Friday, June 22, 2007

Judas vs. Luke

A very well-done review of the latest book on the Gospel of Judas by Elaine Pagels and Karen King: Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity. I find these scholars' work interesting but unbalanced in general, preferring to focus on the Gnostic heresies against the Christian orthdoxy. (The reviewer cites NT Wright's book on Judas as the "conservative" response.) I like the quote with which the reviewer ends the article:

The Gospel of Judas will have its champions, not least Pagels and King, who laud its hero for inspiring a text that makes early Christianity look like contemporary American religion — more pluralistic, more wild and more contested than most imagine. But this gospel is not long for the world, or at least the American corner of it. Most Americans will rightly prefer Luke’s Jesus, whose heart breaks over the oppression of women and the poor, to a smart-aleck Jesus who guffaws at the stupidity of his listeners. America is supposed to be a happy place. Americans want their Jesus to channel Paula Abdul rather than Simon Cowell, Dorothy rather than the Wicked Witch of the West.

Judas, NT Wright, Paula Abdul, and Judy Garland all mentioned in the same short review. I don't think that's ever occurred in the history of the universe.

So it's patriotic to prefer Luke to Judas, or orthodoxy to gnosticism. Hey, that sounds happy. I'll take it.

I'm curious as to where the reviewer thinks the Gospel of Judas would actually "sell" well: the country where everyone likes to be sad all the time?

And of course I am not one to speak, as a person headed for the "Happiest Place on Earth" within the next week or two!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


There. I said it. I disagree wholeheartedly with the outcome of the following case, as the Associated Press reports:

PHILADELPHIA - The maker of Splenda on Friday settled a lawsuit over its disputed advertising slogan — “Made from sugar so it tastes like sugar” — just after the jury reached a verdict that would have gone against the market-leading artificial sweetener. Merisant Co., which makes rival Equal, accused the makers of Splenda of confusing consumers into thinking its product was healthier and more natural than other artificial sweeteners. Splenda’s marketer, McNeil Nutritionals, countered that it simply has a better product backed by superior advertising.

Now, I think the substance of the settlement is a lot of money and a small-type "Does not contain sugar" printed on every yellow Splenda box. Immaterial. The English language demands that someone should be able to say that a product in a chemical reaction is "made from" the reactants of that chemical reaction. Regardless of what the lawyers say, I'm a chemist, and as a chemist, if I wanted to make Splenda, here's the recipe (from ChemWiki):

The molecule in the upper left corner is sucrose/table sugar. You do 8 things to it, and then you get the molecule in the lower right corner, which is Splenda. They don't look that different because the only difference is in the three chlorine (Cl) atoms substituted onto sucrose. Spot 'em if you can. (There's also differences in the chirality of at least one carbon center, which is a difference in the arrangement of atoms, not a difference in the atoms themselves.)

If I can start with sugar in the lab, and add three chlorines onto it with 8 steps, and get Splenda out of that, then I reserve the right to say Splenda is "made from" sugar. In fact, "sugar" is a general term for this class of molecules. Splenda is a "sugar" that happens to be tri-chloro-substituted, so the company would be correct to promote their product as "a sugar"! If that doesn't set the lawyers off I don't know what will.

I think Splenda settled partly because they don't want it to be emphasized that Splenda has three chlorines in it. When you hear "chlorine," you think "pool water smell," or "green hair," or in my case, "strange sneezing allergy to water." But don't forget that simple old table salt = sodium + chlorine. Three halves of salt molecules are put onto sugar to make Splenda. That is the most straightforward way to describe it. Other than, oh, I don't know, using the words "made from."

In the current blog vernacular:

Splenda. Is. Made. From. Sugar.

(I had to use that format at least once in my life.)

Arrow Through the Sun, your watchdog against chemical semantic injustice. Now back to your irregularly scheduled blog.