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."