Category Archives: Culture

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

Read related posts: What was the First Bible Printed in the United States?
What is a Thumb Bible?
How Many Books Exist in the World?

The Most Expensive American Book
Most Expensive Books Sold in 2012
Most Expensive Book in the World
Rarest Book in American Literature

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

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

Read related posts: What are the Perks of Being a President of the U.S.?
What is the White House Worth?
Thomas Jefferson the Inventor
Random Fascinating Facts About Presidents

For further reading:

Is the United States a Democracy or Republic?

atkins bookshelf triviaThe date: September 18, 1787, the close of Constitutional Convention of 1787 held at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Because the deliberations of the convention were held in strict secrecy, crowds had gathered around Independence Hall waiting with bated breath to learn of the final outcome. As soon as Benjamin Franklin stepped outside Independence Hall, a woman, Mrs. Eliza Powell,  approached the eminent statesman and asked: “Well, Doctor, what have we got — a Republic or a Monarchy? Franklin turned to the woman, and without any hesitation replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

If Benjamin Franklin were alive today, after witnessing today’s political circus mired in the post-factual milieu, he would climb back into his grave, quick as lightning. It is apparent that America’s elected representatives are struggling to keep the republic that the Founding Fathers created as an alternative to the abuses of the monarchy that forged the country in the first place. But, let’s return to Franklin answer to Powell’s question; he states that America is a republic (and presciently hints that it is fragile). America is indeed a republic, defined as a system of government where supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, and has an elected or nominated president (as opposed to a monarch). A democracy, on the other hand, is a system of government were citizens exercise power directly or indirectly, i.e., by elected representatives that form a governing body. You can immediately see the dilemma: it is difficult to pigeonhole America in to one or the other; in fact, America is a bit of both. In the late 1700s, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson used the term “representative democracy”; alternatively, you could say “democratic republic.”

However, there is another dimension to American government — it is also a constitutional democracy. A constitutional democracy is defined as a system of government based on popular sovereignty in which the powers, structures, and limits of government are clearly stated in a written constitution. A constitutional democracy provides an inclusive political system with checks and balances to keep the branches of government independent and accountable, and allows the electorate to modify the government and remove elected representatives from office by majority vote.

Therefore, the short answer to “what kind of government does America have?” is this: America is a constitutional democratic republic. However, in recent years, many believe that America is really a plutocracy, a government ruled by the wealthy (the so-called 1%). The current president and his cabinet (all of which are billionaires or millionaires) reinforces that perspective.

In discussing America’s form of government, perhaps the most critical question is the one implied by Franklin: can we keep it? Only time will tell…

For further reading: A Republic, If You Can Keep It
What is the Declaration of Independence Worth?

For further reading:

How Realistic are Romantic Comedies?

atkins-bookshelf-moviesOne of the most popular romantic comedies of all time is When Harry Met Sally… (1989) written by Nora Ephron and directed by Rob Reiner. In 2008, The American Film Institute ranked it as the 6th best romantic comedy of all time. The film, inspired by Reiner’s return to single life after his divorce, revolves around the critical question that Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) asks Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) during a cab ride early in the film: can men and women ever just be friends — platonically, without the benefits? Harry and Sally passionately disagree (Harry doesn’t think so; Sally does). Over the span of many years, the two bump into each other and a friendship gradually grows into a romantic relationship. Outside of the deli scene (with Rob Reiner’s real mother delivering the famous line: “I’ll have what she’s having.”), one of the film’s most memorable scenes is when Harry professes his love to Sally on New Year’s Eve: “I love that you get cold when it’s 71 degrees out. I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich. I love that you get a little crinkle above your nose when you’re looking at me like I’m nuts. I love that after I spend the day with you, I can still smell your perfume on my clothes. And I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night. And it’s not because I’m lonely, and it’s not because it’s New Year’s Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.” Hand me the box of tissues…

Romantic comedies like this also beg the larger question: how realistic are romantic comedies? How do they compare with real world relationships? Do people really have Harry-Sally relationships  — transitioning from the dreaded “friend zone” to a romantic relationship? The folks at Daily Infographic reviewed surveys and laughed and cried their way through the top 150 romantic comedies to come up with a snap shot of romance, titled: “Hollywood vs. Real Life.” Interestingly, out of all those movies, only one dealt with online dating (You’ve Got Mail, released in 1998; also written by Nora Ephron and starring Meg Ryan ). Here is a look at romance by the numbers — and how unrealistic romantic comedies truly are:

Experienced “love at first sight”:
Hollywood: 10%
Real life: 45%

Experienced unrequited love (loving someone who doesn’t love them back):
Hollywood: 6%
Real life: 78%

Lied to someone to get them to like them:
Hollywood: 21%
Real life: 53%

Experienced an “opposites attract” relationship:
Hollywood: 29%
Real life: 66%

Experienced a Harry-Sally relationship (growing from a friendship into a romantic relationship):
Hollywood: 7%
Real life: 72%

Have experienced online dating:
Hollywood: 1%
Real life: 48%

Read related posts: Famous Love Quotes from Movies
The Best Love Stories
Best Academy Award Quotes
Best Books for Movie Lovers
The Paradox of Love

The Wisdom of Rainer Maria Rilke

For further reading:

Why are Red and Green Associated with Christmas?

atkins bookshelf triviaThe traditional colors associated with Christmas, red and green, are due to two major influences: the colors of holly and the depiction of Santa Claus. Arielle Eckstut, co-author of The Secret Language of Color (2013), elaborates: “Holly has played a huge part in this red and green association. And it dates back to winter solstice celebrations with the Romans, and maybe beyond.”

The second influence was the depiction of Father Christmas (AKA Santa Claus) wearing red garments. When the Christmas Card was introduced in England in the mid 1800s, Father Christmas was drawn wearing blue, green, or red robes. Across the pond, American illustrators, began interpreting the jolly old elf described in Clement C. Moore’s poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” first published in a newspaper in 1823. Thomas Nast, a cartoonist for Harper’s Weekly, drew the iconic Santa that we all know today. The Santa that Nast drew for the January 3, 1863 issue featured a Santa dressed in an American flag. Beginning in early 1900s, White Rock Beverages (founded in Whitestone, New York in 1871) began using an image of Santa Claus dressed in red and white for its ads to promote mineral water (1915) and ginger ale (1923). The next beverage company to enlist the help of Santa was The Coca-Cola Company. In the early 1930s, the company commissioned American artist Haddon Sundblom to paint Santa, dressed in red and white, enjoying a cold bottle of Coca-Cola with the tagline “The Pause That Refreshes.” The first ad featuring Sundblom’s Santa appeared in 1931 in The Saturday Evening Post. (Some mistakenly believe that Sundblom chose the colors red and white to represent the corporate colors.) Although Sundblom is credited for creating the modern image of Santa Claus, that honor really begins to several artists, including the one commissioned by White Rock, to define the iconic image of Santa.

For further reading: Yes, Virginia There is a Santa Claus
Twas the Night Before Christmas
A Christmas Carol and It’s A Wonderful Life
Best Quotes from A Christmas Story
The Inspiration for Dickens’s A Christmas Carol
The Story Behind Scrooge
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation Trivia
Mall Santas by the Numbers

Read related:

When Do Children Stop Believing in Santa?

alex atkins bookshelf cultureIf you are under 9 years old stop reading this post — it is simply foolish, meandering fiddlefaddle brought on by a cup of really bad egg nog. Any suggestions about Santa’s existence do not reflect the views or opinions of the North Pole. Go back to following your friends on Facebook…

Santa is very real in a metaphorical sense. As Francis Church so eloquently addressed this issue to Virginia: “The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world…  Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond.”

But sidestepping the poetry, or more precisely, the mythology of Santa, when do children stop believing in the iconic Santa that slips down the chimney to deliver Christmas presents? According to psychologists, most children stop believing in Santa by 8 or 9. The really clever children learn to pretend that they still believe in the hope of getting lots of presents. Carole Slotterback, author of The Psychology of Santa, explains that the realization of Santa (in the traditional sense, as described by Clement C. Moore’s famous poem “The Night Before Christmas”) is not real, comes gradually rather than in one defining moment. Charles Smith, a professor of child development at Kansas State University adds, “Kids are smart. They realize he’s not real even before parents think they understand that.” Children learn that they need to let go of a fun family ritual, but realize that they can enjoy Christmas on another level — enjoying the spirit of giving, appreciating family, helping the poor and needy, etc. “A child who sincerely believes at 10,11,12 of the reality of Santa,” notes Smith, “there’s something going on there. That’s the child not letting go. I’d be curious about that. I wouldn’t say that’s wrong. I’d want to know more about that child’s history and family.”

Psychologists also believe that believing in Santa is healthy for children. Matthew Lobber, a child psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital (New York), sees believing in Santa as a normal and healthy part of child development: “I don’t think it’s a bad thing for kids to believe in the myth of someone trying to make people happy if they’re behaving [well]. Imagination is a normal part of development, and helps develop creative minds.” The myth of Santa also reinforces family traditions, values, and can inspire empathy and philanthropy.

Many psychologist agree that the best way to handle the issue of Santa’s existence is not to shatter the mythology, but rather to let them figure it out on their own. If they happen to ask directly, Lorber advises that parents first assess if the child still believes in Santa. If so, then it might be too early to have the discussion about the reality of Santa. If they don’t believe, then parents can discuss the real St. Nicholas (the Bishop of Myra, born in Turkey in 270 AD, and helped the poor) and the spirit of Christmas. Until then, mum’s the word.

But let’s circle back to the initial statement that Santa is very real. Smith builds on what Church wrote centuries ago: “Santa Claus is not real, but what Santa Claus represents for kids, even for adults is true. It’s that sense of joyfulness during this time of the year — this idea that they’re so cared for and loved.”

For further reading: Yes, Virginia There is a Santa Claus
Twas the Night Before Christmas
A Christmas Carol and It’s A Wonderful Life
Best Quotes from A Christmas Story
The Inspiration for Dickens’s A Christmas Carol
The Story Behind Scrooge
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation Trivia
Mall Santas by the Numbers

For further reading:

Mall Santas by the Numbers

atkins bookshelf triviaBack in 1897, Virginia O’Hanlon wrote one of the most famous letters to the editor. “I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.Papa says, ‘If you see it in The Sun [a New York newspaper] it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?” Well, Virginia, the answer is a resounding YES! — just visit your local mall. You’ll find Santa, or one his helpers, keeping the dream alive for children young and old. Bookshelf takes a look at the ubiquitous mall Santa by the numbers:

Average age: 65

Average weight: 218 pounds

Those with a college education: 45%

Cost of custom authentic-looking beard: $3,000

Typical work period: most Santas work about 40 10-hour days

Number of visits with children during that period: 30,000

How much Santa makes per holiday season (6 to 8 weeks): $10,000 to $30,000 (some Santas earn bonuses for meeting daily photo quotas)

Number of common on-the-job risk: 5 (being peed on, scratched, bitten, kicked in the shins, hit in the groin)

Amount of liability insurance Santa carries: $2 million

Number of U.S. malls that hire Santas: 1,800

Number of Santa Claus schools: 4 — the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School (the oldest, founded in 1937; now based in Midland, Michigan); the Professional Santa Claus School (Denver, Colorado); the International University of Santa Claus (training sessions typically held on cruise ships); and the Santa School (Calgary, Alberta)

Year that Santa (life-size doll) first appeared in a department store window: 1841 (J. W. Parkinson’s department store in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

Year that a Santa met with kids in department stores: 1890 (James Edgar, the owner of a department store in Brockton, Massachusetts)

The year Santa at the mall was popularized in America: 1947 (by the film, Miracle on 34th Street featuring Kris Kringle at Macys)

Average number of photos taken with Santa per location: 4,600

Number of kids who visit Santa each holiday season: 18.2 million

Age of children afraid of Santa: 1 month to 3 years old


For further reading: Yes, Virginia There is a Santa Claus
Twas the Night Before Christmas
A Christmas Carol and It’s A Wonderful Life
Best Quotes from A Christmas Story
The Inspiration for Dickens’s A Christmas Carol
The Story Behind Scrooge
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation Trivia

For further reading: Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Christmas Collection (2005)

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