Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Cool Poem

“We have the nicest garbage man,

He empties out our garbage can.

He’s just as nice as he can be,

He always stops and talks to me.

My mother doesn’t like his smell,

But mother doesn’t know him well.”

President Dahlquist, the General Young Men’s President quoted this neat little poem at a fireside last night. Unfortunately, he didn’t state the author. It sounds like something Shel Silverstein would write. If anybody can confirm or deny this I’d love to give the author credit.

Monday, May 28, 2007

A Day With the Kids

Woke up early this morning and loaded the kids in the truck and headed off to Sand Rock in Alabama. Victoria needed a day off so she stayed home and just chilled. I never set my hopes too high when I take the kids out. My goals are typically stay safe, keep the kids happy and try to get some climbing in. Today I was able to get all three as well as another accomplished. Aaron and Rachel did very well and Noah did pretty respectable for only his second time on rope too. One thing I was really proud of is that Aaron completed most of the requirements for his Climbing Merit Badge.
After we’d climbed a couple routes we met a very nice couple who were riding the trails around Sand Rock on horseback. In response to my girls saying, look at the pretty horses, Daddy, they stepped down and graciously gave the kids a quick ride around on horseback.
Later on we met up with a couple Georgia firemen who were climbing. They put up with the kids and actually seemed to enjoy the company and I even got to top-rope a 5.10a.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Thy Kingdom Come

When I’m reading a book the author will frequently reference another book. Whether they just refer to the book, take quotes from it, or unapologetically have a section titled “books that I recommend” one way or another they peak my interest in reading another book while I am reading theirs. Sometimes, friends and family members will recommend books that sound similar to others that I have read. Occasionally, my attention is brought to certain book as a direct challenge to my current beliefs. A few time I’ve had books recommended as responses to blog posting of other books that I’ve read. After this new book is brought to my attention my typical response is to log onto my local library website and reserve it. Frequently I also reserve just about everything else by the same author. By the time the book arrives at the library and I get my email that it’s there I have forgotten which of the methods above prompted me to read it in the first place. Such is the case with the book I read yesterday and this morning.
I had a different than normal day at work. I was asked to meet a technician out at a subdivision and be available in case he had any concerns in building one of my jobs. Much if this time just involved me waiting in my truck and answering the occasional question. We also deviated from our normal Friday routine of trucking the kids over to Granny’s to spend the night. All of this allowed for more time to just sit back and relax with a good book.
I’m not sure how I found this book but I’m glad I did. The book is Thy Kingdom Come an Evangelical’s Lament How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America by Randal Balmer.
Balmer is an Evangelical Christian and a contributing Editor of Christianity Today. He has found a very comfortable balance of politics, religion, and science. I agree with most of his opinions about where the compromise should be made if there is a conflict among the three. I have a few differences with him in the area of public education but nothing that would stop us from having a very cordial discussion on the topic. Outside of that most of his opinions mirror my own, although Blamer expresses them far more eloquently than I could hope to do.
If for no other reason this book is worth the read for the detailed history of religion and politics in the new world. The chapter titled Where Have All the Baptists Gone details the formation of the religion by John Williams and follows it right up to the present, pointing out how dissimilar and directly contradictory they two seem.
Other chapters go on to detail the many positons taken by the religious right and how they seem to go against the position that you’d expect from Biblical teachings. Abortion, the environment, divorce homosexuality, capital punishment, torture etc, Balmer explains the Religious Right’s position, and hypocrisy, on all of these issues and more.
The best part of this book is not the specific accusations, but the perspective. Unlike other books Balmer is not an outsider with a grudge against a group that he in no longer affiliated. He is deeply involved in the Evangelical movement and is doing his best to call them to repentance and get them back on a course that he feels is much closer to the true teaching of the gospel. Unlike Strobel’s book Balmer does not attempt to make his points through statistics or through science. His most frequent source used to criticize the movement is the New Testament and the teaching of Jesus Christ. I like his strategy and Blamer uses it as skillfully as I would expect from a Yale Divinity School professor.
As he points out in the first paragraphs of his conclusion, most of those who really need to listen to and respond to this book will likely resort to claims that Balmer is not really a Christian and attempt to “kick him out of the club”, so to speak. This is very unfortunate. Agree or disagree with his conclusions, Blamer teaches us that as a Country we still have a lot of work to do to truly apply the teaching of Christ in our lives.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Case for a Creator part II

In the past year I have read two books that had the premise of providing proof that the universe has a Creator. Although I took issue with many of his conclusions The Language of God by Francis Collins was hands down the better of the two books. In The Case for a Creator it is obvious that Lee Strobel set out with his conclusion and then set out to prove it.

Collins is a scientist and understands the definition of evidence and the logical process that science follows. Strobel doesn’t seem to understand the scientific method or what constitutes evidence. He makes generalizations about atheists being nihilistic and immoral without any evidence to support these claims. He demonstrates his lack of understanding of evolution, natural selection and Darwinism by treating the three words as synonyms. They are not.

What Strobel seems to believe is proof of God is simply gaps in our current understanding. By pointing out disputed concerns in current evolutionary theory Strobel asserts that scientists are in disagreement as to the entire process. Nothing could be further from the truth. Strobel also quotes statements made by Carl Sagan in his book Cosmos and then shows that scientist disagree with his conclusions. He didn’t bother to point out that Sagan himself had gone against that same theory years ago. At the very least Strobel is not working with the most current information. At the worst, he is maliciously mining for details that are seem more damning to science without any further research. I seriously doubt many of Strobel’s readers would be aware of this. In fact, I believe he was counting on their ignorance.

Strobel has several chapters devoted to what he, and others, call the fine tuning of the universe; the privileged planet, the evidence of biological information systems, the evidence of physics, the evidence of cosmology, and the evidence of consciousness. Far from being evidence of a creator these chapters build upon each other to show that Strobel has no understanding of the anthropic principle. The fact that humans exist and can have a discussion about whether or not there is a creator proves that we must have consciousness. The fact that we have consciousness proves that we are alive. This in turn proves that we live on a planet which can support life, which in turn proves that we are in a solar system that can create planets. All this proves that were are in a universe that is capable of creating planets. As an outside observer placing a bet on whether life would be created if a random universe were created then this series of events would seem rather improbable. But the fact that we do exist only proves that, no matter how improbable, it has happened at least once. For instance, What if I were to make a prediction that the next time I go drive through my subdivision I will see a green Ferrari with yellow tires? On its face these seems to a very improbable event. However, what if I own a green Ferrari with yellow tires and I take this car out on my search? Can I step out of the car, look back and claim that the existence of that car is still improbable? No I can’t. The same holds true in the Universe we have to take into account that we do exist and so calculating how improbable our existence is proves nothing either way. Strobel’s 100+ pages dedicated to his misunderstanding of the anthropic principle do no better at proving a creator than my green Ferrari does.
I suppose that those who are true believers of Young-Earth creationism would simply add their "amen" to Strobel's book. I felt no such urge. For the record I enjoy reading books of faith. I just have a problem when faith oversteps its bounds and attempts to manipulate science. Many creationist would claim that scientist are attempting to destroy god. There are a few who do exactly that. However, the vast majority of scientists simply feel that religion is a matter of faith and is irrelevant to science. Personally, I think that most religions would be better off taking this same strategy with science. It is simply irrelevant to matters of faith.

Cool Website

I just wanted to let people know about a cool new website that is just getting off of the ground. The Encyclopedia of Life
The goal of the site is to have a page like the sample page here on polar bears about every single type of living thing on Earth. As an amateur science nut and a father of four I can see visiting this site frequently to satisfy my own curiosity as well as to assist the kids with homework and projects.
At first they wanted to do only living species but decided to eventually expand to include extinct species as well. Their thinking was that if they didn't have T-Rex included that they would loose the 8-year old male demographic.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Case for a Creator

I just started reading one of the books that was recommended to me by my Young-Earth Creationist friend. The Case for a Creator is actually Lee Strobel's third book in the series however, it was the first one that the library had available.
I've read the first four chapters and so far I haven't seen anything that approaches the goal of the book's subtitle, A Journalist Investigates Scientific Evidence That points Toward God. The books that I've been reading lately are science based books attempting to explain or disprove the concept of religion and reason. These books have been easy to follow because they do their best to stick to logical rules and orders. The very concept of emotional arguments are avoided for the most part. This book is dramatically different in that it is not written by a scientist, it is written by a journalist. Unlike scientists, journalists don't have to make a solid case backed up by evidence. It is enough for them to throw out several inconsistencies in a story, find some high profile "experts"to testify for your side and suddenly you have throw enough doubt on your subject that you have a story that will sell your newspaper. Strobel is using this strategy very well. I don't mean for this to sound like I am dismissing his message just because he's a journalist. That is not the case. I'm simply pointing out the differences in his rhetorical style from that to which I've grown accustomed.
Strobel points to a list of one hundred scientist who have doubts about evolution. On its face this may appear to be a solid case against. They point out some valid gaps in our understanding of the process. The insinuation with this list seems to be that an increasing number of scientists are abandoning Darwin's theories in favor of something else. I would recommend that anyone convinced by this list of 100 scientist also check out this list of scientist who still support Darwin's Theories. The catch with this list is that in order to join it your first name had to be Steve and they still got thousands more than Strobel's list.
List is the second book in a row that I've read that addresses Stephen J. Gould's idea of NOMA, Non-Overlapping MAgisteria. This is the idea that science and religion exist in ven diagrams that look like two non overlapping circles. Some questions are supposed to be answered by reliegion and others by science. As long as you use the right field to answer each question you will not have any paradoxes. The truth is that there is a significant overlap. Dawkins suggests that we chuck religion all together. So far, Strobel seems to be in the opposite corner preaching that we chuck science. Personally I don't think that either answer is the way to go. Rarely in life are things such a perfect dichotomy.
So far Strobel's strategy seems to be to simply appealing to ignorance. He has presented no evidence per se. He just points to gaps in our current understanding and implies that God fills those gaps.
I guess why I'm having trouble with this book so far is that his stated goal in the subtitle is a logical search for scientific evidence and so far I haven't seen any. One hundred scientist who disagree with evolution is not evidence. It's an appeal to popularity. Finding gaps in the current understanding is just an appeal to ignorance. By subtitling his book, A Journalist Investigates Scientific Evidence That Points Toward God, Stobel accepted the rules of science and should stick to them if he wants to be taken seriously. Had his subtitle been something like, A Journalist Details his Faithful Pursuit of God, then I would not hold him to the same scientific standard.
In the spirit of giving him a fair shake I will continue to read this book and give a complete review when I finish.

Misinterpreting Parables

When I was reading the God Delusion, Dawkins pointed out the arrogance of many Christian religions. One of the examples given was the Jehovah’s Witness belief that only 144,000 will make it to heaven. He also points to one Baptist website that asks for volunteers from the “tribulation saints” to continue hosting and updating the site after the Rapture. Both groups arrogantly believe that they will be in the chosen group. I decided to keep my eyes open for similar examples of this type of arrogance in LDS circles.
I didn’t have to wait long. Yesterday in Sunday School we were studying the parables in Luke 15, the parable of the lost sheep, the woman who lost the coin, and the prodigal’s son. After discussing them for half an hour it occurred to me that with one notable exception everybody who spoke up was relating to the wrong character in the story. In the lost sheep story they were relating to the shepherd, in the coin story they were relating to the woman, and in the prodigal’s son story they were relating to the father or the good brother. All of these perspectives are not what Christ intended. In Luke 15:2 the reason for the parables is clearly established. The Scribes and Pharisees are accusing him of sinning by eating with sinners. He gives all three parable to explain why He is eating with the sinners. Christ is the shepherd and we are the one lost sheep. Christ is the woman and we are the lost coin. Christ is the prodigal and we are the son who fell away.
This struck a personal note with me because for years I resented the parable of the prodigal’s son. I always felt like I was the son who didn’t fall away and nobody was rejoicing for me. Those around me who had more obvious struggles with the church were celebrated while I was just consistently doing what I thought I was supposed to without any recognition. It was only after hearing a talk by Jeffery R. Holland in conference a few years ago that I realized that I was being arrogant and assuming that I was the “good” brother. Unless you are without sin then the only way to interpret all of these parables is as the one who fell away. If you have been looking at these parables from the perspective of the shepherd, the woman or the prodigal, seriously ask yourself if you feel qualified to step into the role that Christ was clearly saying was His.

Friday, May 18, 2007

The God Delusion

My review of The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

Several years ago in the mist of the whole "Harry Potter books are satanic" craze I decided that rather than base my opinion of the books on the hearsay of others that I should find out for myself. I have since read all of the series and do not share the opinions of the doomsayers. It is with this same attitude that I decided to read Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. In the wake of the terrorist attacks of 9-11, the Oklahoma City bombings and other religiously based irrational acts Dawkins’ book gives us many highly thought provoking questions to consider.
Dawkins’ expertise is in the field of biology. For decades he has been somewhat of a science superstar in England. In my opinion Dawkins has done as much for the field of biology as Carl Sagan did for astronomy. This book is best when it focuses on the evolutionary causes and effects of human and animal behaviors. Chapter after chapter details the likely origins of many of our social behaviors, including religion. Far from being overly bogged down in scientific jargon and Latin genus species names his decriptions and analogies of how natural selection shapes the world are amazingly clear and easy to follow. If you were to read this book looking for a proof that God did not design the universe it is likely that these chapters would confirm that belief.
Focusing primarily on Islam, in the next chapters Dawkins creates a very graphic picture of our modern world. He details many archaic laws and traditions that are based on religious dogma of Islam. Example after example show that, at least in practice, Islam is far from the religion of peace that many apologists assert. It was hard not to be repulsed by the influence of this religion. These chapters seemed very similar to stories that I’ve read in books by Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity.
If any Christian conservative were singing Dawkins’ praises after the sections on Islam they would find them quickly rethinking that when he continues on to Christianity to decry the offenses committed in the name of Christ. Deliberately avoiding the cliché references to the crusades he paints an equally chilling picture of what life would be like under a Christian theocracy. Admittedly most offense are not to the level of the Taliban but, Dawkins believes that this is only because Christianity has not yet gained the complete government control that the Taliban had.
Many scientist are content to accept that science and religion are “non-overlapping magisterial”. Meaning that science should not attempt to prove or disprove matters of faith and religions should not be attempting to decide matters of science. For the most part I share this philosophy. As I have pointed out in other posts the problem typically comes when religion and science are not content to let each other co-exist in peace. When a religious person take offense at the age of the Earth posted on signs at the Grand Canyon and attempts to get the geologists to change the signs to reflect an age consistent with a literal interpretation on the Old Testament you have a conflict. There are multiple such conflicts, the most inflammatory of these being abortion. The point is that there will always be at least some conflict no matter how hard the parties try to avoid it. Dawkins suggests that the only way to truly and permanently avoid this conflict is to abandon religion all together. Dawkins and I parted ways here, if only slightly. Although I felt that many of his explanations were very persuasive I still think that he is attempting to apply logical proofs to matters of faith. Faith is, by definition, illogical. Spoken like a strict positivist Dawkins make the claim that if something is not testable by empirical means then it, in this case religion, should be avoided. Personally, I think that Dawkins has not looked at the other edge of that same sword. A person of faith could just as well claim that because science does require evidence then it should be avoided with the same zeal as Dawkins would avoid religion.
In spite of the title and the examples that I’ve stated I did not feel as other reviews have that the book was nasty and mean-spirited. Quite the opposite is true. I have no doubt that Dawkins wrote this book with a sincere heart and a genuine concern for the future of the human race. It took me months to read the book because I wanted to really give it a far shake and not just a cursory read. After I finished reading it through I checked out a CD copy and listened to it at work. Dawkins read it himself so the original feeling an inflection that he, the author, intended was represented. He is British and those who think that British accents sound snobby will not be disappointed. I have never felt this way so I did not get that at all. In fact his gentle voice made me at ease and in many ways reassured me that what I had read earlier was not meant in a gruff tone at all.
Although I disagree with some of his more extreme conclusions I really enjoyed this book. That being said, I would not recommend it to anybody who is very sensitive about having their beliefs challenged, because it definitely will. The very fact that I have been reading it has made for a few awkward moments with friends and family members. Unlike many I do not have to agree 100% with an author in order to give his work a fair hearing. As uncomfortable as they are to hear, many of the points raised in the book will not be easy to ignore, nor should they be.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Closed-Minded Liberal

I am a closed-minded liberal. Or at least that is what I was accused of recently. I tend to take any criticism very personally regardless of the source. So resisting the childish urge to ad hominem attack I looked inward to see if there was any truth to the matter. I’ll break the accusation into its two parts and analyze them both separately. Am I closed-minded? Am I a liberal? Today I’d like to address my alleged closed-mindedness.

If I were to find any evidence to support that I am closed-minded this would be a very damning blow for me personally. To me a closed-minded person is one who restricts the information that they allow into their mind. Or when some stray bit of information that they disagree with makes it into their mind they categorically renounce it without subjecting it to any internal debate at all. I have always prided myself in being very open-minded. I absolutely enjoy exposing myself to essays, books, movies and art that presents opposing views to my own. A cursory scan of my previous posts here and posts on will show that I pretty much will read anything if I feel there is any chance that it will bring me to a better understanding of my own opinions or at least a better understanding of why the other side may feel the way they do.
There was a time in my life, not all that long ago, when I must now confess that I was very closed minded in both matters of religion and politics. Whenever a point that contradicted my faith was brought up I simply resorted to the standard defensive tool kit employed by most apologists. “The truth with always have its persecutors.” “That scripture is only figurative. You’re taking it out of context.” “Well, consider the source.” etc. I now understand the logical problems with these responses, but they sufficed me at the time. I mentally moved the idea off the table and would consider no further debate.
Thanks to an incident a few years ago, I believe that I have shed many of those apologetic reflexes. In fact many would, and have, claimed that I have gone too far to understand the other side.
While preparing for a new church assignment to teach my son’s Sunday School class I concentrated on memorizing the 13 Articles of Faith of the LDS church. These have been modified slightly since I first learned them as a child and I wanted to make sure I was teaching the students the most up to date versions. Most of the modifications were relatively harmless adaptation to more modern language. Shortly after I had committed them to memory the Church magazine, the Ensign, published the Wentworth letter. This is a letter written by Joseph Smith to a Chicago journalist detailing some of the beliefs of the LDS church. It is also, according to LDS church history, the origin of the Articles of Faith. I was glad to see the letter published and I looked forward to taking it to my class so they could see the Articles of Faith in the form that I had memorized them when I was their age. However, to my shock and dismay I found that the article had revised this historical document to reflect the newer versions of the articles. How can they do that? This was a historical document. It had been published in multiple newspapers at the time.
In a quest to find a copy of the original Articles of Faith I scanned conference talks on My goal was to find some other reference that read as I had remembered them. I became very disillusioned when I found talks that were thirty-years old and, like the Wentworth letter in the Ensign, had been updated to reflect the more recent forms of the Articles of Faith. At that moment I had a chilling image of the “historians” in Orwell's 1984 revising and updating the newspapers to “newspeak”. Frustrated I shared my concerns with my wife and she lovingly agreed to help me sort this out.
Until I went to Victoria I had confined my search to official LDS sites. Like a good Mormon is supposed to I, avoided anything that might even have a chance of saying something “anti-Mormon.” Victoria did not feel this need to stick to the official sites and supplied me with site after site that showed the multiple progressions of the Articles of Faith. I also learned that there were originally 14 articles rather than 13 and that Joseph was not the original author of them. Since I now had evidence that the church was polishing up its history, from that moment on I became obsessed with understanding the “real” history of the church and not just the sanitized version that is put into our lesson manuals. Since then I take everything I hear from the pulpit with more than a few grains of salt. This new open attitude towards studying theology has caused me to grow spiritually in way that I never have before. I credit Victoria for showing me that it was okay to look outside the narrow box that the official sites and books. Those were the first steps on my journey towards making my logical brain deal with and make sense of the paradoxes that were before me when it came to church doctrine and behavior.

I share the previous story not to challenge anybody else’s faith or to suggest that you should take the same path. I intended simply to illustrate my progression from being relatively closed-minded to a more open-minded approach to studying this subject. I have no doubt that many members of the church would not support my extra-curricular studies. Although it has not been easy, it has been a very stimulating and uplifting journey. Others would likely not receive the same results.

It has been my experience that when somebody accuses me of a certain trait that they are projecting a fear that they may harbor that same trait. High profile cases like the homophobic Ted Haggard’s encounter with a male prostitute just reinforce this in my mind. Granted I don’t think that this is a universal law. However, I have seen the correlation too often to write it off completely. A previous supervisor accused me of being too defensive about everything. I agreed with him because I realize that I get very defensive sometimes. Later on another coworker commented that this supervisor had accused him of being defensive too. Recognizing that these correlations are not necessarily causations, I have simply seen too many instances where people parrot the same criticisms they are accused of in attacking others.
The recent issue that caused me to be called a closed-minded liberal was a debate on the subject of Young-Earth Creationism and Biblical Literalism. As a result of the discussion I dismissed both of these on the grounds that they are not supported by evidence. My accuser then went on to dismiss the work of millions of geologists, biologists, anthropologists, astronomers, and physicists as just being part of the liberal conspiracy to conceal the truth about God. He quoted one physicist and one journalist as his basis for his beliefs. My immediate response was to stop by the library and put every book by both men on hold so I could read them and evaluate the claims on their merits. I thought about challenging my accuser to read an equally extreme book against his position. In retrospect I think that this rhetorical name calling was not used logically. I would suspect that he throws out the closed-minded liberal argument against anyone who does not mirror his own opinions. Considering his beliefs he must use this defense rather often. After considering the event I just wonder what else I could have done to show that disagreement does not equate to closed-mindedness. I heard his arguments and asked to read the evidence. Is there possibly a way I could have been more open-minded to his comments?

I share these events and revelations only as an attempt at introspection. I do not want anything in my character that impedes my relationships with my fellow beings. How can I get better? If I am indeed closed-minded, I have not dismissed that option, what steps can I take beside what I have been already doing?

Look for a future introspective post to evaluate whether or not I am guilty as charged on the remaining count of being a liberal.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Yesterday, Victoria and I were having a discussion about the day’s events. She was sharing her experiences about the 100+ educational videos that she’d checked out from the library. I was telling her about my apheresis appointment and giving her a breakdown of some of the conversations that I’d had with coworkers. Then out of the blue she asked if I thought that other people think we are weird. I think what brought it up is that several times in the past couple of months we’ve gotten strange responses when we’ve told other people little facts about or family. The short answer to her question is simply, “Yes, Absolutely”. If by weird she means not in the same rut and pattern as most of the rest of the world I gladly and unapologetically proclaim my family’s weirdness. Here are just a few of the many things that make us weird:

We don’t have cable and we can’t pick up anything but one PBS station at home and everybody is cool with it.

The only programs we watch with any regularity at all are Mythbusters and Dirty Jobs.

The kids actually fight over whose turn it is to pick the next TV program and both options are educational; Cyber-chase vs. Eyewitness.

Our 12-year old has well defined political, social and religious views that are different than his parents’.

I have read more non-fiction books this week than I have watched football games in my entire life.

I have no desire to ever play a fantasy game of any sport.

On vacations we are known to stop and take pictures of cemeteries for hours.

Victoria wears no jewelry except for a wedding ring and an occasional necklace that we picked up on the Navaho reservation that may have set us back $15.00.

When she’s just killing time Victoria will do elaborate Photoshop layouts of family pictures, sometimes not even our family.

When I’m just killing time I like to surf for philosophical and political debates.

We both enjoy discussing the hard questions about life that most others simply avoid.

Our 6-year old correctly uses introductory words to his sentences like theoretically, presumably, and technically.

Our 9-year old would rather get a blank book for a journal than a book that already had words in it. She is a published author and spends one week each summer learning how to improve her writing ability at a local college.

We have a medium sized three bedroom house but on a typical night all four kids sleep in the same twin bed in the boy’s room.

I’ve had calls at work from the kids to remind me to pick up some tofu for dinner. “Remember to get two packages ‘cuz we like to double up on the portions.”

I could continue on ad nausea. My only point here is that I would not change one thing that I’ve mentioned. My concern is that many if not all of these issues may distance us from other members of our family and friends.
People have a natural tendency to be drawn to things that are similar to them. Perhaps an acquaintance of ours who loves football, online poker and never misses an episode of the favorite soap opera might understandably feel a little bit hesitant to try to get to know us. I fully recognize that this is a two-way street. I too would be at somewhat of a loss as to what to talk about with such a person. In spite of what each of us might perceive as weird I think it is best that all parties continue the attempt. The illusion that our difference matter more than our common humanity can be very dangerous and isolating.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Plastic Blood

This is one of the coolest science articles I have read in a long time!
Plastic Blood
This is a subject that is dear to my heart. (pun intended) I spend two hours every other Monday with a needle in each arm donating platelets. As I write this I have just washed the iodine off of my arms from today's donation.
Although, as I understand it, the plastic blood can not be used in the same situations that platelets are used, it could possibly mean that the supply of whole blood donated could be used for other purposes.
The neatest part of this is that it does not need to be refrigerated and it has a much greater shelf life. This could potentially enable search and rescue responders to take blood further into the rescue than ever before. I'm looking forward to reading more about this.

Zero Sum

Competitive sports were never quite my thing. For starters I was a little bit of a late bloomer physically so I was never the fastest, tallest or biggest in my age group. In fact I was usually on the small side. Did I mention that I also wore glasses since about 4th grade? These things all conspired against me to solidify my ranking as last kind to get picked for dodgeball, softball, kickball and every other game with the suffix ball.
As I look back on my life I can see that what I didn’t like about competitive sports was the fact that somebody always had to be on the loosing side. Every point for one team is a point against the other. Even on the rare times when the team that I was on would win I felt like our joy in winning was only at the cost of the pain of the others loosing. I went looking for something else, something that did not require what I saw as a false dichotomy.
I always enjoyed riding my bike. In high school I rode my bike a lot with my friends. I enjoyed the fact that we could spend all day riding around the area and get great exercise and neither of us had to loose. In fact we seemed to ride faster, longer and have more fun doing it when we rode together. While in Japan this came in really handy. Even though my primary reason for riding my bike everywhere was transportation and not exercise I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
After returning from Japan I took up rock climbing. Climbing provided me with the sport that I had been missing and took what I enjoyed in cycling and took it up another notch. Even more than cycling climbing is a sport where nobody has to loose. There are no teams and no competitions. You just go out with some friends and the group tries to do their personal best. There is no trash talking or put downs. In fact it’s quite the opposite. Climbers encourage and even share strategies on how to climb better and better. I’ve witnessed one climber climb a route that had never been climbed before and was also a personal best for himself only to coach a perfect stranger who had just walked by through the part he had found the toughest. I will concede that this type of camaraderie may exist at some level in other sports. I was just never quite good enough to let into that privileged circle. For the most part I did not feel that climbing even had this inner circle. I’ve have seen sponsored professionals enjoy helping and watching rank novices out for their first day on the rocks.
On a personal level I also found that I enjoy the success of others even more than my personal successes on the rocks. When I go out with a friend of equal or superior skill I really enjoy what we can accomplish. However, I find that when I take friends, family members, clients or scout troops out climbing I have a much better time. Last April I guided about 30 young men and young women from my Ward for a beginner trip at Mount Yonah. Besides a few short boulder problems and one short rappel to show them how to do it, I didn’t get to climb at all. I spent the entire day belaying, teaching, putting on harnesses and setting up top rope anchors. I had a blast.
The concept of a zero sum game seems to me to be fatally flawed. The pleasure of what you are gaining only comes at the risk of loosing. I recognize that some folks may have been able to escape this type of thinking in sports with a scoreboard. I applaud their accomplishments. For me at least, I will continue to focus on what I believe to be cooperative sports rather than confrontational sports.
I've included the above photo because I believe it illustrates exactly my point. I have another photo from this series taken a few seconds afterwards when my partner's hands were not on my back. First of all, the other photo makes me feel intellectually dishonest. I didn't actually climb this little rock without help as that photo seems to display. Secondly, this photo is a much better example of how climbers, assist and support each other.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Funny stuff

I've always been a fan of humor that makes you think a little bit. Calvin and Hobbes has always been a favorite of mine. Lately I've really enjoyed Non Sequitor for many of the same reasons that I liked Calvin and Hobbes. Yesterday I stumbled across while surfing my subversive sites. I spent about and hour reading through past episodes and just wanted to share them. Here is one example of the sillyness that you will find.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Children's Opinions

Yesterday during one of our church meetings a few of the speakers spoke about how negative the PBS special was. They went on to testify that the church will always have this kind of persecution. At that point Aaron, who had watched all 4 hours of the PBS special, leaned over and simply asked me, "What persecution?"
Aaron has always loved history. He has his own, well formed opinions about morality, religion, politics and social issues. Many of his opinions are not the same as mine. When he comes to me for advice or to ask me questions, rather than tell him what I believe I tend to just ask him questions instead. Well what do you think? Do you agree with that? How would you do things differently? My intent is to assist him to define his own opinions before he hears mine. Then after I have helped him better define what he already believes we can have an honest discussion about why some people, even I, may believe differently. I believe that this strategy has helped him to respect others’ opinions.
After church we discussed the comments he heard in church. With Aaron’s passion for history he has learned the real definition of the word persecution. Hitler persecuted the Jews. He saw no parallel at all to what Hitler did and a simple TV documentary that spoke about a few embarrassing historical facts that the perpetrators would rather sweep under the rug.
Aaron’s political views typically lean a bit more liberal than either of his parents. That’s probably typical for a socially conscious 12-year old. I frequently have to pull him aside when I see him getting into political debates with friends and family members. Most of the time the only reason I pull him aside is because I see a situation where he understands both sides of the issues so well and the other person is just parroting their parents. It was with this same intent that I cautioned him about getting into discussions on the PBS special with his friends at church.
Throughout my life and especially the last five years people have always been comparing me to my father. I enjoy the comparison so long as they are comparing physical traits or my thirst for knowledge and insight that Rog instilled in me. When the comparison turns sour on me is when people assume that our paths have brought me to the same conclusions as my father. I know dad would not want me to be simply a parrot of his opinions and ideas. I respect his opinions even when they differ from mine. This is the same that I hope for my children. I will respect any opinion that they develop as long as they come to their conclusions honestly and not simply adopting somebody else beliefs without scrutiny, even mine.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Mormons episode 2

Since Monday I have been reading as much as I can from the PBS website. I’ve listened to a podcast from KUER with Ken Verdoia and Helen Whitney. I’ve read comments and reviews on multiple blogs and websites, both sympathetic and antagonistic. I’ve answered hours of questions from friends and co-workers in person, on the phone and via IM and email. I must say that I am really enjoying the lively conversation that this has sparked.
In the KUER interview Ken Vedoia talks about how he warned the director Helen Whitney that ultimately she would create a Rorschach test. One person would look at the ink blot and see two puppies, and the other would see their mother-in-law ruining their life. People were going to take their pre-drawn conclusions to the program and if they expect it to be hostile they will see hostility. If they expect it to be sympathetic they will see the sympathy. In a way I am also guilty of this. I was hoping it would be relatively fair and balanced and that’s pretty much how I perceived it.
Many of the comments on blogs and discussion boards were upset that there were so many people who weren’t members given the mike. Many of these posters fell guilty of assuming that non-Mormon and anti-Mormon were synonymous. They defiantly are not. Personally I thought that Vedoia who is not a member painted the church in a much better light than Elder Oaks and Elder Packer did. At least one of the ex-communicated members longed to be accepted back into the fold and was about as far from anti-Mormon as anyone else in the program.
There was one comment that I felt should have been edited out, and another that I’m researching to see if it was taken out of context. Tal Bachman’s comment that used the word “suicide bomber” was completely out of line. This inflammatory comment unfairly links the church to terrorism. My Baptist co-worker even remarked that this was a needless dig. I was pleased to hear from others viewer that this "guilt by association" ploy failed.
One source interviewed reported that he was told by a relative that John Taylor told him a very bigoted doctrine regarding blacks. Without any other sourcing this comment is at best third-person hearsay. I have a pre-1978 book at home that I got from my Grandmother that attempts to justify the Church’s position on blacks and the Priesthood. If this quote is legitimate it’s likely in that book. I’ll attempt to find it. For the record I don’t have any serious doubt that it was said. I’d just like to read it in its original context.
The comments from Elder Oaks and Elder Packer were the low point of the program. They came across as arrogant authoritarians. “It is our job to protect the church from evil”. The implication being that ex-communication for those who don’t follow the exact set of rules will protect the rest of the flock. This seems to me as going directly against Christ’s admonition to leave the flock and go after the lost sheep.
In sharp contrast to the attitudes of these two apostles, Marlin K. Jensen presented one of the most honest and humble faces on the church that I have ever seen. From his candor about his personal conversion story, to his deeply saddened expression as he explained about the sadness that homosexuality can bring. He did not make any concessions to the doctrine in order to convey this. In fact it was his humble, Christ-like love for his fellow men that came across in ever word he spoke. I have always been inspired by his talks at conference. He will have my attention next conference too.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


When I showed my co-workers a book that Victoria had designed with several of her scrapbook layouts that she has posted on her blog. I had a nice grin as I accepted comments like, “Wow! She’s a talented lady.” and “You’re a lucky man”.

When I share stories of our efforts to home-school Aaron and the burden that Victoria has on her shoulders many of the same people comment, “Wow, She’s a patient lady. You’re lucky to have her.”

While they’re stressing what kind of jewelry to get their wives for birthday’s or anniversaries I share my stories of how she eschews jewelry and opts for a weed eater instead. “Wow! She’s a handy lady” “You’re a lucky man.”

When I tell them that she laid the hardwood floor in the living room, pretty much by herself again I hear, “Wow! What a tough lady” “You’re a lucky man.”

When I bought a new truck and my friends asked “How’d you talk her into the four-wheel drive?” and I responded, “The four-wheel drive was her idea.” They respond, “Wow, Where can I find a girl like that?”

Frequently when I’m stuck in a little eddy of my life she is there to provide just the nudge that I need to get back in the flow. “Wow! She is so understanding.” “I’m a very lucky man.”

Today my bride turns another year older. I am thankful for every second that she continues to allow me to be a part of her life. All of the comments that my friends have voiced about her are absolutely true. And that’s just the Victoria that they see. Once you get to know her you’ll find that these are just the tips of the icebergs that peek above the waves. I can honestly say that I whole-heartedly agree with the follow up quotes given above. “I am a very lucky man.”

I love you.

Happy Birthday, Slick

The Mormons episode 1

Thanks for your comments on yesterday's post. It's refreshing to see that people actually read my blog.

Overall I really enjoyed the documentary last night. There were a few issues that I wish they had put into greater detail and a few that they avoided all together. However, considering the fact that they were creating a four hour documentary and not a miniseries I though they made some good choices as to what to cover and what to leave out.

The introduction used a very familiar quote from Joseph Smith to get the ball rolling. "No man knows my history." Since the biographer, Fawn Brodie used this quote for the title of her controversial biography of Joseph, I was a little afraid that the documentary was going to just be a just reworking of her biography. Although it did hit on many of the same points that she brought to light, it was indeed an original work.

I was impressed with the choice of people that they choose to interview. In particular I enjoyed the Presbyterian ministers’ comments about being unable to completely dismiss Joseph’s story even though it cuts at the core of his personal beliefs. I’m sure that many, inside and outside of the church can relate to this. I know I can. He was a very complex character. I still struggle with many of the issues that surround Joseph’s life. I was a little annoyed at the one lady who talked through her teeth and pronounced Zion like it was two words, "Zy On" But that's just being picky.

I was reading some of the reviews of the program online. A few were upset that they had spent so much time on Mountain Meadows and on polygamy. I don’t share this criticism. Yes, these two issues are very controversial. That is exactly why they should have been in the documentary. I thought they did a good job of covering them both. I wonder how these same folks would have felt about a documentary on Islam that didn’t give due diligence to terrorism and Jihad.

Any report on Mormonism that includes the persecution and the slaughter at Hans Mill would be biased and incomplete without juxtaposing it against Mountain Meadows. It simply would have not been fair to include one without the other. I’d be willing to bet that the same folk who felt that the coverage of Mountain Meadow was too strong would have been equally disappointed if they had swept Hans Mill under the rug. I felt that PBS did a very even handed report on both issues. True they spent longer on Mountain Meadows. I’d just chalk that up to journalistic freedom. No matter what the personal bias of the reporter it seems that the more negative issues always seems to take a higher priority than the positive. For good or for bad our culture seems to enjoy these more salacious details. Hypothetical situation: What would happen if on the same day two young men in the same county made the news, one for saving somebody’s life and one for taking somebody’s life? Which do you think would lead the local news in that area? The first young man would be lucky to get a mention in the last 5 minutes of the broadcast. That’s all that I think happened here too.

As far as polygamy goes, I think that the modern church is simply content to say, “Yeah but we don’t do that anymore.” And change the subject without any further comment. Sorry but we’re not going to get off that easily. The cold hard fact is that without Joseph Smith’s revelation on celestial marriage polygamy would not exist in the United States on any where near the scale that it does today. Call them fundamentalist, excommunicated members, wackos, cults or whatever label you’d like. With only a handful of exceptions, many of them Muslim, all polygamist marriages in the US cite Joseph Smith as their authority to practice plural marriage. Like it or not these step-children of the church will continue to grab the spotlight.

The only comment that actually got me upset was in the previews for tonight’s episode a General authority made the comment that, “It’s wrong to criticize the church even if the criticism is true.” I disagree with this comment 100%. Once any organization, especially a religion, declares itself immune from criticism the check and balances are gone. How can we claim that our obedience is not “blind obedience” if we are not permitted to question and criticize? My wife cautioned me that since it was only a comment in a preview I might be taking it out of context. I look forward to watching tonight to see.

After the program I had about a 20 minute long phone call with a Methodist friend who had also watched it. At the very least I think the program will be a good catalyst for these type of discussions with our friends and family.

Tonight's episode is supposed to be about the modern church and how things are practiced today. I’ll be watching.