Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Blog improvements

For the first blog of 2007 several bloggers were taking the first line of each of their post throughout the year and combining them into one long, nonsense post. I did this as a response to another blog. You can read it here.

Even though it was just meant to be a nonsense post, I found it to be rather revealing. First of all I realized that I start far too many blogs in the same format. Perhaps I need to vary my style a little bit more than I have in the past.

I also noticed that about half of my posts were book reviews. This caused me to stop posting reviews for a few weeks. Did I intend for this to just become a book review site? Were books the only source of philosophical inspiration that I was receiving? In reaction to my little nonsense blog I almost decided to stop posting book reviews altogether. Far too much of what I understand and causes me to feel alive comes from books. It would be insincere for me to stop posting reviews altogether. I will however, make a conscious effort to chronicle the other events in my life that give me cause to reflect and possibly wax philosophic. See my post on Astronomy as one such effort. My family is one source that I draw constant inspiration from that I have not been giving fair coverage in my blogs. I will strive to make the reader understand just how important my family is to me and I apologize to them for this oversight.

Monday, February 26, 2007


Knowing that I’m a compulsive reader, some friends and family members gave me a couple books for my birthday. I haven’t started reading either book yet, but I have given them both a cursory scan. Both books are non-fiction. One is a religion book and the other is a political opinion book. Both books are definitely in the genre of books that I like to read. Upon first glance I noticed a serious omission from one of the books that startled me. I’ve grown extremely used to the footnotes, works cited, and bibliographies in my books. They usually prompt me to consider other books as well as give me information on how to validate confirm the claims made in the book. Without these notes that would typically be expected in a political book I feel like I am either going to have to either just read the book as a political vent without any claims to being factually based, or I going to have to do more research to verify and validate the claims made in it. This book was written by one of the very talk show hosts that I stopped listening to because of his dramatic deviations from logic and reason. My first impulse is to read the book and attempt to add the footnotes that he’s missing as well as review it for logical fallacies and distortions. This may turn out to be much too daunting a task. Realistically, I will probably just read it for entertainment value and focus my efforts onto more seriously researched books. However, I’ll do my best to keep an open mind as I read it; even though the blatant lack of scholarship on this has set me off on the wrong foot.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Communion with the Infinite

Friday night I was out camping about 50 miles southeast of Atlanta. The lack of any nearby big cities made for a very impressive night sky. While most of the scouts and parents were busy trying to make the biggest fire possible a few of them noticed the sky and stopped to spend a little time with me looking through binoculars at the wonders above us. Even these few soon got a little bored at just staring at the sky. I was soon left alone to gaze into the heavens at my own speed.
Wanting to take advantage of the evening I tried to find a few celestial objects besides the typical, Orion, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. With my binoculars held steady by leaning against a tree I looked to the northwest and found the sideways M that identifies Cassiopeia. From there I looked a little to the west to find the constellation Andromeda. Just above the trees I found the couple of stars that form a very narrow V. Just to the right of that V should be the Andromeda Galaxy. I focused my binoculars and then shielded my eyes to prevent any stray light from entering. After a few minutes of patiently staring my eyes adjusted and the hazy light slowly reveled its spiral shape. Andromeda Galaxy is over 3 million light years away and it is one of the closest galaxies to our own Milky Way. The photons that were entering my binoculars were sent on their way 3 million years ago. I was literally seeing this distant galaxy how it appeared 3 million years ago. I was literally gazing into the past.
David O McKay defines spirituality as "..communion with the infinite." I'm sure that most people would interpret this with closing one's eyes and bowing your head. I find the same level of spirituality when I open my eyes and look up.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


For two years in High School I was on the debate team. Like many things that I’ve been involved with I really enjoyed it in spite of the fact that my performance was rather lack luster. At the debating competitions each team would either be positive or negative. Positive meant that you had a position that you were to attempt to persuade the judge to accept. You could prepare your case for months ahead of time and then present your facts and your arguments to the judge. The goal of the Negative team was to show evidence that contradict the case of the Positive team. Each team had the responsibility of making sure that they made their case logically and systematically. I typically choose to be on the negative side because it was more of a challenge. We were taught how to avoid rhetoric that seemed persuasive but was logically unstable. On the negative side it was a great tool for us to locate and exploit the other team’s logical blunders. I have still kept this skill and even more so than then I enjoy picking apart politician’s and pundit’s claims when they are not following even high school debating standards.
It is important to note hear that my personal position on the subject was irrelevant to what I would say in a Negative debate role. Going into a debate it was typical that all I would know about what was going to happen was that the year’s topic was say “public education”. I could then find myself speaking out against teaching creation in school or speaking out against banning the teaching of creation. As a negative team we didn’t have the choice. This forced us to focus on picking apart their logic and even looking for and presenting facts that challenge or even go against our personal beliefs. The important thing to remember is that it was not our opinions that were being judge but our logic and our procedure.
I’ve decided to stop listening to political talk radio. For one thing I’m just sick and tired of hearing the same diatribe over and over ad nauseam. It would be one thing if they gave new information or a fresh perspective-at one time they did- but they just don’t anymore. Recently I heard one syndicated conservative host criticize every single program that the Democrats had proposed. He claimed that they were all short sighted plans without any long term goals. He then went on to decry the lack of long term planning on the liberal side of the aisle. Then when it came to another issue, global warming, he praised the conservative side’s short term approach claiming that the Democrats were being too alarmist and that no action was needed at this time. So his argument that all their claims are all too short-sighted quickly breaks down.
This host also has the opinion that global warming is actually happening but that the studies linking it to human causes are not sufficient to change our behavior. This is a very moderate approach and a smart approach that appeals to many. The scientific evidence that the climate is warming is overwhelming but the determination of cause is a greyer arena. Well last week the temperature dropped down to something like 25 degrees. He sarcastically pointed out that this cold spell must be due to global warming. By pointing to one day in one city that was lower than average temperature he expected his listeners to close the case on the whole debate. First of all this is inconsistent with his stated position on the subject. He has stated before that it is happening but that it’s just not being caused by man. If we accept his one cold day as proof that it isn’t happening he has destroyed his own position on the topic. Secondly, this argument is a logical fallacy called appeal to allegorical evidence. Just because he can tell one story to the contrary that doesn’t prove or disprove the entire claim. Two weeks ago it was in the 70s. That one day doesn’t prove that global warming is happening any more than the one day he picked proves that it isn’t. I can show you a picture of one skinny supermodel, but that doesn’t disprove the claim that Americans in general are getting fatter.
I think that some of my friends and family avoid talking about politics and controversial issues with me. Regardless of their opinions I enjoy discussing and debating just about any issue. However I tend to revert back to my debating roles and I hold their argument to high standards. Just because I may point out the logical fallacies in you argument does not necessarily mean that I personally disagree with you. On the contrary, I hold positions that I agree with to higher standards of proof. I would much rather hear a well supported logical argument that I totally disagree with personally than an emotional argument without logic for a position on which I happen to agree.

Thursday, February 01, 2007


Last week my boss gave me a ticket to a motivational conference. Normally I’d have avoided such an event but after looking at the speakers I noticed that a few of them would be worth putting up with all the rest no matter how corny. So in order to hear John Smoltz, Rudy Giuliani and Colin Powell I had to sit through Zig Ziglar, Michael Eisner and a few other glorified sales pitches for real estate investing software and the latest stock inventing strategy.
After Michael Eisner bored us all to tears Zig Ziglar had the task of waking everybody back up. His performance was just a high energy mix of jokes, personal anecdotes, and deliberate placement of all the required motivational catch phrases, synergy, actualize, step outside your comfort zone, etc, etc ad nauseam. But then he really had to annoy me by taking the lecture in a different direction. I guess he thought it would be motivational but I went on a diatribe about how “evolution is a sick joke” and “you were intelligently designed”. I guess from Zig’s perspective it is impossible to be motivated unless you believe in a Baptist interpretation of creation and you are capable of ignoring all the evidence that evolution happened and is happening. I was sitting next to a friend who is Catholic and in front of me were a few people who, by their dress, I suspected were Muslim. Zig seems to have needlessly gone out on a limb to offend a large group of the audience.
Perhaps the problem here is that Zig confuses religiosity and spirituality. In Zig’s view they seem to be the same thing but in many ways they are drastically difference. I think it is very rare that somebody’s spirituality lines up I lock step with their religion. I would argue that even atheists have a hope that the future will be better and they strive to make this world a better place while they are here. I think this is a very spiritual response. One doesn’t have to deny Evolution in order to be spiritual.
I enjoyed Larry King’s comments and Rudy Giuliani’s remarks but the keynote speaker for me was Gen. Colin Powell. It was very interesting to hear the firsthand stories of his transition from the cold war to peace with Russia. He told of a meeting with Gorbachev in the late eighties when he went to Moscow planning on being very combative and defensive. After sitting with his arms crossed and refusing to believe that glasnosts and perestroika were anything more than elaborate strategies to catch the US off guard, Gorbachev leaned across the table and said in English, “General, I’m afraid you are just going to have to find another enemy.” To hear a commander of our army give praise to a former enemy for his part in breaking down the iron curtain took guts and a great amount of intellectual honesty. Most Republicans just blindly repeat the mantra “Ronald Reagan single handedly ended the cold war.” Ronny did play a major part in forcing the Soviet’s hand. However, with a less sympathetic adversary Ronny’s tactics could have caused a drastically different result. I really enjoyed this man of war’s transformation to a man of peace.
Just a side note: I left the conference with the realization of just how screwed up the American election system is. I agree more with the politics of Giuliani and Powell than I have with anybody that has tried to be President in the last 20 years. However I doubt that either of them will ever get a nomination. They are too balanced and moderate. Under the current system you have to court the extremes of the party in order to get the votes needed in the primaries. Then once you’ve locked in the nomination you spend the next could months trying to convince the other side that you’re really a moderate. Meanwhile the true moderates who didn’t play a deception game in the primaries are reduced to campaign fund raising speeches.