History: What if Our Best Guesses Are Wrong?

Posted by Jonathan Nori on February 20, 2012
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I like to follow archaeology and history research. I find the study of the past to be fascinating–not only because of what we learn, but of what we find out we must UN-learn.

The implications that discoveries in one discipline can have on another, especially when connections are not always readily apparent.

I find geology and archaeology to be intrinsically linked, though some of the things implied by conclusions between the two are sometimes difficult to reconcile because of the implication that much of what we take as “truth” could be radically incorrect.

Recently, there have been articles on some new research off the coast of Scotland, where divers are exploring sunken towns hundreds of feet off the coast. Some of these settlements are in the English Channel, which according to current geologic models was connected to mainland Europe as recently as 9,000 years ago.

In fact, it is well-known that coastlines and sea levels have not always existed as they do now. These same geologic models tell us that ocean levels were much lower during the last ice age, by as much as 1,000 feet in some places, easily extending shorelines by hundreds of miles in most places. Based on models and maps, the eastern coast of North America once likely extended out by as much as 400 miles into the present-day Atlantic ocean in some places. The Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Islands could also have been part of the surface world as recently as 10,000-15,000 years ago, if estimates on ocean depth changes are accurate.

It’s not just the Americas that would be affected by such a change in sea level, though. Japan was once connected to what is now mainland China, and the entire Korean Peninsula would not have been a peninsula at all. The Yellow Sea only has an average depth of about 150 feet, placing it well within the range of “dry land” in previous millenia.

Even the Philippine Islands were once more a long mountain range of active volcanoes than a series of islands.

But what does this mean? Let me answer that question with a story.

On the coast of India there is a fishing village situated on top of a cliff. The oral history of this village tells of a glorious past as a prosperous fishing and trade port; a thriving city where many tens of thousands of people made their homes and hundreds of fishing and merchant ships found berth. Yet, looking at the village, it’s hard to imagine any truth to this tale when one sees nothing but a few hundred shacks housing at most a couple thousand subsistence farmers and fisherman. But this is when the story gets interesting: The thriving city was at the bottom of the cliff. A place now submerged beneath 65 feet of water. According to legend, the denizens of the great port city angered the gods, who punished the people with a great flood that buried the city beneath the waves. A few of the people who survived by scaling the cliff wall re-established a village at the top of the cliff, but were never able to again reach their previous stature. Their great port was gone, and all that remained was a rocky cliff face.

This story was nothing more than local legend until an archaeological dive team heard the tale and took interest. They traveled to the town, talked to a few residents, and determined that if a city had ever existed at the bottom of the cliff, it would have to have been thousands of years older than any other known settlements on the Indian subcontinent, and would have the capacity to rewrite the entire story of what we think we know about “the dawn of civilization.” So, with dive gear in-hand and a healthy skepticism in place, the archaeological team took a boat to the base of the cliff and dropped 65 feet below the surface of the water. They are still trying to figure out how the city they found fits into the historical record.

I have a theory, though.

Our understanding of the archaeological record tells us that about 10,000 years ago a hundred different pockets of hunter-gatherer humans all nearly simultaneously discovered agriculture. Now, we have a historical precedent for this kind of parallel discovery, one need only look at the advances made during Europe’s Renaissance and  the West’s Industrial Revolution to see instances of similar discoveries and inventions happening nearly simultaneously.

However, there’s a distinct difference between what we’ve witnessed in recent centuries and the domestication of plants ten millenia ago: Communication. Ten thousand years ago we shouldn’t have groups of peoples separated by entire oceans deciding to begin cultivating fruits and vegetables. At least, not unless they were drawing on some kind of common knowledge base.

What if, for the sake of argument, the earliest traces of civilization that we know of are not the beginnings of Man’s advancement, but rather the survivors of the last great civilizations? What would that mean to everything we know? The knowledge of the past that we hold dear? Our belief that Man has never achieved as much as we’ve achieved now? What if all of our best guesses are simply wrong?

I don’t want to lose you, so let me lay out my theory.

We don’t know precisely when the last ice age ended. Or, more accurately, when the ice cover melted away. Glaciers tend to be big. Thousands of feet thick. The glaciers that covered much of North America and Europe would have been almost 2 miles thick (some estimates say as much as 2.5 miles near the center of the glacial mass), lowering present-day ocean levels by at least 350 feet.

These glaciers would have covered nearly all the farmland presently used for food production, and would have had a profound impact on the climate in places such as northern Africa and the Middle East, where it is known that rainforest  jungles were widespread as recently as 1,500 years ago.

The shorelines of all the continents would have been vastly different. The Gulf of Mexico would have been fa smaller than it is today, and would have been considered an inland sea or a great lake. The Korean Peninsula, Japan, and many of the outlying islands would have been part of mainland China. The Philippines, rather than a string of volcanic islands, could have been a volcanic mountain range connecting Australia to southeast Asia. The English Channel did not exist yet. The east cost of North America (where it wasn’t covered in glacier) would have extended into the Atlantic ocean by as far as several hundred miles in places. Cuba, and the islands of the Caribbean, could easily have all been connected by vast tracts of farmland and forest.

Let’s not forget either that the most recent studies of glacial retreat suggest that the massive ice coverings could have vanished in the space of just a few years. I posit that some event occurred, maybe a series of meteorite strikes along a vast stretch of glacier, or a large volcano erupting beneath an area of glacier, that created a vast inland sea and vaporized billions of gallons of water into the atmosphere. Then the rain began. And the ice walls holding back the inland glacial seas collapsed. Ocean levels rose catastrophically, burying the civilization that had arisen, and scattering the survivors. I don’t think I need to bother mentioning the pervasive flood/deluge myths that nearly all cultures share.

If the ocean levels were that vastly different, and many of the places we now have major cities were once under several miles of ice, isn’t it perhaps remotely conceivable that after ten or fifteen thousand years, even something as large and seemingly-enduring as New York City could succumb to the rigors of time were it dumped into the ocean?

I’m aware that much of the current archaeological record disagrees with my theory. But I also understand that science is progressive and ever-changing. We would never have gotten to the Moon if we had never progressed beyond the steam engine (as awesome as a steam-powered rocket ship might be!). Every day scientists and researchers are finding new and exciting things that challenge our preconceived notions.

What was it that Agent Kay said in Men in Black? Oh yes (historical inaccuracies concerning beliefs about the shape of the Earth aside): “Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.”

Oh, and let’s not forget links!












The Return of the Community Church?

Posted by Jonathan Nori on October 03, 2011
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I’ve got a suggestion for the American church. Oh yeah, I guess it would be for the U.S. government as well.

End the 501c3 non-profit tax exemption. PLEASE.

I’m not the first person to say this. I’m sure I won’t be the last, either.

Follow me for a moment: Eliminating the tax exemption for churches is a win-win scenario for both the church and the government.

“How?” You may ask. “How is my church–which is already strapped for money–having to pay taxes a good thing?”

I’m glad you asked!

In 3 different Gospels of the New Testament, when asked about taxes,  Jesus commanded His followers to give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s. I think that’s pretty clear. The church is supposed to be part of the community we’re in.

Here’s another view (if Jesus’ command isn’t enough): Go back 100 years. In most communities, the church was the center of activity.

It was more than a just a place of worship. The church was a shelter in emergencies. It was a community center. A child care center. A soup kitchen. A voting booth. A sports complex. A meeting hall. A school. A library. A recruiting center. A hangout. It was a rallying point in times of crisis, a distribution center in times of need, and a stockpile in times of plenty.

So what happened?

I would argue that in the wake of the failed experiment of Prohibition, the American church retreated into itself and left a void–a void that came to be filled by the government. And every time the government opened up a service, the churches retreated even further into themselves. After all, if the government is going to do all these expensive things, why should God’s people spend God’s money on it?

Newsflash: Because that’s what Jesus told us to do.

Besides, if churches suddenly have to come up with another 30% or so to pay for these buildings and properties that sit vacant 5 or 6 days out of the week maybe they’ll be encouraged to do something more with what they’ve been blessed with. A little bit of creative thinking could certainly go a long way.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • You know the plan for that new playground or park that your town has been trying to raise money to buy? Why not a partnership on land the church owns?
  • Your local running club needs a place to run? See above.
  • The local soup kitchen is having problems? Get involved. Not just monetarily, but physically.

Think about it: Chances are your church building is spending 5 or 6 days EVERY WEEK locked up and dark. Unused, except maybe for the pastor’s office and a secretary one or two days a week.

A larger financial burden would force churches to re-engage with their communities and to once again become the centers of activity they once were.

Agree? Disagree? What do you think?

A New Model for Conferences

Posted by Jonathan Nori on August 20, 2011
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You’ve seen them: The Christian conferences. The “theme” conferences: Prophecy, worship, inspiration, pastoral leadership, etc. The conferences organized by denominations, or by a church, or by a group with a specific agenda in mind.

I’ve been to more than my share of conferences. Prophetic conferences. Worship conferences. Pastor’s conferences. Ministry conferences. Evangelism conferences. Deliverance conferences. You name it, I’ve seen it.

Over the years, Christians have done a great job of refining the conference model. But then we stopped, and where the Christian community stopped, other groups kept refining and improving. “Barcamps” are cropping up all over. Some high-profile events are doing away with “green rooms.” Fan gatherings like Tekkoshocon and Otakon are inspiring a new generation of fandom within their circles of influence.

Now is the time for a new kind of Christian conference. Not a conference run by a church, or a ministry, or a pastor, or defined by its epic offertories–but an event run by people, for people.

I was encouraged this past summer by the Wild Goose Festival, which had an amazing program and diversity.

I’m ready for a new kind of conference–are you?

Movie Review: Atlas Shrugged part 1

Posted by Jonathan Nori on April 19, 2011
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Here we are. The beginning of the end for Harry, Hermione, Ron, and everyone else in the amazing wizarding world of Harry Potter. Oh, wait. Sorry. Wrong “part 1.” I probably shouldn’t mention that I watched THAT movie last weekend too, should I?


Okay, no more silliness, on to a movie review of a part 1 of a movie that does NOT involve wands, invisible skeleton horses, chest hair, and a totally badass Ralph Fiennes.

On to Atlas Shrugged part 1.

If you’ve never been able to work up the enthusiasm to read Ayn Rand’s excellent book about the interplay between government and business, don’t worry, you’ll never have to: It is now a movie.

Now, because Atlas Shrugged eschewed the traditional Hollywood route, it’s only been showing in a handful of theaters nationwide. A few days ago some friends and I took an afternoon and drove to Washington, D.C. (okay, Bethesda, MD) to see it. One hundred miles was the closest theater showing the movie.

For those of you unschooled in the awesomeness that is Rand, I won’t spoil anything for you.

The movie itself is very well done and /looks/ like a slick Hollywood production. This tends to be a flaw in many independent films, but thankfully it seems as though these folks held out for the right team of filmmakers.

Most of the actors were well cast. Oil magnate Ellis Wyatt was particularly good, as were Henry Reardon, James Taggart, and the political jockey Mouch. Dagny Taggart, on the other hand, wasn’t quite as good as her costars. Not that she was bad, but she simply played the awkward back room operations executive-cum-entrepreneur a little too awkwardly.

What really shines, though, is how well things like Rand’s “anti-dog eat dog rule” and “equalization of opportunity act” are presented and handled. Note I did not use the term “fictitious” when referring to these. Anyone who has been paying attention to what President Obama has been saying lately will be terrified by this movie, and how predictive it feels. Remember, Atlas Shrugged was written in the 1950s. It is more true, and more relevant, to today than ever before.

I’m looking forward to seeing parts 2 and 3. Go see part 1 and let me know what you think!

EDIT 4/20/11

I identified today the biggest part of Atlas Shrugged part 1 that didn’t work for me: The scope and size. Sure, the offices of Taggart and Rearden were posh. Yes, there were fancy dinners and Lavish parties. But how many people actually worked for these companies? Give me a sense of scale!

When Dagny Taggart is trying to save her railroad, how many jobs are we talking? When the rail workers union threatens a walkout, how many families are we talking about losing their livelihood? When Reardon is forced to sign over control of his companies, how many families is the government forcing him to abandon?

The size issue is important, because the very premise of Atlas Shrugged is rather unpopular right now, given that governments and their agencies have repeatedly (and quite successfully) managed to convince the rank and file voter that corporations are the root of all evil (contrary to even the most cursory exposure to actual facts). If I am supposed to feel sorry that wealthy business owner is being attacked, it’s helpful to know what the stakes are.

The (un)Faith(?) of Anne Rice

Posted by Jonathan Nori on August 11, 2010
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Much has been made lately of New York Times best-selling author Anne Rice’s supposed abandonment of Christianity in the name of Christ.

To those of us in the post-Charismatic world, this comes as less of a surprise and more of a relief. To mainstream Catholicism and Evangelicalism, however, this announcement has been met with skepticism, anger, understanding, hostility, bewilderment, disdain, surprise, disbelief, and a fair number of other adjectives. To many, you can’t separate the “Christ” from “Christianity.”

I would argue, however, as others have, that Rice did not leave the Church, but rather she left the institutions of man that are mistaken for “The Church” (I’m looking at you, Vatican! Among others, collectively known as “the church” [note the small “c”] ;). Instead, what Rice has done is bring to the forefront of modern thought the schism that exists between “religion” and “relationship.” Over the past 2,000-some odd years man has taken what is meant to be an experiential relationship with Jesus the Christ (no man can come to the Father unless he knows Me) and replaced it with a set of rules and regulations meant to determine the “legitimacy” of your conversion experience (and subsequent lifelong belief system).

Jesus, among the many things he did, was no fan of “religion.” In fact, Scripture is rife with events that paint a picture of a Jesus constantly at odds with the religious powers of His day. The money changers in the temple? Sanctioned by the religious powers. A ban against work on the Sabbath, even to do good deeds? Strict adherence to religious Law. Healings and miracles? Anathema, because “God doesn’t work like that.” In the end, it was even the “religion” whose prophecies Jesus was fulfilling that saw Him executed.

Instead, Jesus taught relationship with the Almighty rather than strict obedience to a set of rules and regulations. He returned what was a crime punishable by death with forgiveness and understanding. He healed the sick, cured the fallen, and supped with the hated and the unclean. He was the opposite of what “religion” wanted him to be, yet man still institutionalized and cast in stone and built an edifice of rules and rites around what He preached as a personal relationship with the Almighty Father.

For my part, I applaud Mrs. Rice’s taking a stance against injustice, bigotry, and Biblically unsupportable positions in favor of a relationship with the Living God.

What kind of author do you want to be? (Part 1)

Posted by Jonathan Nori on March 07, 2010
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Last week I had a great sit-down with my friend @courtneyengle.

Among other things, we talked about what it takes to be an author–a published author–in today’s climate of digital printing and immediate release.

Anybody can be “published” today. You just have to look at the proliferation of self-publishing companies like Lulu and Create Space to see this is true. And there is nothing wring with self-publishing your work. In fact, for many writers, self-publishing is an excellent choice. Despite the negative connotation that “self-publishing” (or “vanity publishing”) tends to carry, what can show an author’s commitment to what they’ve written more than being willing to put their own money behind their work?

With this, many writers wonder why they need a publisher to begin with. Some writer’s don’t. But some do. How do you know if you do?

The short answer? It depends. (I know, not very helpful!)

First, what category are you writing in? Fiction? Nonfiction? Religion? Biography? History? Or some other category? (Here is a pretty extensive list of the categories that bookstores use to classify books.) Once you know what category your book falls into, you’re off to a decent start.

Second, think about promotion. Yes, we all think of this as “the publisher’s job,” but more often publishers aren’t simply asking authors to be involved in promotion, they are requiring it. Why? Because today readers want to be connected to the writers of the books they crave. And who better than to engage the reader where they are at than the author?

This isn’t just for authors of the latest tell-all about the politician-of-the-moment or the latest self-help craze, either. It’s something that every author has to consider.

As a writer, if you’re not willing to go pound the pavement, create a Facebook page, or promote your own book, why should a publisher (who is likely risking significant dollars on putting your book in stores) be willing to do what you are not?

If you’re writing fiction, attend readings. Post chapters on the internet on any of the myriad writing forums. Hone your craft. Take criticism seriously. Seek out professional editors. And if you’re looking for a publisher? Try to match your manuscript to a publisher that works with the kind of book you have written. Don’t pursue Harlequin to publish your science fiction action adventure. TOR will likely be less than ecstatic about your historical romance novel.

In the case of nonfiction, most publishers will be looking for someone who already has some kind of authority in their field, or the ability/willingness/possibility of becoming that.

Approaching a “big” publishing house can be scary. Many publishers won’t even talk directly to authors, hence the concept of the “literary agent”. Think of a literary agent as a real estate agent, but for your book. In the same way that most people don’t want to deal with the vagaries of selling a house, many publishers would rather deal with an agent who knows the ins and outs of publishing than with an author whom they have to teach about publishing.

Now, there are some publishers who will take what’s called an “unsolicited manuscript,” which is just a polite term for “something we didn’t ask for.” How do you know if the publisher you have your heart set on will talk to you or requires you to have an agent? Look them up and find out. Go the publisher’s web site, send them an e-mail, or even call them. In general, EVERYONE in a publishing company knows what their company’s policy is on manuscript submissions. Everyone.

Okay, so I really didn’t get into “What kind of author are you?” in this post. I guess that means there will be a Part 2.

O’Reilly TOC (part 2)

Posted by Jonathan Nori on February 24, 2010
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Well, I’m home from O’Reilly’s Tools of Change for Publishing conference in NYC.

There was a lot to absorb. Heard a lot of things I already knew, learned a few new things, but most importantly? I met a lot of great people.

There’s a lot of hoopla surrounding  ebooks, and the publishing industry is rightfully concerned. But digital books only make up 3% of the total book market. And there are plenty of other ways to market and sell books than just social media. Did we really an entire conference where most people only talked about these two things?

On the other hand, many of the traditional forms of book marketing are losing their effectiveness, and the ebook explosion is coming, and it’s a matter of maybe 10 years before ebooks will comprise 40% or more of all books sales.

Lots of excellent people had hugely relevant things to say, though. Among them were Chris Brogan (of course), Dominique Raccah, and Nilofer Merchant.

Overall it was a great trip, and the conference was well worth it. I hope next year there is more than “digital” and “social media”, though. 🙂

A Voluntary History Lesson?

Posted by Jonathan Nori on October 21, 2009
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You know, I’ve been around Christians much my entire life. I know so many Bible verses, and so many interpretations of those verses, that I can take just about any side in a theological argument, whether I subscribe to a particular belief or not.

Until recently, though, I haven’t really cared much about why these different interpretations arose, how they spread, or the social shifts behind why one dogma became more “accepted” than another. For the first time I’m actually getting interested in the history of the early church.

And the source of my interest? Anne Rice. Yep, THAT Anne Rice. I recently finished reading Pandora, and through the latter portion of the book there is a fascinating running commentary on the growth of Christianity in the Roman empire. Rice’s histories are usually meticulously researched, so it really piques my interest when she talks about Paul, or Jesus, or the disciples, even in a fictional sense.

Anybody have any good, readable histories to recommend?