Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Tale of the Steakhouse...

I went to see my friend, JJ Brannon, who I met online via AOL, at Philcon on Saturday. He and some of his family, along with Jay Wile, were attending the con. Well, it was a 2 hour drive for me, and by the time I got there, it was 20 to 7. JJ had a con panel until 7, so I waited in the lobby, then called up to his room. He told me to meet him at a place called Shula's, which fronted on the lobby.

Shula's steakhouse is owned by Don Shula, former football player and coach. This restaurant is like none I have ever been to before. For starters, despite the fact it is a very upscale place, all dark wood and white walls, you just can't escape pictures of Don Shula. They are everywhere! About every 2 to 3 feet on the walls, in gold-painted frames, every picture the size of a poster, with a plaque next to it telling what moment each picture commemorates. It's kind of overwhelming, especially if, like me, you don't particularly like football.

Even worse, when I say those pictures were everywhere, I mean EVERYWHERE. At one point, I needed to use the ladies restroom, and there were the same sort of pictures in there, too! So, there I am, sitting on the toilet, trying to look into the mirror so I don't have to look at Don Shula's mug, and I realize that there is a picture behind the toilet as well! His image is inescapable. At that point, I started talking aloud to myself, commenting, "Is anyone else in here feeling overwhelmed by all the testosterone flowing out of the walls?" Thank goodness that the bathroom was a single. If anyone else overheard me, they would probably have thought I'd gone bonkers!

So, I get back to the table, and there is a football on the table, in a little football tee (that's the thing they use to hold the football when the kicker is going to kick it). But this just isn't any football, one half of it is painted green... it's the menu! Yes, painted on the football is what's available as a main course at the restaurant. No prices, just the menu. And what's the menu? Well, as you can guess, it's strongly beef related, being a steakhouse.

But that's not all! Just in case you miss what's painted on the football, the server brings around a table on wheels that has cuts of meat wrapped in plastic wrap to show you what's available, beef-wise. The menu runs from Filet Mignon (the smallest cut) to a strip steak, a Kansas City steak, two sizes of what's called a "Cowboy Steak" and two sizes of Porterhouse, a 24 oz and a 48 oz. The 48oz, provided you manage to eat it in one sitting, gets your name put on the wall of the "48 oz club". Also available is a limited range of sides, from asparagus, broccoli and creamed spinach to baked, twice-baked or hash-browned potatoes.

Given that Shula's is meant to cater to football player-size people, the sides are not small. Indeed, the baked potato I ordered was over a foot long about about 4 to 5 inches wide. Not that it comes cheap... the potato alone was $5.95! And steak isn't the only thing on offer: they also have Lobster, Surf and Turf, a French-cut Chicken Breast, and Lamb Chops or a Prime Rib. Other locations have other options depending on where you are. You can even have a Dolphin Steak (probably only in Florida... I don't know too many other places where you would be able to eat that without other people thinking "Flipper".), Salmon and Snapper. For greens, you are limited to Asparagus, Broccoli or Creamed Spinach, all with Hollandaise or Bernaise sauce.

The meat, though, is good. All of the steaks are Angus beef, and are cooked to perfection. The baked potato was also excellent, and for desert, there is a wide assortment of goodies, from Apple Cobbler, New York Cheesecake, Seven-Layer Chocolate Cake, Key Lime Pie, Créme Bruleé and a huge dish of mango sorbet that was as big as a dinner plate.

It was a great, if extremely surreal, dining experience. If my friend JJ goes to Philcon again next year, and invites me to dine with him, I'll definitely go back to Shula's... only this time, I'll close my eyes in the women's room. :)

Friday, November 17, 2006

Inquest on the Shroud of Turin by Joe Nickell

I finally finished reading the book a few days ago. To sum up the evidence against the shroud, here is the final verdict: The shroud is a fake.

Major Point 1) The Gospel of John argues against the shroud. John says Jesus was buried "in the manner of the Jews". This would have entailed being washed before being buried. The body depicted on the shroud is unwashed. The Jews placed the hands of the dead crossed over the chest. The hands on the shroud are crossed over the genitals (an artistic convention starting in about the 12th century). The Jews covered the face of the dead with a sudarium (linen napkin). There is no sign of this on the shroud. Also, John speaks of multiple burial cloths, these would have been tied around the body like a mummy. Again, the shroud is a single piece of cloth. You can throw out the gospel of John as being accurate to lessen the problems of the shroud, but John is the only gospel which claims Jesus's side was pierced, as it is on the shroud (and John never says which side of Jesus was pierced, but the shroud shows it to be on the right, which, again, was artistic convention at the time). Therefore throwing out the gospel of John creates as many problems as it solves for the supposed shroud. Also, John claims Jesus was buried with "a hundredweight" of spices, none of which remains on the shroud (despite claims of pollen clinging to those selfsame fibers!).

Major Point 2) Up until about 300 AD, Jesus was depicted very differently than he was in the middle ages. He was shown beardless and with cropped (short) hair, rather more like a young Apollo in looks. Not only is the image on the Shroud more Medieval in likeness, it also shows Jesus as being very long and thin... another medieval convention! Strange how the shroud is so very like the medieval "look" of Jesus. Also, the "crown of thorns" depicted in early Christian art was a cap that went over the entire scalp, not a coronet-like crown used in medieval times. Again, the Shroud owes more to medieval depictions than depictions used around the actual time Jesus was supposed to have lived.

Major Point 3) Bodily Anomalies- As mentioned above, the image of Jesus depicted on the shroud is abnormally tall and thin, so much so that one sindonologist claims he may have been afflicted with Marfan's syndrome! Also, the hair of the figure on the shroud depicts someone who was standing, not lying down. Real hair would not look like that if the body was supine, and the hair itself appears "stiffened and thickened". The limbs are not of the same length, with one arm being ludicrously longer than the other. By the same token, the "blood" flows are inconsistent with the way blood actually flows on human hair. Blood tends to mat the hairs together (as anyone who has seen a scalp wound can tell you), rather than remaining as discrete trickle-like flows. Another anomaly is the way the bloody foot shows on the image of Jesus. It is impossible to pose a supine body in such a way as to have the shroud look like it does *and* have the bloody footprint show up as well. Sindonologists who support the shroud have tried to do it and been unable to re-create the pose that would show everything the shroud purports to show.

Major Point 4) The image of the shroud is composed of iron Oxide particles. This is a major component of medieval paint.The closest examples of the iron ores found correspond to a color called "Venetian Red". Faint traces of other paints are found, including vermillion (mercuric sulfide) and carmine, on the "blood" areas of the shroud. Other trace amounts of pigment include other medieval color sources, such as orpiment, madder rose, and gold (possibly from gold leaf). Real blood changes color from red (when it is fresh) to red brown, then brown, then brown-black to deep black. If the blood on the shroud had come from real blood, it would have turned black by now. However, it is still red to red-brown on the shroud. Also found on the shroud is collagen tempera- a method of fixing colors in the medieval era. Despite the claims, there is no blood to be found on the shroud. Walter McCrone, a noted microanalyst was the one who found the iron oxide on the shroud. Other sindonologists have decried his findings, but none of them are expert microanalysts and even they concede that McCrone was the best in the world and none of them had his forensic experience. A similar claim for authenticity was made by another item, the Vinland map. Examined by McCrone, who found modern pigments (anatase) on the map while others disputed his findings, he was recently completely vindicated in his findings by the scan of the map using PIXE (Proton-Induced X-ray Emission). Heller also conceded, of McCrone, he "had over two decades of experience with this kind of problem and a worldwide reputation. Adler and I, on the other hand, had never before tackled anything like an artistic forgery."

Major Point 5) Supposedly the image on the shroud can be used to make a three-dimensional image. However, this is not true for the entire body. If the face is made three-dimensional, the body looks flattened and more two-dimensional. The same is true the other way around- make the body three dimensional, and the face becomes flattened. This, of course, would not be true if the shroud had come from the image of an actual body.

Minor Point 1) Scientists have recently claimed that an image was found on the back of the shroud. According to the researchers in 1980 who viewed the back of the shroud, no image was to be found there, faint or not.

Minor Point 2) The cloth weave is a herringbone twill. Such a weave was not in use in the holy land at the time of Jesus's supposed death.

Minor Point 3) Provenance- one of the major obstacles to the shroud being real is where it came from. This could have been cleared up by the first owner's saying where exactly he had found it and how he had acquired it. To the end of his life, he steadfastly refused to say, though no less than the Bishop of Troyes, Henri de Poitiers, investigated the matter and found (and interviewed) the artist who created the shroud. If believers maintain that the Bishop only wanted the shroud for himself, the Bishop had only to claim it and steal it away (as people of the church did with other relics, apparently with no moral qualms on their part, before, during and after the middle ages). Why claim it is a forgery and invalidate the very thing you supposedly want? Pope Clement VII also judged it a forgery, based on the evidence available at the time.

Minor Point 4) Supposed blood on the shroud- Despite the claims of sindonologists, who claim they found whole blood on the shroud, none of the tests they performed were specific for blood, much less for typing the blood.

Minor Point 5) Any scientist who is allowed to examine the shroud and concludes it is a fake or forgery is never allowed to examine it again, and their research and conclusions are disavowed and/or thrown out. Indeed, the conclusions of the 1979 examination of the shroud have never been released, only a refutation of the conclusions of that study!

Minor Point 6) Appeals for a blind study of the supposed pollen tapes and samples recovered from the shroud have been ignored. If the shroud is real, what are the sindonologists afraid of?

Again, the Shroud has been shown again and again to be a fraud. While the church and sindonologists appear to be afraid to face the facts, the words of the Canon (Ulysse Chevalier) who discovered the testimony of the Bishop D'Arcis in the church records is even more pertinent: "The history of the shroud constitutes a protracted violation of the two virtues so often commended by our holy books: Justice and Truth."

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


I know the two things which can kill a conversation, or a friendship, faster than any other are talking about religion and politics. But I just had to get this one off my chest. To set the record straight before I begin, I am not from Pennsylvania. I have visited the state, but never lived there.

Okay, now that that's out of the way... Rick Santorum was *not* re-elected in Pennsylvania. Pardon me while I shout "Yeah!" to the heavens and do a mighty double-fist pump. This might actually make me believe that there *is* a God, though I will never believe that this God bears any relation to the one Rick Santorum worships.

Santorum is about as disgusting a human being as I think it is possible to be without being a murderer, thief or assassin (or terrorist, for that matter). His record reads like a bad dream: butting his nose into the family drama of Terry Schiavo (and make no mistake, I blame Bush for doing the same thing. The politicians should *not* have gotten involved at all!), his attempt to smear homosexuality as being the same as incest, bigamy or adultery (Let's face it, homosexuals aren't cheating on anyone, and they are both adults, hardly the case in the other three examples he used), his support for "Creation Science"/ID, and worst of all, his scorn and willingness to demonize people who were stuck after Hurricane Katrina because, in his own words, "I mean people who don't heed those warnings and then put people at risk as a result of not heeding those warnings [...] There may be a need to look at tougher penalties on those who decide to ride it out and understand that there are consequences to not leaving." Gee, Rick, how many of those people didn't have the means to leave on their own? A vast majority of them! But yet you want to play God and decide these people should be punished!

And yes, he did later acknowledge that most of these people had no way to leave. But, gee, Ricky, why not think before you flap your jaw? He was also cited as one of the 20 most corrupt members of Congress by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (their second report, in 2006). He educated his children at the expense of the Pennsylvania public, while spending a majority of the year living in Virginia, which violated the residency requirements for the school. He insisted that he didn't owe the state the $67,000 it had paid for the tuition for his children to attend this school (80% of the cost) while making a new plan to educate them elsewhere. He also wanted to be paid the homestead tax credit for his Pennsylvania home while he had renters living there, but decided not to file for the $70 because of the political race he was in. Gee, he just wanted to suck every buck possible from the state he was Senator of, didn't he?

For these, and many other stupid, short-sighted idiotic acts and statements, I am very glad he will be gone. In my own estimation, Santorum belongs in his own party, the Re-Smug-licans.