2009  

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Astronomy
Ring of Fire



The Milky Way Over Mauna Kea



A Partial Eclipse Over Manila Bay



Games
Popular WoW automation tool infringes Blizzard's copyright
Blizzard's claims for copyright infringement were worrisome to many of us following the case. The company's argument was that Donnelly's program made a copy of the game in a computer's RAM in order to circumvent WoW's anti-cheat protection; because Glider violates the End User Legal Agreement, players are no longer allowed to copy the game into RAM, thus leading to copyright-infringement. This idea seemed majorly flawed, as it could severely hamstring the rights of any computer user, since any program being used will copy portions of itself into RAM. Public Knowledge, an advocacy group that fights to scale back copyright law, even got involved in the case by filing an amicus brief that argued this copyright theory was far too broad and potentially dangerous, an argument that Judge Campbell rejected.

Music
Tim Minchin's Storm



Recipe
Perfect Sushi Rice
Sushi has an interesting beginning: people in China (funny, since sushi is a Japanese dish) used to cure large pieces of fish in between two flat layers of vinegar-soaked rice. They’d create a flat layer of rice, pour a vinegar solution over it, then lay a single layer of fish all over the rice. Then they’d top it with another vinegar-soaked layer of rice and let it cure for a length of time as a means of preserving it. When the fish was ready, they’d discard the rice and keep the fish. I guess somewhere along the way, someone got the munchies early, grabbed a big mouthful of the fish and rice, and decided it was a treat in itself.

Religion
Haggard Revisited
The church wanted to squelch the fact that Haggard was a practicing homosexual for several years, while he was one of the primary leaders of the evangelical movement in America. Instead, they tried to spin Haggard’s scandal as a single “wild streak” of aberration during a short span of time. Why? Because these facts cast an even greater uncertainty upon the basic principles of Christianity. If the greatest, most faithful among them could not for years cast off his evil nature—how could anyone? Or, could the top leaders of Christianity be mere charlatans? These are questions they don’t want people to ask. They are not profitable.

This ugly fact splays wide the festering wound they continue to inflict upon homosexuals with their obviously flawed doctrine. Even while one of their very elect is a hard-coded homosexual, they lie and wiggle to preserve the message that no, he is a heterosexual who was merely attacked by Satan with unnatural desires. This causes homosexual Christians to hate themselves, and heaps more shame upon “the guilty,” who will, in turn, require the church’s exhonoration services.


Was High School Girl Possessed In Class?
Students at a Mississippi high school said a fellow student spoke in tongues and made grave predictions for her classmates for three days.

Some of those predictions included when students would die.

Pelahatchie High School students called reporters from TV station WAPT, convinced that an evil spirit had taken over Lashundra Clanton.

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