Author Archives: Alexander Atkins

Human Compassion Binds Us Together

atkins bookshelf quotations“We are together in this. Our human compassion binds us the one to the other — not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learned how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.”

Humanitarian and anti-apartheid revolutionary Nelson Mandela (1918 – 2013), speaking at the Healing and Reconciliation Service dedicated to HIV/Aids sufferers held on December 6, 2000 in Johannesburg, Africa.

Is There Really a Life-size Replica of Noah’s Ark in the U.S.?

alex atkins bookshelf cultureSubscribing to the belief that “if you build it, they will come” Answers in Genesis, a Young Earth creationism group built a life-size replica of Noah’s Ark, called the Ark Encounter, as a place where the faithful can come and toss science and the theory evolution overboard, and reaffirm their belief that the Bible is literally true. And let’s not forget the business side of religion — where there is faith, there is profit.

The historically-themed attraction, located in Williamstown, Kentucky, was built over five years (from 2011 to 2016); it officially opened on July 7, 2016. The ark contains three decks filled with 132 “teaching” exhibits, featuring Noah and his family, animal models (dinosaurs co-exist with early man and animals; remember the world, according to the fundamentalists, is only 6,000 years old), and colorful dioramas. Docents will explain that the ark was built according to the dimensions and descriptions found in the Bible’s Genesis chapters. The interior, however, is another story. Since Genesis leaves out any specific description, the design of the ark’s interior is complete conjecture — it was built according to what the builders imagined it would look like. And yes, with more than 120,000 square feet of cargo space, they firly believe that there was room for two of every animal (or in creationist terms, “animal kinds”), and enough food for all the humans and animals.

Of course, no historically-accurate ark would be complete without a pricey gift shop, a restaurant (Emzara’s Kitchen), two movie theaters, and several areas for staged photo ops. Just outside the ark is a massive pond, the Ararat Ridge Zoo (petting zoo), a first-century Middle Eastern village, and a jaw-dropping zipline (the Eagle’s Nest Aerial Adventure), presumably a replica of the zipline that Noah and his family used for recreation while sailing around the world in a floating zoo. Conveniently located nearby is the Creation Museum, featuring 75,000 square feet of exhibits that “bring the pages of the Bible to life” and where pages of Charles Darwin’s Origins of the Species are burned to provide warmth for visiting guests.

Whether you believe the story of Noah’s Ark and the worldwide flood described in Genesis 6 to be literally true or a profound allegory (or Mashal), one cannot deny that the replica of the ark, standing seven stories high and the length of 1.5 football fields, is a stunning marvel of craftsmanship (built, ironically, by a team of very talented Amish carpenters) and engineering to behold. After all, it has been Intelligently Designed! The stewards of the ark proudly proclaim that the ark is the largest timber-frame structure in the world. Each evening the ark glows against the night sky as it is illuminated by brilliant spotlights in the color of the rainbow, evoking of the Noahic covenant (Genesis 9:12-17 — “everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth”). For Christian fundamentalists, seeing truly is believing. However, for science advocate Bill Nye, the Ark Encounter is creating a generation of scientifically illiterate children and discouraging critical thinking. During his tour soon after the Ark Encounter opened, Nye observed, “On the third deck, every single science exhibit is absolutely wrong… It’s all very troubling. You have hundreds of school kids there who have already been indoctrinated and who have been brainwashed.”

If climbing aboard Noah’s Ark in Williamstown doesn’t float your boat, you can visit two other full-size replicas on the other side of the globe. You can make a stop in Dordrecht, Netherlands to visit Johan’s Ark or travel all the way to Ma Wan Island, Hong Kong, China to visit Noah’s Ark Theme Park. Of the three replicas, the Ark Encounter is the largest.

Here is a view of the Noah’s ark, located in the U.S., by the numbers.

Cost: over $100 million dollars
Size: height – 51 feet; length – 510 feet; width – 85 feet
Decks: 3, each 18 feet high
Interior space: 120,000 square feet

Amount of wood used: 3.1 million feet
Mount of metal plates and bolts: 95 tons
Admission: Adults – $40; Senior – $31; Child (up to age 12) – $28
Size of parking lot: 4,000 spaces
Cost to park: $10-15

Size of site: 800 acres
Craftsmen employed: 1,000
Estimated visitors in first year: 2 million
Seasonal jobs: 300-400

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For further reading: Searching for Adam: Genesis and the Truth About Man’s Origin by Terry Mortensen (2016)
Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation by Bill Nye (2015)
The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins (2010)
Inherit the Wind: The Powerful Drama of the Greatest Courtroom Clash of the Century by Jerome Lawrence (2003)’s_Ark_replicas_and_derivatives

Doublets: There’s No Money in Poetry

atkins-bookshelf-quotations“Poetry is living proof that rhyme doesn’t pay”


“There’s no money in poetry, but there’s no poetry in money, either”

Robert Graves (1895-1985), English poet, novelist, and classicist, best known for his historical novel I, Claudius (1934) and The Greek Myths (1955), the retelling of famous Greek myths. 


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Who is the Best President in U.S. History?

atkins bookshelf triviaWhat better way to celebrate Presidents’ Day than to review and reflect on the list of the best U.S. presidents as ranked by presidential historians. C-SPAN’s academic advisors (Douglas Brinkley, history professor at Rice University; Edna Medford, history professor at Howard University; and Richard Norton Smith, presidential historian and author) reached out to historians and other professional observers of the presidency and asked then to rate each U.S. president on ten qualities of presidential leadership: public persuasion, crisis leadership, economic management, moral authority, international relations, administrative skills, relations with congress, vision/setting an agenda, pursued equal justice for all, and performance within the context of his times. Each quality was ranked on a one through ten scale (one means not effective; ten means very effective) and tallied to arrive at each president’s total score.

The presidential survey has been conducted in 2000, 2009, and 2017. In each survey, Abraham Lincoln was consistently ranked as the best president in U.S. history. For two of those surveys, George Washington was ranked as the second best president. Richard Norton Smith notes: “The golden age of the American presidency, according to this survey, is 1933 to 1969. Five presidents from this era each rank in the top 10 which tells you something about the criteria that historians tend to use. It reinforces Franklin Roosevelt’s claim to be not only the first modern president but the man who, in reinventing the office, also established the criteria by which we judge our leaders.” Since historians prefer to judge a president’s legacy from an objective distance, Trump’s tumultuous, topsy-turvy, twittery presidency will not be evaluated nine to ten years from now. Here is the ranking of the presidents of the United States:

1. Abraham Lincoln
2. George Washington
3. Franklin D. Roosevelt
4. Theodore Roosevelt
5. Dwight D. Eisenhower
6. Harry S. Truman
7. Thomas Jefferson
8. John F. Kennedy
9. Ronald Reagan
10. Lyndon Baines Johnson
11. Woodrow Wilson
12. Barack Obama
13. James Monroe
14. James K. Polk
15. Bill Clinton
16. William McKinley Jr.
17. James Madison
18. Andrew Jackson
19. John Adams
20. George H. W. Bush
21. John Quincy Adams
22. Ulysses S. Grant
23. Grover Cleveland
24. William H. Taft
25. Gerald R. Ford Jr.
26. Jimmy Carter
27. Calvin Coolidge
28. Richard M. Nixon
29. James A. Garfield
30. Benjamin Harrison
31. Zachary Taylor
32. Rutherford B. Hayes
33. George W. Bush
34. Martin Van Buren
35. Chester Arthur
36. Herbert Hoover
37. Millard Fillmore
38. William Henry Harrison
39. John Tyler
40. Warren G. Harding
41. Franklin Pierce
42. Andrew Johnson
43. James Buchanan

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For further reading:

Word Oddities: Contained Words

atkins bookshelf wordsEnglish, with more than one million words, has hundreds of word oddities that have unique and fascinating characteristics. One type of word oddity is called “contained words,” a long word that contains several smaller words spelled consecutively in it. For example “ushers” contains five words spelled consecutively within it: us, she, he, her, hers. The English words with the most contained words are “thitherwards” and “therein:”

therein: contains 13 words

thitherwards contains 24 words


Read related post: Words with Letters in Alphabetical Order
What is the Longest Word in English Language?

For further reading: There are Tittles in This Title: The Weird World of Words by Mitchell Symons (2014)

The Real Book Thieves of London

atkins-bookshelf-booksOn January 30, 2017, an intrepid gang of book thieves climbed a warehouse, located near Heathrow airport in London, containing millions of dollars of rare books from three London book dealers, bound for the California International Antiquarian Book Fair. The book thieves bored holes through three skylines and rappelled down a 40 foot rope, carefully avoiding an array of motion sensors. Once on the warehouse floor, the three thieves located and pried open several sealed containers; they spent hours going through all the inventory to find 160 specific books and manuscripts — presumably following a list provided by someone very knowledgeable about antiquarian books. The thieves then used a ladder to climb down and placed the books in a waiting escape van. The value of the stolen books? A cool $2.5 million. In an interview with the Daily Mail, Brian Lake of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association remarked “Quite honestly I have never heard of a heist like this involving books – it is extraordinary. Nothing like this has hit the rare books trade before.” Another shocked source added, “‘It is unbelievably rare to have so many books seized in one go.”

The thieves will most likely sell the rare books to a dealer or middleman, who in turn, will sell them to a private collector. Sadly, these precious, rare books — for example Nicolaus Copernicus’s De Revolutionibus Erbium Coelestium (1566) worth $270,000a 1569 edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy, and rare works by Galileo and Newton will never be seen again, unless they are discovered by law enforcement. To help recover stolen rare books, the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers established a website that list all the books, manuscripts, maps, and prints that have been stolen.

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For further reading:

What is the Meaning of the Ides of March?

atkins-bookshelf-phrasesIn the ancient Roman calendar, before the Christian Era, every month had three named days: the Calends (or Kalends), the first day of the month when accounts were due; the Nones, the fifth or seventh day of the month; and the Ides, the middle of the month (between the 13th to 15th day). There was nothing particularly significant about the ides of January, the ides of February, and so forth.

All that changed in 1599 when William Shakespeare wrote The Tragedy of Julius Ceasar. In Act 1, Scene 2, in a public place on March 15th, 44 BC, a soothsayer among the crowd approaches Caesar and calls out: “Caesar!… Beware the ides of March.” Caesar is not sure he has heard the man correctly, so Brutus repeats it: “A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March.”  The soothsayer repeats the line, warning that the Roman leader’s life is in danger. But Caesar immediately dismisses him: “He is a dreamer; let us leave him: pass.” As we all know, Caesar should have heeded the soothsayer’s warning. In a scene filled with brutality and treachery, Caesar is surrounded by an angry mob of senators who walk up to him and stab him to death. He is stabbed a total of 23 times. As his life slips away, a feeble Caesar turns to his closest friend and ally, Marcus Junius Brutus, and utters the famous line, “Et tu, Brute?” (you too, Brutus?), signifying the ultimate betrayal.

So from that point on, thanks to Shakespeare’s dramatic genius, the phrase “Beware the Ides of March” being linked to Caesar’s barbarous assassination, imbued upon March 15 a rather ominous and nefarious connotation that has been passed down through the centuries. However, Tom Frail, senior editor of Smithsonian magazine, notes that March 15th lives in infamy beyond Casear’s murder. He cites several events in history that occurred on that same fateful day that were filled with villainy or mortalities:

Raid on Southern England, March 15, 1360: The French raided a town in southern England and began a two-day spree of murder, rape, and pillage. King Edward III initiated a pillaging spree in France in retaliation.

Cyclone strikes Samoa, March 15, 1889: A cyclone strikes six warships that were at barber in Apia, Samoa. More than 200 sailors were killed.

Czar Nicholas II abdicates throne, March 15, 1917: Czar Nicholas II or Russia is forced to abdicate his royal throne (ending a dynasty of 304 years). A few months later, he and his family are executed.

Blizzard in Great Plains, March 15, 1941: A devastating blizzard, with 60-MPH winds, struck the northern Great Plains, killing more than 66 people.

Depletion of ozone layer, March 15, 1988: NASA reported that the ozone layer over the Northern Hemisphere has been depleted three times faster than had been predicted.

Outbreak of SARS, March 15, 2003: WHO reported a breakout of Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in China, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

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For further reading: The Tragedy of Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare


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