Sunday, December 31, 2006

Current Book List

Here is a list of all of the books that I have current checked out on my library card. Several of these I have already started reading but most of them are just waiting for me to find time to start them. Either way I thought I would post this just to give a sort of cross-section of what’s been going on in my mind lately.

Blind Faith : the unholy alliance of religion and medicine

by Sloan, Richard, Ph. D

The Boys' War : Confederate and Union soldiers talk about the Civil War

by Murphy, Jim

Breaking the Spell : religion as a natural phenomenon
by Dennett, Daniel Clement

Ethics for the New Millennium
by Bstan-dzin-rgya-mtsho, Dalai Lama XIV

Evolution vs. Creationism : an introduction
by Scott, Eugenie Carol

Freethinkers : a history of American secularism
by Jacoby, Susan

From Jesus to Christianity : a history of the early Church

by Madden, Thomas F.

On the Ridge between Life and Death : a climbing life reexamined

by Roberts, David

The Problems of Philosophy
by Russell, Bertrand

Transforming Suffering : reflections on finding peace in troubled times

by Bstan-dzin-rgya-mtsho, Dalai Lama XIV

Truth and Fiction in the DaVinci Code : a historian explores what we really know about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Constantine

by Ehrman, Bart D.

The Varieties of Scientific Experience : a personal view of the search for God

by Sagan, Carl

The Demon-Haunted World
by Sagan, Carl

The God Delusion
by Dawkins, Richard

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Worth the Effort

Sometime in the last month or so I completely lost focus. Faced with all the daunting tasks ahead of me with this remodeling project I just became numb and was moving only out of a sense of duty rather than having any real goal in mind. For months I’ve been working at least full-time and when I’ve returned home I’ve been working as long as I could on the house. It was not uncommon for Victoria to come out and rebuke me for being on the top steps of a ladder late into the evening without a flashlight. My back hurts, my knees are bruised, my arms and legs have been scratched with everything from roof flashing to oven sheet metal, my fingers ache and only a few of them don’t have splinters in them. You know how every Olympics there is that one marathon runner who got a cramp early in the race but still manages to hobble her way to a last place finish? That’s kind of how I felt. I just kept plodding forward because that was what I was supposed to do but there was no joy left in the task and I had no hope of making my goal.
Well that changed Saturday afternoon. My wife and I had just finished buying all the groceries for the family dinner and Stephen and Reuben showed up to help with the cooking. We bragged about whose knives were better and had a lot of fun standing around the kitchen getting the food ready. They were both a tremendous help in preparing for the party. Stephen was cutting veggies and mixing ingredients, Reuben rolled most of the egg rolls and then slaved over the fry daddy for hours to get everything ready. Slick and Shalene made a trip to the church to "borrow" some chairs for the event and pick up the sushi. I suppose in most families this would have been the women getting the food ready and the guys going after the chairs, but we're more than a little unorthodox in many ways. But we're okay with that.
During the dinner there were rave reviews from all the family. Marcus even suggested that we do it every month. We had a great time together and the new kitchen just facilitated that.
Afterwards Reuben and Angela refused to leave until all the dishes were washed and dried. They didn't leave until well after midnight and they had an hour drive back home.
I went to bed that night exhausted but with a renewed sense of the importance of family. My new kitchen is just a thing. Ultimately it is meaningless. It's just a bunch of wood and appliances. However as a gathering place for family it is priceless. Thank you to all my family. You made that day such a positive experience for me that will never be forgotten.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Religious Beliefs on Trial?

Read this article. Due to the potential religious and political ramifications I’ve been following this case with a lot of interest. In summary, the state’s case here is that Mitchell has to be psychotic because he believes that God speaks to him. In my mind that pretty much leaves the door open to declare that anyone with religious beliefs can be declared incompetent to stand trial and be force medicated in order to receive a “fair” trial.
Please note that my remarks should in no way be interpreted as a defense of Mitchell's criminal actions against Elizabeth Smart. We just need to be sure that it is his actions that we procecute and not his beliefs which triggered them.

Monday, December 18, 2006

"Reading" a book

While reading Misquoting Jesus- The Story Behind Who Changed The Bible and Why the author goes into great detail to describe the differences between reading a book and hearing it read. Due to the very low literacy rates in ancient times he describes three different meanings that may apply to the phrase, "I read the book."
1. Reading it silently to yourself. This is the commonly accepted modern interpretation of the phrase and needs no additional explaination.
2. Reading it out loud so that others may hear it. My wife reads books every night to our kids.
3. Not actually reading the book but simply hearing the book read. My kids can be said to have read the book because the heard my wife read it.
Understandably this is the more disputed version of read. It may imply some level of literacy on the "reader" that they don't neccesarily have. I can see how people would be confused if I were to tell people that my 4-year old read a certian book. But if the doubt about a certian person's literacy in not present does it matter which of the three definitions we use? The reason I ask is that I frequently read in either the first definition or the third definition. To allow me to multi-task while doing some of the more repetative task I do at work I will frequently "read" books on CD or MP3. When I read at home I prefer to stick to the first definition. Occasionally I will do both. I will "read" in the car or at work to the CD or MP3s and then "read" the same passages silently to myself. I typically resurve this technique to books I really enjoy or really want to study more deeply.
Out of a sense of being intellectually honest with readers of this blog I need to confess that many of the books I have "read" and reviewed on this blog I have simply heard read to me. About half of them I have also read silently to myself. And three or four of them I have done both. Short of this confession I don't plan on making a distiction between these different definitions from now on unless comments convince me that I need to do so. I enjoy all three types of reading and gain different perspectives by each.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Misquoting Jesus

I’ve just finished reading my latest book on Early Christianity. Misquoting Jesus- The Story Behind Who Changed The Bible and Why by Bart D. Ehrman. If you’ve every wondered how people could preserve the words of the Bible in a world before printing presses this would be a good book for you. If you want to go through life simply believing that Bible was preserved by God for our day and you have no desire at all to know how He preserved it then stay away from this heretical book. If you believe that a mistranslation or a mistranscription can create thousands of variations of the same book of say the Gospel of Luke then you might enjoy this book. On the other hand if you believe that the Bible has been preserved right down to every jot and tiddle and are completely comfortable with believing that way then you might want to stay away. If you are fascinated by the slightly different doctrines and seemingly contradictory personalities of Jesus in the Scriptures then you might also enjoy reading about how those doctrines and traits have been transcribed and translated differently in some of the original texts. If you have a bumper sticker that says “The Bible says it so that settles it” then you’d likely not be interested. If you can accept that the best manuscript that we have of the New testament is a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy then you too would enjoy Ehrman’s book. If you are content to simply stick you chin out, raise your voice and say, “The Bible is the inerrant word of God” as if this declaration alone will assure you a place in Heaven then you won’t enjoy reading this book.

I wanted to go on with these little “you’d like it” or “you’d hate it” sentences for a little bit longer but I think ya’ll get the point. I hope everybody knows which side oft this debate that I’m on. I really enjoyed this book. Ehrman points out how and why many of the thousands upon thousands of variations have crept into the Bible and also details the science/art of textual criticism. In the many cases when he cannot pin down how or why the changes were made he offers his own speculation as to what may have happened. Admittedly, most of the time these subtle changes have little to no effect on doctrine however, on quite a few of them they create dramatic differences in the character of Jesus as well as the doctrine. This book has inspired me to read the New Testament again, this time with a more open mind to certain aspects. At the very least I don’t see myself jumping up on a soapbox to defend a slight doctrinal variation that may not have even been included in the original text.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


If you haven't noticed I have a tendancy to overthink even casual remarks and look for deeper meaning and philosophies. Such an event happened today. As I was leaving the building to go to lunch a co-worker commented, "Is it Friday yet?" I resonded truthfully by saying, "I sure hope not. I've got far too much to do before Friday." I realize that this was just hallway conversation however I was struck by the image of somebody always looking for tomorrow in hopes that it would be better than today. Without going into a whole "Carpe Diem" diatribe I just think we need to find things to be happy about today. Find a reason to make everyday as important as Friday. perhaps I'm just overthinking this. Maybe.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Christmas Letter

I want to get a Tivo for my life. How I'd love to be able to pause the great moments of the past year and be able to savor them even more. It's been a really good year for the Michaelites. This is a term my brothers and I coined to distiguish my wife and kids from the 4 other clans of Taylors.
Eve is just plain silly. She loves animals and she's growing like a little weed. She typically wakes up in a very good mood and proceeds to transform into her favorite animal for a few hours. This girl loves any and all animals and it wouldn't suprise me at all if she became a vet.
Noah is my little analitical thinker and scientist. The class they put him in this year has been a true blessing for him. He was struggling with his reading last year but he has made up all that ground and is gaining speed. Considering how much he was struggling last years its really a joy to help him with his homework. Next week we're headed to the planetarium with his cub scout den. He love science and cub scouts so I'm really looking forward to attending that with him.
Rachel is growing up far too fast for me. She's becoming quite a little lady. In spite of the glasses and the braces her smile and positive attitude radiate to everyone around her. She is still a compulsive writer. I think next year we'll give her the task of writing the Christmas letter. She has expressed interest in setting up her own blog to share her stories. I'll sit down and help her with that soon.
Aaron is doing well and enjoying being a Boy Scout. He's still being home schooled and making some progress there. He enjoys playing computer games and riding his bike and scooter. He is enjoying his new responsabilty as a deacon at church.
I'm still engineering for BellSouth until they become ATT. In all likelyhood the only affect the buyout will have on my job is that I'll have somebody else's name on my shirt. I've been drafted as the Scoutmaster of our Ward's troop. I enjoy spending time with the scouts but the planning is an awful lot of work.
On a personal note I'm still continuing my "quest for truth". I've been reading compulsively and updating my blog as often as I get a chance. It's been a great outlet for me to focus my thoughts and ideas.
Our big project for this year has been a major overhaul of our home. The 1977 structure was in pretty good shape but had been neglected by us and previous owners for far too long. We've been working everyday after work and Papa Dennis has been working his butt off for months to help us get the house repaired. We've made some great changes and fixed a great deal of serious problems. We're looking forward to living in a home without sheetrock dust everywhere but that still looks to be a few weeks away.
As I write this it is the eve of Victoria's and my 17th wedding anniversary. The single best descision I have ever made in my life was to ask her to marry me. She has kept me grounded and given me focus. In my personal stuggles she has been more supportive than I could have ever planned for. I admire her efforts with the children. She sells herself far to short but she is an amazing mother. Our kids have never gone to school without a warm meal in their tummy and they have never gone to bed without at least a chapter of a book and prayer. When she's not acting as a chauffer, teacher, nurse, financial planner, general contractor, or wife she spends her time scrapbooking. How she manages to fit all these tasks into each day will always amaze me. Not a day goes by that I am not thankful that she still thinks I'm worth hanging around.
This time between Thanksgiving and Christmas always makes me step back and look at my life as objectively as I can to see how blessed I really am and take stock of what action I need to take to make my life even better. I have a long way to go but I feel that things are headed in the right direction. So as long as I don't have the option to Tivo my life I am comforted by the fact that it seems to be getting better and better each year.
I wish you all peace on earth and goodwill t'ward all.


There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.
Nelson Mandela

Friday, December 01, 2006

Remodeling blues

It’s been really hard to update my blog lately. If you’ve been reading My wife’s blog you’ll know that we’ve been attempting to remodel our 1977 home that was long overdue for some major renovation. The biggest problem, and the most critical in the long term, is completed. That’s the replacement of all the swollen and warped masonite siding that was original to the house. I took a lot longer than we thought to replace it but the new hardie plank is up and ready for painting.

Since last week the focus has been turned to the inside of the house. Every day is a new surprise and only rarely a positive one. We’ve found massive, gapping holes in the kitchen wall that were just covered over with any scrap of plastic they could find. The sheet rock on the ceiling is about 1 inch shy of actually meeting the wall sheetrock. The wallpaper was incorrectly applied and it’s damaging the sheetrock when we remove it. The previous cabinet installer just punched holes in the wall with their hammer to find the studs. Now since we hadn’t planned to put cabinets in exactly the spots they had we either have to fix their problems or change our plan to cover them up somehow. It seems like every day of progress reveals 2 days of additional work to be done. I realize that this is normal for a home improvement project but it’s more than a little stressful. We’re not even half way finished and the budget is more than half gone. Throw on top of this that we have a deadline of sorts of December 16th.

Lately the crux of the problem has been “stuff management”. That’s my way of saying that we have so much stuff that we’re tripping over it all and we don’t have anywhere to really put anything else. We move stuff out of the cabinets with the plan to then put it in the new cabinet once it’s installed but the condition of the walls now mean that all the cabinets are going to have to come down at once so we can fix the walls. So now we have to move all the stuff that we just moved so we can have room to work in the kitchen. Moving stuff from one temporary spot to another is creating a lot of extra work.

I have little philosophy that I’m trying to indoctrinate my kids with. Do it right the first time and you’ll be better off in the long run. If you take a little extra time to get thing right while you’re doing a task the first time you won’t have to make corrections or changes later. With my oldest and his homework I try to stress that if he writes neatly and follows all the directions then he won’t have to waste time correcting what he did wrong or sloppy. With the other kids I’ve been focusing on teaching then to always put stuff back where it belongs. It may take 20 extra seconds to walk your shoes over to the shoe rack but that 20 seconds is easily made up for the next time you save half an hour by not having to search for your shoes.

Everyday after work I come home and work on the house until I just run out of daylight or I’m so exausted that I just can’t lift another sheet of sheetrock.

It’s really tough but the biggest victims of this project are my kids. Their just trying to do the same things that they’ve always been doing in spite of the chaos. It'll be nice to sit down at the table in our new kitchen and just have a nice family dinner together once this is all over. It's that image that keeps me motivated to get the whole project finished.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


I had an experience that bothered me last week. I was watching a movie with a couple of my kids. The setting of the movie was a high school with entirely superhero students and faculty. There was a scene in the movie where a young man was in the school clinic being examined by a female faculty member who was had on a white lab coat and a stethoscope around her neck. As part of the check up she revealed that her super power was x-ray vision. She was able to look at the boys chest and tell that everything was working fine without a trip down the hall to radiology. After this scene Rachel looked at me and said, "Dad, That's so cool that a nurse had x-ray vision." I was really taken aback by this comment. I immediately asked her how she was able to tell that she was a nurse and not a doctor. Her answers focused entirely on the fact that she was female. I pulled her aside and took advantage of this teaching opportunity. The world is already putting pressures on her to tell her what she can and can't be based on her gender. She doesn't need to start limiting others. I'm not quite sure how she reacted to this. I was just more than a little bothered by seeing my little girl with so much potential showing signs of gender stereotyping.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Non-trivial Pursuit

Two co-workers were talking about a game of trival pursuit that they had played over the weekend. Although I enjoy trival games, I've always felt that there was something flawed in them. They were just triva. There was never anything important learned after playing a game of trival pursuit because, by defenition, the questions were trivial. Why not have a game called Non-Trivial Pursuit. My co-workers suggested that I start posting these questions out side my cube to encourage others to expand there knowledge not just in trivial areas but in areas that can really make a difference in their lives. To fit the existing play board I'll have to create 6 different categories like politics, health, safety, basic technology, community living, and economics.

Here are a few to get the ball rolling:

1. Who is your county commisioner and do you know his email address?
2. How many calories are burned in one hour of fast walking? How many calories are in one pound of fat? combine these two- How long do you have to fast walk to loose one pound?
3. If you're making a right turn and you have a green light and a yeild sign, does the yield sign still apply or does the green light trump the sign?
4. If your check engine light comes on what's the first thing that you should check before calling the dealer?
5. What are the phone numbers of four neighbors within 100 yards of your house?
6. If you live ten miles from Wal-Mart and they are having a $1 off sale on an item that you typically buy at a closer store, how many of the item whould you have to buy to make the trip profitable if gas is $2.09 per gallon and your care gets 20 mpg.

MLK Memorial

Yesterday the ground was broken for the MLK jr. Memorial on the Washington Mall. I felt it was important to post this story from my journal about one of my experiences as a Boy Scout.

During these scout activities I was not looked at as a boy but as an equal. I will always remember the fireside discussions with these leaders. During one fireside we were discussing the BSA stand that Atheist could not become scouts. I agreed with the idea at the time and stated that they could not obey the Scout Oath. An older gentleman across form me spoke up “If Dr. King taught us anything it is that we should judge someone by what is inside. Not by the label that is put on him. At this age any boy who has said that he is an atheist has looked deeper into his soul than any of us. I would be proud to have a boy with this level of consciousness.” I went home and thought about what this man had said but I was rather annoyed that he had talked about Martin Luther King as if he knew him. A week later I was watching a PBS documentary on Dr. King. They showed a photo of Dr. King, Andrew Young and John Lewis (the man at the campfire) on the balcony at Memphis seconds before MLK was shot. From then on when Rep. Lewis spoke about Dr. King I listened.
Despite his flaws and personal short comings Dr. King has always been a hero of mine. As a white man I share his opinion that discrimination is more of an insult to the discriminator than to the discriminated. He fought for the civil rights and the dignity of all, not just his own race. His bravery and self-sacrifice in leading by example will always remain with me. I look forward to visiting the new memorial in 2008.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


The Y chromosome seems to have a gene attached to it that causes carriers of this gene to engage in, for lack of better words, “one-up-man-ship”. You've all seen it before. A group of Y chromosome carriers form together in a small group and start sharing personal stories. Each successive story is slightly more extreme than the previous. Before long the stories have grown to the point that it's obvious that at least some of the facts have been fabricated or a best, embellished. Like all carriers I've been guilty of my share of this behavior.
Several years ago I came to the realization that when I'm in this type of situation it is not important to win the discussion. I believe that since then I have been able to share the experiences of others and just enjoy them without feeling the need to search through my own experiences to find something comparable.
One area that I still find this gene showing its head is whenever I am put in a situation where I have to show empathy. A coworker of mine is going to be out for a couple weeks for some rather serious surgery. It's one of several follow up surgeries that he's had as a result of a more serious surgery when he was younger. When he shared his experience my heart and went out to him. In an effort to understand and sympathize with him that little gene started pulling up my own hospital stories and experiences. Although they fell far short of his, I shared them anyway. I was attempting to empathize with him but I feel like I ending up just coming across like just another guy trying to tell a better story. That was honestly not my intent. I have never been through anything remotely similar to what he has. My pitiful comparison was only meant for me to show that I can't even imagine how rough it must be for him. Somehow I feel like my effort came across like this, "So you had your arm sawed off. Wow! That must have hurt. I had a paper cut once and it must be at least as bad as that."
I heard a story about the Dali Lama that captured how I would like to be able to respond. He was hearing the plight of a family who was going through some immense suffering. Only a few minutes into the story he was in tears. There was nothing phony or artificial about what he was going through. He had not been through the same hardships. However, he listened so intently with all of his soul that the suffering of the family actually became his own. There was no need to find comparable events in his history that only failed to measure up. He bypassed that step and sought only to feel the same suffering that they did. He succeeded.
Since hearing this story I have tried to follow his model. I fear that my attempts are failing. I will keep on trying to suppress my genetic need to find historical corollaries and hopefully move toward true empathy.
I believe the secret is love. Once I learn to truly love my fellow man I will be able to fully share their joy as well as their sufferings without having to create artificial links to my own experiences. For now, I will keep working at it. My real prayer is that the suffering of those I love will just cease. I will gladly share their burdens if necessary, but I look forward to sharing their joy as well.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

No Shortcuts to the Top

Just for a change of pace I decided to read a book about a personal hero of mine. No Shortcuts to the Top by Ed Viesturs and David Roberts is the story of Ed Viesturs' mountianeering accomplishments. He recently became one of only a handful of people to to summit all 14 peaks over 8000 meters. Ed is famous for his commitment to safety and making sure that he returns home from every trip regardless of wheither or not he summits. Ed was the star of the Everest IMAX movie and also assisted in the rescue of many members of the ill-fated parties of the 1996 expeditions to Everest. Ed's motto seems to be similar to my own, "The summit is optional. Returning to base camp is a neccesity." In spite of this ideal, or perhaps because of it, Ed has become the most successful mountianeer of recent years.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Language of God

I just finished reading The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Francis S. Collins. I was rather disappointed with this book. Perhaps it was because it did not even come close to living up to its subtitle. Although I enjoyed the history refresher and the personal account of the author's "search for truth" this book presented no compelling evidence for belief.
Francis Collins has written a good book detailing the currently accepted scientific origin theories, the big bang and evolution. He then goes into great detail into his work on the human genome project. These chapters convince the reader that Collins deeply believes in the evidence that DNA and evolution are facts. Where the book falls short is when Collins is guilty of the "God of the Gaps" fallacy in order to prove his beliefs. That is that whenever we reach a point when we don't understand something we just attribute that act to God. Collin's contradicts himself by explaining how large, complex and mostly unexplored the human genome is and then claiming that certain things like the moral law and altruism cannot be explained by DNA alone. How can a scientist admit that something is unexplored and then a few paragraphs later assert what those unexplored parts can or can't do?
Collins later explains many of the historical conflicts between science and theology. This section is a pretty good review of these conflicts without getting too bogged down in specifics. I enjoyed these chapters however they offered nothing to support his stated purpose of the book and in most cases they painted theism in a very bad light.
In the early chapters Collins describes how a preacher introduced him to the writings of C. S. Lewis. After reading "Mere Christianity" For the first few chapters Collins quoted Lewis on nearly every page. There are several other theologians and philosophers who have spoken at length about the moral law. It would have been nice if Collins could have referenced any one of them rather than relying solely on Lewis.
Collins accepts on faith the existence of a moral law. This is another place where he gets into a logical feedback loop. Collins believes, like Lewis and many others, that the very existence of good and evil, right and wrong, morality and immorality cannot be explained by nature. Since it can't be explained by nature then it most be caused by something outside of nature, God. Good exist because god created it, so if there is good there is god. Collins does not address the possibility that this premise may be flawed. In his mind morality itself is evidence of god. Morality simply cannot exist without god. I don't accept this premise so I had a very hard time with his later "proofs" since all of them were based on it.
Collins also misused Occam's Razor. In nearly every chapter he prefaced a conclusion with, "If you are willing to accept the existence of a God then...". With this preface to every conclusion his beliefs always seemed to be the simpler solution to the problem. But, remove this qualifier and Collins' conclusions loose their bite.
I think one of the problems is that Collins is very good at playing the Devil's advocate when he's explaining the opposing views since he actually held and embraced those views for decades. Unfortunately for the sake of his conclusion, he makes that case better than he makes one he intended to.
At the end Collins tries to make his beliefs line up with Christianity and discusses many issues in bioethics. I found these chapters enjoyable but they hardly supported his thesis.
I'd recommend this book to anyone who is interested in getting their feet wet on this issue but, contrary to the subtitle, there is nothing in it that could actually be called "evidence for belief."

Friday, October 27, 2006

It's not All Christmas and Birthday Parties

A few months ago I was looking through a photo book of an extended family member's. The pictures were cute and there were a lot of them. The shots included Boy Scout camping trips, bridal showers, weddings, baby showers, birthday parties and Christmas parties. All good stuff. After looking through the photos I felt like something was missing. I didn't feel like I knew the people in the pictures any better at all. There were even a few pictures of me in these shots and I didn't even recognize myself at first. For some reason I felt this weird disassociation with the people in the pictures.
I brought this up to my wife and we discussed it for a little bit. I finally came to the conclusion that the photos were just the good times when they wanted to take a picture of the events in their lives. The lack of any bad news in any of the pictures made the people in the photos seem as two-dimensional as the prints themselves. I don't blame anybody for not stopping to take pictures of all the bad stuff in their lives. It'd be even more disconcerting to look through a scrapbook of only funerals, divorce pictures, car accidents, and illnesses. But would it really be so bad we did take a few of those pictures? Wouldn't it leave a better record of who we really are if we recorded a few of the tears as well as the smiles?
Along this line my wife has fallen victim to a new hobby. She's gone headfirst into digital scrapbooking. And she's so good at it that I'll finance it 'til her heart's content. Sometimes she'll just take one simple picture and doll it up with fancy papers and cutouts. I've seen many other scrapbook layouts before but Victoria's are unique. Like real life she is never content to just put a caption on a picture she has to give you a paragraph or two about the subject. She incorporates this journaling into every layout she does. I don't know if it was because of our discussion or not but she has also started scrapbooking a few of the tears in our life as well.
Last month Noah, my third, had to have a breathing treatment. He gets croup every year and his little lungs just have a real hard time fighting it off. Victoria took a few shots of Noah on his breathing machine. The next day she had made a scrapbook layout complete with journaling of the event and she's posted it to her blog. Far from being negative, I think this layout shows that Noah will struggle through adversity and tough it out no matter what life throws at him. I love all of Victoria's layouts but this one really had depth to it.
I'm going to make a better effort to take pictures of the bumps and bruises, the accidents and the goofs. Not to dwell on them but to learn from them and to help others if possible. Life isn't all birthday parties and Christmas presents. By sharing and documenting the not-so-happy times we can add tremendous depth to the history that we are leaving behind for friends and family. Through this they can come to love and understand us even more.

For a large collection of her layouts please visit Victoria's blog.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Church Ball and the Death of Mormon Cinema

If a producer were deliberately trying to make a movie that showed the worst aspects of LDS culture yet stay as far away from any doctrinal issues as possible I don't think they could do much better than Church Ball, the latest release from Halestorm pictures. It appears that Halestorm has gone to extremes to avoid doctrinal issues and focus solely on the social club distinctions instead.
Here is a quick plot summary: The church leadership have decided to cancel church basketball programs because they are counter productive to the gospel. An overzealous Bishop "calls" one of the players, played by Andrew Wilson, to bring the final church basketball trophy home to his congregation. (Note the use of the word congregation rather than Ward. This is just one of many instances in the movie of avoiding LDS specific terms.) Realizing that his team is a bunch of misfits, Wilson goes on a search for a ringer. They find their ringer by reactivating a member who actually fell away because of an incident that happened during a church basketball game. Well to make a long story short they win the game against their rival congregation and they get the trophy. Then at the very end when church basketball has been banned they show the same lousy behavior during a church baseball game.
What disturbed me most about this movie was that nobody seemed to learn anything. Even the leaders in the movie recognized that the players’ behavior was an embarrassment to the church. At one point the players were shown asking what the minimum standards were to be able to play. "Now they don't have to be members. They just have to come to church once in order to play." They actually stated that attending services was not their goal! After the team scored a rare victory one unlikely player, played by Gary Coleman, says, "Alright everybody! Beer is on me!" They make light of this comment but to me it’s just another example that winning was their only goal. They hadn't even given the most cursory briefing of LDS doctrines to these players.
Another scene shows a member player who has a foul mouth putting $20 into his curse jar before he gets dressed for the big game. He was actually planning ahead for his bad behavior rather than taking steps to correct it.
This story line had some potential but they completely blew it. Had they realized that other things were more important than basketball and done something like forfeiting the final game for one of those more important things I could have forgiven every other defect in the movie. However, this move never had any such learning moment or point of awareness.
The deliberate dilution of LDS lingo in the movie was completely unnecessary. The prayer that they showed was arrogant and did not close in the name of Jesus Christ. Come to think of it I don't think the words Jesus Christ showed up even once. I don’t even think they ever used the word Mormon. I’m not going to watch it again just to find out. Perhaps this was to imply that similar problems may happen in other denominations’ sports programs too. Or perhaps this was deliberate to avoid associating this flick with anything actually divine.
Besides a few cute one liners this movie had nothing redeeming about it.
As I've stated before on other posts, I grow more disappointed with this entire genre' with every release. This movie just continues that trend. When, if ever, will Mormon cinema even approach its stated goal of making a movie that shows LDS values and culture in the same way that "Fiddler on the Roof" did for Judaism? Richard Ducher, the producer of God's Army and Brigham City asked in an interview "What kind of a movie would [Fiddler on the Roof] be without the Jewishness? He argued forcefully that just like Fiddler on the Roof, we cannot make profound Mormon movies without including Mormon culture.
Personally, I’m patiently waiting for that movie, but from what I've seen so far I seriously doubt it'll come from Halestorm.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Watchmaker

A coworker sent me a link to a little video called the Watchmaker. Please take a minute to view it. click here
As you know from previous posts I am not a fan of trying to prove God exists. I sent the following reply:

Dear coworker,
This video relies on one simple logical premise. The existence of a watch requires the existence of a watchmaker. We are thereafter asked to accept the premise that all complex systems require a designer.
Let us follow this logic out one more step. This watchmaker seems like a pretty complex entity. Using this same logical premise and no other I ask just one question.
Who made the watchmaker?
His response was that God did not require a creator for the simple fact that he was God. So the logical discussion that he started was quickly turned into a faith discussion as soon as the logic no longer worked in his favor. I attempted to point out the paradox that he was asking me to accept. My belief is simply to stop trying to make the two completely harmonious. By definition my faith should not and can not be proven without it becoming someting else besides faith.

At my brother's suggestion I have also started reading a book on intellegent design. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Francis S. Collins. I hope that this book will not fall into the same logical pitfalls and traps that plauge most essays on ID. The author started out as an atheist until his work on the Human Genome Project presented several "evidences" of a creator. I still haven't finished reading what Kermit has to say so It may be a little bit before I can finish this book. I'm really enjoying Before You Leap.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

I finished reading The End of Faith today. This was both a very depressing and highly thought provoking book. Over 100 pages of the book go into great detail about the millennia of atrocities committed in the name of religion. I had to really struggle to get through this section because it was colossally depressing.
The next chapters dealt with the subtle and not so subtle impact that religion has on our political system. No surprises here. I’ve always been disturbed by administrations that try to push the limits of the establishment clause and the unholy alliance of the Republican party and the Christian Coalition has given me special cause for alarm.
Although I have a hard time with Harris’s conclusions that it is time for the world to abandon religion completely in favor of reason and logic, I can find no flaws with his logic or his evidence.
One of the reasons we continue to cling to religion is that most people philosophically believe that the only source of morality is divine. Right and wrong cannot exist without a god. I have always felt that this is not the truth. I have seen personally, and this book has illustrated many instances where religious people have behaved immorally and also instances where non-theistic people have behaved morally.
The book was not a pleasant read but, its lessons will not be easily forgotten.

On a much more uplifting note I have just begun reading a more lighthearted book about improving myself and learning how to find a happier life. The book is an autobiography of sorts about the life of a longtime entertainer whom I have admired since I was a young child. I have always felt a spiritual bond with the author and I look forward to taking the advice of Chapter 11 and “Finding [my] Inner Tadpole” The book is Before You Leap: A Frog’s-Eye View of Life’s Greatest Lessons by Kermit the Frog.

"You must look deep inside your heart and ask what you really want. If your immediate answer is 'dessert,' you probably missed your heart and went directly to your stomach." p.76

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Stone Soup

I've always enjoyed the Russian story about stone soup. A group of soldiers passing through town are able to create a miracle. They are able to convince an entire town to cooperate in making a meal to serve a large group. All in the group were feed with a meal that they previously didn't believe they had.
The similarities here to Christ's miracle of the loaves and the fishes are very striking to me. In both stories food miraculously appears out of nowhere. In the case of the stone soup it was just a case of people softening their hearts and looking into their cupboard to share with the rest of the town. In the traditionally interpreted sense Christ's miracle was just magically expanding fish and bread that kept on feeding the multitude. What if this too was more of a human miracle like the stone soup? Would it take away from Christ's accomplishment if the true story was that people simply softened their hearts and shared what they had with the group? On the contrary I believe that it would be more miraculous. I have always felt that the greatest stories of Christ were found in what he inspired others to do. It is not my intention to belittle his miracles. Rather, I believe that the miracles that change the hearts of others are much harder and ultimately more important than the more physical miracles. Magically growing bread and fish is less impressive to me than eliminating selfishness from a multitude of people.

The End of Faith

Along the same theme that I seem to fall back on frequently; that being science, politics and religion, I just started reading a new book this week. The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason by Sam Harris. Harris is a secular humanist. As such he believes that morality is a natural human trait and therefore not necessarily linked to religion. Harris takes this a step farther and believes that any religious person that claims to worship "The one true God" cannot justify religious tolerance of any kind. "certainty about the next life is simply incompatible with tolerance in this one." P.13 It is his opinion that any sacrifice in our religious beliefs in favor of tolerance is hypocritical. I have yet to finish the book and I'll provide a more complete review once I'm finished. I suspect from the tone that has been set so far that Harris is calling for the complete rejection of religion as the solution to the world's problems. So far the history of atrocities committed in the name of God that he has detailed is quite compelling. Although personally I have had very positive experiences with friends and co-workers due to my own religious tolerance, I must admit that allowing these friends to believe as they do in spite of what my church preaches seems to be a tad hypocritical. Is it possible, as Harris claims, that the only reason my friends of different faiths and I get along at all is because we have sacrificed our beliefs in favor of social harmony? Or is our appearant harmony just a facade that we wear in front of each other? I don't have answers for these questions yet. But, I'll keep looking.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Not a New Problem

With the news that the Peoples Democratic Republic of Korea, AKA North Korea, has tested a nuclear weapon the talk at work has been focused on this "new threat". I found the following quote that reflects my opinion on the issue.

"The release of atomic energy has not created a new problem. It has merely made more urgent the necessity of solving an existing one."
Albert Einstein

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Movie Continuity

Okay I have a confession to make. I'm the guy in the theatre who analyzes the technical aspects of the movie and then comments on them while the movie is going. When Spiderman dives off the balcony and catches up to Mary Jane, I was the guy who said, "Oh so Galileo was wrong about things falling at the same rate regardless of mass!"
And when Clint Eastwood manages to pull maneuvers that the space shuttle could never do, I'm the guy who said, "Yeah right! The shuttle main engines are completely out of fuel during re-entry and so he could never do that."
It's really funny that I can still suspend belief on some things but get really torqued about others. Yesterday I was watching a Dr. Who episode and they were talking about using the Hubble telescope to monitor an alien ship orbiting Mars. My response, "No way! Hubble’s lens were not designed to focus on anything that close. Every picture you've ever seen of Hubble has been extra-solar for a reason. It just can't focus that close." Mind you I had no problem at all with the fact that there was a time-lord on earth who traveled from time to time in a police call box. I could suspend belief on that but don't make me have to revise what I know about the Hubble.
I think that as long as it's a fantasy movie I can suspend belief. But once they start relying on the science as a plot point I start holding their feet to the fire. If they claim it’s a fantasy from the start then I just assume that normal rules don’t apply and I just deal with it.
For the most part it doesn’t bother me for little errors but if they really start adding up I have a hard time focusing on anything but the problems. I actually enjoy this little diversion so I hope nobody is reading this as an apology or some prelude to a recovery. I haven’t entered a 12 step program to reform my critical ways. “Hi. My name is Michael. And I’m a recovering movie continuity geek.” I don’t think so. I believe that it is people like me that make or entertainment better. Somewhere there is a group of people at the studio asking questions about scripts like, “How will the science geeks interpret this?” I see it as my duty to keep them employed.
I have no illusions that I am an expert at this craft. Some people have really applied this art to the limit. Like this guy. And a few have taken this craft to the completely absurd. Like this guy. I hope that I never digress this far. If I ever get close then perhaps you might see me standing in front of a group of people with tape on their glasses saying, “Hi. My name is Michael. And I’m a recovering movie continuity geek.”

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Rough Stone Rolling

I posted this book review on another site last year but I just wanted post it here too.

My Review of Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Lyman Bushman

Most of the church histories that I have read fall into one of two categories. Those written by anti-Mormons with an ax to grind that focus in on the salacious details and freely use any source at all to get those details. Or those written and published with the official sanction of the Church that so whitewash the blemishes of the history that they are reduced to simply faith promoting narratives. Bushman’s book does not fall into either category.

Being an active member and also a professional historian he was able to create the most realistic Joseph that I have ever read about. His membership allowed him unprecedented access to the Church archives. The narrative is full of very faith promoting stories that have been absent the officially sanctioned works because the stories happened during the mist of controversies that have been swept under the rug. These stories were also absent in the anti-Mormon books because they did not fit their agenda.

Bushman does not dance around any of the controversial issues that surround Joseph. He analyzes every one of them. Frequently he goes into great detail and has impeccable sourcing. He addresses even the most baseless claims of the anti-Mormon books and tries to establish how they may have come to their conclusion. His incredibly fair and even handed approach to all of the claims lend the reader to believe him when he says things like, So-and-so claimed that Joseph did X, Y, and Z but I have not been able to find any source for this claim.

My only serious criticism is that the book seems to assume that you already have read several other books on Joseph. This did not bother me too much because I have. He frequently references claims made by other biographers and if you haven’t read those biographies you might be a little lost at some points. He also assumes you know the basic timeline of Joseph’s life and jumps around along the timeline to make many of his points. Sometimes this is a little annoying and hard to follow. I imagine it could be very frustrating for somebody who is not more familiar with the timeline.

Personally, I still have many struggles attempting to understand the issues surrounding Joseph Smith, especially the last few years of his life. I find the whitewashed histories published by the church to be so utterly without substance that I have to force myself to continue. The Anti-Mormon histories are so bitter and one-sided that they just aggravate me. This book is exactly what I needed, a fair relatively unbiased biography that examines the incredible life of Joseph Smith without feeling the need to remove all of his warts.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Illusion of Difference

As I pointed out in my 9-11 posting, I'm deeply troubled by the state of our world today. All too often we as a human family are content to divide ourselves into arbitrary groups and then go about trash-talking and dispising those artificial distinctions that we've created. The killings in the Amish school yesterday brought this even more to my attention today. Here we have a man who had some grudge against young girls so he takes his anger out on a completely different group of girls just because they appear to him to fit the arbitrary group that offended him. Personally, I am at a loss tying to think of a less threatening group of people in the world than grade school, Amish girls. Perhaps maybe premature newborns in ICUs. I just don't get it. What is this world coming to?
I've never felt like I was much of a poet or even that I was good at getting my emotions and my ideas into words. Former President Clinton had an interview on Fox News last week. Lost in all the publicity over Clinton loosing his temper was a very profound quote. (I should let you know that I don't really have any serious ethos problems when using quotes. I may or may not agree with the overall opinions of the quoted but if they manage to hit the nail on the head I'll be sure to give them credit for it.) Clinton told interviewer Tim Russert that the biggest problem confronting the world today is "the illusion that our differences matter more than our common humanity." I have tried since I first heard it to put this statement into my own words and I have failed. This statements seems to include everything from terrorism and school shootings all the way down to sibling rivalry. It describes most every conflict going on in the world today no matter how large or how small.
In his book The Art of Happiness His Holiness the Dalai Lama encouraged people to reach out to those that you esteme to be your enemy and befriend them. Christ encouraged us to "Bless them that curse you. Do good to those who despitefully use you". As dificult as this is to actually put into practice personally I am at a complete loss as to how to teach this principle to others and make a large scale difference in the world. My constant prayer is that I will be able to simply master this skill in my own life and my own interactions. Then hopefully the example will be felt by others.


Monday, October 02, 2006


A recent comment requested that I suggest a book on libertarianism. I have to confess that until that time I had never specifically read a book on Libertarianism. I've read several books on philosophy and political science as well as several books and research projects on Hobbes and Locke that helped me to form my libertarian opinions. I also subscribe to an newsletter from I have been a "card carrying" member of the party since 2000. I've aggressively studied and defended the party platform ever since.

In an attempt to remedy my apparent lack of scholarship on the subject I read The Great Libertarian Offer by Harry Browne and What it Means to be a Libertarian by Charles Murray. If you'd like to read a well documented defense of the party platform complete with charts, graphs and extensive footnotes then read Harry Browne's book. However, I thought that Murray's personal narrative and his deliberate lack of footnotes made for a much easier to read and persuasive book. If you are new to the philosophy and you would like to know a little bit about what they believe and why they believe it then I think you would also like Murray's book. If, on the other hand, you are looking for charts and graphs to convince you then read Browne's book.

Murray considers himself a lowercase libertarian as opposed to the uppercase Libertarians. I'd never heard this distinction made but, I believe it applies to me too. In spite of the fact that I'm a card carrying member I have always been attracted more to the philosophy rather than the party. I have several issues with the strategy and motives of the party. I am also under no delusion than the Libertarians will have chance at toppling either of the established parties. I do however believe that if we are going to return to the values and philosophical goals of Jefferson, Franklin, Hobbes and Locke that it will be a return to libertarian ideas that takes us there.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

...and no one will ever convince me otherwise.

I took debate in high school and I enjoy studying logic and critical thinking. I make it a point that when I discuss politics or any other controversial topic to be very logical in my arguments and to recognize when the other side makes logical arguments.
I try to stay open minded with all of my beliefs. As I have matured many if not most of my opinions have evolved quite a bit.
All to frequently, especially in political dialogue, I hear people say, "...and no one will ever convince me otherwise." When ever I hear this statement I know I am talking to a scared and closed minded person. An open minded person readily accepts all attempts by others to be proven wrong. Whoever would say this is essentially saying, "This is how I believe. I expect you to change you beliefs to follow suit, and don't insult me by even asking me to consider other possibilities."
What disturbs me most about this attitude is how pervasive it is. Many people who refer to themselves as Christians us this quote when discussing evolution. I'm sure Galileo and Copernicus were told similar things for defending their beliefs. These historical examples illustrate how dangerous this belief can be.
I hope that I never get this closed-minded. Even in the opinions that I hold strongest I'd like to at least be able to say, "I'm rather set in my ways on this however I invite you to try to prove me wrong."

Friday, September 15, 2006


Until I was in my thirties I had never had a family member or a close friend die. Unfortunately, this abnormal statistic was followed by a wave of deaths both in the family and among friends. I felt like my boss was getting suspicious that I was making up all of these funerals just to get some paid time off. The result of this is that I have probably spent more time thinking about this the last five years than I ever have before, not just my own mortality but how to fill the voids left by others that were close to me.
A columnist that I read often gave the following advice about how a man that I admire is facing his own mortality. I have posted the article in it entirety sinces he share many of my beliefs.

Facing mortality can be life affirming
by Robert Kirby

When the LDS Church dedicated its latest temple in Sacramento, Calif., last week, Mormons were pleased to see our leader acting like his spry old self after his bout of recent health problems.
However, at a youth gathering in the Arco Arena, President Hinckley seemed to predict his own death by alluding to the increasing fragility that comes with old age.
"I don't know how long I'm good for and it may be the last time I'm in Northern California, but I'm here today," he said.
Mormons were suddenly abuzz with the possibility that the prophet might get "called home" in the next few days. How much longer could a man of his age last? Did he know something was up?
I'm not sure why anyone would marvel over such a revelation. President Hinckley is nearly 100 years old. He probably wants to be dead. I would if I was that old, my wife was gone, and millions of people pestered me all day long.
He didn't say he was going to die. He simply pointed out a truth that applies to all of us. Who knows from one minute to the next when death is going to crook a dry finger at them?
Granted, we expect death to come for the elderly because no one lives forever. And the older you are, the more likely it is that your time is up. Eventually you reach an age where people stop asking you what you want for dinner.
Ironically, some of the people among the thousands who heard President Hinckley ponder his own mortality last week - and maybe dozens who later read about it - had no idea that they could beat him to the other side.
Through traffic crashes, heart attacks or strokes, death may have come for a few who were wondering how much longer an old man could last. They didn't realize that their own lives were over.
None of us do. Maybe you're one of the people reading this column who won't see the end of next week or even the end of today. Heck, I might not live long enough to finish writ. . .THUNK!
Just kidding. It's not morbid to acknowledge that life is short, often far shorter than we think it is. This simple fact ought to cause us to worry more about living better than longer, but it doesn't.
Most of us act like we have an unlimited supply of tomorrows. We don't live like we were dying even though we are. We have to consciously remind ourselves that it may be the last time we're "in Northern California" or holding our kids, our telling someone that we love them.
Live like that and maybe dying won't matter as much.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


I was deeply saddened by the recent and untimely death of a role model to me. Steve Irwin inspired me to reach out to my world and have a healthy respect for but, not be afraid of wild things. The conservation world has lost a giant. My kids have been watching Crocodile Hunter reruns as often as possible since we heard the news.
About once a year at church we get a lesson on stewardship. Typically the lesson turns into a lesson about missionary work and our stewardship to others. Sometimes it becomes a lesson on talents. All too often we miss the lesson on being wise stewards of the resources of our planet. Irwin showed by his example that it is vital that we protect the fragile wildlife of this world. I think that many people, particularly Christians, take the attitude that Jesus will be here soon so we don’t need to be as good a steward as we would if it were going to be a couple thousand years before he comes back. Personally, I think we should try to “get the house clean” before he comes home.
Irwin set this example for me. I will never forget the complete enthusiasm that he had over even the smallest of God’s creatures. He is one of the few people that gave nature that reverence that she deserves. As a tribute to Steve and his example I am making a conscious effort to add the work “Crikey!” into my vocabulary.


I deliberately waited a few days before posting a 9/11 comment because it took me quite a while to compose my feelings about that terrible day.
The last five years have been very hard for me. It has been very hard for me to deal with all of the hate that seems to have been growing in the world. Terrorists hate us so we hate them back. Politicians and pundits justify this hate with child-like responses that just sound to me like "well he hit me first". I think the world is much more divided than it ever has been, not only internationally but domestically, and this worries me a lot. It’s been really hard for me to see our world play a game of “My God can beat up your God” while most everyone seems to be ignoring the actual teaching of their God. I have a vague recollection of being taught that we should turn the other cheek, love our enemies, and bless them that curse us. Perhaps we are just supposed to put all that stuff aside when it comes to real life and that’s just Sunday school rhetoric. By no means am I claiming that it is easy to do all of these things that we’ve been asked to do. I just see so few people even trying that it’s really discouraging.

The only light I see in all of this is that this background of hate gives better focus to those who are truly unselfish and set this hate aside to show true love for their fellow beings. The images of firemen writing their names and social security numbers on their chests with a sharpie because they know they are going to die trying to save others will always bring tears to my eyes. Here we have a great example of some people who get it. Developing this type of love is why we are all here. I have a long way to go but it is nice to see a few real role models out there for me to model my behavior.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Mormon Cinema

A few years ago a new genre of movies emerged. Thanks to a visionary producer named Richard Dutcher and his company, Zion Films, Mormon Cinema was created. In his mission statement for Zion Films Dutcher analyzed the religious themes in “Fiddler on the Roof”. He claimed, and I agree, that this movie was better because of the Jewish theme not in spite of it. Dutcher believed that similar movies that did not shy away from Mormon doctrine and experiences could produce equally moving tales. Since Dutcher opened the way with “God’s Army” many have followed. It saddens me to say that only a few of these movies have had any appeal at all outside the LDS community and only one has even approached Dutcher’s comparison to Fiddler on the Roof. What follows here is my review of the Mormon cinema films that I have seen in the last few years.

God’s Army
A good movie about a few relatively average missionaries and a reasonable example of missionary life. I think every returned missionary can put a real name to each of the fictional characters in this movie. I liked the theme of each missionary having to figure out why he was on a mission. A great movie for LDS members but non-members would need a translator to explain what many scenes meant and why they were important, or funny.

The Single’s Ward

A good movie that dealt with the struggles of a divorced male trying to fit back in to a community that he felt has labeled him as a reject. LDS members from
Utah will particularly enjoy the countless cameos in the film. Unfortunately the cameos, and the jokes behind them, are completely missed by many members without links to Utah. I enjoyed the film as a comic look at dating in a Utah singles Ward but I fail to see how it would appeal to non-members.

The RM
This movie was essentially Singles Ward II. Rather than exploring the challenges of a divorced member it explored the awkward steps that a returned missionary takes while attempting to adjust to post mission life. Another one that I didn’t think was a waste of time but would hardly recommend it to my non-member friends.

The Best Two Years

I thought this was a good movie. I liked it better than God’s Army. It illustrated some of the struggles that foreign missionaries go through as far a separation, relationships, companions and struggles with the language. How living the gospel can change lives was a main theme. This appears to have been filmed rather than video taped. The quality of the images and the care taken in setting up the shots really set this movie apart from all the rest. In spite of this being a pretty good film, here again the strong mission theme here would still probably only draw LDS viewers.

The Book of Mormon, The movie.
I must confess that at my wife’s behest I did not add my admission fee to this movie. I didn’t go see it. Her review was that she had seen better costumes and acting back in the 80s when they still did roadshows. I was very suspect of this when I read on the film’s website during the casting process that they were looking for a Nephi that looked like the Arnold Freeburg paintings. They didn’t care if he could act and they would consider dubbing his voice if he looked a lot like the Freeburg Nephi.

Brigham City
So far this is unquestionably the best of the genre. The themes of everybody having skeletons in their closets and the conflicted Bishop who is also the sheriff dealing with separation of church and state issues. A great movie about casting aside stereotypes and learning to forgive. I would recommend this to anybody. The sad part about this movie is that the strong murder mystery main story gave it a PG-13 rating. This rating scared away much of the core LDS audience. I think this movie would have done much better if it had been shown outside of Utah. Ironically the picture that came closest to Dutcher’s own “Fiddler on the Roof” standard was panned by his most loyal audience over the rating.

Saints and Soldiers

I don’t care for war movies. However this one was very different. It will challenge your concept of how you define someone as a friend or an enemy. I’d like to see more LDS films explore these types of serious themes.

Work and the Glory

My wife read the books by Gerald Lund that this movie series is based on. From her reports they seem to be faithful to the books. The first movie is well done but it never quite escapes the ABC miniseries soap opera feel. I like the historical fiction about a fictitious family with the Joseph Smith story as a background support. Done right as they did with Ben-Hur, this strategy can be a great way to tell both the fiction story and the real history behind it. I think they’re headed in the right direction with these films and I look forward to seeing them all.

Baptist at Our Barbeque
Done right this movie could have had a great out reach to non-members. The concept of two conflicting communities trying to get along in the same town lead to a lot of issues about who is truly our neighbor. Unfortunately, they resorted to slapstick and jokes and avoided the more serious issues that could have been dealt with in a film with this title. It was entertaining but hardly high-cinema.

The Home Teachers
Another skinny guy and fat guy slapstick road trip movie. Not much distinguished this movie from Tommy Boy. The fat guy even looked like Chris Farley. Knocking a corpse out of a coffin at a funeral, a toilet falling through the ceiling, hich-hiking after they destroyed the car, etc. etc, ad nauseam. The last 10 minutes of the movie they tried to pull it out of the gutter by finally understanding why they were home teaching in the first place. I’m sorry, but it was too little too late for me to give this a thumbs up.

Mobsters and Mormons
This was a cute movie. The acting was good and there were some good morality issues covered, also a few valuable lessons about judging others. As much as I enjoyed this it was still just like an LDS version of For Richer or Poorer. Again we have a movie that makes jokes about LDS culture without even approaching any doctrine. There are jokes about coke, scrapbooking, etc but nothing too deep. The saving grace for this movie was the last few minutes when the mobsters explain how they were taken in by some folks who truly treated them like neighbors. Watch it. It’s fun.

Suits on the Loose

This is a story about two young convicts who escape from a work camp and end up hiding within the Church as missionaries. Personally I though Nuns on the Run was much funnier and had almost exactly the same theme.

Sons of Provo
A tounge in cheek look at a Mormon "boy band". The soundtrack is hilarious but that's its only saving grace. Like many others this movie seems to targeted souly to LDS members.

I have yet to see States of Grace. The reviews have been very good and I have high hopes for it. I’ll post a review once I’ve seen it.

I also haven’t seen Church Ball or Take a Chance yet. They look reasonably entertaining but I’m not holding my breath that either with approach the “Fiddler on the Roof” standard.

I think the saddest thing here is that there is no impetus for these films to get better. The core market, LDS members, buys these mediocre movies as if they were canonized. If the members keep this up the quality of the movies has no reason to improve. Just because it isn’t a “bad movie” i.e. rated R, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good movie. Only a couple of them have the doctrine as a central theme. Most are mearly about the LDS culture outside of the doctrine. As these films’ core audience we should coax them in the right direction. I would encourage members to continue viewing these movies but to be more selective and objective. If we don’t hold the genre to higher standards than we have been they will never get any better. Although most have been entertaining nothing I have seen in any of these films has grabbed me with the intensity of Tevye singing the line, “Then I suppose I love you too.” Keep trying. I’ll keep watching.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Science v. Religion

This has been a common theme for me but recent events have made me think about it again. Last night I picked up a book and started reading A Jealous God: Science’s Crusade Against Religion. I didn’t even make it through the introduction before I became convinced that this is just another one of the many books written by Christian conservatives that attempt to paint scientists as immoral and godless. If that is not the case then I apologize to the author. I would recommend that she not set that tone if she expects anyone other than someone who already believes her way to read it.
I get to work early so I can read the news on a couple of my favorite sites before the rest of the crew shows up. While reading I learned that The Catholic Church has fired its head astronomer for speaking out against Intelligent Design. Claiming that it wasn’t based on science, which I agree, Father Coyne was concerned that trying to link God with this theory was demeaning to God.
In my review of How We Believe I explained how Michael Shermer believes that people are in one of three different stages in their relationships with God and science. First, they believe that the two are in conflict. Second, they believe that the two are harmonious. And third, they believe that the two exist in completely different spheres. From what I have read it appears that Coyne was in stage two or three and he was fired by a Vatican firmly entrenched at stage one. In spite of some of the steps that the Vatican has taken in the last century to make amends with science, I see this as a huge step backward.
I just do not understand why religion is so afraid of science. Contrary to books like Godless and A Jealous God I do not believe that science has the same animosity towards god. Granted there are exceptions, however for the most part I think scientists just treat religion as being irrelevant to their work. Science is based on physical laws and testability. Basically they take a logical positivist philosophy. Basically that if it isn't physically real then it isn't testable and is not the domain of science. Since they refuse to place an ultimate value judgment on it religion takes offense. I believe this offense is needless and irrational. From personal experience I can say that there came a tremendous peace both to my spirit and my intellect when I stopped trying to make the two worlds harmonize. When, if ever, will religion as a whole learn this lesson?

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Dating Strategy

Just for the record: I am not in the dating market and I haven’t been for 17 years. Nor do I plan to be in the dating market again for the rest of my life. Some recent events have got me pondering single life in the 21st Century.
With all of the weirdness out there I can only imagine how hard it would be for a girl to find a decent guy to date. The whole concept of picking up guys in bars just seems to me like just sifting through the garbage to find the best groceries. Wouldn’t it be neat to go somewhere to find some guys who where nice, compassionate, healthy, clean and not gay. You’d almost want to have a questionnaire of some sort to see if the guy you were interested in was even worth further consideration. Well wouldn’t it be great if you could get somebody else to ask those embarrassing questions for you and sort of rubber stamp which guys passed so you didn’t have to waste any time with the rest? This is exactly what I think happened to me last Thursday.

At least once a month I donate platelets at the Red Cross in a process called aphaeresis. I’ve been doing this for years but it has taken a special importance to me since my niece and a good friend of my son’s had been diagnosed with cancers. Before you are allowed to donate they take you into a small room and ask about 30 questions to try to determine how clean your blood is. “Have you ever, even once, had $3x with a woman who has taken drugs with a needle?” This is one of the more tame questions. Suffice it to say that if the nurses allow you anywhere near the tables then you are clean, you are not a drug user, you have no body piercings, no dirty tattoos, you are charitable and not gay. At this point I was officially rubber stamped. So when the other donor came in and saw me already with the needles in my arm donating she just had to make the judgment of whether or not she thought I was cute.
After we’d both finished donating she dropped a few subtle hints that she was interested. It was only after we were in the elevator that she realized her one flaw in her dating strategy. The nurses did not prescreen the married guys. They put blankets on us while were donating so we don’t get too cold and frequently our hands are covered, so she wouldn’t have been able to see my ring. Perhaps we should let the nurses in on this little flaw so they can put the single guys on one side of the room and the happily married guy on the other. Just add it to the questions that they already ask us.
So to the cute, early twenties, brunette who gave platelets last Thurday. Good luck on your search. I hope you find a nice charitable guy who is clean, not gay and also not already married. I admire your strategy and I’m sure it’ll work better than bar hopping.

After relating this story to my wife she decided to blog it too. Here is her version.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Inbox Myths

With the advent of email the world became much more in touch. Information that a decade ago would have taken days to cross the planet now only takes a few bulk emails. For the most part this is a very good thing. However, along with this benefit comes the redheaded step child of email, the completely unresearched mass forwarded urban legend.

Do any of these sound familiar? Oliver North was afraid of Osama bin Laden back in the 80s. Mars is closer than it has been in centuries. Fred Rogers and Captain Kangaroo were decorated war heroes. The 9-11 flights were picked because of their graphic significance if you change the font to wingdings in Word. If they don’t then you may be the only person on the planet who has not been in the loop on the latest email legends.

I’m consistently amazed at how otherwise sensible, rational people will believe and forward on anything that shows up in their inbox. A few years ago I just used to erase these little annoyances as soon as I saw them. But for the last couple of years I’ve felt this need to research the data and forward the correct information to everybody on the lists. I frequent several websites that research these legends. I also subscribe to an email newsletter from that unbiasedly verifies political claims. I’ve heard it repeated in the political arena that “a lie unchallenged becomes the truth in 24 hours”. Perhaps it is this desire to set the record straight that motivates me.

I’ve had a few people criticize my actions by assuming that I was taking a political position on the email one way or the other. If I state that an email critical of Democrats is not factual that does not mean that I support the Democrats. If I show sources that Fred Rogers was never in the Marine Corp that does not mean that I think any less of Mr. Rogers or the Marine Corp. More often than not the position that I am taking is simply, this is not a fact and I will not use it justify my opinions one way or the other. Many times the facts I uncover go against my personal beliefs and desires. I mean I would love if Mars was going to appear as big as the moon next month but the truth is it just isn’t gonna happen. I just want to make sure that if I take any actions or form any opinions based on these emails that they are based on fact.

I guess my only point here is to say don’t trust everything you see in your inbox. And if you want to find out if something is true or not just send the email and I’ll do my best to ferret out the truth.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Voodoo Science

I just finished reading the latest in my series of books exploring the complicated mix of science, theology, and politics. Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud by Robert Park. There are lots of silly pseudoscience claims out there and Robert Park addresses many of the most common ideas. Topics ranged from homeopathy and perpetual motion machines to EMF causing cancer and US military skunk works.

Without throwing so much science into the discussion that he would bore anybody but a physicist, Parks is clearly able to explain why the claims of homeopathy are impossible to prove either true or false. He follows the same path with many other pseudoscience claims such as cold fusion and gravity shields. If for this alone the book would have been well worth my time.

Park goes one step further. He explains, as he calls it in his subtitle, the road from foolishness to fraud. He believes that most proponents of these pseudoscience claims start out with good intentions but not necessarily with the most careful science to support it. After multiple attempts to gain credibility and validate their claims at some point he believes they realize their mistake and either choose to own up to it and take a few lumps or to continue on knowing that they are perpetuating a fraud. Personally I believe that most of the new age medicine claims like acupuncture, homeopathy, and reiki fall into this category. I believe that at one point most of the practitioners believed what they were peddling. They then chose to either ignore the mountain of evidence against it and continue in their self deception or accept the evidence but keep selling their craft as if it is science. Either way they are deceiving someone, if only themselves.

The big surprise to me in this book was his attack on the manned space flight program. I’ve always believed that Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, the shuttle and the ISS were first and foremost political adventures rather than scientific expeditions. Park analyses all of the scientific gains we have achieved from manned space flight and concludes that there is not one single scientific discovery that could not have been made cheaper and exponentially safer by sending unmanned probes. Park admits that the science behind manned space flight is real and therefore should not be classified as “voodoo” however due to the manipulation of science by politicians and the ultimate uselessness of manned space flight he chose to include it in this book. Having always been a fan of manned space flight this chapter was particularly eye opening.
I really enjoyed reading this. Because it challenged my beliefs in certain areas I will remember it longer than books that simply confirm what I've already believed.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Confirmation Bias

In the past few years I have taken several philosophy and critical thinking courses and read many books on the subjects. I also spend a fair amount of time reading the interaction of politics, theology and science. Time and time again I see in my reading and in my life experiences that one of the biggest critical thinking errors that people make is that of confirmation bias. That is when you accept the evidence that supports your beliefs and you disregard the evidence that contradicts your beliefs. For instance, if I believed that lottery numbers had some cosmic significance then it would confirm my belief to know that on September 11th, 2001 the winning numbers on the New York lottery was 9-1-1. But in order to accept that I need to reject the thousand of other events that do not confirm my numerologist beliefs. What were the number in Oklahoma when the federal building was bombed? How about the numbers during the first attack on the WTC? etc. etc.

To ease you minds a little I am not a numerologist. However, I have been very guilty in the past of confirmation bias. When a scientific breakthrough would prove certain dietary claims that went hand in hand with the Word of Wisdom I would accept those claims to justify my faith in the Word of Wisdom. In the process however, I would also have to reject certain other evidences like the studies that shows that a glass of wine each day can have a positive effect on your health. I enjoyed following the expeditions of Thor Hyerdal who built reed boats and sailed them from Africa to South America. They tended to support the idea that Lehi’s voyage was possible. But to accept this evidence it also meant that I had to ignore the mountain of evidence in South America that shows no link at all to the ancient middle-east.

Many scientists refer to the brain as a belief engine. It takes input from our senses and then turns that input into beliefs that will help us predict and cope with our chaotic world. When we see one event that follows another our “belief engine” makes a connection. The more often that sequence of events is seen then the more solidly that connection is made. By seeing crops grow after planting seeds and watering them you teach your brain that watering seeds causes crops to grow. The problem our brain has is that just because there is a correlation that does not mean there is necessarily a cause and effect relationship. If we continue to believe that this correlation is a cause and effect relationship we end up with weird beliefs like lucky bowling shirts and other illogical beliefs.

Looking at my own decision with a critical eye has helped me a lot. It has forced me to stop wasting effort on paths that will only lead to disappointment and it has helped me to focus on the aspects of my life that really make a difference. No longer am I wasting time trying to figure out why my lucky bowling shirt is lucky. I have just accepted that it isn’t and my game has improved. By no means am I claiming that I have eliminated confirmation bias. However, being consciously aware of why I choose to accept certain beliefs has really helped me to reach a mental peace and make sense of my surroundings.

Just for the record, the “lucky bowling shirt” is a metaphor for other events in my life. I bowl about once a month and I don’t remember which shirt I had on any of those times. I rarely bowl over 100 even with the kiddy bumpers up so I don’t think I could call any of those shirts lucky. :)