You only get one question…

…then shut up and let others have a chance.

I was at a delightful one-man storytelling event at the Tempe History Museum the other night. The performer adopted a variety of costumes and facial devices as he related historical commentaries on the parade of Native American tribal customs from the past thousand or so years – Hohokam, Atzlan, Yaqui and Pima to name a few. The Hohokam (“those who are gone”) are considered to be the builders of the original canal system around the Phoenix metropolitan area.

Zarco Guerrero did a great job of keeping the tales lively and brief and after about 40 minutes the crowd of 50 or so enthusiastic attendees of many ethnic backgrounds was invited to ask questions or give comments.

One woman in the front row was quick to raise her hand and was recognized by the moderator. Her comment, about the Pima tribe’s long-staple cotton, was rather detailed and took a couple minutes to explain. Zarco acknowledged the excellent information with good grace and we were ready for more questions.

Three or four people were recognized by the moderator around the room, each offering a quick question or comment.

And then…and then…our first row lady struck again. From my spot at the end of the second row I could see her hand going up, but I could also see seven or eight hands throughout the room.

Alas, the moderator recognized her again and she launched into a second 4-5-minute commentary.

Now, I’ve seen this kind of thing at several different casual public meetings and always wondered at the self-centeredness of people seated toward the front who think they can just keep asking questions. They don’t look around to see who else is trying to get attention. And almost as bad, the lecturer doesn’t either. Even worse is when there’s a moderator or host who doesn’t scan the room, especially the middle and back areas.

So my rule is: You get to ask one question, with maybe a brief follow-up for clarification. Then you get to shut up for a while.

Look around the room. If no hands are raised, go ahead and ask another question. Then, after five or ten minutes you can jump back in…

…or be prepared for a good old-fashioned Salt River dunking.

Zarco performance photo by the author. Poster from Tempe History Museum promotional site.

Pizza Puzzle: Landfill or Recycle?

I was walking to my class at a certain community college the other morning at 6:45 a.m.  I mention this not to try to shamelessly wheedle sympathy out of you for my early rising, but to point out that the display in the first photo must have taken place in the oh-dark-hundred hours.

Yes, there is a third of a pizza resting blissfully on the ledge of one of the trash receptacles. Since I had 23 rhetoric-hungry students waiting for me I didn’t take the pic right then but did remember to look for it an hour later and, sure enough, it hadn’t moved.

Giving the benefit of the doubt to the original owner, I figured they* simply couldn’t decide whether a used pizza is considered “landfill” or “recyclable” and so they left it for some other food savant to decide.

Two hours later I was returning from nourishing a different group of MLA Style-starved scholars and could hardly believe what had happened:

Uh huh…the pizza slice had moved itself over to the Recycle side, as though to taunt the by-now-hundreds of shredded-jean passers-by to make a final decision.

Honest…I hadn’t touched it. And though all I had to eat by 11 a.m. was a banana and several cups of coffee, I was still not tempted to scarf it down.

By 1 p.m. the slice had inched a bit closer to the slot. Here’s a close up, just to get your mouth juices flowing.

So whattya say? Which slot does a used pizza go in? My students voted for “landfill” since it’s not technically something you can recycle. And really…who just leaves a pizza and paper plate on the side of a trash receptacle, as though to say, “Hey, I’ll be right back for this, but feel free to nosh on it if you get there first.”

Just as important: Why does “Landfill” get a square opening but “Recycle” gets a keyhole slot?

* yes…we’re now allowed to say “they” instead of the annoying and space-consuming “he or she” or other klugey abominations such as “he/she,” “s/he” that have been proposed, including the “whiplash grammar” solution of alternating “he” and “she.”

Trippin’ along the Arizona Canal

In previous posts (July 13 and Nov. 2015) I’ve mentioned a number of oddities along the Arizona Canal that runs past my house. As I’ve said, my early morning bike ride down the canal often reveals surprises, sometimes in the form of amusing graffiti but just as often in the form of abandoned or otherwise unheralded public art—such as the rather mysterious sandstone sculpture below.

There’s no sign or other indication of why or how it appeared on the raised berm between the paved pathway and gravel path adjoining the canal itself.

I decided to get to the bottom of this and found more than I expected.

The primary reference that Google turned up was a brief essay titled, Arizona Canal Demonstration Project Sunnyslope Community” crediting M. Paul Friedberg – Landscape Architecture and Jackie Ferrara – Artist.

This is apparently part of a “multi-room” landscape art project from 2001 and the sandstone design turned out to be the fourth “room.” Each room supposedly illuminates one or more of the environmental characteristics that contribute to the uniqueness of this area.

I gather the sculpture above is an artistic interpretation of either the Salt River or an ancient Hohokam tribe drawing of the 2,000 year old canal system. The Hohokam flourished in the Phoenix valley from 300-1450 CE.

A close look at the sculpture reveals two sets of openings, one of which appears to be a dual nozzle which may have been intended to create a water/stream effect. Or it could simply be an alien!

The canals are operated by the Salt River Project (SRP) and while the canals are technically a utility corridor, meant to deliver water to this desert metropolis, they’ve historically been associated with recreation.



Recently, a longtime Sunnyslope resident told me that maintenance of the various artwork installations—the sequence of five outdoor “rooms” at intervals of approximately 500 to 700 yards carved into the berm—was abandoned for budgetary reasons when a different authority took over management of the berms and paths.

Now, here’s a rundown of the various “rooms,” in sequence starting from the Central Ave and heading southeast toward 7th St. It’s not entirely clear which rooms are which from the write-up but I think my guesses are reasonably on target.

First room: the “circle room”







Now, here’s an amazing little peculiarity of the Circle Room: if you stand dead center, you can create a strange auditory “echo” effect — much like those so-called “whispering galleries” where your voice is amplified beneath a dome or a vault. Except that here, a person standing outside the very limited circle, more than 2 or 3 feet, just hears your normal voice. But you hear your voice as though it’s being piped into a microphone. Everyone who has seen this acts blasé at first, like, “OK what’s the big deal?” But when they step into the small circle and try it out, it’s “Whoa! What just happened?”

I have no idea whether the designers intended to create this effect or if it’s just an unintended artifact of the circle. You’d really have no idea to even try it unless you came upon it by chance or someone told you about it…like I just did.

Second room: the “water room”

Third Room: the “time room” —  yes…it’s an actual sun dial!

The fourth room, seen at the top of this posting, is called the “map room”

Fifth room: the “grass room”?

This is described as a rectangular space outlined on three sides by a stone seating wall. “A planting bed of tall exotic desert grass creates a spatial frame around the sitting area, thus focusing the visitor’s view toward the top of the grass and the canal.”

Obviously the “planting bed” was a budget victim. And, oddly, one can only wonder what force of nature caused part of this very solid-looking wall to break away in two places (one shown here).


I’m putting my money on ancient aliens as seen from these artifacts, with characteristic beady eyes, metallic, hook-ended legs and strangely bicycle-like form.









All photos, except Hohokam illustration and canal map are copyright (c) 2017 Jim Veihdeffer.
In case you’re interested in exploring this mile-long stretch, you can start at Central Ave. just south of Dunlap and head southeast along the left side of the canal. The first room is about 2/10ths of a mile from the overpass, with subsequent rooms at more or less regular intervals. Most bikers are not even aware of the installations, but they’re pretty obvious if you take a moment to just observe.The nine canals that make up the Valley’s canal system were developed over the past 100 years. Each canal has a unique history and service area. Work on the Arizona Canal that runs past my house began in May 1883

Reading the Bible for All the Wrong Reasons – II

Part 2

We continue our journey through those wacky “Acts of the Apostles.” Last time, we looked at how the first Christians (technically “pre-Christians”) were, literally, communists; about the horrible deaths of Ananias and Sapphira–convicted of holding back some funds from the commune; and the death of the very loquacious Stephen who filibustered himself into a stoning.

Today we’ll see how Paul bores a man into falling off a balcony, the million-dollar book (er…magical scroll) burning, and a “knock knock” joke about Peter on the lam.

Without no further ado…

Paul bores a young man into falling off a 3rd-story window ledge

Paul was no stranger to the ill effects of endless blathering as we learn in Chapter 20, during his third missionary journey.

On his way to Macedonia, Paul and Luke stop in Troas (near ancient Troy) for a week. As he was to leave the next morning, he can’t stop himself from preaching to his entourage, “prolonging his address until midnight.” (20:7) A young man named Eutychus was so overcome with weariness at Paul’s droning on “at great length” that he fell asleep and toppled down from the third story to the ground, where he was pronounced dead.

Paul, a tentmaker or possibly weaver by trade, seems to know more than anyone else there about death signs and simply tells the crowd “Do not be alarmed, life is still in him.” (20:11). Unfazed, the entourage has a late night snack while Paul continues preaching till daybreak and then departs. Turns out the boy was alive and all were “not a little comforted.” Tip: Get ready for a night of de-caf coffee when Paul is on a preaching roll.

Million-dollar book burning in Ephesus

There was a certain Sceva, a Jewish high priest in Ephesus who had seven sons engaged in exorcisms. Meanwhile Paul and his bro’s were working more than the usual miracles, literally healing nearly everyone in sight, so much so that they didn’t even need to be “in sight.” Indeed, all Paul had to do was send his “handkerchiefs and aprons” to the sick to eject the evil spirits causing disease. Since those who refused to believe were labeled “obstinate” it’s easy to imagine that Paul & Co. were not pleased with the competition from Sceva. The Jews and Gentiles of Ephesus convinced the rogue exorcists to confess their practices:

19 And many who had practised magical arts collected their scrolls and burnt them publicly and they reckoned up the prices…and found the sum to be fifty thousand pieces of silver. (Acts 19:19)

Roman denarius, c 75 CE, with image of Vespasian

While it’s a tricky business to calculate what a piece of silver from around 65 CE might amount to in terms we can understand, various estimates range around $20 per piece, thus making 50,000 pieces worth in the neighborhood of $1,000,000 to $1,082,000 depending on whether we’re using  Greek drachmas, the Roman denarius or the Hebrew silver shekel as our basis. So according to Luke, there were magical papyrus scrolls worth a million bucks lying around in Ephesus. Papyrus must have been pretty dang valuable. (As the old Egyptian joke goes, “Hey, that stuff doesn’t grow on trees, y’know!”)

“Knock knock.” “Who’s there?” – Peter on the lam

In Chapter 12 Peter is being held in prison by Herod Agrippa I. Not only are there four sentries guarding the door but he is sleeping between two soldiers and bound with two chains. It would take a true Houdini to get out of this…unless you have an angel visiting in the night.

As luck would have it, just such an angel is on hand to free him and, after reminding him to put on his sandals, off they go. They pass through various guarded gates until they’re out on the street, at which point the angel deserts him. Peter finds his way to the house of Mary, mother of John Mark (the apostolic deserter), and knocks at the outer door.

Here’s the fun part. The maid, Rhoda, comes to the door to answer the knock and immediately recognizes Peter’s voice. And even though she knows he must have escaped Herod’s prison and is now on the lam, “in her joy she did not open the gate.”

Nope. Instead she runs inside and announces that Peter’s outside at the gate. Peter continues knocking until the householders eventually come get him but they’re so noisy that Pete has to shush them, reminding them that he’s on the lam.

Knock knock

Who’s there?


Peter who?

C’mon man, Peter, you know, Cephas?

Cephas who?

Stop fooling around you morons and let me in…and keep your blessed voices down!

I guess you had to be there to appreciate the joke.

cartoon by Jeff Hayden, posted in “The First Gentile Church”

Unfortunately for the guards, the next morning Herod orders them put to death. Not long after, Herod is struck down by an angel and is eaten by worms. (Acts 12.)

*The idea for this headline came to me one day as I was out by the pool studying the Qur’an. I had a paperback English translation, a larger English-Arabic version, my Arabic alphabet cheat sheet and a mobile device that I used for translation aid, commentaries and phonetic/oral help. A neighbor saw all my gear and asked if I was studying the bible. I figured it was too complicated to explain my project, which at times included the Book of Mormon and the history of early Christianity, so I just said, “Yeah, but for all the wrong reasons.”
The majority of scholars date Luke–Acts to 80–90 CE or as late at 120 CE, on various grounds, e.g. looks back on the destruction of Jerusalem, and does not seem to be aware of Paul’s letters (which began circulating late in the century); if, however, it does show awareness of Paul and also of Josephus, then a date early in the 2nd century is more likely.[13] In either case, there is evidence that it was still being substantially revised well into the 2nd century.” [WP – Acts of the Apostles]
Mack (1995) dates Acts to 120 CE (p167); Spong (1996) dates Acts to 90-95 CE (p171); Vermes (2000) dates to 90-100 CE (p127); Charlesworth (2008) dates 80-90 “or perhaps 90-110” (References are to books in my personal library)
Clearly, whoever the gentile-by-birth author of Luke-Acts was, he was far removed from the times and places he wrote about, including Luke’s gaffe at 5:19 about “tile roofs” (roofs were actually reeds and packed mud, see Korb 2010)
Spong (1996) sees a “midrash” of the Ananias story in Jeremiah’s story of Hananiah, “lying in the name of the Lord, and deceiving the people” where “the deceiver should be shortly cut off by death.” (Jeremiah 28: 15-17). Seems like a stretch to me, though Isaac Asimov (1969) seems to agree.
“Midrash” by the way, is the Jewish tradition dictating that everything to be venerated in the present must somehow be connected with a sacred moment in the past (Bringas p172). Spong (1996) quite persuasively makes the case that the entire NT is essentially a midrash of Hebrew Sabbath lectionaries (weekly scripture readings). In this light, Acts is a lectionary book written midrashically, designed to complement and parallel gospel readings. (p177) The Jewish practice of reading appointed Scriptures on given days or occasions dates back to the time of Moses and continues in Catholic masses among other liturgies.
The “magical papyrus scrolls” were also called “Ephesian letters.” Apparently, the Ephesians were greatly addicted to magic. Magic characters were marked on the crown, cincture (belt), and feet of Diana; at the preaching of Paul, many who used curious [magical] books, burnt them. (Acts 19.)

The Joy of Repairing Stuff

The Joy of Maintenance Repairing Stuff.

I had the opportunity recently to have several home repair issues taken care of—which got me thinking about an Oct. 2016 Freaknomics episode called In Praise of Maintenance.” In the podcast, Harvard economist Ed Glaeser traces municipal maintenance back to 6th-century BCE Etruscan and subsequent Roman Republic projects in the time of Cato the Elder (2nd-century BCE).

But while maintenance of stuff is certainly important, I find I get a lot more inherent pleasure out of getting stuff fixed.

I’ll stick to the last two months

  • Guest bath: completely new faucets and hoses to fix longstanding dripping problem
  • Guest bath: varnished under-sink wooden cabinet base to keep it from flaking (after years of dripping from the sink)
  • Front door weatherstripping replaced
  • Front door latch bolt replaced (caused by weatherstripping replacement)
  • Front storm door pneumatic closing mechanism adjusted (that’s the gizmo at the top that prevents it from slamming closed and allows you to lock the door into an open position

  • Main bath shower: drain strainer fixture replaced (after previously botched job)
  • Main bath toilet: loose seat adjusted (subsequently loosened again)
  • Roof: installed drain pipe from rooftop AC unit (to keep water from dripping down the roof tiles)
  • Laundry room: replaced ballast on fluorescent light fixture
  • Kitchen: fixed broken track light, installed dimmer switch and new bulbs for track lights (I actually cracked the track light fixture trying to install a bulb while balancing on the tippytop of a ladder, thus necessitating the repair and renovation cycle)*

  • Loft fan: bought new fan to replace decrepit unit
  • Refrigerator: super-glued door shelf back into place (this vintage fridge really needs to be replaced—it’s already lost the ability to serve water and ice and some of the light bulb fixtures are defunct)
  • Patio: scrubbed out long-standing bird- and tree-dropping stains from concrete area.
  • Fireplace: vacuumed and scrubbed out (this is probably more like yearly maintenance but it still feels good to get it done with).

Note that none of these are regular maintenance projects like changing your car oil or house AC filter, filling your bike tires or watering your plants.

(I admit that I’m pretty proud that this orchid has started blooming again after two years of, um, benign neglect)

Oddly, I think I derived greater pleasure from these simple maintenance projects than from buying new things for the house. It’s like removing one little nuisance after another.

Now, can the same thing be done for our government? Repair (not replace) our healthcare system, our tax codes that seem to mainly benefit billionaire real estate magnates, our treatment of people who can’t defend themselves? Repair the 2nd Amendment that makes it ridiculously easy to get access to guns? Repair the gerrymandered voting districts? Repair our educational system (hint: it’s not going to be by vouchers).

Needless to say, I had professional handymen doing the work above, though I did buy a stepladder that allows me to get up on the roof to see what the neighbors and their infernal barking dogs are up to.

But who will be the handyperson to repair our democracy?

Yes, those are airplane models and ridiculously outsized wine bottles up there. Fixing the track lighting gave me a good opportunity to do my yearly dusting of the high ledge.

Arkology 101 – A visit to Ark Encounter

On a recent visit to Kentucky over the holidays I couldn’t resist talking family members into sponsoring a visit to Ark Encounter—the sister site to the Creation Museum. While we were all dubious about contributing to the well-being of an avowedly anti-science organization, we agreed that we could partially offset our misdeed by donating an equal amount to a science-based project.

Thus it was that we headed down I-75 to Williamstown, KY (just across the river from Cincinnati) and the 100-acre Ark Encounter theme park (funded in large part with public funds in the form of tax rebates and massive land cost discounting).*

If nothing else, I got a pretty dope shot of the ark.

ark-bow-bluecell-475Once inside, we found ourselves gaping in wonder at the elaborate displays of faux scholarship and Flintstones technology.

The park creators, Answers in Genesis (AiG), bring a lot of sciency-sounding facts and statistics (along with an assortment of Rube Goldberg-inspired depictions of animal feeding and excrement removal) to their otherwise beautifully presented posters and displays.

Alas, it’s really hard for a lay person—even a scholar in a related field who may not be versed in a particular specialty—to evaluate the massive number of claims throughout the exhibit site.

I thought I’d give the Arkists (my term) the benefit of the doubt while I was onsite and do fact-checking later.

Here’s one example of how the Arkists play with facts. The image below is a low-res cellphone snap of a display on animal kinds—a term we would find that the project uses obsessively.


(click on image to enlarge)

What indeed is an “animal kind”?

The poster says: “An animal kind, or baramin (from the Hebrew words for ‘created’ and ‘kind’) is a group of related animals not related to any other animals. The study of created kinds is call baraminology.”

Now, one of the keys to the Creationist “Arkology” is the problem of how to keep two of every kind of animal in the world living comfortably for a year on the vessel. The solution: forget about “species” and the millions of different varieties of critters in the world and just deal with animal kinds — what they call “baraminology.” That way you don’t have to worry about keeping cold-weather polar bears sustained, much less pandas, sun bears and Andean bears …they’re all just part of the “bear kind.” After all, Creationists say the varieties didn’t come until after the Flood.

“Baraminology, a creationist system, classifies animals into groups called “created kinds” or “baramin” according to the account of creation in the book of Genesis and other parts of the Bible. It claims that kinds cannot interbreed and have no evolutionary relationship to one another.[1]

Kurt P. Wise devised the word “baraminology” in 1990 on the basis of Frank Lewis Marsh’s 1941 coinage of the term “baramin” from the Hebrew words bara (create) and min (kind). This combined word does not appear in Hebrew; instead, it is in reference to the use of the word ‘kind’ in the Bible. [“Barminology”]

As paleontologist Dan Phelps (see below) says, “Young-earth creationists have created ‘Biblical taxonomy’ (or baraminology) with ‘created kinds’ (also known as baramins) to replace conventional biological taxa.’”

What is particularly insidious about the Answers in Genesis portrayal of these things is that they mash together pseudoscience, made-up stuff and lots and lots of statistics and “factoids” into very readable, concise and knowledgeable-sounding narratives that, unless you happen to have actual scientifically validated facts at hand, you’d have no way to refute. Frankly, it sounds quite reasonable when there’s no one around to gainsay it. Many of the signs simply assert things like “Studies beginning in 2012 estimate….” for example.

This business of inventing “baraminology” and making it sound like it’s a sort of Hebrew term which zoologists, paleontologists, primatologists or archaeologists might use in their field is particularly clever. It’s a bit like the naturopaths inventing the term “allopath” to describe real medical doctors. But it’s quite clear that the creationists simply invented their term to solve the problem of too many animal species to fit on the ark.

An excellent review of the Ark Encounter exhibit is available from Dan Phelps, president of the Kentucky Paleontological Society, He gives careful account of the contents of Ark Encounter theme park on opening day, July 7, 2016.

Kentucky Gets an Ark-Shaped Second Creation “Museum”: A Walkthrough and Review of the Ark Encounter

He adds that “examples of jaw-dropping crank pseudoscience and non-science and the militant fervor in which they are promoted suggest that the Ark Park is tapping into a deeply-held anti-intellectualism that is becoming more influential in our society.”

As Phelps says, “[T]he creationists provide a simplistic version of geology and paleontology to an uncritical and unsuspecting audience that lacks the background to evaluate the claims made by AiG.”

I will give them credit: they do know how to light up an ark.


…and Noah’s tormentors sure knew how to party like like it’s 2348 BCE.


* According to Phelps, the Ark bought 100 acres of land for $1 from the Grant County Fiscal Court so AiG would build the Ark in Williamstown instead of elsewhere. Meanwhile, the city of Williamstown issued $62 million in bonds so the Ark could be financed. The Ark received a steep property tax reduction for the next thirty years from Williamstown. The Ark also received nearly $200,000 from the Grant County Industrial Authority.
Ark photos copyright (c) 2016 James Veihdeffer

People with guns don’t shoot people?

My adversarial friend and colleague Alan Korwin writes in his latest (Gunlaws #157) newsletter:

a novel new way of understanding the gun issue:

People with guns don’t shoot people.

Criminals with guns shoot people.

A completely fresh narrative, turns the debate around.

I’m not going to link to Korwin’s Frankengraphically* disastrous, fact-lite, redundancy-replete (“novel new”) May 19 newsletter because it’s just too painful to inflict on anyone who cares about good design, much less reasonable thinking about guns. Indeed it’s the newsletter equivalent of listening to Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck fighting over a chicken wing with Donald Trump moderating at full volume.Limbaugh-Trump-BeckI’ll give you a moment to clear that game of Chicken from your head.


Suffice to say that his idea of artistic license is to inexplicably repeat all his subheads thus:

The lamestream media told you:

The lamestream media told you:

But back to the point at hand.

I wonder if Korwin heard about the Elks Lodge  incident in Cincinnati (reported in the lamestream New York Times) where 27 bullets flew at a birthday party hitting seven people. And this was just one of at least 358 armed encounters nationwide last year — nearly one a day, on average — in which four or more people were killed or wounded, including attackers. The toll: 462 dead and 1,330 injured, typically in momentary bursts of gunfire.

Presumably some of those deaths and injuries were wrought by “criminals with guns.” So let’s do a quick roster check of some 2016 school shootings.

January 29, 2016 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Gunshot fired during a fight in a stairwell at Franklin High School, and no injuries were reported. Three people were detained.]
February 9, 2016 Muskegon Heights, Michigan Four people, including two students, injured during a basketball game event in the parking lot of Muskegon Heights High School.
February 12, 2016 Glendale, Arizona Two 15-year-old girls died in an apparent Murder-Suicide at Independence High School.
February 29, 2016 Middletown, Ohio 15-year-old Cameron Smith, and 14-year-old Cooper Caffrey, were shot when 14-year-old James Austin Hancock, opened fire in the Madison High School cafeteria with a .380 caliber handgun. 15-year-old Brant Murray, and 14-year-old Katherine Douchette, also suffered shrapnel injuries.
April 23, 2016 Antigo, Wisconsin Two students at a prom at Antigo High School were shot and injured by 18-year-old former student Jakob Wagner. Wagner later exchanged fire with a school resource officer in the school’s parking lot, and was captured after being shot and wounded by police..

C’mon Korwin. Can you just admit, for once, that people use guns to kill people? Or is your concept that when a student uses a gun to kill a student, that gun user is by definition a criminal?

Until the gun nuts, er, gun advocates are willing to come to the table with reasonable formulations of the issues, I’m afraid we can’t be friends again.

chicken love-Quintus—————

“Frankengraphic” — a word I just made up to indicate a monstrous mishmash of graphic and text elements. Pretty good, eh? Feel free to use it, especially if you’d like to credit me.